In this review, we’ll introduce the fourth Micro Four Thirds camera to earn some coverage here on Gadling. As a quick reminder – Micro Four Thirds digital cameras offer the same image sensor quality found on large(r) digital SLR cameras, but in a much smaller body. This size and weight reduction obviously makes these cameras perfect for travel, especially if you want to lighten your load, without sacrificing image quality or features.
The basics inside the Panasonic Lumix GF1 are what you’d expect from a camera in this (price) range. 12.1 megapixels, 1280 x 720 HD video, live view and a built in flash.
In the version being reviewed here today, we used the GF1 with the Panasonic H-H020 20mm F1.7 pancake lens. The design of the GF1 is very much in line with all other Panasonic cameras – and I’ve been a longtime fan of their Lumix lineup, so I was instantly attracted to the GF1. Controls are fairly basic – the usual mode selector dial is on top, along with a very handy shoot mode switch (for single, continuous and timed photos). Many other cameras hide those options under the menu, so quick access like this is quite welcome.
On the rear is the D-Pad menu/option selector, buttons for the display, delete, play, Autofocus lock, quick menu and a fast auto/manual focus selector.
Startup time of the camera is very quick – in part because of a “real” power slider switch. From power on till first photo can be just under 2 seconds making the camera perfect for those spur of the moment things you’d like to photograph.
Because this is a Micro Four Thirds camera, the GF1 can be used with some other Micro Four Thirds lenses, though Panasonic did inform me that not all lenses will work – in some cases, the lens may not auto focus. In my test, I used the 14-42 lens from an Olympus E-P1 which worked perfectly – in fact, it performed better on the GF1 than on the E-P1, mainly because the E-P1 has a notoriously slow focus, something the GF1 does not suffer from.
The GF1 features a built in pop-up flash. The flash is manually operated (so no auto pop-up). Think of this flash as handy to have around, just don’t expect it to light up a large room as it is pretty weak. Still, it beats having to carry around a separate flash. Of course, there is a flash shoe on top of the camera.
The flash shoe can also be used for an optional ($155) viewfinder, which uses a small connector port just under the shoe.
Image quality from the GF1 is very, very good – the camera is fast, and the 20mm lens was much more fun to work with than I had expected. There are a few things lacking though – there is no in-camera image stabilization, and movies are recorded in mono.
On the side of the camera is a miniHDMI port (for HD video and images), a dual USB/AV port and a remote control jack. The camera can not be charged over USB, so you’ll need to carry the included charger along with you. Battery life is quite excellent – rated for up to 380 photos per charge.
All in all, I found the GF1 to be a worthy competitor to the Olympus E-P1 and E-P2. The pop-up flash is a handy feature to have, and the auto focus performance is certainly better. But the lack of image stabilization and stereo audio puts it a few steps behind.
PROS: Fast focus, easy to use menu structure, good battery life, excellent photo quality
CONS: No image stabilization, mono video audio
As reviewed, the Panasonic Lumix GF1 retails for $899 – with the 20mm lens. This is exactly the same price as the Olympus E-P2 with a similar pancake lens (the E-P2 lacks a pop-up flash).