The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10, to give it its full title, espouses the rangefinderesque styling and design of its blocky L1 brethren and instead Panasonic has opted for a more traditional looking digital SLR with compact and lightweight lines and a 10.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor that provides the neat Live View functionality.
The new 14-50mm Leica D Vario-Elmar F3.5-F5.6 zoom kit lens provides a very useful 28-100mm 35mm format equivalent focal range but is a slower aperture affair over the L1’s lens (it has a F2.8 to F3.5 aperture range) with a more modest F3.8-F5.6 maximum aperture range and is the benefit of the continuing strategic alliance with Leica for lenses.
Panasonics MEGA OIS (optical image stabilisation) is built into the lens and works very well indeed and helps offset some of the slower aperture problems you’ll encounter in low light for example, where you will slower shutter speeds at your disposal. However, it makes control of depth of field less flexible so lowers the camera’s creative flexibility in that regard.
But on the upside, it makes the kit cheaper; around half of the L1’s £1500 asking price was made up the Leica lens’ price so the new Lumix L10 looks much better value at the £899 asking price, but compared to some competing 10-megapixels on the market from other brands, it still looks expensive.
Apart from the styling and lens, there are many other tweaks to the new camera, some that are the benefits of the partnership between Panasonic and Olympus, the two makers responsible for this and the L1 before it and combine some features in a rather novel way.
The focus system is one good example where you get a three-zone phase detection AF system (similar to that found in the Olympus E410 and E510) but in Live View mode – the 2.5-inch screen can be used to compose as well as review images – you get a nine-zone system to lay with. Ditto Face Detection AF, it’s only available in Live View mode.
However, in either mode I found the AF system to be quick and reliable and to be fair, the small FourThirds format rather gloomy viewfinder is well served by just three AF zones as they take up a substantial area across the field of view. The viewfinder is very slightly brighter than that on the L1 and you get a neat 1.2x magnification eyepiece included too.
Another bonus for the L10 is the ability to shoot simultaneous JPEG and RAW files (you can define JPEG compression levels too) but the downside of this is the buffer memory has been reduced from six RAWs on the L1 to three in this new model.
However, you still get unlimited JPEG shooting with a fast SD card and as before and, before I forget, another significant tweak is on this camera the LCD is fully articulated, able to flip out and spin around allowing you to really make the most of the Live View mode
Other advanced features include white balance fine tuning and there’s fast access to oft used shooting modes such as resolution, white balance, flash and OIS settings for example, which speeds up handling no end.
In fact the handling is very nice, the large sculpted hand grip allows solid control when in use and the large top plate mode dial provides traditional style avenues into the mains manual shooting modes (aperture and shutter priority, manual and program) along with the auto snapping mode and subject programs such as landscape, portrait and the like. The latter gives you the face priority AF control but it’s very slow to fire up and slow to track so not ideal for fleeting candid shots and the like.
Each subject mode selection provides a set of additional settings with complementary graphics that allow you to tailor the subject program across various parameters. For example, in portrait mode you get four choices: normal, outdoor, indoor and creative portrait modes.
In Landscape you get normal, nature, architecture and creative modes, in each case and for each of the subject modes available, the creative setting provides control over the aperture (and so depth of field) but rather disappointingly, there’s no depth of field preview so it’s usefulness is somewhat curtailed.
Two flip switches under the dial turn the camera on and off and select the drive modes and auto exposure bracketing mode, plus there’s a very clever three frame, 10 second self timer mode, as well as two and 10-second “normal” self timer options.
An adjacent “film” button provides a fast way in to the camera's image parameter settings such as vivid, black and white and so on (you get two more of them to play with than on the L1) and you can fine-tune the settings or store custom parameters as well.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the camera is despite the smaller format and the potential for physically smaller DSLR designs, along the lines of Olympus’ counterparts, the L10 is actually rather big when the Leica lens is sat on the front.
However the size means there’s plenty of space for the back plate controls and the free-angle screen with the controls for the display, LCD mode, four-way jog buttons for scrolling and doubling up with hard buttons for ISO, metering, Focus point selection and white balance.
A central menu/OK button finishes that button layout. Other on the back include the Live View button to the left of the viewfinder the focus control lever and its central AE/AF lock button, just to the right of the viewfinder.
The function and delete buttons finish the camera’s back plate button compliment while a small lever to the top left of the built-in flash housing provides manual control of flash activation.
Dual control dials, one front and one back of the right hand grip adjust settings or zoom into playback images and provide an intuitive control interface for any settings you’ve selected via the mode dial of in menus.
In terms of image quality, the L10 does rather well overall but with generally soft images at the default sharpening setting out of the camera. Colour is natural and if anything under saturated but as mentioned earlier, there are plenty of tweaks available for both these settings.
White balance performance is good when set to specific lighting modes (you get daylight, cloudy, tungsten and the usual array of settings to play with) plus two custom presets and you can select specific colour temperatures via a Kelvin scale. The auto white balance is a bit hit and miss in mixed lighting but okay for “general” outdoor snapping.
Signal to noise performance is good so the range of ISO 100 to 1600 sensitivity settings gives lots of room to play but noise starts to become noticeable once over ISO 800 and very noticeable at ISO 1600. You can also limit the auto ISO range (in menus) so it won’t go above a predetermined setting, which is a very useful control particularly when control of noise is important.
Metering is very reliable and I cannot recall a shot where I had any issues with the metering, even on some very difficult shots where I was shooting into direct sunlight. The lens does justice top the sensor’s 10-megapixel resolution although when shooting RAW, you can claw detail back from both shadow and highlights the camera’s JPEGs just cannot provide.
The L10’s nearest rival is bound to be the Olympus E510 with which it shares many features and while it is not as small, light or cheap as it could be, it provides quality results in a very well specified camera.
The L10 also provides a good balance between the serious snapper or enthusiasts and those needing a more automated approach but with all the bells and whistles if they need them: room to grow no less. But that price makes many of the similarly specified and (arguably) more mainstream brands look more tempting.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC L10 is easy to use, provides plenty of shooting options and features and is worthy of close consideration for anyone trading up from a high spec’ compact or those looking from more from their photography.