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The Quirang. Panasonic GF1 at f/5.6, 24mm (48mm in 35mm terms) 1/100sec, tripod mounted, 2sec timer.
To the Point (and shoot)
After my last article about the Canon Powershot G10 and Ricoh GX200, I was left somewhat disillusioned about the concept of compact cameras in my life. With excessive noise being the Achilles heel of these smaller sensor systems, they remain exactly where I had once left them, as convenient memory recorders, but nothing more. I must admit, the Olympus EP-1 and the new Panasonic GF1 have had me intrigued since I first read the pre-release hype. Looking like the popular Lumix LX3 on steroids, the GF1 exhibits all the traits of a pocket compact with slightly larger frame. It is part of a new breed of small cameras to take advantage of the FourThirds sensor revolution. It has nine times more surface area than a compact camera sensor (which is still less than 16 times smaller than full frame) The FourThirds sensor is over four times larger than the Canon Powershot G10 or Canon Powershot G11, just one of the high volume rivals that it tries to wrong foot. In the box are the usual software and manuals to put straight into the loft, charger and battery. Then there's the dinky matchbox sized 14-45mm lens. Attaching it to the body makes you feel somewhat boy-like. It’s lightweight and perhaps a little plastic, but surely with the Leica alliance, the glass elements will be excellent quality? Panasonic said: "Panasonic have been in formal alliance with Leica since 2001. During this time Panasonic have become a leading manufacturer of high quality optics for digital photography in its own right. All of our current Lumix G lenses are manufactuered in our Optical manufacturing plant in Japan and are made to the highest possible build quality and image performance standards. We do manufactuer the Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 lens which is our first Micro FourThirds lens to be certified by Leica Camera AG company."
Superb Landscape Features
Now I can go on about the myriad of functions and features that the camera holds, but there are plenty of reviews out there to cover that. Here’s a quick bullet list of the handling points that seriously impressed me using the camera in the landscape –
- Using a compact with manual focus and zoom rings is an utter relief. I can approach my landscapes with an SLR working method.
- The screen is bliss, almost like a profiled monitor. It's neutral looking and reviewed images produce realistic hues and saturation (many compacts over saturate and over brighten the LCD)
- Display modes are well thought out, with a ‘simple view’, displaying aperture and shutter speed, which is often all you ever need in the landscape.
- Aperture values go down to f/22, just like a DSLR. (more on this below)
- Quick change between AF (auto focus) and MF (manual focus).
- It has a killer feature - depth of field preview and a Live View zoom feature, just like my DSLRs. I can actually focus my landscapes hyperfocally without guesswork by using them in partnership.
- In MF mode the camera jumps to magnified view as soon as the MF ring is turned, meaning perfect focusing every time.
- Easy change between 2sec timer, single shot and continuous modes.
- Slightly squarer files from the FourThirds sensor starts to feel a bit like medium format.
- Not so keen on –
- Menu system looks dated, fonts look squished and misshapen. It looks pretty boring to navigate through.
- Thumb wheel needs to be bigger. Not easy to use with gloves.
- My review model wasn’t red! They look very cool.
- (not mentioning the weak flash as its a landscape article, but it is noted)
Small build, SLR controls, Image Stabilisation. Lightweight, but the sharpness is just superb.
After testing the lens to see where diffraction and softness occur, the 14-45mm kit lens was very impressive. The usual home testshots of a field and stone wall showed the optimum aperture was f/5.6. Tests shot at f/8 were also excellent with the images almost indistinguishable. Diffraction kicked in soon after. Images shot at f/16 were slightly soft, but it was nice to find a sweet spot, again similar to many DSLR lenses of the same focal lengths. Diffraction issues can be compensated in Raw software with a modicum of extra sharpening.
This is where this camera simply blew me away. Online reviews and other magazines all agree that the JPEG output could do with some improvement and I agree, but for literally all landscape photographers, imagery is all about the Raw file at base ISO. I am excited to report the Panasonic GF1 is a landscape killer; the images are absolutely stunning and I mean it.
This pocket rocket and 14-45mm lens will have you double-taking back home on the computer. Tripod mounted and set to optimum apertures, sharpness is like nothing I have ever seen from a camera this compact. The Raw files are clean, neutral looking, with realistic colours, tone, exceptional clarity and the all important bite of micro contrast. It is the shadows that immediately set this camera apart from the compact market. They render darks and deep shadows just like a DSLR, unlike the messy blacks I am unfortunately used to from other point and shoots.
Comparing the files to a friends D300 (also 12Mp) I was hard pushed to tell the difference I have to say. Noise is also a marked league above the G11 and similar rivals. After using the GF1 for a quick shoot for a tripod review, I was literally in disbelief at ISO1600, left enabled by mistake for the entire shoot. ISO100 – 400 are excellent, ISO800 is also very usable but it is from here that the quality drops away.
My friend Tim and I began questioning the point of anything but this camera as the weapon of choice for long distance walks and mountain climbs. It's certainly not a compromise. If I was pushing myself to the limits high on a ridge, I'm starting to think that the GF1, 14-45mm and a decent tripod system is all I would ever need.
Composition Collecting - Subtle colours and tones are realistic with the Raw files responding well to increases in exposure and other post production toning.
After this initial revelation, I was using the camera to mirror every scene I took with a DLSR, just for the sheer joy of it. My working method became intuitive and I barely had to enter the cameras menus whatsoever for my basic landscape needs. What was funny was that I kept head butting the camera as I raised it to my eye, trying to look through the non existent viewfinder, that's how at home I felt.
The GF1 is a true alternative to the DSLR and my creativity can run riot, in almost the same way. After my lacklustre feelings from the questionable mind set I covered in the ‘Pointless and Shoot’ article, the Panasonic GF1 simply wipes the floor with anything I have tested in the same sphere. I haven’t been so positive about a compact system before. Finally a top quality, light weight landscape camera has been born. As a backup to a 21Mp system or as a trip based on the walk over the photos (is there such a thing?) the GF1 is a superb camera only held back by your own imagination.
Highly, HIGHLY Recommended.
Classic Reflections - Taken at f/5, 1/40sec, with a handheld polariser. Simple to line up with the generous viewfinder and easy to pin point focus thanks to the enlargement zoom feature.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 & 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 lens costs £579.99 from ParkCameras.
If you wish to see the GF-1 in all its hi-res splendour, then visit David Clapp’s Photography Blog.