Magazine Article


Panasonic’s Bentley

Special setting of live-view montor helps somewhat in framing low- and other odd-angle shots.
Don Sutherland

The test of a digicam is its highlight-to-shadow range. Lady is strongly backlighted, yet shaded face is easy to see.
Don Sutherland

A dark-skinned man against a bright window challenges dynamic range, which the L1 rose to handsomely.
Don Sutherland

There was a physical need for cameras of yore to build and position their controls as they did. There is a physical possibility for cameras of today to do likewise, but no longer a need.

Unless, of course, somebody likes it that way.

And there is something elegant about grasping a shutter-speed dial between thumb and index finger, and deliberately turning it to a desired setting. It’s not as swift nor as casual as twirling a thumbwheel, but it comes with a sense of purpose. A luxurious sense of purpose. It involves the user with the machine all the more, enlarges their relationship. If you like driving a car with a stick-shift, you’ll probably like taking pictures with the L1.

One thing for certain is you’ll like the results. As this is written, only one lens is supplied for the camera—the 14-50mm f/2.8 Leica Vario-Elmarit. It’s a Panasonic-made lens (and bears the Lumix name, along with Leica) but it’s a superior performer. With a 28-100mm “equivalency,” it has a good general range. It focuses quite close, without switching to a special mode. And it is very, very sharp. It also uses Panasonic’s MEGA OIS image-stabilization system, which proved very effective during our tests.

You’ve got to love this lens. And we really mean that. You can’t buy the L1 without it. It’s not just a “kit” lens, it’s an integral part of the package. Other interchangeable lenses for this interchangeable-lens DSLR? A Leica-branded Summilux f/1.4 25mm (50mm “equivalent”) is on the agenda, possibly to enter distribution around February. And other than that, that’s that.

If you want to use additional lenses with the L1, you have plenty of Olympus and Sigma Four Thirds models to choose from. A lot of these are quite excellent, too, and collectively amount to the largest collection of digital-specific lenses in any mount.

As an electronics giant, Panasonic distributes a lot of its products through big-box stores. That’s where digital brains are found in profusion. Analog souls? Circuit City and metaphysics seem like an odd mix. Does the consumer electronics customer care about the picture-taking procedures of yore? Is the Lumix L1 more of a specialty-store product, where the lore of yore is more current? Time will tell. While we’re finding out, though, this much is clear: the Lumix L1 is an excellent camera that feels good to use, and that’s a promising route to any amount of market share.