The LX5's camera design is mostly unchanged from the Panasonic LX3, but a quick look reveals a few subtle but important differences, mostly inspired by the innovations in Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras.
The hand-grip has been restyled to more accurately follow the shape of your hand, and sits more comfortably in your grip. The not so obvious aspect of the LX5 is that it's a tad heavier than the LX3 at 271g to 265g and slightly longer, taller but thinner at 110 x 65 x 25mm to 108.7 x 59.5 x 27.1mm.
Like the LX3, the LX5 has a hot shoe for additional accessories, which now introduces support for the optional Live Viewfinder (top right). Filters and lens converters can also be attached.
A new bright red movie record button sits next to the shutter release, a control we're used to in the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras. This lets you record video directly with the press of a button, no matter which mode you're in. Also new is the addition of the 1:1 aspect ratio in the aspect ratio switch on the lens. Previously in the LX3, 1:1 was a feature you had to turn on in the menu.
The biggest changes are on the back of the camera. The LX3's joystick has been replaced by a clickable control wheel. The control wheel helps you control whichever mode you're in, like aperture in Aperture mode and shutter speed in Shutter mode (in iA mode it becomes exposure compensation). Like Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras, the control wheel is clickable, press down and it switches modes. For example, in Aperture mode it switches from aperture control to exposure, and in Manual mode it switches between aperture and shutter speed. It's a welcome change and makes switching settings on the fly much easier.
A feature we enjoyed using was 'step zoom', which needs to be switched on in the menu. Once it's activated, you'll see a display of the different focal lengths available whenever you zoom.
Another welcome change is a dedicated ISO button (right button of the central d-pad wheel). To change ISO settings on the LX3, you had to click the joystick twice to activate the Quick Menu. Now that the joystick is gone, the ISO button does the same thing. It's another button to get into muscle memory but it feels more intuitive this way.
Overall, we found much to like in the LX5's design. Instead of a complete overhaul, handling has been refined from the LX3. The camera feels more intuitive, and easier to use. Two things bug us about the design though, one slight and one major.
The slight complaint is how the aspect ratio and focus controls are located on the lens. More than once we've accidentally bumped them while carrying the LX5 in the bag. This might not be a problem if you get the LX5 case or just check whenever you switch the camera on - or maybe we're just clumsy.
The larger complaint, and one we've heard LX3 owners groan about the world over when the LX5 was revealed, is that the LX5 still uses a lens cap which you have to manually take off whenever you want to take a shot. Call us lazy (in addition to clumsy), but when you have cameras like the Canon S90 and the Samsung EX1 that retract their lens covers automatically, a manual lens cap feels like a chore. Especially when you see a magic moment and want to get your camera ready ASAP. And especially when it keeps dangling off your camera while you're shooting (if you choose to attach it via a string).