Home News Buyers Guide Forums FAQ Links About Advertising
    DIGITAL CAMERA DATABASE | COMPARE CAMERAS | RECENT & UPCOMING REVIEWS | ALL OUR REVIEWS | Top Rated Cameras
 
DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1  
   

Front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 25, 2008
Last updated: March 13, 2012

View Printer Friendly Version

 

Advertisement

Our review of this camera has been completed, using a final production DMC-G1.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 ($799) may look like yet another digital SLR, but it's not. The G1 is the first Micro FourThirds camera, which does away with the mirror and optical viewfinder of a traditional D-SLR. Since there's no mirror box taking up space, this allowed Panasonic to shrink the dimensions of the camera and its lens mount. The result is the smallest camera on the market with interchangeable lenses: the DMC-G1.


You can see just how much smaller you can make a camera when you get rid of the mirror box; Image courtesy of Panasonic

Since the G1 lacks the traditional AF sensor found on regular D-SLRs, Panasonic had to find another way to provide autofocus, and they're using the cameras Live MOS sensor to provide fast contrast detect AF. The optical viewfinder has been replaced by an electronic one with a resolution that must be seen to be believed.

Here are some other highlights of the G1:

  • 12.1 effective Megapixel Live MOS sensor (same size as on a regular FourThirds camera)
  • Venus Engine HD image processor
  • Flip-out, rotating 3-inch LCD display + ultra-high resolution EVF
  • Live view experience that rivals (or exceeds) that of a compact camera
  • 23-point, fast contrast detect autofocus
  • Dust reduction system
  • Full manual controls + Intelligent Auto Mode (just like on Panasonic's compact cameras)
  • Continuous shooting at 3 frames/second
  • Hot shoe for external flash
  • HDMI port


Image courtesy of Panasonic

Since the DMC-G1 has a new lens mount, new lenses will have to be developed for it. The camera will be launching with F3.5-5.6, 14 - 45 mm and F4.0-5.6, 45 - 200 mm lenses, both of which have image stabilization. Further down the line are F4.0 / 7 - 14 mm, F1.7 / 20 mm, and F4.0-5.6 / 14 - 140 mm lenses.

So are current owners of FourThirds D-SLRs left out in the cold? Not completely. With an adapter, you'll be able to use all your FourThirds lenses on the DMC-G1, though they may not all support autofocus, at least initially.

Ready to find out how the DMC-G1 performs, and how it compares to "traditional" D-SLRs? Find out now -- our review starts right now!

What's in the Box?

The DMC-G1 will be sold in a single lens kit here in the USA. In other countries (and possibly here at some point), there will be a dual lens kit available, which will include the 14-45 and 45-200. Here's what you'll find in the box for each of those:

  • The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-G1 camera body
  • F3.5-5.6, 14 - 45 mm Lumix G lens with Mega OIS
  • F4.0-5.6, 45 - 200 mm Lumix G lens with Mega OIS [dual lens kit only]
  • DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • Lens storage bag(s)
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring SilkyPix Developer Studio and PhotoFunStudio viewer
  • 167 page camera manual (printed)

I imagine that most people will be buying the single or dual lens kits, since Micro FourThirds is an all-new standard. Unlike the kit lenses that came with Panasonic's "regular" FourThirds cameras, the ones here bear the Lumix -- rather than Leica -- label. As I mentioned in the introduction, there are only two Micro FourThirds lenses available in 2008, so you'll need to either wait until next year for more, or buy the FourThirds lens adapter. Whatever lens you attach to the G1, there will be a 2X focal length conversion factor, so a 50 mm lens has a 100 mm field-of-view. Also note that only some classic FourThirds lenses support autofocus, and I'll give you the full list in a bit.

Digital SLRs (and now interchangeable lens cameras, I guess) never come with memory cards, so you'll need to supply your own. The G1 supports SD, SDHC, and MMC flash memory, and I'd suggest at 2GB card to start with. It's definitely worth spending the extra dollars on a high speed card, too.

The DMC-G1 uses the brand spankin' new DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery for power. This battery packs 9.0 Wh of energy, which is pretty good. How does that translate into battery life? The table below compares the G1 with other compact interchangeable lens cameras (AKA digital SLRs) that support live view:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS Rebel XSi 190 shots LP-E5
Nikon D90 N/A EN-EL3e
Olympus E-420 N/A BLS-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 330 shots DMW-BLB13
Sony Alpha DSLR-A300 * 410 shots NP-FM500H

* Has built-in image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

It's hard to draw much of a conclusion about how the G1 compares to D-SLRs in terms of battery life, since most manufacturers don't disclose how many shots you can take in live view mode. I should also remind you that one can only shoot in live view mode on the DMC-G1, unlike the D-SLRs, which have the optical viewfinder option. By the way, using the electronic viewfinder instead of the main LCD gets you about 350 shots per charge.

I should point out a few things about the proprietary batteries used by the G1 and every other camera on the above list. For one, they're expensive -- expect to pay at around $70 for an extra battery. Also, should your rechargeable battery run out of juice, you can't use something off-the-shelf to get you through the day.

Panasonic will not be offering a battery grip for the DMC-G1.

When it's time to charge the DMW-BLB13, just pop it into the included charger. It takes around 155 minutes for a typical charge. Unlike most Panasonic battery chargers, this one doesn't plug right into the wall -- you must use a power cable. The charger can also be used as an AC adapter, but you'll need to buy the DC power coupler (mentioned below) first.

Just because it isn't a digital SLR doesn't mean that the DMC-G1 can't have the same, wide selection of accessories. I don't have pricing for most of these -- hopefully I will when the final review is posted.

