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Panasonic LX5 vs Canon S95 vs Nikon P300

Three of the latest and most compact serious cameras from Panasonic, Nikon and Canon put to the test by Joshua Waller.

|  Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 in Digital Cameras
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Panasonic, Nikon, Canon

The introduction of the new Nikon Coolpix P300 is the latest compact camera designed to offer manual controls and improved image quality, yet does it have the image quality to knock the Canon and Panasonic aside? We decided to compare three of the most compact serious cameras to find out how they perform, and what they offer that makes them worth parting with your cold hard cash for.

Nikon, Canon, Panasonic pop-up flash


You'd be forgiven if you got confused looking at the cameras, as they, in appearance at least, all appear to offer roughly similar features, with a wide angle optical zoom lens, a bright lens, 3 inch screens, and pop up flash. However, it's when you start delving deeper into the camera's specifications that you realise you are looking at three quite different cameras. 

Nikon, Canon, Panasonic Front On

The Nikon Coolpix P300 features a normal sized 12 megapixel back lit CMOS sensor that you would find in many other compact cameras (such as the Nikon Coolpix S9100), an f/1.8 - 4.9 wide angle lens starting at 24mm equivalent, and a high resolution 3 inch screen with 920k pixels. Where the Nikon difference comes, is in the high speed 8fps shooting and full HD video recording. 

Nikon, Canon, Panasonic Back Screens

The Canon Powershot S95 is the most compact and features a larger than normal 10 megapixel CCD sensor, an f/2.0 - 4.9 wide angle lens starting at 28mm equivalent, and again a high resolution 3 inch screen. The Canon offers a clever dial around the lens, RAW support and customisable buttons. 

Nikon, Canon, Panasonic, Top

The Panasonic Lumix LX5 is the largest of the three, as can be seen most clearly when viewed from the top, but is also the most advanced, offering a uniquely shaped 10 megapixel CCD sensor that supports multiple aspect ratios, a flash hot shoe, an SLR style command wheel, large hand grip, and a bright lens at both wide angle and telephoto, that starts at 24mm equivalent.

We have broken down the main features into an easy to read table, showing the best highlighted in green.

Features (colour coded) - Light red: worst, Grey: second bestGreen: best.

  Nikon Coolpix P300 Canon Powershot S95 Panasonic Lumix LX5
Megapixels 12 10 10
Sensor Type Backlit CMOS CCD CCD
Sensor Size 1/2.3 inch 1/1.7 inch 1/1.63 inch
ISO Range (full size) ISO160-3200 ISO80-3200 ISO80-3200 (Extends)
RAW No Yes Yes
FPS (Frames-per-second) 8fps 2fps 2.5fps
Orientation Sensor No Yes Yes
Custom button(s) No 2 (Shortcut, lens ring) 1 (Fn button)
Screen size, pixels 3in, 920k 3in, 461k 3in, 460k
Optical zoom 4.2x 3.8x 3.8x
Aperture (wide) f/1.8 f/2.0 f/2.0
Aperture (telephoto) f/4.9 f/4.9 f/3.3
Wide-angle 24mm 28mm 24mm
Telephoto 100mm 105mm 90mm
Flash Hot-shoe No No Yes
Video 1080p (Full HD) 720p 720p
Macro 3cm 5cm 1cm
IS Yes, Optical VR Yes (lens shift-type), 4-stop Yes - POWER Optical I.S.
HDR Yes (combines shots) Yes Yes (Scene mode)
Battery Life (CIPA)* 240 200 400
Price £249 £299 £349

* Our own testing found the Nikon Coolpix P300 offered better battery life than this in use, while the Panasonic Lumix LX5 battery life was more often around 280 shots. The Canon Powershot S95 provided around 200 shots in real use, which matches the CIPA rating.

Panasonic, Nikon, Canon Side


Hopefully the specifications and features of each camera has given you an idea of what each of these cameras offers, but it all becomes quite mute if the cameras are unable to offer the speed and image quality to back it up.

