Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lumix LX5 for Lighting Lunatics


You probably know that the aspect of my photos that I'm most passionate about is the lighting.  My passion for lighting carries over even when I'm shooting with a point and shoot camera.  Of course, looking for good ambient lighting is an option with any camera, but as much as possible I want to have maximum control over lighting by using a flash.  This obsession with lighting is why I love the Lumix LX5.  This hands-on review of the LX5 will focus on its use with an external flash, both on-camera and off-camera, and even with AlienBees!


My search for an enthusiast compact started with my wife's seemingly harmless request for her own compact digital camera.  I chose the Nikon P300 because it had most of the features I was looking for and it cost significantly less than high-end enthusiast cameras.  After shooting a little with the P300, however, my eyes were opened to a different kind of photography.  I began to see enthusiast compacts as serious tools.  See my closing comments on the P300 review.

Once I knew these compacts could be used for serious photos, I was willing to pay a little more for a compact that had the features I didn't absolutely need but which I wanted: a hot shoe, raw mode, and a lens with a faster aperture across the zoom range.

OTHER CHOICES
With those criteria, I narrowed the choices to the following:
1.  Samsung EX-1/TL500: the fast lens and bright OLED display were tempting to me.  However, the obsolete video mode (limited to 640x480 @ 30 fps) and somewhat limited reach of the lens (72mm) were deal-breakers.
2.  Nikon P7100: the thought of having wireless TTL flash was very tempting, particularly because I already have SB-800s that could be used with the P7100.  I also liked the articulating screen.  I was ambivalent about the lens - it was slower but the 200mm reach was attractive.  However, it was ultimately just a little too expensive and bulky.  I have similar objections to the excellent Canon G12.
3.  Olympus XZ-1: looking at its specs, it seems to have no weaknesses, and has the best lens in its class, not just in terms of aperture width but also in terms of sharpness.  In terms of lighting, the XZ-1 even has a built-in flash commander!  The brilliant OLED display was icing on the cake.  JPEG is somewhat soft but that's ok - I was planning on shooting with raw.  The problem was the cost - about the same as that of the P7100.  The other problem is that Olympus may not be around to honor the warranty (due to the ongoing scandals at the company).
4.  Nikon P7000: again a very tempting choice because of the possibility of wireless TTL using my SB-800 as commander.  Like the Nikon P7100, the lens is slow but at least has a 200mm reach.  The issue about raw shooting speed has been addressed by the new firmware.  Plus, it costs far less than the P7100.
5.  Lumix LX5: no significant weaknesses, particularly since the cost has significantly decreased.  The lens is a little short (90mm) but still acceptable.  The manual video controls, changeable aspect ratio and the enhancements from the new firmware were bonuses.

I eventually decided the sluggish menus and controls of the P7000 would have been too aggravating.  I don't think I could put up with that.  At the same time, while the LX5 can't use my SB-800s in TTL mode, I was hoping I could use it in auto mode and in that regard, the LX5's aperture changes only by 1.5 stops across the zoom range, so I was guessing auto mode would still be feasible.  What about wireless flash? My solution was to use my Radiopopper JrX.  Based on those reasons, I decided to go with the LX5 over the P7000.

VS. MIRRORLESS
Before I go on with the LX5 review, you might wonder what about mirrorless?  A micro 4/3 camera has a sensor that's about 4x larger than the sensor of the LX5.  At the same ISO, the micro 4/3 sensor has much less noise, and it has slightly more flexibility in controlling the depth of field.
Well, here's at least part of the problem: find me the equivalent of a 24-90 f/2-3.3 lens.  (I'll save you the Google search: there is no comparable m4/3 lens.)  The closest you'll find is the m4/3 kit lens (28-84 f/3.5-5.6) or Sony e-mount kit lens (18-55 f/3.5-5.6 equivalent to 24-82mm).  Compared to either of those kit lenses, the LX5 is around 1.5 stops faster both at the wide end and tele end.  Which would have less noise: LX5 at 90mm f/3.3 800 ISO vs. an m4/3 camera at 84mm f/5.6 2500 ISO?  Suddenly, the sensor advantage of the mirrorless camera is significantly diminished.

Moreover, a mirrorless camera is also not pocketable (unless you want to use a pancake lens with fixed focal length).  I thought that if I need to carry a bag anyway then I might as well use my DSLR.

VS. DSLR
One possible issue may be: what's the point of getting a compact camera when you're going to bring with it a large and bulky external flash (or worse, a monolight that even requires a separate battery source)?  Why not just use a DSLR then?  Those are all valid points, and I think a reason this camera category isn't as hot as it could otherwise be.

Nonetheless, I do have reasons for preferring to use a compact in some circumstances.  First, we  don't always need to bring a flash.  For example, when my wife is the one using the camera, she doesn't need an external flash and can take advantage of the LX5's portability.

Second, bringing an external flash is not difficult.  What I do is to carry the very light and inconspicuous LX5 around my neck, then keep the external flash in my wife's diaper bag. I only whip out the flash when I need it.

Third, in some cases, the LX5 is the better tool for the job because the LX5 can actually do some things that my DSLR can't:
- The LX5 can provide photo as well as video (my aging DSLRs don't have video). 
- The LX5 also has nearly unlimited sync speed thanks to its electronic shutter.  Great for overpowering ambient light or "multiplying" your flash's power.
- The LX5 also has a very deep depth of field.  Nice for landscape shots and some environmental portraits.  See my notes about hyperfocal distance under "Focus."

Fourth (or sixth), the LX5 can complement a DSLR by serving as a backup camera or a second camera (the DSLR could cover telephoto lengths while the LX5 would cover wide-to-standard).

Lastly, it's fun to be able to take nicely-lit photos with a point & shoot that look better than DSLR photos with crappy lighting :).

On with the review.  In the first part of this review, I will focus on usability.  In the second part, I will discuss how the LX5 performs with various lighting tools.

PART 1: USABILITY

A.  FIRST IMPRESSIONS



The LX5's size is about the same as many other compact cameras.  Like other enthusiast compacts with wide aperture lenses, the LX5 lens barrel protrudes from the body a bit more than typical compacts, which is understandable given the LX5's physically larger lens.  To compare the LX5's size with that of other cameras, check out http://camerasize.com/compare/ .


The body is mostly metal except for the shell which is plastic.  All buttons and switches are metal and only the control dial is plastic.  There is a rubber grip in front and a small grip at the back of the camera.


The LX5 feels very solidly built and weighs about the same as other wide aperture compacts, which is to say about twice as much as slim compacts.


B.  CONTROLS
Rear controls with GGS LCD cover shown.

Top controls of the LX5. On the lens barrel is the aspect ratio switch. There is also a focus mode switch on the left side of the lens barrel (not shown here).

The controls are pretty conventional for the most part and don't get in the way of shooting.  There is only one control dial to control aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation.  It works like this: in any automatic or semi-automatic mode (P, A, S), rotating the dial functions as exposure compensation.  In P, A, or S, you can also press the dial to toggle between exposure compensation and being able to alter the exposure creatively.  In P mode, pressing the dial then rotating it functions as program shift.  In A mode, doing so controls aperture.  In S mode, it controls shutter.  Press it again then you're back to exposure compensation.


In manual mode, there is no exposure compensation.  Rotate the dial to change shutter speed or aperture, pressing the dial to toggle between the two.  An electronic light meter assists with setting exposure.


Although I've been spoiled by the two control dials on my DSLRs, I got used to the LX5's control scheme fairly quickly.  It works reasonably well.  The only thing is that the dial is a little harder to press than I imagined because it is almost fully recessed.



