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Testing / Performance
**There's not much point in a camera with bad color, so we have a standardized test to show how accurately cameras reproduce color. Because the test is standardized, it's possible to objectively compare the cameras we test. We photograph a GretagMacbeth color chart under controlled lighting, and analyze the resulting images with Imatest software, the industry standard testing suite for image quality. Imatest reports results in a few ways. We look at two numerical results – saturation and color error. We also publish two charts. The first chart shows the GretagMacbeth chart as modified by the software program. The large squares show the colors as the Panasonic L1 captured them. The vertical rectangles show the colors as they should be, and the smaller squares show the ideal colors, corrected for luminance.
The second chart graphically shows the L1's color accuracy. Each circle represents the ideal sample colors. The little squares show the L1's color. The length of the lines between the circles and the squares indicates how much difference there is between the two – how much the L1 got the color wrong. The center of the chart shows neutral color: white, black and gray. The most vivid colors are at the edge of the chart, and the colors shift from yellow at the top, to red and magenta at the right, to purple and blue at the bottom, to cyan and green at the left. So, compare the positions of the squares and circles. If the square for a color is closer to the edge than the circle is, then the color is over-saturated. If it's clockwise or counter-clockwise compared to the circle, the color is off.
Numerically, the Panasonic L1 looks very good. The overall saturation figure is 99.99 percent. Perfect is 100, so the L1 is practically perfect – the Ivory Soap of digital cameras. Looking at the charts, one can see that some colors are a little under, some a little over, but they sum up to an excellent score. A mean color error of 6.6 is also an excellent score. Users should be very pleased with the L1's realistic colors. For shooters who like their colors postcard-bright, the L1's accurate images should withstand retouching and brightening in post-processing very well. It's always best to start with an accurate image. **Still Life Scene**Below is an image photographed by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1. We shoot the same colorful subjects with every camera, so the images can be compared with one another.
**Resolution **(4.71)With that impressive Leica-branded lens included, we hoped that the Panasonic L1 would deliver excellent resolution scores. But resolution is not just a function of the lens – the sensor and image processing system are vital, and our tests evaluate the camera and lens as a whole. We photograph a standard ISO resolution chart in our studio, shooting at a range of varying apertures and focal lengths, and analyze the images with Imatest software. We report the best results. Imatest yields results in line widths per picture height (LW/PH), a figure that is directly comparable between all digital cameras, regardless of sensor size. That's particularly important in the case of the L1, which has a Four-Thirds sensor, rather than an APS-C, which is more common among competing DSLRs.
Our sharpest shot was taken at 16mm and f/7.1, with 1524 LW/PH horizontal and 1513 LW/PH vertical. The image was oversharpened in both dimensions – 9.38 percent horizontally and 8.07 vertically. Oversharpening increases LW/PH scores, but it's not exactly good – it can cause artifacts in images, and it limits the amount of editing possible in post-production. The Panasonic Lumix L1 oversharpened all our images by at least 7 percent, and as much as 20 percent. It's more common to see figures like that from compact cameras since most DSLRs have less in-camera sharpening. At all the focal lengths we tested, our best results were at relatively wide apertures, from f/5.6 to f/7.1. It appears that diffraction becomes a problem at about f/8.0. We recently tested three less-expensive DSLRs: the Sony α DSLR-A100, the Nikon D80, and the Canon EOS Rebel XTi. All three performed better than the L1 in resolution tests, though the Sony also oversharpened consistently. **Noise – Auto ISO***(11.44)*Specifications for radios, telephones and other audio equipment often list signal-to-noise ratios. Images suffer from noise as well. In either case, noise gets in the way of the signal. In photos, it shows up as variations in color or brightness that weren't in the original scene. It's often most noticeable in smooth-toned subjects. For instance, in a noisy image, a clear blue sky will look grainy or speckled. We test noise using photographs of our GretagMacbeth color chart, and use Imatest to note variations in tones. We photograph the chart under bright, tungsten light. Set to Auto ISO, the Panasonic L1 performed very well, using its lowest ISO, and adding minimal noise to the color patches. **Noise – Manual ISO***(11.64)*Noise increases as ISO goes up. To see just how much this phenomenon occurs in the Lumix L1, we measured noise levels at every ISO setting from 100 to 1600. The amount of noise is found on the chart below; the ISO settings are on the horizontal axis, and the noise on the vertical axis.
The noise does indeed rise on the Panasonic L1 as the ISO is upped, but the results are better than average, and much better than other Panasonic digital cameras we've tested. The L1 clearly has an aggressive noise reduction algorith and it works, although it does smooth over some of the detail in the images. **Low Light***(7.5)*We run our low light tests using the GretagMacbeth chart again, decreasing the light level to yield longer and longer exposures. We shot the Panasonic L1 at ISO 400, and disabled the built-in flash unit. We tested the camera at 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux.
