Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Review

 
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good color and hue accuracy overall, with only minor oversaturation of strong reds.

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.
Saturation. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 does oversaturate bright reds and dark blues very slightly, but less than most consumer DSLRs. 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.

Skin tones. Here, the DMC-L10 also did quite well, producing natural-looking skin tones, though just slightly on the pinkish side. 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.

Hue. The DMC-L10 did push cyan toward blue, and red toward orange a bit, but both shifts were very slight, and overall accuracy was still very good. (The blue to cyan shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is.

Saturation Adjustment
The Panasonic DMC-L10 lets you adjust the image saturation, contrast, and sharpness in five steps each. As can be seen below, the saturation adjustment was pretty subtle though.

Saturation Adjustment Examples

-2

-1

Default

+1

+2

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting

Warm casts with Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, but good results from the Manual and 2,800 Kelvin settings. Slightly above average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto WB +1.3 EV Incandescent WB +1.3 EV
Manual WB +1.3 EV 2,800 Kelvin WB +1.3 EV

The Panasonic DMC-L10's Auto white balance setting resulted in a slight pinkish color cast indoors under incandescent lighting, and the Incandescent setting produced a warm yellowish cast. Both results are better than most other digital SLRs on the market. The Manual white balance produced the most pleasing overall color. The the 2,800 Kelvin setting wasn't too far off the mark either, but really could have stood to be a bit lower, to produce a more neutral cast. (Many users may actually prefer the slight warmth produced by the Auto setting, as being more representative of the color of the original scene.) The camera required a +1.3 EV exposure compensation boost for a bright exposure (slightly above average for this shot) with all white balance settings. Overall color looks good, though the blue flowers look a touch purplish, probably due to the DMC-L10's tendency to punch up the reds a little. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint, so the DMC-L10's performance wasn't unusual.) 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
Good color and exposure, though slightly high default contrast.

Daylight White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure
Contrast set to lowest,
+0.7 EV
Contrast set to lowest,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 performed pretty well, with good color but moderate overexposure in the outdoor far-field house shot. The Panasonic DMC-L10 required less than the average amount of positive exposure compensation on the "sunlit" portrait test. Default contrast is on the high side, but fortunately, there's a contrast adjustment to help compensate. At its lowest contrast setting, the DMC-L10 did a pretty good job of preserving highlight detail and natural-looking skin tones, but did slightly increase the warmth of the color balance in the process. Overall, good results here, especially when the contrast setting is turned down, but the overexposure of the far-field subject is a little troubling.

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

Resolution
High resolution, 1,650 ~ 1,700 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,700 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,650 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,700 lines per picture height horizontally and 1,650 vertically, with extinction occurring past 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.

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

Sharpness & Detail
Reasonably sharp images with good detail definition.

Good definition of high-contrast
elements, with only slight edge enhancement visible.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of
Marti's hair here, but the DMC-L10
shows little of this at low ISOs. Some demosaicing artifacts are visible though.

Sharpness. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 captures fairly sharp images with good detail. Some very minor edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, but results are generally very good. (See notes below about its somewhat odd "shaping" of fine detail in the foliage on this shot. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows a little softening due to noise suppression at ISO 100, but it is indeed relatively minor. Some odd blue color blotches are visible in the fine detail though, perhaps indicating weak demosaicing. The good news is that they don't appear in RAW images; but the bad news is that RAW images are quite a bit bigger at about 12MB each and they take more time to process on the computer. 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.

 

JPEG vs RAW

JPEG vs RAW Comparison

Mouse over the links to compare the difference in sharpness and detail from camera JPEG versus RAW file processed with Panasonic's SILKYPIX Developer Studio and Adobe Camera Raw 4.2. Camera settings for the JPEG settings were the defaults. We used the latest version of Panasonic's SILKYPIX Developer Studio software, version 2.1SE.

As we're finding often to be the case with DSLRs, there's more detail available in the Panasonic L10's RAW files than come out in the in-camera JPEGs. Careful processing in a good RAW converter program can bring out considerably more detail. Panasonic's own SILKYPIX program that comes bundled with the camera does deliver a bit more detail, but still not as much as Adobe Camera RAW managed to find. Processing through ACR, there's a load of fine detail to be had, resolution looks particularly good in that scenario.

