The Panasonic GF1 is a 12.1MP Micro Four Thirds camera that is more compact than other Panasonic Micro Four Thirds models, while retaining the same large sensor that rivals DSLR image quality. As you may be aware, Micro Four Thirds cameras like the GF1 operate without the bulky mirror between the image sensor and lens. This fact, combined with design decisions by Panasonic to eliminate a viewfinder and grip, allow the GF1 to even rival point and shoot cameras’ size – particularly true when using the GF1 with Panasonic’s 20mm f/1.7 lens.
Does the GF1 really offer the best of both worlds? It just might. To find out if it’s right for you, read on.
Panasonic GF1 Key Features
- 3″ LCD (460k dot resolution)
- 720p AVCHD Lite Video Capture
- ISO 100-3200
- RAW Image Capture
Panasonic GF1 Handling, Ergonomics and Control
At the time of this review, the Panasonic GF1 is one of the oldest mirrorless cameras still listed as a current model. And while a replacement would be likely to come soon, the GF1 is still my personal favorite to use. The form factor and controls on the GF1 help it to stand out from the growing crowd of mirrorless cameras.
The Panasonic GF1 may remind you of rangefinder cameras due to its rectangular and boxy form factor. It is marginally bigger than point and shoot cameras like the Canon G11 and Samsung TL500. With the 20mm f/1.7 lens attached, the GF1 rivals the portability of these serious compact cameras; however, if you attach the more traditional 14-42mm lens, it starts to feel more like other mirrorless, or even DSLR, cameras.
I preferred the GF1 with the 20mm f/1.7 lens attached, which gives you a 40mm equivalent field of view due to the 2x crop factor. With this combo, I was able comfortably to fit the GF1 in the cargo pocket of my shorts. With the GF1, I was able to pack a more serious camera for outings that I would otherwise carry a point and shoot.
Aside from the portability, the GF1 has a nice “feel” to it. Along the right-front edge, there is a small raised grip that gives you just enough to hold onto without really adding any bulk to the camera.
To be honest, the GF1 may add more than necessary in terms of external controls. While I love the access that is available on the external buttons and switches, some casual or novice users may feel a bit overwhelmed with the available options. If you fit this category, don’t be dismayed, just recognize that there are some controls on the outside of the camera that you probably won’t use for everyday snapshots. Those convenient features will be there when you are ready to explore them though.
Enthusiast users will appreciate the Mode dial with easy access to Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority and Manual shooting modes, among others. Additionally, there is a convenient switch for drive mode selection (e.g., single, continuous, timer, bracketing). Even if you only occasionally use this feature, the ability to switch quickly between drive modes is a nice touch. And, really, the switch is out of the way for normal camera operation too.
The shutter response is quick and feels just fine. Next to the shutter release button is a smaller, direct record button for instantly recording video no matter which mode you are in at the time. It is a bit small for a record button, but still not difficult to use.
The GF1 has a popup flash that raises out of the top left section of the camera via a button on the rear of the camera near the flash itself. The flash works great for fill-flash when you need it and is definitely worth having on a compact mirrorless camera. I thought this was a feature sorely missed on the Olympus E-P1 and E-P2, which is something Olympus remedied with the introduction of the E-PL1. If you need more light on the GF1, it also features a hotshoe, which works with compatible Micro Four Thirds flashes; however, this will add considerable bulk to the otherwise compact camera.
The rear LCD is beautiful and serves the camera well. I really have zero complaints with the GF1′s dispaly. Alongside the rear display are a number of other controls, including the familiar 4-way selection buttons with a Menu/Set button in the center. These buttons are used for navigating the menu system and serve dual purposes for adjusting ISO, white balance, autofocus controls and film mode.
Other traditional controls, such as preview, trash and display options can be found on the rear of the camera. An embedded scroll wheel/button lies in the top-right corner of the camera’s rear as well. This wheel can be used for making adjustments and selections, such as shutter, aperture and exposure settings when in P/A/S/M modes, among others. A well-executed design and function.
When it comes to shooting, the Panasonic GF1 is everything I had hoped the Olympus PEN series would have been. The biggest difference-maker for the Panasonic GF1 is the autofocus speed. Like the other Panasonic G-series cameras, it’s just plain fast – almost DSLR fast. For most casual shooters, you won’t be able to tell the difference. Add to that the convenience of using an LCD screen for live view and it’s a near perfect camera for family vacations and snap shots.
Panasonic GF1 Image Quality
Because the GF1 is in what I would call a “compromise” category (I think most mirrorless cameras fit in this category at present), image quality may not be as paramount a concern as the camera’s functionality and convenience as a whole. Still yet, the GF1 delivers excellent images.
While the JPEG images straight out of the camera will suffice for most casual shooters, you will get the most mileage out of your GF1 images if you shoot in RAW format and use a convenient RAW processing program like Adobe Lightroom 3 to punch those images up a bit.
Below is a quick comparison of the same scene captured with the Panasonic GF1 throughout the ISO range. The cropped chart shows a 100% view of the images and, as a result, the image noise and grain is magnified well beyond normal viewing circumstances. Note that these files were processed through Lightroom 3 with default settings (except as noted), which basically adds a little bit of punch to color and contrast with minimal noise reduction.
Download full-resolution files (right-click and choose “Save link as…”):
More everyday images can be found below. All were captured using Panasonic’s great little 20mm f/1.7 lens.
All images were captured in RAW format and processed in Lightroom 3 according to my own personal tastes. In almost all of these images, I’ve only made slight contrast, saturation, sharpness and vignetting adjustments. I have noted the basic shot info below each image.
Feel free to download any of these sample images for your personal inspection (not for republication). You can get the original files by right-clicking on any of the images and choosing “Save link as…”
ISO 100 – f/2.2 – 1/1600s (This was the only image that I did more than just minor adjustments. And it was still only a couple of exposure gradients in Lightroom 3. To show you where it came from, I’ve included the original file below.)
Panasonic GF1 Accessories
DMW-FL220 External Flash -If you are looking for a little more flash power on the GF1, the FL220 flash will work with the GF1 and is more compact than larger flashes designed for DSLRs.
DMW-LVF-1 External Live View Finder – The LVF1 is an electronic viewfinder that attaches to the hotshoe/accessory port of the GF1. It allows you to view what you would otherwise see on the LCD inside a bright viewfinder, which can be helpful if you are shooting outdoors in bright light.
DMW-BLB13 Battery – The Panasonic GF1 comes with one of these rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; however, if you’re going to be away from power for an extended period, you can pick up spares.
Memory cards – I’ve used the basic Kingston SD cards in the GF1, which worked just fine. No need to go all out on fast memory cards with the GF1. Cheap cards from reputable brands will work just fine. The GF1 is compatible with all SD and SDHC cards – but not SDXC cards.
Memory card reader – If you don’t own a memory card reader, they make transferring images to your computer a world faster. I highly recommend picking one up with the GF1. They’re cheap and big time saver. Lexar makes a good card reader for about $15.
In short, I love the GF1. It is my current pick of the mirrorless camera genre. Sure, the GF1 is not going to replace anyone’s 5D Mark II or D700 anytime soon. For casual photos though, it’s tough to beat for image quality, functionality and portability. The GF1 easily earns my high recommendation.
I suspect that the GF1 will be replaced in the not-too-distant future by a similar model, which should bring about some solid deals on this model. You can already find some great discounted deals on this camera though. If you’ve been holding out for the next best mirrorless camera, it may already be here. Take a long hard look at the GF1 before moving along to something new and shiny.
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