Other notes about the controls:

  • There are dedicated buttons for ISO (yes!), self-timer, customizable Fn button, focus button (discussed below), and AF/AE lock.
  • It's great that the LX5 has an Fn button. Unfortunately the functions that can be assigned aren't broad enough.  For example, FEC is not one of the functions that can be controlled by Fn.  The most useful ones to me are auto bracketing, flash mode, metering mode, white balance (though I shoot raw anyway).
  • The focus button can function like an AF-ON button.  When the LX5 is in manual mode, half-pressing the shutter will not change the focus but pressing the focus button causes the LX5 to focus.
  • There are two types of menus available: a comprehensive menu and a quick menu (for options that are more often changed), each accessible by dedicated buttons.  Strangely, FEC is not in the quick menu.
  • The comprehensive menu's interface is similar to Nikon's, with tabs on the left side and options on the right side.  However, some of the options are not intuitive.  For example, when changing image quality (JPEG or raw) you are shown a few icons: 6 blocks, 3 blocks, Raw with an arrow pointing to 3 blocks, Raw with an arrow pointing to 6 blocks, or raw.  Do the blocks represent the resolution (more blocks = better quality) or do they represent the number of pictures that can be taken (more blocks = lower quality)?  (Answer: more blocks = better quality.)  There are certain options that are not immediately understandable without reading the manual such as "Intelligent Exposure."
  • The pop-up flash is both raised and activated with a switch.  The flash is TTL only (no manual flash mode) and flash exposure compensation is set in the menus (argh).  You can specify the sync mode (front curtain, rear curtain, slow, etc.) in the menus.
  • There is a dedicated video recording button.  Pressing the button immediately begins recording video.  Alternatively, there is a video mode in the dial that allows video settings to be changed.
Program mode with TTL flash at -2 flash exposure compensation


C.  FOCUS

Focusing speed is not as fast as that of a DSLR but I found it acceptable.  I was using firmware v2.0 which supposedly increases focusing speed by 23%.


Focus accuracy was pretty good.  The LX5 also has face detection focus, which works pretty well at identifying subjects and is my preferred focus mode for photos of my family.
There were only a few times where the LX5 would focus on the background instead of the subject.  But the AF correctly identifies the subject most of the time, in which case the subject would be in focus.


I like the manual focus mode's interface.  When you switch to manual focus mode, you can press the up button (marked "focus") to get the camera to autofocus.  Then you can use the control dial or the left/right buttons to adjust the focus.  As you adjust the focus, the middle part of the screen is enlarged to help you see whether the target is in focus ("Manual Focus Assist").  The LX5 has the option of filling the whole screen with the enlargement.


In addition to the Manual Focus Assist, there is a depth of field indicator (woohoo!).  It shows a range of distances from 1cm (0.04 feet) to infinity.  A yellow bar indicates the range that is in acceptable focus while you adjust the focus.  This feature helps me find the hyperfocal distance easily.  All I have to do is adjust the focus until the right edge of the yellow range bar reaches the infinity.  The left edge of the yellow bar will show me the nearest distance that is within the depth of field.  At f/2.0 and 24mm, that works out to about 6 feet to infinity.  At f/8.0 (the smallest available aperture) and 24mm, the depth of field is from about 1 foot to infinity!  (By comparison, on a D300 with the equivalent of a 24mm lens, a depth of field from 1 foot to infinity requires an aperture of f/45).

D.  BATTERY LIFE

The battery life is adequate.  I've only run down the battery twice.  The first time I used up the battery, the battery meter went from 2 bars to none very rapidly.  However, the second time I used up the battery, the battery meter showed more gradual depletion.


The battery charger is external, which is convenient.  A full charge takes about 2.5 hours.



E.  IMAGE QUALITY
One of my gripes about the Nikon P300 was that even at the base ISO, there was a bit of noise (if you look closely).  The LX5 doesn't have this issue and looks clean at its base ISO of 80.


