What is Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5
Available black and silver color (LZ5K and LZ5S respectively), the LZ5 is a compact 6-megapixel digital camera with a 6x optical (37-222 mm equivalent focal length) f/2.8-4.5 zoom lens, optical image stabilization, 2.5-inch LCD screen. The camera is powered by 2 AA batteries (disposable Alkaline or rechargeable NiMH, disposable Panasonic Oxyride included).
The camera records images on Secure Digital cards (SD cards) and has 14 MB of built-in memory to get you started. It can record video at 640x480 or 320x240 resolution at 30 or 10 fps, with movie length limited by capacity of the memory card only.
The camera features extended sensitivity mode (ISO 800-1600), excellent LCD visibility in sunlight or darkness, autofocus-assist light and fast focusing. The LCD also has a special mode that increases its effective angle of view.
The camera arrived in a compact box that also contains manuals, accessories and a CD with software. You can use the supplied Panasonic Oxyride batteries that have higher voltage than NiMH or Alkaline batteries and should last, according to Panasonic, up to 235 photos. The battery polarity is well-marked, but even so I managed to insert the batteries incorrectly once. The camera did not power on, so I opened the battery compartment lid and replaced the batteries. The camera worked after that, of course.
Once my NiMH batteries were inserted, I discovered that the camera thinks that there is not much charge left in them. Turns out you need to go to the setup menu and select the proper battery type for the battery status indicator to work properly. The camera comes preset to use the supplied Oxyride batteries, which have a voltage of 1.7-Volt. Since Alkaline batteries are 1.5 V and NiMH are only 1.2 V, the camera might give you an incorrect reading of the estimated remaining battery life. Once I switched it to Alakaline/NiMH mode, the battery status indicator started showing the correct information.
I also inserted my own SD card to avoid using the built-in memory of the camera (there is only 14 MB of it anyway). The camera has three separate lids for the memory card, batteries and jacks (A/V/USB, DC power).
The camera uses two AA-sized batteries. You can use disposable ones (Alkaline, Panasonic Oxyride) or rechargeable NiMH. You can select in the menu what kind of batteries you are using (rechargeable or Oxyride) and the camera will show you battery status information based on your selection.
The camera comes with two disposable 1.7V Panasonic Oxyride batteries. The Oxyride batteries provide (according to Panasonic) enough energy for about 235 shots. I used my old 1600 mAh NiMH rechargeable Panasonic batteries and took more than 90 pictures with no sign of batteries being even partially discharged. You should be able to take more than 300 pictures on one set of high-capacity (2100 mAh) rechargeable NiMH batteries. I suggest that you get at least one set of two NiMH AA batteries and a charger.
The camera is quite small for its impressive 6x optical zoom and features (e.g. optical image stabilization). But it is not as compact as the cameras of Canon Digital Elph line (e.g. SD450, SD550, etc.) There is no comparison though as Canon Elph cameras have much lower-powered optical zoom, no image stabilization and use proprietary batteries that do not last as long. The LZ5 feels solid in your hand and is convenient to hold. It is not too light and not too heavy at the same time. It is also compact enough to be placed in the knee pocket of the pants or shorts, a purse or bag.
The LZ5 has a convenient hand grip and its zoom control as well the shutter release button are located within easy reach. Other controls are conveniently located as well. The camera features a rotating mode dial, which has the right feel to it. It is not too flimsy and not too stiff.
The camera has menus that are easy to use and colorful. I like Panasonic menus more than Canon or Sony menus, let alone Fuji menus.
The camera is fast in operation. After you slide the switch on the top deck to power it on, the lens extends and the lens lid opens automatically within about two seconds and you are ready to shoot. If you turn the camera on in the review mode, it powers on even faster as it does not need to extend the lens. When you turn the camera off, it retracts the lens and closes the lid in under two seconds.
When shooting, the shutter lag is virtually nonexistent when pre-focused (the camera takes the picture as soon as you press the shutter release button). The focusing time is very good (under a second at either wide angle or telephoto), even in the dimly-lit environments. The focus-assist light helps here, but the camera is fast even without it. You can select among several focusing modes, out of which I generally prefer the High-speed focusing modes.
In single-frame mode, the camera can takes photos at about 1.5-second intervals with no flash and 3-4 seconds with flash. There are several burst modes with the top mode letting you shoot at 3 fps for 6 frames. The continuous high-speed mode lets you shoot at 1.5 fps (frames per second) until the memory card is full.
The LZ5 features a 2.5-inch LCD screen, but no viewfinder. It is difficult to make a compact optical viewfinder for a camera that has 6x optical zoom. That is why many cameras that have high-powered optical zooms use electronic viewfinders (EVF) or have no viewfinders at all. An EVF would add to the price and size of the LZ5, so it doesn't have one.
The LCD is fluid in bright light, slightly less so in dim light. It gains-up (increases brightness in dim light).
The 2.5-inch LCD screen is large, has good resolution and accurate 100% coverage. The LZ5 has good antireflective qualities and wide viewing angle as well. The way you use the wider viewing angle is quite unorthodox. You have to push and hold the "Display" button for one second, which makes the picture too bright when looking at it directly. But this makes it much better visible when viewed at an angle. You push the same button for one second to disengage this mode. The same Display button lets you show/hide a live histogram, or lines that split the screen in nine parts and help you compose the shot better.