We tested each camera's performance at focusing, shutter response, shot to shot time, continuous shooting etc, and have posted the results below. To test this we took 6 or more shots and calculated the average, so that consistent results were produced, we also made sure to test all the cameras at the same time to ensure the cameras were being tested under the same conditions.

Nikon P300 Panasonic LX5  Canon S95
Shutter Reponse <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Wide - Focus and Shutter Response Average 0.4 0.3 0.4
Full zoom - Focus and Shutter Response Average 0.5 0.3 0.45
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 1.3 1.8 1.9
Shot to Shot (without flash) 1.4 0.9 (2 shots) 2.1
Shot to Shot with Flash 2.6 1.6 (2 shots) 3.0 (2 shots)
Continuous Shooting (at full resolution) 8fps (7shots) 2.5fps (3 shots) 2fps (~)

Each camera excels at something, most noticeably the P300 with the fastest start up time, and fastest continuous shooting (by a long shot). The LX5 is to be commended for excellent focusing speed, and general all round quick performance, whilst not as quick as the P300, the 2.5fps continuous shooting is still adequate, and the rest of the performance figures are good. The S95 is not necessarily slow, however, in this competition it is noticeable that it scores as the slowest camera of the three, apart from shutter response which seemed the quickest (just). 

Nikon, Canon, Panasonic


Here we've tested each camera in the real world, and in studio tests, taking photos with each camera, at the same time under the same lighting conditions so that you can directly compare them. Click images to very larger versions.

Outside shots

Nikon Coolpix P300 Canon Powershot S95 Panasonic Lumix LX5
Trees Canon Powershot S95 Trees Panasonic Lumix LX5 Trees
ISO160 ISO100 ISO100

Here the Nikon has produced the warmest most vibrant colours, followed by the Panasonic Lumix LX5, which has produced the most life like colours, while the Canon has produced slightly cooler colours. The LX5 has the most detail with excellent detail in both bright and shadow areas, with the S95 giving slightly softer results, and less detail in the shadow areas. The P300 offered the softest results, with the stronger contrast causing detail to be lost in the shadow areas of images. 

Portrait shots with flash

Nikon Coolpix P300 Canon Powershot S95 Panasonic Lumix LX5
Portrait with flash Portrait with flash Portrait with flash
Portrait with flash Portrait with flash Portrait with flash

The S95 flash seemed to overexpose the image slightly, this was made worse by the screen on the back showing the image as brighter than it actually was, and the shot also shows the worst red-eye of the three cameras. The P300 produced the warmest colours, with lots of red-eye. Switching to the portrait scene mode produces softer skin, and removes red-eye from the subject (an example is shown in the full review). The LX5 gave the most detail, with the lowest red-eye of the three.

ISO Noise performance

Nikon Coolpix P300 Canon Powershot S95 Panasonic Lumix LX5
ISO3200 ISO3200 ISO3200
ISO3200 ISO3200 ISO3200
ISO3200 - shown at 100% ISO3200 - shown at 100% ISO3200 - shown at 100%
ISO200 - shown at 100% ISO200 - shown at 100% ISO200 - shown at 100%

The P300 results are better than expected considering the smaller sensor size when compared at 100% view and the camera produces good results even at ISO3200, although noise is visible, the levels are low and detail is still good. The LX5 does well at ISO3200 although the processing of the noise appears more visible. The S95 shows the softest results in these tests, as though the noise reduction settings are set too high. It's worth noting that the ISO range of the P300 is the lowest, ranging from ISO160 to ISO3200, the S95 goes from ISO80 - 3200, while the LX5 goes from ISO80 upto ISO3200 at full resolution, with ISO6400, and ISO12800 available at 3mp. You can view the full range of test shots in the full reviews. 

