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You are hereHome > Best Digital Cameras > Panasonic L1 digital SLR

Panasonic Digital Cameras


Panasonic L1 digital SLR Review

Review Date: Aug 7, 2006

Category: Advanced Amateur - Prosumer

Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2006


The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 is a digital camera targeted to advanced amateur photographers desiring the image quality and flexibility provided by a digital SLR. It has 7.5 megapixel resolution on a 4/3 in. (17.3 x 13 mm) Live MOS Sensor, and comes with the LEICA D VARIO-ELMARIT 14-50mm/F2.8-3.5 ASPH.

3.6x Optical Zoom
14-50mm f/2.8-3.5
Wide-angle 28mm 100mm
Wide-angle 14mm
(28mm, 35mm equivalent)
Telephoto 50mm
(100mm, 35mm equivalent)

Four Thirds Systems Mount

One of the advantage of a dSLR is the ability to use interchangeable lenses suited for specific jobs. The lens mount system used in the Panasonic L1 is based on the Four Thirds open standard which means that you can use other Four Thirds lenses, such as the Olympus Zuiko digital lenses created for the EVOLT digital SLRs and Sigma 4/3-System lenses. Leica is also promising to design and manufacture more 4/3-Systems lenses. Here is a list of compatible Four Thirds lenses.

What is not visible outwardly but is another exclusive feature of the Olympus E-330/Panasonic L1 is the Dust Reduction System. With SLR cameras that use interchangeable lenses, dust can enter the camera and settle on the image sensor everytime the lens is changed. A Supersonic Wave Filter is positioned in front of the image sensor and everytime the camera is switched on, this filter generates supersonic vibrations at a rate of around 30,000 per second to shake off dust and other particles from the sensor. The dust is collected by a dust absorption section below the filter. This ensures the quality of the images is not compromised by dust on the image sensor.

14mm (28mm), Program, ESP, 1/6 sec., F3.5, ISO 400
About 29cm away, Self-timer 2 sec., Tripod used

The actual macro capability is a function of the lens you use, and the included Leica lens allows you to focus only as close as 29 cm (11.5 in.). That does not allow you to cover a small area enough for what we generally call "macro." If you are into macro photography, check out the 50mm f/2.0 Macro Zuiko Digital Lens which allows you to move in as close as 24 cm (9.45 in.) with a 35mm equivalent of 100mm and a large F2.0 aperture.

White Balance Indoors
AWB Manual WB
AWB Manual WB

As the above pictures show, the auto white balance (AWB) indoors under tungsten artificial light is not accurate. Manual WB provides the best results. As expected, AWB works well in natural light.

f you are in a situation where you may not be able to use Manual WB, the Panasonic L1 provides a quick and easy way to adjust WB by using WB ADJUST. Simply press the WB button, followed by the DOWN ARROW. The WB ADJUST screen overlays on your image. Then use the arrow keys to fine tune the WB.

The Live View LCD displays the effect of white balance selection as well as exposure compensation applied.

ISO Comparisons
ISO 100
ISO 100
ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1600
ISO 800 ISO 1600

The Panasonic L1 has 5 ISO settings going from ISO 100 to ISO 1600. The 100% crops above (area delimited by the white square) demonstrate the noise at the available ISO Speeds of 100, 200 and 400, 800 and 1600. The images above have been taken indoors at night under two regular household incandescent bulbs. Images are clean from ISO 100 to 400, and I can't find much fault with ISO 800 either! Many will be quite happy with ISO 1600, though its quality seems to depend on the subject matter [see the Panasonic L1 Photo Gallery].

Chromatic Aberrations

I have not been able to find much CA in everyday high-contrast shots, and where it is present it is minimal. The square delimited by the red square at top left, and reproduced at 100% crop at bottom right, shows slight purple fringing.

Long Shutter Speed
Long Exposure - Noise Reduction ON
42mm (84mm), Aperture-Priority, ESP, 50 sec., F11, ISO 100
Manual WB, Self-timer 10 sec., Tripod Used
Noise Reduction ON, 100% crop
using the 14-50mm F2.8-3.5 Leica lens

The Panasonic L1 allows the use of a long shutter speed of up to 30 sec. in P and 60 sec. in Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual modes (plus up to 8 minutes Bulb in Manual mode), therefore allowing very nice night photography. Generally, with image sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent at slow shutter speeds. When you set Noise Reduction to ON in the menu [Menu - Custom - Long Shutter NR - ON], the Panasonic L1 has special noise reduction algorithm that automatically kicks in and you'll notice a longer processing time (approx. twice as long) before the next picture can be taken.

To test this noise reduction algorithm, we decided to take a low-light indoors shot. To obtain a long exposure, I place Bamm-Bamm under my desk where it's dark.

On P mode, the Panasonic L1 selects 6 sec. at F3.5. Since I want a much longer shutter time, I turn the Aperture Ring to F22 [and effectively switch to Aperture-Priority mode]. The camera's meter indicates there's not enough light, so I turn the aperture to F16 and then F11. At F11, the camera meters a 50 sec. shutter time. The Panasonic L1 positively shines here: even at this long shutter speed, the noise reduction works great, producing a nice smooth blurring effect of the background.

How did Panasonic achieve this? Here is Panasonic explanation verbatim:

"Panasonic also applied embedded photodiode technology that we accumulated in developing CCDs and created a new low-noise process technology that achieves low-voltage (5.0 V) operation. This reduces noise in dark image areas, so you can capture bright images even when shooting in dim lighting." [Link]

I find that the AF is very responsive and images snap quickly enough into focus. For Bamm-Bamm's picture above, it was so dark I could see only the faintest of outline in the viewfinder or LCD. I just made sure the center of the frame pointed on the subject, half-press to engage AF (with AF-assist ON) and took the picture. You'd agree with me that it came out pretty sharp enough.

No O.I.S. With O.I.S.
Without O.I.S. With O.I.S.
50mm (100mm), P, ESP, 1/3.2 sec., F3.5, ISO Auto = 400
Handheld without & with Optical Image Stabilization

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization), I handheld the above two shots at 1/3.2 sec. without and with the O.I.S. set at MODE 2.

The Panasonic L1 allows you to save an image in the RAW file format. The camera saves your image in both RAW and JPEG. It takes about 4-5 sec. to save both to memory card (I used a regular SanDisk 2GB SD card). Note that these times do not include the extra write times you'll experience if Noise Reduction kicks in.

At L 3, a 7.5MP image is compressed down to anywhere between 5MB and 6MB. A RAW image occupies about 14MB.

We find the overall image quality of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 to be excellent with good details in the shadows and highlights. Colours come out with very good depth of tonality.

The pictures in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 Photo Gallery page provide a good sample of what the camera is capable of. I have provided unprocessed samples at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100 in Photoshop Elements) as well as the 3136x2352 pixels original size (click on the image for the original version). Any of the 800x600 image that is adjusted for levels and/or sharpened in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended to the file name. Original images are never adjusted.

You can safely assume that most macro shots and slow shutter speed shots required the use of a tripod.

I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels. For those who have their monitor resolution set to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit and you should not have to scroll to see the whole image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels resolution, start the slide show and then scroll to the right to position the image within your screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode, and the image should fill your screen nicely. Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor display back to normal mode.

To return to this page from the Photo Gallery, click on the animated graphics of the camera.

Please open and download the original size version only if you need to and only once to your hard drive -- and save me some precious bandwidth. Thanks!


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