DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Review

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

Record Mode

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:

Aspect ratio Resolution Quality Approx. File Size # images on 2GB SD card (optional)
4:3 Large
4000 x 3000
RAW+Fine 21.7 MB 92
RAW+Standard 18.2 MB 110
RAW 14.8 MB 135
Fine 6.9 MB 290
Standard 3.5 MB 570

Medium
2816 x 2112

RAW+Fine 19.0 MB 105
RAW+Standard 16.7 MB 120
Fine 3.8 MB 520
Standard 2.0 MB 1020
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 20.0 MB 100
RAW+Standard 16.7 MB 120
RAW 13.3 MB 150
Fine 6.5 MB 310
Standard 3.2 MB 620
Medium
2816 x 1880
RAW+Fine 17.4 MB 115
RAW+Standard 15.4 MB 130
Fine 3.6 MB 550
Standard 1.9 MB 1070
Small
2048 x 1360
RAW+Fine 14.8 MB 135
RAW+Standard 14.3 MB 140
Fine 1.5 MB 1360
Standard 800 KB 2560
16:9 Large
4000 x 2248
RAW+Fine 17.4 MB 115
RAW+Standard 14.3 MB 140
RAW 11.1 MB 180
Fine 5.7 MB 350
Standard 2.0 MB 700
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
1:1 Large
2992 x 2992
RAW+Fine 16.7 MB 120
RAW+Standard 14.3 MB 140
RAW 11.8 MB 170
Fine 5.1 MB 390
Standard 2.6 MB 760
Medium
2112 x 2112
RAW+Fine 13.8 MB 145
RAW+Standard 12.9 MB 155
Fine 2.3 MB 870
Standard 1.2 MB 1700
Small
1504 x 1504
RAW+Fine 12.9 MB 155
RAW+Standard 12.1 MB 165
Fine 600 KB 3260
Standard 300 KB 6030

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:

Record Menu
  • Film mode (Standard, dynamic, nature, smooth, nostalgic, vibrant, standard B&W, dynamic B&W, smooth B&W, My Film 1/2, Multi Film) - see below
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1)
  • Picture size (Large, medium, small)
  • Quality (Fine, standard, RAW+Fine, RAW+Standard, RAW)
  • Face recognition (On, off, memory, set) - see below
  • 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) - removes redeye as a photo is taken
  • Flash synchro (1st, 2nd curtain)
  • Flash adjust (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Metering mode (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
  • Intelligent Exposure (Off, low, standard, high) - see below
  • 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)
  • Extended optical zoom (on/off) - explained just above this section
  • 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, 3 shots @ 10 sec)
  • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
  • Audio recording (on/off) - add a 5 second audio clip to photos

Motion Picture Menu - showing the unique items only

  • REC mode (AVCHD Lite, Motion JPEG) - I'll explain all of these things later
  • Rec quality
    • In AVCHD Lite mode (Super high, high, low)
    • In Motion JPEG mode (HD, WVGA, VGA, QVGA)
  • Continuous AF (on/off)
  • Wind cut (Off, low, standard, high) - useful for shooting outdoors
Custom Menu
  • Custom setting memory (C1, C2-1, C2-2, C2-3) - store up to four sets of camera settings to the two spots on the mode dial
  • LCD display style (Viewfinder, LCD style) - icon layout on the LCD
  • Histogram (on/off) - when you turn it on, you get to place it wherever you want
  • Guide line (Off, 3 x 3, cross, custom) - I showed you the custom guide lines already
  • Exposure meter (on/off) - whether the aperture/shutter speed guide I mentioned earlier is displayed
  • AF/AE lock (AE, AF, AF/AE) - what happens when you press this button
  • AF/AE lock hold (on/off) - whether you need to keep your finger on the button
  • Preview hold (on/off) - whether you need to hold the DOF preview button down
  • Pre-AF (Off, Quick AF, continuous AF) - quick AF starts focusing when camera shake is minimal; continuous AF is always focusing; both reduce AF times, at the expense of battery life
  • Direct AF area (on/off) - allows you to move and resize 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) - frame enlargement in manual focus mode
  • Rec area (Picture, motion picture) - whether LCD aspect ratio is for stills or movies
  • Remaining display (Shots, time) - whether the LCD/EVF show the number of photos remaining, or the remaining video recording time
  • Movie recording button (on/off) - you can disable the dedicated movie recording button here
  • Dial guide (on/off) - puts a small indicator on the lower-right of the LCD telling you how to adjust a manual exposure setting
  • 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
  • Sensor cleaning - runs the supersonic wave filter process
  • Shoot w/o lens - whether you can take a photo without a lens
  • LVF display style (Viewfinder, LCD monitor) - select the icon layout for use with the optional EVF

