Panasonic GF1: Finally, a camera that fulfills the Micro Four Thirds promise?

Thus far, interchangeable lens cameras have either been feature-packed but big or compact but lacking important capabilities. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 looks like the first model positioned to appeal to the snapshooter looking to step up.


For the manufacturers who've plunged into the interchangeable-lens camera business--at this point, that's Olympus and Panasonic with their Micro Four Thirds standard--the potential market comprises two groups of consumers: those who want something better and faster than their current point-and-shoot, but don't want the bulk of a dSLR, and those who don't necessarily mind the bulk of a dSLR, but wouldn't mind something a bit smaller with the same flexibility.

Panasonic's first two models, the DMC-G1 and DMC-GH1, address the latter group pretty well, but don't really appeal to the compact-minded folks. Plus, the GH1 is fairly expensive, thanks to the pricey bundled lens designed for optimal video capture performance. On the flip side, Olympus nailed the compact market with the E-P1's design; however, without a built-in flash or viewfinder, a low-resolution LCD screen, and performance that doesn't necessarily best the typical point-and-shoot, it doesn't provide mass appeal for the snapshot upgraders. But with the DMC-GF1, it looks as if Panasonic might have produced the first model that hits all the right notes.

The GF1 essentially crams most of the capabilities of the GH1 into a smaller, more affordable camera--and price was one of my main complaints with the GH1. Here's how the MFT models compare:

 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1Olympus E-P1Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Sensor (effective resolution)12.1-megapixel Live MOS12.3-megapixel Live MOS12.1-megapixel Live MOS12.1-megapixel Live MOS
17.3mm x 13mm17.3mm x 13mm17.3mm x 13mm17.3mm x 13mm
Color depthn/a12 bitsn/an/a
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 6,400ISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 3,200
Focal-length multiplier2x2x2x2x
Continuous shooting3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.0 fps
n/a JPEG/10 raw
3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
ViewfinderOptional ElectronicOptional optical with 17mm lensElectronicElectronic
Autofocus23-area contrast AF11-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF
Metering144 zone324 zone144 zone144 zone
Shutter60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes
LCD3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
230,000 dots
3-inch articulated
460,000 dots
3-inch articulated
460,000 dots
Video (max resolution at 30fps)1280x720 AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG MOV1280x720 Motion JPEG AVINone1280x720 AVCHD Lite
Battery life (CIPA rating)350 shots300 shots300 shots300 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)4.7x2.8x1.44.7x2.8x1.44.9x3.3x1.84.9x3.3x1.8
Weight (ounces)10.3 (estimated)13.915.115.2
Mfr. Pricen/a$749.99 (body)
$899.95 (with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $799.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$799.95 (with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $1,499.95 (with 14-140mm f4.0-5.8 lens)
$899.95 (with 20mm f1.7 lens)$899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens and optical viewfinder)n/a

Unlike the typical optical add-on viewfinders we occasionally see in these types of compacts, the Panasonic offers an electronic viewfinder that plugs in to a connector above the LCD and intercepts the live feed from the sensor. While I'm not a big fan of EVFs, this scheme does have a couple of advantages. First, it delivers a relatively accurate display of the scene framing. And second, Panasonic's EVF can tilt for off-angle shooting.

Additionally, the GF1 introduces a new scene mode called Peripheral Defocus that automatically opens the aperture as wide as possible given the exposure constraints, plus a mode that lets you adjust depth of field while shooting video. Panasonic also takes a leaf out of Olympus' Art Filters book with a My Color mode that provides effects presets such as Expressive, Retro, and Silhouette; unlike Olympus' implementation, however, Panasonic lets you control color, brightness and saturation.

