After the recent announcement of the Micro Four Thirds system, Panasonic have released the first model in the new format. (Have a look at the Panasonic DMC-GH1 hands on review which is also on ePHOTOzine.)
Panasonic DMC-G1: Specification
- Resolution: 12.1Mp
- Sensor size: 17.3x13.0mm
- Sensor type: Live Mos
- Image size: 4000x3000
- Aspect ratio: 4:3
- Focus system: Contrast AF
- Focus points: 23 focus points
- Crop factor: 2x
- Lens mount: Micro four thirds mount
- File type: JPEG, RAW
- Sensitivity: ISO100-3200
- Storage: SD, SDHC, MMC
- Focus types: Single AF, continuous AF, manual focus
- Metering system: 144 zone multi pattern sensing system
- Metering types: Intelligent multi, centre-weighted, spot
- Exposure compensation: 3EV in 1/3 step increments
- Shutter speed: 60sec-1/4000sec, bulb
- Frames per second: 3fps hi-speed, 2fps lo-speed
- Flash: Built-in, hotshoe
- Flash metering: TTL
- Flash sync speed: 1/160 or lower
- Image stabilisation: Lens based
- Live view: Yes
- Self cleaning system: Yes (Supersonic Wave Filter)
- Viewfinder: Electronic, 100% coverage, 1.4x magnification (1,400,000dot)
- Monitor: 3in polycrystalline TFT LCD, 3:2 aspect, 460,000dot
- Interface: USB 2.0, miniHDMI TypeC, NTSC/PAL
- Power: Li-Ion battery
- Size: 124x83.6x45.2mm
- Weight: 385g (body), 195g (lens)
As a brand new system it's difficult to place it in a particular category. It has the interchangeable lens of a DSLR but the electronic viewfinder and lack of mirror box found on a bridge camera.
A quick scout online indicates a price tag of around £550 with the 14-45mm (28-90mm) f/3.5-5.6 lens. The Nikon D80 DSLR is a very popular camera and has only just recently been replaced by the Nikon D90. £559 will get you the camera with 18-135mm lens and offers a slightly larger 23.6x15.8mm sensor giving a lower 1.6x crop factor, faster flash sync of 1/200sec, optical viewfinder but is larger and heavier.
More modestly priced in the bridge camera arena is the Fujifilm FinePix S100fs at £389 which has a 14x optical zoom, 11Mp and offers film simulations like the Panasonic. The lens isn't interchangeable meaning you're stuck to the specifcations of what Fujifilm give you.
The Panasonic DMC-G1 resembles a DSLR even down to the interchangeable lens. Even the Panasonic website keeps it separate from the DSLRs though.
AF modes have a dedicated dial on the left shoulder of the camera. Also visible is the pop up flash switch, eye dioptre and display button with the newly named LVF (live view finder).
Eye sensors will detect when you're looking through the view finder and turn off the back screen automatically.
The lens isn't Leica branded but has the Vario name printed on the front. Although it's a smaller lens, it still has an average 52mm filter diameter.
the busiest part of the camera with the command dial, Q-menu and film mode buttons. The wheel can be seen on the front of the grip for changing the aperture and/or shutter speed.
The side of the DMC-G1 shows the lens based OIS (Optical Image Stabiliser) switch.
Panasonic DMC-G1: Modes and features
Micro Four Thirds was announced recently by Olympus and Panasonic and the DMC-G1 is the first offering featuring this smaller lens mount system. The name suggests that the Four Thirds sensor has been altered in size but that's been left alone.
Changes that have been made include removing the mirror box, prism and optical viewfinder coupled with a smaller lens mount means a much smaller, lighter body and lens can be created. In fact the lens mount has been reduced in size by around 6mm from the standard Four Thirds size. The flange-back has also been shortened by about half which is the distance between the lens mount and sensor.
Externally the DMC-G1 resembles a DSLR even down to the interchangeable lens. Nowhere on the Panasonic website is the DMC-G1 regarded as a DSLR though and I think that's a wise idea even if they consider it to be one.
Some people argue that a camera has to have an interchangeable lens to be a DSLR while others will say it needs a mirror box, prism and optical viewfinder. The DMC-G1 only ticks one of these boxes and I think if Panasonic had said that the DMC-G1 was either a bridge or a DSLR, someone would be up in arms about it. Instead they've opted to leave the classification blank and let you make your own minds up about it.
I like how Panasonic design their cameras and would probably have one if they ever dropped the Lumix name. It's plastered across the nose of the camera at the front of the pop-up flash where the manufacturer name would normally be. Panasonic are the only company I know that put the range name there and I guess it's to make the letters as big as possible. Writing Panasonic across would need a smaller font size.
The lens isn't a Leica branded model and is a 14-45mm which is 28-90mm in 35mm terms due to the 2x crop factor that comes with Four Thirds. Image stabilisation is lens based and the Mega OIS switch is found down the left side of the lens barrel.
