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Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 Review
by Adam Crawford -  4/30/2010

The Panasonic Lumix G10 is a new camera in a new market segment. Micro Four-Thirds format, still in its infancy, is part of an evolutionary change in camera design. It's a movement to place a bigger image sensor in an interchangeable lens camera the size of a large point-and-shoot. At the introduction of MFT to the market, the cameras seemed a bit pricey, and it was a little unclear to the market as to its benefits.

Panasonic G10


Now, a defined niche is being carved out by cameras like the Panasonic G10. Among other features, they're small, affordable and aimed for camera novices. The G10 offers beginner-friendly usability and a sizable sensor, compatibility with multiple lenses and HD video capture for $599, a price that includes the 14-42mm kit lens.

Although it might be called the lowest man on the MFT totem pole, it has some pretty powerful specs, including a 12.1-megapixel resolution, 1280 x 720 HD video capture, Intelligent Auto (iA) mode, AF tracking for focusing on moving subjects, and Mega O.I.S. in their lenses to reduce blurry images. It also has some unique features like My Color Mode, which is a set of eight different modes that let you apply digital effects like Retro and Silhouettes filters to your images. With the camera body weighing 11.8 ounces, the G10 is fairly lightweight.

The G10 competes with the Olympus E-PL1, which is similarly priced ($549 with 14-42mm kit lens). I've shot with each camera, both of which are considered to be entry-level models, so it will be interesting to see how they compare to each other. Read on to find out how the G10 performed in the lab and in the field.


BUILD AND DESIGN
Design-wise, the Panasonic G10 doesn't deviate far from its GH2, G1 and G2 siblings, but it is very different from the GF1. It has the same plastic-like feel that is common on many Panasonic MFT cameras. Its dimensions are 4.88 x 3.29 x 2.91 inches, and it weighs 19.68 ounces with the 14-42mm kits lens attached or 27.33-ounces with the 45-200mm lens that Panasonic also provides.

Panasonic G10

The camera feels very light in the hand, and is balanced well, thanks to a design that puts it in both hands like a traditional DSLR, with a handgrip on the right. Whether or not you think it's not heavy enough is a personal preference. I like a camera that feels sturdy and rugged in my hand, and the G10 feels a little too light for my taste.

Ergonomics and Controls
The G10 has all the bells and whistles of a classic SLR, with a shutter button, a pop-up flash, hot shoe for an external flash, AF assist lamp, diopter adjustment dial, viewfinder, mode dial, playback button, a 3.0-inch LCD, a menu button with a four-way cursor array, and a rear dial. The buttons are laid out pretty naturally, especially if you are used to shooting with a DSLR.

Panasonic G10

There is also a dedicated Intelligent Auto button that lights up when you press it, indicating that full auto is on, which is especially useful for beginners. The camera's interchangeable lens system includes the mount and lens lock pin on the front of the camera.

If you are familiar with using one of their previous MFTs cameras, the G10's button layout is going to feel logical.

Menus and Modes
The G10 has a two-menu system, made up first of a tabbed infrastructure of menus that can be accessed by pressing the Menu button, which takes you into six separate tabs that let you control various camera functions. Second, there is a Quick Menu, which can be accessed by hitting the dedicated Q.Menu button on the back of the camera. It provides access to things like white balance, ISO, image quality settings, different film modes, etc.

On the mode dial of the G10 there are 13 different options, including:

Display/Viewfinder
The LCD monitor is a 3.0-inch display, a pretty standard size among both point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras. It has a 460,000-dot resolution with a 100% field of view. The LCD monitor's playback is quite nice, and gives you a great idea of how images are going to look out of the camera. However, the viewfinder, which is electronic, is slightly smaller in resolution than its predecessors, coming in at 202,000 dots of resolution where the G1's has 1.44 million dots of resolution. It looks like this is where some of the corners were cut to bring down the price.

