Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Overview
by Dave Etchells, Siegfried Weidelich, Rob Murray, and Shawn Barnett
Test Results Posted: 11/9/07
Full Review Posted: 12/12/07
Eighteen months after it announced its first single-lens reflex digital camera, Panasonic unveiled the Lumix L10.
While the Lumix DMC-L1 featured retro styling, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 offers a much more traditional "SLR look." Under the skin, the Lumix L10 is a lot more than a simple cost-cutting of the original model though. Some of the features really appear to stand out from the crowd, especially those related to the camera's live view mode.
Perhaps most significantly, Panasonic follows the lead set by Nikon recently in adding the ability to autofocus in live view mode by applying contrast detection to the data being clocked off the main image sensor. Ordinarily, the Panasonic L10's phase difference detection AF system has three focusing points, but when you switch to contrast detection autofocus this increases to nine points. You can also manually select an AF point from 11 possible locations, or choose from a variety of AF point groups in a new Multi AF mode. Not only does the L10 have these AF modes, but it also offers face detection capable of detecting up to 15 faces in a scene. This is a first for a DSLR, and will allow the Panasonic L10 to set focus and exposure correctly based on your subjects' faces when using Live View mode (note that face detection isn't functional when using the Panasonic L10 as a traditional SLR through the viewfinder).
Another feature tied to the Panasonic L10's Live View mode is Panasonic's "Intelligent ISO Control" function, which monitors subject movement, and then raises ISO sensitivity as necessary to achieve a blur-free image. Metering is also linked to the Live View mode, with metering regularly 49-zone, but switched to a more fine-grained 256-zone metering when framing subjects on the camera's 2.5" LCD display. That display itself is also designed to get the most out of Live View mode, being a tilt / swivel type that will let users hold the camera at pretty much any angle while still being able to see the LCD. (This is something for which we've heard countless requests from DSLR buyers over the years, and it will be interesting to see how the feature is adopted by users.) One more feature tied into the live view mode is one we'd frankly not expected to see on a digital SLR any time soon -- digital zoom. Either a 2x or 4x digital zoom are available, but we'd have to guess most users shooting with a DSLR would be more likely to make enlargements on a PC rather than in-camera.
The Panasonic Lumix L10 is based around a 10.1 effective megapixel Live-MOS image sensor (Four Thirds lens mount / sensor format), which in concert with Panasonic's Venus Engine III image processor is capable of continuous shooting at up to three frames per second, albeit only up to a rather brief 3 RAW frames. JPEG shooters will be pleased to hear that there's no burst depth limitation on JPEG files however (presuming your flash cards are fast enough and you have flash card space / battery life remaining). Other features include a pentamirror-type viewfinder, shutter speeds from 60 - 1/4,000 second plus bulb, Secure Digital card storage, and power from a proprietary lithium-ion battery.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 will ship from October 2007, priced at about US$1,300 with a newly announced Panasonic LEICA D VARIO-ELMAR 14-50mm F3.8-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. zoom lens. This is the second 14 - 50mm lens issued by Panasonic, and while it isn't as bright as the existing lens, it is smaller and lighter.
by Shawn Barnett
Whether you consider it a departure from their first digital SLR camera -- the Panasonic L1 -- or an evolution, the Panasonic's Lumix L10 is far more approachable than its predecessor. It also sports better Live View functionality than any other digital SLR camera on the market as of this writing, at least in terms of the promised benefits that Live View is supposed to bring. I'm not talking just about its excellent swiveling LCD, but it's the contrast detect autofocus, complete with Face Detection capability in some modes that offers at least some of the promise of "just like a digicam" experience.
The biggest drawback is the Panasonic L10's price, which is on par with faster cameras that have a few better features. But what those $1,200 competitors don't have is the nice Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 lens, whose crop factor makes it equivalent to a 28-100mm lens on a 35mm camera. It's not as nice as the larger, faster D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm f/2.8-3.5 optic that came with the Panasonic L1, but it's still pretty good compared to most kit lenses, and contributes to the higher price of the Panasonic L10.
After finishing the Panasonic FZ18 review last week, I realized I could almost reuse our conclusion for that digital camera on the L10, because though the L10's optics are great, there are some compromises with the sensor. The good news is that there's a way around most of the problems; and the best news is that the Panasonic L10 is just more fun to use than the big, bulky L1. It works faster, does more tricks, and is lighter, just like one of Panasonic's FZ-series cameras. You could say that the Panasonic L10 is an FZ50 all grown up.
