Panasonic Lumix G1 is a Micro Four Thirds DSLR-like camera with interchangeable lens; it's far smaller than a conventional DSLR but has features to fight its corner. So how does the Lumix G1 fare when put to the test? The What Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix G1 review investigates...

Product Overview

Overall rating:

85%
Overall score:85%
Features:90%
Value:75%
Performance:85%
Image Quality:85%
Design:90%

Pros:

  • 3in articulating LCD, overall design and build quality, compact size

Cons:

  • Price at odds with specification, over-sensitive LVF eye sensors, image flatness

Product:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£550

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Panasonic Lumix G1 Review

The Panasonic Lumix G1 is partly the accumulation of Panasonic and Olympus‘ joint announcement of a new camera system – Micro Four Thirds – that offers the interchangeable lens functionality of a DSLR, but, by doing away with the mirror-reflex technology as found in DSLR cameras, drops the optical viewfinder whilst shedding a good few pounds and trimming down to a svelte and much smaller DSLR-like camera.

Cameras from this Micro Four Thirds system therefore aren’t technically DSLRs, meaning the system sees the birth of a new type of camera altogether – the Panasonic Lumix G1 takes charge of this lead.

The Panasonic G1 is considerably smaller than a conventional DSLR in both lens and body and, complemented by the choice of three colours, is clearly aimed at those who may not have considered a DSLR before. But what compromises, if any, have been made with the Micro Four Thirds system? Is the Panasonic Lumix G1 merely a prototype rushed to market, or is it the forebearer of a camera system set to change the face of photography as we know it? The What Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix G1 review investigates….

 

Panasonic Lumix G1 review – Features

 

 

Panasonic Lumix G1 Micro Four Thirds system

 

The Panasonic Lumix G1 features the first full implementation of the new Micro Four Thirds system – the model’s inner-workings are devoid of the mirror-reflex system that characterises traditional DSLRs, the result of which is around a 50% shallower flange back than a standard Four Thirds body (which means the distance between the lens mount and sensor is, in effect, halved).

Aside from size modifications, the Micro Four Thirds system sees a complete revamp of the original Four Thirds lens mount. The new mount is 6mm smaller in diameter than before, and features 11 electrical contacts in contrast to the previous nine. Olympus claims that the benefits of the two extra electrical contacts include both smoother live view shooting and faster communication between lens and camera. If you already own a range of standard Four Thirds lenses the G1 may still be for you, as an adaptor is available for combining any of the old optics with the camera.

 

Panasonic Lumix G1 sensorPansonic Lumix G1 review - sample image

The Lumix G1 possesses a specification similar to that of a conventional Four Thirds system DSLR. Its sensor is the standard Four Thirds format, measuring 17.3 x 13mm, and boasting a resolution of 13.1MP, translating to 12.1MP effective.

The sensor captures in three aspect ratios – either 3:2, which matches the dimensions of the LCD screen, 16:9 or the conventional 4:3, with a maximum resolution of 4000 x 2762, 4000 x 2248 and 4000 x 3000 pixels in each aspect ratio respectively.

 

Panasonic Lumix G1 LCD screen and view finder

 

One of the more obviously impressive and instantly striking features of the Lumix G1 is its articulating LCD. The screen’s dimensions measure three inches, with a resolution of 460k dots, making it competitive with the LCD screens of its peers.

However, the LCD screen’s major selling point is that it pulls away from the main body of the camera, making it viewable from both sides of the camera and around a pivot of 270°. One point to note, however, is the screen itself has a native aspect ratio of 3:2, one that isn’t the best fit with the highest-resolution image the G1 can churn out. What this means is if you want to get the most out of the sensor, you’ll have to change the aspect ratio, resulting in black margins either side of the LCD screen.

The Micro Four Thirds system sees the removal of the mirror-reflex workings from the inside of the camera. What this means is that the G1 has to revert to the same technology as a bridge camera to provide images in the ‘viewfinder’ – step forward the G1’s ‘live’ view finder (LVF). Providing the same function as an electronic viewfinder, and essentially the same in every respect, the G1’s LVF is said to be class-leading and like no other EVF before, offering a resolution of 1.4 million dots in equivalent terms, and a 100% field of view.

