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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Panasonic GF1


   

Panasonic GF1 Review

Review Date: Dec 24, 2009

Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur

Panasonic GF1

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2009 - Digital Interchangeable Lens
Photoxels Editor's Choice 2009 - Digital Interchangeable Lens

HANDLING & FEEL

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 features a sleek and modern design. It is not a DSLR, not a point-and-shoot, and not retro chic -- but there's no mistaking the excellent build quality. Even though there's only a small grip, it handles very well. The camera feels solid and sure in its metallic body, and the finish is superb.

Panasonic GF1 Popup Flash

The orange light on the front is the self-timer lamp, which also doubles as the AF-assist Illuminator. You can also see the small built-in pop-up flash which serves as a fill-in flash. The design of the pop-up mechanism seems more complicated than necessary, but does succeed in lifting the flash bulb high so the light from the flash can clear the lens. The four dots at the bottom of the hotshoe are for the microphone (monaural).

Panasonic GF1 Live Viewfinder

There is no built-in viewfinder, optical or electronic on the GF1. However, there is an optional external (202K dots) electronic tilting Live Viewfinder (DMW-LVF1) that can be slid into the hotshoe and can be used for all lenses. The view is smaller than what you get on the Lumix GH1, but quite sharp with a high frame rate for a smooth display.

The Panasonic GF1 uses the SD/SDHC memory card.

Camera W
(mm)
H
(mm)
D
(mm)
Weight
(g)
Olympus E-450 129.5 91 53 380
Leica M9 139 80 37 585
Olympus E-P1 120.5 70 35 335
Panasonic GF1 119 71 36.3 285
Leica X1 124 59.5 32 286

Canon G11
(with 5x lens)

112.1 76.2 48.3 355

As you can see from the table above, the Panasonic GF1 is smaller than the Olympus E-450, smaller than the Leica M9, and basically the same size as the Olympus E-P1.

Can Panasonic (and Olympus) make an even smaller micro Four Thirds (mFT) camera? Because of the requirements dictated by the mFT mount, there is probably no gain possible in depth, and probably just a few mm in height. As far as the width is concerned, it allows a large 3.0-in. LCD and enough space to hold the camera comfortably. You could carry it in a large coat pocket if using the pancake lens.

Overall performance is very good, matching that of the entry-level DSLRs. Startup time is about 1 sec. (from Power ON to LCD ready for capture, i.e. time-to-first-shot) which includes the dust reduction function doing its job cleaning the sensor of dust at power on. Panasonic should have given the option to do the sensor clean at shut down, reducing the startup time even more. Shot to shot time for JPEG is approx. 0.7 sec. (MF, 15 shots in 10 sec. in M mode, 1/125sec.) to 0.9 sec. (AFS, 16 shots in 15 sec. in M mode, 1/125sec.) for about as many shots as you want. Write time for RAW and/or JPEG is about 3 sec. but, thanks to the internal buffer, you do not need to wait for the image to finish writing before taking the next shot. When shooting RAW, you'll be able to shoot up to 6 images in about 5 sec. when the buffer fills up and you have to wait for each image to write to memory card (@ 3 sec.) before you can take another shot.

Continuous Shooting allows you to take 135 JPEG shots in approx. 60 sec. (2.25fps) with seemingly no limit as to how many JPEG shots you can take; 5 RAW shots in approx. 2 sec. (2.5fps) when the camera pauses to write the images to memory card; and, 4 RAW+JPEG Fine in approx. 2 sec. (2fps) when the camera pauses to write the images to memory card. For RAW + JPEG, you can specify resolution for the JPEG [Q.MENU - find QUALITY - select RAW+FINE or RAW+STANDARD]. File size for a JPEG file is approx. 5.08MB and for a RAW file is approx. 13.8MB.

Autofocus speed also matches the performance of the entry-level DSLRs. It is about (less than) 1 sec. and precise in both good light and low light, and there is no practical shutter lag.

Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion battery DMW-BLB13PP that can take about 380 shots (CIPA standard) on a fresh charge when using the 20mm lens and the LCD. The amount of shots you can take (or movie you can record) depends on which lens you use and whether you are using the LCD or EVF. The numbers below are all from CIPA:

Number of Still Pictures
  20mm 14-45mm
LCD
380
350
EVF
430
400

Movie Recording Time
  20mm 14-45mm
LCD or EVF
210
170

A battery charger DE-A49 recharges a depleted battery in [a long] 2 hours 35 min.

Panasonic GF1 Top View with the 20mm Pancake lens
Mouseover image for a closeup view of controls

Panasonic GF1 Top View with the 20mm [40mm equiv.] F1.7 Pancake lens

TOP OF CAMERA
(from right to left)
- Movie button
- Shutter release button
- Power Switch
- Mode Dial (iAUTO, PASM, Movie, C1, C2, SCN, Color mode)
- Drive Mode Lever around the Mode Dial
- Microphone (small single hole top left of Mode Dial)
- Hot Shoe
- Speaker (4 small holes in front of hot shoe)
- Pop up flash in close position
   
DRIVE MODE LEVER
- Single, Burst, Auto Bracket (up to 7 pictures), Self-timer (10 sec., 10 sec. / 3 pictures, 2 sec.)
- 10 sec. / 3 pictures waits 10 sec. then takes 3 pictures at about 2 sec. interval to ensure you capture the right expressions (people always seems to relax and laugh after the first "serious" picture)
   

The top of the camera has, from right to left, the dedicated Movie button, the Shutter Release Button, the Power Switch, the Mode Dial, the Drive Mode Lever around the Mode Dial, and the Hot Shoe. The hot shoe allows the use of an external flash unit, such as the compact and lightweight DMW-FL220.

