Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 SLR Review
By Movable Type Admin
Panasonic recently burst into the "consumer-level" dSLR scene with the release of the Lumix DMC-L10. In doing so they have included some very useful features that you will not find on very many models on the market today. The camera is one of the first to feature a full time "Live View" that allows you to use the LCD screen instead of the optical view finder. The 2.5 " viewfinder rotates to almost any angle for shooting difficult shots that would not otherwise be possible. Also available because of "Live View" is an excellent face detection system. It can handle up to 15 faces in the frame and does an excellent job of finding them quickly.
Outside of the LCD screen, this Panasonic is also one of the first to include O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization) on the kit lens. The 14-50mm f3.8-5.6 D Vario-Elmar Leica lens with O.I.S. combined with the camera's Intelligent ISO feature greatly reduces the amount of blurry photographs you will take by reducing camera shake and determining if the subject is moving and automatically adjusting the ISO and shutter speed accordingly. Another addition to the camera is the Four Thirds standard lens system. This allows for you to interchange lenses from several different manufacturers, greatly increasing the number and quality of the available lenses for the camera. All of this is supported by the camera's 17.3 mm x 13 mm - 10 megapixel imaging sensor. This is much smaller than the sensors on similarly priced and equipped models, which is a bit of a concern.
The ergonomics of this camera are not bad. The body itself is a bit larger than those of the Nikon D40x or the Rebel XTi, but the weight is between the two at just over 1lb. for the body. The size is very comfortable for someone with large hands. The controls are very comfortable and easily accessed while you are framing your shot. When shooting in manual mode, the aperture and shutter speed can be controlled with dials on the front and back of the hand grip, in perfect position for your index finger and thumb. The single shot and burst mode controls are located around the mode dial and can easily be changed on the fly while shooting. The Shooting Information Display can be enabled via the menu system, and is displayed on the LCD screen. It shows all of the current camera settings, like aperture/shutter speed values, ISO, exposure mode, exposure compensation, bracketing, white balance, etc.
The menu system used on this Panasonic is not only well organized but very easy to navigate. While in "Auto" mode, the menu is limited to just the settings that you are able to control. To see the full list of settings, you need to have the camera set to one of the manual or program modes. The 4 separate menu systems allow for the easy access to the record options, camera settings, playback options and a set of custom settings, which allow you to set and save specific options exactly the way you like them. Panasonic uses an eye-level penta-mirror type optical viewfinder, that displays a handful of shooting information and is very comfortable with the included 1.2x magnifier eye cup.
Since you are looking straight through the lens of the camera, it will never go blank like a EVF (electronic view finder) that is found on most consumer point and shoot models. You will however see a glimpse of the mirror, but it will not be enough to hinder you in following your moving subject, unless your shutter speed is set fairly slow. Like we mentioned earlier, as an alternative to the optical view finder, this camera offers "Live View"; where you frame your subjects using the 2.5" LCD screen. While this offers a variety of features that are not available when using the optical viewfinder, it does take a little more time when it comes to taking the photograph. The mirror has to be moved twice, delaying the actually taking of the picture. This is not a very useful feature if you are taking pictures at sporting events or anything involving a lot of movement, however, the 9 point AF system and face recognition can be very useful for portrait or landscape photography. Combining the live view with the multi-directional view LCD screen makes it possible to take accurate photos in certain situations that you would not be able to do by just holding up your camera and hoping for a good shot.
As an addition to the dSLR market as an "entry level" camera, it is full of features, controls and performance that can be found on some higher level cameras. It provides a full auto mode, program, shutter and aperture priority, full manual, 3 custom program settings and a set of several pre-programmed scene modes to assist you in certain situations. Program mode gives novice users control over many of the other features such as metering, focus, ISO speed and AF settings. Several of the Advanced Scene Modes help you to take creative photos by finding out certain attributes that you want in photograph and setting the camera based on your choices.
Shooting performance was pretty good, capturing an image just 1 second from the time you hit the power switch. When the camera is pre- focused, the shutter lag is almost instantaneous (under 1/10 of a second), and between 3/10 and 1 second when you include the focusing depending on the amount of focusing the lens needs to do. In single shot mode, I was able to capture 5 images in just 3.1 seconds without the flash and 5 images in 3.9 with the flash. When shooting in burst mode, the camera will capture 3 shots in the first second and then slows a little to complete 10 shots in 5.4 seconds. These results were very similar when shooting in RAW only mode. The only differences where in single shot mode, I captured 5 RAW images in 4.9 seconds without the flash and 5.5 with the flash. However, in burst mode it will only capture 3 shots, but it did so in just 7/10 of a second. The flash will not work while shooting in burst mode.