Auto White Balance performance - Incandescent Lighting

Nikon Coolpix P300 Canon Powershot S95 Panasonic Lumix LX5
Auto White Balance Auto White Balance Auto White Balance
ISO160 - AWB, Tungsten ISO100 - AWB, Tungsten ISO100 - AWB, Tungsten

The LX5 gives the most accurate and neutral results under incandescent lighting using the auto white balance. The P300 follows on from that, producing warm, rich colours, while the S95 produces the warmest colours of all with a yellow shift to the image.

Auto White Balance Performance - Fluorescent Lighting

Nikon Coolpix P300 Canon Powershot S95 Panasonic Lumix LX5
Auto White Balance Auto White Balance Auto White Balance
ISO160 - AWB, Fluorescent ISO100 - AWB, Fluorescent ISO100 - AWB, Fluorescent

The S95 produces excellent results under fluorescent lighting, followed by the LX5's slightly cooler results. The P300 produces an image that has a slightly yellow tone to it, however colour is very good.

Lens performance (wide-angle)

Nikon Coolpix P300 Canon Powershot S95 Panasonic Lumix LX5
 Wide shot with the Nikon Wide shot with the Canon Wide shot with the Panasonic
ISO160 ISO100 ISO100

Here you can see the difference between having a 24mm equivalent lens and a 28mm equivalent lens, with the S95 in the middle showing less of the scene than the others. 

Lens performance (telephoto zoom)

Nikon Coolpix P300 Canon Powershot S95 Panasonic Lumix LX5
 Telephoto shot with the Nikon P300 Telephoto shot with the Canon S95 Telephoto shot with the LX5
ISO160 ISO100 ISO100

The P300 and S95 zoomed in has very similar telephoto reach, with the S95 zooming the furthest to an equivalent of 105mm. The LX5 zooms the least, to 90mm equivalent. Detail is very good on the P300 shot, although it is possible to see sharpening artefacts. Detail on the Canon Powershot S95 shots are very good.

Macro performance

Nikon Coolpix P300 Canon Powershot S95 Panasonic Lumix LX5
Macro test Nikon P300 Macro test Canon S95 Macro test Panasonic LX5
ISO160 ISO100 ISO100

The LX5 allows you to photograph your subject when it is just 1cm in front of the lens, producing excellent results. This is followed by the P300 with a close focusing distance of 3cm and excellent detail, with the S95 faring the worst in this test, only allowing you to focus on subjects 5cm away from the lens. 

Nikon, Canon, Panasonic

Video Performance: The LX5 has the most control over video, but also offers only mono sound, while the S95 and P300 both feature stereo sound. The P300 offers the highest resolution video at full HD, and also offers high speed video recording. The P300 and LX5 both feature dedicated video record buttons and let you use the optical zoom while recording, while the S95 only has digital zoom while recording.

Nikon P300 at the Front
Value for money: The Nikon Coolpix P300 is the cheapest, from £249, while the Canon Powershot S95, is around £299, and the Panasonic Lumix LX5 is the most expensive of the three, at around £349. The other cameras in this category are generally much larger, and include the new Olympus XZ-1 (£399), with the best lens, the Samsung EX1 (£275) with swivel screen, and the two largest, with optical viewfinders, the Nikon Coolpix P7000 (£325), and Canon Powershot G12 (£357)

Nikon Coolpix P300
Read our full Nikon Coolpix P300 Review.
ePHOTOzine Highly Recommended
The Nikon Coolpix P300 packs almost every feature imaginable and then prices it less than the competition!
Nikon Coolpix P300 winner at...
High speed shooting and video... very good image quality with bright saturated images, also the second smallest camera, but importantly offers hand grip at the front and back (unlike the S95), and offers the lowest price. Unfortunately the camera lacks RAW support, which could put some people off this camera, as you will have to trust the JPEG results straight from the camera.

Canon Powershot S95
Read our full Canon Powershot S95 Review.

