A comparison of Panasonic LX5 and LX3

My LX3 got broken in a thunderstorm on July 28th, 2011, and didn't recover. It was self-evident to get the Panasonic LX5 as a replacement. I got my hands on it on August 1st, 2011. Since then I have taken several thousand photographs with the LX5, enough to make an evaluation of it.

I'm comparing the LX5 with the LX3, which proved to be a durable and capable camera. I took 203,318 photographs with the LX3 in a bit less than three years.

After charging the battery (it seemed to take forever) and storing my favourite settings in C1, I went out to get some practice. My first impression was that the LX5 feels like a conservatively improved LX3. Below you find a more detailed analysis of the LX5, compared to the LX3.

Some words about prices

I bought the camera from the cheapest online shop I found, on the condition that I wanted to get it delivered as fast as possible. The price was 437 euro including delivery.

From another shop I ordered a spare battery (a copy, not a Panasonic original) which cost 28.60 euro including postage. Below you find the sad story of this copy battery.

The LX5 was more expensive than the LX3 when I bought it, despite being on the market for quite a while. And the price of the original Panasonic batteries, that is really steep. You need a spare, so you must add at least 50 euro to the price of the camera.

I also ordered two 3.1 inch screen protectors from Dealextreme, costing together 1.80 USD including postage. This is the same brand (or non-brand) I have been using on the LX3; extremely good price for the quality.

General impressions

I'm comparing the LX5 to the LX3, which is a fine camera, and a great tool for photography also today. But techology evolves, and the LX5 is a moderately improved version of the LX3.

The camera feels good in the hand; it should, as I have grown into the LX3. For some reason the LX5 feels lighter in the hand. This may be due to the handgrip which allows a bit better hold than with the LX5. In any case, both cameras can be easily used with one hand. But I tend to use both, which is needed in dark conditions to stabilize the camera.

The battery compartment door is in principle similar to the one on the LX3, but it seems to close more firmly. This has been an occasional source of problems on the LX3, as the door has opened by itself every now and then. I think the LX5 won't have this problem.

Also, the mode dial on the top of the camera seems to be more firm, so there may be less accidental switches to the wrong position when keeping the camera in a pocket, for example.

The lens looks a bit different, maybe more impressive, which I guess is to be expected with the new 24-90 mm range. I hope the coating on the lens is as durable as on the LX3 - it is still in very fine condition despite a lot of use.

Setting up the camera

The camera was shipped from Paris to Finland, and so the initial language was French. Changing this to English was the first task - it took some time to find the right menu (it is at the end of the menu system).

Next, I switched off all sounds, immediate preview etc., set up some energy saving functions (LCD off interval etc.), disabled the focusing light, and so on. There were surprisingly many things to set up.

I stored to the C1 custom setting my usual mode: aperture priority, ISO 100, nostalgic film mode, all "intelligent" features off, showing overexposure in preview, showing histogram, guide lines visible, and so on. One thing which is much better on the LX5 is having the 1:1 setting on the aspect ratio switch, so there is no menu browsing to set it up.

Practical observations

The LX5 starts up as fast as the LX3, but it seems to go off a bit slower, but only a little. I noticed this when I tried to put the lens cover back a little too soon, according to my LX3 habits, and the lens was still extended.

My impression is that the LX5 focuses faster than the LX3, especially in macro mode. But as it was a bright day, the differences (if there are any) are minor. This may be also a usability issue and not a real thing.

I kept on having problems in learning to use the new setup of the buttons. On the LX3, I had preview in the Fn button, and I kept on pressing it by mistake. (I put white balance there this time.) But I think that having a play button instead of a slider is a good thing, and I'll grow into it soon enough.

The control wheel needed a rather firm press to activate, that was a surprise. It takes some time to master the operation of the wheel. I'm not sure whether the wheel is an improvement over the control stick on the LX3; I would prefer the stick.

There seems to be a bit of a different feel to the LX5 photographs than the LX3 ones. The bokeh is a bit different, but I like it. The photographs may be a bit less warm than with the LX3. The 90 mm reach of the lens gives new possibilities, especially in macro work, as it focuses to 30 cm as with the LX3.

AWB seems to work well on the LX5, at least as well as with the LX3. However, there are situations when AWB just doesn't work. I took some photographs in a shop where there were normal shoplights, light through windows, and special "plant" (or "flower") lamps, all at the same time. In this setting AWB did run into problems, and no wonder.

A problem, familiar from the LX3, is that the LCD display is hard to see in direct sunlight. But this applies to all such displays. Otherwise, the display is as good as on the LX3; maybe the colors show up a little different.

