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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.

As you can see the L10's color reproduction delivers very similar hues to the competition. In the last two years or so there has been a clear 'normalization' of color among various manufacturers. The only difference comes from slightly different tone curves and saturation selection.

In this respect the L10's default settings are slightly more subdued, resulting in images that, though admirably restrained, do look a little unsaturated next to most consumer DLSRs, with greens and blues particularly insipid. The 'standard' output looks a lot more like the 'natural' setting on most SLRs (and is almost identical to the L1's standard output).

If you prefer your colors a little punchier out of the camera the Dynamic and Nature settings produce output that is much more 'consumer friendly'. The pale 'Nostalgic' setting (so named because it looks like a faded print perhaps?) and darker 'Vibrant' modes appear to have no effect on hue at all, simply altering the tone curve.

Panasonic DMC-L10 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardDynamicNatureSmooth
NostalgicVibrantB&W StandardB&W Dynamic
B&W SmoothAdobe RGB

Artificial light White Balance

In fluorescent light the L10's auto white balance delivers decent results (there is no Fluo white balance preset), though incandescent light causes it problems whether you use auto WB or the preset. In all cases if you prefer your indoor shots without a color cast you're best off using the preset options. It should be mentioned that the L10's manual white balance system (complete with two custom presets and a two-axis WB fine tune system) is one of the most sophisticated you'll find in any camera in this class.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 5.0%, Blue -8.6%, Average
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red 8.3%, Blue -12.6%, Poor
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 1.9%, Blue -3.5%, Average
 

Long Exposure noise reduction / Night shots

As is the norm with most digital cameras these days the DMC-L10 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, maybe one or two. Given that turning it on doubles the time each exposure takes it's probably safe to leave it off and deal with the odd stray pixel yourself.

30 second exposure

Noise reduction Off Noise reduction On
ISO 100, 30 sec, F20 ISO 100, 30 sec, F20

60 second exposure

Noise reduction Off Noise reduction On
ISO 100, 60 sec, F22 ISO 100, 60 sec, F22

Flash

The L10 is a much more conventionally-styled camera than its predecessor, and it lacks that model's tilting flash. The built-in pop-up unit does it's jon perfectly well with decent exposure and color, though the repeated bursts of strobe flash used to aid focus in low light (when the flash is up - there's also a small AF illuminator lamp on the front of the body) are distracting and ruin any spontaneity in flash portraits.

Built-in flash Built-in flash

Kit lens: distortion, corner softness and shading

We'll be testing the L10's 14-50mm D Vario-Elmar in more depth at some point in the future, but for now we'll have a quick look at a couple of basic aspects. Low distortion is one of the key selling points of Leica zooms and the L10's kit lens isn't bad at all, producing around 0.7% barrel at the wide end and virtually no pincushion at the long end. This hardly puts all other kit lenses to shame, but it is perfectly respectable.

There's a little corner softness at the wide end (when shooting a flat chart), though you won't see this in real-world shots (there's also a hint of purple fringing in this test shot, again something we struggled to find in any of our gallery shots). There's a lot less curvature of field at the long end, with admirable corner to corner consistency. There is a little measurable vignetting (corner shading) at both ends of the zoom but once again you're unlikely to see this as an issue in real world photography.

Barrel distortion - 0.7% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.1% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 380 mm

Kit lens: macro

Few SLR kit zooms offer much in the way of macro capability, and the 14-50mm Vario Elmar is better than many, but really nothing to write home about. The minimum focus distance is 0.29 m (0.95 feet) throughout the zoom range. At the wide end this means you're able to fill the frame with an area just a little smaller than a sheet of A4 paper (26x19cm / 10 x 7.5 inches) - with significant distortion. At the long end things are a little better, with the lens able to focus sharply onto an area just under 8cm (3.1 inches) across.

Wide macro - 257 x 192 mm coverage
14 px/mm (360 px/in)
Distortion: High
Corner softness: Strong
Equiv. focal length: 28 mm
Tele macro - 79 x 59 mm coverage
46 px/mm (1170 px/in)
Distortion: Fairly low
Corner softness: Very mild
Equiv. focal length: 100 mm

 

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

Panasonic hasn't changed the formula much since the L1; the colors are still subtle and restrained, the in-camera sharpening still a little on the conservative side (even if you turn it up to 'the max') and the auto white balance still very accurate. And noise is still an issue at higher ISOs, and once again there is a little too much obvious noise reduction if you look too closely.

In fact overall impressions of the L10 based on its JPEG output are underwhelming; the in-camera processing simply doesn't do the sensor (or the excellent kit lens) any justice, producing soft, slightly flat images that lack the biting detail we've come to expect from a digital SLR at this level. There's no getting away from the fact that the default output looks an awful lot like it came from a compact camera (albeit a good compact camera). This is partly to do with the softness and low contrast detail smearing, partly to do with the increased depth of field associated with the Four-Thirds sensor and such a slow lens, and partly because of the slightly narrower than average highlight dynamic range.

Changing film mode to 'Dynamic' produces punchier images with more immediate appeal, but the only way to really see what the L10 is capable of is to switch to raw mode and let SilkyPix (or ideally Adobe Camera Raw) do the processing. This lifts the 'veil' of softness from the images and allows you to apply adequate sharpening early enough in the process to avoid introducing unsightly artefacts. With a little work the raw output of the L10 is capable of holding its own against the best SLRs on the market, and - though it's no match for a good prime - the kit lens is very good, with little or no flare, good contrast, good edge-to-edge performance and consistent sharpness throughout the zoom range.

Exposure issues / clipping

Our early real world shooting with the L10 was with an early version of the firmware, and the results were depressing, with serious over exposure issues. Installing the latest firmware (1.0) improved matters greatly, but the L10's exposure system is still far from perfect, and is easily fooled. We found ourselves regularly having to dial in anything up to -1.7 EV compensation in scenes that cameras with a more sophisticated metering system would take in their stride.

This slight tendency to over expose scenes with a wide dynamic range puts a real strain on the sensor's ability to deal with highlights, causing harsh - and unfixable - clipping. The whole thing is exacerbated by the fact that the record review image (instant review) is far from reliable as an indication of exposure. In the example below the shot really needed -1.0 EV to even get close to the correct exposure (the camera has chosen to meter for the shadows, not the best plan when there's so little headroom in the highlights).

Of course this is one of those 'foibles' camera users soon learn to counteract with a little manual intervention, and to be fair we found it to be a lot less of an issue with the latest firmware than we'd originally experienced, but it's worth mentioning.

Metered exposure -0.67 AE compensation
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