Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Review
Originally Posted: September 1, 2009
Last Updated: November 13, 2010
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ($899, with lens) is a compact interchangeable lens camera that uses the Micro Four Thirds standard. When Panasonic introduced their first Micro Four Thirds camera, the DMC-G1, many folks (myself included) were disappointed that it was fairly large, and not the compact model we hoped the MFT format would deliver. Olympus upped the ante with their E-P1, which has a compact, retro-styled body that is a lot closer to what many people expected in the first place. Unfortunately, that camera was plagued by slow autofocus, no built-in flash, and the lack of a viewfinder (with the exception of the one mated to the 17 mm pancake lens).
Panasonic's new DMC-GF1 takes everything that made the DMC-G1 (and the GH1, for that matter) so appealing, and puts it into a more compact body. It's not quite as stylish as the Olympus E-P1, but it offers faster autofocus, a pop-up flash, and support for an optional electronic viewfinder which that camera lacks. Other features include a high resolution 3-inch LCD, full manual controls, an Intelligent Auto mode, and an HD movie mode.
Since a lot of people are going to be comparing the GF1 and the E-P1, I've created this chart to illustrate the differences:
Is the DMC-GF1 the interchangeable lens camera everyone's been waiting for? And how does it compare to the Olympus E-P1? Keep reading and I'll tell you!
What's in the Box?
The DMC-GF1 will be available in two kits, both of which will cost $899. The first includes a new 20 mm pancake lens, while the second has the same 14 - 45 mm Micro Four Thirds lens that was introduced with the DMC-G1. Here's what you'll find in the box for each of those kits:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-GF1 camera body
- F1.7, 20 mm Lumix G lens [20 mm kit only]
- F3.5-5.6, 14 - 45 mm Lumix G lens w/MEGA OIS [14-45 kit only]
- DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger / AC adapter
- Body cap
- Lens hood [14-45 kit only]
- Lens bag
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring SilkyPix Developer Studio and PhotoFunStudio HD 4.0
- 202 page camera manual (printed)
|The GF1's two kit lenses|
There are two possible lenses that you'll find in the box with your GF1. The first is a brand new F1.7, 20 mm (unstabilized) pancake lens that is a perfect fit for the GF1's compact body. The other lens is the same F3.5-5.6, 14 - 45 mm IS model that was introduced with the DMC-G1. I really have no complaints about either of these lenses after using them for a few weeks. Sure, I wish the 14-45 was as bit smaller (not to mention faster), but it does the job. The 20 mm lens is especially nice due to that F1.7 maximum aperture.
If you want to use other lenses, you have a variety of choices. First, there are other Micro Four Thirds lenses available, from both Panasonic and Olympus. They include:
- Panasonic F2.8, 45 mm Leica DG macro w/ MEGA OIS
- Panasonic F4.0, 7 - 14 mm Lumix G
- Panasonic F4.0-5.8, 14 - 140 mm Lumix G HD w/ MEGA OIS (designed for movie recording)
- Panasonic F4.0-5.6, 45 - 200 mm Lumix G w/ MEGA OIS
- Olympus F2.7, 17 mm M. Zuiko Digital
- Olympus F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm M. Zuiko Digital
But wait, there are more lenses you can use, if you buy the required adapter. You can use regular Four Thirds lenses with the DMW-MA1 adapter, though only fairly recent lenses will support autofocus. For the more old school users out there, you can pick up the DMW-MA2M and DMW-MA3R adapters, which let you attach Leica M- and R-mount lenses, respectively. Naturally, the Leica lenses will be manual focus only.
Whichever lens you end up attaching to the DMC-GF1, there will be a 2X focal length conversion ratio. So, the 20 mm pancake lens has a field-of-view of 40 mm.
As with all D-SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras, there's no built-in memory or a bundled memory card included with the GF1. Thus, you'll need to pick up an SD or SDHC memory card right away, unless you happen to have one already. I'd recommend starting with a a 2GB or 4GB card with the GF1, and it's definitely worth spending a little extra for a high speed model (Class 6 is good), especially if you're planning on taking HD movies.
The DMC-GF1 uses the same DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery as the G1 and GH1. This battery packs an impressive 9.0 Wh of energy into its boxy shell. Do note that Panasonic cameras now require the use of their own batteries -- third party models may not work. Here's how that translates into battery life:
Why are there two different battery life numbers for the GF1? Simply put, it takes more juice to power an IS lens (like the 14-45) than one without it (like the 20 mm). It's hard to compare the GH1 with regular D-SLRs when it comes to battery life, as the manufacturers typically don't release numbers for live view-only usage. For the cameras I do have info for, the GF1 comes out on top -- regardless of your choice of lens.
I should point out a few things about the proprietary batteries used by the GH1 and every other camera on the above list. For one, they're expensive -- you'll spend at least $55 for a spare battery. Also, should your rechargeable battery run out of juice, you can't use something off-the-shelf to get you through the day.