The user can opt to use either the articulating LCD screen or LVF to compose and review images, but Panasonic also provides the technology to take the decision out of your hands. Beside the LVF sit two small sensors that detect when you’re holding your eye to the LVF, and as such switch the display between LCD and LVF, meaning you won’t have one on while using the other.

 

Panasonic Lumix G1 dust reduction

 

As with all Four Thirds bodies the Panasonic Lumix G1 offers dust reduction, aided in operation by a Supersonic Wave Filter. What’s more is that the kit lens provided as standard (14-45mm f/3.5-5.6) offers the Panasonic’s Mega Optical Image Stabilisation, with three modes selectable on the camera to cater for all-purpose stabilisation and panning along a single axis.

 

Panasonic Lumix G1 auto mode

 

The Lumix G1 sports an Intelligent Auto mode, alongside a range of both scene and custom shooting modes, topped off with a choice of several different film effects. The Intelligent Auto mode has come to characterise Panasonic cameras of late, and it involves the camera taking control of functions such as ISO, shutter speed and aperture, and combines it with either face-detection AF or motion-tracking AF – this ensures the best shot with minimal understanding of camera functions.

 

 

Panasonic Lumix G1 review pages:

Lumix G1 review – other What Digital Camera links:

Design & Performance

Panasonic Lumix G1 review – Design

The workings of the Micro Four Thirds system mean that the Lumix G1 is noticeably more compact when placed in comparison with standard Four Thirds cameras. However, when you compare it with the smallest of all Four Thirds cameras currently available on the market, the Olympus E-420, the difference isn’t so grand, with the G1 being a few grams heavier. One noticeable difference in the respective sizes, however, is the size of a Micro Four Thirds lens, with the 6mm smaller diameter translating to a noticeable difference in size, and a lens which will no doubt handle better for those with smaller hands.

The Panasonic Lumix G1 also distinguishes itself from the DSLR market by being available in a choice of three colours – the conventional black, but also red and blue. One criticism of the colour options is that the choice of colours doesn’t extend to the lens, and as such the effect of the colour is somewhat lost.

Pansonic Lumix G1 review - sample image

Despite the G1’s small size, the button layout is intelligent and in general doesn’t feel too busy. The majority of camera controls are confined to the right of the Lumix G1’s top-plate. The area houses the command dial, quick menu and film mode buttons; and what’s more both the camera’s power and drive modes are controlled by two switches lying underneath the mode dial. The left of the top-plate houses a somewhat misjudged dial in my opinion, in so far as the dial in question controls the three focusing modes – single, continuous and manual focus – but no more, which raises the question as to why such a large dial and prominent feature on the camera doesn’t make the best use of the space it’s been given.

The Lumix G1 has a ‘live’ viewfinder, or electronic viewfinder as the technology is also known, which is definitely striking. Panasonic claims that it’s the best LVF/EVF ever and it’s hard to disagree. Until testing the G1 it’s difficult to say that I’ve ever used a camera with an EVF I’ve been completely happy to use. Most of the time they’re too small and don’t offer a reproduction of the scene accurate enough to use for reference. However, the EVF of the G1 is genuinely accurate and is a viable alternative to the LCD.

Panasonic Lumix G1 review – Performance

In pretty much every facet of the Panasonic G1’s performance the camera feels essentially more akin to a DSLR than a bridge camera. The continuous shooting rate of the Lumix G1 falls almost directly in line with that claimed on the camera’s specification. The model manages three frames per second on its high-speed mode and two frames per second on its low-speed mode. Buffer capacity restricts the G1 to just seven consecutive shots if Raw files are being recorded, but it’s limited only to the capacity of the card if you’re recording solely JPEG files.

Pansonic Lumix G1 review - sample image

It’s quite difficult to find anything inherently wrong with the performance of the G1 on the whole, though I do have a few gripes with the LVF and eye-sensor system. While it’s safe to say that the LVF is indeed the best I’ve used, there are still situations in which it is trumped by a conventional viewfinder. For example, during the test I found myself shooting in bright conditions on a beach. I had taken the Olympus E-520 out to get comparison shots between the pair of Four Thirds cameras, and when shifting between that camera’s conventional pentaprism viewfinder and the LVF of the G1, the contrast was stark. Moving from the bright shooting conditions to viewing the scene through the viewfinder made it tough to make out the LVF, much in the same way it’s tough to make out a standard LCD in the same conditions. In contrast, going from viewing the scene to looking through the conventional viewfinder of the Olympus E-520, composition was easy and the scene was as clear as day.

