Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Digital SLR Camera - Review

Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Digital SLR Camera - Review

When Panasonic introduced its first digital SLR, the Lumix DMC-L1, a lot of people had high hopes, which were subsequently dashed. Now, Panasonic has put out the 10-megapixel Lumix DMC-L10. If the L1 was Panasonic dipping its toes in the SLR pool, then the L10 is Panasonic diving into the deep end. Will the DMC-L10 sink or swim? Let's find out.


Panasonic is marketing the L10 as an entry-level SLR, and its design works well for that market. It's on the small side, has an articulated LCD that can flip out to the left of the camera and swivel 270 degrees, live-view shooting, and its control buttons are laid out a lot like a superzoom or compact camera.

The vast majority of buttons are on the right-hand side of the camera and reachable quickly and easily by thumb or forefinger. Like more and more SLRs lately, the grip is short, so your pinky dangles while shooting. However, it does have a nice shape, with a cutaway for your middle finger and a contoured area on the top of the camera back for your thumb that combine to provide a solid feel in your hand.

In addition to buttons and switches that provide access to most of the important shooting settings, the L10 has two control wheels, making full manual shooting extra comfortable since you can use the front wheel to set aperture and the back wheel to set the shutter speed. Cameras with one wheel typically force you to press and hold a button to set the aperture or shutter speed in full manual mode. The Olympus E-510, another 10-megapixel SLR aimed at first timers, has only one wheel, as do most entry-level SLRs. Strangely, the L10 has no marked exposure compensation control, but in shooting modes other than full manual, the rear wheel adjusts exposure compensation.


For the uninitiated, live-view shooting means that the image you're about to capture can be framed on the camera's LCD screen, as you do with compact cameras. Since SLRs use a mirror to let you see through the lens, that means that the mirror has to be able to flip up and out of the way and the camera's sensor has to be able to continuously send an image to the LCD while you're framing. That's why the L10 uses a variation on a CMOS sensor called a LiveMOS sensor, such as the one found in the E-510, which also has a live-view shooting mode.

In live-view mode, the L10 has two kinds of autofocus: Contrast and phase difference. When you use the 14mm-50mm F3.8-F5.6 D Vario-Elmar Leica-branded kit lens, or the similar (but fancier) kit lens from the L1, the L10 will employ contrast-based AF. However, if you use a different lens, then the camera switches automatically to phase difference AF, which is what the camera uses when out of live-view mode. The same goes for face detection, which is only available in live-view mode, but tied to the contrast AF system, so it can only be used with one of those two lenses. Presumably, there will be more lenses that are fully compatible with the L10's live-view mode in the future, but for now it seems that live-view shooting comes with some restrictions on this Panasonic. Despite those restrictions, live-view mode works just as well as it does in the E-510, though as in that camera this mode is a bit noisy since the mirror has to move around so much.

Following another trend in entry-level SLRs, the L10 doesn't include a status LCD. Instead you can see the status of current camera settings on the LCD screen. However, unlike Olympus' interactive status display, which lets you change camera settings very quickly on the camera's main LCD screen, this Panasonic just shows you the current settings and leaves the tweaking to the buttons and menus.

One feature that is out of the ordinary and is quite nice is its automatic zoom in review mode. When the camera shows you the image you just shot, the L10 can be set to automatically zoom in 4x so you can better check for focus. The bad part about the auto-zoom-review is that it zooms in on the center of the image, which often might not be the best part of the image to use to confirm focus. The zoom feature in the normal playback mode lets you zoom up to 16x and move around the image to zoom in on whatever section of the image you want, so you can always check later instead as you would with any other SLR.

Though the L10 is a Four Thirds format camera, which makes it compatible with all of Olympus' Four Thirds lenses, as well as those of third-party lensmakers such as Sigma and Tamron, Panasonic decided to sell it only as a kit. The included lens has better build quality than a lot of kit lenses, but we would've liked the choice of buying body only.