The camera used long shutter speeds, and noise was very apparent in them. Below is a chart showing just how much noise. The horizontal axis shows the exposure time and the vertical axis shows the noise.
With noise reduction on, it shows a gradual increase in noise from 5 to 60 seconds of exposure. Without reduction, it's still impressive, though more image deterioration is apparent from 5 to 30 seconds. The noise increases more gradually from 30 to 60 seconds. **Dynamic********Range **(7.0)The darkest dark on a print is the blackest ink or pigment. The brightest white is plain paper. That's really not much of a range – not much compared to a typical scene outdoors on a sunny day that might include sunlit snow as well as deep shadow. Our dynamic range test is meant to measure how much of that huge range seen in the natural world actually shows up in a camera's images.
We shoot a target that shows 13.1 stops of dynamic range, and then analyze the images with Imatest software. We note high quality dynamic range, which has up to 1/10 of a stop of noise, and low quality range, which has up to 1 stop of noise. High quality is acceptable for the main subject of a photo. Low quality is useful too, because it allows highlights and shadows to have texture – to not be pure black or white. The Panasonic L1's high quality range starts well, at over 7.7 EV at both 100 and 200 ISO. At ISO 400, it drops to 6.4, which is still solid. The steady decline at 800 and 1600 is not unusual, but it shows the L1's limitations. The low quality range follows the same pattern.
Speed / Timing*Start-up to First Shot (8.7)*The Panasonic L1 takes 1.3 seconds from the time the power switch is flipped on until it takes its first shot. Most DSLRs start up in a few tenths of a second or less, and the L1’s 1.3 seconds is a length of time that might make the difference between getting a spontaneous shot and missing it. On the other hand, compact camera shooters are used to longer startups – 2 seconds or longer is typical on entry-level cameras.* **Shot to Shot (9.51)*The L1 has two continuous shooting speeds. High takes 3.1 frames per second for 13 frames, then slows to 1 fps, but shoots at that rate indefinitely (until the memory card is full). The Low setting clips along at 2 fps for 18 frames, and then slows to 1 fps until the memory card is full. About 3 frames per second is typical of entry-level DSLRs, though many can shoot at that rate for more than 13 frames. *Shutter to Shot (8.46)*The lag between pressing the shutter release and the camera taking the picture has a big effect on action shots. The Panasonic L1 delayed an average of 0.27 seconds in our tests. We like to see ratings below 0.20 seconds on DSLRs, so the L1 is no speed demon, compared to some other DSLRs. Both the Nikon D80 and Canon Rebel XTi scored 0.18 seconds in our tests, while the Sony α A100 was also slow, rating 0.27 seconds as well.
**Front **(7.25)The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 has a flat face, with a shallow wedge-shaped grip on the left side. The lens release button is at lower right. The AF assist light is in the upper right corner. A small window along the top edge is described by Panasonic as an infrared sensor, which helps set white balance. The Four-Thirds lens mount is off-center toward the right, with a lens release button at about the 4 o'clock position.
Black, leather-textured rubber covers the lower part of the camera. The metal top of the L1 is black. The boxy minimalist look is a throwback to Leica cameras, which Panasonic tends to emulate because of their relationship with the company. **Back **(8.0)The viewfinder is in the upper left corner, and it projects about ¾ of an inch. It has a soft rubber eyecup. The diopter control dial is on the left side of the viewfinder. A raised area takes up the left two-thirds of the back. The 2.5-inch, 207,000-pixel LCD takes up most of that space, but there are rows of buttons across the sides and top as well. Down the left side, they control white balance, ISO, flash mode and flash exposure compensation. Across the top are the live view button, the flash open button, and the AEL/AFL button. A ring around the AEL/AFL button controls the focus mode. The power button is at far right along the top. Running down the right side of the LCD are the playback button, the display information button, the depth of field button and the delete button. A control dial peeks out from the side of the raised area.
**Left Side **(7.25)The left side is flat, with a chrome strap lug, and a flush rubber door covering the USB port, and a dual-purpose port for video output and remote control. The L1 is a thick camera, so the side is a wide, flat expanse. Like the Olympus EVOLT E-300 and E-330, the L1 is bigger than what we expected Four-Thirds cameras to be.