The LZ5 has 14 MB of built-in memory to get you started and you can add to this amount by inserting a Secure Digital memory card (you have to buy them separately). The SD cards that camera uses are compact, sturdy and rather inexpensive.
I used my memory cards with it: SanDisk 512MB SECURE DIGITAL CARD and Kingston Elite Pro 512 MB 65x Secure Digital (SD) Card (SD/512-S).
The camera can take pictures at several resolutions up to 6-Megapixel photos. I usually set the camera to Fine mode to avoid artifacts in large prints. The mode dial has a dedicated Economy mode, which I never use.
I have not used the USB connection in order to download the pictures from this camera, but used my memory card reader. But if you want to use the USB connection, the driver installation will not be required under Windows 2000 or later.
The most important and semi-unique feature of the LZ5 are two modes of optical image stabilization (Mode 1 stabilizes the image when you pre-focus, Mode 2 does so only when the shutter is released, giving you better battery life and sharper pictures). The camera came pre-set to Mode 1, which I changed to Mode 2.
The camera has no real manual control, which is not a problem for me since it offers exposure compensation and bracketing and uses (as many other digital cameras) a two-step aperture. The camera selects between f/2.8 or f/5.6 at wide angle, between f/4.5 or f/9.0 at telephoto. It works pretty well.
You can select the full auto/easy mode, in which you only have to point and shoot. You can also select a scene mode from several provided (portrait, landscape, etc.) Or you can select a program mode and use exposure compensation and exposure bracketing. The camera shows you the aperture and shutter speed selected.
You can select the resolution (full 6 Megapixel and lower), ISO sensitivity (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, high sensitivity 800-1600), white balance, compression (Fine or Normal), color mode (standard, natural or vivid) and effects (B&W, Sepia, etc.)
The built-in flash has red-eye reduction mode and also can be disabled. The red-eye reduction proved effective (it uses a pre-flash). The camera has an orientation sensor and automatically rotates pictures taken with the camera in vertical position.
It also can show you a live histogram. The camera has a USB and A/V outs. Unlike 5-Megapixel LZ3, the LZ5 has sound recording during shooting video.
Zoom and OIS
The powerful 6x optical zoom, combined with optical image stabilization make this camera a lot of fun to use. You can zoom in to magnify subjects pretty far away and yet avoid blur when shooting handheld (optical image stabilization). Only OIS makes the 6x zoom (and higher) truly usable, at least without need to carry a tripod.
I usually take photos that contain all primary colors at different focal lengths, apertures and compression ratios. Some photos are taken outdoors, some indoors with and without flash.
Oftentimes, I take a bunch of photos from my balcony. Those photos features all colors: blue sky, green foliage, red curbs, yellow fire hydrant and cars of different colors.
Taking photos at different focal lengths and apertures reveals the camera's optical quality: corner sharpness, chromatic aberrations, overall sharpness.
Taking photos at different ISO settings shows how well a given camera can keep noise levels low in dim light. I mostly evaluate the image quality using my computer monitor, but I also print some photos at different sizes using either my printer or online services like Shutterfly, Snapfish and Sam's Club's online photo center.
I have used the LZ5 over several days in different lighting conditions and different modes. Overall, my experience was positive, but with some reservations. The camera produces sharp and richly-saturated photos. You can adjust the sharpness and saturation by selecting among the Standard, Natural or Vivid picture modes. I usually use Natural mode in Panasonic cameras and then adjust everything in Photoshop, but for printing with no adjustments, Standard mode works better.
Packaging the 6x optics into a compact body is not easy. Unlike most other Panasonic cameras, the LZ5 does not bear the Leica name on its lens. Is it because the optics is inferior to something we come to expect from Leica?
At wide angle, I could see small amounts of chromatic aberration (purple fringing), mostly in the corners. There is also some vignetting (corners are darker than the rest of the image) at wide angle. And the corners are slightly softer than the rest of the photo.
At telephoto, the corners are a bit softer than at wide angle. Aside from that, the image is sharp and the colors are pleasing and well-saturated. Will the corner issues be a concern to you? Probably not: the effects are not visible when printed at 6x4 or 5x7 since the amount of vignetting/softening is small and the corners of the frame are cut off due to a different aspect ratio of the print and the CCD. Overall, the camera produces solid picture quality that is not earth-shattering.
The image noise is virtually absent at ISO 80, appears in shadows at ISO 100, grows at ISO 200 and becomes worse at ISO 400. Still, ISO 400 prints look OK at 7x5 and 6x4-inch size. And ISO 80 pictures should enlarge well up to 13x19. The ISO 800-1600 noise is high. I see no reason to use it, since the image stabilization lets you shoot handheld at low ISO without introducing blur.
Pros:6x optical stabilized zoom, uses 2 AA batteries, 2.5" LCD, features, performance, priceCons:Slight vignetting and softening in corners of the frame
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 is a very versatile 6-Megapixel camera with 6x optically stabilized zoom and a large 2.5-inch LCD. It is inexpensive, has long battery life, features fast operation and powerful zoom in such a compact body. It also uses 2 AA batteries - a rather economical solution (just get two NiMH rechargeable batteries and a charger).Overall, it is a great camera. And for its performance and features, it is rather cheap. I highly recommend it - it is an excellent choice for the money.