 

Setup Menu
  • Clock set
  • World time (Destination, home)
  • Travel date - the day and location of your trip get stored in the photo metadata
    • Travel setup (Off, set) - set the departure and return dates for your trip
    • Location (Off, set) - store your destination name
  • Function button set (Film Mode, aspect ratio, quality, metering mode, Intelligent Exposure, guide line, rec area, remaining disp) - what pressing "down" on the four-way controller does
  • Economy
    • Power save (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins) - auto power off
    • Auto LCD off (Off, 15, 30 secs)
  • Auto review
    • Review (Off, 1, 3, 5 secs, hold) - post-shot review
    • Zoom (Off, 1, 3, 5 secs) - and whether the frame is enlarged 4X
  • Highlight (on/off) - whether overexposed areas of a photo are highlighted
  • 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
  • Scene menu (Auto, off) - whether the scene menu is shown when you switch to SCN mode
  • Beep (Muted, low, high)
  • Volume (0-6)
  • File no. reset
  • Reset - back to defaults
  • USB mode (Select on connection, PictBridge/PTP, PC)
  • TV aspect (16:9, 4:3)
  • HDMI mode (Auto, 1080i, 720p, 480p)
  • Viera Link (on/off) - whether the camera can be controlled from certain Panasonic TVs
  • Version display
  • Language
  • Format memory card

My Menu

  • Shows the last five menu options you selected
Playback Menu
  • Slideshow
    • Show (All, picture only, movie only, category selection, favorites)
    • Effect (Natural, swing, urban, off) - transitions
    • Duration (1, 2, 3, 5 secs)
    • Repeat (on/off)
    • Music (on/off)
    • Audio (on/off) - plays audio clips that you've recorded along with a photo, but only if music option is off
  • Playback mode (Normal play, picture play, AVCHD Lite play, Motion JPEG play, category play, favorite play) - a quick way to filter the photos and videos you're viewing
  • Favorite (On, off, cancel) - tag photos you like the most by pressing down on the four-way controller
  • Title edit - type in a comment for a photo
  • Text stamp - stamp the date/time, age (of child/pet), travel date, or title onto a photo; photos will be downsized to "small" size
  • Resize
  • Trimming
  • - also known as cropping
  • Aspect ratio conversion (3:2, 4:3, 1:1)
  • Rotate
  • Rotate display - whether portraits are automatically rotated
  • Print set (Single, multiple) - tag a photo for printing to a DPOF-compatible photo printer
  • Protect (Single, multiple)
  • Audio dub - add a 10 second audio clip to a photo you've taken
  • Face recognition edit (Replace, delete)

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.


Lens used: Panasonic F1.7, 20 mm

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.


Lens used: Panasonic F4.0-5.6, 45 - 200 mm OIS

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:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

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:

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

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:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

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:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera


RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)


RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera


RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)


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.

ISO 800

Olympus E-P1


Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

 
ISO 1600

Olympus E-P1

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
 
ISO 3200

Olympus E-P1

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

 

Movie Mode

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.


Decisions, decisions

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.


View converted movie (16.8 MB, 1280 x 720, 60 fps, QuickTime/MPEG-4)
Download original MTS file (29.7 MB)


View converted movie (15.3 MB, 1280 x 720, 60 fps, QuickTime/MPEG-4)
Download original MTS file (28.7 MB)

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.


View original movie (46.6 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, QuickTime/Motion JPEG)
View recompressed video (8.3 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, QuickTime/H.264)


View original movie (56.8 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, QuickTime/Motion JPEG)
View recompressed video (9.9 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, QuickTime/H.264)

Playback Mode

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.

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