Overall usability

The overall usability of the LX5 is excellent, slightly improved from the LX3. My only slight observation concerns the control wheel. The control stick offered more functions, and was often very useful.

I think I'll cope fine with the wheel, as long as I learn all the details. For example, when using manual focus, the stick was easy to use with precision. With the LX5 it is better to use (instead of the wheel) the left and right buttons to finetune manual focusing, and this isn't so easy.

On the LX3 the mode dial on top of the camera often moved by itself. Even though the dial is a bit firmer on the LX5, it does the same when you keep the camera in a pocket. Well, no surprise (or improvement) there. On the other hand, the battery compartment door seems to hold well, and there hasn't been once that it has opened by itself.

More about the batteries

As I mentioned, I bought another battery, which wasn't a Panasonic original but a copy, half the price. The online shop told in advance that the battery charge monitor wouldn't work with the LX5, and it doesn't. What was a negative surprise was the random shutdowns of the camera, in the middle of operation, when I used the copy battery.

So, with the LX5 one should use the Panasonic batteries even though they are expensive.

On the other hand, the Panasonic battery performs really, really well, better than with the LX3, at least when taking photographs the way I do: switch on, take one or a few photographs in quick succession, switch off. I'm shooting jpegs, and plenty of these photographs were b&w, which probably helped here, as there is less pixels to push. Also, I have enabled some energy-saving features, such as no preview and LCD off in 15 seconds.

With the first charge I got almost 1000 photographs, and this included plenty of tweaking of the settings, looking at a lot of previews on the LCD, and deleting some hundred or so photographs from the memory card. (An unnecessary precaution as I was worried of running out of space.)

With the second charge I got an even more impressive number of photographs, about 1200. That is a lot!

A firmware bug, familiar from the LX3

Sadly, there is one bug on the LX5 which was on the LX3 but disappeared with some of the later firmware updates. Namely, macro focusing stops working when switching between custom settings repeatedly.

I used two settings (C1 and C2-1) for shooting the same subject; the only difference in the modes was that the other was using "nostalgic" and the other "dynamic b&w" film mode.

When switching from one mode to another, with the focus switch in the macro position, at some point macro focus was no longer working; the LX5 operated in the normal focus mode despite the switch setting. The only way to restore macro focusing is to switch the camera off and back on again.

How it sounds

Finally, one last observation. I used the LX3 in a silent mode, all sounds switched off, and got used to the quiet and pleasing sound of the LX3 shutter.

On the LX5 the shutter sound is quiet also, but a little bit different; more "urgent" might be the best term; maybe there was a little bit more bass in the LX3 sound. This difference is minor, but it is a little bit distracting at the beginning.


So, as a summary: the LX5 is a great camera improved further, nothing revolutionary, but there was no need to big changes as the LX3 was already a fine tool. The good points of the LX3 have been preserved in the LX5. So, I'm happy with the LX5.

Finally, here are the good and bad points of the LX5 listed.

What is good (in order of goodness, first is best, compared to the LX3):

  • Lens: I really like the 90 mm reach of the lens. Also, I like the way this lens renders subjects not in focus. (The Leica look!)
  • Battery endurance: In my use so far the battery fares significantly better than on the LX3. But see also the bad side of this.
  • Battery door compartment: It stays closed when you close it. A nuisance eliminated.
  • Aspect ratio switch: Now you can select 1:1 directly. Good!
  • Focusing speed: There is a feeling that the LX5 achieves focus faster than the LX3. Of course, this will be improved further given how far the micro 4/3 cameras have already gone, but for my purposes the focusing speed is good enough already. I'm not taking photographs of action sports or flying birds.
  • Handgrip: The camera feels lighter in the hand.
  • Image quality: I think there is a very slight improvement in the image quality, but nothing major. It is also a matter of taste.

What is bad (in order of badness, worst is first, mostly compared to the LX3):

  • Chipped battery: Panasonic is keeping the price of the battery up by making it hard for copy-makers to offer batteries. Here in Finland the battery prices range between 50 and 70 euro, and that is a lot. For the LX3 I bought non-Panasonic batteries, which worked perfectly, costing less than 10 euro including shipping.
  • Top mode dial: It still turns by mistake; same as on the LX3.
  • Software bug: There is a problem in macro mode switch being disabled when switching repeatedly between custom modes. This bug was originally present also in LX3 but a firmware update fixed it.
  • Control wheel: I think the control stick was a better solution. But one can live with control wheel also.
  • Shut down speed: The LX5 is a bit slower in shutting down than the LX3. Nothing major, but things add up little by little...

So, there you have it. Of course, a lot is still to be explored, such as how well the camera fares in winter time, when it is dark and one has to strain to get photographs at all.