Just bought the Panasonic LX5. Some thoughts versus my Canon S90.

I just took delivery of the new Panasonic LX5, which just this past week began shipping. This was a real splurge for me as with a list price of $500 it costs more than the Olympus E-520 dSLR I bought last year including two kit lenses. But the price of the LX5 is the same as two other highend point-and-shoots: the Canon G12 and the Nikon P7000.

The LX5 is also an extravagence because I already own the Canon S90, which has many similarities, including the ability to shoot RAW; P,A,S and M modes; ISOs available in 1/3EV intervals; and 3 image bracketing. I have greatly enjoyed the S90 (4,500 images since I bought it in December, 2009) in spite of its ergonomic issues (very smooth surface).

But I have lusted after the LX series ever since I read reviews of the LX2, and with the announcement this summer of the LX5 it seemed its feature-set showed major improvements over the prior models, LX2 and LX3. I just couldn't control myself when I learned in July that Amazon was taking "pre-orders".

Your mileage may vary, but this is my list of the more awesome LX5 features not available on the S90.
  • Wide angle at 24mm effective field of view. I have never had anything wider than 28mm (S90 is 28-105 and with my Olympus dSLR I have the 28-42 kit lens and 28-54 high quality zoom), and I want to see what capabilities and photo opportunities something wider will give.
  • Maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 second compared with the S90 at 1/1600. To my way of thinking this makes the LX5 a bit more of a serious camera, as a couple of times I  have topped off at 1/1600th on the S90. Remember, on these compact cameras, the smallest aperature is usually F8.
  • Minimum shutter of 60sec. compared with 30 sec. on the S90
  • Stronger flash
  • Flash that pops up further away from the center of the lens (nearly 2" away instead of 1.5"). I'm not sure, but I think this will reduce red-eye.
  • Hot shoe for optional EVF. This is big for me. I haven't bought it yet as I am hoping a new one comes out soon with greater resolution than the current EVF-1.
  • 2.5 frames per second will be a lot more helpful when bracketing for HDR, compared with the S90s more anemic .9 fps. This will reduce the chance of subject movement and hand movement between images.
  • Lens adapter can be purchased which will allow me to use the filters I bought for my FZ8. These include closeup lenses (Canon 250D and 500D) and a polarizer.
  • Rubberized grip. The S90 is very slippery. I bet I can hold the LX5 steadier.
  • When the zoom lever is moved, a scale appears on the screen that shows you exactly where you are with respect to focal length, with grid marks for 24, 28, 35, 50, 90. With the S90 you never know what focal length you used. It doesn't even show up in the display when in review mode. The workaround on the S90 is to program the front dial ring to show focal lengths of 28, 35, 50, 85 and 105 as you turn the ring. But if you use the zoom lever you get no readings.
  • Better video capabilities. I don't know much about this. Video has not been important to me.

A couple of other thing occurred to me as I did my first fiddling with the LX5:

  • Because I use AutoISO almost all the time, I disliked the fact that the S90 only shows "autoISO" on the LCD, even when you have half-pressed the shutter button to lock in exposure. You then need to review the recorded image to find out the chosen ISO. With the LX5, the ISO chosen by the camera is displayed on the LCD when the shutter is half pressed.
  • AutoISO can be used when shooting in Manual model. I use this feature on my Olympus dSLR when photographing, for example, butterflies. I set at F11 and 1/400th second to freeze action and get good depth of field. The camera then adjusts ISO to get a good exposure. I am not sure how helpful this will be on a compact camera, but I am glad it is an included feature.
  • In P mode you can set a minimum shutter speed. At family gatherings and cookouts, I can see setting this at 1/100th or 1/125th to freeze slow action. Of course, if there is plenty of light it will move to a higher speed. But if light drops and speed hits the lower limit, ISO will be bumped up. I don't know, maybe this is a gimmick, but I am looking forward to trying it out.
  • This puppy has two four custom settings. Very cool. The S90 isn't too bad, as it has one custom mode.
  • The LX5 has a pre-focus feature that is new to me.  It is called Q-focus and is a choice within the menu system, as is the traditional continuous focus (C-focus).  In Q-focus mode focus begins as soon as the camera senses that it has steadied.  Even without this feature turned on, my sense is that the LX5 focuses faster than the S90.

On the other hand.... While the LX5 "fits" into my pocket (sort of), the S90 "slips" into my pocket (easily).  The S90 is noticeably sleeker with a lens that collapses nearly flush with the body and I love its self-closing lens cover.  Less convenient, the LX5 lens protrudes even when the camera is turned off, and I am sure I will find the lens cover annoying and I am sure I will loose one or two.  The S90 weighs a convenient 6.9 ounces.  This is actually quite a bit less than the LX5's 9.6 ounces.  If you carry your camera in a pants pocket you will notice the difference in weight.  For me, the S90 has a convenience factor that makes it easy to take everywhere.

As far as features lacking on the LX5, the S90 has focus bracketing, which I have had some fun with. In software I have combined three images to increase depth of field. It would be nice if the LX5 had this as well, but other than Canon I don't know of any makers that include this feature. Also, the front dial on the S90 is real cool. I have it set to give me traditional focal lengths of 28, 25, 50, 85 and 105. On the other hand I have set up the LX5 to use the "step zoom" feature which does the same thing by using the zoom lever that surrounds the shutter button.

Time will tell which camera I will prefer.  If the LX5 were the size of the S90, I would sell the S90 immediately.  And if the S90 had a 24mm wide angle, I would never have bought the LX5.  There's definitely a place for the S90 in my pocket.  I don't know yet where the LX5 will fit into my routine.