At high ISOs, the LX5 has low noise compared to other compact cameras, but I wouldn't say it's exceptional.  To me, it's just about the same as other high-end compacts such as the Canon S95 or Nikon P300. 


For my standards (I'm not a pixel peeper and I use Lightroom 3 for noise reduction) I find ISO 1600 is usable.  If you print an uncropped ISO 1600 shot at 4x6, the noise is literally unnoticeable.  At 8x10 or 8x12, the image looks a little grainy, but I don't find the noise obtrusive. Even at 11x14 or 12x16, it still looks ok to me and wouldn't mind hanging it on the wall.  Here's a sample at ISO 1600:
ISO 1600
The sample is not full-res (it's only 1600pix), but if you click on the linked pic and zoom it to the maximum, you'll get a better idea of what the noise looks like with a medium-sized print.


Although I find the ISO 1600 noise to be acceptable, I like to do some postprocessing which sometimes pushes shadow areas a stop or more above the ISO they were shot at, so I'm more comfortable shooting at ISO 400 or less.  Here's a sample of what I mean:  

In this shot, I exposed for the sky, which left the rest of the photo very dark.  In post, I dodged (lightened) the dark areas, effectively increasing the ISO in those areas, so those areas look a little grainy even though I shot at ISO 80.



One possible issue I have about the LX5 is that it seems to be less forgiving in retaining highlight tones than my DSLRs.  When I overexpose a shot and try to reduce/correct the exposure in postprocessing (using Lightroom), I find that the gradation of tones is not smooth.  This happens even though I shoot in raw with no blown highlights, and it's noticeable even with as little as 1 stop reduction/correction in exposure.  I find this surprising given that some sites say that the LX5 supposedly has over 10 stops of dynamic range.  Here's a sample shot illustrating this:
Original shot.
Corrected shot (-1.0 exposure).  Note the skin tones on the face.
Maybe there's a setting that I'm not using properly but that's what I've found so far.

F.  VIDEO

Video is one of the stronger features of the LX5 compared to other cameras.  For starters, it can shoot 720p at 30fps.  It has continuous autofocus while shooting (i.e., it can change focus while shooting).  It also allows the use of the optical zoom while shooting.  It has a very effective optical stabilization ("Power O.I.S. with Active Mode") during video.  I didn't conduct a scientific test, but the handheld videos I've taken with the LX5 look quite stable even though I was moving while shooting the videos.


Video novices like me will appreciate that the LX5's scene modes, film modes, and color modes (e.g. black and white, retro, pinhole effect, happy, Intelligent Auto mode, etc.) can be used when shooting videos as well.  All you have to do is choose the automatic mode or effect you want, the same way you would for photos, then shoot the video.  The preset effect will be applied to the video.  There are some exceptions for modes that are photo only (for example night portrait mode).  What happens then is that the LX5 chooses a similar mode in video (in the case of night portrait mode, the LX5 switches to low light mode for video).


A unique feature among compacts is the availability of full manual control in video mode, allowing you to select P, A, S or M and exposure compensation.  The LX5 also shoots in either Motion JPEG or AVCHD Lite.  When shooting in AVCHD Lite, the video file size is unlimited (it's not subject to MPEG's 2GB limit) and the video is stored more efficiently.  Other convenient video features include a video divide function and the ability to take a 2MB still picture from a recorded video.


The video does have some weaknesses that prevent it from being a full-fledged camcorder substitute.  The sound also suffers it's only mono, and re-focusing and optical zooming are audible, plus there's no external audio jack.  Another issue is that the LX5 is prone to sensor blooming.  Wherever there is a very bright light source in the shot, there will be a purple/magenta vertical line.  


Another weakness is dark conditions.  The LX5 has a high sensitivity mode that boosts the ISO but doesn't have an LED light that can be used as a video light, nor can the frame rate slow down as with some camcorders.


