If you do a lot of shooting indoors or anywhere else with sub-optimal light, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 ($499.99 list) point-and-shoot camera is designed for you. Its big image sensor and bright lens work together to capture light and produce clean shots in most conditions. The camera’s speedy performance, manual controls, hotshoe, digital-accessories port make for a D-SLR-esque shooting experience in a smaller camera—but not that much smaller; the LX5 won’t fit in your pocket. The DMC-LX5 belongs among the best compact cameras available, like the Editors’ Choice Canon PowerShot S95 ($399.99, 4 stars) and the Olympus XZ-1 ($499.99, 3.5 stars). For its large size and the $500 you’ll spend, though, you can find cameras that aren’t that much bigger and come with D-SLR-size image sensors that dwarf the one you get with the DMC-LX5.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Design
The lure of the LX5 over other compact cameras is twofold. First there’s the lens: The wide diameter is extremely useful for shooting without a flash in low-light environments. With such a wide lens, you can pipe a lot of light to the image sensor all at once, instead of raising the ISO sensitivity (which makes the lens more sensitive to light, but can make for noisy images). In the wide-angle position, the lens can open all the way to f/2, and at the telephoto it opens to f/3.3. The focal length of the lens is 24-90mm (35mm equivalent), which works out to 3.75x optical zoom.
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The second differentiating feature here is the size of the LX5′s image sensor. It’s as large as you’ll find in a compact camera: 1/1.63-inch (a surface area of roughly 48.56mm²). ThePanasonic Lumix DMC-FX700($399.95, 4 stars) also features a very bright lens (f/2.2), but features an image sensor that is about half the size—1/2.33-inch (roughly 28.5mm²).
All that lens and sensor power take up a lot of space—the LX5 is very thick and won’t fit comfortably in your pocket, if it fits at all. The camera measures 2.58 by 4.32 by 1.69 inches (HWD) and weighs a hefty 9.3 ounces.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Specifications
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 10.1 MP
- Media Format
- Secure Digital Extended Capacity
- 35-mm Equivalent (Wide)
- 24 mm
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto)
- 90 mm
- Optical Zoom
- 3.75 x
- LCD size
- 3 inches
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Video Resolution
If you’re comfortable spending $500 on a camera that won’t fit in your pocket, you should considering a mirrorless camera. Small mirrorless models are about the same size as the LX5, but they have image sensors that can be up to eight times the size of what you’ll get on the LX5. The Sony NEX-3′s($549.99, 4.5 stars) image sensor is APS-C size (370mm²), the same size found in many D-SLRs. The Micro Four ThirdsPanasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 ($699.95, 4 stars) looks a lot like the LX5 but offers a sensor that is 225m². Both sensors are much larger than the LX5′s, with comparable price and footprints.
Panasonic loaded the LX5 up with buttons, switches, and dials so you don’t have to dig through menus to change parameters. There are dedicated switches to change aspect ratio and focus, and a scroll wheel in the back for shutter speed and aperture. The PowerShot S95 and Olympus XZ-1 have similar controls, and add a second control ring around the lens so you can control both simultaneously. Of course, you can ignore all the controls and go into fully automatic shooting with face detection for simple shots.
Like many of its competitors, the LCD on the back of the LX5 sports a high resolution. The 3-inch display is filled with 460,000 dots so images look very sharp. If you’re sensitive to motion blur, though, you might detect moving objects leaving streaks as you compose your shots on this screen. The display on the same-price Olympus XZ-1 is even better: it OLED display crams in 614,000 dots, and provides much more contrast, and a significant reduction in motion blur.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Performance
The LX5 and its low-light competitors are pricey, but they should be, they’re the fastest compact cameras you can buy. The LX5 boots and shoots in an average of zippy 1.85 seconds, it averages just 0.50 seconds of shutter lag, and wait time between shots is right around 1.38 seconds. If you want faster speeds, you’ll have to step up to a mirrorless or D-SLR camera—you can’t find a compact camera that’s faster.
In the PC Labs, we use Imatest to objectively evaluate image quality. The LX5 scored well, offering crisp shots and low-light images with little noise. In terms of sharpness, the LX5 scored a center-weighted average of 1,626 lines per picture height, a good score, though not as good as the Canon PowerShot S95′s 1,858 lines per picture height or the Olympus XZ-1′s 1,777.
You can crank up the ISO sensitivity on the LX5 pretty high before images became visibly noisy. According to Imatest, images with more than 1.5 percent noise are typically unusable. The Olympus XZ-1, Canon S95, and Panasonic LX5 all averaged less than 1.5 percent up to and including ISO 1600, fantastic results for compact cameras.
Video recording on the LX5 is fantastic—it’s the best experience you can get in a low-light compact camera. Most models can record 720p video, but the LX5 has the option of using the AVCHD codec for captures up to 17 Megabits per second rather than the 6-10Mbps on the other cameras. And there’s no lens noise when you refocus.
The LX5 features a hotshoe (for attaching external flashes) and a digital accessory port. You won’t find either on other compact cameras, typically you need to step up to mirrorless camera or a D-SLR. The camera also has a mini-HDMI port for video and photo playback on an HDTV, and a proprietary USB port for connecting the camera to your computer.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 is one of the best compact cameras you can buy. The Olympus XZ-1 does add a few goodies (an f/1.8 lens, a sharper OLED screen, and a second control ring), and the Canon S95 is much more pocket friendly, but the LX5 does perform near the head of the point-and-shoot class. Still, though, if you’re okay spending $500 on a camera that won’t fit in your pocket, try a mirrorless or Micro Four Thirds model, which will give you much better image quality for a similar price.