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The G1 supports all Micro Four Thirds lenses (though there are only two right now), with a 2X focal length conversion ratio. The 45 - 200 mm lens will be sold for $350.
Polarizing filter DMW-LPL52 $35 This circular polarizer attaches to either of the kit lenses and can reduce reflections and darken the sky.
Neutral density filter DMW-LND52 From $28 This filter reduces the amount of light hitting the sensor by 3 stops, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds.
MC protector DMW-LMC52 From $19 Protects your lens from being scratched, or worse.
Mount Adapter DMW-MA1 $170 Lets you use "regular" Four Thirds lenses on the G1
External flash

DMW-FL220
DMW-FL360
DMW-FL500

$160
From $270
From $496
The first flash is a new model designed for the G1; the other two are rebranded Olympus flashes
Wired remote control DMW-RSL1 From $52 Essentially a shutter release button on a 1.5 meter cord
DC coupler DMW-DCC3 ?? Power the camera without using your battery; works with the AC adapter that comes with the camera
Camera case DMW-CG1 ?? Holds the camera with a lens attached
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Not a bad selection of accessories for a brand new camera system!


The G1 with the FourThirds lens adapter attached

I suppose this is as good a place as any to tell you more about the FourThirds lens adapter. While it will let you use any FourThirds lens, only certain models will support autofocus (and only in single AF mode). Here's the official list, as of October 31, 2008:

  • Panasonic/Leica F3.8-5.6, 14 - 50 mm
  • Panasonic/Leica F3.5-5.6, 14 - 150 mm
  • Panasonic/Leica F1.4, 25 mm
  • Olympus F4.0-5.6, 9 - 18 mm
  • Olympus F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm
  • Olympus F4.0-5.6, 40 - 150 mm
  • Olympus F2.0, 35 - 100 mm
  • Olympus F2.8, 25 mm
  • Olympus F3.5, 35 mm macro

You'll probably have to update the firmware to use most of these, and you'll find instructions on how to do that here.


PhotoFunStudio for Windows

Panasonic includes several software applications with the DMC-G1. First up, we have PhotoFunStudio 2.1, which is for Windows only. The first way in which you'll probably use this software is for transferring photos off of your camera. Do note that this software will not transfer RAW images to your computer, nor can it view photos that are already there.

Once on the main screen (pictured above), you'll find a familiar thumbnail view of your photos. Photos can be organized, e-mailed, printed, and rotated from this screen. Photos can be sorted by date, scene mode, keyword, and even camera model.


Editing in PhotoFunStudio

Select "retouch" and you'll get the editing window you see above. Here you can adjust things like brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. Images can be changed to sepia or black and white, and redeye can be removed with the click of your mouse.


SilkyPix in Mac OS X

For editing RAW images, Panasonic supplies SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 SE. While its interface is better than earlier versions, SilkyPix is still fairly clunky, and the poorly translated menus can confusing at times. That doesn't mean that the software isn't capable -- quite the opposite, in fact. SilkyPix is a powerful RAW editor, allowing you to adjust everything from exposure to white balance (with fine-tuning) to the tone curve. You can also adjust noise reduction, lens distortion, chromatic aberration, and much, much more. SilkyPix is fairly responsive, as bundled RAW editing software goes.

When this review was finalized, Adobe's Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop did not support the G1's RAW format, though I expect that to change shortly.

So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed data from the G1's image sensor. In order to do anything with this information, you must first process it on your Mac or PC, as shown above. When you do that, you can adjust white balance, exposure, and more, without reducing the quality of the image. It's as if you get to take the photo again. Do note that RAW files are larger than JPEGs, taking up more space on your memory card, and they can also reduce camera performance in certain situations.

The DMC-G1 includes a fairly standard Panasonic manual, which is to say that it's detailed, but not user-friendly. You'll find answers to any question you may have about the G1 within its pages, but expect confusing tables and plenty of fine print to slow your progress. Documentation for the software bundle will be installed onto your computer.

Look and Feel

When the Micro FourThirds format was announced, one of the main bullet points was that a much smaller camera could be produced. Panasonic produced a small camera with the G1, though it's not as small as I was expecting, nor as small as it could be. Side-by-side, the G1 isn't a whole lot smaller than the Olympus E-420, which is the smallest D-SLR on the market at the moment. The difference between Micro and "regular" FourThirds is more noticeable when you compare the lenses:

The two lenses above have roughly the same focal range. The one on the left is the Olympus 14 - 42 mm FourThirds lens, while the one on the right is the Panasonic 14 - 45 mm Micro FourThirds lens. The size isn't the only thing that differentiates these two lens systems, though. The MFT lenses have two extra electrical contacts, which allows for the G1's super-fast focusing performance.

Panasonic made the G1 a bit larger in order to maintain decent ergonomics, and for the most part, they've succeeded. The good-sized grip makes the G1 easy to hold, and there's a dedicated spot for your thumb to rest. I'm not a fan of some of the control placement, though. The worst offender is the control dial on the front of the grip. It's too low, and way too easy to bump. I accidentally adjusted the exposure compensation on several occasions. I found it pretty easy to bump the drive switch (which sits under the mode dial), as well.

In terms of build quality, the G1 is well put together. The exterior shell of the camera is made of a kind of rubberized plastic, and it feels very solid. The only real weak spot is the door over the memory card, which feels like it could bust off pretty easily.


Image courtesy of Panasonic

As they do with their compact cameras, Panasonic will be offering the DMC-G1 in three different colors: blue, red, and black. While the blue one is nice, the red one seems a little too "loud" to me. It will be interesting to see how well that color sells when the camera is released.

Alright, now let's see how the DMC-G1 compares against other interchangeable lens cameras in terms of size and weight. As before, I'm only listing cameras with live view support.

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS Rebel XSi 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in. 46.5 cu in. 475 g
Nikon D90 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in. 64 cu in. 620 g
Olympus E-420 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.1 in. 38.6 cu in. 380 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 4.9 x 3.3 x 1.8 in. 29.1 cu in. 385 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A300 5.1 x 3.9 x 2.9 in. 57.7 cu in. 582 g

As you can see, the DMC-G1 is the smallest and almost the lightest interchangeable lens / live view camera on the market. The only camera that really comes close is the Olympus E-420.