The GF1's body is closer than ever in size and weight to the enthusiast compacts it will compete with as well. Here's how they compare:

Comparison: enthusiast compact modelsPanasonic Lumix DMC-GF1Canon PowerShot G11Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
Sensor (effective resolution)12.1-megapixel Live MOS10-megapixel CCD10.1-megapixel CCD
17.3mm x 13mm1/1.7-inch 1/1.63-inch
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 80 - ISO 3,200ISO 80 - ISO 3,200
Focal-length multiplier2xn/an/a
Continuous shooting3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
2.5 fps
4 JPEG/3 raw
ViewfinderOptional ElectronicOpticalNone
Autofocus23-area contrast AFContrast AFContrast AF
Metering144 zonen/an/a
Shutter60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes15-1/4,000 sec; n/a60-1/2,000 sec; n/a
LCD3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
2.8-inch articulated
461,000 dots
, 3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
Video (max resolution at 30fps)1,280x720 AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG MOV640x480 H.264 MOV848x480 Motion JPEG MOV
Battery life (CIPA rating)350 shots420 shots380 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)4.7x2.8x1.44.4x3.0x1.04.3x2.3x1.1
Weight (ounces)10.3 (estimated)14.3 (estimated)9.1
Mfr. Price$899.95
(with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 lens or 20mm f1.7 lens)
(integrated f2.8-4.5 28-140mm-equivalent lens)
(integrated 24-60mm f2.0-2.8 lens)

The GF1 is a lot more expensive than these types of competitors, and even with one of the pancake fixed-focal length lenses it will still be pretty large in comparison. It does pack that HD video recording, though, and many people would consider the flexiblity of interchangeable lenses worth the extra money.

As for the GF1's third competitive option, dSLRs, the smaller size may be quite attractive to many people, a lot of whom might be willing to sacrifice the burst shooting speed (and continuous shooting is always easier with an optical viewfinder, regardless of frame rate) and high ISO sensitivity performance; I expect the GF1's noise profile to look very much like the GH1's, which was inferior to that of the $900 dSLRs the GF1 faces.

Comparison: Similarly priced dSLRsPanasonic Lumix DMC-GF1Canon EOS Rebel T1iNikon D5000
Sensor (effective resolution)12.1-megapixel Live MOS15.1-megapixel CMOS12.3-megapixel CCD
17.3mm x 13mm22.3mm x 14.9mm23.6mm x 15.8mm
Focal-length multiplier2x1.6x1.5x
Color depthn/a14 bits12 bits
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/ISO 12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 (expanded)/ISO 200 - ISO 3,200/ISO 6,400 (expanded)
Continuous shooting3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
170 JPEG/9 raw
4 fps
9 raw/100 JPEG (medium/fine)
ViewfinderOptional ElectronicOpticalOptical
Autofocus23-area contrast AF9-area phase detect AF (contrast AF in Live View)11-area phase detect AF (contrast AF in Live View)
Metering144 zone35 zone420 pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering II
Shutter60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes1/4000 sec. to 30 sec.; bulb 1/4000 sec. to 30 sec; bulb
LCD3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
920,000 dots
2.7-inch articulated
230,000 dots
Video (max resolution at 30fps)1280x720 AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG MOV1280x720 H.264 MOVNo 30fps mode; 1280x720 24fps Motion JPEG AVI
Battery life (CIPA rating)350 shots400 shots400 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)4.7x2.8x1.45.1x3.8x2.45.0x4.1x3.1
Weight (ounces)10.3 (estimated)18.621.6
Mfr. Price$899.95
(with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 lens or 20mm f1.7 lens)
$799.99 (body est.)
$899.99 (with 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$729.95 (body)
$849.99 (est. with 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens)

Ultimately, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 makes some promises I can't wait to see if it can fulfill. It's slated to ship in early October, though we expect to have an evaluation unit before then.

Featured Video
This content is rated TV-MA, and is for viewers 18 years or older. Are you of age?
Sorry, you are not old enough to view this content.

Microsoft leaves Apple in the dust with tablet and laptop innovation in 2015

Will there be one Apple Ring to rule them all? That's what a patent application says. Plus, building the thinnest gadget isn't innovation anymore and Apple just got a reality check from Microsoft.

by Brian Tong