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As I’ve noted previously, such as in the recent review of the Lumix DMC-LX1, despite its lack of pedigree in the photographic field Panasonic has quickly developed a good reputation for producing innovative high-end compact and super-zoom cameras, thanks to stylish and well-thought-out design, high quality electronics and of course its partnership with Leica, which gives it access to the German company’s legendary optical technology. Panasonic cameras have tended to be a bit on the expensive side, but generally they’ve been worth the money. At least that’s what I thought until now. I may have to re-think that opinion now that I’ve seen the DMC-LZ5. Available on the high street for around £230, or online for £199.95, the LZ5 is cheap enough to be described as a budget camera, but like most products that are built down to a price rather than up to a target specification it has a number of problems.
On paper at least the LZ5 sounds like a bargain. For your £200 you get a 6-megapixel sensor, a high-quality 6x optical zoom F2.8-4.5 lens, a 2.5in LCD monitor and optical image stabilisation. On first inspection it looks good too. Its external design shares the same styling features as the rest of the Lumix range, with a slightly retro and vaguely art-deco motif. However whereas most of the other Lumix cameras are slim and elegant, the LZ5 is a big chunky lump of a thing. At 45mm thick it is a full 2cm thicker than the stylish LX1 or the lovely new FX01.
Part of the reason for this incredible bulk is the power source. The LZ5 runs on two AA batteries, which have the advantage of being cheap and readily available all over the world. However there are other AA-powered cameras out there that are considerably slimmer, such as the Fujifilm FinePix A600 at 30mm, or the 24mm Pentax Optio M10, both of which are also 6MP.
In an effort to make the camera less of a brick, Panasonic has opted for a plastic body, which unfortunately makes the camera feel even cheaper than it is. The three plastic and non-latching hatches covering the battery holder, card slot and interface sockets feel flimsy and fragile, and the top plate controls, particularly the zoom control around the shutter button, do not feel as securely mounted as they do on a metal-bodied camera.
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