The LX3 was noted for its excellent performance, so the LX5 has a lot to live up to. It gets off to a promising start, powering up and taking a picture in approximately 2.5 seconds, half a second faster than its predecessor. In single shot mode and Fine JPEG quality its shot-to-shot time is also faster at approximately 1.4 seconds, although this does slow down to an average of approximately 1.6 seconds in Raw mode and 2.4 seconds in Raw + JPEG mode. Unlike the LX3 the LX5 has no unlimited continuous shooting mode, but does have a burst mode, shooting three frames in just under a second.
The autofocus system appears to be exactly the same as that of the LX3, but since it's still one of the fastest on the market that's no bad thing. Its low-light performance is still just as outstanding. The AF assist lamp is still a bit weak, but it will focus in total darkness at a range of several metres. The pop-up flash is also unchanged, with an effective range at wide angle of and impressive 7.2m, with excellent frame coverage and a recharge time of approximately six seconds, which is a little faster than average.
The big question is whether the LX5 can match the LX3's legendary image quality, and I'd have to say that the answer is a qualified “yes”. The new lens is just as good as the old one, producing pin-sharp focus from corner to corner with very little wide-angle barrel distortion and no trace of chromatic aberration. The level of fine detail is also excellent, comparing favourably with any other 10MP camera I've tried. Colour rendition is pretty much perfect, and dynamic range is also much better than average thanks to the larger sensor, although it doesn't appear to be significantly better than the LX3.
When it comes to image noise control, I have to say I'm a little bit disappointed. At 80 to 400 ISO the results are pretty much the same as the LX3, with excellent clarity and no noise at the lowest settings. However at 800 ISO upwards the results are surprisingly somewhat worse than the LX3, with a lot of noise and lost detail at 1600 ISO, while the new lower resolution 6400 and 12800 ISO settings produce very poor results.
Considering the two year wait for this camera, and the supposed benefits of the “improved” sensor and image processor, the results are frankly a bit of a let down. The image quality is still exceptionally good by the standards of most other compact cameras, but apart from slightly faster performance and a more versatile zoom range there seems to be very little significant improvement over the LX3.
The much anticipated Panasonic Lumix LX5 is expensive, but it is without a doubt one of the best compact cameras on the market, offering superb build quality, classic design and easy handling, with fast performance and outstanding photographic versatility. The longer zoom range is a welcome improvement, however in terms of image quality there's just no real advantage over the older LX3.