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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Digital SLR Review

The Panasonic GF-1 might be small and pocket-sized but with its large sensor and interchangeable lenses it packs the punch of a DSLR

|  Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 in Mirrorless Cameras
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Review by Matt Grayson

Features & handling

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 front image Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 holding the camera
Despite a smaller body, a large sensor hides behind the lens.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1: Features
Panasonic answer the Olympus E-P1 by releasing a retro look Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera in the shape of the Lumix DMC-GF1. Based on the same technology as the G1 and GH1, the GF1 is totally different in it's conception as it gives the user all the convenience of a compact with the robustness of a DSLR. Micro Four Thirds doesn't use a smaller sensor, but removes the prism and mirror chamber found in a DSLR which closes the distance between the lens mount and sensor. It also uses a smaller lens mount by around 6mm so MFT lenses have to be used, although normal sized Four Thirds lenses can be used with an adapter.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 card in
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 top
Main additions to features are in the more fun areas of the camera such as the Silhouette mode, dynamic range effect and a rival to the Olympus Pop Art mode. A selective focusing system called peripheral defocus has been added for manipulating off centre focusing which isn't anything new in the industry but is a first for Panasonic.

Fans of different formats may still be interested in the aspect ratios which features 1:1 square format and interestingly doesn't lose too much resolution as it still records at 8.9Mp. Other aspect ratios include 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 and while the overall image may be slightly smaller, the longest size will equal 4000px.

Video is also a big issue with Panasonic and the GF1 offers 1280x720 AVCHD Lite which is HD video recording in a more compressed format so it doesn't take as much space on the memory card. Video is operated by using the mode on the command dial where all types of features are available such as film simulations, metering, focusing and white balance. For fast video recording, a dedicated video record mode button is located on the top plate which will start recording, regardless of the mode the camera is set to.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1: Build and handling
Designed like an older rangefinder type, the camera is well built with firm switches and buttons and while the command dial is positive, we felt the drive switch that is found wrapped around it was too big and we kept snagging it as we changed modes.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 back view
A similar back to the compacts means an easier transition for those upgrading.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 front view
Lenses are removable but beware because the sensor is exposed.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 top view 
An easy to use layout and we like the drive switch under the command dial.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 in use
An electronic viewfinder is available and slots onto the hotshoe.

After the brightness of the viewfinder on the G1 and GH1, we expected much the same from the optional live viewfinder that can be used on the GF1 and were disappointed to discover that it's a lot darker. When the viewfinder is used, all information is streamed through it, so any images taken are previewed on it and any menus are accessed through it. It would be nice to incorporate the rear screen for these as the larger surface is much easier to check focusing and for reading the text in the menus.

A Li-Ion battery is used to power the camera and is actually pretty big. Although only lightweight, it measures 43x35x21mm which suggests a longer life span. Panasonic suggest that the camera can take 380 images and 210 minutes of video using the LCD on the back of the camera.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1: Performance
We put the Panasonic through it's paces to see how it performed in a variety of situations.

There's usually an issue with with silhouetting when it comes to shooting backlit subjects, but I'm pleased to say that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 has a broad dynamic range that seems to cope well with the issue. Time after time, backlit subjects were produced with detail, even thin areas such as window frames that would normally have light bleeding over, came out showing detail. Even moving the sun directly into the frame isn't too much of an issue for the GF1. Detail is still present in the shots which is a great result.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 direct sunlight
The camera manages to avoid flare with direct sunlight in the frame.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 front lit
Back lit subjects are still privy to a lot of detail in the darker areas.
Of the three metering modes available, multi will more than likely be the most used and is also the default mode. This can be changed by pressing the Q-menu button and scrolling through the many options in the menu. Multi gets it's name because it uses multiple segments of the frame to collate the correct exposure in the scene. In our tests, it worked well and only really got confused when I photographed through a tunnel as the camera compensated for the lack of light which then burnt out the light at the opposite end and caused a minor amount of flare.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 centre-weighted metering
Centre-weighted metering takes a reading from the overall frame.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 spot metering
Spot metering reads fromthe exact centre ignoring everything else.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 multi metering
Multi metering is broken into segments and collates an exposure from the info.
Slight amounts of light are appearing on the bridge roof with spot metering while the barge in the distance remains correctly exposed due to it being in the centre of the frame.

