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.
Look and Feel
The DMC-GF1 is a compact interchangeable lens camera similar in size to the Olympus E-P1. Both of these are rangefinder-style cameras based on the Micro Four Thirds standard. The GF1 doesn't have the cool retro-styling of the E-P1, instead taking a more conservative approach (it looks like a big DMC-LX3).
|The E-P1 and GF1 side-by-side, fairly
close to scale
Photos courtesy of Olympus and Panasonic
The GF1 is made almost completely of metal on the outside, and I assume the inner frame is mostly composite (AKA plastic). The body is well built in most respects, though the pop-up flash seems a little flimsy, along with the door over the battery/memory card compartment. Rangefinder-style cameras don't usually have much in the line of a right hand grip, and that's the case with the GF1. While you can hold it with one hand, I felt a heck of a lot more comfortable using both. Controls are logically placed, and if you've used one of Panasonic's point-and-shoot cameras, you'll feel right at home with the DMC-GF1.
Now, here's a look at how the DMC-GF1 compares to other compact interchangeable lens cameras in terms of size and weight:
The DMC-GH1 is tied with the Olympus E-P1 as the smallest interchangeable lens camera in the world. It's the lightest of the group, too.
How does it compare to a full-featured compact camera? Here's a table comparing various configurations of the GF1 and the E-P1 with the new Canon PowerShot G11:
As you can see, the GF1 and E-P1 are larger than the PowerShot G11, but not by a whole lot. Obviously, your choice of lens will determine just how portable the DMC-GF1 is.
Alright, I've had enough tables for right now -- let's begin our tour of the Lumix DMC-GF1 now, shall we?
Here you can see the front of the GF1, with the lens removed. That shiny thing at the center of the picture is the camera's 12.1 Megapixel Live MOS sensor, which I believe is the same one as in the DMC-G1. While this Four Thirds sensor is larger than those on compact cameras, it's still smaller than the APS-C-sized sensors used on conventional D-SLRs. The GF1 does not have sensor-shift image stabilization, unlike its Olympus counterpart. You'll have to rely on in-lens stabilization for shake reduction instead.
As you might imagine, an exposed sensor on an interchangeable lens camera is just begging for dust. Thankfully, Panasonic uses the Supersonic Wave Filter (originally developed by Olympus) to literally shake the dust off. I've used four Micro Four Thirds cameras now, and haven't seen a spec of dust.
That's a Micro Four Thirds lens mount that surrounds the sensor. Straight out of the box you can use any of the eight MFT lenses that are currently available. If you want to use classic Four Thirds, Leica, and even Olympus OM lenses, then you'll need to pick up the appropriate adapter. Whichever lens you attach, there will be a 2X focal length conversion ratio, so (for example) that 14 - 45 mm kit lens has a field of view of 28 - 90 mm.
To release an attached lens, simply press the silver button located to the right of the mount. I learned to dislike the size and placement of this button after spending three weeks with the camera on vacation. It's easy to bump accidentally, which can bump you out of the menus or playback mode, or produce a lens error.
|Comments above updated on 11/1/09|
Directly above the lens mount is the GF1's microphone. Unlike on its movie-centric big brother (the DMC-GH1), the GF1 records monaural sound only.
At the top right of the photo you can see the feature that really differentiates the GF1 from the Olympus E-P1: a built-in flash. This flash, which is released manually, isn't terribly powerful, with a guide number of 6 meters at ISO 100 (about half that of a traditional D-SLR). Still, it's enough for using as a fill flash, and if you need more light, the hot shoe is right next door.
The last item of note on the from of the DMC-GF1 is its AF-assist lamp. located just below the Lumix logo. The camera uses the lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations, and has a maximum range of 3.0 - 3.5 meters, depending on which lens you're using. The AF-assist lamp also serves as visual countdown for the self-timer.
The main event on the back of the camera is the GF1's 3-inch LCD display, which has 460,000 pixels. Not surprisingly, the screen is tack sharp, and everything moves at a fluid 60 frames/second. I found outdoor visibility to be very good (especially with Auto Power LCD turned on), and in low light the display brightens up nicely, so you can still see your subject.
