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Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 Review

April 2007 | By Phil Askey


Review based on a production DMC-L1, firmware ver 1.1

On February 26th 2006, in a packed press conference on the first day of PMA 2006 Panasonic revealed their first digital SLR, the DMC-L1. The DMC-L1 represents another first, it's the first non-Olympus Four Thirds digital SLR which has to be good news for the system which has up until now been an Olympus only affair. When it was announced many noted the resemblance to the E-330, this is no coincidence as the DMC-L1 shares its optical subsystem (lens mount, mirror box, viewfinder, auto focus and exposure sensors) with the Olympus E-330.

The L1 features the same 7.5 megapixel 'LiveMOS' sensor used in the E-330 (which we now know is manufactured by Panasonic), this provides the camera with TTL live view capability in a similar manner to the E-330. Unlike the E-330 however the DMC-L1 does not have a secondary Live View CCD and so provides only one Live View mode, this is known as 'B mode' on the E-330 and utilizes the main image sensor. The downside to this is that although the DMC-L1 provides auto focus in Live View it requires the mirror to be lowered and raised again during focusing.

Firmware ver 2.0 (March 2007)

As most of the first half of this review was written before Panasonic issued firmware 2.0 (here) hence it's worth noting the following improvements included:

  1. Added a multiple exposure function.
  2. Added panning mode [MODE3] to the optical image stabilizer.
  3. Added a low-angle viewing mode that makes it easier to view the LCD display when the camera is held below eye level.
  4. Added feature that simplifies setting the aperture when using a lens without an aperture ring.
  5. Added two manual white balance settings to GUI. GUI design uses navigational cursor to easily select, and set, white balance (WB) to change the color temperature, or set the ISO sensitivity or flash. Time restriction for making changes was removed.
  6. Added "HOLD" option to Auto Review time, enabling continuous viewing.
  7. Added feature to allow zoomed playback of photos. It's now possible to move back to the preceding images or forward to the next images while the image is still zoomed.
  8. Added [AUTO] for the ISO sensitivity in the aperture-priority AE mode [A] and shutter speed-priority AE mode [S].
  9. Added GUI option to easily check the firmware version.

Panasonic DMC-L1 vs. Olympus E-330 Live View modes compared

 
DMC-L1 Live View
E-330 A Mode
(full-time live view)
E-330 B Mode
(macro live view)
Method Using 'Live MOS' sensor with mirror up and shutter open Using small CCD sensor in viewfinder chamber Using 'Live MOS' sensor with mirror up and shutter open
Auto focus Yes, but screen frozen, mirror down during AF Yes Yes, with firmware 1.2 (same method as L1)
Metering Normal (main sensor) Normal *1 Not indicated *2
Viewfinder Unavailable (mirror up) Available Unavailable (mirror up)
Frame coverage 100% 92% 100%
Shutter release Delayed approx. 1 sec *3 Normal Delayed approx. 1 sec *3
Extra display modes Thirds grid, 6x6 grid Passport modes Golden section, Grid, Scale
Live view magnify Yes in MF; 4x or 10x No Yes, 10x
Depth of field Accurate Not representative Accurate
White balance Applied to live view Not applied to live view Not applied to live view
Exposure comp. Applied to live view Not applied to live view Not applied to live view

*1 The user manual does note that the most accurate metering is only available in this mode with the eyepiece shutter closed (because of stray light entering view the viewfinder).
*2 The metering sensor is in the viewfinder chamber and so exposure is only measured when the shutter release is half-pressed.
*3 Because the mirror has to come down and the shutter close before the exposure can be taken (also for metering, see *2).

Compared to the Olympus E-330 feature and specification differences

The design and price point hint that the DMC-L1 is aimed at a different target market than the Olympus E-330, however there's no doubting that because of the shared components these two cameras will always be compared. Hence the table below which outlines the feature and specification differences between them.

