It's been a while since I have sung the praises of my itty bitty Panasonic LX5. Back when I got mine last summer my expectations were well tempered based on my search for a small camera that I could actually love in the past. As you might have noticed more than a few illustrations that I have posted have been shot with the LX5… Not that they are anything special but they look darn good for a little point and shoot in my opinion.
Take a look at the image shot of a print installation I just finished. That shot was not a particularly careful shot. Just some quick tests of our starting ratios for the lighting and to make sure all the flashes were triggering. I had to shoot at ISO 200 f7.1 and f8 as I set up the flashes for the D700 and tilt-shift 24mm we would be shooting the finals with. What is amazing is that this shot was HAND HELD at 1/6 second and came strait out of the camera with a resize on "16:9 mode". That is freaking amazing considering I shot it in typical arms extended live view and caffeine fueled morning mode. Imagine what you can do with this at f2… I can do this all day and produce sharp images at 1/6-1/8 second. This thing is a low light machine without reaching for stratospheric ISO's I almost never shoot above 200 ISO and 400 still looks really really good. You gotta get one of these things - amazing.
Back on point - as most of you know I almost always shoot RAW+JPEG - storage space is cheap and getting cheaper all the time. Why not. Since day one with this camera I have loaded those RAW+JPEG pairs into Aperture 3 without the ability to process the RAW files up until one of the last camera RAW updates from Apple. Yea I know that happened a while ago - I've been busy. So now that Aperture 3 can process the RAW files for this thing I thought I would offer a couple of my notes on the subject.
- If you have LX5 RW2 RAW files loaded into Aperture prior to RAW support for them you must must must select them all and "reprocess the masters" in order to have Aperture recognize them. This actually goes for all RAW files that you load into Aperture prior to Apple supporting the format. Just thought I would point that out since it came up in a one-on-one session I had a while back.
- I would rate the RAW processing in Aperture 3 for the LX5 as above average. I will post a quick comparison to SilkyPix soon as that would be considered the "gold standard" for Panasonic RW2 files along with a sample from LR3/ACR. I guess one of the reasons I was drawn to the LX5 is that the images have similar properties to Nikon produced JPEG files. As you might expect Aperture renders LX5 RAW files differently than the JPEG's produced by the camera. Most notably the blues need more luminance and a shift toward purple to match the JPEG - JUST LIKE NIKON NEF files in Aperture 3.
- Aperture 3 noise reduction control is useless. We all know this and if you are adverse to any image noise you will absolutely need a third party plug in for high ISO LX5 RAW files. Me... I don't care most of my shots are 400 ISO and below and the noise doesn't show up in the print. For the odd shot at 1600 It doesn't really bother me all that much - they aren't supposed to look crisp and clean and bright and sunny in my way of thinking. Bottom line is that LR3's new noise reduction is amazingly effective on the LX5 RAW files - Aperture 3 not so much.
- Distortion correction... I have spent no time figuring out or researching if and how any lens distortions are corrected on the LX5 but I have made assumptions that some sort of distortion correction happens in the camera firmware considering how great the lens looks at all focusing distances at the 24mm wide setting. There is a tiny bit of pin-cushion but not much compared to other wide angles. In any case pin-cushion looks way better than barrel distortion for wide angles. For the most part strait likes are pretty darn strait. Guess what - the RAW files are identical processed in Aperture 3. My guess is that any distortion correction etc happens in the camera to the RAW files as well. Same probably goes for CA based on how good the files look and how closely these lens defects appear (or don't appear) in both the RAW and JPEGs. Hooray for Venus FHD or whatever it's called. Check it yourself - top image is JPEG bottom is Aperture 3 processed. These were shot at the widest setting very close up.
- The LX5 has an interesting aspect ratio control that allows you to shoot square, 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9. These aspect ratios show up in the RAW file as well. Very cool. The biggest reason this is cool is these are not merely crops from the "native 4:3" sensor. They actually seem to preserve the angle of view - well at least they do in anything "skinnier than 4:3". The square aspect ratio is identical to making a crop of the 4:3 in post production. The first image below is a camera produced 16:9 vs a crop from the 4:3 - subtle but significant. You get more pixels and a wider view from the in camera produced 16:9.
- The LX5 has much more aggressive sharpening on every JPEG mode than Aperture 3 does on the RAW. There is also a local contrast enhancement that occurs on JPEG files if you are using the LX5's "intelligent resolution" setting. The closest thing to this in terms of an Aperture 3 adjustment is the definition control combined with edge sharpen. Without this the JPEG's look far and away better than the default RAW conversion. Here is a sample RAW on the left JPEG on the right.
- Of course you can add that with definition and edge sharpen like so...
There are a couple of things I would like to change on the LX5 but none of them are a deal killer. Believe it or not the biggest thing is that there seems to be no way to turn off the "pre-flash" metering pulse from the built in flash. This makes it useless as a trigger for off-camera flash as the slaved units will trigger too soon. The other thing that is very closely related is the ability to manually dial down the flash from full to 1/128 power vs the 2 stops of compensation provided from "automatic".