Since Micro Four Thirds cameras don't have a built-in optical viewfinder, you'll be composing all your shots using live view. On the GF1 you can use the LCD, or the optional electronic viewfinder. In live view you'll see 100% of the frame, get a real-time preview of exposure, white balance, and depth-of-field. There's a 23-point autofocus system, with center-point and face detection options, as well.
|That histogram can go anywhere in the frame that you'd like||You can even create your own grid lines|
What else can you do in live view mode? You can have a live histogram, even selecting where it goes on the screen. There are three choices of grid lines that can be displayed, one of which is customizable (see above right). 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 (more on that in a second).
Frame enlargement in manual focus mode
If you're manually focusing, the center of the image can be enlarged by 5X or 10X. When you're zoomed in, you can move around the frame by using the four-way controller.
There's one other live view-related thing I want to show you before we move on. If you remove the cover over the hot shoe, you'll find this:
That port is where the optional electronic viewfinder I told you about earlier plugs in. Just slide it onto the hot shoe and you're set. For those wondering how you switch between the LCD and the EVF, there's a button on the side of the EVF for just that purpose.
Getting back to the tour now: just to the right of the Micro Four Thirds logo is the release for the pop-up flash. Continuing to the right, we find the AF/AE lock button, with the command dial next to that. You'll use this dial to adjust things like shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation, or just quickly navigate through the menu system.
Now let's talk about the buttons to the right of the LCD. Starting at the top, we have the AF/MF button. This lets you select from single, continuous, and manual focus. As you saw earlier, you can enlarge the frame in manual focus mode, though I really wish there was some kind of focus distance guide on the LCD.
The next button down (Q. Menu) opens up -- get ready -- the Quick Menu! Here you can quickly adjust some of the most commonly accessed settings on the DMC-GF1. They include:
- Flash setting
- Film mode
- Image stabilizer
- Movie quality
- Aspect ratio/picture size
- Still quality
- LCD mode
- Intelligent Exposure
- Metering mode
- Exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- ISO sensitivity (Auto, Intelligent ISO, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
- White balance
- Remaining display (Shots, recording time)
The only options that are exclusive to that menu are exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity. There are two Auto ISO modes available: regular and Intelligent. The difference between the two is that Intelligent ISO takes subject motion into account when it's choosing how high to boost the sensitivity. The more movement, the faster the shutter speed you'll need, and so the ISO will go higher. You can set the maximum ISO setting that the camera will use in the menu.
Next up is the four-way controller, which you'll use for navigating the menu system and reviewing photos that you've taken. These buttons also control the following:
- Up - ISO (Auto, Intelligent ISO, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200) - described above
- Down - Function - by default this lets you select the Film Mode; I'll tell you what else this button can be defined to handle later in this review
- 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
|The camera locked onto five of the six faces in our test scene. Sorry about the lousy quality of these captures||The camera can learn to recognize certain faces, and give them focus priority.|
There are four focus modes to choose from on the GF1. In 1-area mode, not only can you select the area in the frame on which to focus, you can also 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. If you've got "face recognition" turned on, the camera will identify any faces it has learned, and give them focus priority. Both of these features worked very well in my time with the GF1. 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 GF1 offers several white balance options, including most of the usual presets (strangely, there's no fluorescent option), two custom spots (for which you can 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 it, or both.
The final buttons on the back of the DMC-GF1 are Display and Preview/Delete Photo. The Display button does just as it sounds -- it toggles the information shown on the LCD. The Preview button is for a live look at depth-of-field or, if you press the Display button also, simulating the effect of the current shutter speed.
Right at the center of the photo of the top of the GF1 is its hot shoe, with the microphone right above it. The GF1 works best with the three external flashes that I described in the accessory section, as they'll sync properly with the camera's metering system. If you're not using one of those flashes, you may have to operate the camera and/or the flash in manual mode. The GF1 can sync as fast as 1/160 sec with an external flash.
