Panasonic Lumix LX5 £379.99
3rd Aug 2011 | 14:03
Is this SLR replacement radical enough for Panny to stay ahead?
Panasonic Lumix LX5: Overview
The Panasonic Lumix LX5 is a refresh of the popular Lumix LX3, a well-regarded power compact that's also caught on as a D-SLR replacement.
Update: See our video review below
The first thing you notice about the Lumix DMC-LX5 is that it feels more compact and pocketable at 110 x 66 x 43cm than the LX3, and the metal body is really sturdy.
Panasonic has junked the joystick controller in favour of a clickable control wheel, and there's also a slider around the lens for changing aspect ratio (a mixed blessing, as we'll see later). A simple movie-record button's been added too, making it very easy to record 720p HD video in AVCHD or Motion JPEG format.
Onto the more significant improvements of the Lumix LX5 . These include a 10.1 megapixel sensor with an eye-poppingly high ISO range of 80-12,800, and a 24-90mm equivalent lens (f/2 maximum aperture).
In terms of positioning and competition, the LX5 sits below Panasonic's interchangeable-lens hybrid cameras, but lacks the power zoom of the new Lumix FZ45.
It's currently selling for around £360, so while this isn't a particular cheap D-SLR replacement, it's a very convincing rival to the Canon G11 (also sporting a 10.1 megapixel sensor, high ISO range and 28-140mm lens). Panasonic's clearly going after the G11, so will it win this power compact challenge?
Panasonic Lumix LX5: Features and build quality
Some of the new features of the Lumix LX5 are more useful than others. Let's start with ergonomics.
While it's cool to be able to adjust aspect ratio via a slider on the lens body, the slider is quite loose, and you have to be very careful that you don't accidentally change from standard 4:3 to 3:2 format when taking the camera out of your pocket or bag (it happened to us several times).
Having to worry about checking this can slow down your shooting. And while the buttons round the back make it easy to adjust focus points, ISO or metering modes, it'll take newcomers to Lumix a while to work out how to adjust exposure compensation (you click in the control dial).
Such a fundamental exposure control really should be more clearly flagged. Intrusive menu options make it a bit of performance to play back video until you get used to it , too.
Otherwise, the LX5 is very easy to use. Although you don't get an electronic viewfinder as standard, the three-inch rear screen is bright and crisp. No problem there, but sadly, the LCD is fixed. This is a surprising omission considering the G11's flexible screen, and certainly limits your composition options. As for the menus, while not as slick as Canon or Nikon's, they are very straightforward to navigate too.
The LX5 is also impressively fast to start up, and the lens extends with the minimum of delay.
Images are saved to card with the minimum of fuss too, even when shooting in RAW. The burst mode of 2.4 frames per second (full-resolution image) is OK, but can't hope to keep up with a speedy hybrid like the Sony NEX-5 or a D-SLR.
The Lumix DMC-LX5 features an impressive 24-90mm equivalent lens, with a maximum aperture of f/2. So the lens offers the benefits of 'fast', wide aperture glass – it lets in lost of light and makes it easy to get a shallow depth of field, for instance – while still giving you some zoom flexibility.
Image stabilisation has been brought into line with other models in the Lumix range too, and as with the FZ45, gives three options, Auto, Mode 1 and Mode 2.
Panasonic Lumix LX5: Image quality
While Panasonic's harping on about the wider dynamic range offered by the new tech inside the LX5, we were more immediately impressed by the lens.
While you obviously won't get f/2 throughout the lens's range, it's really great for bringing the depth of field right in. So the lens is a solid macro performer too, and the benefits of such a wide maximum aperture can't be overstated.
COLOURS:In good light the camera rewards you with warm, well-exposed images
Zoom performance is reasonable too, though we did feel a tad short changed after using the monster-zoom Lumix FZ45. The Canon G11 still has a longer reach at 140mm at the telephoto end, so it would have been nice to be able to go in a bit further.