**Right Side (7.0)
**Viewed from above, the right side of the L1 has a rounded profile, which creates a comfortable grip. The rubber covering wraps all the way around the camera, including the media slot door. Because the L1 uses SD cards, the door is small. It slides back and then swings open. The hinge is metal, but the door itself is plastic, and does not latch. A spring mechanism in the hinge holds it closed. We prefer more secure closures. The right-side strap lug is chrome and juts out from the side, just where the metal top portion of the camera begins. For most users, this means that the index finger will have to wrap over the strap lug to reach the shutter release and other controls.
**Top **(7.25)The shutter release is a smooth, slightly convex chrome button at the center of a large retro shutter speed dial. Two levers stick out from under the dial. The one toward the back of the camera sets the burst mode with choices of single shot, burst, bracketing or self-timer. The forward one sets the meter pattern with choices for spot, evaluative and center-weighted. Two customizable function buttons are to the right of the shutter speed dial. The built-in flash folds flush with the top. It’s positioned to the right of the lens, and the dedicated hot shoe is to the left – unfortunately, neither flash options are directly above the lens. "Panasonic DMC-L1" is screen-printed in the forward-left corner of the top.
**Bottom **(7.5)The chrome tripod socket is centered under the lens axis, which simplifies aligning the camera with some tripods. The area around the socket is ridged, which may grip the surface of some tripod heads, making it easier to avoid twisting the camera on the mount. The battery compartment is under the grip, and features a large latch lever.
Viewfinder **(7.0)The L1's optical viewfinder juts out from the back of the camera about ¾ of an inch, which gives some space between the user's face and the camera body. There is a diopter adjustment to customize the image to eyeglass-wearers; the dial is located on the left side of the eyecup. The eye-level Porro mirror viewfinder is like other Four-Thirds viewfinders: small and dark. The average DSLR's optical viewfinder starts with a focusing screen that's the same size as the image sensor. Because the Four-Thirds sensor is smaller than other DSLR sensors, the image starts out smaller, so it makes sense that the viewfinder image is small, but it seems as though Four-Thirds cameras could still be brighter than they are. The Panasonic L1's viewfinder has a magnification of 0.93x and a field of view covering just 95 percent of the recorded image. The viewfinder shows the 3 auto focus sensors, aperture and shutter values, focus confirmation, exposure lock, exposure compensation, bracketing values, number of pictures left to shoot, the flash setting, and an indicator showing when the L1 is recording an image to the SD card. In a dimly lit room, the green numerical data is much brighter than the image, and it can be distracting. LCD Screen (8.75)**The L1's 2.5-inch, 207,000-pixel LCD has excellent color, sharpness and brightness, but a narrow viewing angle. Off axis, the color washes out, and the black goes pale gray. It's an unfortunate weakness in comparison with the Olympus Evolt E-330, which has a tilting LCD display, and a much better angle of view even without the tilt. The L1's display doesn't tilt or swing. Its live view is more accurate than the optical viewfinder at 100 percent. The polycrystalline TFT display serves three functions: in normal shooting mode, it shows camera settings for shooting and image parameters; in playback mode, it shows images for review; and in live view mode, it acts as a viewfinder. The camera settings show in white text against a black background. The aperture and shutter speed are displayed in large characters along the top of the screen, with small icons at the right, showing the auto focus sensors and the metering pattern. Down the left side it shows the film emulation mode, ISO, flash mode and battery status. Two large scales in the center of the screen show exposure compensation for ambient light and flash, or act as the light meter interface in the fully manual mode. Below the scales, the display indicates burst mode, optical image stabilization mode, custom shooting mode, file size, RAW mode, and the number of images left to shoot on the SD card. The LCD is bright enough to read in sunlight. In live view mode, it features a brightness boost for full sun or off-axis viewing. The boost really works – we were able to focus onscreen even in direct sunlight. Of course, blacks go gray in boost mode, but it's really just for focusing. The display can be distracting when the optical viewfinder is in use, particularly since the black background turns light gray when viewing off-axis. A couple new DSLRs such as the Canon Rebel XTi automatically dim their LCD displays when the camera’s viewfinder is at eye-level to prevent extraneous light from entering the user’s eye. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1’s display shuts off when the shutter is pressed halfway, which means the LCD blinks on and off as users press and release the shutter to refocus. **Flash (8.5)The L1's built-in flash unit folds into the camera body and is hardly noticeable when closed. It is positioned to the left of the lens, when viewing from the front. Unfortunately, the other flash option is off-axis too. The hot shoe is placed just right of the lens. The flash offers a bounce feature, something we remember from an earlier Leica compact. Press the flash open button once, and the small, rectangular flash pops up to about 45 degrees. Press the button again, and the unit swings up into position for direct flash.
