Group test: Canon Powershot S95, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, Nikon Coolpix P7000
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 turns in a very good performance overall, and its AF, white balance and metering systems are generally extremely reliable. In live view mode, the LX5's LCD screen automatically shows a 'correctly exposed' image, but upn half-pressing the shutter button this switches to an (accurate) simulation of final exposure. Likewise the live histogram, which normally (and pointlessly) shows the distribution of tones in the live view image only until you half-press the shutter release.
It is however, in all senses, a typical Panasonic compact camera, which means that its color rendition - whilst generally pleasant - isn't always what we'd call 'natural'. Caucasian skin tones especially, can be rendered a little too yellow, particularly under artificial light, and if you shoot in iA mode, you'll find that the LX5 can oversaturate portraits slightly. This is great if you like your subjects to have a rosy glow to their cheeks, but it can sometimes results in the sitter looking as if they are wearing rather too much makeup.
The LX5's AWB performance is - again - typical Panasonic. It has a tendency to deliver rather cool results in daylight other than bright direct sunlight (see example below), and it struggles in low-intensity tungsten light, where everything tends to come out looking far too magenta. For portraits, a spot of flash solves the problem if you have the opportunity, but ideally we'd recommend experimenting with the various WB presets (or you could shoot RAW). Under fluorescent light, the LX5 gives almost spookily accurate white balance in the strictest sense - i.e. gray areas are generally pretty close to being technically neutral in tone - but whether this is a good thing or not depends on your point of view. If you'd prefer slightly warmer rendition it can easily be fixed by fiddling with the A/B axis of the fine adjustment control.
|In overcast conditions, or in shade, the LX5's AWB system tends to deliver rather cool results. Not 'unnatural', as such, but distinctly frigid...||...in bright sunshine, on the other hand, AWB gives much warmer, more vibrant color rendition.|
As far as metering is concerned, the LX5 is - like all three cameras in this test - very reliable in multi-pattern mode. We've had an LX5 for longer than the S95 or P7000, and in every environment in which we've used it, it has proven itself very capable. Even in exceptionally poor light, exposures are acceptably accurate, and unlike the P7000, the LX5 isn't easily fooled into underexposure by large bright areas in a scene. Flash exposures (in both natural and artificial light) are excellent, and unlike some previous Panasonic compacts, the didn't find ourselves needing to dial in any negative flash exposure compensation in order to preserve highlight detail in faces, clothing etc.
We had no problems whatsoever with the LX5's AF system, which as we expected from our experience of the LX3, is fast (by contrast-detection standards) and accurate. Of the two AF modes - AF and AF Macro - the latter is the most versatile, but slightly slower to acquire focus than the standard 'AF'. For this reason, if focus speed is a priority, we'd recommend sticking with AF until/unless you know that you absolutely need the close-focusing abilities of the AF Macro setting.
Face detection is a standard feature of compact digital cameras these days, but the LX5 features Panasonic's 'Face Recognition' system, which does exactly what it sounds like - it recognizes people and can tag images with their names. You have to register your friends' faces first, but this is a simple matter of taking a full-face portrait and entering a name, and we've found that it works very well. Most of the time, in fact, if a registered face appears in the frame, the LX5 picks it up quickly and accurately. Whilst face recognition is unlikely to stimulate the interest of some 'serious' photographers, it's a cool function that may prove invaluable if you need to quickly sort through images taken at a family wedding, for example. Manual AF point selection is also possible.
Continuous Shooting/Operational Speed
In terms of its general operational speed, the LX5 sits between the Canon S95 and the Nikon P7000. Not quite as fast as the S95, but significantly more responsive than the occasionally catatonic P7000. Startup time is a respectable 1.4 seconds (approx) which is almost exactly the same as the P7000 (and only fractionally slower than the S95). Menus appear/disappear quickly when prompted, and switching to review mode entails a short (1.3 seconds, approx) delay before an image appears on the rear LCD. The LX5 responds quickly and positively to all control inputs, and there is no sign of the 'button lag' which blights the Nikon P7000.
Shot to shot time in JPEG mode isn't great at approximately 2.5 seconds, increasing to approximately 3 seconds in RAW mode and again to around 6 seconds in RAW+JPEG capture. Shutter lag is virtually unmeasurable though, at less than 0.1 seconds once AF has been acquired. This is comparable to both the S95 and P7000.
Unfortunately, the LX5 gives relatively poor performance in continuous (burst) mode. Set to high quality JPEG capture the LX5 can manage an impressive 2.5fps continuous shooting rate, but only for three images at a time. Switching to the lower quality (higher compression) JPEG option increases the burst depth to 5 frames, and in both JPEG quality modes the LX5 is ready to shoot another burst almost immediately.
In RAW mode the LX5 manages 2.5 fps for 3 frames, but this entails a 4.5 second (approximately) 'lock up' while images are written to the memory card. This delay increases to around 8 seconds in RAW+JPEG mode. We tested the LX5 with a Sandisk Extreme Ducati edition SDHC card - your mileage may vary.
Whilst the LX5 is technically the fastest of the three cameras in our test at 2.5fps at full-resolution (and can also be persuaded to shoot at 6fps if you can live with 3MP output) we'd prefer greater burst depth. Three images in a burst is disappointing when you consider that with the same memory card the Canon S95 can just carry on shooting until you run out of card capacity/interest. It is a little odd, too, that the burst depth should be capped in this way considering that in JPEG mode, as the LX5 is ready to shoot again almost immediately after capturing a burst.
Panasonic claims that the LX5's 4.5Wh battery is good for approximately 400 frames when fully charged, but in our experience of using the camera this seems to be a highly optimistic figure. We'd suggest that in normal use, a figure of between 250-300 frames is more realistic, assuming moderate use of image review and flash. Although lower than the quoted figure this still represents good endurance for a compact camera. Be aware though - like the Canon S95, the LX5's battery level indicator gives very little warning of imminent exhaustion, so make sure it's definitely fully charged before heading out.
Jan 20, 2011
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