A tiny light shines green when the camera is turned on. The light turns off when the camera goes into economy power save mode. Touch the shutter release button to immediately go back into shooting mode.

The Mode Dial is quite busy, with the standard iAUTO, PASM and Scene modes. There is also a Movie mode to select settings and options, two Customizable settings, and a Color mode.

The Mode Dial locks positively and won't easily budge out of place. You'll be glad to know that it rotates freely both clockwise and anti-clockwise.

Because the Drive is set on the Drive Mode Lever, you can conveniently select a drive mode and take a series of pictures in that mode (e.g. self-timer) without having to reset it for each shot. It also means that you need to remember to set it back to Single mode when you're done.

You can record movies with mono sound at 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30fps. Since the zoom (using the 14-42mm lens) is manual, you can zoom during recording and without any annoying zoom motor noise.

Panasonic GF1 Back View
Panasonic GF1 Back View

 

BACK OF CAMERA
(right to left, top to bottom)
- Rear Dial
- AF/AE Lock
- Playback
- Interface for EVF
- Flash open
- AF/MF
- Quick Menu
-

Cursor Buttons:
UP = ISO
RIGHT = WB
DOWN = Fn
LEFT = AF mode

- MENU / SET in middle of Arrow Pad
- Delete / Preview / Flicker Reduction
- DISPLAY
   
REAR DIAL
- Press to toggle between Program Shift and Exposure Compensation.
- For Program Shift, half press the Shutter Release Button to allow the camera to measure an exposure then rotate the Rear Dial to shift the Shutter Speed and Aperture in tandem.
- For Exposure Compensation, rotate the Rear Dial to dial in an exposure compensation.
- Note: the exposure compensation value selected is reset if you change shooting mode or turn off the camera.
- The screen brightness will increase or decrease to reflect the value you dial in.
- The screen brightness will increase or decrease to reflect the value you dial in.
- If you display the Live Histogram (press DISPLAY button until it displays, must have set it to ON in CUSTOM MENU), the graph will change as you dial in an Exposure Compensation.
- You can display an EXPO. METER (must have set it to ON in CUSTOM MENU) that will show the range of possible shutter speeds and apertures you can use.
   
DEDICATED CONNECTOR FOR EXTERNAL VIEWFINDER
- Turn off camera.
- Remove the hot shoe cover.
- Insert the external viewfinder securely into the hot shoe and connector.
- Turn on camera.
- Press the LVF/LCD button on the side of the viewfinder to switch between the two.
- Adjust the angle of the viewfinder as required.
   

The large 3.0 in. LCD monitor has a high 460,000 pixels resolution for a very clear and beautiful image that makes manual focus possible. It provides 100% coverage. The LCD has a fast refresh rate for a smooth display. The center of the screen enlarges in Manual Focus mode or Single Focus + MF. Manual Focus is quite good on the GF1 thanks to the hi-res LCD screen and the silky smooth focus ring on the 20mm pancake lens. The brightness of the screen can be adjusted and the LCD gains up very well in low light.

The Fn button (DOWN Arrow) can be customized to one of the following: Film Mode, Aspect Ratio, Image Quality, Metering Mode, Intelligent Exposure, Guide Line, Recording Area, Remaining Display.

The Quick Menu allows fast access to exposure settings using the Rear Dial and Cursor Buttons.

Panasonic's DELETE button remains one of the most useful dedicated Delete button ever. While other cameras require you to access the Menu to delete all images, Panasonic conveniently allows you to do all delete functions here.

A useful feature is the DOF button that will stop down the lens to the aperture selected to allow you to quite accurately visualize the depth-of-field. Unlike what has been reported on another review site [which was probably using bright studio lights], the screen will darken depending on the aperture selected.

At the bottom, the metal tripod mount is perfectly lined up with the lens. You won't be able to change batteries or memory card when the camera is on a tripod.

Panasonic GF1 with external Flash DMW-FL220

There are a number of external flash units that you can purchase to use on the GF1. The DMW-FL220 (pictured above) does not have a rotating head for free bounce lighting, and synch at a shutter speed of 1/160 sec. or less. If you want an external flash, consider the DMW-FL360 or DMW-FL500 instead. They are more powerful units with a swivel head and have an FP TTL AUTO mode that repeatedly emits high-speed FP flashes to make it possible to use the flash even at fast shutter speeds greater than 1/160 sec. The FP TTL AUTO mode is important for outdoors portrait photography as it allows you to use a large aperture (and fast shutter speed) in bright sunlight, together with the flash used as fill-in; the large aperture gives a shallow depth-of-field to isolate your main subject from a nicely blurred background. Note: I have not tested these flash units and am just parroting the marketing specs here, so try before you buy.

Though it does not have the beautiful retro look of the Olympus E-P1 / E-P2 cameras, the Panasonic GF1 is nevertheless a handsome camera with a more modern and sleek look. It improves on the Olympus models with a high resolution LCD that gains up very well in low light, a built-in pop up flash that is very useful as a fill-in flash, and fast and precise AF. Otherwise, the Panasonic GF1 is basically the same as the Olympus E-P1 (without EVF) or Olympus E-P2 (with EVF). Handling is great and its compactness makes it a non-threatening camera that you should be able to take into places where a DSLR may not be allowed.

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