While on the subject of the Lumix G1’s LVF it’s fitting to mention my other gripe with the system – the eye-sensor functionality. While it’s undeniable that an eye-sensor system is a clever piece of technology and smoothes the shooting experience when shifting between LCD and LVF, Panasonic has made the eye sensors too sensitive. For example, when using the G1 for tripod work where an LCD and live view is preferable, the camera often shifted from LCD to LVF at the least opportune and unintended moment. At first I thought I had a faulty unit, unable to ascertain why the LCD was switching off, before realising that the eye sensor was detecting movement up to 15cm away from the LVF, a factor that is surely somewhat overzealous.

Panasonic Lumix G1 review pages:

Lumix G1 review – other What Digital Camera links:

Image Quality & Value For Money

Panasonic Lumix G1 review – Image Quality

Lumix G1 review – Raw And JPEG

Pansonic Lumix G1 review - sample imageIn Raw files, the Lumix G1 records a much wider range of tones is evident throughout the frame with much improved contrast between shadow and highlight detail, which is itself easy to improve in Raw conversion software, while fine detail appears improved thanks to a reduction of the grain apparent in JPEG files. White balance is also more pleasing when shooting Raw images; though, as mentioned, white balance is no great shakes with a Raw file as it’s easily and non-destructively altered in Raw conversion software such as Adobe Camera Raw.

Another big difference between Raw and JPEG files is the way in which noise at high ISO settings appears. With JPEG files noise is well controlled, but at high ISO settings fine detail is lost thanks to in-camera noise reduction. On Raw files, however, noise is far more apparent thanks to the lack of noise reduction. This does mean that fine detail is better preserved, and chances are your specific noise-reduction software is likely to do a better job than the camera can manage.

Panasonic G1 review – Exposure & Tone

The general look and feel of the exposures from the Lumix G1 is satisfactory. They do suffer from a distinct lack of contrast and punch, however, with most shots requiring a tweak of shadows and highlights or a subtle curve adjustment in post-processing to reach a desirable level. Having said this, the ‘flatness’ of tone and exposure does have the benefit of preserving shadow and highlight detail, and as such avoiding any loss of overall detail.

Lumix G1 review – White Balance And Colour

Pansonic Lumix G1 review - sample imageThe Panasonic Lumix G1 renders colour well in virtually all situations. Even with bright and challenging light, the camera manages good colour reproduction, though much the same as with exposure and tone, a tweak in post-processing doesn’t go amiss. White balance, however, doesn’t fare so well: images generally appear cold, and though this is a minor flaw – considering how easily rectifiable white balance is in a Raw file, for example – it would still be nice to have a reliable white balance directly out of camera.

Panasonic Lumix G1 review – Image Noise

The Lumix G1 deals with image noise well, generally speaking, throughout the ISO range. Images are usable right up to ISO 1600, though there is a fairly steep fall-off in quality when switching to ISO 3200.

Lumix G1 review – Detail And Sharpness

An undeniable plus point on the Panasonic G1 is the amount of detail displayed and the relative sharpness. Though images do display a very slight inherent grain, general detail rendition is excellent, while edge sharpness is spot on without any excessive over-sharpening or the like.

Panasonic Lumix G1 review – Value For Money

As is so often the case with the first product of a new type of technology, the Lumix G1 is by no means cheap. At time of review a G1 and compulsory 14-45mm kit lens will set you back around £550.

Consider that price tag for a moment – for over £100 less you can pick up the Sony A350 and 18-70mm kit lens; meanwhile, grabbing yourself the similar-sized Olympus E-420 and kit lens will see you save more than £200; not to mention the bevy of bridge cameras available around that price point.

What’s in no doubt is that in the Lumix G1 you’ll be getting yourself a cracking little camera, but you have to think how long it will hold its current price point. The fact is that this is the first Micro Four Thirds camera of many, with Panasonic themselves confirming the impending release of a camera in the system with integrated video modes. Throw into the mix forthcoming models in the system from Olympus, and the sensible option seems to be to wait for it to fall to a more realistic price tag – after all, it’s already £100 down from its RRP.

