Panasonic Lumix LX5—The Ultimate Point & Shoot? (& Canon G12 Comparison)

lx5The holy grail for photographers is a camera that is small enough to fit in your pocket but still takes great images, preferably with not only a reasonable on board flash but the ability to add a hotshoe flash as needed. And of course many of us also consider the ability to shoot Raw files and HD video a necessity in this day and age. This grail was unachievable until recently with the Canon Powershot G12. But now Panasonic has introduced an even more compact camera that fits the bill, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. To find out whether it measures up I took it to Africa with me and used it for candids, environmentals and some wildlife shots for three weeks. Here’s what I found…


Overview of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 and Canon Powershot G12

The "Intelligent Auto" setting of the LX5 was all I needed to capture excellent scenics even with wildlife. This is an un-retouched JPEG straight from the camera.

The first thing to notice about these pricey point and shoots is that they aren’t targeted at Megapixel freaks. At 9.5MP and 10MP respectively these cameras are targeted at those who are more concerned about overall image quality and low light performance than sheer resolution. A welcome development for serious photographers everywhere! In keeping with this focus they both can also capture Raw image files to maximize the tweaking you can do to the image later on.

A small camera earns it cost quickly by helping capture candids. Sure I had my Nikon D700 on a tripod photographing these Meerkats, but having the LX5 in my cargo pocket let me quickly grab some great shots of the group like this one.

Neither camera is a “super-zoom” either. If you are looking for a monster 10x zoom to get those distant action shots, you’ll need to look elsewhere. This is also a great trade-off for the target market as telephoto images with a small sensor point and shoot are disappointing as often as not. So by keeping the lens zoom down to 4x and 5x respectively the two cameras can achieve great optics with their lenses (The LX5 lens varies from f/2 to f/3.3 and the G12’s from a slightly slower f/2.8 to f/4.5)

Shooting with the DMC-LX5

I was frankly amazed that the Lumix was able to capture the colors and tones in a tricky scene like this sunset over the Kalahari Desert with no effort on my part.

Image quality was never an issue with the LX5. I was frankly blown away by what I could capture by simply setting the camera to “Intelligent Auto” and firing away. More typically I relied on my normal “Aperture priority” shooting which the camera also made easy. The F/2 Leica DC Summicron lens clearly more than holds its own. The lens also natively goes to 24mm (35mm equivalent) at the wide end, making it perfect for both scenics and candids. Of course that means it only goes to 90mm (35mm equivalent) at the long end, so it won’t be much help trying to capture sports on a large field.

The camera was quite quick to power on and get to first shot. Subsequent shots were also relatively quick (about 1/2 second between frames depending on the shooting mode). Raw+JPEG is a shooting option for those who want to hedge their bets.

Similarly the 720p video (and accompanying audio) quality was surprisingly good for a point and shoot. I had no problem mixing video clips along with stills into a 1080p slideshow and having them look good side by side and having the audio from the Lumix LX5 hold up well as part of the soundtrack (The LX5 features Dolby Digital Creator to help it capture high-quality audio—whatever tricks it uses, they work).

There are two other video related innovations I really enjoyed. The first is a dedicated “record movie” button which can be used independent of camera mode to start a video. That was much more convenient than having to find a switch in the dark to get into movie mode. The second is a slider on the lens which changes the aspect ratio between 1:1, 4:3, 16:9 and 3:2. I found that handy when I knew I wanted to be shooting wide format video or stills that were compatible with my D-SLR for example. The only downside is that sometimes that slider moved by accident and it took me a little while to realize what had happened.

The Lumix LX5 also features dozens of shooting modes and is chock full of custom settings. The dial on top is great for moving between the main modes, but I found the buttons on the back very counter-intuitive. If I had one knock on the camera it would be the menu system for the controls. Personally I prefer the Canon Powershot controls or the Fuji controls over the Lumix version.

The only other complaint I have about the Lumix is the lack of an optical viewfinder. Unfortunately that is increasingly the norm, but those who are still clinging to the joys of sighting through their camera can certainly move to the larger Canon Powershot G12 which does feature both LCD and optical viewing.

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This memorable candid of Dianne from our safari with a Meerkat was only possible because I had a small and unobtrusive point and shoot that was easy to maneuver in a crowded situation. Photo taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5.

For pure image quality and small size, the Lumix LX5 is a clear win. And at $399 from B&H it is hard to beat the price for all the power it packs. You won’t find more punch in a smaller package. But if you are hooked on having an optical viewfinder or are used to the Canon Powershot user interface and menu system then the Canon Powershot G12 is an amazing camera also at the slightly higher price of $499.

If you’re not sure you want to commit to a high-end and somewhat bulky point and shoot the Canon Powershot S95 is a truly awesome option. It doesn’t quite measure up to the G12 or LX5 in low light (although it does capture both Raw and JPEG images), but it is overall the best value in a cigarette pack sized model.

Who says you can't photograph wildlife with a point and shoot? I snagged this closeup JPEG of Meerkats with the LX5 point and shoot.

If like me you’re also interested in carrying the smallest point and shoot you can since the whole point is to have it handy when your big cameras aren’t, then either the Canon Powershot SD4000IS or the new Canon Powershot 300HS are value-packed mid-range models. You probably won’t win any fine art print contests with either but they both take competent images and are small enough that the biggest problem is not losing them in your pocket.

 

Other Fun With The LX5: HDR and Macro

The LX5 is chock full of other features including a panorama assist, auto-bracketing and macro focusing. I took this flower image by turning on auto-bracketing to +/-1 stop. Even though the image was hand-held and indoors the image stabilization created a set of images which was usable by PhotomatixPro to create a single merged version:

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And this image of the signature on a US$10 bill shows just how close and sharp you can get with a point and shoot!

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Accessories for the LX5

One potential advantage of higher-end point and shoots like the LX5 is that you can purchase an external flash for it. This will greatly improve your event photography. However I stress potential since of course if your goal is to have a camera that fits in your purse or pocket then carrying a flash might not fit with your shooting style. You can also get an external optical viewfinder. That’s also a cool sounding idea but unfortunately also adds to the height of the camera making it very difficult to stash in a pocket.

Product Web Pages

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

Canon Powershot G12

 


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Joined: 2006-05-10
Nikon P7000

So I am wondering how the Nikon P7000 Stacks up in your opinion.  I am not a Pro but carry one around with me when my D7000 is not suitable and although I do not use video, the P7000 really puts out some respectable when you work with it. It is just a tad slow. I use it mainly for  street photography because it is so small.

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Joined: 2009-03-12
Jim--Great question about the

Jim--Great question about the Nikon P7000. I've seen some great images from it and several folks I trust really like it. I haven't had time to review one yet though so I don't know how it compares in this case.--David

 

--David Cardinal Cardinal Photo

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