I also want to note that although AVCHD Lite removes the file size limit, it's not convenient for editing.  Many video editors (especially the entry-level ones) cannot edit AVCHD as-is (some cannot even view AVCHD).  Instead, the file has to be converted to MPEG or similar.  For me, I want to avoid this issue altogether, so I just use MPEG.

G.  COMPOSITION AIDS
The LX5 includes several features to aid in creative composition:
- multi aspect ratio and aspect bracket.
- multiple guide lines
- multiple exposure


1.     Multi Aspect Ratio
One of my favorite features of the LX5 is that you can change the aspect ratio from 1:1, 4:3, 3:2 (i.e. 4:6), or 16:9.  The LX5 doesn't just crop the photo.  Instead it retains the effective focal length (e.g. 24mm) and angle of view as you switch between aspect ratios.




Another cool feature is aspect bracketing.  When activated, the screen will show the framing for all four aspect ratios simultaneously.  When you take the shot, you will get a version of the photo in each aspect ratio.  Sadly, aspect bracketing cannot be used if you're shooting in raw mode.  Still, it's an interesting feature for experimenting with composition.



2.   Multiple Guide Lines
Many cameras offer guide lines to aid composition.  The LX5 however has 3 guide line modes.  The first mode is the rule of thirds (yes it adjusts automatically when you change aspect ratios).  The second mode is designed to assist in placing the target exactly in the middle of the frame.  The third mode will show a horizontal line and a vertical line that can be adjusted to any position.  The lines can be used to help align elements of your composition, such as the horizon, with other elements or with the frame.



3.    Multi Exposure
This feature allows up to 3 shots to be superimposed on one another.  Besides having an automatic gain adjustment, the LX5 makes it easy to take multi-exposure shots because the other shots are shown as translucent images.


PART 2: LIGHTING WITH THE LX5

The primary reason I wanted the LX-5 over the Nikon P300 was the availability of several lighting options.  I tried the LX5 with an on-camera speedlight, off-camera speedlight, and a monolight.


A.  On-Camera Flash
The first option I tried was to use on-camera flash.  Naturally, the LX-5 requires a dedicated flash (e.g. Panasonic FL500 or its twin brother the Olympus FL50) to be able to use TTL.  However, other flashes can be used with the LX-5, in manual flash mode or auto flash mode.  Manual flash is self-explanatory.  Auto flash is an older automatic flash technology where the flash, not the camera, controls flash exposure.  With auto flash, you specify the ISO and aperture you're using.  When the flash fires, it will use a sensor to measure the amount of reflection from the scene.  When the reflection reaches a predetermined amount (based on the specified ISO and aperture), the flash will stop firing.  Not all flashguns have an auto mode but many high-end flashes and older flashes like the Nikon SB-800 do have it.


When I attached the SB-800 to the LX-5's hotshoe, I was surprised that the LX-5 was aware that there was an external flash attached.  When the LX5 detects a flash, it limits the shutter speed to 1/2000.  I was able to sync at the 1/2000 limit.  When flash is active and the LX5 is in P or A mode, the slowest shutter speed (in dim conditions) is limited to 1/60 or faster by default.  This setting can be changed with the [Min. Shtr. Speed] command to as slow as 1 second or as quick as 1/250.


I took a shot of our son's Christmas concert.  The room light levels were typical for indoors lit by fluorescent light.  What made it challenging was that the stage was beside a window where there was bright direct sunlight.  The simple solution was to use flash to bring up the indoor light level closer to the level where there was sunlight.  I underexposed the ambient by about 1 stop, then plugged in the aperture and ISO into the SB-800.  I turned the head to bounce the flash above and slightly behind me.  I found the flash somewhat underexposed so I increased flash exposure by telling the SB-800 that the aperture was narrower than what it actually was.  As I recall, I plugged in an aperture of f/4 although I was shooting at f/2.8.  Here's the result:

Without flash
With flash
Having found the correct auto flash setting, I then took a photo of my wife and daughter, who were sitting beside me.  Although they were much closer to me than was the stage, there was no need to adjust the flash setting.  The flash exposure remained correct.



