Magazine Article


Panasonic Shoots for a 10
Digital Deal


Scuttlebutt about a collaboration with Olympus began circulating around three years ago, and by the time of the 2006 PMA show, where the first Panasonic DSLR was shown in preproduction form, Panasonic was giving itself most of the credit for developing the heart of the camera.

When that first Panasonic DSLR, the L-1, began shipping around autumn that year, it shared a lot with Olympus' child of their liaison, the Evolt E-330. Its FourThirds imager had the same 7+ megapixels, and it included the same dust reduction and the same Live View capture system. The Olympus product had been the groundbreaking camera that introduced Live View to the world, reaching the market several months before. The Panasonic L-1 was the second camera with Live View, but it used a fixed-position monitor screen, in contrast to the hinged screen of the Olympus E-330.

Their innards shared much, but on their outsides the two cameras went separate ways. The Olympus was a solid little camera with a standard black finish, an enormously workable picture-taking machine that we couldn't praise more highly. But the Panasonic expression of it, the L-1, was more of a deluxe edition, a very classy, svelte, sexy camera that you would probably try not to scratch. It also featured old-style manual shutter-speed and aperture controls, in homage to the leisurely days when Leica was king, back in the allegedly golden 1950s.

The L-1 was, in fact, the Panasonic-branded version of the camera sold as the Leica D3. That comes in Leica satin, a digital update for the fetishistically inclined. We called the L-1 "Panasonic's Bentley," bumping the Leica to the status of Rolls-Royce (same car, different grille).

But to the same extent that there are all-black Leica-branded cameras as alternatives to Leica black-and-satin models, the Panasonic could physically be considered a black Leica D3. No matter what you called them, Panasonic made both products. They proved they could make a very classy DSLR, which even without a hinged monitor screen was an excellent picture-taker (see our review, "Panasonic's Bentley," PTN's January 2007 issue).

So even though the upstart in the DSLR market, Panasonic had already gained credibility for the L-10 as a result of their good work on the L-1. With that in mind, they might have been forgiven if their second model followed in its predecessor's footsteps. But no, they decided to change it.

The All-New L-10

If the Panasonic L-1 was a Bentley, the new L-10 would be more like a Suburban. It's good-looking enough, but more to the point, it's practical. Where you could see a Leica collaboration in the L-1, the L-10 more strongly reminds us of the Olympus collaboration.

The L-10's face detection is, for the moment, unique among DSLRs. And for the first month or two, so was another hot feature: a Live View screen that can rotate to any angle in a 270-degree arc, in a vertical and horizontal axis (the L-10 has since been joined by the Olympus E-3). It means you can view the electronic viewfinder (EVF) from almost any position. You get almost unlimited flexibility in how the camera is placed. It is very, very cool. We're sure we'll see more new cameras with a similar feature.

For now, the L-10 is one of only two cameras with this most useful feature. In the L-10, the pivoting screen provides many novelties. For example, it can be closed-turned around to face the back of the camera, and snapped shut. Presto-it's protected between uses. It can also be flopped over against the back, screen facing outward, looking just like the flush-mounted LCDs of the other DSLRs.

The picture-taking usefulness of the swiveling EVF was clearly understood by the designers, who prepared for a user who might want to switch intermittently between viewing the action on the monitor screen, and in the optical SLR viewfinder. For this purpose, the monitor screen acts as its own on/off switch. Open it and you can use the live EVF. Close it and you can use the optical SLR eye-level viewfinder. There's a time and place for both of them, and switching between them as Panasonic worked it out is literally a snap. Or anyway, it is for the user.

Mechanically, on the inside, it's a little more elaborate. For the image from the lens to reach the picture-taking sensor in a DSLR, the shutter has to open and the mirror has to raise up and stay there. This renders the eye-level, optical SLR viewfinder inoperable. The mirror comes back down only once the Live View is turned off. This returns the optical viewfinder to service.