Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1

      Photo Review 8

      In summary

      A well-built Four Thirds system DSLR with a rangefinder camera control layout and dual-angle pop-up flash.Panasonic has described its new Lumix DMC-L1 as combining ‘analog operational concept and design’ and the new model looks and feels like a fusion of a rangefinder camera and the Olympus E-330 (on which much of the L1’s technology is based). With an RRP of $3,849, Panasonic is clearly capitalising on the prestige of the supplied Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm F2.8-3.5 lens and targeting Leica film camera users who have yet to move into digital capture. . . [more]

      Full review


      Panasonic has described its new Lumix DMC-L1 as combining ‘analog operational concept and design’ and the new model looks and feels like a fusion of a rangefinder camera and the Olympus E-330 (on which much of the L1’s technology is based). With an RRP of $3,849, Panasonic is clearly capitalising on the prestige of the supplied Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm F2.8-3.5 lens and targeting Leica film camera users who have yet to move into digital capture.

      Although bearing the Leica brand, the L1’s lens is manufactured by Panasonic in Japan to Leica quality standards. It’s the first Leica-branded interchangeable lens with image stabilisation (a Panasonic contribution). The lens, as expected, is large and solidly built, as befits the L1’s magnesium alloy body. All-up weight for shooting is a hefty 1.13 kilograms!

      Jointly developed by Leica and Panasonic and manufactured by Panasonic, the bundled Leica lens consists of 16 elements in 12 groups, with two glass-moulded aspherical lenses plus Panasonic’s proprietary Mega O.I.S. stabilisation. Two gyroscopically-mounted lens elements counteract hand shake, while the built-in Venus Engine Plus LSI processes the output from the gyro-sensor at a rate of 4000 times per second. Two stabilisation modes are provided: Mode 1 which operates continuously and Mode 2, which operates when the shutter button is pressed. The latter provides more effective correction.


      Live View
      The Live MOS sensor used in the L1 is similar to the E-330’s sensor, although only one live viewing mode, which allows the LCD to be used for composing shots, is offered, whereas the E-330 has two. Although the L1’s Live View function is similar to ‘B mode’ on the E-330, the L1’s monitor is fixed, while the E-330’s is adjustable. When you select Live View the mirror swings aside with an audible click. It takes about a second to display the scene. We suspect many photographers will find the viewfinder more comfortable for most shots.


      Live View display modes include two different types of guide lines (‘rule of thirds’ and centred 4 x 4 cell grid), a live histogram or a simple data display. The display can also be set to show only the subject and a High-Angle mode is provided for shooting with the camera held above your head. Sections of the frame can also be enlarged by 4x or 10x to check focus and depth of field.

      The system has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side, the display shows 100% of the subject and is easier to use for close-ups and shots taken with the camera on a tripod. High-angle and low-angle shooting is also facilitated, although the image deteriorates as the viewing angle increases. However, pressing the shutter in this mode freezes the screen view for roughly a second while the camera measures exposure and focus. This delays the shutter release (effectively increasing shutter lag substantially) and means Live View is best reserved for static subjects like landscapes and close-ups. Mounting the camera on a tripod is advantageous for such shots.

      An Extra Optical Zoom setting in Live View mode replicates a digital zoom control, without up-sampling the shot. Standard 2x and 4x digital zooming is also available in Live View mode, with concomitant loss of image resolution. The Live View mode also allows users to shoot in 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratios. The former produces shots with the correct proportions for printing on 15 x 10 cm paper, while the latter is ideal for shots that will be displayed on wide screen TV sets.

      Body and Controls
      The camera body is covered with a textured leather-like coating to provide a secure grip. The 2.5-inch LCD doubles as a subject viewer and data display. Traditionalists will appreciate the ‘retro’ design of the aperture and shutter speed controls. Aperture settings are located on the lens, while shutter speeds are set via a ring dial surrounding the shutter button.


      There is no mode dial – and no P, A, S, M settings. Instead, both aperture and shutter speed controls have A (for auto) positions, which means you can have full-auto shooting by setting both parameters to A; shutter priority by setting the aperture ring to A and aperture priority by setting the shutter speed ring to A. Manual operation is achieved by moving both settings away from their A positions. Oddly, the shutter speed dial will only go into A in one direction so if you set a high value and then wish to return to A it’s a long way round. Unfortunately, the Bulb setting is limited to exposures of eight minutes or less, which rules out the L1 for really long exposures (such as recording star trails).

      Using the shutter button will present problems for photographers with short fingers as it’s awkwardly placed and the hand grip is rather shallow. There are no finger rests and the strap eyelet and strap get in your way when you’re shooting. The thumb rest on the rear panel also becomes uncomfortable with long usage.


      Panasonic’s menu system is, as usual, easy to read and use – but much too complex for novices. Only three image size settings and three levels of JPEG compression are provided, although simultaneous raw file capture can be switched on and off. In-camera adjustments for contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction are also provided and Adobe RGB is also selectable as a colour space.


