Though the L10 is a Four Thirds format camera, which makes it compatible with all of Olympus' Four Thirds lenses, as well as those of third-party lensmakers such as Sigma and Tamron, Panasonic decided to sell it only as a kit. The included lens has better build quality than a lot of kit lenses, but I would've liked the choice of buying body only. Also, since the lens is expected to cost about $700 on its own, then the body-only version would conceivably be a lot less expensive, making the camera more competitive with other entry-level SLRs.
As you might expect given its target audience, the L10 includes a number of scene modes. Six spots on the mode dial are dedicated to them, and each of those spots offers more than one scene mode; they're basically grouped by the type of mode with various night modes together under one spot on the dial and various portrait modes under another spot, for example. You can also access descriptions of each mode so you can learn what the camera is doing to deal with the given situation. The descriptions also give suggestions for what you can do to best use the modes. For example, the Night Portrait mode suggests you "hold the camera firmly and the subject should keep still for at least 1 second."
In addition to the scene modes, Panasonic includes multiple film modes, which are meant to mimic the looks of different kind of films. Each of the film modes can be customized through contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction settings. Plus, two fully custom film modes let you create a virtual emulsion of your own. The best part about the film modes is that the camera activates live-view whenever you press the Film Mode button, so you can see the difference each mode makes when selecting the one you want to use.
In our lab tests, which were performed with the kit lens and in optical viewfinder mode instead of live-view mode, the Lumix DMC-L10 performed well, but was not outstanding. It took longer than I'd like at start up, clocking 0.8 second to start up and capture its first JPEG, while Nikon's D40x takes 0.2 second and Canon's Rebel XTi takes 0.3 second for the same task. The camera took 0.8 second between subsequent JPEGs with the built-in flash turned off, and 1.1 seconds between JPEGs with the built-in flash turned on. Between raw images with the flash turned off, the camera took 0.8 seconds as well. That puts it on a par with, or a little slower than the competition in that area.
Shutter lag measured a respectable 0.5 second in our high-contrast test, but turned in a slightly sluggish 1.3 seconds in our low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. However, we found that the DMC-L10 often failed to find focus at all in very low light conditions, so while its score of 1.3 seconds doesn't seem too bad, you may find situations in which the camera can't lock focus at all, which can be frustrating since it'll likely be in a situation that will be difficult for manual focus as well. The L10 offers two continuous shooting modes. One is 2 frames per second and one 3 frames per second. We tested the 3 fps mode and it yielded an average of 3.1 frames per second regardless of image size or quality settings. Again this puts it on par with the competition.
The DMC-L10's image quality is nice, with accurate colors and a very effective automatic white-balance system, which was able to neutralize colors well in incandescent lighting, natural daylight, and even the perplexing fluorescent psychodrama that is the New York City subway system. Unfortunately, much like the Olympus E-510 and E-410, the Lumix DMC-L10 tends to underexpose images shot in full auto mode by between a half-stop and a full-stop. This means that a lot of shadow detail is plunged into oblivion, though much of that is recoverable in image editing software if you forget to adjust the exposure compensation while shooting. It pays to learn about histograms and pay attention to them if you plan on shooting with the L10. In manual exposure modes, this isn't as much of an issue.
Panasonic does a good job of keeping noise under control with the DMC-L10, though you will probably encounter noise at the camera's highest ISOs. Depending on the lighting you're in, and your subject matter, you may be able to get acceptable prints from the L10 even up to its highest sensitivity setting of ISO 1,600. However, in some lighting conditions, such as extremely yellow tungsten hot lights, we saw enough noise to make prints unusable. Still, we were impressed with the L10's noise profile, though its low noise comes at the expense of a fair amount of finer detail once you get up to ISO 800 and above. While it's nice to have usable performance across the camera's ISO range, I do wish that the L10 at least went to ISO 3,200. Even entry-level SLRs should be able to go that high at this point.
In the end, Panasonic's Lumix DMC-L10 is a lot like Olympus' Evolt E-510. Both use Live MOS sensors, and thus have live-view modes, and both showed similar performance and image quality. I'd give Panasonic an edge for the body design and for including an articulated LCD, though Olympus gets a big edge in price since you can get an for hundreds less than the L10's single-lens kit. Panasonic might argue that its lens is nicer and includes optical image stabilization, but Olympus can easily counter that the E-510 includes sensor-shift stabilization. If price weren't an issue, I'd choose the Panasonic. However, on my editor's salary, I'd have to go with Olympus on this one.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)