The Panasonic L10 is designed for the photographer who doesn't mind a little oddity in the sensor's performance, so long as he gets a good image from the kit lens. If you like to tweak your images after capture, and especially if you're not afraid to shoot and process RAW images, the Panasonic L10 is a pretty good digital SLR camera.
Look and feel. Even more than how it looks, the Lumix L10 absolutely feels like an FZ-series digicam: light at the back and heavier out front. When I say light, I mean relatively hollow. Some would say "cheap," but I think that's way off the mark. It is lighter than a Canon 30D, to be sure, but light is nice when something's hanging around your neck for a few hours.
It also cuts a similar profile to the FZ camera, only a little beefier and more handsome. From a human interface standpoint, the Panasonic L10 does just about everything right.
The grip is just big enough for most hand sizes, it's texture is tacky, and there's a nice groove for the middle finger to rest in. The chrome shutter button is mounted way out on the grip, where it belongs, and there's a knurled control ring underneath it on the front for adjusting aperture in Manual mode, again, just like an FZ camera. On the back, you'll find a good thumb grip and another knurled control ring for adjusting shutter speed in Manual mode, or EV compensation in Program modes.
Top. Way out front, Panasonic retained the shooting mode switch that selects among Single, Continuous, Bracketing, and Self-timer mode. Unlike the switch on the L1, this switch doesn't seem to change accidentally. The Power switch is mounted similarly, jutting out from beneath the Mode dial. The Mode dial is big, and its detents are stiff enough to keep it from turning accidentally very often.
The only button on the top deck is the Film Mode button, rather incomprehensibly. Though the location is odd, its function is surprisingly helpful. Press it, and the Panasonic L10 enters Live View mode so you can see what the Film setting you choose will look like with the subject you're about to capture. When I first saw that, I thought the button had been reprogrammed to launch Live View, but it actually makes a lot more sense than just showing you a sample image; instead it's showing you what your image could look like with the new film mode applied. Somebody's thinking, and I like that.
You can use the control dial or the left and right arrows to select among the choices in your particular mode. Film Modes include: Standard, Dynamic, Nature, Smooth, Nostalgic, Vibrant, Standard B&W, Dynamic B&W, Smooth B&W, and two custom films you can create yourself. Calling them Film modes might seem a little silly, but it seems more relevant than Canon's Picture Styles or Nikon's Picture Controls.
Back. Here's where the rest of the major controls reside. I wish there were room somewhere else for the Live View button, because I usually have to stop what I'm doing and find it with my left hand when I need Live View, when it would really be better activated with my thumb. But the right side's controls are all pretty busy, unfortunately, handling very important roles like AE/AF Lock, a button that's also surrounded by the AF Mode selector switch. Of course there's the Four-way navigator buttons with the Menu/Set button in the middle. Then there's the Playback button, the Display/LCD mode button, the Function button and the Delete button. All of these would probably be on the left side of the LCD display, were it not for the large hinge that works the articulating LCD screen.
Articulation. Don't think I'm disrespecting that fine articulating LCD screen. I'm extremely happy to see it here on the first SLR to have such an important innovation. Long a favorite feature on medium-sized digicams, this particular type of swiveling LCD screen is rare; at one point I understood that it was a patented Canon design. Perhaps this was licensed. Whatever it took, it's great to finally see the best swiveling LCD design on a competent SLR. Now, of course, it's also appeared on the Olympus E-3, but let's give the Panasonic L10 its due for being first.
I found the swiveling LCD to be quite useful when out shooting Gallery shots, letting me get images that would have been difficult with a non-swiveling Live View SLR, let alone with an optical-only design. I used it most often to shoot a little higher, to get on an even plane with interesting objects. But once I found a unique angle on a building I've been trying to photograph for some time without success, the Panasonic L10 made it easier to get a better image by swiveling out the LCD so I could compose the image from about 1/8 inch off the ground. Such a nice feature to have, one of the only items I've missed from the digicam.
Of course, you can also use Live View to focus manually with greater precision than is possible with an optical viewfinder. This is hampered somewhat by the fly-by-wire focusing rings that are built into Four-Thirds cameras, as they're not as sensitive as a mechanical coupling.
Contrast detect. The Panasonic L10 has the best Live View mode I've seen so far. Though the camera still has to drop the mirror before firing, the most impressive function of the Panasonic L10 is its contrast detect AF when Face Detect mode is enabled. I don't mind a little extra shutter lag if I can be sure where the camera is focusing before I press the shutter release, and you get that feedback with contrast detect. The number of options is quite impressive, as you can see from the animation at right. Again, this is the most comprehensive Live View we've seen, and Panasonic has made it as useful as possible.
