The Panasonic GF1 is the latest in line from Panasonic's G-series - a much-touted Micro Four Thirds system that offers DSLR quality in a compact body. What Digital Camera test the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1C kit with the 20mm f/1.7 pancake kit lens...
Performance, Quality & Value
Panasonic Lumix GF1 review – Performance
The Panasonic GF1 out-prices even entry level DSLRs, to the point that you could almost purchase two Canon EOS 1000D kits from the web. It’s very much a DSLR in compact-skin and therefore should be considered so in comparison for this prospective level of performance.
Inherent in its design and therefore operation is that the GF1’s autofocus, like most cameras’ live view functions, is contrast detection based. This means a single sensor is used to detect the focus and record the image, compared to phase detection as used in DSLR cameras. The latter utilises a separate sensor and technology which is ultimately much quicker to determine focus.
The Panasonic contrast detect AF, however, is actually pretty good. Now it’s not going to replace your super-fast DSLR if you’re a sports photographer, but the GF1 does achieve focus with relative rapidity, depending on how far the lens has to adapt the focus from where the current focal plane happens to be. There can be some issues on subjects that lack contrast though, which may cause one or two problems.
As part of the GF1’s ease of use, there’s even a scene mode called Peripheral Defocus, which allows a cursor to be moved across the LCD screen – the camera then reads that specific area and bases focus there. Perfect when trying to pinpoint focus on a distant subject when there is a larger subject nearer camera that, usually, would be the default focus.
However, as this is considered a scene mode, there can be a lack of compatibility with other modes; it’s not possible to use it with My Colour modes for example. Should all this talk of auto focus turn your nose and you’re one for the more traditional manual focus approach then the GF1 can cater with no troubles whatsoever; the LCD can even show a magnified area to ensure crisp focus.
Image Stabilisation lacks with the 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, nor does the GF1 have stabilisation in body. Panasonic’s approach is usually to provide stabilised lenses, so for this to lack here feels like an omission.
However, the lens itself is a great thing to behold, largely for its wide aperture, which immediately asserts that this is a million miles from a compact, despite the camera’s looks.
At a fixed focal length of 20mm (40mm equivalent) it’s certainly a perfect portrait lens, though some may find this a little restrictive. It would seem with such a small lens attached Panasonic is selling the idea of ultra-compactness given that the GF1 fails to look quite so small with a huge lens on its front. There is a DMC-GF1K package with a 14-45mm stabilised kit lens should this feel like a more appropriate package however.
In keeping with attracting a new audience the GF1 also offers a variety of in-camera effects modes. Far from gimmicky, the My Colour mode provides presets from monotone to silhouette, with others such as ‘Retro’ casting the image with 70’s ‘dated’ appeal and ‘Expressive’ which saturates colours for bright, punchy images. Intelligent Auto (iA) makes best use of cleverly recognising the scene at hand to optimise settings – perfect for beginners. Quickly switch to manual mode and the rear thumbwheel makes adjusting aperture and shutter speed a breeze, putting you in full control.
Flavour of 2009 sees movie modes entering the stills market in abundance. The GF1 takes full advantage, but cuts no corners. AVCHD Lite provides 720p HD movies captured at 50 or 60 frames per second and utilises the H.264 compression codec for what is seen as the current best compression. Autofocus and zoom during recording are possible, though the focus can overshoot the mark slightly before finding correct focus – still pretty impressive compared to a number of DSLR systems which can’t autofocus during recording.
Panasonic Lumix GF1 review – Image Quality
Panasonic GF1 review – Tone & Exposure
The GF1 exposures are generally quite conservative, meaning highlights wont blow out. Tonally the default is rather neutral, but in-camera Film Mode options will cater for personal contrast adjustment.
Panasonic GF1 review – Raw & Jpeg
The GF1 comes bundled with Silkypix 3, which is capable of reading the RW2 files when shooting Raw. Silkypix is a capable program, though not particularly speedy at reading large files. At present Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) hasn’t released a new update to allow direct Photoshop and ACR read, though this will undoubtedly follow soon.
By default the GF1’s Raw files are unprocessed, therefore show much more noise at higher ISO settings but are much smoother at lower ISO sensitivities (due to no sharpening through processing). Greater overall detail is available though due to no compression, making it a good format to work from if you wish to be highly particular about your images but not if short on time.
Panasonic GF1 review – Colour & White Balance
Colour is generally neutral, though the GF1’s in-camera My Colour modes can easily adjust this to your liking. White balance is rather inaccurate between various ISO settings however, even in controlled light, though for standard shooting it has a natural balance when shooting on auto white balance.
Panasonic GF1 review – ISO & Image Noise
Image noise is kept to a minimum, with a desirable and realistic subtle grain until around ISO 800. Above that there’s notable colour noise, which is particularly prevalent at ISO 3200 – though it’s not overly destructive to the image’s detail, so some post-production noise reduction can help.
Panasonic GF1 review – Detail & Sharpness
Images are well defined as you’d expect from the Micro Four Thirds sensor size, though perhaps a little less sharp than anticipated, especially from the prime 20mm pancake lens. There’s plenty of detail in shot and it’s DSLR-rivaling in this respect.
Panasonic Lumix GF1 review – Value For Money
The GF1 doesn’t come cheap, but it is an investment. With Panasonic promising three new lenses next year: A 100-300mm f/4.5.6, an 8mm fisheye and 14mm f/2.8 pancake lens; it’s clear that the company’s time, money and effort is set into the G-series and Micro Four Third system.
At a year old, the G-system is still in relative infancy, and for that privilege of new technology you pay a premium. With the 20mm pancake lens included in the box the total stands at £783 – not cheap by any margin, but then it’s the best of its type at this price point. The AF system is better than the Olympus E-P1 too, and there aren’t really any similar contenders to be had at this moment in time.
<!– Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1C review pages:
– Page 1: Panasonic Lumix GF1 review – Features & Design
– Page 2: Panasonic review – Performance, Image Quality & Value
– Page 3: Panasonic Lumix GF1 review specifications / specs
– Page 4: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1C review verdict
Panasonic Lumix GF1 – other What Digital Camera links:
– Compare the Panasonic GF1 with other Micro Four Thirds cameras
– Panasonic Lumix GF1 review – product images
– Panasonic GF1 review – sample test image gallery