Alright, let's start our tour of the G1 now, shall we?

Front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

Here's the front of the DMC-G1 with the lens removed. The Micro FourThirds lens mount you see is smaller than a regular FourThirds mount, and it has two extra electrical contacts, as well. One thing that hasn't changed is the 2X focal length conversion ratio, so the field-of-view will be twice that of what it says on the lens you attach, whether it's a MFT lens or a traditional FourThirds lens with the adapter. You can release an attached lens by pressing the silver button to the right of the mount.

A lot of people have asked me how much noise the G1 makes when it takes a picture. After all, without a mirror, it should be quieter, right? The G1 is definitely pretty quiet, though it's not silent, as it still has a shutter that slides from left to right in the above photo when you take a photo. I put together this audio clip that compares the G1 to a traditional D-SLR, the Canon EOS-50D. You'll hear three sounds: the 50D in normal shooting mode, then in silent shooting mode, followed by the DMC-G1.

Right in the middle of the lens mount is the G1's 12.2 Megapixel Live MOS sensor. I have to wonder how much of a problem dust will be on Micro FourThirds cameras, since the sensor is closer to the lens mount, and has no mirror to protect it. The G1 does offer the Supersonic Wave Filter ultrasonic dust reduction system, which shakes dust away when the camera is powered on.

Directly above the lens mount is the G1's pop-up flash, which is released manually. This flash has a guide number of 11 meters at ISO 100, which means that it's less powerful than its D-SLR competitors. Should you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.

To the upper-right of the lens mount is the camera's AF-assist lamp, which is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. I found it pretty easy to accidentally block the lamp with my fingers, so keep that in mind when shooting in low light. This lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

Over on the grip you'll find the G1's sole command dial. As I said earlier, I'm really not a fan of its location -- it needs to be about 1/2 inch higher -- but that's just my opinion.

Back angled view of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

One of the nicest features on the DMC-G1 is its flip-out, rotating LCD display. Since you're going to be using the LCD for a lot of your shooting, the rotation feature is extra handy. You can take photos over the heads of people in front of you, or take "ground level" photos of your kids or pets. You can also turn the screen around to take a self-portrait. The LCD can rotate a total of 270 degrees, from facing your subject all the way around to facing the ground. It can be put in the more traditional position (shown below), or closed entirely.

Back of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

And here is the LCD in the fixed position. The screen is very nice: it has 460,000 pixels, so everything is very sharp. Like all of Panasonic's screens, it has superb visibility both outdoors, and in low light.

Above the LCD is what may be the best electronic viewfinder in the world (Panasonic calls it a Live View Finder). Panasonic lists the resolution of the viewfinder at 1.44 million pixels, though that's a bit misleading due to the "field sequential system" design of the EVF. In reality, the resolution is more like 480,000 pixels -- still twice what you'd usually find. The design of the EVF allows for better color and sharpness, and a mind-boggling 180 fps refresh rate. I found that it can be a little weird to use, though, as it appears to "flicker" when you move your eye or blink. If you're familiar with the "rainbow effect" on older DLP televisions, then this will sound familiar. Something else nice about the viewfinder is the magnification: it's 1.4X (35mm equivalent), which is well above what you'll find on a typical digital SLR.

The viewfinder has an sensor that knows when your eye is against it, so you can switch between the LCD and EVF without pressing a button. You can adjust the focus of the EVF by using the diopter correction knob on the left side.

Alright, now let's talk about the live view experience on the DMC-G1. Since there's no optical viewfinder, you'll be using live view 100% of the time. Panasonic has done a stellar job implementing this feature, in so many ways. The LCD and EVF are both sharp, display 100% of the frame, and have excellent refresh rates. You can see your subject just as easily in bright light as you can in low light, though do note that that nice refresh rate will start to disappear in dimly lit rooms. Autofocus is 23-point contrast detect (only), and the performance blew me away -- but more on that later.

That histogram can go anywhere in the frame that you want You can even create your own guidelines

So what else can you do in live view mode? You can have a live histogram, and even choose where it goes on the screen. You have three choices of composition guides that can be superimposed, including the ability to put them wherever you want. The icons that are at the top and bottom of the screen are actually menu shortcuts, which you can access by pressing the Quick Menu button on the top of the camera. The information displayed in the EVF is green-colored, I guess to make it easier to see.


Frame enlargement in manual focus mode

If you're manually focusing, the center of the image can be enlarged by 2X or 4X. When you're zoomed in, you can move around the frame by using the four-way controller. I was really impressed with just how fluid everything was when using this feature.


LCD info display

If you're using the EVF, you can have an information display on the main LCD. Not only does it show current camera settings, but it also lets you change any of them by pressing the Quick Menu button. Press your eye to the viewfinder, and the info screen is turned off. You can select three different colors for this screen, I guess to match the color of your camera.

Alright, back to the tour now. The button to the left of the EVF can be used to switch between it and the main LCD (the eye sensor can be disabled, by the way). Over on the other side we have buttons for playback as well as AE/AF lock.

To the right of the LCD are a few more buttons. The first is the Display button, which toggles what's being shown on the LCD or EVF. Below that is the four-way controller, which you'll use for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and also:

  • Up - ISO (Auto, Intelligent ISO, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
  • Down - Function (custom) - by default this adjusts metering
  • Left - AF mode (Face detection, AF tracking, 23-area, 1-area)
  • Right - White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, flash, preset 1/2, color temperature)
  • Center - Menu / Set

There are two Auto ISO modes on the G1. Auto ISO will boost the ISO as needed, up to a maximum of 400. Intelligent ISO, which is the default in the auto shooting modes, analyzes subject motion and adjusts the sensitivity accordingly. You can set the maximum it will use in the menu system.

