Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 Review

 
Camera Reviews / Panasonic Lumix Cameras i Full Review

Panasonic DMC-L1 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Some oversaturation of strong red and blue tones, but pleasing overall color.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Panasonic DMC-L1 oversaturates reds and blues a little, and some yellows. It also undersaturates greens, but results are still pleasing.

Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. In this case, the DMC-L1 did render skin tones a bit on the pale, pink side in most cases. Still, results are reasonable.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Overall results here are pretty accurate, though some reds are pushed toward orange, and blues toward magenta. Still, overall color is quite good, closer to accurate than many.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Auto white balance is quite warm, but Manual and 2,900K white balance settings produce good color, though significant positive exposure compensation is required.

Auto White Balance +2.0 EV
Incandescent WB +2.0 EV
Manual White Balance +2.0 EV
2,900K White Balance +2.0 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was very warm with the Auto white balance setting, though the Manual and 2,900K options both produced more accurate results. The Incandescent setting was still too warm for my taste, producing a yellow cast. I felt the Manual setting had the most pleasing overall results, as the 2,900K option was just a hint pink. The Panasonic DMC-L1 required quite a bit more than the average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +2.0 EV. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Bright colors overall, though a tendency toward a warm cast and high contrast under harsh lighting. Slightly above average exposure accuracy outdoors.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Panasonic DMC-L1 produced good overall results, though color balance was a hint warm in some cases. The camera required slightly less than average amount positive exposure compensation under harsh lighting, and contrast was high, with some loss of highlight detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,600 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,600 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,600 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,600 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 2,000. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Our interpretation of this standard is somewhat conservative. We watch for artifacts and color fringing then move back to the nearest pure part of the scale. In our opinion, detail with artifacts shouldn't be considered detail. You may see other numbers quoted elsewhere, but across the site, our reviews judge this parameter by the same conservative standard.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Reasonably sharp images overall, with good detail definition and only minor edge enhancement. Some noise suppression visible in the deep shadows.

Good definition of high contrast elements
with only slight edge enhancement visible.
(This image takes post-capture
sharpening very well.)
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail
in areas of subtle contrast, as in
the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The Panasonic DMC-L1 captured fairly sharp images with good detail. Even in the high contrast shot above, there's only very slight edge enhancement visible along the edges of the white house trim. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

The crop above right shows some visible noise suppression in the shadows, though quite a bit of fine detail in the strands of hair remains visible. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, higher noise with strong blurring at the highest settings.

ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400
 
ISO 800
ISO 1,600
 

Noise levels are low to moderate at the Panasonic DMC-L1's lower sensitivity settings, and noise is only slightly high at ISO 400. At ISOs 800 and 1600, noise is much higher (as you might expect), with stronger blurring. Chrominance noise is kept well in check.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, though details are slightly soft. High contrast and limited shadow detail, however. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and much darker conditions.

+0.3 EV
+0.7 EV
+1.0 EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The Panasonic DMC-L1 produced high contrast with deep shadows under the harsh lighting of the test above. Shadow detail is somewhat limited, with visible noise as well as noise suppression. Though some areas look a little dark at +0.7 EV, I preferred it to the image at +1.0 EV, which had too many blown highlights for my preference. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
100
Click to see DMCL1LL0103.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0104.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0105.JPG
6 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0106.JPG
10 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0107.JPG
20 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0107XNR.JPG
15 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see DMCL1LL0203.JPG
0.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0204.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0205.JPG
3.2 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0206.JPG
5 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0207.JPG
10 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0207XNR.JPG
10 sec
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see DMCL1LL0403.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0404.JPG
0.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0405.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0406.JPG
2.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0407.JPG
5 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0407XNR.JPG
5 sec
f2.8
ISO
800
Click to see DMCL1LL0803.JPG
1/8 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0804.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0805.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0806.JPG
1.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0807.JPG
2.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL0807XNR.JPG
2.5 sec
f2.8
ISO
1600
Click to see DMCL1LL1603.JPG
1/15 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL1604.JPG
1/8 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL1605.JPG
0.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL1606.JPG
0.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL1607.JPG
1.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see DMCL1LL1607XNR.JPG
1.3 sec
f2.8

Low light:
The Panasonic DMC-L1 captured usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level (about 1/16 as bright as average city street lighting at night), though images are just a hint dim at the lowest light level. Color balance is a bit warm from the Auto white balance setting, and pinkish when noise reduction was disabled. The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to just above the 1/8 foot-candle light level even with its AF assist light turned off. Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Panasonic L1 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Flash

Coverage and Range
A fairly strong flash. Our indoor shots required slightly greater than average positive compensation in the normal flash mode.

14mm equivalent
50mm equivalent
Normal Flash, +2.0 EV
Slow-Sync Mode, +2.0 EV

Flash coverage was quite uneven at wide angle, though results at telephoto were more uniform. In the Indoor test, the Panasonic DMC-L1's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a higher than average +2.0 EV positive exposure compensation boost, the maximum. Results are still a hint dim overall.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see DMCL1FL06W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL07W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL08W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL09W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL10W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL11W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see DMCL1FL12W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL13W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL14W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL15W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL16W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see DMCL1FL06T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL07T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL08T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL09T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL10T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL11T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see DMCL1FL12T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL13T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL14T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL15T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
Click to see DMCL1FL16T.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.5
ISO 100

 

Flash power remains pretty strong to about 16 feet at wide angle, though coverage and power is actually less at the closer 6 and 7-foot distances. At telephoto, the flash is bright to about 10 feet, and gradually gets dimmer out to the 16-foot point.

Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle
Click to see DMCL1FL12W.JPG
12 feet
ISO 100

Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims. Panasonic rates the DMC-L1's flash Guide Number at 10 meters (ISO 100), which translates to about 11.7 feet with an aperture of f/2.8. In the shot above, the L1 seems to perform exactly as Panasonic says it will, producing good exposures at the rated distances with its ISO set to 100.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, great 11x14 inch prints. ISO 1,600 images are surprisingly good at 8x10, even better at 5x7.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

Output from the Panasonic DMC-L1 was good enough to produce good looking 11x14 inch prints. There is some evidence of smoothing to overcome minor noise at low ISO, but it's only noticeable to the trained eye. At 13x19, the L1's prints were slightly softer, but fine for wall or table display. High ISO images were also a nice surprise, with ISO 400 images holding together for very good 11x14 inch prints, and even decent 13x19 images with only minor chroma noise in the shadows. ISO 800 and 1,600 images also looked good, though contrast and shadows deepened quite a bit. ISO 800 images were great at 8x10, and ISO 1,600 images were a little grainier with dark, grainy shadows. By 4x6, it was hard to distinguish a difference in either ISO, except that ISO 1,600 had greater contrast.

Color saturation was a little bright in the reds, but good overall. Color also doesn't fade as ISO increases, an admirable and rare trait among image sensors. A very good performance.

 

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.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

Print the exposure page for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 digital camera reviewPrint this Page

Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

Follow Imaging Resource

Purchase memory card for Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 digital camera
Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate