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Color reproduction

Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to see comparative boxes inside each patch.

Generally speaking there's very little difference in the color response (hue) of modern DSLRs - the visual difference is down to different default saturation and tone curve. The GF1 has relatively muted colors and contrast compared to many entry-level cameras at its default 'standard' setting (except for reds, which in typical Panasonic fashion, are designed to jump out at you), but there's plenty of different 'looks' to play with using the Film Modes.

Panasonic DMC-GF1 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardDynamicNatureSmooth
NostalgicVibrantB&W DynamicB&W Smooth
B&W StandardadobeRGB

Artificial light White Balance

In common with previous Panasonics, the GF1 does struggle somewhat under artificial light. Its auto setting can't correct for Incandescent light (though if you're trying to retain the 'atmosphere' of the shot, then its performance isn't so terrible). It has just as much trouble under Fluorescent lighting in its Auto setting. However, the incandescent preset, while petty poor under incandescent light is actually capable of pretty reasonable results under fluorescent lighting, so it's worth a little experimentation (or manually creating a preset if you need perfectly corrected colors).

Thankfully, the GF1 has the option to fine-tune the white balance in both the Amber/Blue and Magenta/Green axes, so your results can be adapted to your own taste. It's worth fine-tuning the color response of the LCD screen before you start fine-tuning the white balance, however - otherwise there's a risk of you setting a white balance that corrects for the camera's screen but produces final images with a color cast.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 3.3%, Blue: -4.9%, Average
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 6.2%, Blue: -9.0%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 5.1%, Blue: -12.1%, Average
Fluorescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: -2.9%, Blue: -1.0%, Good

Flash

The GF1's built-in pop-up flash quickly shows its limitations - it's struggling to fully illuminate these subjects at a fairly close range (the flash's guide number of 6m means that at the moderate f5.6 maximum aperture of the GF1's kit zoom lens and the ISO 160 setting it's chosen, it can only correctly illuminate a subject up to 1.4m away). There is an AF illuminator lamp on the front of the body to aid the focus in low light.

Flash exposure is generally pretty good, and for social snaps or a little fill-in for shadowed faces it's far more useful than having no flash at all.

Intelligent exposure adjustment

The GF1, as you'd expect of a camera at this level, has a feature aimed at increasing the dynamic range (increasing the gap between the brightest and darkest tones that can be captured). Panasonic's version is called 'Intelligent Exposure Adjustment' and is a manually selected setting that can be set to Low, Standard, High or switched off.

There are two popular ways of increasing the dynamic range - one is to expose the sensor for a shorter time, to preserve the highlights, then use a different tone curve to pull the shadows back up to the correct brightness. The other is to use the same exposure and to adjust the bottom end of the tone curve (sometimes on a local level), to pull more detail out of the shadowed areas of the image. And it's this latter method that Panasonic appears to be using - the same shutter speed and aperture are being used and as you can see, the highlights stay the same whilst the shadows get a little lighter. It works, though it's easily recreated in post processing (and inevitably it makes noise more visible in shadow areas).

Intelligent exposure off

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

Like the G1 before it, the GF1 offers excellent overall image quality with few serious issues - certainly no gotchas bad enough to put anyone off buying one unless they shoot exclusively in very low light at high ISO settings.

The JPEG output is perfectly good, with the default settings producing relatively naturalistic output that's Panasonic's usual combination of relatively unsaturated blues and greens and blisteringly bright reds - if you don't like it you can try one of the other film modes (the landscape setting produces far deeper blue skies, for example). The ouput (using the default settings) can look a little flat next to many entry-level SLRs and most compacts, but you can easily add a little punch in post processing. We also found the tone curve (like all G series cameras) to be very unforgiving, meaning the first hint of over-exposure can lead to clipped highlights in bright, contrasty conditions. This is less of a problem than it could've been, as the metering tends to get it right (erring towards slight underexposure if anything) and you can easily get a stop or so of highlights back if you're shooting raw.

As shown elsewhere in this review the color rendition and white balance on a bright sunny day suffers in comparison to the Olympus E-P1 (which has some of the best JPEGs on the market), and at a pixel level the JPEGs don't make the most of the sensor's capabilities, but for most users (without access to an E-P1 for comparison) I suspect the results - even at the default settings - will give little cause for complaint.

Focus and metering are very reliable (far more so than the E-P1), and since both lenses are excellent, overall impressions are very positive indeed - we took over 3500 shots during the production of this review, and the number of problems we had that could be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of the camera (as opposed to the operator) was tiny.

Switching to raw capture and processing in ACR lifts the GF1's output from the realms of the 'perfectly decent' to the top tier of consumer camera picture quality, particularly at lower ISO settings, and particularly when detail and texture are important. Taking the camera's JPEG engine out of the equation reveals the excellent pixel-level sharpness captured by the CMOS sensor, and allows you to get exactly the color rendition you want (if, like us, you don't find the GF1's default color mapping that appealing). Even a straight ACR or Lightroom conversion at default settings produces results that are on a significantly higher level than those produced in-camera from the same exposure.

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