We tried the bounce unit in a couple settings. At home with a 9-foot, white ceiling, it reached well enough for a snapshot of a few people standing abreast. At a hotel ballroom with higher ceilings, the small unit simply didn't have enough power to bounce. In direct flash mode, it reaches almost 20 feet at f/2.8. The Panasonic L1 offers the following flash modes: auto, off, fill, slow shutter speed, auto with red-eye reduction, and slow shutter speed with red-eye reduction. The modes are available via the flash mode button on the back of the camera. The L1 can be set to front- or rear-curtain flash sync via a menu option. Flash exposure compensation of plus or minus 2 EV in 1/3 EV increments can be set with a button on the back of the camera, and the control dial. The maximum flash sync speed is a relatively slow 1/160. That speed, in combination with the built-in flash, won't work for fill flash in bright outdoor conditions. The bounce feature is appealing because the flash is so small. Small light sources create harsh shadows, and when they're close to the lens, they produce flat light. These two characteristics don't add up to flattering light for portraits; they tend to accentuate skin blemishes, for instance. Bounced light is more diffused, so the shadows are soft, and the light comes from above. If it's not directly above, but above and in front of the subject, the effect adds contour and modeling to the subject. Lens Mount **(8.75)The camera comes with a Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm f/2.8-3.5 lens with Mega Optical Image Stabilization built in. This is arguably the best kit lens available on a consumer DSLR. It's bright, mechanically robust, and stable. We see minor color fringing at f/2.8 and 14mm, but not enough to bother most users. Barrel distortion is better-corrected than in competing lenses. The equivalent 28mm-100mm lens actually has an aperture ring, with click stops at 1/3-EV increments. That's a new feature for a Four-Thirds optic, and it goes down to f/22 – which makes for an awfully small hole at 14mm. Though the lens is labeled Leica, it's made in Japan, apparently by Panasonic. It is constructed of 16 elements in 12 groups with 2 lenses being aspheric. The L1 can accept most other manufacturers' Four-Thirds lenses on its standard mount, although the manual indicates that not all of them are fully functional. Most other Four-Thirds lenses don't have aperture rings, and most don’t have image stabilization either. Pressing the Function 1 button activates aperture control via the control dial. Overall, the included lens with the Panasonic L1 is very impressive, but users may soon wish for a little more zoom and need to purchase a longer lens.
Design / Layout
Model Design / Appearance **(8.0)**When the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 was announced, and later when the apparently identical Leica Digilux 3 was unveiled, many observers noted similarities between their design and that of the Leica M-series cameras. The flat front panel, the flat top, the shutter speed dial, the two widely separated windows along the top of the front, the rounded right side, and the generally clean design make them look much more like Leica rangefinders than like the Olympus EVOLT E-330, a camera to which they are much more closely related. And that's a good thing – the E-330 is not nearly as pleasant to look at as a classic Leica, or the L1 for that matter. The L1 has a pleasant, classic look that is more attractive than most cameras. The similarities to Leica rangefinders are less notable now that there is a real digital Leica rangefinder, the M8. The Panasonic L1 looks great next to an Olympus, and most other DSLRs, but next to the M8, it looks bloated and clumsy. The simple remedy is to keep it away from the M8 – at $5,000 without a lens, the real digital Leica will be a rare sighting anyway.****** ******Size / Portability ****(7.0)It seemed when the Four-Thirds format was announced that the smaller format, with proportionally shorter focal-length lenses, might be smaller than other DSLRs. So far, only the Olympus E-400 fulfills that promise. The L1 does not. At 5.74 x 3.42 x 3.15 inches, the L1 is pretty big for a DSLR, and at 18.7 ounces, it's not light, either. The standard lens, the 14-50mm f/2.8-3.5, is about 3 inches in diameter and at minimum almost 3 ¾ inches long. It weighs 17.3 ounces, almost as much as the camera. We found the lens and camera comfortable to hold, and not bad to have hanging from a shoulder strap. Like all DSLRs, the L1 really can't be carried as an afterthought, dropped in a coat pocket, backpack or purse. It more or less demands a camera bag. Though the L1 is sturdy, it is not uniformly sealed against dust and dirt. Users should take care to keep it clean.****
Handling Ability ****(8.25)The L1 feels comfortable to grip for users with average or big hands. The neck strap lug will get in the way of some users’ right index fingers, but the surface and contours of the camera are comfortable and easy to grip. The lens is the obvious grip for the left hand, and the rubber rings on it are comfortable and secure. The position of the eyepiece, and the way it projects from the back of the camera add to viewing comfort. Live LCD focusing is also very comfortable.**
