Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 Review

 
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Panasonic DMC-L1 Optics

The Panasonic DMC-L1 is equipped with an interchangeable lens mount that accommodates the full range Four-Thirds lenses from all Four-Thirds lens manufacturers, such as Olympus and Sigma. A lens release button on the lower right side of the front panel releases the lens from the mount, and a set of alignment marks on the mount itself helps you line up the lens appropriately. Because the camera is compatible with a range of lenses, focal lengths and aperture ranges will vary with the lens in use.

We tested the included Panasonic 14-50mm f/2.8-3.5 Mega O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization) kit lens. Equivalent to a 28-100mm lens on a 35mm camera, this big optic is quite beautiful to hold and use. It comes with all caps and a lens hood, and should work with all Four-Thirds cameras. Not included in Olympus's Four-Thirds lens line is the manual aperture ring around the barrel. Panasonic's only other announced lenses are the 25mm f/1.4 prime lens, equivalent to a 50mm lens, and the 14-150mm f/3.5-5.6. These lenses were not available at the time of this review. There are 11 other Sigma lenses and 14 Olympus lenses that should work with the Panasonic L1. To see the full line of lenses available in the Four-Thirds system, visit http://www.four-thirds.org/en/products/lense.html.

The Panasonic DMC-L1 employs a three-point TTL Phase-Contrast Detection autofocus system, and the three AF points are outlined in black in the viewfinder display. Through the LCD menu, you can manually select which of the AF points you'd like to base focus on, or set the AF area to automatic selection (all three AF points active). The AF button on the rear panel lets you select Manual, Single AF, or Continuous AF modes.

When manual focus is enabled, you simply turn the focus ring around the outside of the lens to set focus. The focus indicator on the right of the optical viewfinder (a solid green circle) lights to indicate that you've achieved accurate focus. In Live View mode, you get no confirmation, you just go by what you see on the screen. Note that this is not a true mechanical or analog focus, however. Turning the ring simply activates the camera's focus mechanism, actuating the focus motor built into the lens. Single AF mode means that the camera only sets the autofocus once when the Shutter button is halfway pressed, while Continuous AF mode continuously adjusts the focus before each shot, used for moving subjects.

Continuous AF uses what Panasonic calls Predictive AF. The camera anticipates where the subject will move next and adjusts focus just before it reaches that point. The modes combining Single and Continuous AF with Manual focus tell the camera to set focus with a half press of the Shutter button, but leaves the manual focus ring active so that you can fine tune the setting before pressing the Shutter button the rest of the way to trip the shutter.

The Panasonic DMC-L1 also lets you tell it whether to adhere to focus- or release-priority. In focus-priority mode, the shutter won't fire unless the subject is properly focused. Conversely, release-priority means that the shutter will fire whenever you tell it to, whether the subject is focused or not.

An AF illuminator option can be turned on through the camera's Record menu, to help the camera's AF system determine focus in dark shooting conditions. The Panasonic L1 uses a red LED to illuminate the subject, rather than a pulse flash like many competing SLRs use. The LED is preferred in most cases because many cameras, the L1 included, can't deploy the flash on their own.

"Supersonic Wave Filter" Automatic Sensor Cleaning
The DMC-L1 includes a built-in Supersonic Wave Filter for sensor cleaning. This is a feature that's hard to evaluate in any sort of a rigorous, quantitative way.

Dust has proven to be a problem for digital SLR users from the beginning. In film cameras, the imaging surface (the film) is constantly refreshed as each new frame is advanced. Any dust that might accumulate on one frame will thus not affect subsequent ones. In digital SLRs though, the sensor surface is fixed, so any dust falling on it tends to stay there, the surface becoming increasingly dirty over time. Various accessories are available to clean CCD surfaces, but their use presents an ongoing risk of accident. (That is, while the cleaning gadgets themselves may be perfectly safe, every time you open your SLR and start sticking things inside the camera body, there's a finite risk that you'll do something to damage the sensor.)

