As mentioned earlier, with the L10 Panasonic has moved away from the square 'oversized Leica' look of the L1 back to a more traditional SLR with a full size and grip and top mounted pentaprism viewfinder. You'd be forgiven for mistaking the L10 for Panasonic's prosumer compact, the DMC-FZ50. The dimensions are quite similar (in fact the L10 is actually slightly narrower), although of course with the FZ50 you're getting a lot more zoom range from the fixed 36-432mm (equiv.) lens than the 28-100mm equiv provided by the L10's kit lens.
It is likely that the L10 shares its optical assembly with the Olympus E-410 / E-510 (as the L1 did with the E-330), by this we mean the lens mount, mirror box / shutter and viewfinder. Around the back the differences are just as clear, a fully articulating LCD monitor hinged at the side and a simple (if thankfully logical) control layout that will be very familiar to users of the FZ50.
Side by side
Below you can see the L10 beside Canon's ten megapixel EOS 400D (Digital Rebel XTi), here we've also mounted the nearest equivalent lens, the EF-S 17-85 mm F4.0 - F5.6 IS USM which provides an equiv. field of view of 27.2 - 136 mm versus the L10's equiv. 28 - 100 mm. From a size and weight point of view there's little to pick between the D40X, L10 and EOS 400D, however the E-410 is a good 100g lighter.
(W x H x D)
(inc. battery & card)
|Olympus E-410||130 x 91 x 53 mm (5.1 x 3.6 x 2.1 in)||435 g (1.0 lb)|
|Nikon D40 / D40X||126 x 94 x 64 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in)||524 g (1.2 lb)|
|Panasonic DMC-L10||134 x 95 x 72 mm (5.3 x 3.7 x 2.8 in)||536 g (1.2 lb)|
|Canon EOS 400D||127 x 94 x 65 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in)||556 g (1.2 lb)|
|Sony DSLR-A100||133 x 95 x 71 mm (5.2 x 3.7 x 2.8 in)||638 g (1.4 lb)|
|Pentax K100D||129 x 93 x 70 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.8 in)||660 g (1.5 lb)|
In your hand
Whilst it may have lost the unique 'Leica-like' styling of the L1, the L10 more than makes up for it in hugely improved handling. Gone are any complaints we had about the previous Panasonic DSLR's grip and overall ergonomics; the L10 is designed perfectly and fits your hand very well. Judicious use of soft rubber helps as well as the nice molding at the rear which acts as a thumb grip. Despite its rather plastic finish build quality seems pretty good (though in a fight you'd want an L1), there are no creaks or rattles evident. With the kit lens attached it feels very well balanced, if a little more 'front heavy' than some of its competitors.
The L10 now has a fully articulating 2.5" LCD monitor which appears to be bright and detailed - and it's hinged on the left side, as opposed to the considerably less practical arrangement used on the FZ50 (which is hinged at the bottom). The advantages of live view become all the more obvious with an articulating screen as it enables you to compose very low or high level shots, something impossible with a fixed screen. Although Nikon offers now offers Contrast Detect AF on the D300 and D3, the L10 is the first consumer model to offer this feature, and has by far the best implementation (doesn't involve multiple button presses - you just half-press the shutter release as normal). Contrast detect AF allows the L10 to operate in almost exactly the same way as a compact in live view mode, using the sensor for focus and exposure. We'll look at the operation and performance of the live view system a little later.
Shooting information display
Like the L1 (and the Olympus consumer DLSR models) the L10 doesn't have a dedicated control panel LCD on the top panel. Although lots of people think leaving this off is a cardinal sin, I can't agree - a modern SLR doesn't need one - there's plenty of room on that big, sharp LCD for all the information you'll ever need, and it's nice to have everything gathered together in one place.
Although it is pretty bright - (the penta mirror is an improvement on the L1's porro finder) - the L10's viewfinder suffers from the same 'looking down a tunnel' effect as all Four-Thirds SLRs, making it difficult to accurately gauge focus - the image is simply too small. In recognition of this 'issue' Panasonic is supplying a 1.2x eyepiece magnifier with the L10, which produces an image as big and bright as any APS-C SLR, but comes at a price; the eye point is reduced so far that you basically have to press your eyeball up to the glass to see the entire frame (more specifically, to see the viewfinder information to the right of the frame). Using the magnified eyepiece with spectacles is tricky, to put it mildly (fortunately there is a dioptre adjustment).
Below you can see an example viewfinder view along with a breakdown of the information provided by the information panel which runs down the right side of the focusing screen. In this example we've also overlaid the AF point lights which only appear when AF locks (depending on the selected AF area).
The viewfinder display is similar, but not the same as, that found on the L1 (and recent Olympus SLRs). New for the L10 are an ISO indicator (which reminds you you're using manual ISO, though not the actual value), metering mode, flash output adjustment, white balance (again, simply reminds you you're not using AWB).
*1 Comes on if anything other than Auto ISO selected
*2 Also Manual Exposure meter and Auto Bracket exposure range
*3 Focus confirmation, AE compensation, Auto Bracket
*4 Metering mode, AE-Lock, Manual white balance