******** ****Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size **(8.0)The L1 doesn't have a mode dial, and doesn't need one. The aperture ring on its lens has an "A" setting; when it is set there, the camera is in shutter-priority mode. The shutter speed dial also has an "A" setting; when the aperture dial is set to an f-stop, and the shutter speed is set to "A," the camera is in aperture-priority mode. When they're both set to "A," the camera is in Program mode. When neither is set to "A," the L1 is in manual mode. The arrangement harkens back to the first automatic cameras, which used similar arrangements. The shutter speed dial and aperture rings are large and easy to set. Both have click stops at 1/3 EV increments. The shutter release is smooth and actuates with a very short movement. Again, the shoulder strap will get in the way for many users. The camera's other buttons are well-made, with good tactile feedback. The 4-way controller is a group of 5 distinct buttons, rather than the single dish-shaped controller common on digital cameras, but the buttons are nicely proportioned and convenient. The control dial works well. It is small, but both its face and its edge are textured, and turning it with the right thumb feels very natural.** ******Menu ****(6.5)The L1's menus are standard Panasonic style. They are presented in a tabbed interface, and each tab has multiple pages. The text is large and white, overlaying a textured gray background. Our typical complaints about Panasonic menus apply with the L1 – some obscure options appear high on the menu pages, while more useful stuff is lower down the list. A prime example is the first item in the Record mode menu: Film Mode, which is a color, saturation, contrast, and noise adjustment. Most users won't change this setting often. In general, we find that these settings reduce the amount and quality of data in an image, so we discourage their use.** **** **** **** **** **** A separate menu comes up in Playback mode. ****
Ease of Use **(6.5)
The L1 is a straightforward camera to use. The controls are generally well-labeled. The lack of a mode dial suggests that it's a camera meant for users who prefer manual shooting. Since the camera does not have custom presets or a simple mode, migrating from a simple point-and-shoot won't be as easy as it would be to most entry-level or even mid-range DSLRs, although the inclusion of a live preview LCD will certainly help the adjustment. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 will feel more familiar to users who are comfortable with film SLRs.
******Auto Mode ****(6.0)By setting both shutter and aperture to "A," the user can access Program mode, a fully automatic exposure mode. ISO and white balance can separately be set to automatic, giving the camera close to full control over shooting parameters. There isn't a single button that sets all these features to automatic simultaneously though. The L1 requires the user to judge which parameters should be automated; it’s certainly not a point-and-shoot-style auto mode that uses a single button to automate everything.** ******Drive / Burst Mode ****(3.5)The Panasonic L1 offers two burst mode speeds. It's an exaggeration to call the faster speed "high," but it's labeled "H." H runs slightly faster than 3 frames per second in our testing, and L runs at almost exactly 2 frames per second. Perhaps because of a noise reduction routine, the high speed burst manages only 2 frames per second when the L1's ISO is set to 1600. The L1's self-timer can be set to 2 or 10 seconds, and can be set to flip the mirror up at the beginning of the delay, to decrease vibration during exposure.** ******Playback Mode ****(7.0)The L1 features Panasonic's basic playback functions: images can be magnified up to 16x, and shown in thumbnail views of either 9 or 25 at a time. There is also a calendar view, so the user can jump to a specific date to look for an image. When a single image is shown, the L1 displays shooting data including exposure, color space, size and quality, frame number, capture date, histogram and current battery status. The data can also be hidden. The slide show function is bare-bones – the only adjustment is the display interval. Other features include the option of re-saving images at smaller pixel dimensions, cropping, marking favorites, and converting images shot at 16:9 to the more square aspect ratios.** ******Movie Mode ****(0.0)The L1 does not have a movie mode. It seems as though any live-preview camera could have a movie mode, but this doesn’t really suit the target audience of the DSLR. So far, the three brands marketing live-preview DSLRs (Panasonic, Olympus, and Leica) have not seen fit to add one.** ******Custom Image Presets ****(0.0)The Panasonic L1 does not have any custom image presets. In program mode, the shutter and aperture combination can be shifted without altering the exposure value, so the user can bias for greater depth of field or faster shutter speed, for instance. Again, the camera is primarily designed for manual use. Entry-level DSLRs usually include at least a few scene modes, so perhaps by omitting these Panasonic is distinguishing the L1 as a mid-range DSLR.
