Radical but traditional, Panasonic's new DMC-L1 DSLR boosts the Olympus-inspired Four Thirds platform adding Leica to the fold
From the front, the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 looks nothing like a DSLR and in fact closely resembles the earlier LC1 flagship compact model.
Discuss the new DMC-L1 on the DPNow forum
Hands-on with the Olympus E-330
Here at the PMA show in Orlando, Florida, this morning Panasonic has at last revealed its first DSLR, the DMC-L1. It's a radical design, embracing the Olympus-inspired Four Thirds DSLR platform. It attempts to combine the attributes of an analogue rangefinder camera with the practicality of both a conventional optical TTL viewfinder DSLR and a modern point and shoot digital camera with live TTL preview. In a joint press conference with Olympus and Leica, a new LEICA D VARIO-ELMARIT 14-50mm/F2.8-3.5 ASPH image stabilised standard zoom (28-100 equiv) was also announced.
It may look like a rangefinder camera, but this view shows the relatively long lens dimensions that are typical of SLR zooms.
: Monday, 27th February - Please find corrections to our technical explanation of the DMC-L1 live view system below and on page 2.
: Some updates to the information in this article, prepared before this morning's press conference, have been made - look out for the bold
There are several press releases concerning this morning's press conference and you can find them here:
Olympus and Panasonic in joint development
Leica and Panasonic announce a new interchangeable lens based on the Four Thirds standard.
Panasonic announces development of the DMC-L1 Digital SLR
Leica Camera AG Endorses FourThirds System Standard
Olympus announce Live MOS Sensor
Here's our distillation of the essence of what Panasonic, Olympus and, indeed, Leica have revealed today:
Panasonic's new DMC-L1 DSLR looks like an analogue rangefinder camera – remarkably similar in appearance to the previous Panasonic Lumix LC1, which was also sold in reworked form as the Leica D2.
The DMC-L1 uses the same Porro mirror system optical TTL viewfinder with optional live electronic preview on-screen as the Olympus E-330. (Corrected: Monday, 27th February) Although most of the viewfinder and mirror box assembly is common to both the DMC-L1 and the E-330, the Panasonic does not employ a secondary live view sensor like the E-330 does. The E-330 uses this sensor to enable live view mode with the reflex mirror deployed to retain simultaneous TTL phase-detection autofocus (which is what most modern SLR cameras use). The DMC-L1 offers an autofocus option in its live view, whereas the E-330 only offers manual focus in the equivalent mode B live view.
We had assumed that in the DMC-L1 there is no light loss to feed a secondary live view sensor, but we now know that the DMC-L1's viewfinder brightness is the same as the E-330; a) because that is what Panasonic representatives told us this morning and b) because we compared an E-330 and a DMC-L1 side by side fitted with f/2.8 lenses.
We had also originally assumed that Panasonic must have employed contrast-detection autofocus, similar to point and shoot cameras, in order to enable autofocus in their live view mode as the mirror is raised in this mode. But in reality, what the DMC-L1 does is temporarily deploy the mirror to lock focus using the TTL AF sensors, so the live view mode is interrupted during AF. This also means that live view mode AF is only usable for stationary subjects.
Panasonic has chosen not to incorporate a tilting LCD with the DMC-L1.
The 7.5 megapixel new technology (not to be confused with CMOS) Live MOS sensor, used in the Olympus E-330, is also used in the DMC-L1 and it's a Panasonic sensor.
The new Leica-branded D VARIO-ELMARIT 14-50mm/F2.8-3.5 ASPH standard zoom has an aperture ring as well as a zoom and manual focus ring and the lens uses Panasonic's Mega OIS image stabilisation technology. There is some confusion as to whether this feature is accessible to non-Panasonic bodies and we're endeavouring to find out. This was clarified by Panasonic: Mode 1 (continuous IS) is available but Mode 2 (where the OIS activates only when the shutter is released) is currently limited to the Panasonic camera, apparently because of firmware issues unique to Panasonic and its implementation of the Venus Engine III system.
Incidentally, we have successfully fitted the Vario Elmarit lens to an E-330 body and live-viewed its Mega OIS stabilisation in action on the Olympus body. Just for fun, we fitted a Digital Zuiko 15-54mm lens to the L1 body as well - photos will be posted later today.
Leica has formally endorsed the Four Thirds DSLR platform, though at the time of writing, just prior to the official PMA press conference, we don't have confirmation that the Leica brand and red dot will appear on a version of the DMC-L1, though it looks pretty certain that the LEICA D VARIO-ELMARIT 14-50mm/F2.8-3.5 ASPH is just the first of a new family of Four Thirds compatible lenses bearing the Leica name. Leica stated that they are definitely evaluating the possibility of producing their own Four Thirds DSLR. The Vario Elmarit lens is the first of a range of Four Thirds compatible lenses to be jointly developed by Panasonic and Leica that will bear the Leica brand.
I spoke to a Panasonic representative last night in some detail about the DMC-L1 and Panasonic's plans for its Four Thirds participation. I put it to him that the L1's specification and style looked a lot less commercial than, say, a typical budget DSLR and this had raised questions about whether or not Panasonic had produced the L1 simply as a symbol of prestige to add credibility to its point and shoot Lumix range. However, the response I received did seem to indicate that much more mass-market focussed Four Thirds models could be expected from Panasonic in the future, though he could not officially confirm this.
Finally, for now, the DMC-L1 is exhibited here at PMA in prototype form and we aren't expecting it to ship until later in the year. The prototypes we saw were in varying stages of developmental form. We were allowed to handle them, even navigate system menus, no cameras were in a working state to take pictures.
We'll be updating this news story further and adding photos from the press conference.