I've had the chance to use on-camera flash in auto mode with the LX5 on a few other occasions and it worked well.  I would say that using an on-camera external flash in auto mode (or manual flash mode) with the LX5 can work fairly well when you're bouncing the flash.  Here are a few items to note:

  • With an SB-800 attached, the LX5 becomes very top-heavy.  But I got used to it.
  • The LX5's widest aperture gets narrower as you zoom in.  Fortunately, the difference is only about 1.5 stops (unlike some cameras such as the Nikon P300 where the aperture can vary by 3 stops across the zoom range).  However, that could still make your flash underexposed.  One solution is to limit yourself to using the widest aperture at the tele end (f/3.3).
  • The working range of the auto flash on the SB-800 is narrow.  Let's say you use ISO 800 and want to use an aperture of f/2.8 on the LX5.  You'll find that if you select an ISO of 800 on the SB-800, the widest aperture you can specify on the flash will be something like f/5.6.  When I run into this limitation, I switch to manual flash instead.
  • The SB-800 has an auto standby mode.  When the SB-800 goes on standby, it is not "awakened" immediately by the LX5 -- it only wakes up on the next shot.  I find it better to turn off standby altogether or use a long delay such as 160 secs or 300 secs instead of auto standby.
  • For the auto flash to work correctly, make sure you don't block the auto flash sensor.  That means some flash modifiers such as a softbox can't be used with the auto flash.  Of course, manual flash is always a possibility.
  • If you're using an old flash, make sure the voltage is safe for the LX5.  Some of those older flashes have very high voltage.

Another sample of on-camera auto flash
B.  Off-Camera: TTL Cord
The next lighting option I tried was using the SB-800 as off-camera flash via a TTL cord.  For my TTL cord, I used the Nikon SC-29 cable.  In theory, this option is similar to using the flash on-camera.  In practice, I found it hard to get a good result with auto flash.  First of all, I was forced to use direct flash because the sensor had to point to the subject.  Most shots tended to have too much flash even at the minimum auto flash settings (i.e. using the widest aperture setting in the flash).  The few times I got somewhat acceptable results was when the subject was relatively far away.

With an off-camera flash via TTL cord. f/5.6, 1/5, ISO 500. Flash in Auto mode. Rear curtain sync.  Note: was heavily cropped.
I got much better results when I used the SB-800 in manual mode, which freed me to use it with flash modifiers that would otherwise block the auto flash sensor.  Specifically, I used the SB-800 with the Lastolite Trifold Umbrella and Brolly Grip.  I underexposed the ambient a little then just guesstimated the flash power level.  After a while, I got used to figuring out the approximate power level based on the ambient light levels and approximate distance of the subjects.




I would say that this option (off-camera manual flash via TTL cord) is more challenging than using on-camera auto flash but still practicable especially when you get the hang of estimating the power level.  Another benefit is that it's easier to handle the LX-5 with a TTL cord adapter attached to the hotshoe than a heavy external flash.  Most importantly, using a TTL cord allows me to use flash modifiers.

If you're wondering whether the Lastolite Trifold umbrella and Brolly Grip really made a difference, check out these shots:
Bare flash

With Lastolite Trifold
BTW, sync speed with a TTL cord remained at 1/2000.


C.  Alien Bee + Radiopopper JrX


2011122415-lx5-P1030902.jpg
Sample of LX-5 used with Alien Bee and Radiopopper JrX

Finally, I tried the LX5 with an Alien Bee monolight controlled wirelessly by a Radiopopper JrX Studio.  I was able to sync at up to 1/1600.  However, this doesn't necessarily mean you can take full advantage of that sync speed.  The bottleneck is the flash duration.  An AlienBees B1600 has a t.1 flash duration of 1/600 at full power.  If you choose a shutter speed higher than 1/640 the flash exposure will be reduced.  At 1/800 it's not so bad.  Anything above that, the flash exposure progressively gets weaker.  This becomes even more of an issue when you use less than full power.  Whereas speedlights have IGBT transistors that lead to shorter flash durations as you decrease output, older monolights such as the AlienBees and White Lightning units have longer flash duration as you decrease output.  This is not an issue with the newer Einstein monolights, which have IGBT transistors just like speedlights.


