Group test: Canon Powershot S95, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, Nikon Coolpix P7000
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.
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