Optical viewfinder. Of course, I'll have to repeat my recommendation that most of your shooting with the Panasonic L10 should be done with the optical viewfinder. Its speed is tough to beat. Though there's a nice rubber eyecup surrounding the eyepiece, I do have to press my glasses into it to get a good image. I also still don't like the status display appearing on the right side of the viewfinder window instead of beneath, as it is on most other SLRs. Still, the display is bright and clear and shows me what I need to see. Happily, the diopter correction handles the poor vision in both of my eyes, which is rare.
According to our tests the optical viewfinder was about 95% accurate, shifted slightly to the right, and the LCD was 100% accurate.
AF points. The Panasonic L10 also has "only" three autofocus points, arrayed horizontally across the center. Though I like cameras with a lot of AF points, I typically lock the AF to only one point, not trusting the automatic system to guess what I want it to focus on. Three AF points is just fine in my book, and keeps things simple. You may think differently.
Kit lens. I love the look and feel of the Leica D Vario-Elmar lens. Its rubber grips are slotted perfectly, giving full and easy purchase on the lens barrel, and the mechanism turns smoothly. It's not as nicely built as the D Vario-Elmarit lens (the f/2.8 model that comes with the Panasonic L1), with its metal body, manual aperture ring, and focusing scale, but if you look at the focusing scale on the Elmarit, it's not like there's a huge range or resolution to its overall scale, as it traverses from 0.95 feet to infinity in under an inch; so that's hardly what you're missing.
You lose just under one stop at wide angle and just over one stop at telephoto with the Elmar, so it's not a huge loss; and the optical quality of the Elmar is impressive. We'll have test results up on SLRgear.com hopefully soon, so check that out when you have time. If you can afford the Elmarit, go for it; but don't feel like you're missing out on a whole lot. I've used both lenses on the Panasonic L10 and like the Elmar better for walking around town.
The Elmar design is only slightly louder when focusing, but it's still quieter than most non-ultrasonic motors. Image stabilization is very good with this lens, working about as well as I'm used to seeing from competing optical image stabilization designs. There are three O.I.S. modes, which are selected from the Function menu. Mode 1 keeps stabilization active while you frame your shot, while Mode 2 doesn't start the stabilization process until you press the shutter release, which Panasonic says is more effective. Mode 3 is panning mode, where it only corrects for up and down motion while you follow a moving object with the camera.
The front element doesn't turn or move when focusing, though it does move in and out when zooming (of course). Focusing is fly-by-wire, and you have to press the shutter halfway before the digital focus ring will respond to your movement.
Other optics. The Panasonic L10 will work with a pretty impressive set of lenses, including a total of 30 other lenses from Olympus, Panasonic, and Sigma, as well as two teleconverters, an extension tube, and an adapter that will allow attachment of OM-system lenses. All of the Olympus Digital lenses we've tested on SLRgear.com have been superb, meeting the claims that Olympus has long made for their "designed for digital" Four-Thirds digital camera system.
Since I really like prime lenses (single focal length lenses), I attached the very sharp Olympus 50mm f/2.0 Macro lens to the Panasonic L10. Equivalent to a 100mm lens, it's smaller than any 100mm lens I've used since my Zuiko 100mm f/2.8 that I shot on my OM-2 (film camera). Its front element is actually concave rather than convex, quite unusual to behold. The Panasonic L10 takes on a new personality when this lens is mounted. Unfortunately, you have to be careful with the 50mm f/2.0, because it does protrude when focusing, extending as far as 1 5/8 inches from the lens barrel when focusing close, which can slam the lens into anything you put close to it; and it will certainly scare insects and small animals. Images are very sharp, though, a credit to the technology built into Four-Thirds optics.
Interface. Firing up the Panasonic L10 is as easy as flipping the power switch with my thumb. Thankfully, it's harder to turn off than on, so you won't be powering it off accidentally. The shutter button is soft and responsive.
All the major buttons are within easy reach of your thumb. Just press the FUNC button to bring up the Function menu for quick access to commonly set items, like image size, image compression, ISO, white balance, and flash.
Pressing the center button in the navigation cluster brings up the main menu, which works much like Panasonic's other menu systems. This is great for those upgrading from other Panasonic digital cameras. It's also very clear and graphically appealing. As with most menu systems, it's often tough to remember which menu you need at any given time, but that can be learned once you own the camera.
All the buttons are marked with clear icons and words, which I appreciate. There's a bit of a tradeoff in design with consumer SLRs. You don't want to present the user with so many controls that they feel overwhelmed, but you want to give them easy control over important items. Most of the buttons are well enough out of the way to avoid accidental pressing -- all but the metering mode button, which I've accidentally pressed many times, changing the metering method without knowing it.
