How do you improve on perfection? When Panasonic launched the Lumix LX3 two years ago, it created one of the very few digital cameras that have come to be regarded as classics. It won a string of top awards, including a well-deserved Editors Choice from TrustedReviews, as well as our award for Best Compact Camera of 2008. With a superb f/2 wide-angle lens, a 10.1-megapixel 1/1.6-inch CCD sensor, a three-inch 460k monitor, full manual exposure controls, Raw capture mode and the best image quality in its class, the LX3 was an instant hit, especially with photography enthusiasts looking for a compact camera that could rival the performance of their digital SLRs.
Designing a replacement for such a highly-regarded camera was never going to be easy. Of course digital imaging technology has advanced since 2008, but it hasn't moved on all that much. We've already seen the Lumix GF1, which shares many design features with the LX3 but adds a larger Four-Thirds sensor and interchangeable lenses, but for an advanced fixed-lens compact there just aren't that many ways to significantly improve on the design and specification of the LX3, which is probably why it's taken two years for the LX5 to appear. Thankfully Panasonic hasn't messed with the winning formula too much, and has resisted the obvious temptation to simply add another couple of megapixels worth of resolution, opting instead for incremental enhancements to a few key features, just enough to keep the camera up to date with the rest of the market.
While camera technology hasn't changed all that much in two years, the shape of the market has changed quite radically. Since the launch of the LX3 we've seen the appearance and sudden growth of the compact system camera, with models such as Sony NEX-5, Olympus E-PL1, Samsung's newly-announced NX100 and Panasonic's own GF1 stealing away a large part of the market for advanced compact cameras, offering as they do SLR-like performance and image quality in a more portable format. The LX5 will have to compete with these, as well as with other advanced compacts such as the new Canon PowerShot G12 and Nikon Coolpix P7000, but it shouldn't have too much of a problem. With a high street price of £399.99 the LX5 may seem expensive, but it is substantially cheaper than any of its main rivals except one. Despite rumours to the contrary the LX3 is still available for around £300, and is still a great camera even by current standards.