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Contax N Digital versus Panasonic L1

The Contax N Digital and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 are two digital cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in February 2002 and February 2006. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are based on a full frame (N Digital) and a Four Thirds sensor. The Contax has a resolution of 6.1 megapixel, whereas the Panasonic provides 7.4 MP.

Body comparison

An illustration of the physical size and weight of the Contax N Digital and the Panasonic L1 is provided in the side-by-side display below. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter. You can also toggle the display to switch to a percentage comparison if you prefer that the measures are being expressed in relative terms (in this case, the camera on the left – the N Digital – represents the basis or 100 percent across all the size and weight measures).

Contax N Digital vs Panasonic L1 front
N Digital versus L1 top view
N Digital and L1 rear side
Body view (N Digital on the left)

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Panasonic L1 is considerably smaller (39 percent) than the Contax N Digital. Moreover, the L1 is substantially lighter (39 percent) than the N Digital. In this context, it is worth noting that neither the N Digital nor the L1 are weather-sealed.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Hence, you might want to study the specifications of available lenses in order to get the full picture of the size and weight of the two camera systems.

The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible comparisons there.

Camera Body Specifications
Camera Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Contax N Digital (⇒ rgt) 152 mm 138 mm 80 mm 990 g 100 no 2002 7,399discont. check
Panasonic L1 (⇒ lft) 146 mm 87 mm 64 mm 606 g 750 no 2006 999discont. check
Canon XC10 (⇒ lft | rgt) 125 mm 102 mm 122 mm 1040 g .. no 2015 2,499 latest check
Canon XT (⇒ lft | rgt) 127 mm 94 mm 64 mm 540 g 400 no 2005 899discont. check
Canon 10D (⇒ lft | rgt) 150 mm 107 mm 75 mm 850 g 500 no 2003 1,999discont. check
Canon Rebel (⇒ lft | rgt) 142 mm 99 mm 72 mm 649 g 400 no 2003 899discont. check
Canon D60 (⇒ lft | rgt) 150 mm 107 mm 75 mm 855 g 620 no 2002 2,999discont. check
Leica M10 (⇒ lft | rgt) 139 mm 80 mm 39 mm 660 g 210 no 2017 6,595 latest check
Leica SL (⇒ lft | rgt) 147 mm 104 mm 39 mm 847 g 400 YES 2015 7,450 latest check
Leica Digilux 3 (⇒ lft | rgt) 146 mm 87 mm 77 mm 606 g 750 no 2006 1,499discont. check
Nikon D100 (⇒ lft | rgt) 144 mm 116 mm 81 mm 780 g 370 no 2002 1,999discont. check
Olympus E-330 (⇒ lft | rgt) 140 mm 87 mm 72 mm 637 g 750 no 2006 999discont. check
Olympus E-300 (⇒ lft | rgt) 147 mm 85 mm 64 mm 624 g 750 no 2004 799discont. check
Panasonic L10 (⇒ lft | rgt) 135 mm 96 mm 78 mm 556 g 450 no 2007 599discont. check

The listed prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The L1 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 86 percent) than the N Digital, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.

Sensor comparison

The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Furthermore, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more possibilities to use shallow depth-of-field in order to isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be associated with larger, more expensive camera bodies and lenses.

Of the two cameras under consideration, the Contax N Digital features a full frame sensor and the Panasonic L1 a Four Thirds sensor. The sensor area in the L1 is 74 percent smaller. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.0 and 2.0. The sensor in the N Digital has a native 3:2 aspect ratio, while the one in the L1 offers a 4:3 aspect.

Contax N Digital and Panasonic L1 sensor measures
Sensor size

Despite having a smaller sensor, the L1 offers a higher resolution of 7.4 megapixel, compared with 6.1 MP of the N Digital. This megapixel advantage comes at the cost of a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 5.51μm versus 11.90μm for the N Digital). However, it should be noted that the L1 is much more recent (by 3 years and 11 months) than the N Digital, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that make it possible to gather light more efficiently.

N Digital versus L1 MP
Sensor resolution

For most cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.

Sensor Characteristics
Camera Sensor
Class
Resolution
(Megapixel)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Contax N Digital (⇒ rgt) Full Frame 6.1 3040 2008 no - - - -
Panasonic L1 (⇒ lft) Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352 no - - - -
Canon XC10 (⇒ lft | rgt) 1-inch 12.0 4000 3000 4K/30p - - - -
Canon XT (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 8.0 3456 2304 no 21.8 10.8 637 60
Canon 10D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 6.3 3072 2048 no 21.1 10.9 571 57
Canon Rebel (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 6.3 3072 2048 no 21.0 10.8 544 55
Canon D60 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 6.3 3072 2048 no - - - -
Leica M10 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 23.8 5952 3992 no 24.4 13.2 2133 86
Leica SL (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 24.0 6000 4000 4K/30p 25.0 13.4 1821 88
Leica Digilux 3 (⇒ lft | rgt) Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352 no - - - -
Nikon D100 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 6.0 3008 2000 no - - - -
Olympus E-330 (⇒ lft | rgt) Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352 no - - - -
Olympus E-300 (⇒ lft | rgt) Four Thirds 8.0 3264 2448 no - - - -
Panasonic L10 (⇒ lft | rgt) Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736 no 21.3 10.8 429 55
The L1 offers Live View, so that it can project the live image that the sensor receives onto the rear screen for framing. The N Digital lacks this capability. Both cameras are still-image focused and cannot record videos.