Panasonic Lumix G1 review pages:

Lumix G1 review – other What Digital Camera links:

Verdict

The Micro Four Thirds system will definitely have an impact on the photography world, not least the Panasonic Lumix G1. The reduction in size that the new system allows means interchangeable-lens cameras are going to get smaller, and as such will appeal to a wider audience. What?s more is that, as more models hit the market, the price of an entry-level model in the system will fall.

There is no arguing that Panasonic’s Lumix G1 is a very good camera. Build quality is excellent, as is the articulating LCD and LVF (aside from the minor quibbles with over-sensitive eye sensors!). Image quality is also good, with overall exposure, tone, and noise control comparable with its Four Thirds peers.

However, the G1’s current price tag is wildly at odds with where it sits in the camera food chain – it’s currently sitting more in price-line with mid-range DSLRs, even though everything about it screams entry level, from marketing, to size and features.

In time I’m sure the G1 will become a cracking proposition around the bridge camera price point, but right now it?s merely a good, but pricey, forebearer of greater things to come.

Verdict

The Micro Four Thirds system will definitely have an impact on the photography world, not least the Panasonic Lumix G1. The reduction in size that the new system allows means interchangeable-lens cameras are going to get smaller, and as such will appeal to a wider audience. What?s more is that, as more models hit the market, the price of an entry-level model in the system will fall.There is no arguing that Panasonic's Lumix G1 is a very good camera. Build quality is excellent, as is the articulating LCD and LVF (aside from the minor quibbles with over-sensitive eye sensors!). Image quality is also good, with overall exposure, tone, and noise control comparable with its Four Thirds peers. However, the G1's current price tag is wildly at odds with where it sits in the camera food chain – it's currently sitting more in price-line with mid-range DSLRs, even though everything about it screams entry level, from marketing, to size and features. In time I'm sure the G1 will become a cracking proposition around the bridge camera price point, but right now it?s merely a good, but pricey, forebearer of greater things to come.

Full Specification

Video:
http://www.whatdigitalcamera.com/videos/reviews/300616/panasonic-g1-review-by-what-digital-camera.html
Sample Photos:
http://www.whatdigitalcamera.com/equipment/galleries/sample-images/panasonic/9795/1/0/panasonic-g1-sample-images_pg_Inspire.html

Cable Release:
No
AF Points:
23-area-focusing

Product Shots:
http://www.whatdigitalcamera.com/equipment/galleries/productshots/panasonic/9713/1/0/panasonic-lumix-g1-product-shots.html
DoF Prview:
Yes

Built-in Flash:
Yes, GN 11 @ ISO 100
Max Flash Sync:
1/160sec

PC Socket:
No
Colour Temp Control:
Yes

White Balance Bracket:
Yes
Exposure Comp:
+/- 3EV, 1/3EV

Colour Space:
sRGB, Adobe RGB
Built-in Image Stabilisation:
Yes

Dust Reduction:
Yes
Focusing Modes:
AFs/AFc/MF

Shutter Type:
Electronically controlled focal-plane shutter
Weight:
385g (without lens, card or battery)

Dimensions:
124 x 83.6 x 45.2mm
Power:
Li-ion

Live Mode:
Yes
Connectivity:
High-speed USB 2.0, HDMI

Memory Card:
SD / SDHC
Field of View:
Approx. 100%

Viewfinder Type:
Live View Finder, 1.4m dots equiv
File Format:
RAW / RAW+Fine / RAW+Standard/ Fine / Standard

Shutter Speeds:
1/4000 ? 60sec, bulb
Compression:
2-stage JPEG, 1-stage RAW

Exposure Modes:
Auto, PASM, Custom, Intelligent Auto, 21 scene
Metering System:
144-zone multi-pattern (Intelligent multiple, centreweighted, spot)

ISO:
100-3200 (+ Intelligent ISO)
White Balance:
Auto, 6 presets, manual

Drive Mode:
Single, Continous, Self-timer (2s, 10s)
Lens Mount:
Micro Four Thirds mount

LCD:
3in TFT, approx. 460k dots
Focal Length Mag:
Approx. 2x

Sensor:
17.3 x 13 Live MOS
Output Size:
4000 x 3000 pixels

  1. 1. Panasonic Lumix G1 Review
  2. 2. Design & Performance
  3. 3. Image Quality & Value For Money
  4. 4. Verdict
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