Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 hands on preview



Sample images and video clips from the GF1 to download

An even smaller, lighter, and more advanced Micro Four Thirds camera from Panasonic Lumix

Ichiro Kitao, head of product planning strategy at Panasonic Lumix, presents the DMC-GF1 to the assembled press in Berlin

Press releases and specifications
Panasonic announces the LUMIX G 20mm / F1.7 ASPH lens
Panasonic announces A New Micro Four Thirds Digital Interchangeable Lens
Panasonic adds the DMC-GF1 to its LUMIX G Micro System lineup

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Panasonic has unveiled its Lumix DMC-GF1, the fourth Micro Four Thirds system camera, and Panasonic's third alongside the Olympus E-P1 launched in June. We have had several GF1 examples to evaluate in recent weeks, including the use of the new Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, so we are able to present a more in-depth camera preview than usual. We have an extensive gallery of product shots to explore the GF1's rather interesting design features. We also have JPEG stills and HD video samples from a late generation pre-production camera for you to download and view.

Leica macro lens revealed

Panasonic also revealed the first Leica-branded Micro Four Thirds lens, the 45mm f/2.8 Leica DG Macro-Elmarit Asph. Mega OIS. This is a very compact lens, featuring internal focusing, so the lens does not extend when focusing. Inside, there are no less than 14 elements, including one aspherical and one ED element.

GF1 overview

At the time of writing, pricing for the GF1 had not been finalised. Its specification closely matches that of the Olympus E-P1 (though in many ways they are very different cameras) so maybe the E-P1 price can serve as a guide; body only street price of around UK £599, US$ 749, or EU€ 699. Ate present we can only guess at the price of the 20mm pancake, but we understand that Panasonic are looking at an attractive price when bundled with a GF1 body.

GF1 key features

Like the E-P1, the GF1 is styled like a compact camera. There is no viewfinder hump - well, there is no eye-level viewfinder, at least not as standard (more about that later), and there is no extended hand grip. Especially with a slim-fit lens, like a pancake, the GF1 fits into small bags and large pockets much more easily than a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, for example.

Comparisons with the E-P1 are inevitable. They are similar in size and weight, but very different in styling and control layout. Panasonic points out that a GF1 with the new 20mm f/1.7 pancake low profile lens fitted, is lighter and much smaller in volume than most DSLR bodies without a lens fitted. There are also significant differences in features between the GF1 and the E-P1, and I believe each will tend to appeal more to different groups of photographers.. Both appear to have the same 12 megapixel sensor as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, but different image processing engines. The E-P1 has built in sensor shift image stabilisation, while the GF1 relies on in-lens Mega OIS. The 20mm pancake lens, however, does not have image stabilisation.

The GF1 definitely doesn't have the enhanced multi aspect ratio sensor of the GH1. The GF1 does, however, share the GH1's dual-core Venus Engine HD image processor. The E-P1 is a flamboyant, retro-style, design, while the GF1 is a less frivolous design. The GF1, which has a high quality metal body, is being manufactured in silver, black, red, and pearlescent white finishes. Some countries, like the UK, will not be taking the white version, which is a surprise as it looks great to me.

One of the supreme oddities of the Olympus E-P1 is its lack of a built-in pop-up flash. The GF1 does not share this oddity and has a pop-up flash on the far-left of the top-plate (viewed from behind). A dedicated flash hot shoe compatible with Olympus and Panasonic external flash units is also included.

The GF1 hot shoe also has an extra function, to house the GF1's main special feature, an optional eye-level viewfinder, and it's an electronic one at that. This compact device can also be tilted up as far as 90 degrees, so its use for macro and tripod use, with the absence of an articulating LCD screen on the GF1, a welcome bonus. The electronic finder components are borrowed from Panasonic's Lumix LZ-series of bridge cameras, though the optics section has been improved, producing a larger and clearer view. It's a reasonably good electronic finder, but the super high resolution EVF that G1 and GH1 users enjoy is in a different league.

Meanwhile, at 460,000 dots, the GF1 has twice the resolution with its 3 inch fixed LCD screen than the E-P1, though the GF1 screen is 3:2 aspect ratio, so when used in 4:3 aspect ratio mode the view is smaller, though sharper. Nevertheless, Panasonic has used the space freed up on the screen in certain modes to move status data off the image area, reducing clutter.

AVCHD Lite video

720p HD video recording is possible with the GF1. Following in the footsteps of the video-optimised DMC-GH1, the GF1 produces excellent HD video footage. Alas, sound can only be recorded via the built-in mono microphone, which is a great shame in my view. A lack of space to house a good quality stereo microphone is the reason according to Panasonic engineers I have spoken too, but the omission of an external stereo micro socket adds to the frustration.720 resolution MJPEG recording is also possible.

My Color Modes

Resembling Olympus' Art Filters, the GF1 introduces My Color Modes, which are Expressive, Retro, Pure, Elegant, Monochrome, Dynamic Art, Silhouette, and Custom. Each mode offers a different effect based solely on boosting or moderating colour saturation, contrast and lightness.

On-screen interactive aperture and shutter speed scale

One novel, and I suspect popular, new feature is an interactive on-screen shutter speed and aperture setting scale. This is activated, when enabled, by pressing the thumb wheel. The aperture and shutter speed scales appear above each other, with the selected combination of shutter and aperture lining up in the middle. It works in both auto and manual exposure modes.

Peripheral Defocus scene mode

Especially with the new 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, with its DSLR-sized sensor it is much easier to achieve defocused background blur for limited depth of field creative effect. A new scene mode, called Peripheral Defocus, has been introduced with the GF1. This lets you move the focus sensor position around the frame, and keeps the aperture at a wide setting.

Battery and power

The same battery used by the G1 and GH1 is used with the GF1. However, improved power management has given the GF1 a useful extension in shooting capacity. If you use the optional external electronic viewfinder then you get even more shots from a battery charge as the EVF uses less power than the LCD screen.

There is plenty more to discover with the GF1 and we can't wait to get our hands on a full production sample in the near future. Until then, why not have a look at our GF1 tour image gallery on page 2 of this preview article?

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