A Year with the GF1

Started Oct 4, 2010 | Discussions thread
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Sam Bennett
Sam Bennett Veteran Member • Posts: 4,594
A Year with the GF1

When Panasonic and Olympus announced Micro Four Thirds, it struck me as a system that would finally be able to deliver on the promise of 4/3 - compact quality with dSLR-like performance. The G1 seemed to deliver on the promises from a performance standpoint, but still wasn't compact enough to get me to ditch the Nikon D50 I had been using as my "go everywhere" camera. Olympus seemed to have the form factor down, but the lenses weren't interesting enough. The announcement of the GF1 seemed to hit the nail on the head, addressing all the complaints leveled at the early models - here was a compact body, with dSLR-like performance coupled with what looked like a killer lens - the 20mm f/1.7. I went for it. Long story short, within hours of using the GF1 I knew that Panasonic had a winner on it's hands, and my D50 was on the chopping block.


It Really Does Go Everywhere

There’s been a lot of debate about whether any of the MFT cameras are genuinely “pocketable”. Is it as pocketable as my iPhone? Of course not. But let me put it this way: I don’t have a bag for my GF1. When traveling with my GF1, it’s typically in one of three places – attached to a Spider Holster (love it!), in a jacket/shorts/pants pocket or in a small pocket in my backpack.


I see little need to have bag for it when it’s small enough to always find a place for it. My holster setup is perfect – the camera is always there when I need it, it’s compact enough that I don’t even have to take it off when I belt in to my car and with the use of a custom made bracket I can use one hand to unlock the holster while pulling it out in one smooth motion – critical when chasing a baby around. At this point I would rather use that kind of holster instead of sticking it in a pocket since it would likely be harder to get into shooting position.

Wear and Tear

Of course, this does mean that I put my GF1 through a lot. My first homemade holster resulted in the shutter release getting snapped off, which Panasonic graciously took care of with a new body. While my new setup is great in terms of access, it does mean it takes a few knocks here and there. I think the following photos make it obvious my GF1 has little resale value left, but it still works perfectly as far as I can tell.



At this point, I wouldn't say I'm disappointed by the GF1's built quality, but I think it should demonstrate that there's plenty of room for a camera of this size that is built to pro standards - the Fujifilm X100 seems poised to lead that market.


People Think $400 is Too Much for the 20mm f/1.7?

By now it won’t come as a surprise to hear that someone loves the 20mm f/1.7 – its reputation is well deserved. I’ll just say that I’ve owned some of Canon and Nikon’s finest prime and zoom glass, and I feel in all honesty that the 20mm ranks right up there with my favorite dSLR lenses in terms of sharpness, bokeh, color rendition and CA control. All of that, in a pancake form factor? I can’t imagine why anyone would complain about a measly $400. Hopefully Panasonic isn’t resting on their laurels and will continue to produce prime lenses on this level.


Face Detect Changed My (Shooting) Life

One of the most surprising things about using the GF1 was how much it changed my approach to shooting people. The GF1 has been a bit of a revelation for a few reasons – first, when using fast apertures to keep shutter speeds up or ISO down, the GF1’s relatively deep DoF actually helps out a bit, giving a bit of wiggle room for AF accuracy. Second, the GF1’s Contrast Detect AF while relatively slow is remarkably accurate. Third, the Face Detect algorithm works! That aspect alone has given me the freedom to worry about composition, movement and expression in my images – that’s what’s fun in photography for me. I can now shoot very quickly in a variety of different angles that would be impractical or impossible with a dSLR – over my head, under a table, etc. – and this has given me a lot of wonderful shots I simply wouldn’t have been able to catch with a dSLR.

What I Don't Like

You probably know the usual complaints - limited RAW headroom, relatively poor noise performance, no IBIS. For what I typically use the GF1 for, I don't feel these are huge problems. I'll welcome improvements in sensor performance, but I wouldn't move to another system based on that factor alone. IBIS is largely useless for the subject matter I typically shoot. The areas I feel need more attention are in overall performance of the camera, the things that make a camera effortless - a deeper and faster-clearing RAW buffer, instant review, faster AF, shorter blackout times, etc.

The Bottom Line

I love my GF1. There's no two ways about it. I'm not one to get overly sentimental in general, and definitely not about inanimate objects. But the GF1 has slotted into my daily life in a way that no other camera has been able to. While my iPhone certainly still gets a lot of attention, it produces fundamentally different photos and requires compromises I cannot tolerate for a lot of shooting. The GF1 reliably allows me to capture moments I would otherwise miss with generally high quality and is a pleasure to use. Can't ask for much more than that.

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 Sam Bennett's gear list:Sam Bennett's gear list
Olympus E-M1 Olympus E-M1 III Rokinon 7.5mm F3.5 UMC Fisheye CS Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 Pro Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 Pro +7 more
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