Modes. A full complement of modes is available, including all traditional auto and Manual modes, plus ten scene modes. The more common Scene modes are accessible via the Mode dial, but five more are selectable via the SCN option on the dial. Night scene mode is the only Scene mode I usually use, and it's right there on the Mode dial. A particularly nice feature in this mode is the ability to program shift using the front control dial. Just turn the dial and a graphical slider comes up showing blurry points of light on the left, and another shows shows sharp points on the right. The selected aperture and shutter speed are also shown. Moving left opens the aperture for softer detail at night, and shorter shutter speeds, and moving right stops down the aperture for sharper detail, but longer exposures. Move right only if you're mounted on a tripod. That's the kind of instructive aid that I think belongs in a scene mode; and it doesn't talk down to the user, it just helps them understand. I like it.
I generally shoot in Program or Aperture priority modes, so the rear command dial comes in handy for adjusting EV. Though I think the rear dial is well-positioned to avoid accidental activation when the camera is held for shooting, the dial does turn on occasion when you're less aware of the camera, holding it against your body or when it's hanging around your neck. When looking through the viewfinder, it's wise to check the EV adjustment setting to make sure it hasn't changed. It's also displayed while the rear LCD's status display is active, but not on three out of five of the display modes when in Live View.
Though it's too easily activated, the EV compensation is very convenient to adjust when you're shooting, making for fast followup shots when you think the exposure could use a quick tweak.
Image quality. As I've mentioned, the optics on the L10 are excellent, but I hinted that there were a few problems with the JPEG images. Our standard lab shots revealed one flaw in particular relating to how JPEG images are demosaiced and compressed into a JPEG file. That's the conversion process from red, green, and blue pixels to the colors we see in the final image. In our Indoor shots, specific areas of Marti's hair have big blue and purple streaks, usually where strands of hair meet or approach the pixel grid along the horizontal or vertical axes. RAW images do not show these artifacts, but they're twice the size, coming in at just under 12MB each.
Since I'm talking about Incandescent lighting, it's worth noting that the Panasonic L10's Auto white balance setting handled our indoor lighting test significantly better than most SLRs on the market, including the most popular cameras. It's a little off, to be sure, but far better than we're used to seeing. See the examples at left.
Shadow detail, however, left something to be desired. Shadow detail is lost in noise, making detail recovery more difficult. Looking at our Imatest results, the Panasonic L10 turns in some of the worst tone curve numbers we've measured, besting only the Olympus E-410 and E-510, its Four-Thirds brothers. This is one area where Four-Thirds cameras need improvement: Dynamic Range.
Resolution is quite good on the Panasonic L10, but detail in the JPEG images is somewhat soft across the board, despite the sharp kit lens. Our comparison of the JPEGs to the RAW images via Panasonic's bundled Silkypix software and Adobe Camera RAW show that detail can be improved slightly in the Silkypix images, but significantly in ACR. We recommend shooting RAW with the Panasonic L10, for greater detail and to avoid the JPEG artifacts I mentioned earlier, especially indoors. For more on this, see the Exposure section.
ISO 1,600 performance.
|Panasonic L10||Canon Rebel XTi|
Printing. Printed quality is where it all comes together, and the Panasonic L10's images print nicely at 13x19. Again, they're a little soft, but take to unsharp masking in Photoshop quite well. ISO 800 images still looked pretty good at 13x19 inches, but better at 11x14. ISO 1,600 shots were usable at 11x14, better at 8x10. Overall, a very impressive performance from the Panasonic L10.
Timing. Though power on and shutdown times are no match for most SLRs, the Panasonic L10's shutter lag times are impressive, taking 0.23 second at wide angle to focus and fire. It's a little longer with flash, taking 0.41 second, but that's to be expected. Overall, the L10 is faster than the Panasonic L1. One area does take a little longer, however, and that's the new Contrast-detect full autofocus in Live View mode, which can take an average of 1.78 seconds. While the L1's AF in Live View was faster at 0.76 second, it didn't include the visual feedback before capture. Here we're not as concerned about the speed as we are that this mode exists, for the first time on a digital SLR camera. Besides, the L10 has a Phase-detect AF Live View mode as well, and it's faster than the L1's, at 0.42 second. Finally, prefocused shutter lag with the Panasonic L10 is 0.099 second, which is very fast. In continuous mode, the L10 is capable of 3 frames per second, which drops to 2.82 fps in RAW capture mode. However, buffer depth is limited to only four large/fine JPEGs or three RAW frames.