Next up is the camera's mode dial, which has the "drive" switch beneath it (which I found quite easy to bump accidentally). I'll get to the drive options in a minute, but first, here's what you'll find on that mode dial:
The DMC-GF1 has a nice mix of automatic and manual controls. If you want a point-and-shoot experience, then look no further than the Intelligent Auto mode. This mode automatically takes advantage of a number of Panasonic features, including image stabilization, Intelligent ISO, Intelligent Scene Detection, face detection, subject tracking, and Intelligent Exposure. In short, the camera will pick a scene mode for you, detect any faces, give you the option to track one of them, and ensure that the shadow detail is up to snuff. Heck, the camera can even show the names of people it recognizes in the scene, assuming you've already registered them with the Face Recognition system.
If you want to select a scene mode on your own, that's not a problem either. The GF1 has over a dozen scene modes, with the most notable being the new peripheral defocus option. If you want to take a photo where your subject is sharp but the background is blurred, but don't know how, that's the scene mode you want to use. Just select the area in the frame that you want in-focus, and the camera does the rest.
The My Color mode has changed a bit since the G1 and GH1: it now has Olympus-style Art Filters. Choose from expressive, retro, pure, elegant, sepia, monochrome, dynamic art, silhouette, and custom. The custom option lets you adjust the color, saturation, and brightness using simple slider controls.
This guide shows you the relationship between shutter speed and aperture
For the three shooting modes I just described, don't expect much in the line of menu options or exposure control. For a point-and-shoot experience with full menu access, you'll want to use Program mode. There you can use the command dial to activate the Program Shift feature, which lets you choose from various shutter speed/aperture combinations. The camera does a good job of showing you the relationship between the two on the LCD (see above). If you want full manual controls, the GF1 has those too, with shutter and aperture priority, full manual, and bulb modes. You can also save up to four sets of camera settings via the two "C" spots on the mode dial.
As I mentioned, under the mode dial is the switch for selecting the drive mode. You've got single-shot, continuous, auto bracketing, and self-timer. Let's start with the continuous shooting options. Here's what you can expect from the GF1 for both its low and high speed burst modes:
The DMC-GF1 is certainly not going to win any awards for its continuous shooting performance. It doesn't have a ton of buffer memory, so any bursts involving RAW images end quickly (well, they don't end, they just slow down dramatically). If you're shooting JPEGs, however, it can keep firing away until your memory card fills up. The frame rates I experienced were lower than the 2 and 3 fps numbers advertised by Panasonic. Oh, the LCD keeps up nicely with the action, so you should be able to track a moving subject.
The auto bracketing feature takes anywhere from three to seven shots in a row, each with a different exposure. This is a great way to ensure proper exposure every time, if you don't mind all the extra photos on your memory card!
The last three items on the top of the Lumix DMC-GF1 are the power switch, shutter release button, and dedicated movie recording button. You can take a movie in any mode by pressing the red button to start recording, and again to stop. In the actual movie mode, you'll use the shutter release button to do that.
On this side of the GF1 you can see the image stabilization on/off switch on the 14 - 45 mm kit lens, as well as the camera's I/O ports. These ports, kept under a plastic cover, include:
- Wired remote input
- USB + A/V output
If you have the camera hooked up to a modern Panasonic television via HDMI, you can control it from your remote control -- perfect for slideshows.
The only thing to point out here is the little door through which you'll pass the power cable of the optional AC adapter.
On the bottom of the DMC-GF1 is a metal tripod mount, and the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is of average quality. The question of whether you'll be able to access the memory card while the camera is on a tripod depends on your mount -- it doesn't work for me.
The trusty DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery can be seen on the right.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Despite running its dust reduction sequence when you power it up, the DMC-GF1 is still ready to start taking pictures in a fraction of a second. Nice!
In case you missed it: there's a histogram available on the GH1
If you've used contrast detect autofocus on a digital SLR, then you know how slow it can be. Focus times in the seconds are common. Thanks to the Micro Four Thirds system and some clever engineering by Panasonic, the GF1 is able to focus just as quickly in live view with contrast detect AF as most digital SLRs do using their optical viewfinders (with phase difference AF). Focus speeds will depend on the attached lens, but I found that the 20 mm pancake lens and the 14 - 45 at wide-angle both had focus times between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds. At the telephoto end of the lens, the 14 - 45 had focus times between 0.5 and 0.8 seconds in most situations. I found low light focusing to be responsive and accurate, with focus times stay under a second in most situations.
