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Panasonic DMC-L1 Digital SLR - Panasonic DMC-L1
It’s certainly not for the handling. Throughout the test period I found the L1 to be heavy, ungainly and uncomfortable. Despite its massive thickness the shape is difficult to grip securely, and the camera always felt unbalanced by the enormous weight of the lens.
The relative positions of the right-hand strap lug and the awkwardly positioned shutter button mean that the strap is always getting in the way when you’re trying to take a picture, and position of the on/off switch on the back thumb grip area means that it’s easy to switch it on accidentally. There’s a reason why most modern SLR cameras are roughly the same shape; it’s because a large ergonomic handgrip and a forward-angled shutter button are easier and more comfortable to use. The L1 has neither.
As I mentioned, the L1 has a retro-styled manual dial on the top plate for setting the shutter speed. This is easy enough to use, and will no doubt appeal to older users. However it does have its problems. In order to set the shutter speed to automatic, you have to turn the dial to the ‘A’ position, but you can only do this from one direction. To go from high shutter speeds to automatic you have to go right round the dial. Furthermore, not all of the shutter speed range can be set from the dial. To set speeds from 1/1000th to 1/4000th of a second, or from two seconds to 60 seconds, you have to first turn the dial to the appropriate position and then adjust the setting further using the up and down arrows on the D-pad. This seems pointlessly fiddly compared to the simple command dial setting on most other DSLRs.
At least the aperture ring on the lens is easy enough to use and operates smoothly. Setting the aperture to automatic is simply a matter of turning the ring all the way to the left and then pressing the lock button, something that will be familiar to anyone with an older manual SLR.
The other controls are fairly straightforward, with only the flash opening button having any surprises. The flash pops up in two stages, with the first providing a bounce flash option, which is very useful for softer indoor lighting. The aperture preview button only works in live view mode, but does show the stopped-down image at the correct brightness.
Most adjustments are made via the menu, including four pre-set “film” options, in fact pre-defined sets of contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction, each of which can be adjusted manually through five steps. This is nice and easy to use, and the film mode can be programmed onto one of the two function buttons, so switching between them can be quick and easy.
Although the L1 has none of the user-friendly scene modes found on most other DSLRs, it does offer both digital zoom and the deceptively-named Extra Optical Zoom, in fact just another crop-and-enlarge feature. For some reason these two features are only available in the live view mode.