Two years after the acclaimed LX3—a camera that brought fast lenses back to compact cameras—Panasonic has now launched the Lumix LX5. It has a slightly more powerful zoom, an updated design and some new internal electronics that promise improved picture quality.
HandlingVisibly, the LX5 inherits a lot from its predecessors. The metal body is very high quality, the buttons are neither too wobbly nor too stiff and grip is excellent thanks to a rubber-coated handle and thumb-rest. The only exception to this high-quality finish is the pop-up flash, which doesn't feel quite so well-made.
The controls have changed quite a bit, bringing the LX5 closer to Panasonic's micro 4/3 cameras. A separate video-record button has been added to the top of the camera, the mini four-way controller for adjusting settings on the LX3 has been replaced by a click-round control wheel (something I personally approve of, but others may not like). The irritating playback/shooting switch used in the LX3 has been ditched in favour of a playback button. You then return to the shooting mode by pressing the shutter-release button.
None of this is particularly revolutionary, and the LX5 remains somewhere between a Canon S95 (super-stylish but with not many buttons) and classic expert compacts like the Canon G12 and Nikon P7000 (plenty of buttons but more cumbersome).
Anyone who's used to using the LX3 will find the same handy thumb levers on the lens barrel for selecting picture format (with a new square format, see insert) and focusing mode. On the back there's the same 3-inch screen with 460,000 dots.
A connection port has appeared just above the screen, just under the flash hot-shoe. This can be used to connect an electronic viewfinder (the same model as for the GF1).
Although the LX5 only has an aperture of f/3.3 at 90 mm, f/2.8 is still possible at 60 mm. This means that there's no photo you could take with the LX3 that can't also be taken with the updated model.
ResponsivenessIn this field, the LX5 is a clear improvement on the LX3. Although two seconds to start up is barely better than its predecessor, the autofocus is now more effective—even if it wasn't all that bad in the LX3. Focusing takes around 4/10ths of a second, making the LX5 one of the leading compacts in this category. Note that this does slow down a little in low light.
The burst mode is a different story entirely. Three frames is just not enough, even if they are taken in under a second!
Picture QualityWith a new lens and new electronics, we had high hopes for the LX5. At 24 mm, picture quality is impressive, with shots that are richly detailed and sharp across the frame, even at full aperture (just a slight loss in sharpness towards the corners at f/2). In telephoto too, the pictures are practically flawless from f/4.
The LX3 already handled ISO sensitivity very well, but it's even better in the LX5. In fact, 800 ISO poses no problem at all for this camera, and 8" x 12" prints at 1600 ISO are still decent (especially in Raw). Anything higher is best avoided, and we'll be kind enough not to mention the terrible 12800 ISO setting (it's only real use is to advertise the LX5 as an SLR equivalent, in practice it's useless).
Effective stabilisation and the wide aperture mean you can often stay at pretty low ISO settings. The Barbie shot without flash came out at 100 ISO, with an exposure time of 1/5 sec. and an aperture of f/2.9!
Colour reproduction is remarkably constant, even under incandescent light (when pictures become just slightly warmer). The LX5 only really gets a little caught out by the surrounding lighting conditions in the Barbie with flash shot.
On the whole, picture quality is excellent on all possible levels, and you'd have to look to a camera with a large-format sensor to find anything better.
VideoThe video mode has all the excellent features that have become standard in Panasonic cameras. The LX5 records 720p HD video, has an optical zoom and captures an accurate image with very little noise. In fact, picture quality is really quite good.
It's just a shame that the sound isn't quite up to standard. Panasonic's TZ10 and GH1 are some of the best cameras around when it comes to capturing sound, with stereo recording and good resistance to breathing noises and reverberation. The LX5, however, just isn't in the same league. It records mono sound of a quality that's OK but nothing more, something which ultimately cost this camera its fifth star.