In case you're wondering, the GF1 is considerably faster at focusing than the Olympus E-P1. Try the two side-by-side and you'll notice instantly. While the E-P1 isn't suited to action photography, the GF1 should handle it with aplomb.
If you're looking for shutter lag, keep looking -- there isn't any.
Shot-to-shot delays were minimal. I could just keep firing away, even in RAW+JPEG mode. Adding the flash only slightly increased the delay.
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 the the image size and quality options available on the DMC-GF1:
If that's not the longest list ever, it's certainly close. Four aspect ratios will do that! The GF1 will let you 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-GF1 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 DMC-GF1 has an easy to use menu system that should be familiar to anyone who has used a Panasonic camera in recent years. It's not the flashiest menu out there, and there aren't any help screens, but it gets the job done. The menu is divided into six tabs, which include still, movie, custom, setup, My Menu, and playback menu options. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the complete list:
Motion Picture Menu - showing the unique items only
|Adjusting a Film Mode set||Bracketing film modes|
There are a few things to talk about before we can move on. The GF1 retains the same Film Mode feature as Panasonic's other two Micro Four Thirds cameras. You can select from various preset modes (e.g. standard, vibrant, nature, black and white) or you can create your own Film Mode. When you do the latter, you can adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction. You can save two sets of custom Film Modes, and you also have the ability to bracket for up to three of them at once (turn on Multi Film and then bracketing mode to do this).
|Setting up a profile for my niece||The camera then recognizes her whenever she appears in the frame|
The GF1's face recognition feature does just as it sounds -- it remembers who people are by using face detection. You can add someone immediately using the memory function or, after the camera has seen this person a few times, it will ask if you want to register them. You can have up to three photos per person, so the system can be more accurate at recognizing them. You can take things a step further by putting the name and birthday of your subject, which will be saved as metadata in the photo.
What are those image stabilization modes all about? 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 Active D-Lighting on Nikon cameras and Dynamic Range Optimizer on Sony cameras. In a nutshell, it brightens the shadow areas of your photos as they are taken. You can select the maximum amount of I.E. that will be applied (low, medium, or high), or you can turn it off entirely (it's always active in Intelligent Auto mode, though). This feature has never gotten me terribly excited, because the camera is reluctant to use it, even in situations where I think it would be helpful.
Alright, let's move onto the photo tests now! I'll tell you which lens I used underneath each test image.
The DMC-GF1 did a very nice job with our macro test subject. Colors look good, with the reds being especially vibrant. The subject is fairly sharp, while still retaining the "smooth" look that you typically find on D-SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras. I don't see any noise here, nor would I expect to.
The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you're using. For the 20 mm pancake lens, it's appropriately enough 20 cm. For the 14 - 45 mm zoom, the minimum distance (at all focal lengths) is 30 cm. Serious macro fans may be interested in the new F2.8, 45 mm Leica macro lens, which has selectable focus distances of 15 and 50 cm.
The night scene looks very nice as well. With full manual controls at your disposal, taking in enough light is very easy. If you don't want to bother with manual controls, the camera's Intelligent Auto mode will automatically select the night scenery mode for you. The buildings are fairly sharp, though I notice that the left side is a little bit softer than everywhere else. The GF1 didn't clip as many highlights here as most cameras I test, and it has almost zero purple fringing, courtesy of its Venus Engine HD image processor, which removes that automatically. Noise and noise reduction artifacting are not an issue here.
Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the GF1 performs at high ISOs in low light situations:
There's very little to distinguish the first three crops. That means that large prints will be easy at all three of those sensitivities. At ISO 800 you start to see noise reduction eating away at details, such as the corners of the US Bank building. This will reduce your maximum print size, though you can salvage things by shooting RAW (see below). The ISO 1600 photo is soft and lacking a lot of detail, so I'd save this one for RAW only. At ISO 3200 there's far too much detail lost for the image to be usable, regardless of the image format you're using.
