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Color reproduction

Color reproduction is a new addition to our in-depth reviews and provides a quick overview of the general look of images from the camera as well as an ability to compare this to other cameras. Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.

The DMC-L1's default color reproduction (Standard) is fairly close in hue and saturation to the Canon EOS 30D's Neutral setting meaning that Panasonic has chosen the sensible, conservative approach to color saturation, obviously if you prefer more punch you can choose Dynamic or create a custom set.

Panasonic DMC-L1 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardDynamicNatureSmooth
Standard B&WDynamic B&WSmooth B&WAdobe RGB

Artificial light White Balance

Some Kudos to Panasonic for delivering very good automatic white balance in artificial light, both incandescent and fluorescent. This is considerably better than most digital SLR's. We were slightly surprised to find that the L1 doesn't have a white balance preset for fluorescent light but it compensates for this by delivering great automatic results anyway.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 2.3%, Blue: -1.3%, Good
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 3.4%, Blue: -5.0%, Average
 
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: -0.2%, Blue: -1.4%, Excellent
 

Long Exposure noise reduction / Night shots

As is the norm with most digital cameras these days the DMC-L1 features optional Long Exposure Noise Reduction, this works by taking a second exposure with the mirror down immediately after the main exposure and then subtracting this noise pattern from it. We found that with Long Exposure NR switched off there were virtually no hot pixels, the only advantage of using it is to remove a slight electronics induced 'amplifier glow' that appears in the top and bottom right corners (most noticeable in the 60 second exposure, below). One other slight oddity was that with Noise Reduction enabled the image was shifted vertically by approximately twelve pixels.

30 second exposure

Noise reduction Off Noise reduction On
ISO 100, 30 sec, F8 ISO 100, 30 sec, F8

60 second exposure

Noise reduction Off Noise reduction On
ISO 100, 60 sec, F13 ISO 100, 60 sec, F13

Flash

The DMC-L1 is unique among digital SLR's by having a flash which can be used either straight ahead (aimed directly at the subject) or upwards at around 75° providing a 'bounce flash' which often results in softer more natural looking flash shots. We found that while the bounce flash can deliver much 'nicer' images because of its soft lighting the unit itself didn't really have enough power to cope with high ceilings hence often bounce shots looked under-exposed.

Built-in flash (direct) Built-in flash (bounced)
Built-in flash (direct) Built-in flash (bounced)

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

For a first attempt at a digital SLR I think it's fair to say that Panasonic has done a good job, they've managed to squeeze better high ISO performance out of the same sensor than Olympus did with the E-330. Panasonic's noise reduction algorithm tuned to clean up chroma noise but leave as much luminance detail available as possible (the E-330 delivering almost opposite results at ISO 1600). I'd be quite comfortable shooting the DMC-L1 up to ISO 800 and know that while there would be some noise visible at ISO 1600 it would at least have a 'film grain' look rather than the digital chroma noise effect.

Color balance was also good with a surprisingly mature, conservative approach which avoids over-saturating images while delivering natural looking images (no Disney blues or reds here). If you want your images a bit punchier (from a color point of view) you can always opt to turn up saturation in the Film Mode menu. The L1 also delivered good reliable automatic white balance performance, something often 'skipped' when considering a camera but something which can make a real (and often difficult to reverse) impact on your snapshot type photos.

The only criticism I could have of the image processor is that (a) the default sharpness level is a little too conservative which is a great way to avoid 'enhancing' noise and (b) it doesn't really do justice to how much detail that excellent lens is delivering to the sensor (as can be clearly demonstrated by comparing a JPEG to a converted RAW).

RF interference at high sensitivities

We did observe one slight oddity in a particular circumstance; radio frequency interference at high sensitivities. This occurred when at high sensitivity (ISO 1600 in this case) with a mobile phone in a jacket pocket (which would have been 'in proximity') to the camera. In the image this appears as banding (in the vertical direction, although obviously in these portrait shots that's rotated by 90 degrees). These bands aren't visible in the first shot below but are in the second (presumably due to the on/off nature of GSM connectivity). Note that there is also a slight brightness difference between these two images because the camera metered them slightly differently, they are both 1/80 sec but the first is F5 and the second F5.6.

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