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Unless you've been living in a time warp in the 1970's, you'll know that Panasonic and Olympus have been busy developing the Four Thirds DSLR system that uses smaller sensors, leading to lighter cameras and lenses. While Olympus have been very active with their releases, Panasonic have been rather slower coming forwards with compatible products. However, here is their second DSLR, it boasts 10Mp resolution, a flip-out screen and Live view.
- Mount: Four Thirds mount
- Chip type: Live Mos Sensor
- Effective pixels: 10.1Mp
- Image size: 3648x2736
- Aspect ratio: 4:3
- Dust reduction system: Supersonic Wave filter
- Colour space: sRGB, Adobe RGB
- AF Type: TTL phase difference, Contrast AF systm (Live view mode)
- Focusing mode: AFS/AFC/MF
- Metering: Intelligent Multiple, Centre-Weighted, Spot
- ISO range: Auto, 100-1600
- Colour temperature setting: 2500-10000K in 100K
- Type: Focal-plane shutter
- Shutter speed: 1/4000sec
- Burst speed: 3fps or 2fps
- Flash: TTL GN11
- Flash modes: Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced On/Red-eye Reduction, Slow Sync., Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction, Forced Off
- X-Sync speed: Less than 1/160sec
- Monitor size: 270 deg, 2.5in. (207k pixels)
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 134.5x95.5x77.5mm
The Panasonic Lumix L10 is available in a kit form with a Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-50mm (28-100mm effective) lens for £899. This puts it into direct competition with the 10Mp Canon EOS 40D at £749 for body only or £949 with the EF-S 17-85mm f/4 lens, the 12Mp Sony DSLR-A700 at £999 for the body or £1099 with the kit lens and the 12Mp Fuji S5 Pro at £849 for the body. The price point in fact can be looked at two ways. Either it's the top end of the mid-range cameras, or it's the bottom end of the semi-pro cameras.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Modes and features
The L10 is quite a compact DSLR, with the model dial mounted on the top right side, in the fashion of cameras down at the sub-£500 price point. With little space to the left of the pop up flash, this ensures that there's no room for a top-mounted LCD plate. In itself, you might say so what, but when using the lurching Live vision, there is a slightly limited amount of info on the LCD screen and, more importantly, what's there is presented in quite small text. Only when Live view is turned off does the LCD turn into your typical A700, Nikon D40x type display of shooting parameters.
Let's start at the top though, and that means the large mode dial which sits over switches for on/off and the drive mode. The drive mode includes single shot, burst mode, bracketing, and timer. The mode dial then offers the expected PASM modes, plus Auto, portrait, landscape, macro, sport, night portrait, custom configurations and a specific Scene mode setting for more arcane modes.
Also on the top panel is a button tantalisingly entitled Film Mode. What does this do eh? Turns off the Live View, locks the ISO, doesn't allow image reviewing? No, of course not, it means film emulation modes, but rather disappointingly, instead of a list of film stocks, there's just modes like Dynamic and Vibrant, Smooth, Nature, Nostalgic and black and white variants like dynamic and smooth. You can read what you like into those. The settings can be tweaked for colour, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction, but this is pretty much par for the course.
Around the back of the camera is the articulating LCD screen with a button above that toggles Live view on and off. By default it's on, but as the LCD screen is so slowly updated, it's a much better idea to rely on the optical viewfinder and only use Live view when there's a specific need for it. However, here's one issue I have with the L10, and that's the optical viewfinder. As this is a Four Thirds system camera, it means that the chip and thus the resulting image is 4:3 aspect ratio, rather than the 3:2 of other DSLRs. This in turn means that the optical viewfinder is more square as well. Now that wouldn't be an issue in itself, but unfortunately it's quite small meaning that the eye has to be lined up almost dead centre to see anything.
Next to this is the MF/AFC/AFS switch for focusing. If you switch to Live mode while in AFC - which is continuous autofocus - the camera asks for it to be set to AFS as it simply doesn't work with continuous focussing. In the centre of this switch is the AEL-AFL lock button for locking either the exposure, the focus, or both.
There's now a real crush of buttons, with four vertical ones lined up next to the joypad arrangement. The first one is primarily the playback button, then there's the LCD detail button and the Function button. Rather like the Olympus system of providing fast access to commonly used features, the Function button allows access to image size, quality, optical stabilisation mode (if it's switched on at the lens), ISO, AWB and flash. Below this button is one to Delete images.
