By February 21, 2008

Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 review

After the huge success of Panasonic’s Lumix range of Compact Digital Cameras, can they repeat this success with the specialist Digital SLR Market with their second DSLR release the D10? Panasonic’s Lumix DMC L10 comes under scrutiny in our review.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10

Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10

Introduction

Panasonic released their first DSLR camera, the L1, to the market in 2006, a rather unusual looking camera for sure but they have certainly come “back to the norm” with the look and styling of their latest release, the L10. That’s where the comparison with current DLSR cameras on the market changes as Panasonic have attempted to build in many of the features found on a compact Digital Camera.

Whilst many purists may have issues with this technology on a Digital SLR camera, I’m sure it has been aimed at helping users migrating from a small compact camera to get good pictures straight from the box.

Lumix L10

Lumix L10

What’s in the Box?

Well, a rather stereotypical silver camera box hides the Panasonic L10 camera, and the rather special Leica lens. The L10 we reviewed was part of a Kit with the body, battery, and LEICA D Vario-ELMAR 14-50mm f3.8-5.6 lens. This lens has Panasonics/Leica’s Optical Image Stabilisation built in. More on this later. Please have a look at our unboxing video which can be found HERE.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Specification:

  • Interchangeable lens digital SLR camera
  • SD/SDHC memory card slot
  • Image sensor size 17.3 x 13.0 mm
  • 10.1 Mega pixels
  • ISO sensitivity: Auto / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600
  • Light metering system: TTL Full Aperture Light Metering by 49 Zones Multi-pattern Sensing system
  • White balance: Auto / Daylight / Cloudy / Shade / Halogen / Flash
  • Shutter speed: 1/4000
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 134.5 x 95.5 x 77.5mm
  • Weight: Approx. 480g(Body only)
  • Battery life: Approx. 450 images
  • General

    Looking and feeling like a pretty generic DSLR Camera, the L10 has many of the standard buttons and controls you would expect. Starting at the top of the camera we have the following controls:

    Lumix L10 top view

    Lumix L10 top view

    Located on the right hand side is the standard thumb wheel used to select standard SLR features such as Automatic, Manual F settings and Shutter speed. The On Off switch is located just under the thumb wheel (Watch this as you can manage to turn the camera off by accident whist using the thumb wheel). Just to the right of this is the Film Mode select. Again, watch changing these settings by accident.

    The shutter button is located at the front if the camera in a very comfortable easy to use position. Just below this is a standard thumb wheel used to control additional settings on the camera depending on the mode selected.

    A TTL based external flash unit can be mounted on the hot shoe. The built in flash can be flipped out by using the catch to the left of the hotshoe.

    The rear of the camera contains the remaining controls for accessing the camera menus, setting changes and viewing modes.

    Lumix L10 controls

    Lumix L10 controls

    To the left of these controls we find a world first in DLSR cameras, the 270 degree rotating LCD viewing screen. This flip out screens allows simple shooting from the waist, above your head as well as well as being used for self portraits etc. I do have to say though, this excellent screen is let down by the appalling catch mechanism used by Panasonic on this screen. Its can be quite painful flicking the screen out as the catch holding the screen seems way too stiff and the catches dig into your fingers. Perhaps this may improve as catches start to get worn for example?

    Lumix L10 live view screen

    Lumix L10 live view screen

    The remaining connectors are located to the right of the camera for SD cards and the DV out and remote shutter controls.

    Lumix L10 USB and DV connectors

    Lumix L10 USB and DV connectors
    Lumix L10 SD card slot

    Lumix L10 SD card slot

    Highlights and Lowlights

    Using the camera in a wide range of environments has shown a number of really good features with this camera, as well as a number of items that Panasonic may wish to look at in future firmware or product changes:

    Highlights

  • The Leica Lens is an excellent wide angle lens (14mm) but can’t help feel a more substantial Zoom could have been incorporated in the kit (50mm)
    The colours are very vivid and dynamic (However see comments about flash later)
  • Picture speed once focused is very fast for multiple shots
  • Very sharp pictures from the Leica lens and sensor
  • Very small lens distortion on edges
  • Good flash pictures indoors (Again, see comments on flash later)
  • Lowlights

  • Liveview – Very good in some circumstances but really increases time to take shots.
  • Camera very noisy taking pictures (Even worse when running liveview as the mirror has to be moved away first) so not great for wildlife or quite situations
  • LCD screen catch is very difficult to open and could easily be impossible for any less able bodied users.
  • With a camera aimed at people transitioning from Compact cameras to DLSR, the controls are not very informative or user friendly. For example, Menu options uses icons for L, M, S sizes for example but gives no indication as to pixel size or compression etc.
  • Slow focus under low light conditions
  • Flash does not reach all of target on close up (gets shadow from lens) – however most people would probably use additional flash gun
  • Reds are very red under low light flash conditions.
  • Lumix L10 front view

    Lumix L10 front view

    Review

    Well, I have to admit to own one of the original Canon 10D DLSR’s as well as a Panasonic Lumix FX33 Compact Digital camera so I was interested to see how these would compare in action. Never claiming to be the world’s expert in photography, I also invited our good friend Steve Davis an excellent photography to cast his eyes over the camera to get some different feedback.

    After taking the camera out of the bag, my first impressions were of an excellent well built and constructed lens (The Leica D) and a lighter weight quite plastic feeling DSLR Camera. Once hooked together the overall weight and balance was however very good. The camera uses the Four Thirds standard for its lenses rather than the typical 35mm used by some. Designed for Digital Cameras the Four Thirds system has a good following and many lens manufacturers allowing scope for change and upgrades.

