REVIEW – Panasonic LX5

by Mike on September 14, 2010

Link: Buy the LX5 on Amazon.com at an all-new low price of $399!

Link 2: Book on How to Use the Panasonic LX5

Pros

  • excellent overall image and video quality
  • fast, accurate autofocus
  • user-defined presets directly accessible on mode-selection dial
  • awesome lens (24mm at the wide end – fantastic!)
  • great high ISO performance
  • highly-effective image stabilization
  • shutter goes to 60 seconds
  • great for long exposures
  • very, very fun macro mode
  • awesome dynamic range
  • great color rendition
  • fantastic build quality – feels high-end
  • amazing set of ‘extra’ features like multiple exposures and various film modes
  • impressive battery life
  • great for off-camera flash work

Cons

  • lens cap
  • complex menus – learnable, but not as simple as Canon’s
  • audio is mono only

Quick Conclusion

The LX5 is easily the best camera I’ve ever owned. I paid $480 for mine (it’s much, much cheaper today) and it was worth every penny. It has the best combination of performance, features, and build quality on the market for my use (street, travel, and social photography).

And I’m not just talking about things like image quality and high ISO – the autofocus is really fast and accurate, the image stabilization is incredible, and the metering nails the scene pretty much every time. It simply gets all the big things right.

LX5 vx. Canon S95

This really is one of those situations where you can’t go wrong. If the idea of a lens cap on a point & shoot really bothers you, of you simply want something small, then get the Canon S95 instead – it’s freaking awesome. But if you really want the wider angler (24mm on the LX5 vs 28mm on the S95) and/or a hot shoe, get the LX5.

LX5 vs. Leica D-Lux 5

The Leica D-Lux5 is basically a rebranded LX5 selling for double the price ($800 as of early January 2011).

However, there are two big differences. First, the D-Lux 5 comes packaged with Adobe Lightroom 3 (a ~$250 value). Secondly, the D-Lux 5 has a three-year warranty vs. one for the LX5.

I don’t view these as a big deal for most people. I think the average person in the market for a high-end point & shoot already owns Lightroom or Aperture, and third-party camera warranties are actually pretty cheap.

So only go for the Leica if you really really really need the hot Leica logo on your camera.

Quick Summary of the LX5

The Panasonic LX5 is an update to the extremely popular LX3. The LX3 caught fire with pro and advanced-amateur photographers due to its rich feature set and excellent image quality.

The LX5 takes the winning LX3 formula to the next level with an enhanced lens, a bigger ISO range, HD video capability, and the ability to use external viewfinders.

The Lens, Baby!

The LX5 has an extremely useful focal length range of 24mm to 90mm, while the LX3 only went to 60mm. The LX5’s most direct competitor, the Canon S95 only goes to 28mm at the wide end.

I can’t say enough how much I love having 24mm at the wide end. I’m used to using a 50mm lens on a Canon crop-sensor body for an effective focal length of 80mm. With the 24mm, I can get a LOT closer to my subjects and take some pretty wide landscapes. In fact, I have the LX5 set to 24mm 95% of the time because I love that wide angle so much. There is some distortion though that’s to be expected with all zooms on point and shoots.

The LX5’s Leica-branded lens has a very bright maximum aperture of f/2.0 at the wide end, which I’m finding a lot more useful for shallow depth-of-field effects than I would have otherwise imagined.

No, it can’t mimic a DSLR in the DoF category, but it’s pretty darn good for a point & shoot! And oh yeah, it’s sharp sharp sharp – way sharper than my Canon DSLR at times.

Controls/Ergonomics

As far as controls go, the LX5 has a pretty comprehensive set. On the back of the camera, you’ll see the usual array of buttons – Play/ISO/Focus/Delete/Menu, etc. Everything’s layed out well enough to the point that I quickly found myself being able to use the camera without looking.

I love the slider on the lens barrel which allows you to switch aspect ratios between 1×1, 3×2, 4:3, and 16×9. I love the addition of the square option, which was absent in the LX3. The sliding power switch is also a nice touch – push buttons can often be turned on accidentally.

However, I’d have liked a bigger play button. In addition, the rear dial which is used to make aperture/shutter speed/exposure compensation adjustments was effective, but a little stiff in turning – likely to prevent accidental movement.

The LX5’s menu system is fairly complex – but that’s the nature of the beast. This camera has options for everything from multiple exposures to flash curtain sync to auto ISO.

However, I was able to figure out the LX5’s menus without the manual pretty quickly, and all the important functions can be accessed in a jiffy – the user-defined program slots on the mode-selection dial are a BIG help.

Image Quality

I love the LX5 look – crisp images with strong colors that aren’t quite overpowering. The LX5 simply looks a lot more natural than any point & shoot I’ve ever owned, and more than rivals my Canon DSLR, at least at low ISO’s. I especially love the blues, greens, and oranges.

Again, I plan on posting a LOT more pictures this coming week. I had a memory-card snafu that limited what I can post today.