Now, having set up ISO and AWB on the Function button, how strange to see them again on the joypad buttons. The up button offers ISO, down gives AWB, while left is the metering point system and right is the metering mode type. The focus point area system is pretty basic. Select the any of the three points or all them at once. The metering options are standard as well covering zone, spot and centre-weighted. Pressing the menu button in the middle of the joypad brings up the more esoteric options like burst rate, auto bracketing, self-timer delay, mirror up, noise reduction on long exposures and the choice of sRGB or AdobeRGB colour spaces. This is as well as duplicating options that are available on other buttons.
The memory card option is for SD and the high capacity version, SDHC. There's no support for anything else. Finally, there's the LCD of course, which flips out and can rotate up to 270 degrees.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Build and handling
The first thing that's apparent is that the L10 is very light and though solidly built, doesn't feel as sturdy as other cameras at this price point. That isn't to say it's flimsy, but that I'd be a little more careful about bashing it about. Even the addition of a large Panasonic lens with built-in Mega O.I.S - the image stabilisation system, doesn't make this a wrist-straining affair. If you were looking for something lighter to carry around, then this is where the Panasonic would win points. The point about the image stabiliser should be considered though. The Sony A700 has it built into the body, this isn't, it's lens-specific.
With a sharp, recessed hand grip, the L10 makes the most of limited space, making the camera easy to hold with one hand. There's a clear space for the thumb and the fire button falls in just the right place. Unexpectedly, there are front and rear wheels for setting functions, but both are on the small side and feel a little cheap.
What I liked about the articulating screen is not that flips out, because that's very useful of course, but that it can be twisted and placed back against the body either face down, to protect the LCD, or face out, so the LCD can be used in a traditional fashion as well.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 flash options
The pop up flash has a guide number of 11 which is fairly typical of the kind of power that could be expected. There's a fair mix of modes that can be used with it starting with auto, then forced on, auto with red-eye, forced on with red-eye, forced slow-sync and forced slow-sync with red eye. On top of this there are menu options to allow flash power adjustment. What's missing is a PC-sync socket for wired studio flash but at least there's the hotshoe which takes the DMW-FL500 dedicated flashgun. Other flashguns can be used, but have to use manual power settings rather than the TTL process of the dedicated gun.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Performance
In the shutter lag test the L10 was slightly slower than other cameras around this price point, but easily in line with those at a lower one. It came in at around 0.08secs. As for start up to shooting time, this was pretty decent with everything turned at 0.8secs, however, even with the camera set in manual focus mode, when it is switched off, prior to the test, it resets the focus so that any picture taken without focusing on power up is likely to be out of focus. However, with autofocus on from start up it still managed to focus and capture the picture in less than a second - around 0.92secs in fact which was pretty good.
The burst mode test started off with quite a few shots near the 3fps claimed speed, but this soon filled the buffer and the camera settled down to more like 1fps, resulting in just 16 shots from the 10sec test. Really, this isn't great from a DSLR as we've seen better results from hi-res compact cameras. An interesting point though is this result was on the High speed burst mode setting which did give a fast start, for all of a second or so. With the burst mode set to Low it actually captured, at a more even pace, 17 shots in the 10sec test. The Low speed rating is supposed to be 2fps, and this is much closer to it. Either way, this isn't the 3fps claimed at all and doesn't stand comparison to the cameras priced just above it. In fact, it doesn't even stack up against the Pentax K10D, which does have 3fps and is priced below it.
So, now let's look at the much vaunted Live view mode. If you are going to put this on a camera, it makes sense to throw in an articulated LCD screen as well so that you can actually take advantage of it. Well done to Panasonic to having the foresight to do that whereas Olympus haven't. Live view works by directing the light to the CMOS which processes the information and gives you the display on the LCD. There are two consequences of this. One is that the optical viewfinder goes blank, because the mirror is now up, and the second is that autofocus doesn't work. I saw it doesn't work but that's not quite true because there is autofocus of sorts. It just involves lots of huffing and puffing. Press fire to meter and activate the focus and the picture freezes as the mirror flips up with a clunk and the autofocus goes to work. This is slower than using it normally, even discarding the mirror-clunking time. It labours to focus. Having done so, the mirror flops out of the way again with a second clunk, the metering info appears and a solid green dot says yes, we have focus. If it's flashing, it's time to try again.
