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Panasonic gets serious about SLRs

Panasonic announces its second dSLR, the 10MP DMC-L10, which is slated to hit stores this October.

Panasonic's second dSLR, the DMC-L10, has a much more pleasing ergonomic design than did the L1.
Panasonic's second dSLR, the DMC-L10, has a much more pleasing ergonomic design than did the L1. Panasonic

It's no secret that Panasonic's first digital SLR, the DMC-L1, wasn't very well received. But Panasonic's not worried about that. They viewed the L1 as a "technology statement," to show that they're serious about jumping into the SLR market. The company's new dSLR, called the Lumix DMC-L10, is aimed at people stepping up to a SLR from compact cameras, and marks a big step forward for the company's SLRs. The L10 features a Four-Thirds-sized, Live MOS imaging sensor with 10.1 effective megapixels and a Supersonic Wave Filter system to rattle any dust off the sensor, as well as a 2.5-inch, 205,000-pixel LCD that can flip out 180 degrees horizontally and rotate 270 degrees vertically.

As the sensor implies, this new SLR will include a Live View mode, so you can frame photos on the LCD instead of peering through the optical viewfinder. Unlike some live-view modes, the L10 will have active autofocus when framing on the LCD. However, when in Live View mode, the camera uses a 3-point, phase-detection AF system, rather than the 9-point, contrast-based AF system the camera employs when not in Live View mode. If you do use the optical viewfinder, you might like to know that Panasonic says it covers 95 percent of the frame, has a magnification of 0.92X, a 14mm eyepoint, and a fixed (as opposed to interchangeable) focusing screen. The camera offers a 49-zone metering system with multipattern, center-weighted and spot metering options. According to Panasonic, the L10 will have a burst rate of up to 3 frames per second. The camera limits the frames per burst to three when shooting in RAW, but Panasonic says that the JPEG burst is unlimited.

A rotating LCD on an SLR? You betcha!
A rotating LCD on an SLR? You betcha! Panasonic

Since the L10 is geared toward entry-level SLR users, it includes some features more commonly associated with compact cameras. For example, pressing the Display button when in various modes brings up an explanation of what different options will do. A Face Detection mode, something not normally found in SLRs, can find up to 15 faces and use them to set focus and exposure. The camera's Intelligent ISO Control uses subject movement to automatically set the ISO, while nine Film Modes let you mimic the look of analog film or create your own custom look. A set of 10 Advanced Scene modes lets you turn over exposure decisions to the camera, but also lets you specify details of the scene to fine-tune the mode. For example, if you choose Portrait mode, you can specify whether you are indoors or outdoors, so the camera can adjust accordingly. Also, by pressing the Display button when in a scene mode, the camera will tell you what settings it is applying so you can learn how to deal with various situations manually, thereby turning the Advanced Scene modes into a learning tool.

Of course, if you want more control over your exposures, the L10 includes aperture- and shutter-priority, as well as fully manual exposure modes. Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to ISO 1,600. While this is in line with some entry-level dSLRs currently in the market, it'll definitely seem a bit weak if the L10 stays in Panasonic's line as long as the L1. Incidentally, Panasonic says that the L1 will remain in the line alongside the L10 for now.

As they did with the L1, Panasonic will only be selling the L10 as a kit with a Leica-branded lens. The L10 will include a Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-to-50mm, f/3.8 -to-f/5.6 zoom lens with Mega O.I.S. optical image stabilization. That's not quite as nice as the 14mm-to-50mm, f/2.8-to-f/3.5 lens that shipped with the L1, but it is smaller in size and still nicer than most of the kit lenses on the market. It even has a metal lens mount, which is considered a step above the plastic mounts on most kit lenses. Since the L10 is a Four-Thirds system camera, it uses the Four-Thirds mount, making it compatible with Olympus' Four-Thirds lenses, as well as those made by third-party manufacturers, such as Sigma and Tamron.

Panasonic expects to have the DMC-L10 in stores this October with a price of about $1,300 for the kit. That's very expensive for a dSLR targeted at people stepping up from compact cameras. Panasonic would probably be well-served by offering a body-only option, which would open the door for families that own an Olympus dSLR to get a second body that works with their existing lenses, or would let people and retailers create more reasonably priced packages with third-party lenses. They also might want to broaden the scope of the lenses they offer. No matter what, there's one thing for sure--the SLR market continues to get more interesting with each passing day. And if we can believe what they said at PMA, we still have Sony and Olympus to hear from before the year is out.