The Function button is customizable. It can adjust the aspect ratio, image quality, metering mode, Intelligent Exposure mode, and the guide lines.

Focus point sizes The camera locked onto five faces

There are four focus modes to choose from on the G1. In 1-area mode, you can select not only the area in the frame on which to focus, but you can select from four focus point sizes, from tiny to huge. Next we have 23-point AF, which is good for everyday shooting. For people pictures, you can select from face detection or AF tracking mode. The face detection feature can find up to 15 faces in the frame, making sure they're properly focused and exposed. The system performed very well -- just like it does on Panasonic's point-and-shoot cameras -- locking onto five of the six faces in our test scene instantly. The AF tracking option allows you to "lock on" to a subject, and the camera will follow that person as they move around the frame.


White balance fine-tuning / bracketing screen

The G1 offers several white balance options, including the usual presets, two custom spots (for which you'll use a white or gray card as a reference), and the ability to set the WB by color temperature (from 2500K to 10000K). If that's still not enough, you can fine-tune white balance in the amber/blue and green/magenta directions, bracket for WB, or both!

The last thing to see on the back of the G1 is the Preview + Delete Photo button. The preview button allows you to get a depth-of-field preview or a simulation of the selected shutter speed.

Top of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

First up on the top of the G1 is the focus mode switch, over on the left. You can select from single, continuous, or manual focus. Single AF locks the focus when you halfway-press the shutter release. Continuous AF is always trying to focus, even with your finger off the shutter release. Manual focus lets you use the "fly-by-wire" dial on the lens to set the focus distance yourself. Since there are no focus distance markings on the lens (or the LCD/EVF for that matter), you'll have to use your eyes to verify proper focus.

Moving to the right, we find the G1's hot shoe. You'll get the best results with one of the lenses I mentioned back in the accessory section of the review, as they'll sync up with the camera's metering system. If you use a third-party flash, you will need to adjust its settings manually. The G1 can sync as fast as 1/160 second with an external flash.

Next up is the camera's mode dial, which has a ton of options for an SLR-like camera. Here they are:

Option Function
Intelligent Auto mode Point-and-shoot, automatic scene detection mode; see below for more
Program mode Automatic, but with full menu access; a Program Shift option lets you use the command dial to move through various sets of aperture/shutter speed values
Aperture Priority mode You set the aperture, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The available apertures will depend on what lens is attached. For the 14 - 45 mm kit lens, it's F3.5 - F22.
Shutter Priority mode You pick the shutter speed, and the camera selects the aperture. The shutter speed range is 60 - 1/4000 sec.
Full manual (M) mode You select both the aperture and the shutter speed. Same ranges as above. A bulb mode is also available, for exposures of up to four minutes.
Custom mode You can store up to three sets of your favorite camera settings here
My Color mode A quick and easy way for beginners to adjust color, brightness, and saturation
Scene mode You pick the scene and the camera uses the proper settings. Choose from sunset, party, baby, and pet
Night portrait These are all "advanced" scene modes
Close-up
Sports
Scenery
Portrait

Lots to talk about before we move on. The easiest things to explain are those manual exposure controls: they're all here, as you'd expect, from aperture to shutter speed. The custom spot on the mode dial can hold up to three sets of your most commonly used settings.


The camera's Intelligent Auto mode has decided that this is a macro shot (and it is)

If you want a more automatic experience, then you'll probably want to use Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode. This combines several technologies into one, including face detection, subject tracking, automatic scene selection, Intelligent Exposure (which brightens shadows), and Intelligent ISO control. Point the camera at something close, and it switches into close-up mode. If there's a person in the photo, it will switch to portrait mode and lock on to their face. It's pretty slick, and really gives you a point-and-shoot experience on an interchangeable lens camera.

Less commonly used scenes are found in the SCN menu Here's the creative sports scene mode; you can see how it represents the effect of changing the shutter speed.

There are plenty of scene modes to choose from, as well. The less-common ones can be found on a single spot on the mode dial, and include the famous "baby" mode, which records the age of up to two children into a photo's EXIF headers. The scene modes that get their own spot on the dial are called "advanced", and they give you more options than your typical scene mode. For example, under sports mode, you can choose from normal, outdoor, indoor, and creative. The creative option lets you adjust the shutter speed by giving you a visual example of what its effects will be (see above).

Underneath the mode dial are switches for power and drive, and I found the latter pretty easy to bump accidentally. The drive options include single-shot, continuous shooting, bracketing, and self-timer. First, let's talk about the continuous shooting mode on the G1. There are two speeds to choose from -- low and high -- and here's how the camera performed:

Quality setting Low speed High speed
RAW+ JPEG (Large/Fine) 5 shots @ 1.9 fps 5 shots @ 2.8 fps
RAW 6 shots @ 1.9 fps 5 shots @ 2.7 fps
JPEG (Large/Fine) Unlimited @ 1.9 fps 16 shots @ 2.7 fps

The DMC-G1 didn't quite reach Panasonic's advertised number of 3 fps in high speed mode in our tests. Even if it had, most of its D-SLR competition can shoot a bit faster. I should mention that the LCD keeps up pretty well during continuous shooting, with just a brief blackout between each shot.

The bracketing option lets you take 3, 5, or 7 shots in a row, each with a different exposure. If you have a big memory card in the camera, this is a pretty good way to ensure proper exposure every time. As I mentioned earlier, you can also bracket for white balance on the DMC-G1.

To the right of the mode dial are two buttons. The top one opens up the Quick Menu, which allows you to adjust settings that are displayed on the screen (whether you're using the icon view or the info display) without having to enter the main menu. I'll tell you about all of those options later in the review.

