Friday, July 28, 2006 - Here's what I receive
in the box:
Lumix DMC-L1 dSLR (black body)
14-50mm F2.8-3.5 Leica Lens
Leather Lens Pouch
Li-Ion Battery DMW-BL14 7.2V 1400mAh
Battery Charger DE-972 & Power Cord
Interface Cables: A/V; USB
Instruction Manuals: Operating Instructions
Software CD: Lumix CD
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 has an elegant
body design distinctly reminiscent of the classic
35mm Leica rangefinder cameras. It achieves this
look by its clean straight lines, lack of a pentaprism,
and an AF-assist lamp window that seems to be
just a bit bigger than is really necessary and
surprisingly positioned where an optical viewfinder
would be if this were a 35mm rangefinder
camera. The small slant at the top right [viewed
from the front] also reminds one of where a slanted
rewind knob used to be on the 35mm Leica M6. All
of this outward features make for a design that
is refreshingly different from the traditional
Looks aside, the Panasonic L1 also handles like
a traditional analogue 35mm camera. The use of
a Shutter Speed Dial on top of the camera and
an Aperture Ring around the lens barrel contribute
to that feeling. A survey of existing digital
SLRs quickly show that none sports either.
So, is the Panasonic going backward in design
when all other dSLRs has "progressed"
to a combination of buttons to set shutter speed
and aperture? Is this all nostalgia, and is it
As soon as I pick up the Panasonic L1, and start
rotating the Shutter Speed Dial and Aperture Ring,
a smile slowly forms on my face. It's sooo good
to have these two important controls back the
way they are intuitively supposed to be.
Later, I handed the camera to a friend and, after
he pressed the shutter release button, his thumb
automatically went to "advance the film manually."
We had a good laugh. This is just to tell you
how successfully the Panasonic L1 has implemented
these two controls as well as the whole overall
analogue handling and feel.
The Shutter Speed Dial and the 3 rings on the
Leica lens (Aperture Ring, Manual Focus Ring and
Zoom Ring) all click in place precisely and give
a comforting sense of control.
I thought it would be interesting to just take
a slight detour and see how the close the Panasonic
L1 design is to the "rangefinder" look.
Leica M6 and Panasonic L1
the shutter speed dial, the top indentation
and the angled corner
Leica Digilux 2 and Panasonic L1
how the L1 would look with a silver top plate,
no grip, a real optical viewfinder and the
red logo ;o)
Panasonic LC1 and Panasonic L1
LC1 body was the starting outward design point
Olympus E-330 and Panasonic L1
the optical subsystem is shared with the Olympus
Olympus E-330 and Panasonic L1
image to see the Olympus E-330
L1 has an attractive "rangefinder" look
By getting rid of the telltale traditional SLR
pentaprism and replacing it with a series of mirrors
(including a sideways swinging main mirror) to
reflect the light coming thru the lens to the
side, then up and finally back thru the eyepiece,
the result is a flat top unlike any dSLR out there.
In fact, the Panasonic L1 does not look like
a dSLR at all. Only its size, professional
look and large lens indicates it is perhaps a
dSLR. One tourist at the Royal Ontario Museum
where I went to take some low-light indoors pictures
stopped in his track when he saw me taking pictures
and chatted to inquire what kind of camera it
was and whether it was a dSLR.
Though the Panasonic L1 and the Olympus E-330
share many similar features, there are some interesting
differences between the two that are worth noting:
Panasonic has opted to use the Secure Digital
memory card (as it does on its other digital
cameras) while the Olympus E-330 accepts the
xD-Picture Card and Compact Flash (CF) Type
II cards; both can accept SDHC 2GB+ memory cards.
