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Surprisingly for an entry level camera, the LC50 allows you to set the ISO level from 50 all the way to 400. Personally I prefer to use as low an ISO setting as possible to reduce the possibility of CCD noise affecting the images. Unfortunately CCD noise seemed to be an issue no matter what ISO setting was used. Looking at images with strong tones and colours, CCD noise could clearly be seen where surfaces should have been smooth and solid.
But CCD noise was only part of the problem when it came to image quality. The LC50 has only two image quality settings – fine and standard. On the plus side, there is actually very little quality difference between fine and standard settings, so you might as well use standard which produces images of around 500KB as opposed to fine which produces images of around 1.2MB. That said, the only reason that there is little difference between fine and standard, is because the quality of images taken in fine mode is quite poor. I can only assume that even in fine mode, a great deal of compression is still being applied, because images suffer greatly from compression artefacts. Looking at the test image of the car, you can see that the diagonal line of the windscreen is plagued with stepping and compression artefacts on the LC50, while the curved line on the roof trim is equally bad. For comparison we took a similar picture using a Canon PowerShot A70 (winner in last year’s digital camera group test), where the stepping on the windscreen line is minimal and the roof trim is completely smooth.
Unfortunately the LC50’s image quality shortcomings don’t even end there. Colour accuracy also seemed to be beyond the LC50, and our studio test shot shows that the orange on the TrustedReviews brochure looks decidedly red, while in the image taken with the Canon A70 it looks, well, orange.
It’s not all bad though. The pictures I took up in Wales came out ok, so it’s clear that the LC50 can take reasonable photos in good conditions. So if you’re looking for a cheap, point and shoot camera, the LC50 can more or less hold its own.
Given Panasonic’s strong consumer electronics pedigree and Leica’s legendary photo-optic history, I expected the LC50 to be a great little camera, but unfortunately that didn’t prove to be the case. It’s worth remembering that this camera represents the bottom of the Lumix range, and I assume that the quality would improve as you moved up the model ladder. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to look at a higher-spec Lumix to confirm this.
There’s no doubt that pitching the LC50 at under £150 will attract a lot of first-time digital camera buyers, and to be fair it is a great price for a 3.2 megapixel device. However, a quick look around the web revealed that the Canon PowerShot A70 can be had for less than £10 more, and in this case it would be money well spent.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC50-S is a very cheap 3.2 megapixel digital camera, but the poor quality images, auto-focusing problems and lack of manual settings make it seem like a false economy.