Panasonic DMC-LX5 Review

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by Amin Sabet, Oct 3, 2010.

  1. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator Moderator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Introduction

    Panasonic has a rich tradition of advanced compact cameras, and the LX series (branded and styled by Leica as the D-LUX series) is their flagship line designed for "serious" use. The new Panasonic LX5 replaces the two-year old LX3 (D-LUX4), a camera which changed the market in several ways:

    • Adopted a significantly faster lens than its mainstream (Canon, Nikon) competition*
    • Did not increase megapixel count of its predecessor
    • Wider angle lens with a more limited zoom range (2.5X, 24-60mm equivalent) than the competition*
    • Used software correction to correct marked barrel distortion, allowing for faster lens (f/2-2.8) in smaller form while keeping costs down
    *Ricoh GX100 preceded the LX3 with similar qualities though slower at telephoto

    It's easy to see the influence of LX3 success on the market when looking at the recent offerings from Canon, Nikon, and Samsung. One feature of the LX3 which has not yet been implemented by the competition is the multi-aspect ratio sensor, which allows the LX3 to maintain the same diagonal angle of view in 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9 aspect ratios. For more on that, see here.

    It has been my impression that in the two years since its introduction, the LX3 has been the single most popular choice of compact camera amongst "serious" photographers. Naturally, the follow up to the LX3 has been the subject of great interest. The headline improvements included in the LX5 are the new 3.75X (24-90mm equivalent) f/2-3.3 zoom lens and improved sensor.


    Form and Function

    Lets take a look at some of the external differences between the LX3 and the LX5, beginning with the front:

    P1060476.jpg

    The grip has grown in size and now provides a more comfortable and secure hold. For some, the LX5 grip will be a reason to choose this camera over the Leica-branded D-LUX5:

    Picture-2.jpg

    P1060477.jpg

    Looking at the rear of the LX3 (left) and LX5 (right), there are two key differences. The first is that there is now a connector which allows the use of an optional electronic viewfinder (EVF) which is mounted on the hot shoe. Second, the joystick toggle has been replaced by a thumb dial which controls aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation (press the dial in to toggle between settings). I find that this wheel control is more intuitive and easier to use than the joystick.

    The Quick Menu has been moved to a dedicated button on the bottom right, and the Record/Play switch has been removed and a dedicated "Play" button added. Overall, the LX5 buttons, dial, and switches have a more secure feel (firmer movement with no wiggle) than the controls on the LX3. The LCD has also been coated for better visibility in direct sun. I didn't compare the two to evaluate the effectiveness of the coating, but I did find the LX5 LCD usable in bright, sunny conditions.

    P1060478.jpg

    On the top panel, the "Focus" button has been replaced with a video recording button (the Focus button has been moved to the top button of the four way control on the rear). Meanwhile, the 1:1 aspect ratio setting has been added to the lens barrel. From my standpoint, having physical switches for AF mode and aspect ratio on the lens barrel is a great feature of the LX series design. The downside is that these switches are sometimes toggled accidentally in the process of pocketing (and unpocketing) these cameras.

    Speaking of pocketing, the LX5 is not nearly as pocketable as one of its competitors, the Canon S95:

    P1060479.jpg

    P1060480.jpg

    On the other hand, it is noticeably smaller and less heavy than the Canon G series or Samsung EX1. Here is the LX5 shown next to the EX1. The difference in heft is more than it looks:

    P1060483.jpg


    A few notes on performance:

    • Autofocus speed is excellent. I've been primarily using mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras lately (Micro 4/3, Sony NEX, Samsung NX), and the LX5 autofocus speed was in step with these systems.
    • Shutter lag after focusing is, for my purposes, negligible.
    • Being able to switch from autofocus to manual focus with a switch on the lens barrel allows one to set zone focus by autofocusing and then quickly lock that setting by switching to manual focus mode. The Focus button also allows temporary use of autofocus to set the focus while in manual focus mode, while in autofocus mode, this button allows one to choose the location of single autofocus point within the frame.
    • Speed of zooming is slow. On the positive side, a step zoom function is now available (can zoom in steps, eg 28-35-50 mm equivalent).
    • Image stabilization is excellent. With prior LX series cameras, I always felt that the image stabilization was less effective than the Canon equivalent. The LX5 image stabilization seems as effective as any that I have tried in a fixed lens compact.
    • Shot to shot time in RAW is very good, similar to the LX3.
    • Battery life not formally tested but seems above average.

    Lens Performance

    As noted above, the 24-90mm equivalent f/2-3.3 Leica lens is the headline feature of the LX5. How does it deliver? The short answer for non-pixel peepers is that, as expected, it is an excellent lens. The extra reach is a welcome addition, and f/3.3 is about a stop faster than the competition at 90mm equivalent.

    As was the case with the LX3 lens, the LX5 lens has strong barrel distortion at wide angle without software correction:

    P1000194.jpg

    The good news is that this distortion is automatically addressed by in-camera JPEG processing, and we can expect most of the popular RAW processing applications to correct this as well.

