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Panasonic Shoots for a 10
Digital Deal


Panasonic

It's been nearly two years since Panasonic declared their intentions in the digicam business. Voiced not as a boast, not as a threat, more like a prediction, the company stated that they planned to account for a 10 percent share of the camera market. Now that we've had a chance to explore their new 10-megapixel Lumix DMC L-10, we see how such a prediction could come true.

The list of major, new, cutting-edge features in the L-10 is just a little longer than for any other camera. It's the only DSLR with a face-detection system to run the autofocus. The logic of such a system is resounding, for what is the subject most likely of interest in a room full of people? The Steinway piano in the background? The Matisse in the foreground? Or the grouping of people in the midground?

Most of the time, it'll be the people. Photographers who are working on their Steinway piano portfolios can always turn the face detection off, focusing manually or using the conventional AF sensors in the L-10 as well. But people take pictures of people, and the L-10 knows a face when it sees one. In face-detection mode, it snaps the focus right in on ‘em.

The principle probably would have existed a century ago, if anyone knew how to do it. Clearly, face detection is a high-tech thing, still a tad futuristic, based on a form of machine vision and algorithms. You might almost say it's a primordial form of artificial intelligence. It even puts one foot in the spooky. What's next, cameras that auto-delete user-selected people from the picture? An ex-significant-other filter? Or cameras that accept only smiling faces, locking up on a frown?

Whatever comes next, face detection is here now, in a number of compact cameras and, for the moment, this one-and-only DSLR. We expect it to proliferate, just as other cutting-edge features have proliferated swiftly, because face detection, like those other advanced features, brings serious new abilities to the camera and its user.

Dust-reduction, a Live View LCD monitor, and image stabilization round out the L-10's complement of sizzling new features. The oldest of these, dust reduction, has been on the market for less than five years. Now all the DSLR makers seem to have it in at least one model. Live view appeared for the first time just two years ago, and now can be had in four of the seven makes in the DSLR market (and a fifth will announce it at PMA time, if not a sixth).

The L-10's image stabilization is built into the kit lens that comes with it, rather than within the camera body proper. We think the internal kind provides greater value, but the outcome-a camera that can be handheld at slower shutters, and/or lower ISO settings, and/or using telephoto focal lengths-is the same. Just as long as the L-10 is used with this lens. It's a Vario-Elmar 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 whose telephoto maxes out at 100mm "equivalent."

Only one other camera, the Olympus Evolt E-510, comes with all three of these "hot three" features. The Panasonic Lumix L-10 has them plus the face detection, so it's currently in the lead in the new-features derby. With an opening price of $1,299, the L-10 is a member of the "mid-range" class of DSLRs going so strong since last fall.

New Kid on the Block?

Besides being a technological tour de force, the L-10 is very user-friendly -well-thought-out, accessible, convenient, a camera like a company with 10 percent market share ought to make. They don't have 10 percent yet? Well, let's see what happens. They began pursuing such high aspirations only recently.

There have been Panasonic-branded still cameras since the 35mm days, and digital models since the consumer market burst forth in 1997. There's nothing new about Panasonic in the consumer photo market. Combined with their driving position in the world of video, there was always evidence that Panasonic could make a heck of a mid-range digital SLR, if they really put their mind to it.

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