The modest Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 tops Panasonic's midrange line of compact, 6x-zoom snapshot cameras -- its 6-megapixel resolution and about £30 are all that differentiate it from its 5-megapixel sibling, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3. Both incorporate a 37mm-to-222mm (35mm equivalent) Leica lens, optical image stabilisation and numerous ways to control image capture, though they lack manual exposure modes. The DMC-LZ5 fares moderately well in bright environments, but poor performance and average photo quality lessen the allure of this attractively priced model.
Little about its design distinguishes the fairly standard-looking Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 from its competitors in the crowded sub-£200 digital camera market. Compact but not ultrathin, the DMC-LZ5 fits easily in a coat pocket or a handbag. In addition to its mundane aesthetic, its 233g, matte-plastic body feels cheap compared to that of metal-bodied competitors. A 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD dominates the back of the camera, with no viewfinder in sight. A standard four-way-plus-OK button pad for navigating the menus and the shooting options sits next to the screen. The mode dial and the zoom rocker sit on top of the camera, along with a dedicated image-stabilisation button. Despite the numerous controls on the surface, the DMC-LZ5 buries many of its features under a menu system that's easy but tedious to use, especially when you want to shoot quickly.
Panasonic loads the 6-megapixel Lumix DMC-LZ5 with useful but sometimes quirky features designed with real-world shooting situations in mind. It pairs a relatively fast (f/2.8 to f/4.5), long lens (the equivalent of 37mm to 222mm) with Panasonic's signature Mega Optical Image Stabilization to keep telephoto shots from blurring too much. The camera has 15 scene modes, including a unique Starry Sky option that lets you choose exposure times of 15, 30 or 60 seconds for astrophotography. Oddly, that last mode forces the camera to start a self-timer with a countdown equal to the exposure time.
You can adjust the camera's white-balance settings manually or even fine-tune them, as on a digital SLR. The camera also has standard preset settings such as Automatic and Halogen, usually referred to as Incandescent or Tungsten on other cameras. Unfortunately, the camera lacks a fluorescent white-balance preset.
The DMC-LZ5's five autofocus settings include a wide five-point array and a narrow spot mode. A live histogram helps you see what an exposure will look like, though the camera's low-resolution LCD renders it relatively useless.
Panasonic incorporates other small conveniences as well, such as grid lines that it displays on the screen to aid composition and a High Angle LCD mode that brightens the screen for easier viewing in above-your-head shots. The camera also has 14MB of built-in memory, although you'll want a decent-size SD card if you want to take more than a handful of shots at a time or capture movies in 30fps VGA. The camera uses two AA batteries for easy battery swapping.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 disappoints when it comes to performance. It takes three seconds to wake up and has a long shutter lag of about a second. Shooting feels even more sluggish at telephoto distances, where the autofocus takes a long time to lock on to simple targets. Panasonic claims the technology will add three stops of handheld shooting latitude, but in our tests, it delivered only about one stop. The DMC-LZ5's mediocre 2.6-second shot-to-shot time doubles to an even worse 5.2 seconds when you use the camera's built-in flash. For some odd reason, the LCD blacks out while the flash recycles.
Continuous-shooting performance fares better. The DMC-LZ5 has two burst modes -- a high-speed mode that achieved 3fps in our CNET Labs tests, and a low-speed burst that tested at 1.6fps. A slower but unlimited continuous mode shoots until your memory card runs out of space.
Unfortunately, the LCD has a low resolution of 85,000 pixels, and we experienced noticeable motion trails when framing our shots.