Panasonic Lumix GF1 Review
When Panasonic showed us the first Micro Four Thirds camera, the DMC-G1, our first question was 'why does it look like an SLR?'. We'd been hoping for a much more compact body, something that more effectively straddled the line between the convenience of a compact and the quality and versatility of a digital SLR. Well, a couple of months ago we were ushered into a private meeting with Panasonic to see the GF1, Panasonic's answer to all those critics who failed to see the point of Micro Four Thirds if it was simply going to ape conventional SLR styling.
And, once we'd been fully briefed on just how secret this all was (totally moot, as it transpires, since pictures of the GF1 were leaked and published extensively a couple of weeks later), we got our hands on what Panasonic hopes will be the camera to convince those put off by the limitations of the Olympus E-P1.
The E-P1 looms large over any discussion of the GF1; rarely has a single model caused so much excitement - and fevered discussion - inside and outside the photographic community, with even Panasonic seemingly surprised by just how much press it's been getting (and doubtless kicking themselves for not getting there first).
The GF1 is essentially a G1 (with a couple of GH1 features and the loss of a handful of scene modes) squashed into a body that's more or less the same size as the E-P1 - it occupies 35% less volume and is 26% lighter than the G1. It may lack the E-P1's cute-as-a-button retro styling but it does effectively answer the three main criticisms faced by the Olympus: the lack of built in flash (check), the lack of a viewfinder (there's an optional EVF) and the poor focus speed (it has the same impressive system as the other 'G' models). You don't get the E-P1's total compatibility (it currently won't focus any Four Thirds lens that doesn't currently offer live view AF on an Olympus SLR), but those lenses it will focus, it will focus a helluva lot faster.
The GF1 also answers the biggest criticism of the G1; the missing movie mode. Movie capture is increasingly common on mid-range DSLRs, and the lack of it on the G1 is all the more mystifying when you consider that it is built from the ground up as a live view camera (and the sensor can obviously do it). The GF1's 720p (AVCHD Lite or M-JPEG) movies can't match the GH1's 1080p capabilities (nor do you get stereo sound), but for the casual user they're more than enough, and they're a lot better than nothing.
Micro Four Thirds
Olympus and Panasonic announced the new, mirrorless format / lens mount based on (and compatible with) Four Thirds in August 2008. The Micro Four Thirds system uses the same sensor size (18 x 13.5 mm) but allows slimmer cameras by removing the mirror box and optical viewfinder. The new format has three key technical differences: (1) roughly half the flange back distance (distance from mount to the sensor), (2) a smaller diameter lens mount (6 mm smaller) and (3) two additional contact points for lens-to-body communication (now 11 points).
Removing the mirror mechanism allows this shorter flange back distance, meaning lenses for the new mount can be considerably smaller than current Four Thirds designs. The format will require framing to be carried out using Live View on either the LCD monitor or an EVF. Existing Four Thirds lenses can be used on Micro Four Thirds cameras using an adapter.
Micro Four Thirds is an extension of the Four Thirds standard that Olympus, Leica and Panasonic have used for their recent DSLRs. An adaptor ring is available, allowing existing Four Thirds lenses to be mounted. Auto Focus only functions on lenses compatible with contrast-detect AF, which limits choice. Click here for an up-to-date list of compatible lenses on the Panasonic website.