Panasonic G10

Panasonic G10

The viewfinder leaves a little something to be desired, mostly because it has a lot of lag and doesn't look great when you are using it. When using the live view LCD, it is fast, but the viewfinder is sluggish. The other pain is that you have to use the LVF/LCD button to switch between the monitor and viewfinder, which is kind of annoying when you want to review images onscreen after you press the shutter. Instead of having it go right to the screen, you review images in the viewfinder, which really isn't as accurate as the LCD.

PERFORMANCE
The Panasonic G10 isn't a fast camera, mainly because it uses the slower contrast-based autofocus that works by finding contrast in a scene. This is very difficult for a camera to do in dimly lit situations, causing dramatically slow AF acquisition. The camera isn't meant to be a speed demon, though. It's supposed to bridge a gap between a secondary camera for prosumers, and an easy entry-level model for a beginner, and it does so quite well. The camera achieved some moderate ratings when it came to the tests.

Shooting Performance
The G10 had a relatively fast start up time; I would gauge it around one second or a little slower. The shutter lag, according to the lab and field tests, reveal that it's a little slow compared to the Olympus E-PL1, but where it beats the E-PL1 is in AF acquisition. After using both the E-PL1 and the G10 both in the field, I could tell that the G10 was slightly faster than the E-PL1, especially in low-light situations. The G10 seemed better suited to finding focus indoors or just past the golden hour outside than the E-PL1.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon D5000 0.02
Pentax K-x 0.03
Olympus E-PL1 0.03
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 0.05

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds
Nikon D5000 0.19
Pentax K-x 0.25
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 0.32
Olympus E-PL1 0.84

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Pentax K-x 17 4.4 fps
Nikon D5000 30 3.9 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 17 3.3 fps
Olympus E-PL1 14 3.1 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

The G10 will capture 3.3 fps in continuous shooting mode for up to 17 frames before the buffer memory fills. I tested the contrast AF system in burst mode both indoors and outside to see how well it would do with optimal manual settings for both. Inside the images were blurry in some of the frames when I was moving the camera around, but outside, with a lot of contrast apparent, the camera got a clear shot every time.

Autofocus offers a few different options, including AF tracking, which locks onto a subject and follows it throughout the frame. It worked quite well when I tested it on a friend, staying locked on him as he moved around quickly. There is also a 23-area AF mode, and a one-area AF mode, which allows you to move the point of focus throughout the frame. All you have to do is press the left arrow on the four-way dial, and then use the arrows to move it anywhere. If you want to make the size of the focus area bigger, you can use the dial to increase or decrease its size. Manual Focus is great too. In addition to using the focus wheel on the lens, you'll also see an enlarged view of the area of focus on the LCD to see precisely if you are in focus or not.

Flash options include Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Forced Flash On, Slow Sync/Red-eye Reduction and Forced Flash Off. The fill was quite good, because Panasonic provided us with an external hot shoe flash, the DMW-FL500, its highest priced pro-quality flash, priced at $500. The pop-up flash worked quite well, and the different settings looked great, producing a moderate amount of fill depending on the output level you choose. Slow Sync was the best because it gave dark indoor shots a natural lighting fill.

The DMW-FL500 flash offered superior control, and gives the user the ability to fire the flash at a greater distance. You can also tilt the head of the flash to control the amount of fill you wanted to place on your subject. I bounced the light from the ceiling in this shot of the Buddha, and it produced great light in a dark room. But would you really spend $500 on an external flash for a camera that costs about the same? The on-board flash on the G10 is adequate for most purposes.

Panasonic G10

Mega O.I.S. image stabilization is built into Panasonic's lenses, not the G10 camera body. It has three modes: Mode 1 enacts a constant IS, while Mode 2 only comes on when you press the shutter, and Mode 3 is for panning on a moving subject, and it corrects for up and down movements. The IS works great, and kept subjects in focus at both wide-angle and telephoto lengths.

