In developing the DMC-L1, Panasonic's aim was to create a digital SLR camera that delivers superb photographic rendering capabilities and is a pleasure to use.
The DMC-L1 comes equipped with a Leica D Vario-Elmarit lens that features the industry's first optical image stabilization system--MEGA O.I.S--designed specifically for the digital camera. The DMC-L1 also incorporates a Live MOS image sensor that conforms to the Four Thirds standard and offers 7.5 megapixels to ensure outstanding picture quality. The new camera introduces a full-time Live View function that, using a signal output directly from the Live MOS sensor, lets users see on the LCD screen the same image seen by the sensor. With full-time Live View and the DMC-L1's large LCD screen, users can compose shots in new ways and with greater ease and accuracy.
In the new DMC-L1, Panasonic has incorporated today's most advanced digital technologies while maintaining the attractive look and operating feel of the familiar film camera. A shutter speed dial on the camera top together with an aperture ring on the Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm/f2.8-3.5 lens give the user easy, intuitive control of the exposure. The magnesium-alloy body, which in design closely resembles the body of a rangefinder camera from days past, combines with the aluminium-alloy lens section to offer both high rigidity and a high-grade appearance.
The DMC-L1's lens mount system adopts the open format of the Four Thirds system, developed as a common standard for digital cameras. The Live MOS sensor it incorporates is a 4/3-type image sensor. This means that the DMC-L1 can be used with lenses made by a variety of manufacturers, giving users a host of equipment options. In the Four Thirds system, the lens diameter is larger than the image circle, making it possible to design the lens so that the light passes on a straight path to the image sensor. As a result, lenses for digital cameras can be created in a size smaller than those that complied with 35mm film SLR camera standards, meeting the needs of today's digital age.
Refined design makes the camera a pleasure to hold and use
The DMC-L1 offers a high-grade appearance and high reliability and durability thanks to use of a lightweight, high-rigidity magnesium alloy for the camera body. The body periphery and grip are covered with a textured, simulated leather that helps ensure a secure, slip-free hold.
The Leica D Vario-Elmarit lens, the first interchangeable lens designed specifically for digital cameras to bear the Leica brand name, is a standard zoom lens developed jointly by and combining the optical technologies of Leica Camera AG and Panasonic. A new set of quality standards were created specifically for this lens, to ensure that it would bring out the best performance of the camera it is coupled with.
With a focal length range equivalent to 28mm (wide) to 100mm (medium telescopic) on a 35mm film camera, the Leica D lens provides exceptional results with everything from portraits to landscapes. This bright f2.8-3.5 lens allows maximum use of the out-of-focus techniques possible only with an SLR camera.
The lens also provides outstanding macro shooting, thanks to a 29mm minimum shooting distance (0.32x maximum magnification, 35mm equivalent) across the entire zoom range. From landscapes to portraits to macro close-ups, the Leica D zoom lens excels in a wide variety of shooting situations.
The lens system comprises 16 elements in 12 groups and features two large-diameter glass-molded aspherical lenses. Meeting the Leica D lens lofty quality standards, this lens unit provides a superior optical performance and matches perfectly with the digital SLR camera body. The result is exquisite rendering, with images that offer clarity, depth, and rich expression from corner to corner, even at a fully open aperture.
The optical image stabilization system--MEGA O.I.S--provided in the lens unit helps minimize blurring to ensure that photos are sharp even in situations when hand-shake is typically a problem, such as when taking macro close-ups, indoor shots, or night portrait shots. Thanks to the gyrosensors and Venus Engine Plus LSI built into the lens, the system detects camera movement at a rate of 4,000 times per second, so hand-shake compensation is extremely precise.
There are two image-stabilization modes. In Mode 1 the hand-shake compensation function remains active at all times, so the image in the LCD and viewfinder is clear, which makes shots easier to compose. In Mode 2 the system activates only when the shutter button is pressed; this provides a more precise compensation performance. Users can select whichever mode they prefer in a specific situation.
Full-time Live View allows users to shoot in new ways
Panasonic has developed a full-time Live View function that lets users accurately compose photos while viewing the high-resolution 2.5-inch LCD screen. In previous digital SLR cameras, a "live" image could be seen only through the viewfinder. The new full-time Live View function thus represents a dramatic change in digital SLR photography, giving users new ways to shoot.
Full-time Live View provides a 100 percent view field coverage (that is, the same image seen by the image sensor) on the DMC-L1's large, 2.5-inch LCD monitor. Users can compose a shot easily and accurately while viewing the screen. The screen also displays critical information such as a live histogram and white balance, which users can easily check prior to snapping the shot. When a tripod is used, full-time Live View lets users compose the image without bending to peer through the viewfinder. In these ways, users will find that full-time Live View gives them both more shooting flexibility and greater convenience.
