As Panasonic's first ever digital SLR, the much-anticipated
Lumix DMC-L1 both looks and feels like
a well-designed and professional camera. The construction
is first-class and the large f2.8 Leica lens staring
right at you is a pleasure to use with its three
rings. Both camera and lens have been designed
and built from the ground up specifically for
digital, and Olympus / Panasonic / Leica engineers
could pick and choose and innovate where they
saw fit. The result is a digital SLR with a distinct
35mm rangefinder look and feel.
There are a couple of features that are unique
to the Panasonic L1: the traditional pentaprism
replaced by a series of mirrors (porro finder
first used in the Olympus E-300) and Live View
LCD (also in the Olympus E-330). A first for Leica
is the addition of optical image stabilization
to their first lens made specifically for digital.
The Panasonic L1 is clad in a magnesium-alloy
frame (top and back) for strength and durability.
The body is finished in a beautiful all-black
coating and the only two markings clearly visible
from the front is the "Lumix" brand
on the body itself and the "Leica" brand
on the lens.
The lens is a LEICA D VARIO-ELMARIT 14-50mm/F2.8-3.5
ASPH with a 35mm equivalent focal length of
28-100mm. The minimum focusing distance is just
29 cm over the entire zoom range. The focusing
system is entirely internal, so the external length
of the lens doesn't change during focusing. It
incorporates Panasonic's advanced MEGA O.I.S.
(Optical Image Stabilizer) that reduces or eliminates
camera shake and thus helps prevent blurry photos.
Though on the outside the body resembles the
previous Panasonic DMC-LC1 / Leica Digilux 2 body
design, the internal optical subsystem is shared
with the Olympus EVOLT-E330 -- the two cameras
having being jointly designed by Olympus and Panasonic,
and both using the Four Thirds Systems mount.
The Panasonic L1 uses the Secure Digital (SD)
Memory Card, and can take the SDHC (SD High Capacity)
memory cards with capacity greater than 2GB.
Here's how the top DSLRs measure up against one
another, without lens attached and without battery
At 145.8W x 86.9H x 80D mm (5.74W x 3.42H x
3.15D in.), the Panasonic L1 is wider and deeper
than most of the other dSLRs.
The large Leica lens (with a wonderfully fast
F2.8 max. aperture) adds in a further 490g.
The Panasonic L1 handles very well. Its handgrip
is not as deep as it appears but since the body
itself is quite deep, the grip is solid and coated
with tactile rubber to provide a secure hold.
Panasonic has opted to put the Shutter Release
Button smack in the middle of the Shutter Speed
Dial instead of the more comfortable angled position
on the top of the handgrip, but your finger finds
Colours: black body with white letterings
Looks: attractive and professional
"35mm rangefinder look"
Comfortable to hold and operate
Controls & menu are intuitive
Requires two hands (thumbs) to select
About the same dimensions [minus
the height of the pentaprism] as other
Dimensions: 145.8W x 86.9H x 80D mm
5.74W x 3.42H x 3.15D in.
No practical shutter lag when using
viewfinder; 1-2 sec. with Live View
Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion
battery that can take a remarkable 450 shots
using the viewfinder and 300 shots with LCD on
(CIPA standard) on a fresh charge and a Battery
Charger / AC Adaptor DE-972 (with power cord)
that will recharge a new battery in-camera in
approx. 130 min.
The Terminal compartment is conveniently on the
left side of the camera (viewed from the back),
and the rubber flap extends to provide unimpeded
access to the V OUT / REMOTE and USB sockets.
Built-in Bounce Flash
The built-in flash needs to be manually raised
to work [the way we prefer it] and there's a button
at the back above the LCD to do that. Panasonic
calls it a "pantograph-type" flash that
allows bounce lighting.
The way this is accomplished is pretty neat.
Press the flash button once and the flash pops
up and points at an angle upward toward the ceiling
-- and is therefore at the perfect bounce flash
A second press will raise the flash out completely
to point directly at your subject.
You can set the flash to Auto, Auto/Red-Eye Reduction,
Forced On, Forced On/Red-Eye Reduction, Slow Sync.,
Slow Sync./Red-Eye Reduction. The Flash is Forced
Off when it is closed.
