The Micro Four Thirds market is set to boom this year. For those looking for a smaller, lighter compromise to a DSLR, but without having to compromise on image quality, it’s an ideal choice.

For those new to the market, or for a more seasoned photographer weighing up the options, here we pit Panasonic’s GF1 and Olympus’s E-P2 in a close-matched head to head. But which one reigns as true champion and why?

Panasonic GF1 vs Olympus E-P2 review – Features

From the outset there’s not a huge margin to separate these two cameras. Both are small and light, have dust reduction, full manual control as well as scene modes and Intelligent Auto to auto-recognise the scene at hand and provide the best results whatever the conditions. Both are dressed in black – no white version this time like the previous incarnation of the E-P series; the E-P1 – and have the very same Micro Four Thirds lens fitting. As such it’s possible to exchange lenses between the two cameras – ideal if you own the Olympus but fancy one of the Panasonic lenses or vice versa. Unlike the E-P1, the E-P2 now has an added accessory port to the rear for the fitting of the VF-2 viewfinder, otherwise it’s very much business as usual bar some minor tweaks to some modes.

There are a couple of separating factors on both sides however: The Olympus E-P2 has in-camera Image Stabilisation, whereas the Panasonic only provides lens-based stabilisation in some lenses. On the flip side the Panasonic GF1 can proclaim to be the smallest and lightest interchangeable system camera on the market, and yet the Olympus is only a mere 50g heavier at 335g. The LCD screens are both 3in, though the Olympus’s ratio is ever so slightly less widescreen, adds a few extra millimetres of real estate in height. It’s the screen resolutions that do differ however, with the Panasonic offering 460K-dots to the Olympus’s 230K-dots.

So far, so similar, but when push comes to shove, how do they compare in actual use?

Panasonic GF1 vs Olympus E-P2 review – Design

Despite the GF1’s smaller stature, the E-P2 still holds the winning look in the style department. Although an all-black offering on this occasion, unlike the attractive white-finish of the original E-P1, it still retains that edge. Perhaps it’s a little bit je ne sais quoi, but the brushed metal body with silver-finish and subtle curve is an aesthetic pleasure indeed.

However, from looks to internal control and things shift the other way a little. The GF1, with its one-touch movie button, on/off switch and slightly better layout of buttons and menus just pips it past the E-P2. Furthermore the very presence of a pop-up flash is something that the Olympus currently lacks – yes, it’s possible to buy a hotshoe flash, but then there’s nowhere left to attach the electronic viewfinder or other accessories.

Both the camera’s layouts are otherwise fairly similar, although the GF1 has a one-touch movie mode button, a drive mode switch around the mode dial (which the E-P2 wastefully places on the d-pad), which frees up a space for a very useful Fn (Function) button too. Although the E-P2 does have a rotational d-pad wheel that’s nice in use, it can add to the complexity of clicking and shuffling between menus on occasion.

GF1 vs E-P2: Value, Verdict & Scores

Panasonic GF1 vs Olympus E-P2 review – Value

The E-P2 is the newer model of the two and carries a slightly more ‘premium’ price as a result. Plus, happy as we are at the presence of an accessory port, all kit options come shipped with the VF-2 viewfinder. This is no bad thing given it’s hands-down the best one on the market at the moment, but does add some extra sting to the pricing if you weren’t intending to buy an eyepiece of any sort. The GF1, at around £670 for the body plus 17mm pancake lens, will need a further £175 added to the price if you should want to purchase the equivalent DMW-LVF1E viewfinder. All things considered, pricing is fairly similar.

However, in the bigger picture of things, the expected introduction of similarly-minded ‘Micro System Cameras’ (but not ‘Micro Four Thirds’) – such as the Samsung NX system – may assist in driving down the prices across the market place. There are rumours of the expectation of every major manufacturer entering the market at some point this year. Though, as the ‘Micro System Camera’ titling suggests, this is unlikely to see further brands tagging allegiance to the cross-compatibility Micro Four Thirds base.

Panasonic GF1 vs Olympus E-P2 review – Verdict

It’s a close call between these two. On a style-tip, the Olympus E-P system does marginally hold the elegance over the Panasonic, but otherwise lags in some other areas. The Auto Focus system is the prime candidate – the Panasonic’s is much quicker, more accurate and overall better. Of course, while this may be the clincher for some, the Olympus is the only model of the two to provide in-camera image stabilisation. The Panasonic does match this in some lenses, though not all, such as the 20mm f/1.7 pancake, provide this feature. For those looking for an electronic viewfinder too, the recent Olympus VF2 is the best EVF available to market and, although Panasonic also provides an excellent equivalent, it’s not quite to the same standard. All things accounted for, the Panasonic is easier to use, quicker, snappier and the favourite by a whisker.

