Panasonic Lumix GF1 Review and All About the Micro Four Thirds System
Text and Photos by Allison Gibson
The Micro Four Thirds System
The Micro Four Thirds standard, co-developed by Olympus and Panasonic in 2008, has been gaining popularity since its inception. But many consumers (and manufacturers) are still hesitant to commit their money to the system. The advantage of the mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera is that you get an interchangeable lens system on a more compact body, and with a smaller lens mount (about 6mm), than that of a D-SLR. Also, though the size of the image sensor is 30-40% less than the APS-C size sensors used in most D-SLRs, it’s about nine times larger than that of a point-and-shoot. The slimmer body of the Micro Four Thirds camera is achieved by abandoning the mirror box (which in a D-SLR is necessary for the viewfinder to see exactly what the lens sees), operating exclusively with Live View shooting. Essentially, Micro Four Thirds offers photographers the image quality—and freedom of interchangeable lenses—of a D-SLR, while at the same time allowing for the portability of compact fixed lens cameras.
However, the difference between Micro Four Thirds and D-SLR isn’t about the former having a lower price tag, necessarily. The eight Micro Four Thirds cameras on the market right now—the Panasonic G1, GH1, GF1, G10* and G2*, and the Olympus PEN EP1, EP2 and EPL1—are in the $600 to $1,500 price range (*the G10 and G2 were announced by Panasonic on 3/8/2010 but are not yet available to consumers). Meanwhile, entry-level D-SLRs can be found for under $500. There are also new competitors to the Micro Four Thirds genre, beyond the existing D-SLR. There have been a couple new advancements in the realm of compact interchangeable lens cameras since the beginning of 2010, including the Samsung NX10. Introduced in full at CES in January, the NX10 (not yet available to consumers) incorporates a 14.6-megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor with a mirrorless interchangeable lens, all in a package much smaller than a standard D-SLR. And at PMA in February, Sony announced a concept camera that will also rival the Micro Four Thirds genre in terms of what it offers—a larger than point-and-shoot image sensor, interchangeable lenses and a stealth body size.
Panasonic Lumix GF1
The latest addition to Panasonic’s Lumix G series lineup of Micro Four Thirds cameras is the Lumix DMC-GF1. At $899.95 (MSRP), the 12MP GF1 is at the middle price point of the three in the series. The kit comes with a 20mm f/1.7 Micro Four Thirds “pancake” lens, though I tested it with Panasonic’s Lumix G Vario14-45mm f/1:3.5-5.6.
The boxy retroish style of the GF1’s body makes the camera seem important, like a part of photographic history. And though the manufacturer markets the camera as, “the world’s smallest and lightest system camera,” it definitely feels solid in-hand. In fact, it seems too solid, and heavy really, to hold out in front of you to frame a shot with the LCD, but since there is no built-in viewfinder that’s what you’re left to. Panasonic does sell an optional external electric viewfinder (DMW-LVF1), which offers 100% field of view when attached to the hotshoe, and I regret that I didn’t test the camera with it.
The 3-inch wide angle LCD is nice and bright, but I had the urge to hold the camera up to my eye to frame each shot, the same way I would with a D-SLR. It’s funny that the key function buttons on the camera are even set up in such a way that they’d work fine if you had your eye to the viewfinder. The dial for adjusting the aperture and shutter speed hits right where the thumb can get to it, and there is even a dedicated video button on the top near the shutter release so that you can jump to video mode regardless of what shooting mode you’re currently in. Other external functions include: a drive mode lever (for burst, auto bracket and self-timer), and buttons for: playback, opening the pop-up flash, ISO control, White Balance and Auto Focus mode, among others. Within the digital menu, there are easy to navigate layers, including Film Mode (more on that later), Aspect Ratio choices and controls for video (“Motion Picture”) mode.
With the GF1’s impressive full-time Live View, you’re able to see your real time adjustments to exposure, aperture and even shutter speed, so there are no surprises after you take a shot. And as soon as you press the shutter release, you’re taking your picture—there’s no lag time from shot-to-shot like with a point-and-shoot—which is another reason this camera feels on par with a D-SLR.
The GF1 shoots in RAW and JPEG, and offers full Manual shooting mode as well as Aperture and Shutter Priorities, Auto mode, 18 dedicated still image Scene modes and 11 movie Scene modes. The GF1 also boasts an interesting list of “Film modes,” including for color: Standard, Dynamic, Nature, Smooth, Nostalgic and Vibrant; and for black-and-white: Standard, Dynamic and Smooth, which emulate film effects. There are also options to create and save custom Film modes. The GF1’s available ISO sensitivity is from 100 to 3200 with Auto and Intelligent ISO. It shoots High Definition video (1280 x 720 at 30fps) in AVCHD Lite format (Motion JPEG).