The flash intensity can be fine adjusted by pressing
the Flash Adjustment Button on the back of the
camera and rotating the Command Dial to dial in
a compensation in the range of +/- 2EV, in 1/3-EV
A hot shoe allows the use of external flash
systems. Panasonic provides optional DMW-FL500
/ FL360 TTL external flash units.
The Panasonic L1 features analog-like controls
that are easily accessible and intuitive in operation.
The controls click in place with the right tactile
feedback and are the right size to push and rotate.
The top of the camera has [from left to right]
the Hot Shoe that will accept an external flash,
the on-board flash (seen closed), the Shutter
Speed Dial to select a Shutter Speed (or move
to 'A' for automatic shutter speed selection,
as in Program AE or Aperture-Priority modes),
the Metering Mode Lever around the front of the
Shutter Speed Dial, the Drive Mode Lever around
the back of the Shutter Speed Dial, the FUNC.
1 and FUNC. 2 buttons.
Note that though the MEGA O.I.S. switch to turn
Optical Image Stabilizer ON and OFF is found on
the lens barrel, the mode (1 or 2) itself is first
set in MENU.
Intuitive Exposure Control
The two main controls are the Shutter Speed Dial
that you operate with your right hand and the
Aperture Ring around the lens barrel that you
turn with your left. These two controls allow
you to adjust the exposure, and also work together
to set a Shooting Mode.
Shutter Speed Dial
The shutter speed markings increase [i.e. faster
shutter speed] clockwise. The shutter speeds from
1/1000 sec. to 1/4000 sec. have been grouped together
under one marking, and shutter speeds B, 2 to
60 sec. have been grouped together under another
The Shutter Speed Dial does not rotate continuously,
i.e. when you reach 'A', it stops and you have
to backtrack to get to 1000-4000.
To set a shutter speed from 1/1000 sec. to 1/4000
sec. you need to rotate the Shutter Speed Dial
anti-clockwise from 'A' to that mark, then use
the Command Dial (on the back of the camera) to
select the one you want. Similarly, for selecting
a shutter speed from 2 sec. to 60 sec. Once set,
the "preferred" selection stays even
on power down. B (Bulb) is available only in Manual
Note that the Panasonic L1 does not have a traditional
Mode Dial to select a Shooting Mode, such as P
(Programmed AE), A (Aperture-Priority), S (Shutter-Priority),
and M (Manual).
Instead, there is an 'A' setting on the Shutter
Speed Dial on the camera and Aperture Ring on
the lens, and you set these in combination to
select the shooting mode you want.
It's pretty intuitive, and here's how it works:
P = Program AE
A = Aperture-Priority
Select an aperture
S = Shutter-Priority
Select a shutter
M = Manual
Select a shutter
Select an aperture
In other words, if you leave both the Shutter
Speed and Aperture to 'A', you have in effect
Programmed AE mode.
Rotate the Aperture Ring to select an aperture
and, if you leave the Shutter Speed on 'A', you
are automatically in Aperture-Priority mode.
Rotate the Shutter Speed Dial to select a shutter
speed and, if you leave the Aperture Ring on 'A',
you are automatically in Shutter-Priority mode.
When you select an aperture and shutter speed,
you are into Manual mode.
There is a small button to depress on the Aperture
Ring when you set the aperture to, or away from,
Around the Shutter Speed Dial is the Light Metering
Lever and Drive Mode Lever, both fingertip-operated.
It's convenient and fast to change these settings
with the touch of a fingertip. However, I find
that you can inadvertently bump either the Light
Metering Lever or the Drive Mode Lever, either
in handling the camera or when rotating the Shutter
Light Metering options are Spot, Multiple
Drive modes are Single, Burst, Auto Bracket
and Self-timer. You can access only one setting
for each mode. The Burst (High or Low), Auto Bracket
range, and Self-timer (2 sec. or 10 sec.) settings
are set in the MENU.