Panasonic GF1 vs Olympus E-P2 review – Final Scores:


GF1 Scores:


Design: 

19

Image Quality:

17

Performance:

18

Value:

18

Features: 

17

TOTAL: 

89

 

E-P2 Scores:

 


Design

19

Image Quality

18

Performance

17

Value

18

Features

16

TOTAL

88

GF1 vs E-P2: Performance

Panasonic GF1 vs Olympus E-P2 review – Performance

With a relatively familiar DSLR-ish layout to both models, there was more than one occasion when I raised the cameras’ bodies to my eye, as if an optical viewfinder was going to be present. Of course, as with all Micro System Cameras, this lacks, with only an electronic viewfinder option to fill this gap. Olympus’s VF-2 offering (which you will have when purchasing any of the E-P2 kit options) is, as far as EVFs are concerned, a joy to behold. Super-high resolution, with fluid motion and crisp playback – it’s one step closer toward making EVFs that bit more acceptable. There’s still much work to be done of course, as the experience is nothing near to an optical equivalent. Panasonic’s optional DMW-LVF1E offering is a rather pricey bit of kit at £170 and, despite being excellent, it’s marginally the weaker performer of the two.

Which leads to the main LCD displays of both models. Despite the GF1 having the higher resolution 460K-dot screen – double that of the E-P2’s 230K-dot – it’s surprisingly not the stronger performer of the two. The higher definition doesn’t win here though as the E-P2’s display has a slightly wider viewing angle, is notably more fluid in motion, colours are slightly warmer and the overall feel is less ‘washed-out’ than that of the GF1.  This is a trait that only really comes to bear when putting any of Panasonic’s G-series side by side to other models; in an isolated situation they won’t appear to be sub-standard performers.

When it comes to shooting though the GF1 is certainly the winner – it’s autofocus is considerably faster and more accurate than the E-P2. Both cameras primarily rely on contrast-detection AF, which bases the area of focus on maximal contrasting-areas. The GF1 is nippy, especially given this form of AF isn’t regarded as the fastest available by any means. The E-P2, by contrast (ignore the pun), feels twice as slow and will often focus on a non-subject related focus area. For example, when shooting a church on a flatly-lit day, the autumnal trees to the edges of the image had a higher contrast than the church’s off-white stone work, and it was to these edges the AF was drawn – far from where I wanted the focal point to be. Shift either model to Face Detection AF however and things are slightly different, as the camera is utilising facial-recognition algorithms and all available focus areas to locate a face anywhere in the frame for effectively better performance. Exclusively to the GF1 there’s a ‘Peripheral Defocus’ scene mode too, which allows for a cursor to be moved around the LCD screen for quick and easy pin-point focus. Although this may not be for everyone, it is actually very useful for LCD-based work and highly accurate. Its only downside is that it doesn’t work edge-to-edge across the entirety of the screen/sensor, which is a bit of a letdown.

On the video-front too, despite seemingly presenting ‘the same’ 720p HD capture, the details separate the two models by some margin. Although both models offer auto- or manual focus and use of zoom lenses during recording, the same ‘over-and-under-focus’ prior to attaining crisp focus is captured during the recording; in fact the slower focus of the E-P2 lends itself better to more fluid transitions, despite its lesser-responsiveness. The GF1’s AVCHD Lite means recording is compressed using the H.264 codec – deemed the best currently available to maintain picture quality while keeping file size down – and output as a MOV file. By comparison the E-P2 captures Motion-Jpeg output as an AVI file that has a larger file size and is generally deemed as less professional. Furthermore the GF1 captures at 25 frames per second compared to the 30fps of the E-P2 – the higher frame rate doesn’t mean the better result however. The 25fps capture is ideal to sync with the 50Hz refresh rate of PAL systems and provides a more pro-appearance than its 30fps cousin, meaning the GF1 is the clear winner in the video department too.

It’s great to have lenses from both manufacturers available to fit to either model too, as this doesn’t hold any bias one way or the other and, more importantly, opens the potential portfolio of possibility to any user. The Panasonic 14-45mm felt a little stiff at the wider end though, compared to the Olympus 14-42mm which has a much shallower zoom that’s smoother and easier to use.

