Panasonic's Lumix DMC-G1 is the first camera to be based on the micro four thirds system, a joint initiative between Panasonic and Olympus.
Unlike any other digital camera that has come before, the G1 has been designed without the legacy of 35mm film in mind. It's an SLR in terms of looks and interchangeable lenses, but has been designed first and foremost as a purely digital camera. There is no longer a traditional mirror and pentaprism arrangement (the system used to reflect light from the lens through to the viewfinder) as found in other SLRs, which removes a lot of the bulk from the camera body.
In terms of looks alone, the G1 certainly displays all the hallmarks of an SLR. If you didn't know any better, you would assume that the G1 was either a really sophisticated compact camera or a miniature SLR.
Weighing in at a diminutive 385 grams, and measuring 8.36x12.4x4.5cm, the G1 can sit comfortably in your hand just like a compact; indeed, we'd be inclined to compare its size with some megazoom cameras like Canon's SX1 IS or .
The whole unit is clad in a particularly pleasing plastic, textured to a degree that allows you to grip it securely when shooting, but not enough to visibly taint the design. Plus, it comes in three colours: a deep red, black and ocean blue — another cue that distinguishes the G1 from other dSLR competitors.
In general, the layout of the controls on the G1 is nothing out of the ordinary. There's the usual mode dial, which is surrounded by the power switch and the shooting burst rate switch. There's a pop-up flash and hotshoe, and the dial at the front of the camera swaps between the aperture and shutter speed selector when you press or click it inwards. Once we had gotten used to it, we found that it was actually quite intuitive.
Panasonic's intelligent auto mode is also standard here, designed to make the step up to the G1 as painless as possible for those used to automatic settings on a smaller model. That said, there are a myriad of scene modes and preset functions to keep anyone busy, plus the usual manual/shutter/aperture/program priority modes.
Sitting high on the feature list of the G1 is the 12-megapixel Live MOS sensor, which is the same size as used in other four thirds cameras (18x13.5mm). Due to the nature of the G1's construction, live view is always active on the camera; think of it as a trait carried over from compact digital cameras.
Next on the list is the rotating 3-inch LCD screen that can flip and rotate on an axis to sit facing inwards or outwards on the back of the camera, or face the body if you choose to use the viewfinder exclusively.
Unfortunately, due to the unique mirror-less construction, the G1 has to make do with an electronic viewfinder as opposed to the traditional optical one. Thankfully, the EVF supplied on the G1 isn't bad at all, with 1.4 million pixels packed inside and a speedy refresh rate at 60Hz.
At this stage, there are only two Panasonic lenses available for the G1 — 14-45mm f/35-5.6 and 45-200mm f/4-5.6. They're two capable units that cover a fair range, but we would have liked to see some more choice. Panasonic has stated that as of this year there will be several more additions to the micro four thirds lenses, including a 20mm f/1.7, 14-140mm f/4-5.6 and 7-14mm f/4.