The Panasonic L1 supports USB 2.0 High
Speed whereas the Olympus E-330 supports the
much slower USB 1.1 (also known in Marketing
parlance as USB 2.0 Full Speed);
The Olympus E-330's LCD (215,250 pixels)
can tilt whereas Panasonic has opted for a fixed
LCD (207.000 pixels);
the Olympus E-330 Live View has 2 modes:
'A' mode uses a smaller secondary image sensor
in the viewfinder housing to provide Live View
(viewfinder still available but recommended
to be closed), and 'B' mode which relies on
the main sensor for Live View (mirror up and
so viewfinder blanked out). Panasonic has only
a single Live View which is similar to the E-330
'B' mode, except that the effect of WB and Exposure
Compensation is visible on the Panasonic L1
Live View LCD monitor.
How Live View Works
There is quite a bit of mirror flipping down
and up when Live View is enabled and this can
be outright confusing at first. So, perhaps an
understanding of how Live View works on the Panasonic
L1 is appropriate.
When you are using the viewfinder, the mirror
is in the "down" position and reflects
the light coming through the lens "up"
to the viewfinder housing and out the eyepiece
to your eyes. [Note: the mirror really swings
sideways instead of up and down, but you know
what I mean.]
The Light Meter sensor is up there in the viewfinder
housing, so you have live metering of the scene.
The AF sensor is also part of the viewfinder
housing so you can pre-focus.
When you enable Live View, the Panasonic L1 needs
to use the Live MOS Sensor found behind the mirror
to capture the scene and display it on the LCD
monitor. To do so, it raises the mirror in the
"up" position [and opens the shutter]
to enable the light coming from the lens to reach
the image sensor.
With the mirror up, a couple of things stop working:
light does not go through the viewfinder housing
anymore and so the viewfinder is blacked out...
...which also means that light cannot now
reach the Light Meter sensor [remember the Light
Meter sensor is up there in the viewfinder housing]
-- and so, live metering of the scene is not
and, you cannot autofocus because the AF sensor
is also in the viewfinder housing.
Unless, that is, the mirror is flipped down temporarily
to permit all the above and up again! Which is
what actually happens.
When you half-press the Shutter Button to autofocus
and meter the scene, the mirror [which is in the
up position to permit Live View] flips down to
permit focusing and scene metering [since the
AF sensor and Light Meter are up there in the
viewfinder assembly]; it stays down as long as
focus has not been achieved [metering is much
faster]; and, once focus has been achieved, it
goes up again to permit Live View. This is why
Continuous Focusing is not possible with Live
Note that when the mirror flips down to permit
focusing, the display on the LCD freezes momentarily
for as long as the mirror is down [fraction of
a second to a couple of seconds, depending on
subject matter]. This is in contrast to when a
picture is actually taken when the LCD view is
If you now fully press the Shutter Button and
then release it, you hear the shutter sound that
seems to indicate a picture has been taken. But
it isn't, not yet. It's just the mirror doing
its down-up dance to permit metering and autofocusing.
I was caught a number of times this way at first
with no pictures to show.
And here is the confusing part: while there is
only one shutter sound when you use the viewfinder
[mirror goes up, shutter opens and closes to take
the picture, mirror falls down again to permit
viewing through the viewfinder], you hear the
shutter sound twice when you use the Live
Panasonic's explanation is that "the first
shutter sound is heard when the shutter returns
to the position before a picture is taken and
the second shutter is heard when the picture is
Since the "shutter sound" is really
a combination of the mirror going up and down
and shutter opening and closing [with the mirror
sound much louder than the shutter's and so the
mirror going up and down is what we actually hear],
here is what I believe happens (shutter is already
Mirror is in down position, shutter is closed
When you fully press the shutter button to
take the picture, mirror flips up, shutter opens
and closes, mirror flips down. This flapping
of the mirror going up and down is the one "shutter
sound" that you hear.
Live View Mode:
With Live View enabled, the mirror is in the
up position and the shutter is opened.
When you fully press the shutter button to
take the picture, the shutter closes, the mirror
flips down (to permit metering and autofocusing).
[That's half of the first shutter sound and
camera is now in the regular or Viewfinder Mode.]
The mirror flips up [other half of the first
shutter sound], shutter opens and closes, mirror
flips down [half of the second shutter sound].