The Live MOS image sensor must remain ON when full-time Live View is in use. The Live MOS sensor has a full-time image output function that sends a signal directly to the LCD, allowing high-quality display on the LCD screen of the same image seen in the sensor. Note that when the full-time Live View function is active, the internal mirror is in the raised position, which means that there will be no image visible in the optical viewfinder.
Users can take advantage of the revolutionary full-time Live View function in both Autofocus and Manual Focus modes. When using Manual Focus, users can select a particular area within the frame and enlarge it up to 10x. Then, viewing the DMC-L1's 2.5-inch 207,000-pixel LCD screen, it is easy to check the focus. It is also possible, by pressing the aperture preview button, to check the depth of field. When the aperture is being adjusted, the DMC-L1 automatically adjusts the brightness of the full-time Live View image on the LCD screen to prevent it from becoming too dark to see. This makes it easier to check the depth of field.
4/3-type 7.5-megapixel, high-resolution, energy-saving Live MOS sensor
The Live MOS sensor used in the DMC-L1 provides the beautiful images with delicate gradation and wide dynamic range that only a CCD image sensor can provide. To this it adds the low energy consumption only a CMOS sensor can offer. The use of dedicated processing technology enables operation at a low voltage of 5V, minimizing noise in darker parts of an image. Also, photodiodes embedded deeply in the silicon layer create a structure that suppresses noise generated on the substrate surface. As a result, the white-spot pixel defects and textural roughness that often characterize images captured in dim lighting are minimized, so photos are crisp and clear.
Dust-reduction system prevents dust and other particles from degrading images
One of the most critical issues with digital SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses is the possibility of dust entering the camera body during lens changes. This dust can adhere to the image sensor and show up as spots on photos taken. Panasonic has solved this problem by equipping the DMC-L1 with a Supersonic Wave Filter system that uses supersonic vibration to shake off any dust clinging to the sensor. This simplifies camera maintenance and eliminates worries about dust entering the camera body when lenses are being changed outdoors, so users can enjoy themselves and just concentrate on shooting.
Venus Engine III image processing LSI
The Venus Engine III is an image processing LSI developed by Panasonic to maximize the performance of the Leica D lens and Live MOS sensor. This advanced LSI not only helps reproduce images with outstanding resolution, superior color, and detailed gradation, it also distinguishes chromatic noise from luminance noise and selectively reduces the chromatic noise, one of the chief sources of image quality problems. This helps the DMC-L1 deliver the superb image rendering one expects from a quality SLR camera. The Venus Engine III also works swiftly, helping give the DMC-L1 a quick startup time of one second, shorter shutter interval, and improved consecutive shooting performance.
Further, the Venus Engine III consumes 20 percent less power than its predecessor, the Venus Engine II. This combines with the Live MOS sensor's low energy consumption to give the DMC-L1 longer battery life. Users can take around 450 shots (CIPA standard) on a single battery charge.
In film cameras, the brand of film used affects the color characteristics, gradation, and color saturation of the photos taken. This gives photographers the option of choosing a particular brand of film to attain a particular desired effect. The DMC-L1 provides a similar option by giving the user a total of seven "film" modes to choose from, including four color settings (Standard, Dynamic, Natural, and Smooth) and three monochrome settings (Standard, Dynamic, and Smooth). Just as photographers can switch film brands to change the imaging characteristics, DMC-L1 users can switch modes to achieve a similar effect.
Two-axis white balance adjustment
In addition to the conventional white balance setting, the DMC-L1 features a two-axis setting system that allows even finer white balance adjustment. Making adjustments along a horizontal amber-blue axis and a vertical green-magenta axis, users can set the camera for detailed color cast compensation over virtually the entire color space.
Extra Optical Zoom
When the camera is set to record at less than the maximum number of pixels, users can take advantage of an Extra Optical Zoom function. (Only applicable in using full-time Live View function.) This function alters the 7.5-megapixel Live MOS sensor's operating area, to vary the angle of view and increase the maximum zoom ratio.
Unlike a digital zoom, the Extra Optical Zoom function extends the focal length 1.5 times when the the DMC-L1 is used with the Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm/f2.8-3.5 ASPH lens provided and when shooting at 3-megapixel or a lower-resolution mode without degrading the image. Users enjoy extra zoom power without loss of picture quality.
