Panasonic has clearly taken some influence from Leica in the design of the DMC-L1 (as they did with the Panasonic DMC-LC1 AKA Leica Digilux 2). Indeed at first glance (from the front) the L1 looks virtually identical to the LC1 (albeit a bit larger), however these two cameras couldn't be more different. As we have already discussed the L1 shares a fair amount of its optical components with the E-330; the lens mount, mirror and viewfinder chamber and eyepiece. This sharing is reflected in the camera design too, because of the sideways porro-mirror viewfinder we have no viewfinder prism on the top of the camera, instead the viewfinder appears offset to the left. The rear of the camera is quite a contrast to the sparse front with a wide array of buttons and controls including a command dial and four way controller. The grip on the right side is nicely shaped and utilizes some nice tactile rubber.

Build quality is very good, the entire top and rear of the camera are magnesium alloy (as you can see from the image of the frame below), and everything else feels well screwed together. My only gripe would be that some of the adjustment levers, such as focus mode, metering mode are not as stiff as I would like and can be knocked.

Side by side

Here's the DMC-L1 beside the camera with which it shares so much, the Olympus E-330. I'm not sure who's going to be more upset about this shot, Panasonic or Olympus, but as you can see the DMC-L1's Leica branded Four Thirds 14-50 mm F2.8-F3.5 OIS lens fits the E-330 and I can report works perfectly well. Thanks to its big, fast lens the DMC-L1 comes in as the heaviest digital SLR 'ready to shoot' in this comparison table (although arguably the better for it).

+ lens equiv. FOV (kit)
Dimensions (excl. lens)
(W x H x D)
Shooting weight
(battery, card & lens)
Canon EOS 350D
  28.8 - 88 mm equiv. (3x)
127 x 94 x 64 mm
(5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in)
724 g (1.6 lb)
Olympus E-500 EVOLT
  28 - 90 mm equiv. (3.2x)
130 x 95 x 66 mm
(5.1 x 3.7 x 2.6 in)
814 g (1.8 lb)
Nikon D50
  27 - 82.5 mm equiv. (3x)
133 x 102 x 76 mm
(5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 in)
828 g (1.8 lb)
Sony DSLR-A100
  27 - 105 mm equiv. (3.8x)
133 x 95 x 71 mm
(5.2 x 3.7 x 2.8 in)
873 g (1.9 lb)
Olympus E-330 EVOLT
  28 - 90 mm equiv. (3.2x)
140 x 87 x 72 mm
(5.5 x 3.4 x 2.8 in)
906 g (2.0 lb)
Panasonic DMC-L1
  28 - 100 mm equiv. (3.6x) OIS
146 x 87 x 77 mm
(5.7 x 3.4 x 3.0 in)
1090 g (2.4 lb)

In your hand

The moldings of the L1's hand grip really do work quite well and the slightly soft 'tactile' rubber used in its construction also help, I should say however that it's not really as comfortable to hold as a more traditionally shaped digital SLR (such as the Olympus E-500, Sony A100 etc.). Build quality is excellent with its entirely metal top and rear there are no creaks or rattles.

LCD Monitor

The L1 features a large 2.5" LCD monitor that is bright and detailed, it has a plastic window to protect it (with an anti-reflective coating). Unlike 'that other live view digital SLR' the E-330 the L1's screen is fixed, it doesn't flip up or rotate outwards which is a pity because it means you can't get the full advantage of live view for low or high level shots (macros, over-head etc.)

Shooting information display

As the L1 doesn't have a dedicated 'control panel' LCD display the LCD monitor doubles to provide an overview of cameras settings when not in live view mode, a breakdown of information available is shown in the diagram below.


The L1 has an optical porro finder which uses a four mirrors (one sideways swinging) to bend light from the lens to the viewfinder eyepiece. This unusual design was first seen in the E-330, and as this is the same optical system it provides the L1 with the same compact layout. Unfortunately just like the E-330 the L1's viewfinder view is very small compared to other digital SLR's, it's also darker than you would expect.

Note that the above photograph was taken of a pre-production camera, the production unit has a different eyepiece, a photograph of which you can find here.

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).

* AF lock, Exposure compensation, AE Bracketing