Anyway, I used the LX5 with a B1600 for the shot above.  I used the B1600 with a 60" Westcott Convertible Umbrella in shoot-through mode, mounted on a Linco lightstand (which, by the way, has great stability because of its super-wide footprint), and powered by a Vagabond Mini.  It was positioned camera left.  The B1600 was controlled with a Radiopopper JrX Studio.  The combo worked very well.  I purposely powered down the B1600 to retain the backlit feel.


Without flash
With flash
The combination of the LX5 with a Radiopopper JrX and an AlienBees (or other Paul C. Buff monolight) works very well.  The light and compact JrX trigger sits well on the LX5, unlike a relatively heavy external flash.  Controlling the AlienBees was easy.


I also tried the LX5 with a Radiopopper JrX controlling a speedlight but I only did test shots (not "real" shots).  It works just as well as when I use a monolight.



PART 3: OTHER COMMENTS

QUIRKS AND GRIPES
I only have minor complaints with the LX-5.
  • User manual is in the CD only.  It's not available on Panasonic's website (they only have the basic instructions).
  • Fiddly lens cap.
  • Flash compensation is via menu and takes several button presses.
  • In Intelligent Auto (iA) mode, the camera can only shoot in JPEG format.
  • No automatic HDR mode (there is a preset that can flatten contrast and simulate HDR but it's not true HDR).


ACCESSORIES

  • GGS LCD protector.  There's a GGS glass LCD protector available for the LX5 and it fits the screen perfectly.  It's inexpensive and much more protective of the screen than the typical plastic film.  The image looks just as clear as not having any protector attached.  I highly recommend it.
  • Lens cap.  There is a lens cap for the LX5 that can automatically open and close as the lens goes in and out of the camera's body.  I got one and it does work as advertised, but it's made of very cheap plastic and looks like a toy especially when mounted on the sleek LX-5.
  • EZFoto camera case. This case has a similar design with the official Panasonic Lumix camera case but costs much less and is made of simulated leather.  It is made of two parts.  The bottom part attaches to the LX-5 by screwing on to the tripod socket (and adds an external tripod socket).  The top flap is attached by buttons to the bottom part.  I have mixed feelings about this case.  On one hand the case does protect the camera and seems to offer the functionality of the official case at a much lower price.  However, when using the camera you have to detach the cover (and find some place to keep it).  Another disadvantage is that when you're changing the memory card or battery, you have to unscrew and remove the bottom part.
  • External flash with auto mode. I recommend getting an external flash that has an auto mode (or better yet, get the dedicated compatible flash like the Panasonic FL500 or Olympus FL50).  An external flash can really improve the image quality of the LX-5 (with proper flash technique).
  • TTL Cord.
  • Radiopopper JrX Studio.  If you want wireless multiple flash setups (with the possibility of combining monolights and speedlights) this is the way to go.
  • LWA52 and LA6 adapter.  This high quality wide angle adapter converts the widest angle of the LX-5 from 24mm to 18mm.  It's much more expensive than cheap wide angle adapters but you'll get much better image quality.  Believe me, I've tried one of those cheapo adapters.
LX5 GALLERIES
I'm still very new to this kind of photography, so my pictures don't do justice to this camera's potential.  Instead, take a look at these amazing LX5 photos instead (although it goes without saying that it was the photographer's skills that made the difference):
Panasonic's Photos Tell a Story Part II 


MORE SAMPLES
For what they're worth, here are some more samples (click to enlarge).