Canon Powershot S95 winner at...
The Canon Powershot S95 wins the competition for smallest camera with manual controls, and has a clever lens surround that quickly lets you set your most favourite settings, along with the scroll dial on the back of the camera, and another customisable shortcut button on the back. Unfortunately that size comes at a price, and the most noticeable downsides to the S95's size is the lowest battery life, rated at 200 shots,  the camera's slippery when held, and the lack of optical zoom while recording videos. If Canon could improve on these downsides with the next model (S100?), and perhaps add a flash hot-shoe, then Canon would be onto a winner.

Panasonic Lumix LX5
Read our full Panasonic Lumix LX5 Review.

The Panasonic Lumix LX5 is a serious compact with excellent image quality and is a brilliant choice for the serious photographer.
Panasonic Lumix LX5 winner at...
The Panasonic Lumix LX5 is an excellent example of how to get a digital camera right, and really sets the benchmark when it comes to the serious compact camera. It offers excellent image quality thanks to the brilliant 24mm Leica f/2.0 lens, larger than standard CCD sensor, and reliable image processing which can be seen in the superb auto white balance performance, and noise results.

The camera gives great expansion potential thanks to the flash hot-shoe, and rear accessory port. Further to this is features a well laid out menu system with an abundance of options, including numerous video options, and comes with a leather neck strap. The build quality is exceptional.

Panasonic Lumix LX5 at the Front of the Pack`

Nikon P300 vs Canon S95 vs Panasonic LX5 Verdict

The three cameras provide a wide range of features, and go to show that the digital camera market is alive and well, with interesting, innovative, and competitive products, with each model differencing itself enough to make each camera worthy of your attention depending on your needs.

All of the cameras are capable of producing excellent images, especially when compared to standard point and shoot cameras, however the strengths and weaknesses are what sets these cameras apart. With two of them the strengths are most obvious, with another, the weaknesses are the most apparent. How the strengths and weaknesses apply to you depends on what you want from a camera, and if you want the smallest camera of the three, then the most obvious choice is the Canon Powershot S95. 

The Panasonic LX5 is the most flexible and advanced with support for hot-shoe, and produces the highest quality images. While the Nikon Coolpix P300 is the fastest shooting with a backlit CMOS sensor and 8fps shooting, and also offers the highest resolution video. The Canon is the smallest with full manual support, including RAW, but unfortunately suffers from the lowest battery life, least grip-able body, and doesn't allow the use of optical zoom in videos, however, if you need the smallest camera with manual controls it's worth a look. 
Panasonic Lumix LX5 - ePHOTOzine Editors Choice

Overall the Panasonic Lumix LX5 delivers excellent image quality, excellent build quality, excellent lens, rapid performance, and expansion options, making it an exceptional choice for any serious photographer, and is therefore my "Editor's Choice" and deserves high praise. 

The Nikon Coolpix P300 with smaller sensor produces good results, better than some expected thanks to the backlit CMOS sensor, and extremely rapid performance in the form of 8fps shooting, high speed video and full HD video recording, and is therefore Highly Recommended (and a close second).

For a more in-depth look at each camera, and competition, make sure to look at ePHOTOzine's full reviews of each camera. 

The Nikon Coolpix P300 is available for £249 from Warehouse Express
The Canon Powershot S95 is available for £299 from Warehouse Express
The Panasoninc Lumix LX5 is available for £349 from Warehouse Express
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Photographs taken using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

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jrfoto 15 8 2 United Kingdom
This is a good review, and it's nce to see manufacturers looking at other matters as well as pixel count. To address the point about the Canon's handling, there is a guy in the USA called Richard Franiec who makes an add-on grip for the S95 (and it's predecessor, the S90, which I have) which works really well and improves the handling a lot. It does mean extra cost though.
Excellent review. Thank you. All in all I will buy an Olympus XZ-1, although the LX5 runs it mighty close. I have not worked without an external flash for 40 years, and I already have an Olympus FL-36R, so the prices match, and the Olympus work I have seen has inspired me more than the work folk have posted from the Panasonic. It would be mighty difficult to separate LX5 from XZ-1 without that comparison. Comments from people who have not had both cameras for long enough to present a body of work are unreliable in this extremely finely balanced case.