To then take a picture, press the fire button. The mirror gets out of the way again with a clunk, the shutter opens with a clunk and closes at the end of the exposure with another clunk and then... yes, the mirror clunks out of the way so that Live view can commence again. That's no fewer than six clunks for every focus and capture. Talk about noisy and plodding. Needless to say, you can't take pictures of anything moving faster than a slow crawl with this system. That's why I say, don't use it for every day shooting because frankly, it's far too slow and noisy for that.
If I can now introduce you to the world of macro and product photography, this is where the system is ideal. The subject doesn't move and you can flip and rotate the LCD out so that you can see perfectly well, without crawling on the floor or straining your neck. For subjects like this, it's ideal and those who spend time snuffling in forests looking for fungi will find it fantastically useful. The rest of the time, turn it off.
Out in the field, using the LCD screen for information, rather than the Live view, works far better. The rear wheel defaults to applying exposure compensation, which is precisely what I would use it if asked in the street by a man with a clipboard. The fact that ISO and metering have a dedicated button, albeit on the joypad of all places, means that they can be rapidly accessed and implemented. So, when shooting outside, the experience was one of good handling and the ability to change the control settings with ease. Some thought has gone into this and it makes the camera more usable than the hardcore performance stats outlined initially would suggest.
Back inside to the colour testchart and this shows bright blue and red primaries, but a really subdued green. Happily the skin tone shade is not influenced by the red primary and looks natural. The red also is more orange orientated. The purple is very dark which it should be though the cyan mixture is lighter and bluer.
This is a decent result in quite murky lighting. There’s good sharpness at the f/8 setting, all the way through, though the lock crank in the foreground is very dark.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Noise tests
The ISO range isn't anything special, covering ISO100-1600. To start at ISO100 there's very light patterns of purple in the grey card. Although faint, these are quite patchy. At ISO200 this noise is clearly visible in the grey card at 100% and more so at 200% but amazingly, the image is already getting softer. This is clearly visible in the petals. At ISO400 the noise is very noticeable, more what I would expect to see at ISO800 or 1600 on a DSLR, and detail is rapidly disappearing from the petals in quite an alarming fashion. The centre of the flower is pretty much detail-free already. Given this I was expecting a nightmare at ISO800 but actually it's not much worse - the noise patterns are larger but softer, so presumably the noise reduction is getting busy here. Certainly it's even more soft now. At ISO1600 the noise is prevalent across the entire test image and distinct green and purple patches show in the grey card while the flower grimly hangs on to life as detail melts away.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
||DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Verdict
This has to be said straight away, if this camera and lens kit was £499 then it would be a really good combination of features for the entry-level market, with the bonus of high resolution and the Live view. Its natural competitors are the Nikon D40x and Canon EOS 400D against which it has enough good features to warrant owners of those marquees trading them in and saying, yes, I'll have a bit of that Four Thirds system. However, it isn't. You can get a Canon EOS 40D with a lens for the same money and there really isn't any comparison between the two, the 40D is in a different league altogether.
Decent handling, a respectably high 10Mp resolution, the Live view for when you need it, these are all good features, but everything else lags some way behind. The autofocus system is basic, the continuous shooting performance is poor, there's noise present in images early on and higher ISOs kill the detail alarmingly. The fastest shutter speed is 1/4000sec whereas other cameras at this price point will be offering 1/8000sec. The ISO range is limited and the camera struggled with scenes with any contrast in them.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed using the L10, it has a good feel to it, but this is the wrong price point for the spec it has to offer. You might also want to consider whether you like the more square 4:3 format - certainly for landscape-orientated scenery shots this doesn't work as well, though conversely, and perversely, it works better for portrait-orientation landscapes. Changing the shooting format to 3:2 aspect ratio simply trims the top and bottom of the picture, dropping the resolution down to just 8Mp. Otherwise, the L10 has some commendable points, if it was cheaper and in competition with the entry level Canon and Nikon's, it would be a compelling alternative. At £899 for the kit with the lens, it really doesn't cut the mustard.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Plus points:
A handy 10Mp resolution
Live view with articulated LCD
Buttons and Function access to features
Decent image sharpness
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Minus points:
Live view is very clunky
Optical viewfinder small
Noise and detail issues through ISO range
Poor continuous shooting
Limited ISO range
Basic autofocus system
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 costs around £899 with the 14-50mm lens and will be available soon.
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