Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 Digital Camera Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 digital camera review
Testing / Performance
**There's not much point in a camera with bad color, so we have a standardized test to show how accurately cameras reproduce color. Because the test is standardized, it's possible to objectively compare the cameras we test. We photograph a GretagMacbeth color chart under controlled lighting, and analyze the resulting images with Imatest software, the industry standard testing suite for image quality. Imatest reports results in a few ways. We look at two numerical results – saturation and color error. We also publish two charts. The first chart shows the GretagMacbeth chart as modified by the software program. The large squares show the colors as the Panasonic L1 captured them. The vertical rectangles show the colors as they should be, and the smaller squares show the ideal colors, corrected for luminance.
The second chart graphically shows the L1's color accuracy. Each circle represents the ideal sample colors. The little squares show the L1's color. The length of the lines between the circles and the squares indicates how much difference there is between the two – how much the L1 got the color wrong. The center of the chart shows neutral color: white, black and gray. The most vivid colors are at the edge of the chart, and the colors shift from yellow at the top, to red and magenta at the right, to purple and blue at the bottom, to cyan and green at the left. So, compare the positions of the squares and circles. If the square for a color is closer to the edge than the circle is, then the color is over-saturated. If it's clockwise or counter-clockwise compared to the circle, the color is off.
Numerically, the Panasonic L1 looks very good. The overall saturation figure is 99.99 percent. Perfect is 100, so the L1 is practically perfect – the Ivory Soap of digital cameras. Looking at the charts, one can see that some colors are a little under, some a little over, but they sum up to an excellent score. A mean color error of 6.6 is also an excellent score. Users should be very pleased with the L1's realistic colors. For shooters who like their colors postcard-bright, the L1's accurate images should withstand retouching and brightening in post-processing very well. It's always best to start with an accurate image. **Still Life Scene**Below is an image photographed by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1. We shoot the same colorful subjects with every camera, so the images can be compared with one another.
**Resolution **(4.71)With that impressive Leica-branded lens included, we hoped that the Panasonic L1 would deliver excellent resolution scores. But resolution is not just a function of the lens – the sensor and image processing system are vital, and our tests evaluate the camera and lens as a whole. We photograph a standard ISO resolution chart in our studio, shooting at a range of varying apertures and focal lengths, and analyze the images with Imatest software. We report the best results. Imatest yields results in line widths per picture height (LW/PH), a figure that is directly comparable between all digital cameras, regardless of sensor size. That's particularly important in the case of the L1, which has a Four-Thirds sensor, rather than an APS-C, which is more common among competing DSLRs.
Our sharpest shot was taken at 16mm and f/7.1, with 1524 LW/PH horizontal and 1513 LW/PH vertical. The image was oversharpened in both dimensions – 9.38 percent horizontally and 8.07 vertically. Oversharpening increases LW/PH scores, but it's not exactly good – it can cause artifacts in images, and it limits the amount of editing possible in post-production. The Panasonic Lumix L1 oversharpened all our images by at least 7 percent, and as much as 20 percent. It's more common to see figures like that from compact cameras since most DSLRs have less in-camera sharpening. At all the focal lengths we tested, our best results were at relatively wide apertures, from f/5.6 to f/7.1. It appears that diffraction becomes a problem at about f/8.0. We recently tested three less-expensive DSLRs: the Sony α DSLR-A100, the Nikon D80, and the Canon EOS Rebel XTi. All three performed better than the L1 in resolution tests, though the Sony also oversharpened consistently. **Noise – Auto ISO***(11.44)*Specifications for radios, telephones and other audio equipment often list signal-to-noise ratios. Images suffer from noise as well. In either case, noise gets in the way of the signal. In photos, it shows up as variations in color or brightness that weren't in the original scene. It's often most noticeable in smooth-toned subjects. For instance, in a noisy image, a clear blue sky will look grainy or speckled. We test noise using photographs of our GretagMacbeth color chart, and use Imatest to note variations in tones. We photograph the chart under bright, tungsten light. Set to Auto ISO, the Panasonic L1 performed very well, using its lowest ISO, and adding minimal noise to the color patches. **Noise – Manual ISO***(11.64)*Noise increases as ISO goes up. To see just how much this phenomenon occurs in the Lumix L1, we measured noise levels at every ISO setting from 100 to 1600. The amount of noise is found on the chart below; the ISO settings are on the horizontal axis, and the noise on the vertical axis.
The noise does indeed rise on the Panasonic L1 as the ISO is upped, but the results are better than average, and much better than other Panasonic digital cameras we've tested. The L1 clearly has an aggressive noise reduction algorith and it works, although it does smooth over some of the detail in the images. **Low Light***(7.5)*We run our low light tests using the GretagMacbeth chart again, decreasing the light level to yield longer and longer exposures. We shot the Panasonic L1 at ISO 400, and disabled the built-in flash unit. We tested the camera at 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux.
The camera used long shutter speeds, and noise was very apparent in them. Below is a chart showing just how much noise. The horizontal axis shows the exposure time and the vertical axis shows the noise.
With noise reduction on, it shows a gradual increase in noise from 5 to 60 seconds of exposure. Without reduction, it's still impressive, though more image deterioration is apparent from 5 to 30 seconds. The noise increases more gradually from 30 to 60 seconds. **Dynamic********Range **(7.0)The darkest dark on a print is the blackest ink or pigment. The brightest white is plain paper. That's really not much of a range – not much compared to a typical scene outdoors on a sunny day that might include sunlit snow as well as deep shadow. Our dynamic range test is meant to measure how much of that huge range seen in the natural world actually shows up in a camera's images.
We shoot a target that shows 13.1 stops of dynamic range, and then analyze the images with Imatest software. We note high quality dynamic range, which has up to 1/10 of a stop of noise, and low quality range, which has up to 1 stop of noise. High quality is acceptable for the main subject of a photo. Low quality is useful too, because it allows highlights and shadows to have texture – to not be pure black or white. The Panasonic L1's high quality range starts well, at over 7.7 EV at both 100 and 200 ISO. At ISO 400, it drops to 6.4, which is still solid. The steady decline at 800 and 1600 is not unusual, but it shows the L1's limitations. The low quality range follows the same pattern.
Speed / Timing*Start-up to First Shot (8.7)*The Panasonic L1 takes 1.3 seconds from the time the power switch is flipped on until it takes its first shot. Most DSLRs start up in a few tenths of a second or less, and the L1’s 1.3 seconds is a length of time that might make the difference between getting a spontaneous shot and missing it. On the other hand, compact camera shooters are used to longer startups – 2 seconds or longer is typical on entry-level cameras.* **Shot to Shot (9.51)*The L1 has two continuous shooting speeds. High takes 3.1 frames per second for 13 frames, then slows to 1 fps, but shoots at that rate indefinitely (until the memory card is full). The Low setting clips along at 2 fps for 18 frames, and then slows to 1 fps until the memory card is full. About 3 frames per second is typical of entry-level DSLRs, though many can shoot at that rate for more than 13 frames. *Shutter to Shot (8.46)*The lag between pressing the shutter release and the camera taking the picture has a big effect on action shots. The Panasonic L1 delayed an average of 0.27 seconds in our tests. We like to see ratings below 0.20 seconds on DSLRs, so the L1 is no speed demon, compared to some other DSLRs. Both the Nikon D80 and Canon Rebel XTi scored 0.18 seconds in our tests, while the Sony α A100 was also slow, rating 0.27 seconds as well.
Before you buy the Panasonic DMC-L1, take a look at these other cameras.
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