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LCD Monitor

Presumably in order to keep the size down, the GF1 eschews the articulated screen featured on the GH1/G1 in favor of a fixed version. Otherwise it's unchanged; 3.0 inches, 460,000 dots, 3:2 aspect ratio. Sure, it'd be nice if it had one of the latest 920k dot screens, and yes, technically it doesn't fit the aspect ratio of the sensor (so if you shoot at the 'native' 4:3 setting you get black bars down the sides of the preview) but it's a better than the low res screen on the Olympus E-P1, and it can be used in all but the brightest direct light. We compared the E-P1 and GF1 side-by-side in all conditions from the brightest direct sunlight to total darkness, and in every case the difference - if there was one - was in the GF1's favor.

The LCD is big and bright, and the resolution allows for accurate focus assessment.

Electronic Viewfinder LVF1

The G1 and GH1 have been widely praised for their high resolution viewfinders; the Olympus E-P1 criticized for it's lack of one. The GF1 sits somewhere between the two, offering an optional 'Live View Finder' (the DMW-LVF1), which clips onto the hot shoe. The resolution is nothing like the G1/GH1 (202k dots), nor is the finder anywhere near as large - it's more like a mid-range bridge or super zoom camera than an SLR (the LVF1 gives you around 0.52x magnification, compared to the G1's 0.7x magnification). From a size point of view, therefore, it's not far off most entry-level digital SLRs, but from a resolution point of view you're not going to be using it for fine focus checking.

But it does work, and it does allow you to use the camera at eye level if that's how you prefer to shoot, and in very bright light (where the main screen suffers the usual glare problems that plague all LCDs). It also helps keep the camera steady when shooting macro or at long telephoto settings (and even for movies), simply by virtue of the fact the camera is resting against your face.

As the shots above (taken with a macro lens from the eyepiece) show, there's a world of difference between the integrated viewfinder on the G1/GH1 (left) and the optional viewfinder for the GF1 (right). It's not bad (certainly on a par with the best superzoom 'bridge' cameras), it's a lot smaller and has a much lower resolution.

The viewfinder image may be small and you may be able to see the pixels, but it's pretty sharp and contrasty, and has a high frame rate (60fps). Best of all you can tilt it up through 90 degrees; great for macro and studio work, though to be honest the tilting mechanism is largely redundant for most users and undoubtedly added to the cost and bulk of the unit. We understand the downgrade from the G1/GH1 (apparently the engineers did try, but it proved impossible to make a removable version), but we're slightly disappointed that, unlike its bigger siblings, the GF1 doesn't have the option to use the main screen as a status panel when shooting with the viewfinder; it's one or the other.

The viewfinder shows exactly the same user interface as the screen on the back, though as it has a different aspect ratio (4:3) you'll get different masking (black bars) depending on which you're using. The LCD and LVF can be set to different display styles (there are only the two to choose from).

The LVF1's biggest problem is that the cost makes it difficult to justify for the occasional use it's likely to get from most users. If you're the kind who can't live without an eye-level viewfinder then the LVF1 may well be an essential accessory (and, crucially, one that's not even an option for Olympus E-P1 users), but to be honest if you are a viewfinder diehard then you'd be better off with the G1 anyway.

For us the VLF1 is the perfect solution to the fact that you sometimes (such as in very strong light) need an eye level finder, and it really is small enough to pop into your pocket most of the time. I was more than happy using the GF1's screen for composition nine times out of ten, but was thankful that I had the option to pop the VLF1 on when glare became an issue.

The LVF1 slides into the flash hot shoe (and draws its power from the camera). There's a switch for flipping between the LVF and LCD, plus a diopter adjustment.
The eyecup is comfortable and the screen inside well shielded from sunlight - just don't expect anything as impressive as found on the G1/GH1 when you peer inside. The viewfinder tilts up through 90 degrees (and there's a firm click stop at the horizontal position to ensure you don't move it by accident).

Screen / Viewfinder view

There are two different display mode options when shooting images with the GF1. "LCD monitor" mode looks most like a compact camera display, with icons overlaid on the image. "Finder mode" is very similar but places a black bar across the bottom of the screen, to make it more familiar to DSLR users used to using an optical viewfinder with a status bar along the bottom. Sadly you can't get it to show one view in the viewfinder and the other on the screen as the GF1 cannot display on both LVF and rear LCD simultaneously.

The behavior in both screen modes is very consistent - the command dial controls exposure compensation in most 'scene' modes, or one of the shooting parameters in the 'P, A, S and M' modes. In these modes, pressing the command dial toggles to control exposure compensation, the other shooting shooting parameter or program shift, depending on the mode. Accessing the other settings just requires pressing the Q.Menu button at which point the arrow keys or command dial allow navigation and a press of the 'set' button or command dial engages the setting. Note that not all settings are available in all modes (Scene modes and Intelligent Auto modes have a reduced set of options).

'Finder' mode. Using Q.Menu brings up a horizontal array of icons for each setting.

In LCD mode. Q.Menu brings up vertical lists of settings, with a description at the top of the screen.

As mentioned, the layout of the information is consistent between the viewfinder and the rear LCD and in the two views. The result is no hunting around for settings - they're always shown in the same place. And, unlike a DSLR, the GF1's viewfinder can show you the options for each setting, rather than just reflecting the current settings. The diagram below shows the detailed view.

1 Flash setting 11 AF mode
2 Film mode 12 Metering mode
3 Optical Image Stabilization mode 13 Recording mode
4 Drive mode (blank in single frame mode) 14 Aperture
5 Movie record quality 15 Shutter speed
6 Picture size/ aspect ratio 16 Exposure indicator
7 Quality setting 17 Sensitivity setting
8 Power LCD mode 18 White Balance
9 Intelligent exposure 19 Frames remaining
10 Battery status 20 Focus confirmation

Battery / Card Compartment & Battery

The GF1 comes with the same battery as the G1 and GH1. It has a 1250mAh, 7.2V rating, meaning it can deliver 9.0Wh, in excess of the power output we've seen from recent entry-level DSLRs with small batteries (though, of course, it's reasonable to assume the GF1 will draw more power than those cameras, unless they're used in their Live view modes).

Battery life is around 380 shots (CIPA standard) or 430 shots using the LVF, not bad at all for a camera without an optical viewfinder. The battery and SD card share a compartment under a plastic locking door on the base of the camera.

Like most of cameras at this end of the market, the GF1 accepts the popular SD format of memory card (including the larger capacity SDHC variety).

Battery Charger

The GF1 uses Panasonic's DMW-BLB13PP battery. The DE-A49C charger also offers a 9.3V DC output that the optional DC cable/dummy battery (DMW-DCC3) can be plugged into.

Connections

On the left hand side of the camera (viewed from the rear) is a combined USB/video out connector and a HDMI port for connection to your HDTV, plus a socket for the optional wired remote control. Unfortunately there isn't an external microphone socket (something you do get with the GH1).

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