Adjusting Film Mode properties Preparing to bracket for Film Modes

The Film Mode button lets you select from various preset color and contrast settings. The choices include standard, dynamic, nature, smooth, nostalgic, vibrant, and black & white (standard, dynamic, or smooth). For each of these, you can adjust the contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction. If you don't want to mess with the originals, there are two My Film slots that can contain your own custom settings. The camera also allows you to bracket for up to three film modes in a single shot.

The last thing to see on the top of the camera is its shutter release button.

Side of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

The first thing to see on this side of the G1 is the switch for Mega Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) on the 14 - 45 mm kit lens. As I said at the beginning of the review, the camera doesn't have built-in image stabilization, so you'll need to rely on the lens for that feature.

On the body itself are the camera's I/O ports, which are protected by rubber covers. Let's peel them back for a closer look:


Image courtesy of Panasonic

The ports here include:

  • Remote control
  • Mini HDMI
  • USB + A/V out

The G1 can connect to a high definition television via its HDMI port. The necessary cable won't be included, so pick one up from someplace cheap like Monoprice, since Panasonic wants $50 for theirs.

As you'd expect on a high end camera, the G1 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to a Mac or PC.

Side of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

On the other side of the camera you'll find it's memory card slot. The slot can take SD, SDHC, or MMC flash media. The plastic door covering the slot feels quite flimsy.

The kit lens is at the full telephoto position here.

Bottom of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount, plus the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is sturdy, and has a locking mechanism. You can see the DMW-BLB13 battery over on the right.

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

Record Mode

Flip the power switch and the Lumix DMC-G1 is ready to go almost instantly.

Before I first used the G1, I had big concerns about focusing performance. After all, contrast detect autofocus on traditional SLRs is, well, awful. Panasonic has hit one out of the park with the G1 -- this camera focuses as quickly in live view mode as regular D-SLRs do with their optical viewfinders. Focus times range from 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle to around 0.5 - 0.7 seconds at telephoto. Low light focusing was quite good, with focus times staying below one second in most cases. Just make sure to keep your fingers out of the way of the AF-assist lamp!

I didn't have a compatible standard FourThirds lens to test with the G1, so I can't tell you how those perform on the G1 in terms of AF speed.

I wouldn't expect shutter lag to be a problem on an SLR-like camera, and sure enough, it wasn't.

Shot-to-shot delays were minimal. I could just keep firing away, even in RAW+JPEG mode.

There is no quick way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode for that.

Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the G1. Since there are three different aspect ratios available, it's a pretty lengthy list.

Aspect ratio Resolution Quality Approx. File Size # images on 2GB SD card (optional)
4:3 Large
4000 x 3000
RAW+Fine 20.8 MB 96
RAW+Standard 18.2 MB 110
RAW 14.8 MB 135
Fine 6.1 MB 330
Standard 3.1 MB 650

Medium
2816 x 2112

RAW+Fine 18.2 MB 110
RAW+Standard 16.7 MB 120
Fine 3.1 MB 650
Standard 1.6 MB 1270
Small
2048 x 1536
RAW+Fine 16.7 MB 120
RAW+Standard 16.0 MB 125
Fine 1.6 MB 1220
Standard 800 KB 2360
3:2 Large
4000 x 2672
RAW+Fine 19.0 MB 105
RAW+Standard 16.0 MB 125
RAW 13.3 MB 150
Fine 5.4 MB 370
Standard 2.7 MB 730
Medium
2816 x 1880
RAW+Fine 16.0 MB 125
RAW+Standard 14.8 MB 135
Fine 2.7 MB 730
Standard 1.4 MB 1420
Small
2048 x 1360
RAW+Fine 14.8 MB 135
RAW+Standard 14.3 MB 140
Fine 1.5 MB 1360
Standard 800 KB 2550
16:9 Large
4000 x 2248
RAW+Fine 16.0 MB 125
RAW+Standard 13.8 MB 145
RAW 11.1 MB 180
Fine 4.7 MB 430
Standard 2.3 MB 860
Medium
2816 x 1584
RAW+Fine 13.8 MB 145
RAW+Standard 12.5 MB 160
Fine 2.3 MB 870
Standard 1.2 MB 1700
Small
1920 x 1080
RAW+Fine 12.5 MB 160
RAW+Standard 11.8 MB 170
Fine 1.1 MB 1800
Standard 600 KB 3410

That's quite a list. As you can see, you can take a RAW image alone, or with a JPEG at the size of your choosing.

Just like Panasonic's point-and-shoot cameras, the DMC-G1 has an "extended optical zoom" feature. By lowering the resolution, you can use digital zoom without reducing the image quality. The lower the resolution goes, the more zoom you can use. For example, if you select the 3 Megapixel setting, you can get 2X of additional zoom power.

The camera saves images with a name of PXXXYYYY.JPG, where X = 100-999 and Y = 0001 = 9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase and switch memory cards.

If you've used a Panasonic camera before, then you'll feel right at home with the G1's menu system. It's not the most attractive menu system out there, but it gets the job done. It's divided into five parts, covering recording, custom, setup, My Menu, and playback options. Here's the full list:

Record Menu
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9)
  • Picture size (Large, medium, small)
  • Quality (Fine, standard, RAW+Fine, RAW+Standard, RAW)
  • Metering mode (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
  • Stabilizer (Mode 1, 2, 3) - see below
  • Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, fill flash w/redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync w/redeye reduction)
  • Digital redeye removal (on/off) - automatically removes redeye as a photo is taken
  • Flash synchro (1st, 2nd curtain)
  • Flash adjust (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Intelligent Exposure (Off, low, standard, high) - see below
  • Extended optical zoom (on/off) - explained earlier
  • Digital zoom (Off, 2X, 4X) - it's best to keep this off
  • Burst rate (Low, high speed)
  • Auto bracket
    • Step (3 shots/0.3EV, 3 shots/0.6EV, 5 shots/0.3EV, 5 shots/0.6EV, 7 shots/0.3EV, 7 shots/0.6EV)
    • Sequence (0/-/+, -0/+)
  • Self-timer (2 or 10 secs, 10 sec / 3 shot)
  • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
  • Long shutter noise reduction (on/off)
  • ISO limit set (Off, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - how high Auto and Intelligent ISO will go
  • ISO increments (1/3EV, 1EV) - the former allows for fine-tuning ISO
Custom Menu
  • Custom setting memory (1 - 3) - you can store up to three sets of custom settings
  • EVF display style (Viewfinder, LCD style) - how the display in the EVF looks
  • LCD display style (Viewfinder, LCD style) - same thing, but for the main LCD
  • LCD info display (Off, blue, red, black) - whether the LCD info display is on, and what color it is
  • EVF/LCD auto (on/off) - whether the EVF turns on when you put your eye to it
  • Histogram (on/off)
  • Guide line (Off, 3x3, cross, custom) - I showed you the custom guide lines earlier
  • AF/AE lock (AE, AF, AF/AE) - what happens when you press this button
  • AF/AE lock hold (on.off) - whether the AF/AE lock stays on, even with your finger off the button
  • Previous hold (on/off) - whether you need to hold the preview button down
  • Pre-AF (Off, Quick AF, continuous AF) - quick AF starts focusing when camera shake is minimal; continuous AF is always focusing
  • Direct AF area (on/off) - whether you can move the focus point in single-point mode
  • Focus priority (on/off) - whether a photo can be taken without focus lock
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • AF+MF (on/off) - whether you can manually focus after autofocus is done
  • MF assist (on/off) - center-frame enlargement in manual focus mode
  • Exposure settings (Front dial press, front dial rotating + EVF/LCD button) - what you need to do in order to adjust manual exposure settings
  • Dial guide (on/off)
  • Menu resume (on/off) - whether the camera returns to the last place you were in the menu
  • Pixel refresh - I believe this is to get rid of dead pixels
  • Shoot w/o lens - whether you can take a photo without a lens attached

 

Setup Menu
  • Clock set
  • World time (Destination, home)
  • Function button set (Aspect ratio, quality, metering mode, Intelligent Exposure, guide line) - what pressing down on the four-way controller does
  • Auto review
    • Review (Off, 1, 3, 5 secs, hold) - post-shot review
    • Zoom (Off, 1, 3, 5 secs) - and whether the frame is enlarged
  • Highlight (on/off) - whether overexposed areas of a photo are highlighted
  • Economy
    • Power save (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins) - auto power off
    • Auto LCD off (Off, 15, 30 secs)
  • Monitor/viewfinder - adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation for each of these
  • LCD mode (Off, auto power LCD, power LCD) - brighten the LCD, either manually or automatically
  • File no. reset
  • Reset - back to defaults
  • Beep (Muted, low, high)
  • TV aspect (16:9, 4:3)
  • HDMI mode (Auto, 1080i, 576p/480p)
  • Viera Link (on/off) - whether the camera can be controlled from certain Panasonic TVs
  • Language
  • Version display
  • Scene menu (Auto, off) - whether the scene menu is shown when you switch to SCN mode
  • USB mode (Select on connection, PC, PictBridge/PTP)
  • Format memory card

My Menu

Shows the last five menu options you selected

Playback Menu
  • Slideshow
    • Photos (All, favorites)
    • Duration (1, 2, 3, 5 secs, manual)
  • Favorite - tag photos
  • Rotate
  • Rotate display - whether portraits are automatically rotated
  • DPOF print marking
  • Protect (Single, multiple)
  • Resize
  • Trimming
  • Aspect ratio conversion (3:2, 4:3)

I want to quickly explain two of the features in the record menu. Let's start with the three image stabilization modes that are available. Mode 1 has the image stabilizer active at all times in record mode. Mode 2 only activates it when you halfway press the shutter release button, and mode 3 is for horizontal panning (it only stabilizes up and down motion).

The Intelligent Exposure feature is similar to D-Lighting on Nikon cameras and D-Range Optimizer on Sony cameras. In a nutshell, it brightens the dark areas of your photos as they are taken. There are three levels of Intelligent Exposure to choose from, and you can turn it off entirely (which is the default). I performed several tests of this feature and to be honest, I didn't see a significant difference in the exposure, even at the highest setting.

Alright, enough about menus, let's get into the photo tests now. With the exception of the night shot, all of these were taken with the 14 - 45 mm kit lens.

I have absolutely no complaints about the macro photo taken by the DMC-G1. The figurine is sharp, colors are rich and saturated, and there's no noise to be found.

The minimum focus distance of the 14 - 45 mm kit lens is 30 cm. If you want to get closer, you'll want to pick up a dedicated macro lens. There currently is not such a lens in the Micro FourThirds lineup, though you can use a classic FourThirds macro lens with the optional lens adapter. The Olympus F3.5, 35 mm macro lens is compatible with the G1's autofocus system, so it may be worth a look.

[The night photos were reshot with the 45 - 200 mm Micro FourThirds lens on 11/21/08]

I originally took the night test photo with the Olympus F3.5-4.5, 45 - 150 mm lens (with the FourThirds converter), and it turned out beautifully. The Panasonic 45 - 200 mm Micro FourThirds lens isn't quite as sharp, and has more purple fringing, but it still performed pretty well for a kit lens. The buildings are sharp, though not as tack sharp as in the original photo. Noise levels are low, and plenty of detail was captured. The camera did clip some highlights here and there, but it wasn't too bad. There is some purple fringing here, but it's not enough to concern me.

