Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10

We review the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 – the company’s second DSLR and a 10 megapixel digital camera aimed squarely at the consumer end of the market

“The L-10’s layout and controls are well-placed and it has a substantial and comfortable handgrip, Canon could do well to take note”

Panasonic’s first foray into the DSLR market with the Lumix DMC-L1 caused a bit of a stir when it was introduced. Although highly desirable for enthusiasts with its retro, faux rangefinder looks and stunning image stabilized Leica zoom, the L1 had a lofty price tag.

Panasonic’s follow-up, the Lumix DMC-L10,while still pitched above the entry-level offerings of its rivals, should have wider appeal. The L10 boasts a 10-megapixel resolution L-MOS sensor with Live View and a pull-out, vari-position 2.5-inch LCD. It also comes bundled with a pin-sharp image-stabilised 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 Leica zoom. Best of all it has a recommended retail price two-thirds that of the original 7.5-megapixel resolution L1.

The L10 employs a proprietary (Matsushita-made) Four Thirds format 10.1 megapixel resolution Live MOS sensor and offers a choice of either 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratio images (albeit with a reduction in image size). The native 4:3 format delivers 3648×2736 pixel images, that’s plenty for prints up to 12 x 9 inches at magazine quality (300 dpi), and twice the size again using a quality photo inkjet.

Given the smaller Four Thirds sensor, it’s around a quarter of the surface area of a full-frame 35mm sensor, the bundled 14-50mm Leica kit lens delivers a similar field of view as a 28-100mm.

Although it shares the same wide-angle of view as many lesser kit zooms, the slightly longer tele-end makes it an attractive, multi-purpose lens. And although it’s becoming more common these days, the Leica kit zoom is optically image stabilised. Panasonic claims in excess of three stops compensation, which matched our findings at the wider-end of the zoom range, but dropped closer to two stops at 100mm.

In range

The L10 has Live View, using the screen to compose your snaps, with both phase-detection (viewfinder-based) AF operation as well as contrast-detection AF. This option uses data from the L-MOS sensor when the mirror is locked up. You can’t avoid the inconvenience of the mirror dropping down and the shutter re-cocking to take the picture. But at least it doesn’t have to drop down every time you want to focus as it does using the usual phase-detection method.

Like rivals, focusing is tardy using contrast-detection but the L10 has a face-detection option that optimizes focus and exposure with groups of up to 15 individuals. Other AF modes available include multiple selection of up to 11-ranging points plus there are various group-target selection options. Like others they’re only available using contrast detection AF in Live View, and in this instance, with the bundled zoom and one other, the new Leica 14-150mm (35mm equivalent to 28-300mm) zoom.

One big plus over other similar models is the flip-out screen. Most users will find this incredibly handy on a day-to-day basis. Like the majority of current monitors, we found it usable in reasonably bright light but the surface is prone to troublesome reflection and it smears pretty easily. It also lacks the handy proximity sensor seen on the likes of Sony and Canon models, and, with no top-plate LCD, means it has to be switched on and off when used to display data.

Preferential treatment

For the most part though, the L-10’s layout and controls are well-placed and it has a substantial and comfortable handgrip, Canon could do well to take note. Most settings are selected from the screen and thumb-pad, much like the maker’s digital compact cameras, though the fore-and-aft command dials are useful for changing exposure settings on the fly.

That said, the rear dial doubles as a short-cut to exposure compensation.  We would have preferred a separate control for this feature as it may lead to an inadvertent shift in exposure for a few frames. We were constantly double-checking when using the viewfinder, but it’s less of an issue with Live View as the selections are shown immediately on the screen.

Sensor sensitivity runs from ISO100 to a maximum ISO1600, on a par with most rivals, and it has the makers Intelligent ISO option. Another feature derived from their compacts, this automatically adjusts the ISO based on subject movement and helps keep noise levels low, only increasing ISO when necessary. It’s a pity then that it’s only available in Live View mode.

From our tests up to ISO400 the L-10 files have a slightly gritty film-like appearance. At ISO 800 and above, some slight smearing from the Panasonic’s image processing is noticeable. In general though the NR system does well to reduce noise levels, albeit with the inevitable decline in colour accuracy and a gradual loss of fine detail.

Like other Four Thirds DSLR’s the viewfinder image is small and tunnel-like. To their credit, Panasonic generously bundle an optional 1.2x magnifier that helps but makes the edges and corners difficult to see. What’s more, the viewfinder information is grouped to the right of the screen and it becomes hard to make out properly without pressing your eye really close.

Shot-to-shot times are pretty brisk, and the L10 easily delivers the claimed 3fps when shooting best quality (Fine) JPEGs without stalling. Switch to Standard quality JPEGs, though, and the rate drops unexpectedly to 2 fps. What’s more while the L10 can shoot just 3 RAW frames in a second, as claimed, subsequent shots are at 1.5-second intervals.  While this is a bit disappointing it’s not likely to be a deal-breaker.

Now the price has settled at just £499 from the original £899 launch price, the L10 with its far better than average kit lens is sensibly priced and compares favourably with the Sony A300 and A350 kit options. Our only real concern is the pricey and limited choice of Leica-branded lenses. Although you can opt for some of the excellent Olympus Four Thirds optics it’s important to note they lack image stabilisation. While the Leica lenses are attractive, if you’re looking to build a coherent system there are better choices.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Info

Typical price: Panasonic DMC-L10 body c/w Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 Mega OIS £499 (£425 ex VAT)

Pros:
High-quality kit lens
Pull-out screen
Effective image stabiliser and live view systems
Good image detail

Cons:
Limited and pricey range of Leica IS lenses
Raw capture limited to 3 frame bursts
Small viewfinder image

Verdict: Although the Lumix DMC-L10 is very likeable, the limited and pricey lens range is likely to be the only real drawback.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

More info: Panasonic Website

Panasonic Lumix DMC L10 rear view
The L10 employs a proprietary (Matsushita-made) Four Thirds format 10.1 megapixel resolution Live MOS sensor
Leica zoom lens for Lumix L10
The Panasonic Lumix L10 comes bundled with a pin-sharp image-stabilised 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 Leica zoom

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