The camera’s overall performance is very good. It takes approximately three seconds to start up, and about two and a half to shut down again which is a bit slow, but its shooting speed is much better. In single-shot mode its shot-to-shot cycle time is approximately 1.7 seconds. In unlimited continuous mode it was even more impressive, shooting at a sustained two shots a second, apparently until the memory card is full. The AF system is quick and reliable, and works well even in very low light. I found it would focus in the dark at a range of approximately four meters with the AF assist lamp. One slight concern however is battery life. Panasonic claims that a set of alkaline AA batteries are good for between 160 and 180 shots, but the two Panasonic-branded batteries that came with my review sample gave up after only about 40 shots. To be fair they may have been sitting in a cupboard in Panasonic’s press office for a while, so newer batteries may perform better.
So far then we have a surprisingly capable, relatively cheap camera with good performance, design and handling; it’s all looking good for the LZ10. Unfortunately, we finally come to picture quality, and as is so often the case with Panasonic cameras, all that potential is wasted. It’s a real shame, because in some ways it is very good. The lens lives up to its Leica branding, producing relatively little distortion at wide angle and none at telephoto, with excellent sharpness from corner to corner and no chromatic aberration. Exposure is generally very good, and default colour reproduction is very accurate. The problem is that the small 1/2.33-inch CCD and the supposedly improved Venus Engine IV image processor simply don’t produce good fine detail. At all ISO settings, images viewed in close up look very processed, with fine detail smeared out in a haze of small artefacts. This is not helped by the rather severe image compression, even at the best quality setting. The LZ10 produces JPEG image files averaging around 3.2MB, which is pretty small for a 10MP camera (most are around 4.5MB). This is doubly annoying, because the LZ10 shows yet again that Panasonic has overcome its traditional bugbear of image noise. Shots at 100, 200 and 400 ISO are very good, and although shots at higher settings do show very strong noise reduction effects, the overall contrast and colour balance remain good.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10 is an almost unique camera. It is a sensibly designed and well-made camera which has some genuinely useful features, enough controllability to keep the enthusiasts happy and surprisingly brisk performance, all at a very reasonable price. The Leica-branded lens is very good too, but unfortunately it is badly let down by a small sensor and inferior image processing, resulting in relatively poor image quality.
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