GF1 vs E-P2: Image Quality & Key Features

Panasonic GF1 vs Olympus E-P2 review – Key Features

GF1 vs E-P2: GF1 front product imageGF1:

1. Smallest, lightest interchangeable system camera
Marginally smaller than any other camera with multiple lenses, the GF1 is for those looking to travel light
2. HD Movie    
The GF1’s AVCHD Lite captures 720p in an optimum format and outputs at a PAL-optimised 25fps; perfect for pro-looking ‘movie-like’ results.
3. Peripheral Defocus
A scene mode that allows for a cursor to be pin-pointed on screen to provide focus to that area.
4. Intelligent Auto
As well as full manual controls, Panasonic’s iA means the camera is fully capable of automatically recognising and applying scene modes.
5. Pop-up Flash
A user-controlled pop-up flash means the hotshoe is free for connecting other accessories, such as the optional electronic viewfinder.
6. RAW + Jpeg
Like a DSLR it’s possible to shoot Raw, Jpeg or Raw + Jpeg in a burst mode of 3fps (up to 7 Raw files before buffer is full)

GF1 vs E-P2: EP2 front product imageE-P2:

1. Retro-styling
Like the E-P1 before it, the E-P2 is an all-black version that doesn’t lose sight of its 50-year old roots from the original Olympus Pen.
2. HD Movie
Capturing 720p HD movies at 30fps and saving in AVI format, the E-P2 is capable of more than just stills shooting.
3. In-camera Stabilisation
A potential clincher in purchasing, the E-P2 has in-camera stabilisation to ensure sharp images whatever lens is on the front.
4. Art Modes
As per Olympus’s DSLR cameras, the Art modes provide an array of options to add retro, film grain and other effects to your images.  
5. ISO 6400
High-sensitivity up to ISO 6400 provides great potential for low-light shooting with full-size output.  
6. RAW + Jepg
Making the most out of your pictures is easy, with Raw shooting available as well as Jpeg or a simultaneous capture of both at up to 3fps (to 10 Raw files).

 

Panasonic GF1 vs Olympus E-P2 review – Image Quality

GF1 vs EP2 – Exposure & Tone

The E-P2 offers the usual spot, multi- or centre-weighted exposure modes, but also adds highlight and shadow spot modes for particular exposures. Potentially very useful, bar the autofocus often not combining to focus on the spot area, thus causing issues. The Panasonic also has the three usual exposure modes, and is much more responsive in conjunction with autofocus or when exposure locking to pinpoint an exposure area. The E-P2 can lead to frustration by comparison.

GF1 vs EP2 – Colour & White Balance

On screen and in image the GF1’s auto white balance does lean towards the cooler, bluer-end of the spectrum. By contrast the E-P2 is much warmer, which is more pleasing and yet overly magenta at times.

Both models offer different in camera colour and effects – the Olympus has ‘Art Modes’ and the Panasonic ‘My Colour’ mode. The Art Modes are often a little overstated and, generally speaking, the My Colour modes from the GF1 show much more practical use.

GF1 vs EP2 – Image Noise

The Olympus offers the higher sensitivity, up to ISO 6400 – though, realistically, with colour noise banding and pronounced grain, it’s not hugely useful. Head to head on the other ISO settings however and it is the E-P2 that has the finer-grain detail over the GF1.

GF1 vs E-P2 ISO sensitivity image noise test

Panasonic GF1 vs Olympus E-P2 – ISO sensitivity and image noise – click for full size gallery

GF1 vs EP2 – Raw & Jpeg

Both models are supported by the latest Adobe Camera Raw for Photoshop, or come with individual software packages to read and convert Raw files.

GF1 vs E-P2: GF1: RAW vs JPEGGF1 vs E-P2: EP2: RAW vs JPEG

The E-P2’s ORF Raw files show negligible difference to its JPEG equivalents, except for some pleasing in-camera sharpening. The GF1’s JPEG images are sharper, more saturated and slightly darker than its RW2 Raw counterparts.

  1. 1. Panasonic GF1 vs Olympus E-P2 review - Features
  2. 2. GF1 vs E-P2: Value, Verdict & Scores
  3. 3. GF1 vs E-P2: Performance
  4. 4. GF1 vs E-P2: Image Quality & Key Features
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  • Hakon

    Um… the reason the GF1’s raws are less sharp and less contrasty than the jpegs is of course that those are the modifications the Venus engine does to the raw in-camera. With more control, the raw capture can be made both sharper and more punchy than the jpegs.