When using the self-timer, after the countdown
is finished, the mirror goes up at the same time
the picture is taken. This kind of defeats the
purpose of using the self-timer to minimize camera
shake, if that's what you're after. The Panasonic
L1 therefore has a 'Mirror Up' option in
MENU - Custom that will lift up the mirror before
countdown starts, thus eliminating camera shake.
The FUNC.1 and FUNC.2 buttons are
customizable so you can quickly recall your favourite
function settings. The camera ships with FUNC.1
and FUNC.2 defaulted to Image Quality and Exposure
So, to dial in an exposure compensation, you
press FUNC.2 and rotate the Command Dial. If you
want to default the Command Dial to Exposure Compensation
(it defaults to Program Shift), then you can set
DIREC.EX.COMP to ON in Custom Menu. Once this
is set, you won't need to press FUNC.2 anymore:
just rotate the Command Dial to set exposure compensation.
The strap eyelet and neck strap on the right
side [viewed from the back] are fine but, because
of where the Shutter Release Button is positioned,
they tend to get in the way. You could remove
the neck strap but the camera is hefty enough
that you do need to carry it around your neck
when you are not using it. Somehow, though, as
I bring the camera up to my eye, my fingers naturally
[and unconsciously on my part] find their way
to the right controls around the neck strap: the
index finger rests on the Shutter Button and the
thumb is positioned on the Command Dial.
No movies recording on a dSLR, you knew that
As the above chart shows, at L 3 image quality
(Large, Least Compression), only 65 images can
be saved in a 512MB SD Memory Card. We recomend
that you purchase either a 2GB or 4GB SD Memory
Card, depending on the number of images you normally
shoot in one session.
If the front and top of the camera seem like
a serene Zen Garden, then first impressions of
the back of the Panasonic L1 is that it is positively
bristling with controls. They are fortunately
all logically laid out and you will find using
Live View LCD
The Live View LCD is a great feature on a digital
SLR and is exclusive to Olympus E-330/Panasonic
L1. If you are moving up from a non-dSLR digital
camera, you will feel right at home. The LCD provides
100% frame coverage and can display a live histogram
or framing guide lines, will even magnify the
view for MF-assisted focusing, and provides depth
of field preview.
With Live View enabled, the mirror is up and
the viewfinder is blackened. This means that the
light meter, which is up there in the viewfinder
housing, cannot meter the scene. A half-press
of the shutter button will meter the scene but
it does so in an arkward manner: the mirror flips
down to allow metering to take place, then flips
back up again to restore Live View.
Then when you fully press the shutter, you hear
not one, but two, shutter sounds! We explain
the intricacies of how all this works in our User's
Unfortunately, all this mirror down and up movements
introduce approx. 1 sec. shutter lag to take a
picture with Live View. [No practical shutter
lag when using the viewfinder.] So, using the
Live View LCD, candids are out, landscape is in.
The viewfinder is very good with a good rubber
eyepiece. I can see the whole frame with glasses
on. Though the viewfinder is darker and the view
is smaller than on other digital SLRs, coming
from using the tiny tunnel-like viewfinders on
non-dSLR cameras, I did not find this to be a
problem at all.
Eyecap in place
(Note Eyepiece cap attached to neck strap)
Eyepiece cap in place
There is a nice Eyecap around the viewfinder.
It is removable and an Eyepiece cap (already in
place on the Neck Strap) can be snapped in instead
to block off all unwanted stray light that might
seep through the viewfinder. To be able to use
the Eyepiece cap, you need to make sure that when
you attach the Neck Strap, the Eyepiece cap is
near the viewfinder (i.e. on the left, viewed
from the back).
When do you need to use the Eyepiece cap? According
to the Panasonic manual, anytime you remove your
eye from the viewfinder, such as when using Live
View and the self-timer. Since Live View is one
important reason why consumers are buying this
camera, that's going to be very frequent. Unfortunately
when you remove the Eyecap, there is a good chance
you'll lose it, so here is the model #: VGQ8865.
I wish Panasonic had come up with a better implementation
of this, such as an internal baffle that seals
off the viewfinder automatically when the Live
View button is pressed to turn on Live View.
