Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

The GF1 is the most complete Micro Four Thirds camera yet. If you're looking for the ideal entry-point into the format, the GF1 could be it.


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Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


The Micro Four Thirds camera market is starting to get a little bit crowded: at the time of writing, both Panasonic and Olympus have three models available, with more touted to come this year.

The Lumix GF1 is the most successful of these cameras so far in terms of delivering on its promise of SLR-like images in a compact form factor. Though it is expensive, it's a worthwhile investment for any photographer serious about entering the Micro Four Thirds world.

Design and features

Sharing a similar retro aesthetic to the other popular Panasonic camera, the Lumix LX3, the GF1 is a compact version of the company's other Micro Four Thirds cameras, the G1 and GH1. The body is heavier than it appears, at 285g without a lens attached.

Having used the G1, and the GH1 extensively, the GF1's controls are well placed on the smaller form factor, though the video record button has been moved to the top of the camera, alongside the shutter button and mode dial. As on the other models, switching between aperture and shutter speed selections is done by pressing the control wheel which is a little disorienting if you are not accustomed to it, but works well once acclimatised. Unlike its older G-series companions, the GF1 has no articulating LCD screen. Instead, it's just a 3-inch screen at the back of the camera.

At the top around the mode dial is the standard G-series method of changing the shooting mode, from single, continuous, bracketing and self-timer. The flash has its own dedicated button which pops it up from the main body; note that even in automatic mode the GF1 will not automatically activate the flash. Like the other cameras, the GF1 allows you to preview changes to shutter and aperture in real time, though actually getting a clear representation of the final picture is tricky thanks to the refresh rate of the screen.

The GF1's main competitor is the Olympus Pen E-P2 (the E-PL1 isn't really in the same ballpark when it comes to price and specs). Side by side, the two cameras share a lot of things in common but the main differentiating factor is the GF1's pop-up flash and slightly higher resolution LCD screen. Below is a table comparing the two cameras on their main selling points.

Panasonic GF1 Olympus E-P2
12.1-megapixel Live MOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS
ISO 100-3200 ISO 100-6400
3fps (JPEG), 7fps (RAW) 3fps (JPEG), 10 (RAW)
Optional electronic viewfinder (not provided in kit) Optional electronic viewfinder (provided in kit)
3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD 3-inch, 230,000-dot LCD
1280x720 AVCHD Lite/Motion JPEG 1280x720 Motion JPEG
Optical image stabilisation Sensor shift image stabilisation

Surprisingly, Panasonic has not chosen to bundle the GF1 with an electronic viewfinder (EVF), like the E-P2, so we were unable to test the EVF, and from specifications alone the Olympus version trumps it on resolution. The GF1 also lacks a dedicated microphone input for an external mic; the E-P2's accessory port allows for a stereo microphone to be attached.

The provided pancake 20mm f/1.7 lens is incredibly light and fits nicely on the body of the GF1. However, there is no image stabilisation built into the lens, nor is there image stabilisation in the body of the camera which may be a sore point for some photographers wishing to mount older, classic lenses on the GF1. The 20mm has a nice feel to it though, and allows for easy manual focus thanks to the magnification screen that appears on the LCD whenever the focusing ring is turned.

Panasonic GF1 20mm

The GF1 complete with 20mm lens attached. It's really quite compact. (Credit: Panasonic)

Video encoding is taken care of thanks to AVCHD Lite or motion JPEG, 60 frames per second at 720p. Like the E-P2, the GF1 can record video with filters such as film mode (including black and white or the natural/vibrant/nostalgic effects).

Other features that may be of interest include various scene modes including Peripheral Defocus which alters the focus and widens the aperture automatically in order to blur the background (essentially the same as going into aperture priority mode and adjusting the aperture yourself).

