The G1 offers plenty of manual and semimanual features to please amateurs and enthusiasts, but you can run on full or semiautomatic if all the buttons and dials scare you. Several features stand out from the crowd, though. The 3-inch, 460,000-dot flip-and-twist LCD is a big attraction, for one. Many users were upset when Canon dropped the articulating LCD from its G series of cameras, and it's quite a welcome feature here. It's a good LCD, but keep in mind that because it's a wide-aspect LCD, it pillarboxes (crops with vertical black bands) standard-aspect photos so they don't display as large as on typical 3-inch LCDs. In other words, for displaying 4:3 or 3:2 photos it's equivalent to a 2.5-inch LCD.
There's also a mode in which you can preview changes to settings such as aperture and shutter speed, to gauge the effects in advance. Though it's somewhat hard to see depth-of-field changes, and you can only get a general sense of the shutter speed affect because of the LCD refresh, the capability to preview exposure may be invaluable for some. You can also save three sets of custom settings. While I'd rather be able to access them directly from the mode dial instead of just the single Cust slot with menu flipping to select one, this is lots better than nothing. In addition to traditional exposure and white-balance bracketing, you can bracket three different film modes.
The gaping hole in the G1's feature set: no movie capture. Panasonic plans to introduce another model in 2009 that handles video, and for many people this may be a reason to delay buying into the whole system until then.
When it comes to performance, the G1 was full of pleasant surprises. It goes from power on to first shot in a brisk 0.8 second and can focus and shoot in 0.4 second in high contrast conditions and 0.6 second in dim, which is very good for its class. Shot-to-shot times for both raw and JPEG settle at about 0.9 second, and zippy flash recycle time adds about 0.1 second to that. Equipped with a fast SD card--at least 20MB per second--it can shoot 2.6fps for almost 90 JPEG frames in burst mode; with a slower card, it stalls after about six or so frames. Keep in mind, though, that the EVF blackouts--though relatively brief--can stymie your attempts at keeping the subject framed in the scene.
As with its performance, the G1 displays excellent photo quality that rivals or bests similarly priced dSLRs. The kit lens we tested with it produces sharp images across almost the entire frame, with absolutely zero fringing or bleed. While it chronically underexposes, you can readily compensate, so I don't really ding it for that in the ratings. Its one weak point: it doesn't render exactly accurate colors. But they're within the bounds of acceptability and certainly pleasing. The same goes for its noise profile. You can shoot up to ISO 800 with confidence, and above that it does a very good job of balance noise with sharpness; there's no color noise to speak of, and what there is looks more like film grain. (Click through the slide show for samples and more discussion of the G1's photo quality.)
There's quite a bit to like about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, if you accept it for what it is: an alternative to a dSLR that can match similarly priced models in speed, photo quality, and features, but not the shooting experience. And if you don't share my dislike of the viewfinder--and you should try before you buy--then you may find it equal even in that. However, you're also buying into a new system that currently lacks a full selection of lenses, and ultimately you may be better off waiting for Panasonic's next video-supporting model or Olympus' as-yet unavailable contender.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)