    Color fringing due to lateral chromatic aberration is a common problem with this class of cameras, and this too is automatically corrected. That said, the lateral CA is modest (relative to the competition) even in uncorrected LX5 files. Here is an example of the same LX5 RAW files (24mm equivalent f2) processed in Adobe Lightroom 3.2 (left, automatically corrects color fringing and distortion) and Raw Developer 1.8.6 (right, no corrections applied). Both are 100% crops of the extreme upper left corner.

    Picture-14.jpg
     
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  2. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator Moderator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Here are some more 100% crops at f/2, f/2.8, f/4, and f/5.6. All are at 24mm equivalent:

    Picture-2.jpg

    Picture-3.jpg

    Picture-4.jpg

    Picture-5.jpg

    Picture-6.jpg

    Picture-7.jpg

    Picture-8.jpg

    Picture-9.jpg

    Picture-10.jpg

    Picture-11.jpg

    Picture-12.jpg

    Picture-13.jpg

    In comparing these crops with the prior test I showed of the Samsung EX1 and Panasonic LX3 (keeping in mind that different RAW processor used which did not correct color fringing and used different sharpening/noise reduction), I think it's safe to say that the LX5 fails to meet the high corner sharpness standard set by the EX1.

    Again, there will be those who feel that the decentering evident in my LX5 lens (sharper in left upper corner than the right) invalidates these findings. As explained here, I do not agree.

    RAW files from this series (converted to DNG):
    LX5 f2.dngLX5 f4.dngLX5 f5.6.dngLX5 f2.8.dng

    In general, I found the LX5 lens to deal well with bright light sources in or just outside of the frame.

    Independence.jpg

    A few of my images had flare spots and/or veiling glare, but nothing much worse than this:

    Glare.jpg
     
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  3. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator Moderator

    Jul 3, 2010
    The other headline feature of the LX5 is the new sensor. Here are some crop comparisons of the LX5, LX3, Canon S95, and Samsung EX1.Taken at ISO 800, 1/10s, f/4 (f/4.1 for the Samsung) and processed in Lightroom 3.2 (I edited the S95 RAW file EXIF so that they would be supported as S90 files by LR 3.2).

    100% crops with default sharpening and no noise reduction whatsoever:

    Picture-8.jpg

    Picture-6.jpg

    Picture-7.jpg

    Picture-9.jpg

    Lets see how the crops compare at 50% after color noise reduction:

    Picture-11.jpg

    Picture-10.jpg

    Picture-12.jpg

    For me, the bottom line here is that the LX5 sensor delivers a noticeable improvement compared to the LX3 and is roughly on par with the sensor from the S95 and EX1.

    RAW files from this comparison:
    Canon S95.dngPanasonic LX3.dngPanasonic LX5.dngSamsung EX1.dng
     
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  4. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator Moderator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Conclusion

    The LX5 improves on the LX3 in a number of small ways. The buttons and switches have a better feel. The grip is nicer, and the image stabilization seems more effective. Overall, I would say that the the LX5 build and stabilization have reached parity with the Canon G series, while the LX3 was a bit short of that mark.

    Two years of sensor development brings an incremental advance in detail relative to noise at high ISO, and with lower noise comes cleaner, more open shadows. The sensor improvement is noticeable but not staggering. Meanwhile, the LX5 lens provides some welcome reach while maintaining excellent lens performance.

    LX5 menu and exposure controls are polished and intuitive. All aspects of camera performance are excellent.

    With so many advanced, smaller cameras to choose from, for whom would I recommend the LX5? For starters, why choose an LX5 over a larger sensor camera like Micro 4/3 or Sony NEX? The answer to that is pretty simple. If you want a pocketable camera with a zoom lens, you need a small sensor camera like the LX5.

    Compared to its small sensor zoom camera peers (Canon S95/G12, Samsung EX1, Ricoh GX200) the LX5 distinguishes itself in the following ways:

    • Faster at telephoto than all but the Samsung EX1
    • Lighter and smaller than Canon G12 and EX1
    • Multi-aspect ratio sensor
    • Physical switch for focus mode
    • Optional EVF (like Ricoh GX)
    • More effective image stabilization than most
    A couple negatives:

    • Corner sharpness not at the level of the Samsung EX1
    • Lens cap less convenient (though more protective) than the Canon automatic lens cover
    • Severe barrel distortion is the uncorrected RAW file
    In summary, Panasonic has taken a proven winner and made sensible, incremental improvements all around. Highly recommended!

    Thanks to B&H Photo for providing the camera for review. Direct links to check pricing and availability at B&H:

    You can also support our efforts by buying via our Amazon affiliate links. Direct link to check pricing and availability at Amazon:

    Please help support Serious Compacts by clicking the button below before you make your next photography-related purchase from B&H Photo.