I just mentioned that there's a benefit to shooting RAW -- well, here's the proof:
Just looking at the straight RAW conversions, you can see how much noise reduction is being applied to the GF1's JPEGs. Thankfully, by running your RAW image through noise reduction software (I like NeatImage) and then applying some sharpening, you can get much nicer results. If you're going to be making midsize or larger prints at high ISOs in low light, I think it's worth the extra effort to post-process the GF1's RAW photos.
Look for another ISO test in a moment.
The GF1 attempts to remove redeye in two ways. It can use a preflash to shrink your subject's pupils, and it can also digitally remove any redeye that it finds. Do note that the second option needs to be turned on in the menu system first! Unfortunately, the system here didn't do the job in the numerous test photos I took (though your results may vary). There's no redeye removal tool in playback mode, so if your photos end up like mine, you'll have to fix it on your Mac or PC.
|20 mm lens||14 - 45 mm lens|
Neither of the GF1's two kit lenses produce much in the line of barrel distortion. Just like how the camera's image processor corrects for purple fringing, it also reduces barrel distortion automatically. Both lenses were sharp throughout the frame, and I didn't see any vignetting (dark corners), either.
Lens used: Panasonic F1.7, 20 mm
Now it's time for the second of the two ISO tests in this review. Since this test is taken under consistent lighting, you can compare these photos with other cameras I've reviewed over the years (so now's a great time to open up the Olympus E-P1 review). With the usual reminder to look at the full size images in addition to the crops, let's take a look at how the GF1 performed at high ISO sensitivities:
The above photos are very clean all the way until you hit ISO 800. At that point, you can see a bit of grain-type noise, but that shouldn't keep you from making large prints at that setting. Things start to soften up a bit at ISO 1600, but it's still a very usable images. Only at ISO 3200 do you really see noise and detail loss, though with a little post-processing (see below), you could still make a small print at that sensitivity.
Alright, here's another "benefit of shooting RAW" demo, this time at ISO 1600 and 3200:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
At ISO 1600, shooting RAW and post-processing gets you a pretty good amount of detail back, and the color is a little nicer too, in my opinion. At ISO 3200 there's an improvement, but even so, don't expect to be making 13 x 19 inch prints here.
I want to have one more comparison, and that's the studio test shots from both the DMC-GF1 and the Olympus E-P1. We'll start at ISO 800 and work our way up to ISO 3200. These are all JPEGs, straight out of the camera.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
The first thing you'll probably notice is that the photos from the E-P1 are a lot softer than those from the GF1. I didn't use the same lens (seeing how I had the cameras months apart), but I'm sure that's at least part of the reason why the Pen's photos are softer. But I'm not doing this test to compare sharpness -- we're looking at noise. At ISO 800, there's a bit more grain to the GF1 image, with the E-P1 looking very smooth. When you get to ISO 1600 you start to see detail loss on the E-P1, and an increase in that grain-style noise on the GF1. At ISO 3200 you can see the difference approaches to noise reduction that each manufacturer has taken. Olympus is using heavy noise reduction, while Panasonic is leaving a lot of the noise for you to clean up yourself. While I prefer the color on the E-P1's photos in this test, I have to give the edge to the DMC-GF1 in the detail department.
Overall, I was really happy with the quality of the photos produced by the Lumix DMC-GF1. Exposure was generally accurate, though there was some occasional highlight clipping. Colors were pleasing, though I might crank up the saturation a notch just to give things a little more "punch". No complaints about sharpness here -- it's just how I like it. As far as noise goes, the only place I noticed it at low ISOs was if you looked really closely in shadow areas, or in the darker part of the sky. It's very hard to see unless you're looking for it. At higher sensitivities you can safely use the GF1 through ISO 400 in low light and ISO 800 in good light, without having to deal with noise. If you take both of those a stop higher, you'll see some noise, but you can get a lot of detail back by shooting RAW and post-processing. Purple fringing was rarely an issue, as the camera's image processor removes it automatically when you take a photo.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, maybe printing a few of the images if you can, and then decide if the GF1's image quality meets your expectations!