Centre-weighted has added more detail to the darker areas but it's the multi metering mode that gives the best result for the bridge adding detail to the roof and also to the pathway along the edge of the water.
Centre-weighted metering falls foul of the usual problems such as under exposure with a small bright point near the middle of the frame as it then causes darker areas to silhouette.

Predominantly white subjects come out slightly over exposed, probably to gain detail in the darker areas of the shot. In our tests, it was a relatively cloudy day which will stem the problem although in direct sunlight, the camera has managed to balance the exposure nicely.

At f/1.7, the Lumix DMC-Gf1 gives a good amount of depth adding a certain three dimensional quality to the images. At this setting, it helps for certain styles of photography such as the miniature styles that cameras such as the Nikon D3000 are trying to mock. Still, it's a much wider field than would normally be seen on this aperture. Edge focus starts to come in from around f/5.6 and gets better all the way to the smallest f/16 aperture although oversll sharpness does start to reduce slightly.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 aperture f/1.7
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 aperture f/2.8
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 aperture f/3.5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 aperture f/4
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 aperture f/5.6
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 aperture f/8
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 aperture f/11
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 aperture f/16

Let's face it, this camera is designed to annoy Olympus after the great response to the E-P1, but that camera suffers badly from a slow focusing system. Panasonic have either noticed and made sure the GF1 doesn't have the problem, or they've simply had a spot of good luck. It's fast, responsive and concise.

Colour and sharpness

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 colour performance
Colours look good from our test area. They look bold, nicely saturated and well balanced.

Colour reproduction on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 is very good with primaries such as blue and red bursting with colour. This is normally the case, although maybe not as much with the warmer colours but the Panasonic has really pushed them through. Because the primaries are bright and bold, it means that pastels and subtle tones get a nice lift. Even though all this colour is flooding through, greyscales still look balanced with no hint of cast.

Skin tones in a studio environment come out nicely and the camera records an incredible amount of detail which is more noticeable in close-ups.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 portrait close
Close up shows the amount of detail the camera can record.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 portrait
At a longer focal length, the 20mm lens shows no distortion.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 smiling portrait
A good white balance from the camera ensures teeth are showing white.
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Chloe Bleackley portfolio

Choosing a lower image quality is generally considered a no no, but the Panasonic seems to perform pretty well considering it's nearly half the file size. Our large image recorded at 6.5Mb, while the medium recorded at 6.42Mb, while small recorded at 3.54Mb. The RAW version has recorded 13.9Mb of information.

SD cards don't have as high a capacity as CF cards at the moment, although Panasonic are members of the SD Card Association. They're currently in the finishing stages of developing SDXC which promises a higher capacity and faster download. It means that reducing the quality to save space will be less necessary as the card will be able to hold so much more.

If you're recording in JPEG, it just goes to show you don't necessarily need to record at the top quality even if you keep it on 12Mp, but this will free up precious space on the memory card.

Changing from large to medium doesn't lose too much information but will free up a small amount of space on your card if you have that all important shot to get.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 large resolution
Large quality resolution.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 medium  resolution
Medium quality resolution.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 low  resolution
Low quality resolution.

Low ISO results are impressive from the studio noise test. ISO100 displays plenty of detail in the petals and a lovely, smooth card with no hint of noise anywhere on the card. However, the Panasonic doesn't try to hold the problem back, though, and noise starts to creep in immediately. Luckily, it's not really a problem until ISO800 where colour starts to invade the image.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO100
The exterior ISO100 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO200
The exterior ISO200 test.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO400
The exterior ISO400 test.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO800
The exterior ISO800 test.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO1600
The exterior ISO1600 test.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO3200
The exterior ISO3200 test.
Detail is still being recorded at this stage, so the camera is still working quite well and this continues through to ISO3200 with only a slight loss in detail. Plenty of colour is invading the image at this stage, but is to be expected.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO100 test
The ISO100 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO200 test
The ISO200 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO400 test
The ISO400 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO800 test
The ISO800 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO1600 test
The ISO1600 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ISO3200 test
The ISO3200 test.

White balance
It's something we all have to use from time to time and the Panasonic offers a wide range of white balance overrides for when the auto setting simply can't cut it. There are five preset white balance options, with two custom options to set your most commonly used settings and a kelvin setting so you can adapt the temperature of the white balance to the perfect setting if the presets can't hit it either.

