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Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent control layout; proper shutter speed and aperture dials
  • Very fast access to aperture and shutter priority modes
  • Very good build quality; magnesium alloy frame
  • Supersonic Wave Filter ensures no dust on sensor
  • Metering available in viewfinder and live view modes
  • Good dynamic range, very similar to Canon EOS 30D
  • Natural color and tone response, not over saturated or over contrasty
  • Adjustable noise reduction level (although default is 'zero')
  • Very good automatic white balance across the board (all light sources)
  • Better noise reduction algorithm than we've seen from Panasonic (mostly chroma NR)
  • Noise only becomes an issue at ISO 1600
  • Unique on-board flash can be positioned for bounce or direct illumination
  • Dedicated AF assist lamp (doesn't require flash to be raised)
  • Unlimited continuous shooting with a fast card
  • Fairly good SD card throughput and USB 2.0 transfer speed
  • Support for both SD and SDHC cards
  • Live view feature useful for certain subject types (and for manual focus)
  • Excellent 'kit' lens (although accounts for more than half of the kit price)
  • Very effective Optical Image Stabilization in lens
  • Two customizable FUNC buttons
  • Large, bright and detailed 2.5" LCD monitor (although not tilting)
  • Powerful, lightweight Lithium-Ion battery
  • Orientation sensor

Conclusion - Cons

  • Small and dark viewfinder view (difficult to see fine detail, difficult to check focus)
  • Auto-focus in live view requires display freeze and mirror flip down / up
  • Image processing algorithm not 'crisp' in appearance (although artifact free)
  • Live view becomes dark in low light / DOF preview (doesn't adjust gain)
  • Shutter release delay in live view
  • Image parameter adjustments don't offer enough latitude of change
  • Auto focus provides just three focus points, although AF performance good
  • No record review delete / cancel
  • Some dials are too easily knocked (metering mode, drive mode, focus mode)
  • Lack of status LCD can mean shorter battery life (LCD monitor takes more power)
  • Artifacts in SilkyPix images from RAW
  • RF interference artifacts (one off incident?)
  • Size / weight (especially with provided lens)
  • Price, competition

Overall conclusion

The DMC-L1 is Panasonic's first foray into the highly competitive digital SLR market. As such I think they should be pretty happy with the result. From an image quality point of view they've taken a surprisingly mature and conservative approach delivering clean images with natural color and tone response which aren't over-sharpened or over-processed. That said I would have liked to have seen a little more 'crispness' from the in-camera image processing engine which is clearly there if you process RAW. On their consumer camera's Panasonic have a bit of a reputation for their noise reduction algorithm which at higher sensitivities delivers 'water color like' images, that could easily be solved by implementing the algorithm used in the L1 which appears to concentrate on dealing with chroma noise (color blotches) while maintaining luminance information (detail).

Physically this is a big camera, I think 'chunky' would be an apt description with some very Leica-like design hints. The 'good old' shutter speed and aperture dials are simply very useful, you can flip into aperture priority mode by just turning the aperture dial from the 'A' position (although obviously only with the kit lens). I was less happy with the viewfinder which just like all other Four Thirds cameras was too small and tunnel like.

Nobody can doubt the quality of the kit Panasonic / Leica lens, contrasty and sharp with a very usable zoom range and excellent image stabilization. However it does add considerably to the cost of the DMC-L1 (in our estimations about half of its asking price), so at the point of sale it's a double edged sword.

The usefulness of Live View will no doubt continue to be debated and as I stated in my E-330 review I think we're still not there and won't be until Live View has no impact on the usability of the camera (auto focus, metering, shutter release lag). That said the L1's implementation is a step forward from the E-330, we now have white balance applied to the live view image and metering (although not using the same metering sensor as would be used with the viewfinder). Panasonic also chose not to use the additional CCD in the viewfinder chamber so the L1 only has one Live View mode (which makes it easier to understand).

The other thing the L1 achieves (and now the E-330 through a firmware update) is Auto Focus in live view, however it's less than perfect as it requires the mirror to drop and raise introducing a freeze in the display, an additional noise and a delay. It's a 'clunky solution' which should really be solved by implementing contrast detect auto focus on the main sensor (even if it wasn't as fast as the dedicated AF sensor it would be better than the current solution).

Overall I liked the DMC-L1 but it was never my immediate choice when I just needed to 'grab a camera' for a snapshot, it requires a little more consideration and can deliver great results once you work your way around it and tune the image parameters to your personal tastes. Unfortunately due to its price position it does have to go up against stiff competition such as Canon's EOS 30D and now the cheaper Olympus E-510.

Detail (D-SLR)
Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.5
Ergonomics & handling 8.0
Features 8.0
Image quality 8.0
Performance (speed) 8.0
Value 7.5

Recommended

Highly Recommended

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