In the DMC-L1, every time the camera is turned on (or commanded to do so via a separate menu setting), an ultrasonic system activates, vibrating the protective cover glass over the sensor at a frequency of 350,000 cycles/second, thereby dislodging any dust particles that may have settled on the sensor's surface. (Dislodged dust is collected and trapped in an internal receptacle, so it won't float around the mirror compartment to cause more problems down the line.) A full cleaning cycle takes only 200 milliseconds (0.2 seconds).

To set appropriate expectations for Panasonic's Supersonic Wave Filter system, it's important to note that it almost certainly won't be effective against grease smudges caused by fingerprints. -- So continue to be careful about putting your fingers inside the mirror compartment when the sensor is exposed.

Lens

Zoom
A 14-50mm lens comes with the DMC-L1 kit, with very good performance.

14mm
50mm

The Panasonic DMC-L1 digital SLR comes with an Leica D 14-50mm f/2.8-3.5 ASPH VARIO-ELMARIT lens in the bundled kit, equivalent to a 28-100mm lens on a 35mm camera. Results were good at 14mm, with strong detail throughout the frame. Coma distortion in the trees was quite low, although some chromatic aberration was visible. Results were even better at the 50mm setting, with little very low levels of coma distortion and chromatic aberration. In this far shot, the telephoto setting was also sharper than it appears in our lab shots, which are taken at a closer range.

Macro
An average-size macro area with the kit lens, though good detail and high resolution. Flash exposure was slightly dim and uneven up close.

Standard Macro
Macro with Flash

The Panasonic DMC-L1's kit lens performed well for a non-macro lens, though macro performance will vary with the lens in use. With the 14-50mm kit lens, the DMC-L1 captured an average minimum area of 4.12 x 3.09 inches (105 x 78 millimeters). Detail and resolution were both good, with only the extreme corners being soft. The flash produced a dim, uneven exposure here, with a large shadow caused by the lens, so external lighting will be the best choice for macro shots with this lens.

Distortion
Lower than average barrel distortion at wide angle, and very little pincushion at telephoto.

Barrel distortion at 14mm is 0.7%
Pincushion at 50mm is less than 0.1%

This is the tendency for the lens to bend straight lines outward (like a barrel -- usually at wide angle) or inward (like a pincushion -- usually at telephoto). The Panasonic DMC-L1's 14-50mm kit lens produced about 0.7% barrel distortion at full wide angle. This is a little lower than average, especially considering such a wide angle. At the 50mm telephoto end, less than 0.1% pincushion distortion was present. This is also lower than average.

Chromatic aberration
Moderate at wide angle, almost nonexistent at telephoto.

Wide: moderate,
top left @ 200%
Wide: moderate,
top right @ 200%
Tele: very low,
top left @200%
Tele: very low,
top right @200%

Chromatic aberration is moderate at wide angle, showing about 4-5 pixels of bright coloration on either side of the target lines. At telephoto, the effect is quite low. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

Corner Sharpness
Minor softening in the corners of the frame at wide-angle with the 14-50mm kit lens.

Wide: Soft in the
corners (upper left).
Wide: Sharp at the center.
Tele: Just a hint of softness in the
corners (upper left).
Tele: Sharp at the center.

The DMC-L1's 14-50mm kit lens produced slightly soft corners in a few shots. At wide-angle, the corners were quite soft compared to the center of the frame. At telephoto however, the corners were much sharper, almost as sharp as the center.

Viewfinder

Coverage
Good accuracy with both the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor's Live View mode.

14mm eq., optical
50mm eq., optical
14mm eq., Live View LCD
50mm eq., Live View LCD

The Panasonic DMC-L1's optical viewfinder proved fairly accurate, at about 96% at both wide angle and telephoto (with the 14-50mm kit lens). The camera's Live View LCD mode was also very accurate, with slightly over 99% frame accuracy.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 Photo Gallery.

Panasonic DMC-L1

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