Other features and functions
- Supports SDHC format
- Compatible with external TTL flash units (models DMW-FL500, DMW-FL360)
- Auto bracket function shoots three or five photos at exposures changing in steps of +1/3 to 1 EV
- Equipped with a shutter-speed Bulb setting (8 minutes maximum)
Known problem with the 14-50 Leica lens
This is a great camera with a stunning tack-sharp lens. That said, many owners on the Leica forum have reported a problem with the 14-50 lens that comes on the camera. The lens sometime comes with, or later develops, the problem of binding of the zoom function, which after time locks up completely or at best restricts zoom movement. Also, several new owners have reported that they have received a camera with a lens whose front end is "loose" and can be wiggled back and forth. This is alarming, but does not seem to effect the camera focus, at least on my DMC-L1 with its case of front end wobbles. Alas, also my lens seem to be developing the dreading zoom restriction about mid zoom.
So, if you do purchase this camera, do carefully check out the 14-50mm lens for what appears to be, or have been, a widespread manufacturing defect. The lens should zoom in and out smoothly. If there is a slight restriction or a "catch" in the movement, you're likely in for downline trouble.
With a defect-free lens, this camera is superb, and well worth the potential hassle of returning the product for replacement if you find yourself with a lens whose zoom function fails and binds.
The DMC-L1 is considerably less expensive than the Leica branded version, and offers the feel and advantages of the range finder cameras like the Leica M3 or the Nikon SP, so loved by photojournalists of yesteryear. Ah, but if only the DMC-L1 was as petite as the old Leica M3.
One of a kind, never to be mistaken
When this camera was introduced I knew I wanted one. The look and feature set just appealed to me. Finally I got one. It is not a perfect camera for everyone, but get your hands on one and it speaks for itself. I love using this camera and I find it quite comfortable to use with everything where I expect it to be. Some features I particularly like are the manual controls, two-stage flash, live view, and the kit lens.
The manual controls feel more natural than using menus. I especially like the quick access buttons on the back and the drive mode and metering switches on top. Though these switches can change position easily at times, I still much prefer it to delving into a menu. I also love the two programable function buttons. This can be very useful, though be warned that one of them defaults to aperture when using a lens without the ring. But this has its workarounds.
I normally avoid using flash, but on the L1 I will try to find a way to use it. The bounce flash I find especially useful for portraits. The power of the flash I think is also very good for a built in unit. Its also amusing to see other peoples' faces when you pop the flash.
Live view is a feature many seem to scoff at, but I find it quite useful. It also helps to compensate for the viewfinder's deficiencies or when you really want to get that unique perspective.
And last but not least, the LEICA lens. I wanted a bright lens, and the L1 comes with one. Having a quality piece of glass to start with is a real plus and this lens is part of what makes the L1 the camera it is.
The L1 has its faults and quirks too.
The viewfinder is small and dark. Though I don't find it to be any darker than the viewfinder on my old Canon AE-1, it is smaller than most. But it is adequate for ordinary shooting and something you quickly adjust to. If you're shooting detail you can use Live VIew to check focus and to better view in dark lighting.
The auto focus is normally quick and near silent, but it does struggle in dim lighting or under harsh backlighting. Then the lens racks through its range and can make a bit of noise. But it is quieter than mechanical focus systems and I find it to be very accurate most of the time.
Lastly a few nit-picks. The flash being located off center from the lens axis can cause uneven lighting, but it is barely noticeable and often only occurs at either close or far distances. Also, don't use the lens hood with the flash as it causes shadows. The shutter dial is nice to use, except it doesn't turn 360 degrees. This makes switching from aperture to shutter priority a slight pain at times. But it isn't a big deal unless you switch between shooting modes a lot. Battery life isn't stellar by comparison to some others, especially if you use Live View a lot. So an extra battery would be suggested.
Overall this is a very unique piece of photographic equipment and is one you will either love or hate. But don't just take peoples' word for it. Get your hands on one and see for yourself. I love mine and wouldn't trade it for anything. I'm proud to own what will surely become a piece of photographic history.
I love this camera. I've used Canons and Nikons in the past, especially D30s and D40s, and I much prefer using the L1. I almost always shoot manual, and find the actual, physical controls on this to be a great improvement over all the buttons on the Canon. The design/navigation of the menu is also the nicest I've seen on a digital camera (have also owned Sony and Fuji). Picture quality is outstanding. Plus, I admit I really like walking past people carrying their omnipresent Canons and Nikons, while I'm sporting a much rarer Lumix.
The single biggest flaw with this is the viewfinder. It really is too dark - a problem common to many dSLRs which don't use pentaprisms like film SLRs. It can be worked around, but it's a real annoyance.
Also, be aware that this is not a small, inconspicuous camera.