To get a feel for these advanced compacts I borrowed a Canon S90, and I am surprised that a quick-reaction firm like Canon has not addressed certain shortcomings of the S90, like not having a hot-shoe, when designing the S95. It could have been a contender.
What is monochrome sound? Is that the opposite of color sound?
joshwa Plus
11 927 1 United Kingdom
Smile well spotted, I'll fix the typo. Thanks
Really nice review. It's nice to see how good all 3 cameras are. All your comparisons definitely show the 3 cameras are better at different things and that one camera is not completely perfect.
I knew the LX5 was probably slightly the best of the bunch based on image quality and features.

As an owner of the S95, I got around the "lack of optical zoom while recording videos," by using the custom firmware CHDK hack allowing optical zooming and manual focus. It also allows a few more tweaks like choosing super fine JPEG images. Also camera menu allows custom color settings for increasing sharpness and saturation giving a little better image quality.

But all 3 cameras are winners and I wouldn't mind owning any of them.
A very balanced and useful review with pertinent information and examples. I have the older Canon S90 (and the older Lumix LX3) and found the content valuable in making my decision to skip this particular generation of newer models and wait for the next.

Thank you for an excellent summary of the cameras!
Isn't it obvious, that Nikon P300 image quality is crap compared to the other two, or is it just me ?
May be this is just jpeg compression artifacts ?
I really wanted this camera, but I could not find a single sample image with a decent quality.

This is a very good review! Thanks a lot!
Hi Albert

No pics from the Nikon P300 are most definitely not crap! I have brought this camera and the results are superb. I wanted the combination of 24mm fast aperture (1.8 at wide) lens combined with full manual controls and pocketable. Only this camera currently gives this as the LX5 is much larger and the Canon S95 only goes to 28mm. I own Sony a700 & a55 DSLRs and previously owned the Canon S90, so a lot to live up to in the image quality stakes. The sensor is smaller than both the LX5 or S95 so I was nervous about making this purchase but Nikon have worked wonders with the backlit sensor and low light results are amazing.
I suppose as with many compacts there may be some artifacts magnified very closely but this would be like trying to make 6ft x 4ft posters from it, in other words in the real world the images look superb. Check out some of those posted on the P300 Flickr forum.

An added bonus is the 1080p video is great quality too.

A great little camera!
Excellent review - exactly the three cameras I was comparing myself.
ChrisOs 17 2 1 United Kingdom
A very helpful review as I was trying to decide between the S95 and the LX5.
Regarding the grip problem on the Canon S90 and S95, Camera Leathers in the USA have cut panels in a very thin self-adhesive material to cover the S90 and are working on the same for the S95. These panels are black and textured to give a better grip. I have bought pre-cut leathers from this company to cover my old film cameras and they are excellent to deal with. The panels for the S90 cost $12.95 plus postage, so not excessive.
First of all, unless I am mistaken I didn't see anything mentioned about Image Stabilizer which the Canon has. This greatly improves it's low-light capabilities.

Also, I don't understand the fuss about the grip of the Canon S95. I have owned the S90 for years and never was this an issue for me. I guess my fingers have superb grip.Tongue

The reviewer also mentioned the low battery life as an issue. Unless something has drastically changed from the S90, I don't see this as an issue at all. I've taken the S90 all over the world and have never had a problem with the battery. You just recharge it before a big day out. No problem.

Finally, the hotshoe issue? WTF is that? The fact that it doesn't have a hotshoe makes it a winner. It's more compact and easier to put in your pocket. I don't know why you would need an extra flash for this camera and I really hope Canon doesn't put one on the S100.

In other words, there aren't really any negatives about the S95.

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