Panasonic's second DSLR has some fierce competition, so how well does it put up a fight?....
Features and Handling
Panasonic has revisited the AF system for the L10, with a combination of phase detection and contrast detection, though still within the visible three-point Wide Area AF of the L1 (and OIympus cameras, come to that). The company claims that the phase-detection system is best for TTL autofocusing when using the viewfinder, while contrast detection is more suited for live view use, also claiming that this new system is the most advanced hybrid AF in the world.
This combination of technologies is also at work within the metering system, with 49-zone evaluative metering available when using the viewfinder, while a full 256-zone system is available when using the LiveView. Panasonic hasn’t explained why this is, but my guess is that the metering in live view takes advantage of the sensor’s own system, rather than a smaller, secondary sensor placed in the pentaprism for standard metering.
The format of the image may be changed from 4:3 to 16:9 for widescreen viewing. Traditionalists may prefer the 3:2 format of 35mm film, which is also an option. Be warned, though, that these images are cropped, and so don’t offer the full 10MP resolution, and the format change isn’t viewable in the viewfinder before you shoot either, just in the live view mode.
The L10 is an attractive camera, with a deep, secure rubberised grip that provides a safe hold. The styling is much more DSLR-like than its precursor, with a raised pentaprism, a mode dial where the shutter dial used to be and the shutter release button placed further forward over the grip (the L1’s was centrally placed on the shutter dial).
The most striking thing about the camera, though, is the flip-out, vari-angle LCD screen. This is nothing new on compacts – Canon had them for years on PowerShot models, for example – but it’s a radical departure for DSLRs. The multi-position LCD screen allows the user to see the menu, and the live view of the scene in a variety of positions, making ‘shooting from the hip’ a much more literal reality.
While the aperture ring on Leica lenses can still be used, the L10 also has a front command dial, so if the lens is set to ‘A’, or Olympus lenses are attached, you can control the aperture or shutter (depending on the mode) with your forefinger, while a back command dial offers exposure compensation when used in A, S and P modes. In manual mode, the front wheel controls aperture, with the back controlling shutter speed. While this system is less fun in use than the L1, it’s more convenient, quicker to operate and much more in line with the majority of other DSLRs.
These command dials offer a slight variation in function when using the scene modes, which actually offer some radical changes over other cameras and require closer examination.
The main scene modes are present, including Landscape, Portrait etc, and allow a simple but effective amount of control. When you first enter a scene mode, you are presented with four options – icons offer a basic mode and two refinements. Portraits, for example, have an indoor or outdoor setting, while for Landscapes it’s nature or architecture. A fourth icon presents a creative option. In this mode, you can adjust the aperture or shutter, depending on which scene mode you are in. A simple slider and diagram, operated by the front command dial, shows the effect of changing the setting – so in Portrait mode, for example, the diagram illustrates a head with a fuzzy background at one end of the slider, while at the other end it shows a head with a sharp background, indicating the changes to depth of field. As a learning tool, this is very useful and we applaud Panasonic for illustrating sometimes complex techniques in a simple way.
One disappointment on a camera at this price is the slow burst rate. At just 3fps, it fails to compete with the similarly priced Sony Alpha 700, which offers 5fps, or Canon EOS 40D (6.5fps). Similarly the AF system has only three selectable points which, while effective, doesn’t compete with its peers.