******Manual Control Options****The Panasonic L1 has complete manual controls, and they are all easy to access. The kit lens has an aperture ring. For users who are familiar with older film SLRs, the on-lens aperture ring feels familiar and quick. Using Olympus Four-Thirds lenses without aperture rings is less convenient – adjusting aperture for those lenses on the L1 involves pressing the Func. 1 button while turning the control dial.** ******Focus*****Auto Focus (3.5)*The Four-Thirds format is due for a camera with good auto focus – but it won’t happen in the L1. This Lumix DSLR has only three auto focus sensors, arranged in a row across the center of the frame. For most portraits, the sensors don't fall on the subject's face in a well-composed shot, which means the user should focus, and then re-compose for nearly every shot. We photographed people in a dimly lit reception hall, and found that the L1’s low-light focusing was inferior to a Fujifilm Finepix S2, which features a pretty old and limited auto focus mechanism. Even with its auto focus assist lamp, the L1 is slower than the S2 as well. In bright light, we found it accurate, but slow. When the L1 is in live view mode, only single-shot auto focus is available, and the live view freezes while it's at work. The auto focus system is in the optical viewfinder, so to focus, the mirror flops down, the camera focuses, and then the mirror flops back up. It's a cumbersome system. The auto focus can be set to work continuously or only when the shutter release button is pushed halfway. The L1's phase detection auto focus won't stack up well against current systems on Nikons, Canons, or presumably, the Fujifilm S5. *Manual Focus (8.25)*The Panasonic L1 offers two options for manual focus – through the optical viewfinder, or on the LCD screen. The LCD is much better – the optical viewfinder is small and dark. The LCD, on the other hand, is bright and its 100 percent accurate image can be magnified either 4x or 10x. Live previews on compact cameras tend to show unacceptable noise in moderately low light, but the L1 does much better than average that way. Even at 10x, the view in dim light was clear enough to focus critically. There's noise in the live view – much more than in the final image – but at a level that doesn't overwhelm the view.**
Exposure **(8.5)The Panasonic L1 offers fully manual exposure, aperture-priority and shutter speed-priority as well as a program mode. Both the LCD and the viewfinder display exposure scales in manual mode. The scales have a zero in the center, representing correct exposure, and run from 2 EV underexposed to 2 EV overexposed. In manual mode, an indicator shows how far the set exposure deviates from the optimal exposure setting, and the user can adjust the aperture ring and shutter dial until the indicator hits zero. In the priority modes, the scales show the amount of exposure compensation set. For users who can’t seem to figure out the exposure or simply want to experiment, there is an auto bracketing mode available that snaps a selectable 3 or 5 shots in selectable EV intervals of 1/3, 2/3, or 1 in the +/- 2 range.****** ******Metering****(8.25)As most cameras do, the Panasonic L1 offers Spot, Evaluative and Center-weighted metering. The spot sensor is the diameter of the central auto focus cross. Center-weighted metering is heavily weighted; we found that a light source has very little effect toward the edge of the frame, and a very pronounced effect at the center. The evaluative mode works as well as most we've seen, maintaining image detail across the frame when the lighting is uneven. The tradeoff is that the exposure is a compromise – the lightest areas are overexposed and the darker areas are underexposed. Careful users may want to commit to optimum exposure for one part of the image, and let the rest of it go dark or light. The metering patterns differ depending on whether the viewfinder or LCD is in use. The optical viewfinder uses a 49-zone multi-pattern sensing system, while the live view mode on the LCD uses 256 zones.******
White Balance **(8.5)
Panasonic has included flexible white balance controls on even its low-end compact cameras, so it's not surprising to find a good system on the DMC-L1. Its auto setting works well in most situations. In dim tungsten lighting, we found that it biased the colors toward red – it wasn't accurate, but it was pleasing color for most users. The L1's presets are Sunny, Cloudy, Open Shade, Flash and Tungsten. The selection doesn't include any Fluorescent settings, apparently on the logic that Auto or full manual settings will give better results. There is, of course, a custom white balance setting on this camera. In fact, two custom settings can be saved in the menu. The L1 also allows the user to directly set a Kelvin temperature from 2,500-10,000 degrees in 31 steps. Finally, the Lumix L1 has a fine-tuning control that allows the user to adjust color in both blue-amber and red-green axes. ******
The L1's ISO range runs from 100 to 1600. It can be set in full-EV increments. There is a button on the back of the camera for direct access to the control. The trend on DSLRs has been toward 1/3-EV increments for ISO, a feature that gives the user extra flexibility in setting exposure. In a camera that shows significant noise at high ISOs, such as the L1, smaller increments can make it easier to balance the sensitivity and noise.******
Shutter Speed **(9.0)The L1's shutter speeds range from 1/4000 to 60 seconds. The most frequently used part of that range, from 1/1000 to 1/2, is controlled with the large shutter speed dial, which has click stops at 1/3-EV increments. The fastest and lowest speeds are set with the control dial. The L1 has a Bulb setting for very long exposures. The shutter's maximum flash sync is only 1/160, which is limited for outdoor fill flash. It's puzzling that the sync speed is so slow; Four-Thirds is such a small format that developing a fast shutter for it shouldn't be challenging at all.**
