Panasonic DMC-LX5 - £310/$420
About the same size and slightly lighter than the Olympus XZ-1, the Panasonic LX5 nevertheless feels a lot less fiddly to use. The shooting Mode dial is bigger with larger markings, and there's a decent-sized command dial on the back, which is a vast improvement on Olympus's very thin rotary dial around the four-way pad.
The Panasonic camera shares the same generously sized 1/1.63-inch (8 x 6mm) sensor as the Olympus model, which is a step up from the Canon, Nikon and Ricoh cameras in the group. Some of the features here include Panasonic's 'Intelligent Resolution' system, in which outlines, detailed texture and gradations in a scene are automatically analysed by the image-processing engine, which enhances them accordingly.
Sliding switches mounted on the lens barrel give quick access to focus modes and to image aspect ratios, with options for 1:1, 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9. The control for Exposure Compensation is a lot harder to find, as it's not labelled anywhere on the camera or in the menus.
However, once you resort to looking it up in the manual and discover that you need to press in the rotary command dial on the back of the camera, you won't forget again in a hurry.
The 3.8x zoom range is the smallest in the group (bar the Ricoh GR IV with its fixed focal length lens) but it's impressively sharp and distortions are well contained. Better still, it's the only camera on test that zooms out to an extra-wide 24mm equivalent focal length, which enables you to squeeze more into the picture. The maximum telephoto length of 90mm, however, is comparatively disappointing.
The Intelligent Auto shooting mode is particularly good at judging scenes and coming up with the right camera settings for you, while the autofocus system is reasonably quick and metering is accurate.
And if you really can't live without a viewfinder, Panasonic offers optional optical or electronic finders to slot into the hotshoe.
Landscape photography benefits from excellent dynamic range, especially at ISO 80-400. There's plenty of sharpness and vitality too.
In lab testing, the LX5 is an average performer in terms of resolution, but images generally look impressively sharp, with plenty of contrast.
ISO 200 at 100%
ISO 3200 at 100%
It's best to stick to the ISO 80-400 sensitivity range, as image noise becomes noticeable at ISO 800 and is poor by the time you hit ISO 3200.
With one of the best scores in the group for colour accuracy, images from the LX5 look very true to life, straight off the camera.
Image test verdict
The LX5 is on a par with the Canon G12 in all areas of image quality, producing punchy, vibrant results, but high ISO performance could be better.
Read our Panasonic DMC-LX5 review