Despite the diminutive size of the lens, it still retains a standard filter size of 52mm which is good. The left shoulder if the camera has a small dial for switching the focus system between single shot, continuous and manual focus. I think this dial is a little unnecessary as it could easily have been put in a menu or placed as a switch. A bulky dial makes the profile of the camera look blocky.
The film plane icon sits just next to this dial and the switch for the flash to pop-up is found on the contour of the flash as it rises up. On the right shoulder is the command dial with typical PASM, auto (renamed iA or intelligent auto), typical pre-programmed modes, access to more scene modes, colour adjustments and a custom mode. Thankfully Panasonic have left the heart off this mode dial.
Two switches are located below the mode dial for power and drive options. The Q-menu button previously seen on the Panasonic DMC-LX3 is to the right of the dial along with the film mode button.
Along with the Q-menu, the DMC-G1 has a main menu and a function button. This button, which is accessed by pressing down on the D-pad, has a dedicated setting for quick access and can be customised to whatever you think you'll use the most. Options include the aspect ratio, quality, intelligent exposure, metering and guidelines (rule of thirds grid). These features are all accessible in the Q-menu so I fail to see any distinct advantage of the function button. It will speed up some use but not by a great deal once you've got to know your camera.
A type of depth of field preview mode has also been fitted and by pressing the aperture button at the bottom of the camera, it'll then ask you to press display for a shutter speed demonstration which gives you a live view of the exposure with a small exposure display indicating under or over exposure.
In manual mode, the aperture and shutter speed have to be input by the user and this isn't all too apparent on how it's done. The aperture will be prioritised by default and the adjustment wheel found on the grip infront of the shutter release must be pressed in to switch over to the shutter speed and vice versa.
Panasonic DMC-G1: Build and handling
This camera is made to a very high standard and the only downside I can see quality wise is the lack of a Leica branded lens on the front. I wonder if Leica are refusing to put their name to the Micro Four Thirds system?
Live MOS is found on Panasonic and Olympus models and offers the image quality of a CCD with the lower power consumption of a CMOS sensor.
Panasonic have developed a new processor following on from the Venus Engine and have now added HD to its title. Probably the two most sought after letters today. This isn't a reference to the video capability because the DMC-G1 doesn't do video. It's actually the aspect ratio of 16:9 that you can shoot at. This will fill a HD wide screen television (and any other 16:9 screen for that matter) but the camera doesn't seem to do anything else different. It does have a HDMI output for connection but doesn't have a HD setting for increasing quality. This means you have to rely on the television's HD performance which should boost the image but I don't think it's fair to say the camera is high definition.
An articulated screen means shooting in unusual angles is easier along with shading from the sun.
The wheels and switches move easily from one setting to the next in a nice, smooth motion but aren't badly made which means that they won't move of their own accord or if lightly caught. The screen is bright and articulated for those difficult to reach shots or avoiding sunlight. It could be made easier to flip out as it only has a small area at the top corner to grip onto.
I'm not a fan of electronic viewfinders, but the one on the DMC-G1 is actually very good. It has over a million dots which is more than the screens found on some DSLRs and this works out to around 466,666px. It suffers from no motion blur and is nice and bright. The menus all works within the screen although in the Q-menu the options will drop down on the monitor but don't in the viewfinder.
Panasonic have renamed the EVF to LVF which stands for live viewfinder. It does the same as an electronic viewfinder only better which can only be a good thing. When the monitor has been flipped closed, the viewfinder automatically defaults on and can be changed on or off by pressing the LVF/LCD button next to the viewfinder.
In contrast the screen only has 460,000 dots which is 153,000px. The articulated screen will rotate 720 degrees from one end to the other. It's bright and easy to view.
The primary colours look nicely saturated while the mono tones are balanced. The skin tone looks a bit on the pale side but portrait mode will warm this up automatically.
Panasonic DMC-G1: Performance
There are some really nice colours showing on the colour chart image from the nicely boosted primary blue to the balanced mono tones and rich earthy colours.
The skin tone looks a bit pale but looking at the portrait image, it doesn't damage the quality at all. In fact on the overcast day that this was taken on, the image looks quite vibrant in the flat light that was available.
Using the flash has added some missing light from the face and filled in the mild shadows from the previous image. Catch lights have been captured in the eyes bringing the face to life.
Auto flash is joined by forced on, off and slow as well as some hybrid versions of those that include red-eye reduction. This uses just one flash burst to reduce the circumference of the pupil to minimise red-eye.
It was an overcast day so contrast and shadows are at a minimum. As speculated, portrait mode has warmed the skin up nicely.
Using flash has brightened up the darker areas of the face and added cathclights. Shadow on the wall is at a minimum and no areas of the face are over cooked.
The standard lens has a close focusing capability of a paltry 30cm at all focal lengths but then it's not a macro lens so isn't designed to be spectacular. Even with hunting, focus time is under a second and will only need to scroll through it's full range when it can't lock because the subject is too close.
