The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 digital camera is the new top dog in Panasonic's compact digital camera line-up, taking over from the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX3. It has a host of new specifications and features that make it a superior camera to its predecessor.

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 is the best digital camera that the company has produced, with an excellent quality 10-megapixel sensor and a versatile 24-90mm lens that has a maximum aperture of f2.0 at the wide end. It can take high quality photos even in dim lighting thanks to the combination of good high ISO performance and a well-designed lens. However, we don't like the menu structure and there are a few design features that are disappointing.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5: Design

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 has a traditional digital camera design. The camera's top face includes an accessory hot shoe that can be used with a Panasonic electronic viewfinder. On the rear of the camera a 3in 460k dot LCD screen is accompanied by a typical button layout that includes a rear dial to adjust manual settings like aperture and shutter speed.

On the whole the camera's layout is intuitive and easy to grasp, but we took issue with the LCD screen which generally looks washed out — as a result, pictures look better when viewed on a computer screen or printed than on the camera itself. The use of a clip-on lens cap also adds unnecessary complication to the lens assembly, and in our testing we often left the cap off for convenience's sake. We would have preferred an in-lens shutter like the one on the Canon Powershot S95.

The menu of the Panasonic LX5 is an odd combination of overly simplistic and unnecessarily convoluted. There are only three main menus — Setup, Motion Picture and 'Rec', which we gather stands for Recording — but this simple approach means it can be hard to find the setting you're looking for. The Recording and Setup menu options each have seven pages of options to scroll through, which is excessive.

Thankfully it's not necessary to delve into the labyrinthine menu often. A quick menu allows common settings to be altered while still shooting, and this is far more logically laid out. Manual control in the P/A/S/M modes is easy thanks to the rear dial, which can be clicked to switch between aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation when appropriate.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5: Picture quality and performance

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 produces excellent quality pictures for a compact digital camera. It's easily on par with the Canon Powershot S95, Nikon Coolpix P7000 and other great digital cameras thanks to its large (for a compact) sensor size and high quality lens.

The 10-megapixel JPEG and RAW images the Panasonic LX5 produces have impressive detail levels at the base ISO of 80, and good detail levels are retained in default JPG settings up until ISO 800. Images get progressively grainier and noisier until the maximum of ISO 3200, and ISO 6400 and 12800 options are available for low-light photography (albeit at a reduced 3 megapixel image size).

The multi-aspect switch on the lens barrel allows users to easily switch between 1:1, 16:9, 3:2 and the standard 4:3 aspect ratios, and the specialised sensor means non-standard aspect ratios are almost equal in terms of megapixels. If you enjoy trying out different compositions when shooting this is a great feature.

The f2.0-3.3 24-90mm Leica-made lens on the Panasonic LX5 is excellent at every step of the zoom range — 24mm provides a relatively undistorted wide angle and 90mm works well for portraits. We didn't find any significant problems with the lens of the LX5 — it's among the best we've seen on a point and shoot camera.

NEXT PAGE: PC World Australia's reading of the specs, August 2010 >>

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5: Extra zoom: 3.8x vs 2.5x

The new Leica DC Vario-Summicron lens of the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 boasts a 3.8x zoom range, with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 24-90mm. This offers an extra 30mm reach over the LUMIX DMC-LX3's 24-60mm focal range, but thankfully the new lens is equally as bright — maximum aperture at 24mm is f2.0 just like the LX3, and the 90mm's maximum aperture is still a relatively fast f3.3. The aperture of the LUMIX DMC-LX5's 60mm mid-point remains at f2.8, again like the LX3.

We noted that the LUMIX DMC-LX3 had a relatively short zoom range when we reviewed it. The LX3 was an excellent landscape and group photo camera, but the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5's extra zoom length should make it a better choice for impromptu portraiture and general purpose use. An extra bit of zoom is never a bad thing!

