"As good as compact digicams get."4.5 starson by mdifanis
Pros: Extraordinary RAW image quality for the compact size; amazing and ultra-fast Leica lens; unexpectedly good HD video performance.
Cons: Old school manual detachable lens cap; while compact, not small enough to fit into the pocket of your skinny jeans! I forget about this, since I shoot in RAW mode, but JPEGs have a slightly over-processed look.
Summary: I purchased this the first week it was available in fall 2010. I bought sight unseen, based on specs and early hands-on reviews.
I own thousands of dollars of professional digital SLR gear, and I purchased this to use when carrying bulky pro gear is not feasible. Overall, this camera has exceeded my expectations and has proven more useful than I had anticipated, actually offering some meaningful advantages over my pro gear.
This camera deserves kudos for combining full auto, point-and-shoot simplicity when in the hands of a user who just wants to shoot and not be a technician, while also being capable of a high degree of manual control and custom settings that rival options on SLRs. The latter characteristics make it capable of capturing difficult images that a serious photographer would expect to achieve only with an SLR. For example, I can not only specify forced flash on (such as for fill lighting situations where the camera would not activate the flash on its own) and also (albeit by diving into the 5th screen of menus) manually dial down the flash output to achieve natural looking images that are illuminated primary by ambient light, while throwing just enough fill flash to light up the eyes and keep the image from being overwhelmed by back light.
The combination of a very fast lens and excellent image stabilization enables me to capture images I simply cannot capture while hand-holding a bulky SLR. For example, when I have worked as the official (volunteer) photographer for WWII veteran trips, I have captured some amazing shots under available light of veterans aboard the crowded coach section of an airliner. I have just recently seen some of these candids enlarged to more than three feet wide, and these images--typically shot at f/2 and ISO 400 or 800--looked beautiful. I could not have squeezed an SLR with fast lens into such tight quarters, nor could I have avoided hand shake induced blur. The LX5 in this sort of tight shooting situation performs amazingly well where an SLR simply isn't workable.
Video performance has been another bright spot. I purchased Sony's first consumer HDV high-def camcorder in 2005 (at a cost of $2,000!), but I haven't touched the HDV camcorder in months. The LX5, with its combination of faster lens and larger image sensor, captures much better low light video at 720p HD resolution. Given that video is a secondary use of this photographic tool, it does remarkably well, offering smooth, silent zoom operation and good (and also silent) continuous auto-focus operation. The choice of multiple HD capture formats is also handy. Motion JPEG is great for short clips that will upload straight to YouTube, while AVCHD Lite works beautifully if one needs to, for example, put the camera on a tripod and record a lengthy lecture or play. (The two capture formats compress differently and have different strengths and weaknesses, so do a little reading if you plan to do much with video.) I now use this camera (paired with an almost comically larger professional video tripod that I already owned) to capture and share training sessions at my office. Audio capture is very good, but only in mono. My next step for better audio is to purchase a $100-$150 digital audio recorder to capture multi-channel high fidelity audio from closer to the subject that can then be synced with the video footage by dropping the audio track into video editing software.
For a camera with a fairly large and high-res LCD, battery life is excellent for a compact model. The most demanding use is video shooting, where the LCD and focusing systems are on continuously, but it will shoot for at least two hours on battery power with ease.
The lens is this camera's superstar. While the zoom range may pale in comparison to ratios offered by much less expensive cameras, the ability to go wide and have such a fast aperture is, for most uses, far more useful than a crazy big zoom ratio that lets in far less light and cannot go as wide. (Most buyers don't realize that ultra telephoto zoom ranges on compact cameras let in so little light that they are virtually worthless in anything other than good daylight.) It makes it awesome for capturing landscapes as a convenient travel camera as well as for capturing building interiors under available light.
The only operational drawback that I have experienced is the detachable lens cap, which I am somewhat shocked not to have lost yet. I assume it would have been impossible to engineer an automatic lens cap over this lens without imposing some other intolerable tradeoff, but it does mean care must be used not to lose the cap or to fingerprint the lens, which will still be exposed to the elements after you turn the camera off.
In conclusion, I have received countless compliments from others (often accompanied by wanting to take note of the model number) when they see the caliber of the images that can be captured with the LX5.