As you might expect given its target audience, the L10 includes a number of scene modes. Six spots on the mode dial are dedicated to them, and each of those spots offers more than one scene mode; they're basically grouped by the type of mode with various night modes together under one spot on the dial and various portrait modes under another spot, for example. You can also access descriptions of each mode so you can learn what the camera is doing to deal with the given situation. The descriptions also give suggestions for what you can do to best use the modes. For example, the Night Portrait mode suggests you "hold the camera firmly and the subject should keep still for at least 1 second".

In addition to the scene modes, Panasonic includes multiple film modes, which are meant to mimic the looks of different kind of films. Each of the film modes can be customized through contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction settings. Plus, two fully custom film modes let you create a virtual emulsion of your own. The best part about the film modes is that the camera activates live-view whenever you press the Film Mode button, so you can see the difference each mode makes when selecting the one you want to use.


In our lab tests, which were performed with the kit lens and in optical viewfinder mode instead of live-view mode, the Lumix DMC-L10 performed well, but was not outstanding. It took longer than we'd like at start up, clocking 0.8 second to start up and capture its first JPEG, while Nikon's D40x takes 0.2 second. The camera took 0.8 second between subsequent JPEGs with the built-in flash turned off, and 1.1 seconds between JPEGs with the built-in flash turned on. Between raw images with the flash turned off, the camera took 0.8 seconds as well. That puts it on a par with, or a little slower than the competition in that area.

Shutter lag measured a respectable 0.5 second in our high-contrast test, but turned in a slightly sluggish 1.3 seconds in our low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. However, we found that the DMC-L10 often failed to find focus at all in very low light conditions, so while its score of 1.3 seconds doesn't seem too bad, you may find situations in which the camera can't lock focus at all, which can be frustrating since it'll likely be in a situation that will be difficult for manual focus as well.

The L10 offers two continuous shooting modes. One is 2 frames per second and one 3 frames per second. We tested the 3 fps mode and it yielded an average of 3.1 frames per second regardless of image size or quality settings. Again this puts it on par with the competition.

Image Quality

The DMC-L10's image quality is nice, with accurate colors and a very effective automatic white-balance system, which was able to neutralize colors well in incandescent lighting, natural daylight, and even the perplexing fluorescent psychodrama that is the New York City subway system. Unfortunately, much like the Olympus E-510 and E-410, the Lumix DMC-L10 tends to underexpose images shot in full auto mode by between a half-stop and a full-stop. This means that a lot of shadow detail is plunged into oblivion, though much of that is recoverable in image editing software if you forget to adjust the exposure compensation while shooting. It pays to learn about histograms and pay attention to them if you plan on shooting with the L10. In manual exposure modes, this isn't as much of an issue.

Panasonic does a good job of keeping noise under control with the DMC-L10, though you will probably encounter noise at the camera's highest ISOs. Depending on the lighting you're in, and your subject matter, you may be able to get acceptable prints from the L10 even up to its highest sensitivity setting of ISO 1,600. However, in some lighting conditions, such as extremely yellow tungsten hot lights, we saw enough noise to make prints unusable. Still, we were impressed with the L10's noise profile, though its low noise comes at the expense of a fair amount of finer detail once you get up to ISO 800 and above. While it's nice to have usable performance across the camera's ISO range, we do wish that the L10 at least went to ISO 3,200. Even entry-level SLRs should be able to go that high at this point.

In the end, Panasonic's Lumix DMC-L10 is a lot like Olympus' E-510. Both use Live MOS sensors, and thus have live-view modes, and both showed similar performance and image quality. we'd give Panasonic an edge for the body design and for including an articulated LCD, though Olympus gets a big edge in price since you can get an E-510 dual-lens kit for hundreds less than the L10's single-lens kit. Panasonic might argue that its lens is nicer and includes optical image stabilization, but Olympus can easily counter that the E-510 includes sensor-shift stabilization. If price weren't an issue, we'd choose the Panasonic. However, on my editor's salary, we'd have to go with Olympus on this one.