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).

Although the EP1 looks smaller the difference is minimal (and in fact the GF1 is slightly slimmer, though of course it doesn't have an in-body image stabilization system). From a design point of view the GF1 and E-P1 are chalk and cheese, with the GF1 eschewing the E-P1's retro chic styling for an altogether more macho minimalism.
The amount of external control is similar (though the E-P1 wins points for having twin control dials, which I personally prefer to Panasonic's 'click n turn' system for doubling up the functionality of a single dial).

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.

From left, Panasonic LX3, GF1, G1. The GF1 is noticeably smaller than the G1 thanks to the lack of grip and viewfinder 'hump'. The close family resemblance across the Panasonic range is obvious in this shot.
Viewed from above you can see just how much Panasonic was able to shave off the G1's girth by removing the viewfinder, grip and articulated screen. Without a lens the GF1 is in fact only around 15% larger than the LX3 (width, height and depth).

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.

Lens compatibility

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.

The DMW-MA1APP adapter allows existing Four Thirds lenses to be used with the Micro Four Thirds mount. The adapter is not designed to work with other accessories, such as tele-converters and extension tubes. You'll also be able to use the Olympus OM adapter on the GF1,as well as a wide range of other mount adapters that are becoming available.
Using the adaptor, the G1 can mount the full range of legacy Four Thirds lenses. However, its smaller size can result in combinations that are less well balanced than would be the case with Four Thirds DSLRs.