Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Body/Design and Operation:
The LX5 is the fourth camera to carry the LX name but can almost be seen as a second-generation LX3. Having found a winning combination when it added a super-bright wideangle lens and multi-aspect ratio sensor to make the LX3, Panasonic has not seen the need to meddle too much with the essential ingredients - the LX5 even features a redesigned version of the same sensor as its predecessor. As for the rest of the specifications, a fast-aperture Leica Vario-Summicron lens, compact metal body, flash hotshoe and plenty of external controls make the LX5 a very appealing camera for the photo enthusiast.
Although the LX5's formula is fairly recent, its resemblance to earlier LX-series models is clear. The overall dimensions of all the LX series are similar, and some design touches, like the physical switches for aspect ratio and AF mode, are common to previous models. The LX5's design isn't a total rehash of these earlier cameras though - it offers a substantially better rubber handgrip, and it is the first of the range to boast a rear control dial to adjust key shooting parameters.
The LX5's 3.8x 24-90mm (equivalent) optical zoom is the widest in this group, and has a greater reach than its predecessor the LX3, which was limited to a 60mm equivalent telephoto setting. This is a welcome change, extending the zoom usefully into the 'portrait' range. The other key feature of the Leica-branded lens is its speed: a maximum aperture of f/2 - 3.3 makes the LX5's lens one of the fastest available, only very slightly slower than the f/1.8-2.4 of the Samsung TL500, and significantly faster than the 28-200mm (equivalent) optics of the P7000. It's also about a stop faster than the S95's lens at the telephoto end.
The LX5 is a small camera, but very comfortable to hold and use, thanks to a well-sized (for its class) rubber handgrip. We certainly wouldn't call it 'substantial' but it provides greater purchase than the slick semi-matte metal finish of the Canon S95, and means that the camera can be comfortably used one-handed.
In terms of control points, the LX5 is a midpoint between the svelte Canon S95 and the more chunky Nikon P7000, with a strong family resemblance to the Micro Four Thirds DMC-GF1. It only has one control dial, which defaults to the 'master' value in aperture or shutter priority mode, but switching between aperture and shutter speed in manual mode is easy to achieve by simply clicking the dial inwards.
We like the LX5's external aspect ratio switch, because it draws the user's attention towards what might otherwise be an overlooked aspect of its feature set - the multi-aspect CCD sensor. Of slightly less use in our opinion is the external focus mode switch. We're huge fans of external controls, but depending on how you hold the camera you might find that this switch is in just the right position to get knocked when the LX5 is held with two hands.
Minor niggles aside, the LX5 is a pleasure to use, and unlike the Nikon P7000, its fluid ergonomics are not let down by excessively slow operation. Like virtually all such devices, the screen image of the LX5's LCD can become very hard to see clearly in bright lighting conditions, but we don't consider it to be a major problem in normal use. If it should become a serious issue, there is of course a choice of two finders for the LX5 - the optical DMW-VF1E (which shows a fixed 24mm equivalent field of view) and the electronic DMW-LVF1.
Since its inception, the LX series has been characterized by Leica-branded lenses of increasing brightness. The LX5's lens is more versatile than that of its immediate predecessor the LX3, at 24-90mm (equivalent) as opposed to 24-60mm. It is just as fast as the LX3's over the shared range, being f/2.8 at 60mm-equivalent, and only a third of a stop slower at full tele.
The lens is optically stabilized, using Panasonic's 'Power O.I.S.' system.
The LX5's flash is stowed neatly inside the camera's top plate and is released with this manual switch.
Here's the flash in the raised position. Like virtually all compact cameras, the LX5's flash is pretty low-powered, but should have enough clout for close-range portraits and fill-in when shooting outdoors or against backlighting.
One of the easiest identifying features of today's crop of 'luxury' compact cameras is a hotshoe for external flash. The LX3 was the first of the LX series to feature one,and the LX5 follows suit, but as well as external flashguns, the LX5's hotshoe also serves as a mounting point for the optional DMW-LVF1 electronic viewfinder...
...which plugs into this socket, just to the rear of the hotshoe, on the back of the camera. DMW-LVF1 is also compatible with Panasonic's Lumix DMC-GF1 and GF2, and offers 100% coverage and 202K dot resolution.
One interesting change over the LX3 is a new rear control wheel, replacing the previous generation's joystick design. This wheel serves to adjust exposure settings when shooting, and when clicked in it changes purpose and becomes an exposure compensation dial.
Overall, we like the wheel but it is very small, and we would prefer it to stand a little prouder from the thumbgrip.
A 4-way controller on the rear of the LX5 provides access to focus, ISO, self-timer and the main menu. It also plays host to a customizable 'Fn' button.
Panasonic has persisted in labelling the four way controller's direct-acess functions using just indented mouldings. In poor light it's not always easy to work out what those buttons actually do.
On top of the lens barrel is a physical switch for setting your desired aspect ratio. New on the LX5 is a 1:1 setting for shooting square format images, essentially as a crop of the 4:3 frame. This sits alongside the 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 format settings that we've seen on previous LX-series cameras.
On the side of the lens barrel the LX5 has another physical switch for focusing mode - AF in its normal range, AF in the macro range, and manual focus.
This switch is rather easy to knock accidentally, and it can also cause irritation if it is set to MF when the LX5 is set to 'iA' operation, because manual focus is not permitted in this mode. If the switch is set to 'MF' the LX5 locks up, and prompts you to switch to AF or AF Macro mode.
The LX5 comes with a very fiddly snap-in lenscap, which attaches via a short lanyard to one of the strap lugs.
If you neglect to remove the cap before turning the camera on, the LX5 will prompt you to remove it before it can start up.
You can, however, startup the LX5 directly into review mode by pressing the play button while turning the camera on, which avoids having to extend the lens just to view your pictures.
On the base of the LX5 is a small door which conceals the battery and memory card compartment. The DMW-BCJ13E is new, with recessed contacts (presumably to conform with the latest Japanese regulations), and not compatible with the LX3.
A small sprung flap on the right of the LX5 (when the camera is held with its back facing you) conceals the mini HDMI and AV out/Digital socket.