As the DMC-G1 offers manual modes such as aperture-priority as well as landscape mode for the beginners or inherently lazy, I took a test shot of the canal in both modes. Aperture-priority allowed me to amend the white balance to cloudy as well as selecting a more reasonable aperture rating to get more in focus. It also allowed me to forget to change the sensitivity from ISO1600 but luckily I'm not judging noise in this shot.
Usually I'll check the white bars that lead into the canal for chromatic aberration shown as a coloured line down the contrasting edges. The day was drizzly and lacked decent light so if that happens I'll turn my attention to the branches and leaves in the top left corner of the frame to check for fringing there.
The bars show zero fringing but this can sometimes be the case on a cloudy day such as this. However, the branches also show no fringing which is a brilliant result with a kit lens.
The image taken in landscape mode defaults the white balance to auto but remembered to choose ISO100 unlike me.
In aperture-priority, a slight colour cast has developed which can be seen on the flags and in the sky.
the release of the DMC-G1 isn't about the features it has but about the system it's using. This means that it has no innovative programming to look at. What it does have is various film modes which can be accessed in the Q-menu or by the dedicated film mode button on the right shoulder.
There are various options from standard, vivid and natural to custom black & white and multi film options. The modes can also have the sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour values adjusted slightly to improve the image in camera. It's not very noticeable and doesn't give you the control that an editing system would.
The boosted image does show a difference in darker shadows but only by a fraction. I know the images have a cast, I wanted them warmer.
The natural mode without any adjustment.
The same shot with saturation, contrast and sharpening adjusted slightly.
Vivid mode pushes the saturation up to enrich the colours.
The drive modes of the Panasonic DMC-G1 are adjusted by flicking the switch found under the command dial. You have two options for continuous shooting of high (3fps) and low (2fps). There's no obvious reasoning for having two separate options. Information in the specification shows that both settings will shoot a maximum of seven RAW images and JPEG amounts vary depending on the size of the card.
Panasonic DMC-G1: Focus and metering
In the Q-menu you can do just about anything and that includes adjusting the focus and metering options. Focus and metering also have dedicated buttons in different places of the camera.
The focus options can be accessed by pressing left on the D-pad and you can choose from one point AF, 23 point AF, tracking and face detection. The AF tracking is interesting. Locking the focus onto the subject, you can then let go of the shutter release and the camera will track your subject. If it leaves the frame, the tracking target icon will restore to the centre of the frame. In single point AF, pressing down in the AF menu allows you to adjust the position of the AF point which is good for off-centre focusing.
You can access the macro feature on the command dial but bear in mind that as the DMC-G1 has interchangeable lenses, it won't set the lens up for macro work. This means it has the same close focusing ability in any other mode as well. The macro mode will only adjust the shutter speed and aperture to cope with macro work.
You can also choose from single AF, continuous AF or manual focus by swivelling the previously mentioned small dial on the top plate.
Metering can be accessed either through the Q-menu or the function button. Focusing can't be set to this button. Metering choices are multi, centre-weighted and spot. There's also an intelligent exposure option in the Q-menu and is Panasonic's dynamic range optimiser. It has three options excluding off.
Panasonic DMC-G1: Noise test
The previously released DMC-LX3 from panasonic revealed slight over sharpening on JPEGs which showed up a lot on the noise images. I haven't seen evidence on it yet so the noise test is of greater importance than normal.
Noise control is very good on the DMC-G1 at low to mid range ISO settings. It doesn't become a problem until ISO1600 but when it does get there it really fails badly.
ISO800 does have some colour issues with purple blotches appearing in the grey card but it's hardly noticeable even at full size. The noise is a similar result to DSLR models from Olympus but has progressed a lot when compared against the Panasonic DMC-L10 DSLR which has really bad noise problems at the same levels.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
The ISO3200 test.
Panasonic DMC-G1: Verdict
I first heard about the Micro Four Thirds while talking to an Olympus advocate at the Adobe CS4 launch and I have to admit I was sceptical. Having used the DMC-G1 and seen the results of the images, I'm really impressed.
I've never seen a EVF (sorry, LVF) this good before and it's great to see one that's better quality than the screen on the back. This will urge people to keep using a camera the proper way.
Panasonic have shown a huge degree of maturity in the release of the DMC-G1. They could've hailed it as a new breed of DSLR or even as the camera to kill off the prism. Instead they've put the Micro G system in a separate classification and left DSLRs alone.
Nicely done, Panasonic.
Panasonic DMC-G1: Plus points
Smaller and lighter
Best viewfinder around
Good noise control from low to mid point
Nice colour rendition
No over sharpening found on the LX3
Panasonic DMC-G1: Minus points
Focus dial is unnecessary
Fn button isn't needed
Prices online are starting at £489 and the Panasonic DMC-G1 is available from Warehouse Express:
Take a look at the new video review on ePHOTOzine.tv here: Panasonic G1 video review.
Have a look at the Panasonic DMC-GH1 hands on review which is also on ePHOTOzine.