|Section updated on 11/1/09|
The Lumix DMC-GF1 has the ability to record high definition videos, at a resolution of 1280 x 720 (also known as 720p) with monaural sound. As I mentioned in the software section of the review, there are two codecs to choose from, each offering their own pros and cons. Here's a quick summary:
- AVCHD Lite
- Pros: Unlimited recording time (outside of Europe), high quality, easy viewing on Blu-ray players or HDTVs
- Cons: Difficult to edit, can only be played back on certain devices
- Motion JPEG
- Pros: Easy to edit and share, viewable on almost all devices/platforms
- Cons: Limited recording time, larger file sizes
What about video quality? I took the same video with both codecs (the "quiet scene" below) and you'd be hard-pressed to see the difference between AVCHD Lite and Motion JPEG.
When shooting AVCHD Lite movies, you have three bit rates to choose from: 17 Mbps (super high quality), 13 Mbps (high quality), and 9 Mbps (low quality). The resolution and frame rate are always the same -- 1280 x 720, at 60 frames/second. Before you get too excited about that frame rate, let me explain: while the MTS file does indeed contain 60 frames of video per second, the camera's sensor only outputs 30 frames per second. Thus, each frame is recorded twice, giving you the 60 fps number (which I believe is the AVCHD standard). This disparity makes editing an already difficult format even more fun. There's no recording time limit for AVCHD movies (a 4GB memory card holds 30 minutes of SHQ video), unless you live in Europe, where recording stops after 29 minutes and 59 seconds.
If you want to avoid AVCHD and use Motion JPEG instead (which is not a bad idea), then here's what you need to know. The camera can record at 1280 x 720, 848 x 480, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240, all at 30 frames/second. The camera can keep recording until you hit the 2GB file size limit, which takes a little over 8 minutes at the 720p setting.
You can use this slider to adjust the depth-of-field while recording movies
There are several different ways to record a movie. In any shooting mode, simply press the red button on the back of the camera to start filming. If you're in Intelligent Auto mode, the camera will select a video scene mode for you, and even detect faces. There's also a dedicated Motion Picture mode, where you can use the shutter release button to start and stop recording. In that mode you'll find the GF1's limited manual controls for movie recording. You can set the aperture using a scene mode style slider (see above), and you can also adjust the exposure compensation, as you'd expect. You can use the My Color and Film Mode features for a little added creativity, though.
If you've got a zoom lens attached then you can zoom in and out to your heart's content. The camera is capable of continuous autofocus, though the noise from the lens may be picked up by the microphone. If your lens has an image stabilizer, it can be used as well. For the ultimate movie recording experience on the GF1, you'll want to pick up the 14 - 140 mm HD lens that Panasonic designed just for this purposes.
By the way, Panasonic recommends the use of a Class 6 SDHC card when recording HD videos.
It's time for some sample movies now. I've got four of them in total -- two involving trains (of a sort), and two others with near total silence. First up are two AVCHD Lite movies, which I've converted using Handbrake into MPEG-4 files. If you want to download the original MTS files, they're just a click away.
Now here are two Motion JPEG samples. I've got the original, huge movies, as well as recompressed clips that'll download a lot faster.
The DMC-GF1 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. If you press the scroll wheel inward you can then use the four-way controller to move between photos while keeping the zoom and location the same (Thanks Bob T. for the hint).
Like Panasonic's consumer cameras, the GH1 offers a calendar view of your photos, so you can quickly navigate to photos you took on a specific date. You can also filter photos by file type (still, M-JPEG, AVCHD Lite), category (which is assigned according to the scene mode used), and whether an image has been tagged as a favorite.
Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can print the date, time, number of days into a vacation, custom text, and even the age of your kids or pets onto your photos, which is far beyond what most cameras can do. If you want to change the aspect ratio, you can do that too.
Sadly, there are no video editing features on the GF1.