Overall the camera works well with the auto setting of white balance, although in our tests we found that sometimes the preset would work better and sometimes the auto so it wasn't consistent.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1auto white balance
Auto white balance.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 fluo white balance
Fluo white balance.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 auto white balance
Auto white balance.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 shade white balance
Shade white balance.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 auto white balance cloudy
Auto white balance.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 white balance cloudy
Cloudy white balance.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 auto white balance sunny
Auto white balance.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 white balance sunny
Sunny white balance.
Integral flash/modes
The Lumix DMC-GF1 sports a built-in flash which is the pop-up variety, discreetly hidden in the left shoulder and can also hold an external flash gun. This hotshoe is also used for the external live view finder which slots into the electronic port just under the shoe so you get an electronic feed.

There are plenty of flash modes built in to the camera to keep you occupied such as forced on, slow sync, slow sync with red eye reduction and of course, off is by pressing the flash back into the body. Flash sync can be set to the first or second curtain in the main menu and there's also a +/- 2EV flash compensation which I'd like to have seen next to the flash options in the Q-menu.

Buffer/write time
Continuous shootingis switched on using the switch in front of the command dial. I managed 2fps over a ten second period in JPEG and the camera showed no signs of slowing, illustrating that it's a drive mode, not a burst mode. Because of this, download time was minimal at under a second.

Switching into RAW, the camera managed a more modest 11 images in ten seconds. The first six of these were recorded in three seconds then the camera slowed from 2fps to 1fps, thereabouts. After the test, the camera took a further nine seconds to download the information.

Battery life
A Li-Ion battery is used to power the camera and is actually pretty big. Although only lightweight, it measures 43x35x21mm which suggests a longer life span. Panasonic suggest that the camera can take 380 images and 210 minutes of video using the LCD on the back of the camera. After around a third of that amount of picture taking, the camera hadn't even lost one bar on the power icon but once it went, it dropped faster, a bit like a fuel gauge on a car. In the test, the camera managed around 300 shots before the battery was exhausted.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1: Verdict

DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1.

I love this camera! I think the small, tidy body is great for taking around when a full system isn't possible and the picture quality is excellent. Noise levels are controlled well and the only thing I'd like to see is a high ISO NR option to join the long exposure mode that's already available.

I don't like the EVF module, the quality isn't good enough but the screen more than makes up for it. If you're looking for a small DSLR type system, then the Micro Four Thirds shouldn't be ignored and this camera is definitely one to get.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1: Plus points
Excellent picture quality
Good noise performance
Nice looking camera
Lots of features
Good colour rendition

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1: Minus points
Needs a better viewfinder
High ISO NR, please


The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 costs around £749 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1: Specification
  • Resolution: 12Mp
  • Sensor size: 17.3 x 13.0 mm (in 4:3 aspect ratio)
  • Sensor type: LiveMOS
  • Image size: 4000x3000
  • Aspect ratio: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1
  • Focus system: Contrast AF system, AF-S, AF-C, Manual
  • Focus points: 23
  • Focus types: Face detection, AF tracking, 23 area focusing, 1 area focusing
  • Crop factor: 2x
  • Lens mount: Micro FourThirds
  • File type: JPEG, RAW
  • Sensitivity: ISO100-3200
  • Storage: SD, SDHC
  • Metering system: 144 zone multi pattern metering
  • Metering types: intelligent multiple, centre-weighted, spot
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 3EV in 1/3 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 60sec-1/4000sec & bulb
  • Frames per second: 3fps hi-speed, 2fps low speed
  • Flash: Built-in, hotshoe (guide no. 6, ISO100),
  • Flash metering: TTL
  • Flash sync speed: 1/160sec
  • Integrated cleaning: Supersonic Wave filter
  • Live view: Yes
  • Viewfinder: Optional LVF (Live Viewfinder)
  • Monitor: 3in LCD 460,000dot (153,333px)
  • Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI,
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 119x71x36.3mm
  • Weight: 285g

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Photographs taken using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

Snail On The DoorCornflowerTime For ReflectionTree Huggingvanishing PointsDown By The WeirMirroredSurprise!The Way To The ShopJust Caught ItThey Had To GoThe Only Available SlotThe Beast WithinHorse ShoesYour Eyes Are Fine

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grezmel 11 15 United Kingdom
2 Jan 2010 9:32AM
Ive had this camera for about a week now and its superb. I can take it trecking and not have to worry about lugging my heavy 5d mkii around.

Image quality is superb, its lightweight and easy to use(this may be partially down to me also previously owning a lx3).

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