Peripheral defocus on the Lumix GF1

Strangely, the GF1 produces better images using the peripheral defocus mode rather than dialling in the same exposure in aperture priority or manual mode. The peripheral defocus image (top) looks clearer and has better colours than the same exposure on aperture priority mode (bottom) at f/1.8, 1/2000s. (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)

Performance

The GF1 certainly is on its toes when it comes to performance, especially compared to the Olympus Pen cameras. Starting up and taking its first shot within 0.8 second, the Panasonic was much faster than the E-P2 which we clocked at three seconds.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot Raw shot-to-shot time Typical shot-to-shot time Shutter lag (dim) Shutter lag (typical)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1
0.8
0.9
0.9
0.6
0.4
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
1.8
0.9
0.9
0.6
0.4
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
0.8
0.9
0.7
0.6
0.5
Olympus E-P2
3
2.7
1.9
1.6
1.3

Image quality

When we tested the G1 against the GH1 we were slightly surprised to find that the G1 delivered superior images, in terms of colour rendition and overall tonality. The GF1 fortunately comes a lot closer to what we experienced shooting with the G1, which means its images are excellent. Exposures are on the mark and it copes well with tricky lighting situations, particularly areas of shadow and highlight contrast like in the scene below.

Lumix GF1 shadow highlight detail

(Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)

Now it's time for the exciting part: pitting the GF1 against the E-P2 in an all-out shoot. To be fair to both cameras we used the one lens — the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 — in order to assess image quality.

Round 1: colour

We know by now that the E-P2 does a splendid job of rendering colours, but that was when we observed its results in isolation and compared to non-Micro Four Thirds cameras. The GF1 comes out swinging in this test, proving that the Olympus does oversaturate and create punchier hues. While this can be desirable, it looked garish next to the GF1's image.

GF1 vs. E-P2

The GF1 (left) and E-P2 (right) (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)

Winner: Panasonic GF1

Round 2: macro

The 17mm lens may not be the most suited to macro photography but it's certainly possible to get some good results thanks to the wide maximum aperture. We're not really sure what happened here: it looks like the GF1 didn't quite determine the light properly, as the E-P2's shot is more representative of the actual light conditions.

GF1 vs. E-P2

The GF1 (top) and E-P2 (bottom) (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)

Winner: Olympus E-P2

Round 3: high ISO sensitivity

As the GF1 can only reach ISO 3200 we've limited the E-P2 to this level as well. From the images below, it looks like the E-P2 starts to lose detail and smear things as the sensitivity increases. The GF1, while noisy, maintains more detail.

GF1 vs. E-P2

The GF1 at ISO 3200 (left) and E-P2 (right) (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)

Winner: Panasonic GF1

Conclusion

The GF1 is the most complete Micro Four Thirds camera yet. Like the E-P2, it's a joy to shoot with and delivers great images, but is a more fully fledged camera than the Olympus, and we recommend it wholeheartedly.

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gf1ondiego
10
Rating
 

gf1ondiego posted a review   

The Good:image quality

The Bad:no built in view finder , plastic material

overall i just love using this camera, compare to my old system canon...i have to worry about the canon lens significantly ...

Scott G Trenorden (Photography)
9
Rating
 

Scott G Trenorden (Photography) posted a review   

The Good:Great design, small-yet-powerful, image quality

The Bad:ISO noise is bad in general, awful over 800

I first took notice of the Olympus E-P1 when it was announced, purely as I heard you could get an adapter and use your legacy Zuiko OM manual lenses with it..!

For someone who travels with an Olympus OM4 Ti film camera, the idea of a digital version of it has been my dream for ages.

I then heard about the GF1 (and loving my Lumix LX3) decided to go for this option.

I will say outright, the GF1 is a very capable camera whilst clearly being a 'first generation' attempt; it has a lot of room to improve, but for what it is it's a splendid piece of kit.

POSITIVES:

* It's small and light compared to travelling with my Nikon D700 (as I have done before) but is solidly built and surprisingly heavy for what it is.

* The 20mm f1.7 lens is a revelation! What an awesome piece of kit! Sharp, contrasty, small, great for low light shooting, great for getting arty.

* The lack of a mirror system makes the camera compact and highly portable, while being on a par with mid-to-high end dSLRs in image quality. NOTE: This is when shooting at 100-200 ISO..!

* A decent range of lenses available already across the Lumix and Olympus range. NOTE: Some of these lenses are at pro-lens price range though..!

