Panasonic's second DSLR has some fierce competition, so how well does it put up a fight?....
In co-operation with Olympus and the open Four Thirds standard, Panasonic has developed a LiveMOS sensor, first seen on the L1 and Olympus E-330. This breakthrough technology allowed both companies to provide the first true live view through the camera’s LCD – something taken for granted on compact cameras, but difficult to achieve on DSLRs due to the mirror and mechanical shutter in front of the sensor. A year later, and live view has become the latest must-have technology, with both Nikon and Canon incorporating it into their latest models.
Panasonic, though, has taken this a step further, by placing the LCD screen on a vari-angle mount, allowing a 270o angle of rotation, so the user can see the screen wherever the camera is placed.
The sensor itself has also been revamped with a total of 11.8 million pixels of which 10.1 million are effective. The Four Thirds sensor is notably smaller than an APS-C type, so the photodiodes must necessarily be smaller to achieve the pixel population in that smaller surface area. Panasonic quotes them as being 2.2μm in size, yet claims the efficiency of light reception is raised to match that of larger photosites to achieve comparable sensitivity, in this case a maximum ISO 1600.
Image noise is controlled in a number of ways. Firstly, by embedding the photosites in the silicon layer, Panasonic claims that noise on the substrate surface is suppressed, while a new noise-reduction circuit on the sensor reduces white-spot pixel defects and textual roughness that often accompanies high-sensitivity shooting.
The inclusion of the latest Venus Engine processor, now in its third incarnation, also reduces noise by distinguishing chromatic noise from luminance noise, and then reducing the chromatic noise, theoretically minimising the coloured artefacts that appear in shadow areas. Panasonic also claims that the Venus Engine is designed to maximise the performance of Leica D lenses and provide superior colour and image gradation. But, then, they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Like other Four-Thirds models, the L10 also features the dust-busting SuperSonic Wave Filter, which uses supersonic vibration to shake dust from the sensor at start-up and power-down of the camera. This happens quickly, with the L10 starting up much quicker than previous cameras with this feature at around a second, which is as fast as most people would need.
One of the earliest technologies developed by Panasonic – and now practically a requirement of all new digital cameras – is Image Stabilisation. Developed from its video cameras, Mega OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) uses lens-based technology to counteract camera shake when using slow shutter speeds. In the case of the L10 three modes are included, all accessed via the camera menu. Mode 1 has IS operating the entire time the camera is in use, mode 2 activates the IS when the shutter release button is pressed, and mode 3 only corrects for movements on the vertical axis, so is ideal for panning during sports photography.