Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1

Tweakers will appreciate the DMC-L1's custom functions. For example, in addition to the four color and three black-and-white film mode presets, you can set two custom film modes, wherein you can choose the levels of contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction applied to JPEG images. As alluded to earlier, there are two custom function buttons located next to the shutter-speed dial. Each can be set to control things such as film mode, picture size, raw on/off, and more. Also, a subsection of the menu system, called the custom menu, lets you set a number of shooting options, such as color space and AF zone, and save your selections as one of three custom sets. This is especially useful if multiple shooters will use the same camera, or if you want to set certain functions for specific shooting conditions.

The rest of the features are what you'd expect in a dSLR of this class, though unlike some pricier cameras, ISOs move in full-stop instead of half- or third-stop increments. Also, unlike the E-330, which offers plus or minus 5EV of exposure compensation, the L1 offers only plus or minus 2EV. We were just as surprised to notice that the autofocus system has a mere three focus points. Most dSLRs targeted above entry level have more than three AF points. On the plus side, like the E-330, the Lumix DMC-L1 shakes dust off the sensor when you start up the camera. In our lab tests, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 performed slightly slower than its competition. It took 1.1 seconds from turning the power on until it captured its first shot. Once it was on, it took 1 second between capturing JPEG images, 1.4 seconds between capturing JPEGs with the built-in flash, and 1 second between RAW images. Shutter lag measured a speedy 0.5 second in bright light and a somewhat sluggish 1.6 seconds in low light.

Continuous shooting fared slightly better in our tests. In the low-speed mode, we were able capture 7.5-megapixel Super-Fine quality JPEGs at a rate of 2fps. In high-speed burst mode, that jumped to about 2.8fps.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100K
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1
Nikon D80
Olympus Evolt E-330

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Typical continuous-shooting speed  
Despite my complaints about design, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 can create very nice images under the right conditions. With its kit lens, we saw virtually no colored fringing, and images were very sharp, with accurate, well-saturated, colors (but not overly so) and a decent dynamic range. The automatic white balance produced overly warm images with our lab's tungsten lights, thought the camera's tungsten preset produced much more neutral results. The manual white balance we set provided the most neutral results. Exposures were generally very good when relying on the camera's automatic exposure system. The camera did a decent but not excellent job of balancing fill flash from its built-in flash with light from the lamp in our test scene.

Until recently, Panasonic compact cameras have been notoriously noisy. While the company has done better with recent compacts, the Lumix DMC-L1 leaves a bit to be desired in the noise department. At its lowest setting of ISO 100, images were very clean, with no noticeable noise. At ISO 200, noise is still nearly nonexistent. By ISO 400 noise became noticeable, but minor on monitors, though was minimized in printing, and finer details were not adversely affected. At ISO 800, noise was much more evident, finer details began to become obscured, and detail in darker portions of images became muddy and blocked up. At its highest sensitivity setting of ISO 1,600, noise became rampant, dynamic range was dramatically diminished in shadow areas, and finer details significantly softened.

If Panasonic is really serious about building digital SLRs, it's going to have to invest heavily in effective noise reduction and start paying attention to the ergonomics of its body designs. Plus, it'd be nice of the company to realize that, while a nice kit lens is certainly welcomed, it also need to sell its bodies without a lens. If you've got a budget between $1,500 and $2,000 to spend on a digital SLR, you'd be much better served buying a Nikon D80, a Sony Alpha DSLR-A100K, or a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi than this Lumix. Plus, you'd still have plenty of cash left over for an extra lens or a flash unit.

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Where to Buy See All

Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 w/ 14mm-50mm Zoom Leica D Lense

Part Number: DMC-L1K
Low Price: $950.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type SLR
  • Optical Zoom 3.6 x
  • Optical Sensor Type Live MOS
  • Sensor Resolution 7.5 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical
  • Optical Sensor Size 13.0 x 17.3mm
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