The leaves on the deciduous trees in the crop above show an odd characteristic that we saw in detail of this sort from the L10. There's almost a rectilinear pattern to them, a faint cross-hatched appearance in some places. This reminded us of image detail from some of Fuji's SuperCCD-equipped cameras. The structure of the SuperCCD sensor and the associated demosaicing algorithms tended to emphasize horizontal and vertically oriented detail: A good thing when dealing with human-made objects, but not so good with random textures from nature. As far as we know the L10's sensor has normal square pixels, so that wouldn't explain the structure we see here. Given that the odd patterning appears in images processed from the RAW files through Adobe Camera Raw though, it does seem that it has more to do with the sensor than with the demosaicing software.

One note though: In fairness, we're doing some pretty severe pixel-peeping here: Viewing images this size on typical computer monitors is roughly the same as squinting up close at 30x40 inch prints. As was generally the case with the similar artifacts we observed in images from Fujifilm SuperCCD cameras, the unusual patterns seen above really aren't evident in normal-size prints (up to, say, 13x19 inches).

ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise below ISO 400, but progressively higher levels above. Not terribly noisy, but rather soft at ISO 1,600.

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

The Panasonic DMC-L10 produced low to moderate noise levels at low ISO settings, with very little loss of fine detail in areas of subtle contrast (where anti-noise processing takes its toll). What looks like chroma noise (blue color blotches in Marti's hair) at lower ISOs appears to be the result of poor demosaicing, rather than image noise, as it didn't appear in images processed from the RAW files through Adobe Camera Raw. "Grain" starts to appear as low as ISO 200, but it's very fine and tight. Noise is more visible at ISO 400, but detail is still quite good. At ISO 800, there's obvious smearing of fine detail, and there is very little fine detail left at ISO 1,600. See the Output Quality section below for more on how these results look when printed.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, but somewhat high default contrast and limited dynamic range. Good low-light performance.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 did OK with the deliberately harsh lighting of this test, but contrast was a little high at its default setting, and the dynamic range seemed limited. As mentioned previously however, the camera's contrast adjustment was at least some help in handling the harsh lighting. Though the shirt is pretty blown out at +0.7 EV at default contrast, I preferred it to the image at the +0.3 EV exposure, whose skin tones were a bit under exposed. Depending on the photographer, you could lean one way or the other, pros and advanced users would want to shoot darker, to hold highlight detail. For those DMC-L10 owners that are going to want to just print an image, the +0.7 image will produce a better-looking print with little or no tweaking. The bottom line though, is that the L10 struggled with the wide dynamic range of this shot.

Note: 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.)

Contrast Adjustment Examples

-2

-1

Default

+1

+2

The series of shots above show the results of the different contrast settings. While you can see the extremes, it's pretty hard to evaluate small differences in contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image. That said, like the Saturation adjustment, the control for Contrast is pretty subtle in its effect. It helps a little with the strong highlights here, but we'd really like to see more steps of this size, to cover a slightly greater range. - And even with the lowest contrast setting, the dynamic range isn't too impressive: The highlights are still blown at this exposure setting, while the shadows are plugged and noisy. The low contrast setting also produces some odd tone/saturation breaks in Marti's skin tones.

  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 DMCL10LL0103.JPG
1.3 sec
f3.8
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2.5 sec
f3.8
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8 sec
f3.8
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15 sec
f3.8
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25 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL0107XNR.JPG
25 sec
f3.8
ISO
200
Click to see DMCL10LL0203.JPG
0.6 sec
f3.8
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1.3 sec
f3.8
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4 sec
f3.8
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8 sec
f3.8
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15 sec
f3.8
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15 sec
f3.8
ISO
400
Click to see DMCL10LL0403.JPG
0.3 sec
f3.8
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0.6 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL0405.JPG
2 sec
f3.8
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4 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL0407.JPG
8 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL0407XNR.JPG
8 sec
f3.8
ISO
800
Click to see DMCL10LL0803.JPG
1/6 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL0804.JPG
0.3 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL0805.JPG
1 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL0806.JPG
2 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL0807.JPG
4 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL0807XNR.JPG
4 sec
f3.8
ISO
1600
Click to see DMCL10LL1603.JPG
1/10 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL1604.JPG
1/6 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL1605.JPG
0.5 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL1606.JPG
1 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL1607.JPG
2 sec
f3.8
Click to see DMCL10LL1607XNR.JPG
2 sec
f3.8