You probably don’t know a lot of people who own a Micro Four Thirds camera, mainly because the standard is relatively new and there are so few models out there. If you’re looking into it now, it’s probably because you’re drawn to the interchangeable lens system, compact size and D-SLR-like image quality, and you’re excited by the technology of it all. The Panasonic Lumix GF1 will certainly set you apart, and you will have the tools to capture large, sharp and dynamic images. While the smaller lens mount size means you can’t use anything from an existing arsenal of D-SLR lenses, there are more than 20 available Leica M/R lenses and 30 Four Thirds lenses that can be used with the Micro Four Thirds System standard GF1 (with a lens mount).
Panasonic Lumix GF1
- $899.95 (comes with a 20mm f/1.7 Micro Four Thirds “pancake” lens)
- 4.69”W x 2.8”H x 1.43”D; 0.63 lbs.
- Image Sensor:
- Image Sensor Size:
- 17.3 x 13.0mm
- Still Recording Format:
- JPEG(DCF, Exif 2.21), RAW, DPOF compatible
- 3-inch LCD (460,000 pixels)
- Manual Exposure Control:
- Program AE, Aperture Priority AE, Shutter Priority AE, Manual
- ISO Sensitivity:
- Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, Intelligent ISO
- Special Features:
- Full-time Live View, Built-in Pop-up Flash, Hotshoe, Burst Shooting Mode, Scene Modes
- Video Recording Mode:
- 1280 x 720/30fps in AVCHD Lite format (Motion JPEG)
- Provided Accessories:
- PHOTOfunSTUDIO 4.0 HD Edition software, SILKYPIX Developer Studio 3.0 SE software, USB Driver, Battery Charger/AC Adapter, Battery Pack, Body Cap, AV Cable, USB Connection Cable, AC Cable, DC Cable, Shoulder Strap, CD-ROM
- Power Source:
- ID-Security Li-ion Battery Pack
Tags: Camera Reviews, Cameras, micro four-thirds, Olympus, Olympus E-P2, Olympus EP1, Olympus PEN E-PL1, Panasonic, Panasonic DMC-G2, panasonic lumix G1, Panasonic Lumix G10, Panasonic Lumix GF1, Panasonic Lumix GH1 | 1 Comment »
Three weeks ago, Olympus announced their new Micro Four-Thirds format, interchangeable lens E-PL1 camera, and now we’ve gotten a chance here at PMA to get a closer look at it—and to compare it to its predecessors in the PEN line, the E-P1 and E-P2. The E-PL1 is much lighter than the E-P2 (and costs half as much—$599 to the E-P2’s $1099). It also offers some more entry-level features for people just moving into the format from a point-and-shoot. Intelligent Auto (IA) Mode offers a plain-speak menu of “Live Guide Control” options for easy enhancements, such as “brighten subject” or “blur background.” The E-PL1 also lacks more accessible manual controls and dials on the body, as seen below compared to the E-P2, though it still features full Manual shooting modes.
Olympus PEN E-P2 (left) and PEN E-PL1 (right)
A standout feature that appears in the E-PL1 that was lacking in the E-P2 is a built-in flash. Neither camera has a viewfinder—which is unfortunate especially at $1099 for a more advanced camera like the E-P2—but they sell a separate electronic viewfinder that can be mounted to the accessory port. As you can see, Olympus offered us a bright pile of random objects—feathers and action figures—to test shoot with the E-PL1, and the resultant images were impressively sharp and bright. Olympus says the E-PL1 will be available within the next couple of weeks.
Last week, we mentioned that Olympus was teasing a new camera, and ventured to guess that it was a follow-up to the E-P1 and E-P2. Today Olympus announced their third generation PEN, the E-PL1—a Micro Four-Thirds camera that the manufacturer bills as ideal for “shutterbugs who always wanted better pictures and considered a DSLR, but were intimidated by the bulky size and complex interface.” At $599.99, the 12.3MP Live-MOS sensor E-PL1 offers a retro body style, similar to that of its predecesors (but not quite as authentic looking), HD video (1280 x 720), built-in pop-up flash, Olympus’ now signature in-camera Art Filters, AF Live View, and more.
