Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Review
Record mode information / settings changes
Live View off (viewfinder mode)
As previously mentioned the L10 does without a control panel LCD display, instead (in viewfinder mode) it uses the LCD monitor to provide a overview of camera configuration. It's clear and simple and has just the right level of information to allow you to take it all in at a glance, though there isn't the option (seen on Olympus SLRs for example) to increase the amount of information shown. My only wish would be that you could access the controls shown on the information panel directly (as you can with many other SLRs using the arrow keys to move around the tabs) - you have to use the dedicated buttons to make changes.
|Example of record mode information||Changing ISO sensitivity|
|AE Compensation||Manual Exposure|
|Advanced scene mode selection||Scene mode info screen|
Live View on
With the Live View enabled the information display changes to look very much like you'd expect to see on a high end compact camera, with the information overlaid around the edge of the preview image. Pressing any of the external buttons to make changes brings up the same display as seen when using the viewfinder but overlaid on the live preview (to be honest the FUNC button is a cleaner way to make basic changes when in live view mode).
|Example of record mode information (including live histogram)||Changing ISO sensitivity|
|Changing White Balance||Changing exposure compensation|
Olympus and Panasonic were the original live view pioneers with the E-330 and Lumix L1, but the implementation in these - and most subsequent models - was clunky and counterintuitive. The problem is simple; the sensor in an SLR sits behind a shutter and a mirror (needed to direct the light from the lens into the viewfinder), and the focus and exposure systems can use separate sensors that can only operate with the mirror down. Live view requires the mirror to be up and the shutter to be open.
This means that - unless you use a separate CCD sensor in the prism as the E-330 did - in order to focus and set the exposure an SLR in live view mode needs to freeze the preview image, close the shutter, drop the mirror and focus, then open the shutter again and raise the mirror (so you can see the result). When you press the shutter to take the picture it has to do it all again (drop the mirror, close the shutter, lift the mirror and open the shutter for the required exposure time). This all takes time and can be incredibly confusing with all that mirror and shutter flip-flopping.
The L10 still has to flip up the mirror and open the shutter in order to activate live view mode, but it has the unique ability to focus using the sensor itself using contrast detect AF, the same system used by pretty much every compact digital camera ever made (half press the shutter release, just like normal). This makes the L10's live preview mode feel more like a fixed lens compact camera than any we've ever used, but there are limitations.
Firstly you can only use contrast detect AF with compatible lenses (basically the kit lens and the newly announced 14-150mm 'super zoom'). Secondly, because the mirror and shutter still have to get back to the right place before a picture can be taken there is a much greater shutter lag (we measured it at around 0.4 seconds). But the operation is a lot faster than we've seen before, and you can use the 'half press to focus, full press to take a picture' that you're accustomed to, and for anything but fast moving subjects it's actually very usable.
In Live View mode you can selected one of five view modes as shown below.
|Image with camera settings overlay||As previous plus histogram|
|No settings overlay but 'thirds' grid lines||No settings overlay but 'quarters' grid lines (the point of intersection can be customized)|
|No settings overlay, no grid|
Live View: Auto Focus
As noted above live view autofocus is a big improvement on the L1 thanks to the ability to use the sensor for contrast-detect autofocus. This is slower (though theoretically more accurate) than the conventional phase-detect AF used on DSLRs, but not painfully so (for example we measured the focus speed to be around 0.7 seconds using contrast detect as opposed to 0.3 seconds with phase detect under the same conditions).
You can optionally use the camera's own three-point phase detect autofocus system in live view mode (this your only choice with most lenses) - if you do you'll still have to live with the 'double shutter' sound as the system works through the laborious process outlined later on this page. Again, the fast moving mirror helps make the process a lot less agonizing (and in most cases it's actually faster than using the contrast detect AF).
Contrast Detect focus
Using sensor based focus gives you a lot more 'compact like' focus options, including face detection, multi area, 1, 3 or 9 area and spot focusing.
|Spot focus (choosing from one of 12 spots)||AF area (multi) AF|
|1-area focusing (choosing the area)||Face detection|
Contrast Detect AF focus and shutter release sequence
Below is a step-by-step walk through the process of focusing and taking a picture when using contrast detect AF in live view mode.
|Starting point (deliberately defocused)||Half press the shutter and the camera focuses (preview remains 'live' during focus).|
|Press the shutter and the live view disappears (the image is not frozen on screen) - the mirror is dropped, the shutter closes and the exposure is made normally. We measured this activity to increase the shutter lag to around 0.4 seconds.||As soon as the exposure is made the instant review appears (optional) and the card activity symbol flashes.|
|You can optionally have the instant review jump to a magnified view for checking focus.||Finally the live view returns and you're ready to take another shot.|
Phase Detect AF
The L10 can also act like an L1 (or one of the recent Olympus SLRs), using the main (phase detect) AF sensor for focusing, but this requires another mirror and shutter flip-flop. Note that with anything other than the two new lenses this is the only focus mode option in live view mode. Our measurements indicate that full press lag (focus and shutter lag) is about 0.3 secs longer for live view with phase AF than it is when using the viewfinder. Using contrast detect AF increases the full press lag (over using the viewfinder) by around 0.8 seconds (mainly down to the slower focusing). We did like the fact that the focus is activated by a half-press of the shutter, rather than a dedicated AF button (which is a lot more intuitive and allows you to do a 'full press' exposure without prefocusing).
As with the L1, when using the main AF sensor the preview image is frozen whilst the mirror is down and the camera focuses.
The sequence you're seeing here is: live view before focus, half-press shutter release, display freezes (AF...) is shown (mirror down, AF), focus complete (mirror up), focus point is shown briefly, live view returns.
|In phase detect focus mode (whether in live view or using the viewfinder) you have (by today's standards) a rather miserly three focus points to choose from (or you can leave it on auto and let the camera choose). Focus is fast and accurate, but if you do a lot of refocusing using live view you'll find the contrast detect mode a lot more intuitive.|
Live View (Phase detect AF): Shutter release sequence
Once focused you're likely to want to take a shot, the sequence is; mirror down, screen blacks out (around a second) while mirror is raised and shutter release occurs, mirror dropped and the record review image is displayed.
Live View: Manual Focus magnification
The L10 has an 8x magnified Live View feature in manual focus mode, this is activated by pressing the left or arrow then the set button. You can move the magnified point around the screen using the arrow keys. This feature is very useful for fine tuning manual focus.
|Manual focus mode||Press the left/right arrows and then place the magnification loupe|
|Press SET to magnify and you can clearly see the image is out of focus||Adjust the manual focus, press SET to return to full image view|
Live View: Low Light performance
W were fairly impressed with the live view's ability to 'gain up' in low light. In very dim conditions the preview can get quite grainy but the main culprit is the refresh rate, which drops considerably in the dark. Note that there is no depth of field preview on the L10.