Now, let's use that same scene to see how the DMC-G1 performed at higher sensitivities in low light:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 800, RAW -> JPEG conversion (SilkyPix) + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

There isn't a whole lot of difference between the ISO 100 and 200 shots, as you'd expect. Noise and noise reduction start to creep in at ISO 400, but not enough to keep you from making a large print at that setting. The image becomes softer and details become a bit smudged at ISO 800, lowering your print sizes to small or midsize. However, if you are willing to shoot RAW and do some post-processing, you'll get better results. I threw in a crop of the ISO 800 image shot in RAW, run through NeatImage (noise reduction software), and then sharpened. I think you'll agree that it was worth the trouble. There's quite a bit of detail loss at ISO 1600 and 3200, so I would avoid using these settings in low light situations (shooting RAW doesn't get back much detail at this point).

There's no redeye to be found in our flash test. The DMC-G1 has two ways of preventing this annoyance. First, it will fire the flash before the photo is taken, to shrink your subject's pupils. If that doesn't work, it will digitally remove any leftover redeye. Do note that you can't remove redeye in playback mode -- it's a flash setting option only.

There's minimal barrel distortion at the wide end of the 14 - 45 mm kit lens, and that's good news. I did not find corner blurriness or vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem, either.

Now it's time for our normal lighting ISO test, which is taken in our studio. Thus, it can be compared to other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the amount of noise at each ISO sensitivity, viewing the full size images is always a good idea. And with that, here we go:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 1600, RAW -> JPEG conversion (SilkyPix)

ISO 1600, RAW -> JPEG conversion (SilkyPix) + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

ISO 3200

As you'd expect from a large-sensor camera, the first three crops are free and clear of noise. You start to see a bit of noise reduction at ISO 800, but not enough to concern me. Details start to soften up more noticeably at ISO 1600 where, again, I've shown you the advantage of shooting RAW. You can also turn the camera's noise reduction down (using Film Modes), but you'll have the most control over noise reduction by using the RAW format. Post-processing really brings the ISO 1600 shot back to life, allowing you to make a much larger (not to mention nicer) print. I would probably leave the ISO 3200 setting alone, unless you're absolutely desperate.

Overall, the Lumix DMC-G1's photo quality is very good, and quite similar to what you'd get from a regular FourThirds D-SLR. Photos were well-exposed, which is a nice change from the exposure problems I've been having with D-SLRs lately. The G1 handled our purple fringing torture tunnel fairly well, with just minor highlight clipping. Colors were generally accurate and saturated, though a few of my indoor shots in the bonus gallery had a greenish cast to them, which I think is the camera's auto white balance system struggling with the very unusual lighting in that building. Like its D-SLR counterparts, Panasonic has taken a fairly conservative approach to in-camera sharpening here, so photos may appear slightly soft to some folks. If you want to bump up the sharpening, just use the Film Mode feature. Purple fringing was minimal, as the camera's Venus Engine HD image processor removes it automatically.

As the tests above illustrated, noise doesn't become an issue until ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light -- but even then, you can shoot RAW to get much better results. If you need a more real world example, here you go:


ISO 640, JPEG


ISO 640, RAW -> JPEG conversion (SilkyPix) + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
Download original RAW file

Amazing what spending a few minutes in an image editor will do for your photos at high ISO, eh?

Don't just take the words above as gospel. Have a look at both of our photo galleries -- standard and bonus -- and then see if the DMC-G1's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

Unfortunately, the DMC-G1 does not have a movie mode. Panasonic is planning on releasing another Micro FourThirds camera next year, which will be capable of HD movie recording.

Playback Mode

The DMC-G1 has a fairly standard playback mode for an SLR-like camera. The basic playback features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (in many sizes), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the image by as much as 16X (in 2X increments), and then move around the enlarged area. There doesn't seem to be a way to move from image to image while retaining the same position and zoom setting, unlike on some other cameras.

Like Panasonic's consumer cameras, the G1 offers a calendar view of your photos, so you can quickly navigate to photos you took on a specific date.

Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. If you want to change the aspect ratio, you can do that too.

By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see more info, including an RGB histogram.

The DMC-G1 moves through photos instantly.

How Does it Compare?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 is the smallest interchangeable lens camera in the world. It may be the first of a totally new design of cameras (Micro FourThirds), but you'd never know it. Panasonic has done a superb job with the G1 in nearly all respects. It produces very good quality photos, offers an unmatched live view shooting experience, and has a nice collection of both automatic and manual controls. The G1's biggest problems are its price, and the fact that it's not that much smaller than, say, the Olympus E-420. Still, if you're willing to spend the $800 for it, you won't be disappointed: the DMC-G1 is the first camera to truly offer a "point-and-shoot experience" on an interchangeable lens camera, and thus, it earns my recommendation.

When the Micro FourThirds standard was announced, my imagination ran wild thinking of the possibilities: could Panasonic and/or Olympus create a truly compact interchangeable lens camera? The answer is yes, and no. The Lumix DMC-G1 isn't a whole lot smaller than the Olympus E-420, a regular FourThirds camera. Panasonic says they could've made the G1 smaller, but they didn't want to compromise in terms of usability. Therefore, if you were expecting a pocket-size camera with interchangeable lenses, I have bad news for you.

Here's what the G1 is: it's the smallest camera of its type, and it's made of a rubberized plastic that feels pretty solid. The only real weak spot was the flimsy door over the memory card slot. The camera is easy to hold, with a good-sized (though somewhat slippery) right hand grip. There are some design choices I don't like, though. For one, the front (and only) command dial is poorly placed: it's too easy to accidentally bump, which can lead to changing exposure settings. I also found it too easy to hit the drive switch, which is under the mode dial -- I had several "who turned the self-timer on?" moments with the G1. Finally, it's very easy to block the AF-assist lamp with your fingers, so keep that in the back of your mind. The G1 uses the all new Micro FourThirds lens mount, and there are only two lenses that support it at the moment. If you've got some "classic" FourThirds lenses you can use them, but you'll first need to purchase the $170 adapter, and even then, not all of the lenses will support autofocus. The G1's Live MOS sensor is more exposed to the elements than a traditional SLR (since there's no mirror), and thus its more likely to have a dust problem. Panasonic uses the well-known Supersonic Wave Filter to get rid of dust, and I didn't have any problems with that particular nuisance during my time with the G1.