    Switching the camera on and dropping into automatic mode and we were off shooting within seconds. Warm up time is sub 1 second allowing very quick impromptu shots if your camera is every switched off.

    Flicking out the LCD screen, (as mentioned previously please, please Panasonic sort out this catch and mechanism…) allows a good view to the side of the camera. This allows taking shots at various camera heights and by simply tilting the screen getting a good view of the proposed shot. Panasonics LiveView incorporates a mirror in front of the sensor so the LCD screen shows the image live. A feature of course standard in Compact cameras but far more difficult to incorporate with an DSLR.

    Lumix L10 front view

    Lumix L10 front view

    The other advantage of this LCD screen is it can be placed back on the camera with the LCD facing inwards – Protecting the LCD screen very well.

    Shooting in a rather overcast garden still produced quality shots with excellent colours. The automatic mode copes with most circumstances we could find and unless you want to be “artistic” will probably stay in this mode for most users.

    Maybe it’s the old school approach but I still found myself using the view finder on most occasions. The LiveView is very good in what it does. But the down side is the additional time taken to take shots if this is enabled. The camera has to move the mirror first and you may miss that split second moment. Talking with Matt he has found the LiveView very good with macro photography (Close Up Work) so this may be a good use for this facility.

    After taking a multitude of shots, we decided to try out some of the scene settings and additional features. This is where the camera tries to incorporate many of the features of a compact digital Camera.

    Moving the thumb wheel onto the SCN selector changes the LCD so we can now choose the type of scene. This is where Steve and I looked at each other slightly surprised. The Scenes on offer start with the typical Sunset option and then bizarrely give options for Food, Baby1, Baby2 and Pet. Now, please don’t get me wrong – If you were at a Baby’s Christening, with your Pet Dog and eating food this would pretty much cover your whole days camera settings. For day to day work you may understand our surprise at these choices.

    However, there are different automatic settings on the camera and these include, Portrait, Scenery, Macro, Sports and Night Scenery.

    This does give a more useful range of options such as indoor settings, outdoor settings and a “Creative” setting for each option. The Creative Setting allows the thumb wheel at the front to be used to change the look and feel of the picture. In SLR terms all this actually does is change the F setting and shutter speed to increase or decrease the depth of field. An option available at all times from the manual modes on the Thumb Wheel. I found the manual changes were easy and required less menu navigation than the Creative Settings.

    Lumix L10 body

    Lumix L10 body

    Knowing Panasonic have aimed this camera as a transition from Compact Digital, I can’t help but feel the menus could have been made a little user friendly. They are very easy to navigate and quite uncluttered, however they seem to lack information. For example, changing the picture quality simple gives L,M and S for Large Medium and Small. Maybe it’s the techie side of me, but I would rather have been provided with a little more information or in a different way. For example – 10Mpixel, 5Mpixel and 2MPixel. I feel this would give the user a better understanding of the option they are choosing without having to RTFM. (Read the manual…)

    After taking a great deal of shots, we thought we would try indoor use. The popup flash performs extremely well in a whole range of low light conditions. The infrared sensor kicks in to help focusing at low light levels (This can be painfully slow as the infrared light does not seem very intense and the lens does have to hunt a while before getting focus). On general pictures, portraits etc the light balance was very, very good. The downside we noticed though was the colour saturation, especially red was a little over the top on flash shots and may require external editing of the images to reduce this.

    The Leica lens however is the star of this show. It’s extremely well made and the 14mm Wide Angle will easily allow excellent coverage of the inside of many rooms. Under normal light conditions the focus is very fast and the outstanding Optical Image Stabilisation can save many a tricky situation, even allowing good quality low light shots to be taken without a tripod and showing very little evidence of camera shake. It’s important to remember the stabalisation is built into the lens and not the camera so change lenses and you lose this option.

    Lumix L10 Leica Lens

    Lumix L10 Leica Lens

    Conclusion

    The Panasonic L10 is only available in kit form with the lens and body and is priced at a recommended £900. Compared to a number of other DSLR cameras on the market, this is quite high and needs to pull something special out of the bag to compete. The camera is quite easy to use and very quick to start to take images. The overall look and feel of the camera is quite lightweight and plastic but the controls are in good positions and apart from the on off switch being located under the tumbwheel perform well.

    The plastic feel is finished off by the terrible catch on the lcd screen, perhaps a little more research or design work could have prevented this.

    Picture quality is outstanding across the board with only the high concentrations of red on some flash shots letting the camera down slightly. The sensor is obviously very capable and the compression software quick and effective.

    Battery life is some 450 standard shots so that should last most outings and couple with the powersave features and ability to turn the lcd off should certainly help.

    I have heard a rumour that Panasonic are planning to sell the lens separately at £600, which is 2/3rds the cost of the kit. This would help explain the obvious differences in quality and look and feel of the camera and lens.

    The package overall does work well, I’m not convinced on some of the compact digital camera features that have been added (although face detection is a worthwhile addition for sure). But for high quality pictures and if you stick to Auto mode simple ease of use its not half bad. There are however many exceptional camera kits in this and lower price ranges that split the costs of the camera and lens more evenly, with the L10 it looks as though you are really buying an excellent lens, with a digital SLR bolted on.

    Review by: John

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    Posted in: Reviews

    About the Author:

    More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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