It would be unfair to call the $1300 Lumix DMC-L10K digital single-lens reflex camera (with a Leica zoom lens) a one-trick pony, but this otherwise average DSLR does have one extraordinary feature: A live-view mode that lets you use the camera's 2.5-inch color LCD for previewing and composing your shots. It does this by locking up the mirror and displaying what the lens sees on the LCD.
Call it the paparazzi feature, but this live-view mode lets you do a number of interesting things that can't easily be done on other digital SLRs. For example, because the LCD is hinged, you can hold the camera over your head and accurately compose that over-the-crowd shot. Put the camera on a tripod, and live view is ideal for shooting macros (close-ups) in a small, desktop studio setting. Live view is starting to appear on other DSLRs, but it's still uncommon.
Average is not necessarily a pejorative term in the case of Panasonic's camera (or digital SLRs in general). Though not stuffed with high-end creative controls (such as those you'll find in the Sony Alpha DSLR-A700, reviewed at the same time), the DMC-L10K has most of the features the average amateur DSLR user might look for. It has a flexible exposure bracketing system that's quick to turn off or on, and an extensive selection of white-balance controls. Panasonic also includes three custom memory registers for quickly dialing up frequently used combinations of settings. Plus, there are the usual suspects found in current DSLRs, such as RAW image shooting, optical image stabilization on selected lenses, and flexible picture styles for tuning your shots to a particular look.
Before purchasing the DMC-L10K, however, it's best to compare the camera's features list against your own 'must-haves'. For example, some photographers will find the lack of white-balance bracketing and of an aperture stop-down button to be deal breakers.
Working with the Panasonic is also rather mundane: It feels comfortable in the hand and the dual selector dials are well placed. But for menu navigation and selecting key settings (such as white balance, ISO, and metering mode), you must use the all-too-common four-way thumb button with shortcut keys. What other buttons it has are small and tightly grouped. Bottom line: It's a design that works, but it's not particularly elegant.
Fortunately, the DMC-L10K does well in the one area that really counts: image quality. Equipped with a Leica 28mm-to-100mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens and a 10-megapixel image sensor, the DMC-L10K produced consistently sharp images with good color and contrast. Macro (close-up) shots had especially fine detail. In our lab tests, the camera earned average scores in most categories (it did have a slightly above-average score for sharpness).
The camera's sensor uses the so-called Four Thirds format, a standard that Kodak and Olympus first came out with. It is supported by several vendors, including Fujifilm and, as in this model, Panasonic. We'll soon be testing the Olympus E3, another Four Thirds model; look for it to appear (with a link to its review) on our Top 5 SLRs chart. The two reported advantages of this format are that the lenses are built from the start to work well with digital CCDs, and that, to convert focal length of the lens to 35mm equivalent, you simply multiply the focal length by two.
If RAW is your image format of choice, Panasonic includes the SilkyPix Raw file application for both Windows and Mac. SilkyPix has no shortage of image editing tools, but they are limited to RAW files only--no JPEGs. Also, you get few batch tools--renaming and batch RAW processing were the two I found. Windows users also get PhotoFunStudio, a simple image management application that has a few photo retouching tools, though overall, it seems more suited to a $200 point-and-shoot than to a $1300 digital SLR.
If there is one compelling reason to consider the Panasonic DMC-L10K, it's the live-view feature. Otherwise, it's pretty average, and pretty pricey for its feature set, even though it does take fine photos.
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