Cameras

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Digital Camera Review

The LX5 is crammed with features that photo-savvy users will love, but performance runs hot and cold.

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Introduction

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 (MSRP $$499.95) is one of the most hotly anticipated high-end point-and-shoot cameras of 2010. It's crammed full of features that photo-savvy users will love, but the camera's performance runs hot and cold.

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In the Box

  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 digital camera
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (DMW-BCJ13PP)
  • Battery charger
  • USB connection cable
  • Composite AV cable
  • CD-ROM software
  • Basic operating instructions
  • Shoulder strap
  • Battery case (not pictured)
  • Lens cap (not pictured)
  • Lens cap string (not pictured)
  • Hot shoe cover (not pictured)

Color

The Panasonic DMC-LX5 comes with a handful of color modes, as you might expect on a high-end point-and-shoot camera. Unsurprisingly, we found the most accurate mode to be Standard, though Smooth was also very accurate. Color error in Standard mode was 3.57, with a saturation of 106.4%. Color error in Smooth mode was 3.64, with a saturation of 96.88%. All of our testing, including the score for color accuracy, is based upon the camera's performance in Standard mode. More on how we test color.

Overall, the LX5 performed very well in our color accuracy tests, besting most comparable cameras. It was actually the simpler Panasonic ZS3 that managed to have the best color accuracy of the cameras selected for comparison. The table below demonstrates how the LX5 and its comparison models rendered various hues during our color testing.

Color Modes

The LX5 allows users to select from one of six color modes, one of three black and white modes, and a user-defined setting. These are the same options available on Panasonic's interchangeable lens G-series and many other Panasonic cameras. The color mode offerings are: Standard, Dynamic, Nature, Smooth, Vibrant, and Nostalgic. For black and white shooting, you can select: Standard B&W, Dynamic B&W, and Smooth B

If you want to set up a custom color mode, there is one memory slot for storing a set of custom color photography settings (My Film 1) and one slot for black and white settings (My Film 2). My Film 1 lets the user alter contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction—each along a five-increment scale. My Film 2 allows you to tweak black and white photos for contrast, sharpness, and noise reduction only. Finally, there is a multi-film option that lets you employ three film modes simultaneously.

Each individual color mode can be tweaked along the same criteria: contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction. To see these color modes in action, check out the sample photos page of our Panasonic DMC-G2 review.

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There is also a separate "My Color Mode" on the mode dial, which gives the user access to color options like Expressive, Retro, Pure, Elegant, Monochrome, High Dynamic, Dynamic Art, Dynamic BW, Silhouette, Pin Hole, Film Grain, and Custom. The latter allows the user to tweak color, brightness, and saturation. These are more like art filters, however, and cannot be used in conjunction with the camera's numerous manual controls.

Noise

The Panasonic DMC-LX5 fared well in our noise testing, boasting an average noise level of just 1.16% across all ISO levels in bright light. There was certainly an increase in noise during our low light testing, but the change was impressively little. We usually see a large jump in noise at 60 lux, but the jump was quite minor for the LX5. Average noise in low light was just 1.25%. More on how we test noise.

That low-light noise performance is really what sets the LX5 apart; as you can see from the chart below, the camera did not fare particularly well in bright light. It did score significantly better than the less expensive ZS3, but it was just a bit noisier than its primary competitors, the Canon G11 and Samsung TL500. As impressed as we were with the LX5's noise performance in low light, the bright light results were a bit disappointing.

There is no significant spike in noise at any particular ISO, though ISO 3200 does show a jump. Instead, the LX5 noise levels were a tad bit high across the board. What you can see in the crops below, however, is how incredibly clear captured images are at 60 lux. Most cameras have significant trouble in such dim lighting conditions.

ISO

The Panasonic DMC-LX5 has a healthy range of ISO options from ISO 80 to ISO 3200. As it turns out, this is pretty much exactly what we expect from a camera in this price range. The simpler and more affordable Panasonic DMC-ZS3 does not offer the ISO 3200 option, but most comparable cameras do. The LX5 also offers a great deal of flexibility for those wishing to shoot in Auto ISO mode: an ISO limit option allows you to cap the ISO at 200, 400, 800, 1600, or 3200. For even more versatility, you can choose to tweak the ISO in 1/3-stop increments instead of regular full ISO increments.

For those that are looking for extended ISO options, the LX5 does have ISO 6400 and ISO 12800, but these are only available at reduced resolution. (Pictures taken with this sensitivity setting have a maximum resolution of 3MP.) We can't really recommend these settings, as the pictures are so low resolution and full of noise that their best use is taking controversial UFO photos.

You can see the camera's full-resolution ISO options in action in the table below.

NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.

Resolution

The Panasonic DMC-LX5 scored well in our resolution tests, but it couldn't quite compete with the other models in its price range. Sharpness was a particular weakness for the LX5—a weakness that this camera's target demographic does not easily overlook. The lens had very low distortion and solid performance in our chromatic aberration testing, but those two areas are not nearly as important as sharpness for most users. More on how we test resolution.

Distortion ()

The LX5's Leica lens is obviously top-notch, exhibiting very little distortion at either end of the 3.8x optical zoom. This is one test where the LX5 outstripped the opponents: the Canon G11 and Samsung TL500 both showed significantly more distortion.

As you can see from the crops below, the camera displayed virtually no distortion, with the most distortion appearing at the widest angle setting. Even at 5.1mm, distortion was just 1.60%. The G11 had nearly 3% distortion at its widest angle setting, while the Samsung TL500 had 1.2%. The TL500, however, was also plagued by 1.8% pincushion distortion at maximum zoom.

Sharpness ()

The camera's sharpness was perhaps its most disappointing attribute. Compared to most point-and-shoots, the LX5 did very well, but compared to other high-end point-and-shoots, the LX5 just couldn't compete. The camera captured a maximum horizontal sharpness of just 1775 lw/ph (compared to around 2000 lw/ph for most of the competition). Vertical sharpness hit a maximum of 1721 lw/ph. These numbers were worse the further out from the center you got—and they aren't very good to begin with.

Again, compared to the vast majority of point-and-shoot cameras, these are still good results. But we're accustomed to seeing better from a $500 camera.

Chromatic Aberration ()

The LX5 had about average chromatic aberration for a cameras in this range. The G11 and TL500 both had very similar scores, which is to say that all three cameras performed well in this test. You can see in the crops below that the LX5 had some very minor chromatic aberration along the outside edges of some photos, but it is very minor.

Quality & Size Options

The LX5 has far more resolution options than we're accustomed to seeing on a point-and-shoot camera... even a high-end point-and-shoot camera. For starters, there's a dedicated switch on the lens barrel of the camera that allows you to switch between four different aspect ratios: 1:1, 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9. For each of these aspect ratios, there are five or six size options available. For each size option, there are two quality settings: Standard and Fine. You can also choose to shoot in RAW, RAW + Standard JPEG, or RAW + Fine JPEG. All told, there are technically 115 different ways that you could shoot photos on the LX5.

Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is not at all a strong suit of the LX5. Rather, it's yet another area of performance where the camera is consistently surpassed by the competition. We were surprised by these results, especially given the strong showing from the lower level Panasonic ZS3.

The LX5 actually has three different optical stabilization modes: Auto, Mode1, and Mode2. We tested all three modes and found the OIS to be most effective when set to Auto mode. In auto, the LX5 showed an improvement of approximately 12.6%. In Mode1, this improvement decreased to just 4.84%. In Mode2, there was virtually no improvement at all. Of course, we used our standard horizontal low shake test to measure stabilization performance. It's possible that these alternative modes would prove more effective under different circumstances. More on how we test image stabilization.

Video Mode

The movie mode on the Panasonic DMC-LX5 is incredibly versatile, offerings users a plethora of manual controls—something you'll rarely find in a point-and-shoot camera. When you first switch over to movie mode, you'll have the option of shooting in Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or full Manual mode. In Manual mode, you'll have access to all the great controls you have in still mode: aperture, shutter, white balance (including Kelvin control), color modes, ISO up to 6400, and manual focus. As in still mode, the manual focus control isn't great, so we recommend sticking with the autofocus. The LX5 will autofocus during recording: it's a slow process, but it's also a silent one.

With all of these great manual controls, you might hope for full 1920x1080/60i video. Unfortunately, the camera is limited to 720/30p. There is a wind cut feature, but the audio is recorded by an oddly placed monaural microphone. Coupled with some unspectacular video performance, the LX5 is the little engine that could—but didn't. We would love to see all those amazing features paired up with 1080/60i video; even most consumer camcorders don't offer this level of control.

Video Color

The LX5 offered decent color performance, though it was not as impressive as what the camera accomplished taking still photos. The minimum color error recorded in video mode was 8.73, with a saturation of 86.18%. Those aren't great numbers, but it's about what we've come to expect from point-and-shoot cameras capturing video. More on how we test video color.

Video Sharpness

The camera's sharpness testing was a real disappointment; the LX5 bested the closest competition, but was outstripped by the $300 ZS3. We try not to get our hopes up when it comes to point-and-shoot video sharpness and the LX5 gives us good reason to continue that trend. The maximum horizontal sharpness measured was just 475 lw/ph, while the maximum vertical sharpness at least reached 550 lw/ph. More on how we test video sharpness.

