One thing that definitely flags the L10 as an entry-level model is the range of beginner-friendly features including five scene programs on the main mode dial, as well as a scene mode, although this only has five settings. As well as these of course it has full manual exposure, aperture priority, shutter priority and program auto, with program shift available by turning the front input dial. An unusual and interesting feature is the "Film mode" button, which gives access to a range of pre-programmed parameter settings for contrast, sharpness, colour saturation and noise reduction, each of which can be customised by the user. There area number of useful pre-sets such as â€˜dynamic', â€˜nature', â€˜smooth' etcetera, as well as two user-defined custom settings.
The feature set is roughly equivalent to other entry-level DSLRs such as the Sony A100 or Olympus E-410. The camera has centre-weighted, multi-segment and spot metering of course, and single shot, continuous shooting and auto-bracketing as well. These last two features can be altered via the menu, with either high or low-speed shooting, and the bracketing order and interval being adjustable. There is no white-balance bracketing or ISO bracketing.
The external control system is fairly complete, with separate buttons for ISO, metering and AF modes and white balance, but it is also a bit confusing, with a function menu which also gives access to white balance and ISO, as well as picture quality, flash mode and MegaOIS mode. As well as this there is a full menu system, although I think the menu on my sample was not the final version, because it included an entry for the "Extra optical zoom" (aka digital zoom) feature found on Panasonic's compacts.
I don't want to discuss the camera's performance, since this is only a preview of a pre-production camera, and last-minute tweaks to the firmware could have an impact on things like continuous shooting speed and especially picture quality. These will have to wait until I can review a finial version of the camera, hopefully in a month or two. However there are a couple of points that are worth mentioning even here. First is the lens. As I mentioned, it is significantly slower than the lens sold with the L1, and also slower than the kit lenses sold with any of its main competitors. Despite this it is approximately the same size and weight as the L1's lens, and does feel a bit unwieldy on the L10's lightweight body.
A second point of concern is the battery life. The L10 is powered by a very small 1340mAh Li-ion battery, for which Panasonic claims 450 shot on a full charge. However I took around 200 shots with it, including a lot using the live view function, and the battery charge meter was reading nearly empty. Again, this is something which might be improved in the final production models, so I'll have to wait for a full review.
A final point is the price. The DMC-L10 is going on sale in October as a kit with the F3.8-5.6 lens at a recommended retail price of Â£899, which is over twice the current retail price of the Sony Alpha A100, Olympus E-410, Canon EOS 400D or Nikon D40x with their respective standard-zoom kit lenses. Even if the price drops soon after launch, and the online retailers offer big discounts, that's still a lot of money for an entry-level DSLR, even one with an articulated live monitor.