 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1

Olympus E-330
Image sizes • 3136 x 2352
• 2560 x 1920
• 2048 x 1536
• 3136 x 2352
• 2560 x 1920
• 1600 x 1200
• 1280 x 960
• 1024 x 768
• 640 x 480
JPEG compression • Three level
• Four levels
• One customizable (4 settings)
Aspect ratio • 4:3
• 3:2
• 16:9
4:3
Metering • 49-zone in viewfinder mode
• 256-zone in live view mode
49-zone
Metering modes • Digital ESP
• Center-Weighted Average
• Spot
• Digital ESP
• Center-Weighted Average
• Spot
• Highlight based spot
• Shadow based spot
ISO sensitivities • ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600
• Auto (ISO 100 - 400)
• ISO 100
• ISO 125
• ISO 160
• ISO 200
• ISO 250
• ISO 320
• ISO 400
• ISO 500 *
• ISO 640 *
• ISO 800 *
• ISO 1000 *
• ISO 1250 *
• ISO 1600 *
* With ISO Boost set to On
Shutter speed Shutter speed dial on top of camera Via main command dial
Exposure steps 1/3 EV 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV
Exposure comp. • -2.0 to +2.0 EV
• 1/3 EV steps
• -5.0 to +5.0 EV
• 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps
Noise reduction Selectable -2 to +2 strength • New High ISO noise filter
• Optionally enabled
Focus modes • S-AF
• C-AF
• MF
• S-AF & MF
• S-AF
• C-AF
• MF
• S-AF & MF
• C-AF & MF
MF bracketing No Yes
White balance • Auto
• Daylight
• Cloudy
• Shade
• Incandescent
• Flash
• Custom 1
• Custom 2
• Kelvin temp (2500 - 10000 K)
• Auto
• Daylight
• Cloudy
• Shade
• Incandescent
• Fluorescent 1
• Fluorescent 2
• Fluorescent 3
• Custom
• Kelvin temp (2000 - 14000 K)
WB bracketing No • 3 frames
• 5, 10 or 15 mired steps
WB fine tuning No Yes
Continuous • 3.0 / 2.0 fps
• RAW: 6 frames
• JPEG: Unlimited with fast card
• 3.0 fps
• RAW: 4 frames
• JPEG: 15 frames max
Self timer • 10 sec
• 2 sec
• 12 sec
• 2 sec
Param presets 7 preset 'film' modes
2 user modes
5 preset modes
Image params

• Contrast (5 levels)
• Sharpness (5 levels)
• Saturation (5 levels)
• Noise reduction (5 levels)

• Color mode (3 settings)
• Saturation (5 levels)
• Contrast (5 levels)
• Sharpness (5 levels)
• Monochrome (5 colors, 4 filter)
• Graduation (3 settings)
B&W Mode Selectable film types Selectable filters
AF assist Dedicated lamp Must pop-up flash manually
Flash • Manual pop-up
• 2 position (straight ahead / bounce)
• Manual pop-up
Flash bracketing No Yes
Scene modes None 20 modes
Info. display • Two levels • Two levels
• Color selectable
Record review • Single image
• Single image with magnification
Any of the seven play display modes
Play display modes • No overlaid information
• Basic overlay
• More detailed overlay with histogram
• No overlaid information
• Basic overlay
• More detailed overlay
• Thumbnail, AF point, 4 way histogram
• Large histogram overlay
• Blinking highlights
• Blinking shadows
Play magnify Up to 16x Up to 14x
Play index 9, 25 frames, Calendar 4, 9, 16, 25 frames, Calendar
Play marking No Yes, batch erase and copy
Red-eye fix No Yes, play mode 'Edit'
Storage • SD card (Secure Digital)
• Supports SDHC cards (2 GB+)
• Compact Flash
• xD-Picture Card
LCD monitor • 2.5" TFT LCD monitor
• 207,000 pixels
• 2.5" TFT LCD monitor
• 215,250 pixels
• Wide viewing angle
• Flip-out and up
TTL live view Yes, one mode Yes, two modes
Dimensions 146 x 86 x 64 mm (5.7 x 3.4 x 2.5 in) 140 x 87 x 72 mm (5.5 x 3.4 x 2.8 in)
Weight • No battery: 530 g (1.2 lb)
• With battery: 606 g (1.4 lb)
• No battery: 539 g (1.2 lb)
• With battery: 617 g (1.4 lb)

What the DMC-L1 shares with the Olympus E-330

As mentioned above the DMC-L1 shares its lens mount, mirror box, auto focus and auto exposure sensors with the Olympus E-330. In addition of course they both share the same Panasonic sensor. Unlike the E-330 however the DMC-L1 does not have an additional small live view CCD on the top of the viewfinder chamber (you can just make out where it should be below), so only has one live view mode. Disappointingly this means that in normal viewfinder mode you're actually looking through a half-mirror with a dimmer view for no actual gain.


If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / Recommendation / Ratings are based on the opinion of the reviewer, you should read the ENTIRE review before coming to your own conclusions.

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This article is Copyright 2007 Phil Askey and the review in part or in whole may NOT be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. For information on reproducing any part of this review (or any images) please contact: Phil Askey

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