* I often get asked "What film camera is that? Is it a Leica?" and similar questions, which I take as a huge compliment. I have put a skin over the camera so there are no visible Lumix markings etc.

* Plenty of good add-ons; viewfinder, lenses, flashes.

* Can be used with a flash triggering system such as Cactus v4s etc, which opens up a world of speedlight lighting experimentation enjoyment!

* The video looks superb! NOTE: If you shoot video in low light you will get a lot of noise in the image, just like if you jack up the ISO to 1600 and take a photo at night.

NEGATIVES:

* Image quality above 320 ISO or so degrades quickly. NOTE: I am used to shooting models etc on a Nikon D700 so am used to looking at 100% for skin quality etc, so this issue may be a lot more relevant for me than a casual shooter.
Over 800 ISO though it really does look terrible (to me), thus limiting shooting options severely.

This will hopefully be a key issue addressed in the next generations of this camera.

* Overall sharpness and image quality is not 'up there' with the Nikon D300s' or D90s yet in my opinion (which looking critically at images at 100% etc) yet the price of the GF1 kit is definitely reaching mid-pro dSLR standards.
If you predominantly use images from the GF1 at 800 pixels wide on the internet etc, you'll not notice this issue anywhere near as much. It's more to do with doing big prints etc.

* The optional viewfinder is really low image quality to be honest and expensive to boot! NOTE: It has been very useful on a few occasions though, manually focusing in bright light, as well as making the camera feel like a film camera or dSLR as opposed to point and shoot.

* A front dial would be lovely.. NOTE: In saying that though, the thumb dial with the button (push-click) is brilliant and may be better anyway; hard to know without trying it against the same body with two dials).

* No in-body stabilisation is shame. In-body IS with the Lumix 20 f1.7 would be a dream! GF2 maybe?

* People complain that the built in flash is too weak. NOTE: I rather like it though as it doesn't tend to blow out photos when you have to use flash. I avoid using flash as much as possible however.

POST-PRODUCTION POSSIBILITIES:

* I think it worthy of noting the very high level of capabilities when post-producing RAW shots taken with the GF1.
I use Lightroom 2 extensively with a final export to Photoshop (90% Lightroom, 10% PS); I tell you this so that you know where I am coming from.

I am not up on the technical aspects of what makes a photo highly adaptable to post-processing so I will try explain it in layman's terms...

There seems to be a lot of range in the GF1 RAW photos. Easily as versatile as the Nikon D700 (if not more so).
To expand on this, you can drastically bump up the highlights, deepen the shadows, add heavy gradients to clouds and skies, dodge and burn heavily etc.

Admins - I'm not sure if it's ok to put in links.. If so, here is a link to a blog post I made on this very issue:
http://www.temoin.com.au/blog/?p=328
If not, please delete :).

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS:

I love this camera. It is very much my baby and goes with me everywhere.
I love that I can share the lenses between the GF1 and my OM4 Ti film camera (am used to manually focusing though). This makes the GF1 and OM4 Ti a brilliant travelling setup for me.

I will be looking forward to the next generation of this camera in the hope that they really improve on the ISO image quality; that's the biggest concern for me overall.

I am constantly getting compliments on the look of the camera, compliments on the photos that come from it (people expect the images to look point & shoot'ish) but for the price you'd want the images to look great..!!

Lenses: I bought a cheap Olympus 14-42 lens but it's built like junk (planning to get rid of that and get the Lumix version soon) though image quality is pretty decent. I'm not sure it would survive a trek through Nepal or something though..? Anyone traveled extensively with this Oly lens?


If you can afford this camera I'd definitely say go for it. It's way more portable than a dSLR, is far superior in image quality to any point and shoot I've used (especially if you utilise RAW) and just looks so, so cool.




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User Reviews / Comments  Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

  • gf1ondiego

    gf1ondiego

    Rating10

    "overall i just love using this camera, compare to my old system canon...i have to worry about the canon lens significantly ..."

  • Scott G Trenorden (Photography)

    Scott G Trenorden (Photography)

    Rating9

    "I first took notice of the Olympus E-P1 when it was announced, purely as I heard you could get an adapter and use your legacy Zuiko OM manual lenses with it..!

    For someone who travel..."

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