The most impressive part of the DMC-G1 is its live view shooting experience. The Micro FourThirds system was designed from the ground up to be live view only, and Panasonic has really hit one out of the park in this area. You'll compose your photos with either the 3-inch, rotating LCD display or a large electronic viewfinder. Both of these screens have exceptional resolutions of 460,000 and 480,000 pixels, respectively, and outdoor and low light viewing is excellent. While the EVF is undoubtedly one of the best ever, it still isn't as sharp or clear as a traditional optical viewfinder. The live view is bright and motion is fluid. You can overlay preset grid lines, or make your own. Numerous focusing modes are available -- including face detection, 23-point auto, 1-point adjustable, and subject tracking -- and the camera focuses just like the fastest point-and-shoot cameras on the market. The bottom line: Panasonic is the first company to truly get live view right.

The DMC-G1 offers plenty of other features, besides live view. It has the same Intelligent Auto mode as its compact relatives, which will pick a scene mode for you, detect any faces that may be present, brighten shadows, and boost the ISO as needed for a sharp photo. There are several "advanced" scene modes as well, which are a bit more flexible than what you'd typically find. If you're worried about manual controls, don't worry, they're here too. The G1 has full manual exposure control, numerous white balance controls (custom, color temperature, fine-tuning, and bracketing), and of course, manual focus. This last feature was generally very good, with a handy movable frame enlargement feature, though the camera (and lens) gives you no indication of the current focus distance, which was a bit frustrating. The camera allows you to store three sets of camera settings to a spot on the mode dial, and the customizable Function button is always a nice extra. There's also a Film Mode feature, which lets you flip between various sets of color/sharpness/noise reduction parameters. One feature a lot of people were expecting to see on the G1 isn't here, and that's a movie mode.

Camera performance was very good in almost all areas. Flip the power switch and the DMC-G1 is ready to go in a fraction of a second. Autofocus times were excellent, with its contrast detect AF system easily rivaling the phase difference systems of its D-SLR peers (and blowing away their implementations of contrast detection). Low light focusing was good as well, with focus times generally staying under one second. Just make sure your finger isn't blocking the AF-assist lamp! Shot-to-shot delays were minimal, and shutter lag was not a problem either. The G1's continuous shooting mode is just okay. You can take around 5 RAW or 16 JPEG shots at 2.7 frames/second, which is slower than what you'll find on most of the competition. Battery life is lower than said competition, but that comes with the territory on this live view only camera.

Photo quality was very good. The G1 took well-exposed photos with pleasing, accurate colors. As with digital SLRs, images are a bit soft straight out of the camera, but that can be fixed easily enough with the Film Mode feature. The 14 - 45 mm, stabilized kit lens had minimal barrel distortion and corner blurriness, and no vignetting. The DMC-G1 keeps noise under control until you hit ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light. At that point there will be noticeable detail loss, and I recommend shooting in the RAW format for best results (see earlier examples). The highest ISO setting, 3200, has too much detail loss to be usable for printing. I didn't find purple fringing or redeye to be problems on the G1.

Normally, the first model of a totally new product design isn't the greatest. That's not the case here, though, as Panasonic has done a really nice job with the Lumix DMC-G1. Still, there's some room for improvement, mostly in terms of ergonomics and lens selection. As I mentioned earlier, the G1's biggest problem may be its price. The Olympus E-420 that I mentioned costs only $450 with a 14 - 42 mm lens (though it lacks image stabilization), compared to $800 for the DMC-G1. Sure, it's a big larger, and its live view feature doesn't come close to that of the DMC-G1, but in this tough economy, $350 is nothing to sneeze at. If you're willing to part with the 800 bucks, then I can absolutely recommend the Lumix DMC-G1 -- and I look forward to seeing what Panasonic comes up with on future models.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • World's smallest interchangeable lens camera; comes in black, red, and blue
  • Excellent live view shooting experience
    • High resolution, 3-inch rotating LCD display
    • Ultra sharp and very large electronic viewfinder; eye sensor allows seamless transition between LCD and EVF
    • Fast refresh rate on both screens; very good outdoor/low light visibility
    • Super-fast contrast detect autofocus
  • Dust reduction system
  • Full manual controls, including numerous white balance controls
  • RAW image format supported, powerful (but clunky) editing software included
  • Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene for you, detects faces, tracks a moving subject, and brightens shadows, all automatically
  • Well-implemented face detection feature; digital redeye removal
  • Custom spot on mode dial, customizable function button, make-your-own grid lines
  • Compact, stabilized kit lens has minimal distortion and corner blurriness
  • HDMI output

What I didn't care for:

  • Expensive compared to entry-level D-SLRs (and not much smaller, either)
  • Images get a bit noisy at ISO 800 in low light, ISO 1600 in normal light; shoot RAW for best results at those settings
  • Limited lens selection; only a handful of classic FourThirds lenses support autofocus, and they require a $170 adapter
  • Design annoyances: poorly-placed front command dial and drive switch; AF-assist lamp easy to block
  • Burst mode could be faster
  • No focus distance shown on lens, or on LCD/EVF in manual focus mode
  • No movie mode

There's currently no other mirrorless interchangeable lens camera on the market. Some entry-level, live view D-SLRs you may want to check out include the Canon EOS Rebel XSi, Nikon D90 (on the expensive side, but worth a look), Olympus E-420, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A300.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Lumix DMC-G1 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

I've got two galleries for this review. Take a look at our standard gallery, or marvel at the amazing new California Academy of Sciences in our bonus gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.