Here are a few samples, straight out of the camera, no processing except for a little straightening and cropping:

(note: Aperture used to smooth out my skin and remove zits in this shot)

High ISO Performance

The LX5’s low-light performance is pretty solid – and truly excellent for a point & shoot camera. I would rate it as very usable up to ISO 1600, though obviously there’s some noise and smudging of details in there.

Again, it’s excellent for a point & shoot – but don’t expect to print at 20X30″ as you could with something like a Canon 5D Mark II. But for web use and reasonably-sized prints, the LX5 does a great job up to ISO 1600.

Here are some unprocessed (meaning you can probably make use noise reduction in Aperture, Lightroom, or Photoshop to make them look even better) shots taken at ISO 1600:

Long Exposures

The LX5 rocks for long exposures. Its shutter goes to 60 seconds, which is much longer than most point & shoots.

Here’s a 13 second exposure:

And a 10-second shot taken in the 16×9 format:

Film Modes

The LX5 has a number of visual profiles called “films” to give you a variety of color and black & white looks to your shots. You can also set the LX5 to record several at once so you can choose between them later.

Here are samples of the various modes:

Standard:

Vivid:

Dynamic:


Smooth:

Nature:

Standard Black & White:

Dynamic Black & White:

Smooth Black & White:

Off-Camera Flash

I had zero problems using off-camera flash with the LX5. Here’s how my hookup worked:

Nikon As-15 on hotshoe –> PC to PC female cable –> PC to hotshoe adapter –> Canon 430 EXII flash (more info here)

I’ve been told that you can easily achieve a sync speed of over 1/1000 with the LX5, though I haven’t tried that yet.

Image Stabilization

I would rate the LX5’s image stabilization system as excellent. I’ve gotten razor-sharp shots as shutter speeds as slow as 1/5 of a second. So between the f/2.0 lens, great high ISO performance, and awesome image stabilization, the LX5 is a simply great low-light machine.

Construction/Cosmetics

The LX5’s metal body feels very solid. It’s obviously not something you’d ever want to drop, but it makes other point & shoot cameras like the Canon SD4000IS feel like toys.

UPDATE: I dropped my LX5 from 4 feet up onto my kitchen floor and it survived without a scratch. I hope to NOT perform a similar test on concrete.

And I don’t know about you, but I think the LX5 is simply a very attractive camera. It’s not quite as sexy as a Leica, but then again, what is? Cosmetics don’t amount to much at the end of the day, but a pretty camera beats an ugly one, all things being equal.

Other Features

The LX5 also features a nifty multiple exposure mode which you can use for HDR-like work or for other visual effects. You turn the mode on, take a shot, and the LCD screen will display that shot translucently, so you can overlay the next shot on top. If you want to use this for an HDR-type look in camera, you had better use a tripod.

Conclusion

The LX5 is a simply amazing camera. The image quality rivals that of a DSLR for most shooting and it has more than enough features to keep you busy until the inevitable LX7 drops.

For street, travel, and fun stuff, my DSLR has been 100% replaced by the LX5. Most of my photography is street work, and the LX5’s compact size allows me to go incognito. A DSLR is often too distracting – a pr0blem for me because I always want to get close to my subjects. And with the LX5’s amazing ultra-wide lens, I plan on getting even closer now!

Yes, the LX5 is pricey, but if you love photography, it’s a worthwhile investment. The LX5 packs in a feature set (f/2.0 lens, 24mm at wide end, great high-ISO performance) that make it an incredibly useful creative tool, and one that is a lot lighter and easier to carry than a DSLR.

Besides, LX5’s are selling like hotcakes and if you don’t like it, you’ll be able to hock it on Craig’s List or eBay for a good price without much trouble.

If money is an issue or you hate the idea of using a lens cap on a point & shoot, check out the Canon S90 (same image quality as newer S95) – it’s a seriously awesome camera as well and about $170 cheaper.

Buy the Amazing Panasonic LX5 at Amazon.com

Book on How to Use the Panasonic LX5

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

freelancer September 23, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Thanks for the review! When you shot those street pictures (of the market etc), did you use a flash?

I just bought this camera to try it out but I’m finding it’s not great for my macro food pics in low light, which is surprising. Not sure what I am doing wrong….

Rik Stace October 30, 2010 at 8:58 am

Great looking camera. Can you find this cheaper in Asia or the USA?

Mike October 30, 2010 at 9:08 am

Freelancer, no flash.

Mike December 10, 2010 at 1:11 pm
Martin March 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Hello

I’ve a lx5 and I’m looking for a external flash (I have the canon speelite 430ex – for my D7 who also works on the lx5) to work with a off shoe cord, so I don’t have a too direct flash….the question is which off shoe cord….does the oc-e3 work with the lx5.

Regards

Martin

Jeeves Dupointe July 2, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I totally agree with your assessment. Its is a fine camera.

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