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. If a registered face is in the photo, it'll be shown as well.
The Lumix DMC-GF1 moves through photos instantly.
How Does it Compare?
I'll start off this conclusion with a personal story. In a matter of days, I'm headed off to Asia for a three week vacation. In the past, I've taken my digital SLR with me, and while I love the picture quality and selection of lenses, carrying all that gear around gets a little tiring after a while. I could bring a compact camera, but the photo quality often disappoints, especially in low light. When the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 came out last year, I was intrigued -- it had the flexibility and performance of a D-SLR, but in a smaller body. But it was still a bit larger than I wanted. When the Olympus E-P1 showed up I'd found what I had been looking for. Unfortunately, I was let down by its slow autofocus system. Enter the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1: it's roughly the same size as the E-P1 and has better AF performance, a built-in flash, a higher resolution LCD, and a nicer movie mode. Add in full manual controls, a second-to-none live view experience, great photo quality, and lots of bells and whistles and well, I was smitten. Not only do I highly recommend the DMC-GF1 -- I can tell you that I bought one to take on my trip.
The DMC-GF1 is a compact interchangeable lens camera that's not a whole lot different than the Olympus E-P1 in terms of size. The E-P1 undoubtedly wins the style contest, with it's retro look. The GF1, on the other hand, looks like a large DMC-LX3. The outer shell of the GF1 is made of metal, and it feels pretty solid. There are a few design-related things that I didn't care for, including an easy-to-bump drive mode switch, the flimsy door over the memory card/battery compartment, and the fact that you can't open said compartment while the camera is on a tripod. While the GF1 can be held and operated with just one hand, the lack of a right hand grip led me to use both. The GF1 features the same 12 Megapixel Live MOS sensor that is used on the original DMC-G1. It has an ultrasonic dust removal system, which is extra important since there's no mirror to protect the lens. The GF1 uses the Micro Four Thirds standard, which has only a handful of lenses at this point, but you can also use "classic" Four Thirds lenses, plus Leica and Olympus OM lenses, assuming that you've bought the appropriate adapter. Whichever lens you choose, there will be a 2X focal length conversion ratio. I should also point out that there's no image stabilization built into the DMC-GF1, unlike its Olympus counterpart. Something the GF1 has that the E-P1 does not is a built-in flash. It's not as strong as what you'd find on a digital SLR, but it's better than nothing at all. Should you desire more flash power, the camera's hot shoe is at your disposal.
On the back of the GF1 is an ultra-sharp 3-inch LCD display that is the heart of the camera's live view system. This screen has 460,000 pixels (twice that of the E-P1), so everything is very sharp. The screen has very good outdoor visibility, especially when the Power LCD option is turned on. Being a Micro Four Thirds camera, you'll do all your photo-taking using the LCD or the optional electronic viewfinder (which I didn't get a chance to test). On the LCD you'll get a bright, fluid view of the scene, with a live histogram, customizable guide lines, 23-point autofocus, face detection, manual focus enlargement, and more. In low light situations the view on the LCD brightens automatically, so you can still see what you're trying to take a photo of. And, perhaps most importantly, the camera focuses quickly in live view mode, unlike digital SLRs (and the E-P1, to an extent).
The GF1 is loaded with features that will be quite familiar to owners of Panasonic's compact cameras. On the point-and-shoot side, there's Intelligent Auto mode. This will select a scene mode for you, detect any faces that are present, reduce blur by boosting the ISO as-needed, brighten shadows, and track a moving subject. The GF1 can do many of the same things when you're recording movies in iA mode, as well. If you want to select a scene mode on your own, don't worry, you can do that too -- and there are plenty to choose from. As I mentioned, the GF1 has a face detection system, and it works very well. The camera also has the ability to recognize faces that you've taught it, giving them focus priority. It can even save the name and birthday of your child or pet into the metadata of your photo. The DMC-GF1 also has a full set of manual controls. There are aperture and shutter priority, full manual, and bulb exposure modes. You can both fine-tune and bracket for white balance, and the GF1's film modes let you have different color and sharpness settings close at hand.