Appraisal. There's a lot to tell about the Panasonic L10, but here in the user report the important question is whether I liked it overall. My answer is yes. Where the Panasonic L1 left me cold in spite of its cool retro look, the Panasonic L10 was enjoyable to use. Despite its larger size, the Panasonic L10 was easy to hold, lens action was smooth, and menus and modes were straightforward. I really enjoyed using Live View mode, perhaps for the first time, and found the contrast detect AF to be a useful aid when shooting overhead or down low. Image quality is quite good, and I had fewer problems with flat tone curves, something that bothered me on the Olympus E-410 especially. Optically, the Panasonic L10's Leica 14-50mm Vario-Elmar lens is without equal among kit lenses.
Unfortunately, the Panasonic L10's price is a little high for the intended market, mostly thanks to that fine lens. Most comparable cameras come in at around $600 to $900, but the Panasonic L10 is pretty firmly set at $1,299. What's important to note, though, is that it'll take a lot more money to equal the L10's optical performance with another manufacturer's SLR, so if optical performance is paramount over frame rate, JPEG performance, dynamic range, and high ISO quality, the Panasonic L10 looks pretty good.
Remember, this is just the User Report, visit the rest of the review's tabs for all the detailed analysis.
- 10.1 megapixel Live-MOS sensor
- 3.57x zoom, 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) zoom lens
- Optical viewfinder
- 2.5-inch swiveling LCD with Live View
- 3 frames per second
- ISO range from 100 - 1,600
- Shutter speed from 60 - 1/4,000 second
- SDHC/SD memory cards
- Lithium-ion battery
- Dimensions: 5.3 x 3.8 x 3.1 inches (135 x 96 x 78mm)
- Weight: 19 ounces
- Live View mode with contrast detect autofocus
- Face recognition in Live View accommodates up to 15 faces
- Articulating LCD
- Intelligent ISO control raises ISO when necessary (optional)
- Optical image stabilization in kit lens
- Two aspherical elements in lens
- Dust reduction system
- 3-point autofocus system
- AF assist lamp
- White balance fine tuning
- Color temperature settings
- 11 Scene modes; 5 Scene modes have Advanced modes, effectively adding 11 more
- Multiple "film" modes
- Video out (NTSC/PAL)
In the Box
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 ships with the following items in the box:
- Lumix DMC-L10 body
- Body cap
- Leica D Vario Elmar 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. lens
- Lithium-ion rechargeable battery DMW-BLA13
- Battery charger
- Eyepiece cap
- Magnifier eyecup
- Lens cap
- Lens hood
- Lens bag
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- Video cable
- Software: Lumix Simple Viewer, SilkyPix Develeper Studio 2.1SE, PhotoFunStudio
- Large capacity SD/SDHC memory card. These days, a 2 - 4GB card is inexpensive enough.
- Camera case for protection
- Accessory lenses
Panasonic's Lumix L10 was a welcome surprise. It was announced with none of the fanfare that accompanied the Lumix L1, but the Panasonic L10 is the one truly worthy of praise. It's built right, works well, looks competent, and has an excellent, more affordable optic. There are some limitations in the sensor or image processor that affect JPEG image performance, but RAW images are quite good. The JPEGs that are unaffected by the odd blue speckles (which we've only found in blond hair under incandescent light) print very well, making good quality 13x19-inch prints. If you shoot and print RAW images, 16x20-inch prints are within easy reach. The Panasonic L10's light weight and excellent grip make it easy to hold, and the buttons are arrayed nicely for easy access. The promise of Live View mode is fulfilled with the addition of two important features on the Panasonic Lumix L10's implementation: a swivel screen and contrast detect autofocus. Yes, the shutter lag is still long, but so long as you can plan for it, you'll learn to appreciate the versatility that the Panasonic L10's Live View delivers.
As for the lens, well, you can't get better in a kit lens. We haven't seen a kit lens perform this well in the corners; and with assistance from the Panasonic L10's processor, chromatic aberration is nearly eliminated. Images are a little soft straight out of the Panasonic L10 at default settings, but that's not due to the lens. As is the case with cameras like the Canon 30D, you can either turn up the in-camera sharpening or do what the pros do and sharpen after on the computer. You'll get better results that way. I also liked the Panasonic L10's Film Mode button, whose presence was a good reminder that I can try different capture modes with ease. It's a shame that it costs more than many of its competitors with similar features, but SLR buyers would do well to remember that good optics are essential to getting great pictures, and the Panasonic L10 has a very good optic. With the Lumix L10, Panasonic has made a capable digital SLR: an SLR that handily earns a Dave's Pick.