Playback Mode

The Panasonic DMC-LX5 offers the usual array of playback options, though it is certainly more versatile than many simple point-and-shoot cameras. To view photos, there are three level of information display possible, as well as two thumbnail views and a calendar view. To filter photos, you can also view by "category," which is handy if you use iAuto or scene modes quite a lot; Category Play will show you all photos by scene mode.

Playback controls are pretty straightforward: you can use the d-pad to navigate between thumbnails and a dedicated button allows you to delete single or multiple images. The zoom toggle lets you switch between view modes and lets you enact the LX5's simple playback zoom feature. You can zoom in at a ratio of 2x, 4x, 8x, or 16x and use the d-pad to pan. Unfortunately, you cannot crop directly from the zoom; you have to use the separate crop tool.

In-Camera Editing

The LX5 has a modest selection of in-camera editing tools. We expect that most photographers that would use this camera would do image adjustments in software like Photoshop, so we don't bemoan the absence of in-camera post-production color adjustments, brightness adjustments, etc.

The camera does offer the basics that most people would expect: resizing, cropping, and rotating. As an interesting bonus feature, the LX5 has a leveling feature that lets you tweak an image slightly if it was a bit skewed.

Direct Print Options

The LX5 offers the typical DPOF and PictBridge compatibility. That means that you'll be able to connect the camera to a printer and print photos directly. The Print Set function lets you mark a single photo or multiple photos for printing.

Samsung TL500 Comparison

In many ways, the Panasonic DMC-LX5 is an answer to Canon's PowerShot G11—and vice versa. The two cameras serve precisely the same demographic and are sold for precisely the same MSRP ($499.99). These are serious cameras—for prosumers that want something small to throw in their bags or serious amateurs that need something a little more rigorous that a cruise control experience. They're jam-packed with manual controls and shooting modes.

The most significant difference between the two cameras for us is the performance. Both perform above the norm for most point-and-shoot cameras; you definitely get quality photos for your money here. However, the Canon G11 did better almost across the board. The LX5 disappointed in sharpness, stabilization, and bright light noise. The G11 did not. The only area in which the LX5 really came out on top was in low light performance.

We think performance should trump all other considerations, especially in a camera like this one. However, there are some hardware differences to keep in mind: the G11 has a smaller LCD (2.8-inch compared to 3.0-inch), but it also has a built-in viewfinder. What may matter the most to you, however, is that the G11 is a 2009 camera. It's since been replaced by the PowerShot G12 and can, therefore, be purchased for less than $500 at many retailers.


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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 Comparison

The Samsung TL500 is an impressive camera at an affordable price. (The camera launched at $449.99, but can currently be found for much less.) It has most of the manual controls that you might desire and some really impressive performance to back it up. The TL500 had one of the best noise scores we've ever seen and followed that up with incredibly good sharpness and a decent stabilization performance. The real Achilles heel for the TL500 is video; users shouldn't expect to get fantastic video from this camera.

Compared to the LX5, we can find very few compelling reasons to opt for the Panasonic model over the Samsung. The TL500 was the runner-up for our 2010 Selects Award for best compact point-and-shoot. And with good reason.


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COMP 3

We chose the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 (MSRP $ $299.95) precisely for its differences from the LX5. The ZS3 represents what you can get for a little less money. The most remarkable thing is that the ZS3 is not far of from the LX5 in performance. Color accuracy and sharpness are just as good and stabilization and video performance are actually better on the less expensive model. The noise levels are much higher—in both bright light and low light, but for $200 less you'll be able to take photos that are nearly as good... in theory.

What the $200 gets you is access to a multitude of manual controls. Aperture and shutter priority modes, aspect ratio options, focal mode options, a wider ISO range, and color modes. Plus, you'll have more control over all of these features; the LX5 gives you some access to sharpness, contrast, saturation, and noise reduction options. So, if you know what to do with all those bells and whistles, you'll definitely get some bang for your buck. If you plan to shoot 100% in cruise control, then the ZS3 is an excellent way to save some money.


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Conclusion

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 (MSRP $499.95) is a smart camera, packed full of features that most aficionados dream of in a compact point-and-shoot. However, the rich feature set and versatile controls can't hide the fact that the LX5 slips in some key areas of performance. We were especially disappointed by the sharpness and stabilization scores, as well as the relatively high noise levels in bright light testing. The camera's greatest strength was in low light performance, where color and noise were spectacularly preserved.

All in all, the LX5 is a solid camera for those craving something meaty in a compact form factor. However, there are better models out there for the same price... we suggest you shop around.

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