To restore Live View, the shutter opens up
again and the mirror flips back into the up
position [other half of the second shutter sound].
For me, the sure way to know a picture has been
recorded is when the view (either in the viewfinder
or on the Live View LCD monitor) is temporarily
darkened [c.f. when focusing and metering
in Live View, the LCD view is temporarily frozen].
It's a good idea to use Playback or Auto Review
to ensure your picture is recorded.
All this mirror flipping introduces a nasty approx.
1 sec. delay when taking pictures in Live View
Mode. This delay is longer dependng on how fast
[or slow] focus is achieved. This is OK when taking
pictures of subjects and scenes that do not move,
such as landscapes, but candids are out.
[Just thinking that one solution to avoiding
all that mirror flapping is perhaps to introduce
a second light meter behind the main mirror (with
a second partially silvered mirror to reflect
part of the light to the second light meter).
With the main mirror up, you'd still be able to
meter the scene without bringing the main mirror
down to do that. What about AF? Forget AF and
use the excellent manual focus!]
Panasonic L1 has superb handling
Image quality is excellent with good detail and
very low noise from ISO 100 to ISO 400, and even
ISO 800 is not much of a problem. Noise is visible
at ISO 1600 and seems to be more acceptable on
some subject matter than others. Certainly, one
of the major reason for moving from a prosumer
model to a dSLR is to take advantage of the low
noise characteristics of the large image sensors
in the dSLRs, and in that the new Panasonic Live
MOS image sensor succeeds very well.
One of the weak point in the whole package has
to be the bundled software: the LUMIX Simple Viewer
is just good enough for image transfer and PHOTOfunSTUDIO
-viewer- is also quite basic. None displays the
full EXIF info for an image. SILKYPIX® Developer
Studio 2.0 lets you develop RAW data files but
I will leave the review of this software to those
who use RAW a lot.
The IR Sensor (for WB determination) and AF-assist
lamp can be easily blocked by your fingers if
you are not careful.
The Lumix DMC-L1 is only the first digital SLR
built by Panasonic and, for a company that has
never built a SLR before, the L1 is a notable
achievement. With this introduction, Panasonic
is putting other digital SLR camera manufacturers
on notice that it does not intend to just play
catch-up. It seems to have a strategy, the technical
know-how and expertise, and, perhaps more importantly,
the enthusiasm to redefine this digital market
segment, and it has an excellent product to show
This improvement suggestion is not so much
levelled at the Panasonic L1 as it is towards
the Four Thirds System in general. The Four
Thirds System promised smaller and lighter camera
bodies and lenses, and so far has not delivered
on that promise. I don't know whether the specifications
as currently specified is the problem because
I'm sure that the Panasonic engineers can build
a smaller digital SLR. The "rangefinder"
design simply begs for a more compact form.
At 490g, the LEICA D VARIO-ELMARIT 14-50mm/F2.8-3.5
ASPH is heavy. Granted, it is wide-angle, has
a fast F2.8 max. aperture, and includes an optical
image stabilizer, but it is heavy. Panasonic
may have to think about whether it wants to
provide O.I.S. in every lens built for this
dSLR. Perhaps O.I.S. should be reserved for
long telephotos and zoom lenses.
Live View is a great feature on a dSLR but
the shutter lag means that it can only be used
for pretty much static subjects and scenes.
Panasonic should incorporate non-dSLR design
so that when Live View is enabled, the Panasonic
L1 works more or less as a non-dSLR camera,
i.e. bypass the mirror mechanism [which implies
keeping that mirror locked in the "up"
position, introducing a second light meter sensor,
If you are thinking of moving up to a digital
SLR, or are keen to return to enjoying a dSLR
with excellent analogue handling and feel, then
be sure to try out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1.
With Live View LCD, optical image stabilization
in the lens, built-in bounce flash, built-in dust
reduction system, and excellent image quality,
you may find that photography is intuitive and