      An innovative film mode in the shooting menu lets photographers choose from four colour types and three monochrome types with settings to match a range of popular analog films. In addition to the Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, and Flash white balance settings, the camera has two ‘white set’ measurement modes and supports colour temperature adjustments. Photographers can also fine-tune settings along two axes (amber to green, and magenta to green) on the menu screen and receive immediate confirmation of the colour adjustment in the Live View mode.


      Metering facilities are pretty standard, although the metering pattern varies with the viewing mode the photographer uses. The image is split into 49 blocks when shot using the finder and 256 blocks using Live View. The AF system measures three points across the field of view. These are displayed in both the finder and Live View screens and individually selectable. An AF+MF switch on the rear panel lets users switch seamlessly between single and continuous auto and manual focusing.

      The on-board flash is recessed into the top body panel but rises high above the lens plane and has an adjustable head for bounce lighting. A hot shoe supports accessory flash units. The L1 also utilises the Olympus-developed Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF) dust minimisation system, which vibrates in front of the sensor at around 30,000 movements per second to shake off dust.


      Image processing is handled by the latest Venus Engine III image processor, which promises better picture quality and faster image processing plus 20% lower power consumption than the previous Venus Engine II. However, the L1’s battery is an average performer on CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Association) tests, providing enough power for about 450 pictures per charge.

      Pictures taken with the test camera were generally colour-accurate with modest saturation in the default colour mode. The exposure system was biased towards shadow detail so exposures taken in bright light looked best with -0.3 or -0.7 EV adjustment to avoid blown highlights. In indoor conditions, returning the exposure compensation to zero was required to produce a properly-balanced exposure. Detail was generally well recorded and we found no trace of coloured fringing in outdoor shots.

      Imatest confirmed our subjective assessments and showed overall resolution and edge-to-edge sharpness to be very good. Lateral chromatic aberration readings were among the lowest we have recorded and colour accuracy met our expectations for a DSLR camera.

      Flash performance was excellent at all ISO settings, although we observed a distinct warming of image tones with ISO 1600 sensitivity. However, image noise was extremely well controlled at high ISO settings, although high ISO images became visibly softened by noise-reduction processing, which appears to happen even when Long Shutter NR is not selected. The L1’s auto white balance failed to remove the orange cast of incandescent lighting but handled fluorescent lighting well. Both the white balance pre-sets and manual measurement delivered acceptable colours in test shots.

      We measured an average capture lag of 0.15 seconds, which reduced to just under 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. The low-speed burst mode recorded shots at half-second intervals, while the high-speed mode captured bursts at 0.35 second intervals. Unfortunately there’s no dynamic buffering so at the end of a burst the camera locks until all shots are processed, regardless of how many shots you’ve taken. This can create delays of several seconds and cause you to miss wanted shots. (Note: this has been rectified by a firmware update that can be downloaded from Purchasers of new cameras should experience no problems.)

      The DMC-L1 is supplied with Silkypix Developer Studio 2.0 SE raw file processing software, which is competent enough but nowhere near as easy to use or powerful as Adobe’s Camera Raw. Support for the L1 was added to Camera Raw 3.5 in September 2006.






      The auto white balance used under incandescent lighting.


      The white balance pre-sets and manual measurement produced accurate colours.


      Outdoor exposures were biased towards shadow detail.




      Image sensor: 17.3 x 13.0 mm Live MOS sensor with 7.9 million photosites (7.5 megapixels effective).

      Lens mount: Four Thirds mount.

      Lens multiplier factor: 2.0x.

      Image formats: JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG; 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 aspect ratios (3:2, 16:9 with Live view only).

      Shutter speed range: 60-1/4000 second plus bulb (up to 8 minutes); flash synch to 1/160 sec.

      ISO range: Auto, ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600.

      Focus system/modes: TTL phase-difference detection AF, single/continuous AF and manual focus; 3-area focus point selection.

      Exposure metering/control: 49/256 zone TTL full aperture metering with multi-segment, centre-weighted, spot metering; P, A, S and M shooting modes

      Colour space settings: sRGB, Adobe RGB.

      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Flash, White set (x2), colour temperature setting.

      Flash GN (m at ISO 200): 10

      Sequence shooting: 2 or 3 fps for up to six raw frames or unlimited JPEGs.

      Storage Media: SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, Multimedia Card.

      Viewfinder: Eye-level Porro Mirror type Optical finder (95% field of view); diopter adjustment -3.0 to +1.0 m-1. Detachable eyepiece shutter.

      LCD monitor: 2.5-inch Low temperature Polycrystalline TFT LCD with 207,000 pixels.

      PC interface: USB 2.0 Hi-speed.

      Power supply: 7.2V, 1500 mAh rechargeable lithium ion battery (approx. 450 frames/charge)

      Dimensions (wxhxd): 145.8 x 86.9 x 80 mm (body only)

      Weight: 530 grams (body only; 1020 g with Leica 14-50mm lens)





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