There is an easy-to-rotate diopter control knob
on the left side of the eyepiece.
control buttons are found on the left of the LCD
monitor: White Balance, ISO, Flash and Flash Compensation.
Push one in with your left thumb and rotate the
Command Dial with your right thumb to make a selection.
WB=AUTO, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Flash,
White Set 1, White Set 2, K Color Temperature
When you select AUTO, there is an IR Sensor on
the front of the camera which will decide on the
best WB setting.
The controls button above the LCD monitor are
[from right to left]: Power Switch, AFL/AEL button,
Focus Mode Lever, Flash Open, Live View.
Where is the Power ON/OFF Switch? Camera designers
seem to have an itch to continually redesign and
reposition the Power Switch. On the Panasonic
L1, it is a knob with a lever that you flick on
and off using your thumb. It works very well and
is in a convenient position though I doubt most
photographers need the Power Switch continually
under their thumb.
The AFL/AEL button will lock the focus, exposure
or both, depending on what you set in the MENU.
Focus Mode can be Single, Continuous or Manual.
Set to Manual, you then use the wonderful Manual
Focus Ring to focus quickly. If you use the LCD
to do manual focus, you can also set and use MF
Assist at 4x or 10x magnification. Just focus,
press the LEFT ARROW or RIGHT ARROW to select
the area you want to magnify, press MENU/SET to
magnify the screen, then rotate the focus ring
to set the focus precisely. It works very well.
Flash Button opens the flash, as described above,
in 2 steps.
Live View turns the LCD on for live viewing.
the right side of the LCD are the Playback, Display,
Depth of Field Preview and Delete buttons.
Display options (when Live View LCD is used)
are No display, Framing Grid 3x3, Framing Grid
5x5, No info, Info Display, Info Display + Histogram.
Depth of Field Preview will stop down to selected
aperture when Live View LCD is used.
Press Delete to delete picture displayed; press
again to perform Multi Delete or All Delete.
The Command Dial is just to the right of and
above the Playback button, and is rotated using
the right thumb.
At the bottom of the camera, the tripod mount
thread is metal and perfectly aligned with center
of lens. There is a very nice Battery Compartment
with a lever to secure it from accidentally opening.
The battery also has a latch to keep it from accidentally
falling. You should be able to change battery
or card when the camera is on a tripod.
One neat feature I found very useful in situations
where the camera may have difficulty achieving
focus quickly is turning AF+MF on. What this allows
you to do is use the AutoFocus as usual by a half-press
of the Shutter Button then, while still holding
the Shutter Button half-pressed, switch seamlessly
to Manual Focus by simply turning the Manual Focus
Ring to fine tune the focus. This allows for fast
operation in difficult lighting situations where
the camera may have some difficulty in achieving
Added August 17, 2006:
One "gotcha" feature on the Panasonic
L1 [it may be set ON by default -- or the
previous reviewer may have set it ON] is
to specify that the camera take a picture
only when it deems that focus has successfully
locked. In other words, if the AF does not
lock, when you press the shutter button,
the camera will not take the picture. It's
very rare that the AF does not lock but
still I believe advanced photographers may
prefer to set this feature to OFF.
Dust Reduction System
One major problem with using interchangeable
lenses is that taking them on and off allows dust
to enter the camera body and deposit on the image
sensor. Cleaning the image sensor periodically
of this dust is a chore most photographers would
rather not do -- IF he or she knows how to do
it properly without damaging the image sensor
in the first place. Well, not to worry, the Panasonic
L1 has the Dust Reduction System that we first
encountered in the Olympus E-300 (and E-330) that
uses ultrasonic vibrations to shake the image
sensor free of dust everytime you power on the
camera. The dust specks accumulate on a sticky
film at the bottom.
The camera powers up in about 1 sec., which is
fast considering that this time includes the Dust
Reduction System doing its work of cleaning the
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 handles superbly
with intuitive controls and interface. Build quality
is excellent and has a distinct feel of professionalism.
It is obvious that a lot of thought and attentive
care went into designing this camera. The three
rings on the Leica lens (Zoom, Focus and Aperture)
also contribute to the pleasure of using this
camera. Analogue-like controls are very well implemented.