Panasonic isn’t the first name that you’d think of when it comes to digital cameras, but this isn’t something that has gone unnoticed in the Panasonic board room. Since Panasonic has no real history or branding in the camera market, it has done the smart thing and partnered itself with a company that does.
Panasonic has teamed up with photography legend Leica to produce the Lumix range of digital cameras. This kind of dual branding has worked very well for Sony, which partnered itself with Carl Zeiss in order to gain some instant kudos in photography circles. The Sony technology coupled with the Carl Zeiss optics, made for some excellent digital cameras and has put Sony on a par with Canon, Nikon, Fuji Film and Olympus, in all the digital camera sectors, bar SLR. The Panasonic model is pretty much identical to Sony’s with Leica making the lens and Panasonic producing the hardware that surrounds it.
The LC50 is Panasonic’s entry level camera and with a price of £149.98 including VAT from Panasonic’s own online shop, it looks like a real bargain on the surface. What’s most impressive is that even at this price you’re getting a Leica lens, whereas the Sony entry level cameras don’t tend to come with Zeiss lenses. With this in mind, the big question is whether Panasonic has had to make any major compromises to squeeze in the Leica hardware and branding at such a low price point.
Let’s start with the basics, the LC50 has a 3.2 megapixel CCD capable of producing images at a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536. The Leica lens offers 3x optical zoom functionality that’s equivalent to 35 – 105mm in 35mm language. There’s also a 9x digital zoom option, but as always I’d advise switching the digital zoom off since you’ll get better results cropping and zooming under Photoshop or PSP.
The first and most obvious sign that this is a budget camera is the plastic body. I always prefer metal bodied cameras since they're a bit more robust, and the cool feel of a metal body in your hands inspires more confidence. That said, at this price point I’m not going to dwell on the plastic body too much.
The LC50 can’t be described as large, but it’s not small either – face on this camera looks quite diminutive, but look at it in profile and you’ll see that it’s actually quite chunky. Like most digital cameras it’s finished in silver and looks pretty good. Ergonomically the LC50 is easy to hold and all the controls on the back have been positioned so they’re out of the way of your thumb.
Most of the controls are located on the back of the body, with only the shutter release, zoom control and power switch on the top. Strangely, the power switch is just that – a switch. To power the camera on you slide the switch to the right and to power it off you slide it back to the left. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a power switch like this, with almost every recent camera sporting a button that toggles power on and off.