Compared to...

When deciding on comparison cameras we typically look at the target market (type of user) and also the price bracket (plus or minus about a third). This was made a little more difficult in the case of the L1 as it is only available in kit form and we know that the lens makes up at least half of the list price. Its initial price was a pretty astronomical $2,000, this pretty quickly dropped to around $1,500 where it has since stabilized. To be 'fair' we have chosen to match the Olympus cameras in the list below with the very nice Olympus 14-54 mm F2.8 - F3.5 lens which delivers excellent image quality and matches the L1's kit lens fairly well.

Kit combination
Equiv. 35 mm FOV
Max. aperture
Current street price
Panasonic DMC-L1 + Pana/Leica 14-50 mm lens 28 - 100 mm F2.8 - F3.5 $1,500
Olympus E-330 + Olympus 14-54 mm lens 28 - 108 mm F2.8 - F3.5 $1,130
Olympus E-510* + Olympus 14-54 mm lens 28 - 108 mm F2.8 - F3.5 $1,230
Canon EOS 30D + Canon 17-85 mm IS lens 27 - 136 mm F4.0 - F5.6 $1,650

* When we started writing this review Olympus hadn't yet announced the E-410 or E-510, sadly for Panasonic the E-510 will prove to be stiff competition at a lower price point (although at the time of publication it isn't yet available).

Of course all of these cameras (except the L1) are also available for less with their lesser quality kit lenses, in fact the E-510 is available as a dual lens kit providing 28 - 300 mm equiv. for $1,000 (but remember the quality of the lenses won't be close to that of the L1).

Studio scene comparison (JPEG)

This is our standard studio scene comparison shot taken from exactly the same tripod position. Lighting: daylight simulation, >98% CRI. Crops are 100%. Ambient temperature was approximately 22°C (~72°F).

On to our studio comparisons. Anyone who has read our reviews before knows we use 50 mm prime lenses where possible to deliver the sharpest possible image to the sensor and essentially render the lens 'transparent'. However as the L1 isn't available in a body only configuration we thought it would first be prudent to compare the kit lens quality at 50 mm with the Olympus 50 mm F2.0 macro lens we would be using for the other comparisons.

Panasonic DMC-L1:
Panasonic 14-50 mm lens vs. Olympus 50 mm F2.0 lens

Camera settings:

  • Panasonic DMC-L1: Lens as indicated below, Aperture Priority, ISO 100
    JPEG Large/Fine, Manual WB, Default Parameters, Self-Timer
Panasonic 14-50 mm lens
Olympus 50 mm F2.0 lens
4,010 KB JPEG (3136 x 2352)
3,891 KB JPEG (3136 x 2352)

As you can see the Leica designed kit lens performs extremely well, especially considering we're comparing it to a prime lens considered the sharpest Four Thirds lens available. If anything the Panasonic / Leica lens shows better contrast with darker blacks and very slightly better defined detail in certain places. Combine this comparison with the our other lens test results and the fact that it has image stabilization and it's clear that this lens is in a class of its own (and less of a surprise that the whole 'L1 kit' is so expensive).