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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 18, 2007
Last Updated: February 5, 2008
The Lumix DMC-L1 marks Panasonic's entry into the crowded midrange digital SLR market. Co-developed with Olympus (whose E-330 is quite similar), the DMC-L1 packs a 7.5 Megapixel LiveMOS sensor, a FourThirds lens mount, a 2.5" LCD display with live view, full manual controls, dust reduction system, and a Leica-style body that's literally built like a brick. Unlike the E-330, there's only one live view mode on the DMC-L1, since there's no secondary CCD near the viewfinder. You can use live view in both manual and autofocus mode on the L1, though it's not terribly responsive, as there's a lot of "mirror flipping" that needs to occur before a photo is actually taken.
Another important part of the DMC-L1 package is its kit lens. This F2.8-3.5 Leica lens has a focal range of 14 - 50 mm (equivalent to 28 - 100 mm on the DMC-L1) with the added bonus of optical image stabilization. While it's still made in Japan, this lens definitely impresses.
The DMC-L1 was originally priced at just under $2000, but has since settled down at around the $1700 mark. One large discount warehouse chain (hint: starts with a C, ends with an O) recently had it for $1299, but that offer has since ended.
Is the L1 worth its rather hefty price? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The DMC-L1 is currently sold only with a lens (no body-only kit). The bundle is quite good for a D-SLR, and it includes:
As is the case with all digital SLRs, there's no memory card included in the box with the camera. Needless to say, you'll need to buy yourself one, unless you already have a stash of Secure Digital cards laying around. The camera supports both SD/MMC cards plus the new, high capacity SDHC format. Buying a high speed card (60X or above) is always a smart idea when you're using a digital SLR.
You won't need to buy a lens, though, as that nice Leica 14-50 that I described earlier is included. I was most impressed with its performance during my time with the L1. If you want to buy a different lens, then you can choose from the numerous FourThirds lenses out there made by Olympus and Sigma.
The L1's lithium-ion battery is known as the CGR-S603A, and it packs a powerful 10.8 Wh of energy. As far as I can tell, this battery is not interchangeable with the BLM-1 battery used by the E-330 and other Olympus SLRs, despite their similar appearance. What kind of battery life can you get out of the L1? Have a look:
Despite having the same "guts" and battery power as the similar Olympus E-330, Panasonic's engineers have still managed to squeeze 50% more battery life out of the camera. Despite that, the L1's battery life is worse than average, especially if you use live view.
The usual warnings about proprietary batteries like the one used by the L1 apply here. First off, they're expensive -- a whopping $70 a pop (though third party batteries are available for about half that). Second, you can't use off-the-shelf batteries when your rechargeables dies, as you could with an AA-based camera. While there aren't any cameras in this class that let you use AA batteries right out of the box, several support them via an optional battery grip.
Speaking of battery grips, there isn't one available for the DMC-L1.
When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger. The charger doesn't plug right into the wall -- you must use a power cable. It takes a little over two hours to fully charge the battery.
The battery charger also doubles as an AC adapter, which lets you power the camera without draining the battery. You plug one end into the charger and then put the DC coupler (basically a dummy battery) into the L1's battery compartment, threading the cable through a special hole.
Naturally, Panasonic includes a lens cap with the camera (not shown here). You'll also get a lens hood for shooting outdoors. If that's still not enough, Panasonic even threw in a soft carrying bag for the lens. Hey, gotta justify the high price somehow!
Since it's a digital SLR, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the DMC-L1 has a ton of accessories available. They include:
One things for sure: Panasonic accessories are ridiculously expensive!
Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows
Panasonic includes several software products with the camera, though only one of them is Mac compatible. The first one is Lumix Simple Viewer (Windows only), which does just what it sounds like: it imports and views photos. You can't do any editing -- just rotation, printing, and e-mailing. The version of Simple Viewer that came with my L1 could not even display RAW images. The user interface also leaves much to be desired.
PhotoFunStudio for Windows
For slightly more complex tasks there's PhotoFunStudio, again for Windows only. This can do all the things Simple Viewer can do, plus it can also resize and rename images. It cannot view RAW images either.
SilkyPix Developer Studio for Mac OS X
If you want to manipulate the RAW images produced by the L1 then you'll need to use the included SilkyPix Developer Studio software, which is the only Mac compatible software included with the camera. While it certainly won't win any awards for its user interface, SilkyPix does let you edit plenty of RAW properties, including exposure, white balance, sharpness, tone and color, and noise reduction. I found its processing speeds to be quite sluggish on my dual processor Mac Pro, though.
If you have Adobe Photoshop CS2, you can also use the latest version of the Camera Raw plug-in to open and edit the L1's RAW images.
The RAW format, by the way, is a lossless image format consisting of raw image data from the CCD. Because of this, you can change things like white balance, sharpness, and saturation without lowering the quality of the original image. So if you screwed up the white balance you can fix it -- it's like taking the shot all over again. The catch is that RAW files must be first processed on your computer before you can export them into more common formats such as JPEG. In addition, RAW files are considerably larger than JPEGs -- around 15MB each.
I'm not a huge fan of Panasonic's camera manuals, whether it's for cameras or DVD players. They're not terribly easy to read, with lots of "notes" on every page. You will get your question answered -- you'll just have to work a bit to find what you're looking for.
Look and Feel
The DMC-L1 bears little resemblance to its sister camera, the Olympus E-330. Rather, it has more in common with Leica rangefinder cameras of days past. I liken it to a brick: rectangular, sturdy, heavy, and not terribly easy to hold. The camera has a magnesium alloy frame, with a metal of metal and rubberized plastics on the surface. It's built like a tank.
Ergonomics aren't the L1's strong suit, in my opinion. The camera is big and bulky, and not terribly comfortable in your hand. It's covered with buttons and dials, which is good for the retro look, but not so good for usability: the L1 is harder to operate than most D-SLRs, and it's quite easy to accidentally change a setting, especially metering. This is definitely a camera that you want to try out before you buy it.
Now here's a look at how the DMC-L1 compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight (for the body only, of course):
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
Canon Digital Rebel XTi
5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in.
48.1 cu in.
510 g Canon EOS-30D
5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in.
69.4 cu in.
700 g Nikon D200
5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 in.
74 cu in.
830 g Nikon D80
5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in.
64 cu in.
585 g Olympus EVOLT E-330
5.5 x 3.4 x 2.8 in.
52.4 cu in.
550 g Olympus EVOLT E-500
5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in.
48.1 cu in.
435 g Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1
5.7 x 3.4 x 3.1 in.
60.1 cu in.
530 g Pentax K10D
5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in.
62.7 cu in.
710 g Sony Alpha DSLR-A100
5.3 x 3.8 x 2.9 in.
58.4 cu in.