Feature comparison

Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The N Digital and the L1 are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The table below summarizes some of the other core capabilities of the Contax N Digital and Panasonic L1 in connection with corresponding information for a sample of similar cameras. If you need more detail on the specs, you can find comprehensive listings, for example, in the dpreview camera hub.

Core Features
Camera Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(Y/n)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(Y/n)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(GN)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Contax N Digital (⇒ rgt) optical YES 2.0 200 fixed no 8000 4.0 no no
Panasonic L1 (⇒ lft) optical no 2.5 207 fixed no 4000 3.0 13 no
Canon XC10 (⇒ lft | rgt) no no 3.0 1030 tilting YES 2000 3.8 no YES
Canon XT (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 1.8 115 fixed no 4000 3.0 13 no
Canon 10D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 1.8 118 fixed no 4000 3.0 13 no
Canon Rebel (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 1.8 118 fixed no 4000 2.5 13 no
Canon D60 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 1.8 114 fixed no 4000 3.0 12 no
Leica M10 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 1037 fixed no 4000 5.0 no no
Leica SL (⇒ lft | rgt) 4400 YES 3.0 1040 fixed YES 8000 11.0 no no
Leica Digilux 3 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 2.5 207 fixed no 4000 3.0 13 no
Nikon D100 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 1.8 118 fixed no 4000 3.0 11 no
Olympus E-330 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 2.5 215 tilting no 4000 3.0 13 no
Olympus E-300 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 1.8 134 fixed no 4000 2.5 11 no
Panasonic L10 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 2.5 207 swivel no 4000 3.0 11 no

Both the N Digital and the L1 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on ebay. The L1 was replaced by the Panasonic L10, while the N Digital does not have a direct successor.

Summary

So what is the bottom line? Which of the two cameras – the Contax N Digital or the Panasonic L1 – has the upper hand? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.


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Reasons to prefer the Contax N Digital:

  • Easier setting verification: Has an LCD display on top to control shooting parameters.
  • Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (8000/sec vs 4000/sec) to freeze action.
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (4 vs 3 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in February 2002).

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Advantages of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1:

  • More detail: Has more megapixels (7.4 vs 6.1MP), which boosts linear resolution by 8%.
  • Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (2.5" vs 2.0") for image review and settings control.
  • More compact: Is smaller (146x87mm vs 152x138mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
  • Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 384g or 39 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
  • Longer lasting: Gets more shots (750 versus 100) out of a single battery charge.
  • Easier fill-in: Has a small integrated flash to brighten shadows of backlit subjects.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (86 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More modern: Reflects 3 years and 11 months of technical progress since the N Digital launch.

If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the L1 is the clear winner of the contest (8 : 4 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points.

N Digital 04:08 L1

In any case, while the comparison of the spec-sheets of cameras can offer a general idea of their imaging potential, it says nothing about, for example, the handling, responsiveness, and overall imaging quality of the N Digital and the L1 in practical situations. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate. This is why expert reviews are important. The following table reports the overall rankings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites. The full reviews are available, respectively, at cameralabs.com, dpreview.com, ephotozine.com, imaging-resource.com, and photographyblog.com.

Review scores
Camera camera
labs
dp
review
ephoto
zine
imaging
resource
photography
blog
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Contax N Digital (⇒ rgt) - - - - - 2002 7,399discont. check
Panasonic L1 (⇒ lft) 85/100 Rec - reviewed 3.5/5 2006 999discont. check
Canon XC10 (⇒ lft | rgt) - 80/100 - - - 2015 2,499 latest check
Canon XT (⇒ lft | rgt) 80/100 HiRec reviewed reviewed - 2005 899discont. check
Canon 10D (⇒ lft | rgt) - HiRec - reviewed - 2003 1,999discont. check
Canon Rebel (⇒ lft | rgt) - HiRec - reviewed - 2003 899discont. check
Canon D60 (⇒ lft | rgt) - HiRec reviewed - - 2002 2,999discont. check
Leica M10 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - 4/5 - 4.5/5 2017 6,595 latest check
Leica SL (⇒ lft | rgt) - 84/100 4.5/5 4/5 4/5 2015 7,450 latest check
Leica Digilux 3 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - - - - 2006 1,499discont. check
Nikon D100 (⇒ lft | rgt) - HiRec reviewed reviewed - 2002 1,999discont. check
Olympus E-330 (⇒ lft | rgt) - Rec reviewed 3.5/5 - 2006 999discont. check
Olympus E-300 (⇒ lft | rgt) - Rec reviewed reviewed 4.5/5 2004 799discont. check
Panasonic L10 (⇒ lft | rgt) 85/100 Rec 3.5/5 reviewed 4/5 2007 599discont. check

Care should be taken when interpreting the review scores above, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. Thus, a score needs to be put into the context of the launch date and the launch price of the camera, and rating-comparisons among cameras that span long time periods or concern very differently equipped models make little sense. Also, please note that some of the review sites have changed their methodology and reporting over time.

Other comparisons

In case you are interested in seeing how other cameras pair up, just make your choice using the following search menu. An an alternative, you can also directly jump to any one of the listed comparisons that were previously generated by the CAM-parator tool. If you cannot find the camera you are interested in, please contact me, and I will try to locate and add the respective data to the application.

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