    [​IMG]
     
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  5. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro S.C. Charter Member Subscribing Member

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    Real Name:
    Jason
    Nice review Amin.

    Amin, in your opinion, which, out of the S95, EX1, and the LX5 would you choose as your camera?
     
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  6. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 12, 2010
    Philly, Pa
    Thanks Amin,
    You save me a ton of work this week. I am working on a review but now I don't have to.
    You did great.
    I will post my findings at weeks end about the LX5.
    Don
     
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  7. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator Moderator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Dj, I don't honestly know which one I'd pick. It would either be the EX1 or LX5. If I had to pick at this very moment, I'd probably choose the EX1. That's without considering price. With price as a consideration, the EX1 looks even better, currently selling for $350 with free shipping at B&H and Amazon.

    Don, looking forward to your thoughts and images!
     
  8. bilzmale

    bilzmale Super Moderator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member Subscribing Member

    Jul 17, 2010
    Perth, Western Australia
    Real Name:
    Bill Shinnick
    Another good review Amin. Will be interested in a comparison with the Nikon P7000 when its available.
     
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  9. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro S.C. Charter Member Subscribing Member

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    Real Name:
    Jason
    Amin,

    I appreciate you candid review. I'm familiar with Panasonics UI, but not Samsungs. Is Samsung's UI easy to use? I realize that this is subjective, but I am curious. I find it interesting that Samsung finally has a winner..and a real competitor to the LXx and S9x series of cameras.
     
  10. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 12, 2010
    Philly, Pa
    DJ,
    I can say at this early stage of testing, the interface on the LX5 is very simple and intuitive.
    I'm also on the GF1 so the relationship between the 2 makes the transisition easy.
    More later.
    One thing... The printed manual is really a quick start manual.
    The supplied PDF file on disc, is the entire thing.
    I loaded it on my iPhone but haven't needed it yet.
    Don
     
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  11. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator Moderator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Dj, the EX1 interface is very straightforward. I found it easy to use and never cracked the manual. Having two dials like Ricoh and Samsung is the easiest solution for controlling aperture and shutter. The menus are plain and logical.
     
  12. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro S.C. Charter Member Subscribing Member

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    Real Name:
    Jason
    Thanks Don. I'm going to eventually need to get my girlfiend a new camera, and I'm thinking about one of these.
     
  13. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 12, 2010
    Philly, Pa
    Amin,
    Does the Samsung have an adjustable AF target size?
     
  14. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro S.C. Charter Member Subscribing Member

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    Real Name:
    Jason
    Thanks. Just making sure they didn't dumb it down too much.
     
  15. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Real Name:
    BB
    Amin, thanks so much for this new review!:2thumbs: And my thanks to B&H for lending you the cameras, so you can give all of us such detailed reviews, too.

    Looking forward to more photos from the owners of either version of the LX5. Don, thanks for your first two shots that I just took a look at - and I'll be looking forward to reading and seeing more from you, too!
     
  16. Boyzo

    Boyzo SC Veteran S.C. Charter Member

    258
    Jul 14, 2010
    Great mini review Amin and the LX5 looks a sensible refinement of the LX3 and has grown a little in size but still quite small.
    For the sensor size IQ is quite amazing (LX3) and looks as tho' the LX5 continues that tradition.
    Not a purchase for me not even in Red Dot guise :wink:
     
  17. Prototype

    Prototype SC Veteran S.C. Charter Member

    207
    Jul 9, 2010
    Illinois
    Real Name:
    Brian
    Another great review, Amin. While there are small differences in image quality, none of the serious small-sensor cameras really stand out (with the exception of the GRDIII's fast, virtually distortion-free lens). This review pretty much confirms that for me. It's up to the handling, controls, pocketability, and extra features (e.g. swivel screen) and it looks like the companies are delivering. Even with the popularity of mirrorless interchangeables, it's good to see that the small-sensor is not dead.
     
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  18. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Real Name:
    BB
    How does one access the EV compensation on the LX5? Opps, I now see you described this in your first post, Amin
    Did you find it annoying or was it OK and does the compensation "show" itself when you look at the LCD - as in does the image change?
     
  19. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 12, 2010
    Philly, Pa
    BB,
    Yes, it's a great interface. Just press the jog wheel and the EV comes up. It changes the screen brightness as you dial up/down.
    Press again, it's locked in.....

    Go on, go an ask me about them Step zoom things.... go on....
    I'm tending them rabbits George...just a waiting....
     
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  20. javier

    javier SC Veteran

    355
    Oct 5, 2010
    Los Angeles
    Hi folks. My first post here and I am glad I found this place. Looks like a wonderful place to hang out at.
    On the LX-5, Correct me if I am wrong. Does it not have an EV adjustment button? Am I missing something here?
    Here is a small collection of LX-5 images...

    By the way, Having owned an S90, G9 and G10, This is by far my fav P&S.
     
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