Aperture **(0.0)The kit lens has an aperture ring that runs from f/2.8 to f/22. The maximum aperture drops to f/3.5 at the telephoto end, which isn't so bad, considering that many kit lenses start at f/3.5, and drop more than a full stop as they zoom. The aperture ring on the lens has stops at 1/3-EV increments. Though we always appreciate flexible controls on a camera, we imagine that a minimum f-stop of f/22 is too small for a 14-50mm lens – such a small aperture will take a toll on image quality.**
******Picture Quality / Size Options*****(8.75)*The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 can shoot images in 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratios. In 4:3, it takes images that are 3136 x 2352 pixels, 2560 x 1920 pixels or 2048 x 1536 pixels. In 3:2, it takes 3136 x 2080, 2560 x 1712 or 2048 x 1360-pixel images. In 16:9, the pixel dimensions are 3136 x 1760 or 1920 x 1080. The L1 shoots RAW files, or JPEGs at three different compression levels. Super-fine files are about twice as big as Fine files, and Fine files are about twice as big as Standard files. Super-fine files are much higher quality than the smaller files, of course. RAW files shorten the burst mode to 6 images, but JPEG images can be recorded until the memory card is full.****
Picture Effects Mode ***(7.5)*The Panasonic L1 offers four preset color effects, three black and white effects, and two user-determined effects. The color effects are Standard; Dynamic, which boosts contrast and saturation; Nature, which boosts saturation for reds, blues and greens; and Smooth, which decreases contrast. The black and white effects are Standard, Dynamic and Smooth. The custom effects, called My Film 1 and My Film 2, allow the user to adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction. Picture effects can only be applied in the recording mode; they cannot be added in playback mode.**
Connectivity / Extras
Connectivity***Software**(7.5)*The Panasonic L1 ships with Lumix Simple Viewer, Photo Fun Studio and Silkypix Developer Studio. Simple Viewer and Photo Fun Studio are typical viewing and dabbling software – they're limited, but straightforward.
Silkypix Developer Studio is the supplied RAW converter, and it has a complete feature set with exposure, white balance, sharpening, tone, color, and noise reduction. Beyond that, it has controls to compensate for lens aberrations including vignetting, distortion and color fringing. Users who expect to shoot RAW will want to explore Silkypix, even if they're used to working in Photoshop.
*******Jacks, Ports, Plugs**(6.5)*The L1 has a USB port for data transfer and printing, a jack for a remote control, and a port for analog video output in PAL or NTSC formats. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1’s hot shoe accepts dedicated flashes, and the battery compartment accepts a power cord that can be plugged directly into the battery charger. It won't power the camera and charge the battery simultaneously.
Direct Print Options*(8.0)*The L1 is DPOF and PictBridge compatible. The L1 allows the user to select paper size, whether or not to overprint the capture date, the number of copies to print, and page layouts of 1, 2 or 4 prints per page. Single prints can be set to have borders or not. In PictBridge mode, all of the options depend on printer compatibility.** ***Battery* *(6.75)*The Panasonic L1 uses a 7.2-volt, 1500 mAh lithium-ion cell that recharges in a bit more than 2 hours. Lithium-ion is the most efficient technology we see for camera batteries; this battery has an advertised 450 shots per charge. Still, the live view option on the L1 takes more power than other DSLRs need, so we found the battery running down faster than we would like. L1 users may want to pack a spare battery, particularly if they rely on the live view.**
*****Memory**(3.0)*The L1 accepts SD, MMC and SDHC memory cards. Panasonic lists capacities from the uselessly small 64 MB to the very large 4 GB in the manual's list of accessories. SD is a robust standard, and the L1 functions fine with other brands. Most DSLRs also accept CompactFlash cards, which generally have faster processing speeds, but Panasonic passed on this opportunity.****
Other Features* (6.5)**Legacy lens adapters* - Both Leica and Olympus have or plan to have adapters to allow users to mount their SLR lenses on Four-Thirds cameras. That sort of adapter doesn't usually allow full automatic functions, but users will have access to some great lenses. *Pixel Refresh* - The L1 includes a function to calibrate the image sensor and the LCD. Though we didn't see any effect when we ran the function, we expect that calibration would be useful over time. This is similar to a function that Olympus includes on all of its digital cameras. *Kelvin Temperature Scale* - The L1's direct Kelvin color temperature input is convenient for users who are familiar with color temperature, but Panasonic added icons along the scale to show others where light source types fall on the scale, showing a candle, a light bulb, clouds, a fluorescent tube and so on.****
Comparisons********Olympus EVOLT E-330 -The Olympus EVOLT E-330 sells with a lens online for under $900 – a bit more than half of the L1's current price. It's much more than half as good – it provides live preview on a better LCD display that pivots for easier viewing. The Four-Thirds formatted 7.5-megapixel E-330 lacks image stabilization, but it has Olympus's dust control system. Given the choice, we'd rather have image stabilization than the dust shaker, but we think the $850 price gap makes the Olympus look pretty good.