Performance was a little different when shooting in Live View mode. The fastest that I was able to turn on the camera, live view and capture a picture was 2.3 seconds. When prefocused the delay in live view was 2/10 of a second and up to 1.7 seconds when allowing the camera to focus. The shot to shot is also much slower in this mode. 5 shots in single shot mode took 10.6 seconds without the flash and 11.4 with the flash. Burst mode was the only setting that was even close, taking the first 3 in 1 second and the full 10 in 5.7 seconds. All of these tests were done using an Ultra 150x 4gb SDHC memory card, camera was set to Program mode, ISO auto, Large/Fine quality, flash off and all other settings at the factory default unless otherwise noted.
As one of the first kit lenses to include O.I.S., the Leica D Vario-Elmar lens really sets the table for other camera companies to follow with their consumer models. The included lens has a 35mm equivalent of 28-100mm that is great for portrait and landscape shots. There is some barrel distortion and vignetting on the wide end and very slight pin cushioning on the telephoto end. With the built in O.I.S. the lens is a bit heavier than most kit lenses, but is well worth it if you plan on shooting in moderate lighting conditions without a tripod. The lens was very impressive, showing virtually no chromatic aberrations (aka purple fringing) at all. As one of the many companies to adopt the Four Thirds standard for digital lens compatibility, the available number and types of lenses that are compatible is numerous. The selection includes lenses from Leica, Olympus, Kodak, Fuji, Sigma and more.
For your low-light shooting situations, Panasonic has included a built in pop-up TTL flash. It will sync with shutter speeds up to 1/160 of a second and also includes a slow sync feature. During our tests, I had no problem using the flash from around 10 feet away at ISO 100, proving that this flash is powerful enough for shooting single or small group portraits. However, it is not powerful enough to light a large room. That is why they have also included a hot shoe for the addition on a much more powerful speed light flashes. The included TTL flash does an excellent job of gathering the light and color information from the imaging sensor, allowing for natural looking flash photographs.
Capturing all of your images is the 10.1 Megapixel Live MOS imaging sensor. This sensor is much smaller than those of competing cameras at just 17.3 x 13mm, meaning that they have crammed a lot more pixels into a smaller area. The smaller imaging sensor also allows for increased noise in your photographs. The noise was not as bad as I anticipated it to be, but even shooting at ISO 200, you can start to see noise appearing in darker shadows of the photographs. This only gets worse as the ISO goes up. When shooting at ISO 800 there is a significant amount of noise, and probably wont create very good prints over 5x7. While shooting outdoors, the colors were vivid, well saturated, and well exposed. Indoors however, the cameras auto white balance did have a little trouble in low light situations, giving the whole picture a warm "yellowish" tint when not using the flash. The camera uses a phase detection 3-point AF focusing system when shooting through the viewfinder, and a 9-point contrast AF focusing system with face detection when shooting in "Live View" mode. The 3 point system focused quickly and accurately in all lighting situations. On the other hand, the contrast system was very accurate and the face detection worked very well, however, there was a noticeable difference in the amount of time that this system took to focus on a subject.
If you plan on shooting in the RAW format, you will need a good post processing or editing software for converting your RAW images into another format that you can view and print from; whether at home or your local photo lab. Panasonic includes a program called SILKYPIX Developer Studio 2.1 SE. This program offers a full list of controls to adjust your photographs, however there are only two that have an auto setting, the rest have to be done manually. This can add a lot of time for beginners, trying things over and over again to get the results that you want. There is an example on the samples page, where I converted a RAW file using the Auto WB and Auto exposure settings (which had to be selected, not default), while every other setting was left alone.
Bottom Line - Panasonic raised the bar for entry-level dSLR camera packages when they released the L10. The features that are included
on this camera are not found on many other cameras in this class. The "Live View" mode with a 9 point AF system and face
detection make this dSLR as easy to use as a simple digital point and shoot, meaning anyone in the family will be able to take this
camera and capture excellent photographs. On the performance side, it has no problem competing with the other cameras in its class. The
smaller imaging sensor is a concern as the camera does seem to have a little more noise in dark areas than some of the other 10-
megapixel models. The addition of the Leica D Vario 14 - 50mm Lens with O.I.S. coming as the kit lens is another huge feature. This is
the first and one of the only kit lenses to include O.I.S. and will help greatly to reduce camera shake and blur in low light
situations. With a street price of US$1299 or less, this is one of the more expensive consumer dSLR models on the market right now. This
is where you need to decide if some of these new features are something that you need. If so then this camera is a good deal. If you do
not need some of the features, such as "Live View" or the O.I.S. lens, then I would recommend looking at some of the other
dSLRs in this category.
Panasonic Posts Firmware Update For The DMC-L10
Camera Body Ver 1.1
For more information, and to download this new update, please visit Panasonic Japan's Support Site
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