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The range of available shooting options is fairly limited. Modes are selected via the dial on the top plate, and consist of macro (minimum focus range 5cm), economy (reduced monitor brightness and quicker sleep mode) normal program mode and simple mode (most manual options disabled). As well as these there are two settings that both access the 14 options scene mode menu, which include all the usual settings, such as portrait, night scene, landscape, sports, food, party, snow, fireworks and baby pictures. The reason for having two scene mode settings is ostensibly to allow faster transitions between two different modes, but since both selections immediately activate the menu this seems a little redundant.
Other menu options include high and low saturation, and colour modes including warm, cool, sepia and monochrome. I have to say also that it’s a long time since I’ve seen such an ugly menu system on a camera. It has just four colours, badly anti-aliased text and crude barely-animated icons that look like something off a Sinclair Spectrum computer game from the 1980s. Yuck!
Unfortunately image quality proved to be the biggest disappointment. Although unlike the high-end Panasonic cameras the LZ5’s lens doesn’t have the Leica name on it, it is still of very good quality, and provides excellent detail and sharpness right across the frame, and the wide-angle barrel distortion is very well controlled. However it is badly let down by very poor image processing and an even worse sensor. Even at the lowest ISO setting there was image noise and colour distortion visible in darker areas on most shots, there was evidence of massive over-processing, and high-contrast or into-the-light shots had some of the worst purple fringing I’ve seen in the past five years. On top of that there were image compression artifacts visible even on the highest quality setting. It’s a real shame, because with an extra £50’s worth of sensor and processor quality the LZ5 could have been a very nice camera.
Although the LZ5 is priced to compete with budget cameras from other manufacturers, it succeeds only in demonstrating that Panasonic should stick to what it’s good at; making superb high-end super-zoom cameras. The LZ5 is too bulky for convenient pocket use, has questionable build quality, mixed performance and shoddy image quality despite its high quality lens. All in all a rather disappointing camera, and a blot on Panasonic’s otherwise impressive record.