Battery life of the G10 is rated in the manual as CIPA standard: about 380 images using the LCD or 410 images using the viewfinder with the 14-42mm lens. You'll get about 350 images using the LCD or 380 images using the viewfinder with the 45-200mm lens. In the field, the G10 hit those numbers closely.

Lens Performance
The G10 was supplied with the 14-42mm kit lens and the 45-200mm telephoto lens. The 14-42 was quite small and traveled well, but the 45-200mm lens adds a lot of size and weight to the G10. Both lenses were variable aperture, with an f-stop range for the 45-200mm at f/4-5.6, and the 14-42mm with f/3.5-5.6.

Panasonic G10

Panasonic G10

Overall, both lenses, even though they were pretty slow, produced sharp images at various contrasts. However, the biggest issues were the chromatic aberrations I found in the pictures. When blowing up the images to 400%, you can start to see some purple fringing on the edges of high-contrast objects. Also, when using the 45-200mm at the maximum telephoto range of 200mm, images were very soft.

Video Quality
The high-definition video that the G10 captures is decent, but not noteworthy and it captures 720p video at 30 fps. I shot video in a pretty gloomy light, and upon closer inspection of the video, I couldn't find much noise or artifacts. Overall, video capture is good, although not amazing.

Image Quality
The G10's image quality is excellent. The images right out of the camera were well-exposed and not oversaturated. Colors were quite accurate, though sometimes drab in the lighting conditions in which I was shooting. I found that when shooting subjects with darker colors, the images seemed to turn out a little underexposed in parts with high contrast.

Panasonic G10 Test Image

The default processing setting is the standard film mode, and it does a pretty good job of keeping colors accurate. There are nine film modes. The G10's images were pretty sharp out of the camera, and a new feature called "Intelligent Resolution" is available in intelligent auto mode, which sharpens images automatically. Some images were a bit soft, though overall the better the light was, the sharper and more pleasing the images were from the G10.

Panasonic G10 Test Image
Dynamic
Panasonic G10 Test Image
Dynamic Black & White
Panasonic G10 Test Image
Nature
Panasonic G10 Test Image
Nostalgic
Panasonic G10 Test Image
Smooth
Panasonic G10 Test Image
Smooth Black & White
Panasonic G10 Test Image
Standard
Panasonic G10 Test Image
Standard Black & White
Panasonic G10 Test Image
Vibrant

There are nine white balance options including AWB. It worked great in most situations, but in the 3200K Incandescent test in the lab, it showed quite a bit of warmth. The other settings work quite well too, including typical options like daylight, cloudy, manual, etc.

Panasonic G10 Test Image
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

In studio and field noise tests, the G10 suffered a lot. The ISO range extends from 100-6400, and images at 100, 200 and 400 ISO are most usable. After that we saw a rapid increase in the amount of grain in the rest of the images.

Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 100
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 200
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 400
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 800
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 1600
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 3200
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 6400
Panasonic G10 Test Image
ISO 6400, 100% crop

Additiional Sample Images
Panasonic G10 Test Image Panasonic G10 Test Image
Panasonic G10 Test Image Panasonic G10 Test Image
Panasonic G10 Test Image Panasonic G10 Test Image
Panasonic G10 Test Image Panasonic G10 Test Image

CONCLUSION
The Panasonic DMC-G10 is the best-priced model in its line-up of MFT cameras. It has a lot of the same features as its predecessors, including the same body, build, look and feel. Many of the same specs are carried over from the G1 and GH1, though Panasonic took a few cost-saving measures to make the G10 more affordable.


I think that the Micro Four Thirds standard is finally getting to be where it wants to be, and it's a good thing too, since the competition is heating up. Cameras like the G10 offer enough ease-of-use for a beginner while still retaining a certain appeal to more advanced shooters. MFT prices are now getting more attractive to a budget-conscious photographer.

Though the G10 has its lackluster areas, like slow AF, noisy images when you push the ISO, and chromatic aberrations in high contrast areas, it takes great pictures. Overall, it's a good camera at the right price.

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