A powerful palm-sized compact with a fast Leica lens and HD movie recording, but do the pictures live up to the promise?
The large Leica lens that dominates the front of Panasonic's new Lumix LX5 isn't the only design debt that that the Japanese manufacturer owes the German giant. It's styled with the rugged charm of a classic rangefinder. For a 3.75x zoom compact, the LX5 has a reassuring heft and a loads of dials, switches and buttons scattered around its various edges.
As a result, it's bigger than similarly specced cameras like the Canon S95, and looks and acts for all the world like a slimmed-down version of Panasonic's own excellent micro-DSLR, the GF1.
There's a lot more that the LX5 has inherited from the GF1, in fact. The control layout and operation are almost identical, and while there's a more comprehensive menu on the GF1, there's an equal number of shooting modes on both.
These include the excellent My Colour options for adding creative effects such as Retro for a 1970s low-contrast film look and the saturation-boosting Dynamic Art for eye-popping neon colours.
The LX5 is also capable of recording 720p HD video in AVCHD Lite or Motion JPG formats, either of which can be shot with the same creative settings as still shots.
The only real criticism of its handling is that the silver thumb buttons have lightly engraved – rather than inked – labels. They're impossible to read in bright sunlight, which is a shame as the LCD is easy on the eye no matter what the conditions.
Once you've learned what each button does without having to look it up, though, there's little to complain about. There are controls a-plenty here, including an odd aspect ratio switch on top of the lens. Surely that could have been used for something better?
For all it's SLR-like creativity, though, the image quality of the LX5 is slightly disappointing. The excellent F2.0-3.3 lens, which reaches back to a healthy 24mm wide angle and is optically stabilised, is capable of delivering beautifully detailed and accurate coloured shots even in low light.
But it can only achieve this when shooting in RAW format. JPGs straight off the camera are either too soft or blotchy from heavy-handed noise reduction algorithms. What's more, it tends to overwarm the white balance of indoor shots and throw a vague yellowy hue where it doesn't belong.
Many people will enjoy the photo-fiddling fun that the LX5 throws up, both with its sophisticated shooting controls and demand for post-processing attention. But we suspect that if you're drawn to this over something like the simpler Canon S95, what you really want is the even higher degree of control of an inexpensive, mirrorless DSLR.
For just £70 more, the Panasonic GF1 or Sony NEX-5 have larger sensors capable of even better shots and a range of interchangable lenses, but are only a bit less portable than the LX5.
Caught between compacts and cameras like these, the LX5 is an excellent photographic tool, but one we're struggling to find a use for.
Panasonic Lumix LX5 review
An impressive camera that's easy to love, but hard to whole-heartedly recommend
Liked that? Read this...
Samsung squeezes all its camera knowhow into the tiny NX500