From a design point of view it's less complex to implement a video mode into a 'live view only' camera such as the GF1 than in a DSLR which needs to flip its mirror out of the way before it can start recording. It was therefore a surprise to many when the world's first Micro Four Thirds camera, the Panasonic DMC-G1, did not come with a video recording feature - though it wasn't long before a second model, the video-orientated GH1, came along to bring true HD video capture to the Micro Four Thirds platform.
The GF1 can't match the GH1 when it comes to video (it only offers 720P where the GH1 can do 1080P), but it's a heck of a lot more useful than the G1, which can't do it at all. The GF1 beats the Olympus E-P1 by offering high quality AVCHD (albeit in the new 'Lite' flavor) capture, but the E-P1 rules the roost on the audio side of things (capturing high quality stereo sound; the GF1 is mono only and has no connector for an external microphone).
In AVCHD Lite mode the GF1 offers high quality HD video capture at 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) at 25/30 frames per second (depending on whether you're shooting in PAL or NTSC format), though the files are doubled up to 50/60 fps for HDTV compatibility. If you record your videos in Motion JPEG format you can also choose a range of smaller video sizes.
The built-in microphone captures mono audio, and unlike the GH1 or E-P1 you can't connect an optional external microphone. There is a small built-in speaker for video playback in-camera.
|Sizes||• AVCHD Lite: 1280 x 720p, 25/30 fps (output as 50p or 60p PAL/NTSC)
L: 9 Mbps
• Motion JPEG:
1280 x 720, 30fps
848 x 480, 30fps
640 x 480, 30fps
320 x 240, 30fps
|Audio||Dolby Digital Creator format (mono), wind-cut feature|
|Format||AVCHD / QuickTime Motion JPEG|
|File size||1.25 MB/sec (720p AVCHD), 3.4 MB/sec (720p Motion JPEG)|
|Max file size per clip||2.0 GB for Motion JPEG, card capacity for AVCHD|
|Recordable time||Approx 100 minutes|
Using Movie Mode
The GF1's movie mode lacks the advanced video functionality of the GH1, but there's still plenty of scope for creative control, including AE compensation aperture priority (though strangely you can't actually choose a specific aperture - you just get a depth of field slider) and access to all the Film and 'My Color' modes.
There are two different ways to capture movies. The first - ideal for quick grabs when out taking pictures - is to simply press the small red movie button just to the right of the main shutter release. Any exposure compensation or color settings (such as film mode) you have currently activated are also used for the movie clips (this includes scene modes and My Color effects), but the exposure is fully automatic, and shutter speeds / apertures currently selected for stills shooting (when in A or S mode) aren't honored. Movie settings such as recording mode, quality, metering, continuous AF and wind cut filter are accessed via the Motion Picture menu (these options override any currently set stills shooting options when using the movie button).
The GF1 also features a Movie-Program (found on the main mode dial). Here you get a little more control - exposure compensation, AE lock and aperture control (using the aforementioned depth of field slider) - and the ability to start and stop movie capture using the main shutter release, which is nice.
Focus in movie mode can be set to auto or manual (though to get continuous AF you need to activate it in the Motion Picture menu - by default movies are one shot AF only).
Movie mode displays
|Motion Picture menu||You can choose between AVCHD and Motion JPEG recording formats...|
|...and a range of recording quality levels.||As well as control over camera basics (film mode, iContrast, focus/metering modes) you get AE compensation and this aperture slider, once you switch to Movie Program mode.|
Video quality comments
Overall impressions are good; the 720p output is clean, smooth and relatively sharp, and looks very similar to the results produced by the Olympus E-P1. The M-JPEG output also looks very similar to the 720P results we got from the GH1. The AVCHD Lite clips are slightly better (though to be honest the difference is minimal, unlike the GH1, which produces stunning 1080 AVCHD output) and they're a lot smaller (less than half the size), but they have the disadvantage that they're considerably less user-friendly, and they have to be converted to another format before you can share them with the world (there's not much can read a native .MTS file).
As with previous Panasonic models it's not actually capturing at the full 50 / 60 fps you see in the file (each frame is doubled up to ensure compatibility with 720P televisions), so don't expect to see better motion in AVCHD Lite files.
Continuous AF with the kit zoom (or the 14-140mm video lens) is pretty good, though as with all camcorders it will hunt mid-movie and is usually best left turned off. With the 20mm pancake attached we'd highly recommend turning focus off - it's pretty slow and the lens motor can clearly be heard on the soundtrack.
Talking of audio, the lack of stereo recording or a microphone socket means that sound is the GF1's weak spot, bettered by the Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic GH1 (as well as many DSLRs), and pretty much rules it out for serious video use. The built-in mike is pretty sensitive (and quite directional), but the sound quality is unimpressive, especially in windy conditions.
Overall, then, the GF1's video mode is, much like those found on mid-range digital SLRs, something to be thought of as a bonus (and one I found myself using a lot in social situations), rather than a serious videography tool - for that you'll need the GH1. The quality is far better than you'd get from a compact digital camera (or most camcorders, for that matter), and if you use the 20mm pancake you can play around with shallow depth of field for creative effect. Throw in the custom film modes and you've got a fun and easy way to play with creative video capture that comes free with an excellent stills camera.
Sample videos - MJPEG
Caution: very large files