The GF1 also has an HD movie mode, with your choice of codecs: AVCHD Lite (long recording times, easy HDTV viewing, but a pain to edit) and Motion JPEG (easy editing, but large file sizes and limited recording time). You have access to both continuous autofocus and image stabilization, if your lens supports those features. The only manual controls here are for exposure compensation and aperture (in a scene mode sort of way). Sound recording is digital, but monaural. A wind cut filter is available for recording videos outdoors.
The DMC-GF1 a very responsive performer. Despite needing to run its dust reduction at startup, it's still ready to take a photo as soon as you flip the power switch. The GF1's autofocus speeds are excellent, especially if you've seen what passes for contrast detect AF on regular D-SLRs. The GF1 focuses as quickly with contrast detect AF in live view as most digital SLRs do when using their optical viewfinders and dedicated AF sensors. Low light doesn't cause the camera any trouble either, with focus times staying under a second in most cases. Shutter lag and shot-to-shot-times were both minimal. The camera's burst mode is a bit of a letdown; while you can keep shooting JPEGs until your memory card fills up, the frame rate is less than 3 frames/second. If you're shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG, the buffer fills after just four or five photos. As for battery life, the GF1 has good numbers for a live view-only interchangeable lens camera, though buying a spare battery is still a good idea (I did).
Photo quality was very good as well. The GF1 took well-exposed photos, though there is some highlight clipping at times. Colors were pleasing, though I might crank the saturation up a notch to give things a little more punch. Sharpness is right where I like to see it. As for noise, you probably won't notice any until ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light. If you're willing to shoot RAW and post-process, you can push things a stop further and get very usable results. The GF1 corrects for both barrel distortion and purple fringing automatically, so that wasn't a problem. It's supposed to digitally remove redeye as well, but I had no luck with that feature. Do note that there's no redeye removal tool in playback mode, so if your photos end up with this annoyance, you'll have to use your computer to fix it.
It's safe to say that you can't get a better endorsement than having a reviewer buying the camera they are writing about. The GF1 isn't my main digital SLR -- I have a D300s for my high ISO image quality, wide lens selection, and quick continuous shooting needs. But for travel and everyday shooting, the GF1 more than fits the bill. It offers great photo quality, snappy performance, and all the bells and whistles that users of compact cameras are used to, with all the benefits of an interchangeable lens camera. The GF1 is the Micro Four Thirds camera that many people -- myself included -- have been waiting for, and Panasonic certainly delivered the goods.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality: low noise until highest ISOs, minimal highlight clipping or purple fringing
- Interchangeable lenses in a (relatively) compact body
- 3-inch, high resolution LCD with great outdoor visibility
- First-rate live view experience: super-fast AF, face detection/recognition, live histogram, custom grid lines, and more
- Full manual controls; RAW format supported, with capable (but clunky) editor included
- Camera can bracket for exposure, white balance, and Film Mode
- Intelligent Auto mode selects a scene mode for you, detects faces, reduces blur, brightens shadows -- all automatically
- HD movie mode with choice of codecs, use of continuous AF and image stabilization when available
- Customizable buttons, spot on mode dial; Film Mode allow you to have sets of color/sharpness/noise reduction options
- Dust reduction system
- Built-in flash + hot shoe for another
- Optional electronic viewfinder (though it's pricey and pretty average in terms of specs)
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Some redeye and highlight clipping
- Movies created with AVCHD Lite codec are difficult to share and edit; frame rate isn't true 60 fps; Motion JPEG movies have huge file sizes, limited recording time
- Unremarkable continuous shooting mode
- Flash isn't terribly powerful
- No fluorescent white balance option
- Lens release button too easy to bump
- Flimsy door over memory card/battery compartment; can't access memory card while camera is on a tripod
- Manual leaves much to be desired
Some other compact cameras with interchangeable lenses and live view include the Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Nikon D5000, Olympus E-P1, Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 and DMC-GH1, Pentax K-x, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A380.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Lumix DMC-GF1 and its competitors before you buy!
|Conclusion updated on 11/1/09|
See how the DMC-GF1's photos look in our gallery!