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, though you'll need to buy the DC coupler part first (see below for more on that).
The GF1 with its optional electronic viewfinder
Image courtesy of Panasonic
The Lumix DMC-GF1 has plenty of accessories available, with the most notable being the electronic viewfinder pictured above (Panasonic calls it a Live View Finder). This viewfinder fits onto the hot shoe and connects via a special port that you'll see later in this article. This viewfinder isn't nearly as nice as the one on the DMC-G1/GH1, with a pixel count of 202,000 pixels. It displays 100% of the frame, and has a magnification of 1.04X (0.52X in 35mm terms). The EVF can tilt up 90 degrees, so you can use it at a variety of angles. I did not get a chance to test the viewfinder in action, unfortunately.
Here's the full list of accessories that you can pick up for the GF1:
Not too shabby!
PhotoFunStudio 4.0 HD in Windows
Panasonic includes two software products with the Lumix DMC-GF1. First up is PhotoFunStudio 4.0 HD, which is for Windows only. This software has the usual image viewing and organizing features, and I especially like you can filter photos by things like scene mode or if faces are recognized. You can also drill-down by date, as you can see above. One thing I don't care for about PhotoFunStudio is its reliance on "wizards" to do everything, which just adds unnecessary steps.
Editing photos in PhotoFunStudio
The still image editing tools haven't changed a whole lot since the last version of PhotoFunStudio. Here you can adjust things like brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. Images can be changed to sepia, black and white, or "negative color", and redeye can be removed with the click of your mouse. There's also an auto enhancement feature, for those who want to keep things simple.
While PhotoFunStudio can view RAW images, it cannot edit them or export them to other formats.
SilkyPix in Mac OS X
For editing RAW images, Panasonic supplies you with SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 SE. While its interface is better than earlier versions, SilkyPix is still fairly clunky and hard to use. 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.
If you've got Adobe Photoshop CS4 (or a recent version of PS Elements), you can also use the Camera Raw plug-in to work with the GF1's RAW files.
What is this RAW stuff all about? RAW images contain unprocessed data from the GF1's Live MOS 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, which take up more space on your memory card, and can also reduce camera performance in certain situations (like shooting in burst mode).
Trimming a video in PhotoFunStudio
Jumping to the video side of things, there are a couple of basic editing tools available in PhotoFunStudio. You can trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip (though the interface hurts my brain), burn your movies to a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray disc, or upload a video to YouTube. There aren't any serious editing tools here, and there's no way to convert AVCHD Lite files to another format.
So what about working with movies using other (non-Panasonic) software? I'll break this section down into three parts: viewing, transcoding, and editing. This is specifically for AVCHD Lite files, not Motion JPEG, as those are easy to view on your computer.
Viewing AVCHD Lite movies
The first thing to know is where the AVCHD files are kept. On your memory card, they're the .MTS files in /PRIVATE/AVCHD/BDMV/STREAM. They'll have very descriptive names, such as 00001.MTS.
If you're on a Mac and want to just watch your AVCHD Lite files, I recommend VLC (free) or Toast Titanium 10 (not free). QuickTime Player cannot open the MTS files, but you can transcode them into another format to do that (see below).
Those of you already running Windows 7 can view AVCHD movies in Windows Media Player, without having to install any additional software. If you're running an older version of Windows, you may want to try VLC or K-Lite Codec Pack.
Transcoding (converting) AVCHD Lite movies
Life gets a lot easier when you convert AVCHD Lite movies to more common formats. Some editing suites (mentioned below) do this automatically, but let's just say that you want to convert an MTS file to MP4 or WMV format.
My personal favorite for the Mac is Handbrake. It's not pretty, but it's free, fairly quick, and managed to maintain the faux 60 fps frame rate of the original movies. Other options include Toast Titanium 10 (which can also burn movies to DVD or Blu-ray disc), VLC, and VoltaicHD, though the frame rate of the resulting movie was always 30 fps (not that it seems to make a difference).
Editing AVCHD Lite videos
AVCHD Lite is not an editor-friendly codec. There aren't any native editors on the Mac side, though things are more promising for Windows users. If you've got a Mac, you can import the videos using the latest version of iMovie 09. The software transcodes the MTS files to Apple Intermediate Codec, so you're not natively editing AVCHD Lite. Still, it works just fine. Final Cut Pro doesn't support native AVCHD editing either, but it's a much more powerful set of tools, if you can figure it out.
Some modern editing suites for Windows actually work natively with the AVCHD Lite files. Two products that I know work are Adobe Premiere Pro CS4, Pinnacle Studio 12 Plus/Ultimate, and Sony Vegas. There are probably others, and there's a list on Wikipedia of software that supports AVCHD (the regular version, at least).
I'm spent -- that's enough about software for now!
You'll find a thick, detailed manual included in the box with the GF1. The good news is that you should find the answer to any question you may have about the camera inside its pages. The bad news is that finding that information requires digging through confusing tables and lots of fine print. Documentation for the bundled software is installed onto your computer.