Low light. The Panasonic DMC-L10 performed reasonably well in our low light test, capturing fairly bright images down to the lowest light level we test at, at all ISO settings. This equates to about 1/16 the brightness of average city street lighting at night, so the DMC-L10 should be able to take well-exposed photos in almost any environment you can see well enough to walk around in. The L10's metering at these low levels wasn't very reliable though, as can be seen from the somewhat uneven exposures. Noise is low to moderate below ISO 800, but turning the camera's Long Exposure Noise Reduction off resulted in cleaner-looking images. At ISO 800 and 1600, noise is rather high for a DSLR these days, with some horizontal banding detectable in darker areas. The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, a pretty good AF performance. (The DMC-L10 does have an autofocus-assist light option though.)

The noise behavior with long-exposure noise reduction turned on or off was very puzzling though. When we turned this additional NR off, the images actually got sharper and somewhat cleaner-looking than when it was on. (And yes, we checked and reshot three times, to make sure we were making the settings correctly.) Since there weren't any "hot pixels" in the shot to begin with, we wouldn't have expected the dark-current subtraction noise reduction to have much effect. (This is a common technique, in which the camera snaps a second exposure right after the main shot of the subject, but with the shutter closed. This "dark frame" is then subtracted from the image of the subject, in most cases largely canceling out the noise arising from the dark current in the sensor's pixels.) We're really not sure what to make of this, but you should almost certainly leave long-exposure noise reduction disabled unless you're shooting such long exposures that you do actually start to see hot pixels appearing.

How bright is a foot-candle? 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 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.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera like the Panasonic DMC-L10, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality at 13x19 inches, excellent when processed from RAW files. Up to ISO 800 are still acceptable at 13x19 inches, and ISO 1,600 looks soft and a bit noisy but usable at 11x14.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 had enough resolution to make decent 13x19 inch prints, if a little soft on close inspection at the camera's defaults. Slight softness is standard from Panasonic digital SLRs at this level, as the company believes most photographers will prefer to sharpen after capture. A little unsharp mask makes 13x19 prints and even 16x20 prints look quite good for wall display. Images processed from RAW files are quite a bit sharper though, making tack-sharp 13x19 inch prints.

Indoor shots. Printing the Panasonic DMC-L10's images, we found that shots up to ISO 800 were usable if slightly soft at 13x19 inches. ISO 800 shots looked great at 8x10 inches, while ISO 1,600 ones were a little soft and noisy but quite usable for wall or table display at that size. ISO 1,600 shots were a little noisy but fine at 5x7 inches.

Daylight Still Life. All of the above is judged based on our tougher Indoor test, where noise in the blue channel usually makes matters harder for digital camera sensors. Our daylight-balanced Still Life test is considerably more forgiving, and the Panasonic L10 did correspondingly better there. With a daylight white balance, ISO 1,600 shots were still a bit soft and noisy when printed at 11x14 inches, but really not at all bad-looking. ISO 800 shots under daylight lighting looked pretty good even at the 13x19 inch print size.

We've found that cameras often drop their color saturation at high ISO settings in an attempt to manage their noise levels. In the case of the Panasonic L10, we did see some decrease in vibrancy at ISO 1,600, but not as much as we often do. (The biggest impact was loss of detail in areas of subtle contrast.)

All in all, the Panasonic L10 is capable of delivering excellent print quality at low ISOs, with the best results (as usual) coming when you take the time to manually tweak and convert its RAW files. The impact of its small sensor is felt more at higher ISOs, where it gives up more subtle subject detail than some competing models.

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 Pro 9000, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon PIXMA Pro 9000 review for details on that model.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 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-L10 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!

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