Panasonic LX5: Will it Unseat the Canon S90 Among Pro Compacts?

Panasonic reminded us today that they're not ready to concede top honors for pro-toting compact cameras. With the release of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, they've provided tough competition to the Canon PowerShot S90.

Panasonic LX5

Let's take a look at a few of the specs:

Size: LX5 (110 x 65 x 25 mm) S90 (100 x 58 x 31 mm) -- Canon S90 is a bit more compact, but both cameras weigh-in around 175 g.

Image Sensor: LX5 (1/1.63" Type CCD - 11.3 MP) S90 (1/1.7" Type CCD - 10 MP) -- Again, a close call. The Panasonic sensor is a tad larger, but with more photosites crammed on there. So it may or may not perform better than the S90 in low light, given that all other variables are equal. My experience is that Canon does a better job with image noise than Panasonic. (Thanks Thomas for helping me with the math!)

Lens: LX5 (24-90mm - f/2.0 - 3.3) S90 (28-105mm f/2.0 - 4.9) -- Panasonic lens is a bit faster overall and is wider. Canon zoom has a bit more reach. Which is better will probably depend on your shooting style.

LCD: LX5 (3" 460K dots) S90 (3" 461K dots) -- A virtual tie.

Video: LX5 (up to 1280 x 720) S90 (up to 640x480) -- Panasonic gets this one.

Continuous Shooting: LX5 (2.5 fps for 3 frames) S90 (1 fps with not specified limit) -- Panasonic is better at capturing short bursts.

Auto Focus: LX5 (23 point) S90 (9 point) -- Panasonic has more focusing points.

Price: LX5 ($499 when released in Aug. 2010) S90 ($349 available now) -- The Canon is definitely more affordable right now.

The Panasonic LX5 has some other goodies that aren't available for the Canon S90, such as a hot shoe, accessory electronic viewfinder, and the ability to accommodate filters. On paper, the LX5 looks like a great camera that beats the Canon S90 in many categories. The bottom line will be image quality. We'll have to wait and see for that comparison.

twitter.jpg Follow me on Twitter


Except, I think the LX3 and LX5 are more comparable to the G11 in both size and target. Though, the S90 is sort of a small G11.

I think the thing to consider with price is what you get extra. The LX3 was $499 and quickly fell to $420-450. And in the last year it has settled in the $390 range.

Also, correction. The sensor is overall larger in the LX5 than the LX3. Not by much. 1/1 is bigger than ½. DP Review should have listings of the actual pixel density soon. Though I think this is becoming more irrelevant with the different technologies available. (Think 1DS Mk III and 5D Mk II sensors).

Panasonic's problem has always been noise. And the LX3 is pretty good, though Canon really has it down. I'm hoping to see improvement and I think we will looking at the sample galleries at DPReview. I can't use a compact camera without a hot shoe. There's no way. It's my 580 EX II or no flash at all. Even for my LX3! Plus with burst mode, I'm much more likely to get a sharp shot or one with the eyes open.

I also really love the aspect ratio setting on the camera, and that it maintains the same FOV. It's been quite nice to use 3:2 all the time, and then 16:9 for video and other shots.

That's not to say the S90 has nothing, but I think the closer comparison is the G11. So, I'll be looking at how the LX5 compares to the G12. I doubt I'll upgrade the LX3 and instead upgrade the 30D to a 7D (or whatever is new…) And maybe we'll have the S95 or S100 to compare it to! :)


Thanks for the info. But isn't the Panasonic sensor a tad bit larger? 1/1.63>1/1.7 - smaller denominator is a bigger number.

Hi Thomas, you're right about sensor size. I'll make that correction. It's always the math, isn't it?

Michael, thanks for your comments. You make many good points!

I think the price is bumping up against the lower-end of DSLRs and 4/3 cameras, and that alone can slacken sales.

It has a lot of potential, especially with the optional electronic viewfinder (currently $200 extra), but price is a factor. $500 for the LX5 when you can get remaining stock of the G1 (with a superior integrated electonic viewfinder and a bigger sensor with superior image quality) for the same price?

$500 when the LX3 is now going for $360 and the G11 for $450?

Interesting post Derrick, but wondering if the LX5 shoots RAW? And if it does, how long if ever will it take for Aperture (OS X) to support it (I'm an Aperture user)? It seems Apple hasn't supported Panasonic RAW formats nearly as well as it has Canon's.

Either way, I have a feeling that Canon will update the S90 as the competition heats up. I personally was very disappointed Canon didn't include HD video on the S90 as this is becoming such a standard (and nice) feature these days. I am sure they will change this for the next revision.

Yes, the LX5 does capture in Raw, but it is hard to say when it will be supported in Aperture. It could be a while. In the meantime, Canon S90 support is quite good.

And I'm with you... Wish the S90 captured video in 780p.