EXPOSURE:The 'intelligent auto' function does a better job at judging exposure than most 'auto everything' modes
The image stabilisation system works well when zooming right in, so make sure it's turned on when you first set the camera up.
Lens distortion is well controlled, though not perfect - we did notice some distortion on the tower on Glastonbury Tor when shooting in 16:9 format.
IMAGE STABILISATION:Make sure the image stabiliser is turned on when shooting at the telephoto end, it really makes a difference
In terms of overall sensor and image-processor performance, it's up to Panasonic's usual high standards. Colours are characteristically warm and vibrant without being garish, and edges are kept sharp in JPEG mode without it looking artificial.
MACRO:That fast f/2 lens really comes into its own with close up nature work
In terms of ISO, keep it under 800 and you'll be impressed. Noise is well controlled at this level but as our ISO tests show, kick it up to 12800 and colour and detail really suffer. Still, even at this extreme level it's not a bad performance for the money, and this, combined with the effective pop-up flash, make the Lumix DMC-LX5 a convincing low-light performer.
METERING:The metering system copes well with a variety of challenging light conditions
AF is generally unflappable and metering reliable, though as with many cheaper cameras, the LX5 has a tendency to blow out highlights in brighter light. So make sure you've got to grips with the slightly eccentric way of adjusting exposure compensation before heading out.
SKIN TONES:Skin tones are accurate but the Lumix does have a tendency to blow out highlights in bright sunlight
As you'd expect, there's a full PASM dial mode, with the inclusion of Intelligent Auto (iA). iA's no replacement for learning how to adjust exposure yourself, but as an auto everything mode, it does seem more consistent – and indeed intelligent – than you'd first expect.
WIDESCREEN: Note the distortion on the tower when shot at 16:9 format - it shouldn't lean in like that!
ZOOM: While hardly a super zoom, the lens stays nice and sharp at the far telephoto end
Panasonic Lumix LX5: ISO performance
We tested the Lumix DMC-LX5 at every available ISO setting...
Panasonic Lumix LX5: Video sample
See the Panasonic Lumix LX5 video sample in HD
So you're not getting full 1080p video here but even so, 720p performance is pretty good, with good auto focus and reliable movement tracking.
It's certainly better than the frankly embarrassing VGA offerings of the Canon G11. The dedicated button on top makes movie mode a cinch to activate, though playback on the rear LCD takes a bit longer to figure out.
There's a choice of Program AE mode, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed and Manual, so there are plenty of options for creative control, and that fast, bright lens really helps.
The wind-cut function has been overhauled too; while wind noise is very audible on our test video, to be fair to Panasonic, the clip was taken on top of the windiest places in South West England.
'Intelligent Auto' mode is available when shooting movies too, and as with stills, this delivers consistent results.
Panasonic Lumix LX5: Verdict
This is a worthy successor to the DMC-LX3, offering a powerful sensor and image processor and a great lens at a reasonable price. It just falls short of being a five star best buy though.
The lens is really good. It's sharp, fast and bright and the maximum aperture, and offers reasonable telephoto reach (just watch out for some building distortion when shooting widescreen ). The Lumix DMC-LX5 is very easy to use, but also has some very useful extras, such as aspect-ratio adjustment via the lens, easy HD video recording and high ISO flexibility,
There's no electronic viewfinder as standard, and the fact that the fixed rear LCD can't be swivelled rubs salt into the wounds. The aspect-ratio adjuster we praised a moment ago is also annoyingly easy to activate by mistake, and changing exposure compensation should be more idiot-proof. Telephoto reach is a bit limited, too.
If you don't need long telephoto reach, full 1080p HD video recording and a swivel screen, the Lumix DMC-LX5 is definitely worth considering. It's well made, generally well-thought-out and has a great lens. A great family camera or SLR replacement in other words, but hardly an impulse buy at £360 - so while its downsides are not huge, they do need to be weighed up.