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5: Redesigned imaging sensor and processor

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 has the same gross pixel count as the earlier DMC-LX3 — just over 10 megapixels, with a maximum 4:3 image resolution of 3648x2736 - but the 1/1.63in sensor has been redesigned for significantly higher sensitivity and dynamic range. Panasonic quotes improvements of 31 per cent and 38 per cent respectively for sensitivity and saturation, which should translate into sharper images with more detail in highlights and dark areas. Panasonic's claim that images will be 'noiseless' is a bit rich — the sensor inside the LUMIX DMC-LX5 is still much smaller than the one inside a camera like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 or Canon EOS 550D — but a newer and more powerful image processor should mean that JPEG images are cleaner and more detailed than those taken with the LUMIX DMC-LX3.

The new processor allows for faster start-up and shutter times, as well as quicker autofocusing. A new Intelligent Resolution feature analyses images to determine detail, edge and out-of-focus areas and adjust processing and compression accordingly — this should translate into slightly better detail in high ISO images, such as those captured in dim lighting.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5: AVCHD Lite movie recording

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX3 didn't have the processing power to compress its 720p high-definition movies on the fly, resulting in very large QuickTime Motion JPEG files. The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 can save its movies in the popular AVCHD Lite format, which significantly cuts down on movie file sizes while maintaining good quality levels in video. The LUMIX DMC-LX5 also lets users manually control shutter speed and aperture settings, allowing for extra creative control. After recording, simple movie editing features are available in the camera for viewers to cut out unwanted scenes.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5: New controls and accessories

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5's controls are largely the same as the DMC-LX3's, but a new jog dial allows easy adjustment of incremental settings without requiring multiple button presses. The aspect ratio switch on the camera's lens barrel housing now includes a 1:1 ratio for square shooting, and a moulded grip on the right side of the camera makes one-handed shooting easier.

An accessory port and flash hot-shoe on the top of the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 allow for the same electronic viewfinder as seen on the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF1 to be used. An optical viewfinder with a 24mm viewing angle can also be purchased for use in the camera's hot-shoe.

The new Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 makes several improvements to the old flagship LUMIX DMC-LX3. It's an expensive product but its specifications look great.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

Group test: what's the best digital camera?

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5: Specs

  • 10.1 Megapixels compact camera
  • sensor: 1/1.63-type/11.3 Total Megapixels/Primary Colour Filter
  • F2.0-3.3
  • optical zoom: 3.8x, digital zoom: 4x
  • LEICA DC VARIO-SUMMICRON lens
  • Step Zoom
  • optical image stabiliser
  • JPEG/QuickTime/AVCHD Lite, QuickTime Motion JPEG
  • 7.5cm (3.0") TFT Screen LCD Display (460K dots)
  • 40MB Built-in Memory, SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, SDXC Memory Card
  • AV Output (NTSC/PAL, NTSC), mini HDMI, USB2.0 High speed
  • ID-Security Li-ion Battery Pack
  • 271g
  • 109.7x65.5x43.0mm
  • 10.1 Megapixels compact camera
  • sensor: 1/1.63-type/11.3 Total Megapixels/Primary Colour Filter
  • F2.0-3.3
  • optical zoom: 3.8x, digital zoom: 4x
  • LEICA DC VARIO-SUMMICRON lens
  • Step Zoom
  • optical image stabiliser
  • JPEG/QuickTime/AVCHD Lite, QuickTime Motion JPEG
  • 7.5cm (3.0") TFT Screen LCD Display (460K dots)
  • 40MB Built-in Memory, SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, SDXC Memory Card
  • AV Output (NTSC/PAL, NTSC), mini HDMI, USB2.0 High speed
  • ID-Security Li-ion Battery Pack
  • 271g
  • 109.7x65.5x43.0mm

OUR VERDICT

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5 is a high-end digital camera with great specifications including an excellent lens and sensor combination. It has some annoying design elements like the surprisingly poor LCD screen but otherwise it's an impressive camera.

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