From what I've heard The S90 lens quality is quite disappointing compared to the LX-3. We'll see if Leica and Panasonic can keep up the advantadge

I wouldn't say that I've been disappointed with the lens on the Canon S90 at all. I think it's quite good.

What's interesting for me is that the S90 is a camera that I've been very happy with, yet, the LX3 looks great on paper. Looking forward to the field reports as shooters get to spend more time with the camera.

I'll be curious to hear more about the actual performance, since in the end that's what matters. And by "performance" I mean not only picture quality, but how the camera performs from a user perspective (e.g. control layout and functionality).

The price for these high-end compacts is high, but I'd think it's like most things engineering-wise - you pay more for size reduction (e.g. same reason big thick laptops are cheap while small, light, less-powerful laptops cost more).

For me the biggest drawback of my S90 is no optional of EVF and HD but I love the programable ring on my S90. I use for mine for focal length as I can't stand the zoom button/step motors on most point-n-shoots. So besides not being able to afford chasing every new toy that comes along I'm mostly happy with my S90 as a pocket camera, after all I bought it knowing what the drawbacks for were.

Now if I didn't already own the S90 it would probably be a tough call.

Same for me Ed. If I didn't already have the S90, it would be a more difficult choice. Although Aperture Raw support is important for me, and Apple tends to be slow with Panasonic cameras.

The Panasonic EVF costs $200, so the total is $700. But you can get the somewhat larger GF1 + EVF (+ lens) now for $729, but has MUCH better image quality, especially at high ISOs. So what's so compelling about these $500 cameras now besides pocketability?

The S90's images at high ISOs is stunning, see galleries of shots at iso 3200. The lx3 and 5 seems to wash out at ISO 800.
Furthermore, there is some software manipulation on the s90. I have shot a indoor model with both the s90 and the lx3 at the same settings, lx3 seems faithful in the rendition of the lowlight scene, however, the s90 does have better saturation and contrasts.

While I'll agree that the price for the Panasonic is a bit on the high side of things, and indeed you can get a DSLR for about as much, you have to consider that those are totally different markets. I see two people in mind for the S90/LX3/LX5 market, and those people are either professional photographers who want a pocketable backup (and whose SLR equipment cost leaps and bounds more than these little cameras), or hobbyists and creative individuals who want the best flexibility and image quality possible from a camera this size.

The selling point here is size. I own both a film and digital SLR, and have often taken them with me to do creative/street photography, but have run into two problems. One, the camera isn't with me nearly enough, mostly because of it's girth. Thus, I miss shots of friends, my wife, social gatherings and just random chance because I decided not to adorn myself with my 2lb camera necklace for the day. For people looking at a camera this size, I suspect spontaneity is of some importance, as it is for me. The second problem is control. I may want a small camera, but I have no intention of giving up the control that an SLR affords. By taking the reigns, so to speak, you can do all kinds of creative things that the Intelligent Automatic brain of the camera wouldn't understand.

Is the size worth the price is the question. Again back to the SLR contingent. Yes, a G1 has a larger image sensor and better picture quality, perhaps. It doesn't have a 24mm wide angle lens on it, though, something that would cost you a pretty penny. It also lacks the ability to shoot at F2.0, which bigger sensor or not, is many times more light than the 14-45 kit lens on the G1 is capable of gathering. I'm also going to go out on a limb here and say that the optics in the LX3/LX5 are better than the kit lens on the G1. There's no way to prove this, but I suspect a significant portion of Panasonic's asking price goes into the lens of the LX5, where the kit lens on the G1 is more an afterthought.

In the age of RAW processing, arguments over contrast, saturation, and noise levels are redundant at best. What matters most on these cameras is their optics and sensor size, which the LX5 seems to have bagged. A wider aperture is far more useful than detail-destroying noise processing, and a wider lens opens up more creative possibility (a wide angle lens that shoots just landscapes is a wide angle lens poorly used).

The S90 feels like a competent camera when I've had the chance to play with one, but I'm a sucker for lenses, and thus once I handle an LX5 I think I'll be pretty much sold. I've almost bought the LX3 a couple of times the past year, but thought better of it. Glad I waited.

It is all about pocketability.

There are some times where I absolutely do not or can not lug around a DSLR with accessories. Instances include backpacking, concerts, family outings, etc. m43 cameras are still in their infancy so their appeal is limited (for me). also, you still have to carry around lens(es) and other accessories to fit your needs with m43. aLso, they don't fit in your pocket and dont weigh as little as compact prosumer cameras.

Just my 2 cents...

Once I started using the LX5 in the field I was surprised by the poor image quality in morning light conditions. In LR3, shooting at ASA 400, with some LR3 noise reduction, there are so many image elements that are pastel soft. Not nice. My G11 performs way better. Too bad.