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Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution and 'per pixel' definition, but really need to shoot raw to get the best results
  • Subtle, restrained color and contrast (though see below)
  • Better highlight dynamic range than Olympus equivalent (still a little tight in the highlights)
  • Excellent handling and ergonomics
  • Bright, clear multi-angle screen
  • Contrast detect AF in and quick mirror for the most usable Live View mode to date
  • Decent level of external controls
  • Very user-friendly and approachable user interface
  • Film modes offer good variety of tonal presets
  • Twin control dials
  • Unique (for SLR) features such as 'intelligent auto ISO' and face detection... if you want them...
  • Very good (but expensive, big) kit lens with good corner-to-corner performance throughout the zoom range, low flare and good contrast
  • Reliable (though slightly underpowered) built-in flash
  • Effective (2 stop) image stabilization on lens
  • Three custom modes
  • Reliable white balance (outdoors)
  • Fast, reliable focus (although see below for comments about low light)
  • Supersonic Wave filter for effective dust removal
  • AF assit lamp

Conclusion - Cons

  • Small and dark viewfinder view (difficult to see fine detail, difficult to check focus)
  • New kit lens slow (F3.8-5.6) considering its size
  • In-camera JPEG processing produces images that are soft and don't show true potential of sensor
  • Many will find default settings rather too under saturated with greens and blues particularly insipid. Dynamic mode produces punchier 'out of camera' results
  • Image parameters (NR, WB, contrast, Saturation) don't provide a wide enough range of control
  • Noise (and noise reduction in JPEGs) more of an issue at ISO 400+ than most competitors
  • Live view still requires extra mirror flip, which introduces delays
  • Contrast detect focus slow, and not compatible with 99% of existing Four-Thirds lenses
  • Lacks sophisticated customization options of similarly-priced competitors
  • Auto focus provides just three focus points, although AF performance good
  • Focus-by-wire kit lens means no focus distance indication, lack of precision and slight lag
  • 3 frame raw buffer
  • Noisy shutter and mirror assembly
  • Slightly 'plasticy' build quality
  • Large (and heavy with the kit lens)
  • Price and strong competition
  • Poor battery life when using live view
  • Focus slow in low light
  • Occasional metering issues require manual intervention
  • Record review brightness not at all accurate
  • Slower than average startup (presumably due to SSWF doing it's dust-busting)

Overall conclusion

Panasonic's second digital SLR is a far more conventional affair than its first attempt, the DSC-L1. It's also quite obviously aimed at a very different type of user - the beginner / first time user / upgrader from a compact. To this end the L10 has perhaps the most compact-like operation and user interface of any SLR to date (and if you were being cruel, the most compact-like JPEG image quality too). And though it may look a lot more conventional, in typical Panasonic fashion it has a few unique tricks up its sleeve, mainly centred around the sophisticated live view capabilities.

Until recently live view on digital SLRs has felt like a clumsy add-on, with most implementations completely breaking the flow of framing-focusing-shooting with extra buttons and slow, confusing combinations of mirror flipping and display freezing. This is because virtually all live view modes still use a separate sensor for focusing, and this can only work if the mirror is down - and if the mirror is down you can't use the sensor for live view, hence the constant flip flopping as you frame, focus and shoot.

The L10 is the first consumer level SLR to offer a more intuitive (and more familiar) process with contrast detect focusing using the main sensor. This allows you to focus in live view without dropping the mirror, and though it's slower than phase detect AF, it is considerably more user-friendly (it really is just like using a compact; half press the shutter, watch the camera focus, wait for the beep). Of course this is all spoilt slightly by the almost half second pre-focus shutter lag when you actually take the picture (because in live view the shutter is open and the mirror up, and to actually make the exposure they need to get back to their 'normal' positions), but it's a big improvement on previous systems. And that's before we get on to the issues of lens compatability (which currently stands at one; the one it ships with) and the painful effect all this has on battery life...

But putting the live view stuff aside for a minute, how does the L10 compare as a camera? The answer is - for the type of user it's clearly aimed at - very well. It has a similar feature set to cameras like the Canon EOS 400D, Sony Alpha 100 and Olympus E-510, though power users will find the user interface (lifted straight from the FZ 'superzoom' series of compacts) and level of customization on offer a little disappointing. And if you're prepared to shoot raw and process the images yourselves the L10's sensor is capable of capturing truly stunning levels of detail at low ISO's (though noise is an issue higher up the scale). It's easy and enjoyable to use too.

But the problem facing Panasonic is that the L10 is neither fish nor fowl; it's too expensive to compete in the growing entry-level 10MP SLR market and nowhere near well-specified enough to play with the big boys in the enthusiast / semi-pro market it's price pushes it towards.

At the moment it is only available in a kit with the new Leica 14-50mm D Vario Elmar, which though very good, is slower than its predecessor and accounts for a good half the ticket price. For the same money you could get an Olympus E-510 (with its superb in-body stabilization) and two excellent Zuiko lenses and still have $600 to spare. Whilst we try not to let price get in the way of our assessment of cameras too much, there's simply no getting away from the fact that for what it is the L10 is shockingly over-priced.

Panasonic's desire - need - to plough its own furrow is understandable in the face of the dominance of the big DLSR brands. It's got little chance of competing directly with Canon or Nikon directly, and the L10 is a surprisingly mature and innovative product that I enjoyed using and got some impressive results from. But I couldn't get away from the price, nor could I really justify the cost of the kit lens (particularly for the typical target user).

And so there we have it; a DSLR that is a very good, but very expensive, entry-level model that would be the ideal first SLR for a compact camera user wanting to move to the next level. A camera capable of stunning output in raw mode, but a camera that it's hard to give a wholehearted recommendation to because Panasonic insists on bundling it with an over-priced kit lens and adds insult to injury by using image processing that produces JPEGs which hide the true capabilities of the lens/sensor.

Detail (D-SLR)
Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.0
Features 8.0
Image quality 8.5
Performance (speed) 8.5
Value 6.5

Recommended

Highly Recommended

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