Canon EOS Rebel XTi - Canon's 10-megapixel, $899 entry-level camera is much cheaper than the L1, but it has an inferior kit lens that lacks image stabilization and is not nearly as well-built – it's hard to believe that the Rebel XTi will last as long as the L1. On the other hand, the XTi features an automatic mechanical dust removal system, plus a software-based dust remedy as well. With higher resolution, much better autofocus, and compact flash compatibility, the XTi may tempt customers away from the L1.
**** **Nikon D80 - The Nikon D80 is a 10.2-megapixel DSLR that lists for $999 and comes with an inferior kit lens. It costs a lot less than the Panasonic L1 too. The kit lenses packaged with the Nikon D80 do not offer image stabilization, although some Nikon lenses are stabilized. We haven't tested the D80 in its entirety yet, but it follows up the D70s, a workhorse that was very well-built. We expect the D80 to match the L1 for fit and finish, and for convenient controls. Like the Rebel XTi, the Nikon features very good auto focus, a big advantage over the L1. The L1's live preview provides superior manual focus, but most users rely on auto focus more often and both the XTi and D80 have brighter viewfinders.
**** **Sony α (alpha) DSLR-A100 -The Sony alpha DSLR-A100 is a 10.2-megapixel DSLR that lists for $899 body only, much cheaper than the L1. The alpha has dust control and image stabilization built into the camera body, which should keep the cost of the Carl Zeiss lenses down. We don't expect the alpha's kit lens to match the L1's Leica-branded optics. The Sony A100 is not as sturdy as the L1, but it adds cool features including a sensor that starts the auto focus system as soon as users hold the camera to their eyes. With a lower price and higher resolution, the Sony alpha is a strong competitor for the L1.
**** ******Value*****(5.75)*The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 is the company's top-of-the-line camera; it also happens to be the only offering in its DSLR "line" so far. It comes with an extraordinary lens that is very well-built and includes a measure of Leica cache. We looked at the L1 and the Leica Digilux 3 at Photokina, and the only differences we saw were minor changes in button labeling, the shape of a switch or two, and apparently different firmware settings. Even the cameras' menus are identical. There may be differences in image quality, but we'd bet it isn't very significant. The L1's interface is great – it's very comfortable to use a real aperture ring and a big shutter speed dial. Its lens is bright and extremely well-made, compared to other kit lenses. On the downside, a $1,700 camera should have a much better auto focus system than the L1, and should have better noise performance, too. Competing DSLRs that cost half as much are also stocking way more resolution than this DSLR, tempting consumers away.** ******Who It’s For*****Point-and-Shooters - The L1 is designed for manual use, and it's designed to be reminiscent of old film cameras. It lacks an easy setting for full auto operation, and it's pretty big – point-and-shooters should look elsewhere, even if they want a DSLR with live preview.
*Budget Consumers - *The L1 is relatively expensive for what it is. Most budget users will have to forego the excellent lens and spend less – but will probably get a more capable camera body.
*Gadget Freaks - *For shooters who want some Leica mystique without the stratospheric price, the L1 might appeal. The lens is great, and the controls are both quirky and efficient. When we took it to a wedding, a couple of shutterbugs at the reception were fascinated by it. Manual Control Freaks - The L1's market is manual shooters who work slowly enough to benefit from manual focus in the live view mode. For them, the L1 might be perfect, if they're comfortable with the image quality. Pros/Serious Hobbyists - *We still don't think of Four-Thirds as a viable format for pro shooting. The L1 is too big for pros to use as a "fun camera" to have in addition to a system DSLR.
******Conclusion****The Panasonic L1 is more fun than the other Four-Thirds cameras we've tested. The interface is appealing – it's not simply nostalgic to use an aperture ring, it's quick and comfortable too. We're delighted that someone – anyone – is including a fast, well-built kit lens. Panasonic's image stabilization continues to be a big advantage for the company. On the downside, DSLRs should have flexible, fast auto focus, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 does not have it. We're not sure what market can ignore that drawback – landscape photographers who avoid twilight? The 7.5-megapixel L1 is one of a small handful of live view DSLRs, although its viewing options aren’t fabulous. The Panasonic L1 is pricey at $1,999 retail, but the quality of the lens and the camera can’t be denied.
Specs / Ratings
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