CENTER VALLEY, Pa., February 3, 2010 – The new Olympus PEN E-PL1 is truly greater than the sum of its parts, with a surprisingly small camera body packed with technology normally found in bigger, bulkier and heavier professional Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras and High-Definition (HD) camcorders. This third-generation PEN is built for shutterbugs who always wanted better pictures and considered a DSLR, but were intimidated by the bulky size and complex interface. The new camera’s simple design and easy interface enable consumers to easily create amazing images never dreamt possible. It will make you wonder how Olympus managed to put all of these powerful features inside such a compact camera for only $599.99.
The E-PL1 equals an affordable and powerfully simple all-in-one package that travels with you to capture life in the high quality that your memories deserve.
“Many of today’s consumers want a camera with the professional still image quality of a DSLR and HD video in a compact body that’s as easy to use as a point-and-shoot,” said John Knaur, senior marketing manager, Digital SLR, Olympus Imaging America Inc. “Thanks in part to an image sensor that’s approximately eight times larger in size than what’s inside the average point-and-shoot camera, the E-PL1 delivers outstanding high-quality images. Add the flexibility of high-quality interchangeable lenses, the convenience of a built-in pop-up flash, in-camera creative features and technology designed to produce images effortlessly, and the E-PL1 is the total consumer-friendly, multimedia package.”
EASILY PEN YOUR STORY WITH A BRAND NEW PEN
This third generation of the Olympus PEN series combines powerful features in an easy-to-use package that will make capturing your life more fun. The new direct record button makes taking videos easier than ever and the new Live Guide functionality makes it simple to learn photography techniques without requiring the skills of a pro shooter.
New Direct Button for HD Movies
Recording HD movies with the E-PL1 is simple, thanks to an easy-to-reach red “direct button” (red record button) on the back of the camera body. If you’re about to snap a photo and you realize a video would capture the spirit of the scene even better, simply press the record button and instantly you’re capturing videos! Easily toggle back and forth between capturing stills and videos by using your index finger to press the shutter button or your thumb to press the red record button. Having the ability to shoot still images and videos opens up a world of imaging possibilities.
New Live Guide Sets the Scene Before You Shoot
The E-PL1’s new Live Guide interface simplifies great photography and gets the results you desire at the touch of a button. Want more vivid or muted color in your shot? Want warmer or cooler color? Want a brighter or darker subject, or a sharper or softer background? Or maybe you want to capture the fast-moving action of your subject with a little artistic blur, or perhaps freeze the action? Simply select Live Guide and press the up and down arrows on the back of the camera to slide through numerous photographic effects. Make adjustments and watch the LCD as the effects are made live – before the image is captured! Don’t worry about learning technical things like f-stops, shutter speed and white balance; jump right in by composing, adjusting exposure and more before the shot is taken.
Seeing the results before snapping the image ensures you are getting the shots you want, and it will change the way you photograph. Shooting Tips are also included with Live Guide, so you can leave the manual at home.
Live Guide is just the start of automated technologies on the E-PL1 designed to free you up to focus on your subjects instead of focusing on your camera’s settings.
* 19 Scene-Select Modes: From portraits to sunset shots, the E-PL1 is equipped with 19 Scene-Select modes for effortless picture taking, including Fireworks, Sunset, Children, Macro and Panorama, to name a few. Capturing beautiful portraits is easy with the ePortrait Mode that enables you to smooth your subject’s complexion.
* Intelligent Auto (iAuto) Mode: When you don’t want to use the scene-select modes, the iAuto mode automatically identifies what you’re shooting and adjusts settings for you to capture the best result depending on the situation.
* Face Detection: Reduce the chance of blurred subjects in images by recognizing up to eight faces, tracking them within the image area, and automatically focusing and optimizing exposure for sharp portraits.
* In-Camera Panorama: Capture three images and stitch them together to create one amazing, seamless panoramic picture. Or use the included OLYMPUS [ib] software to stitch up to 10 images together for the ultimate panorama.
* iEnhance: With this mode the warm yellow and orange colors of a sunset are heightened to a dramatically lifelike color that’s truer to what you see with the naked eye. iEnhance can be used in any mode, and automatically engages when using iAuto to enrich color in any subject.
* Share: Just connect the camera to an HDTV with an optional HDMI cable and use your TV remote to control playback functions and navigate the camera’s menus from the comfort of your personal front-row seat. The E-PL1 records to SDHC (Class 6 recommended) media cards that can be plugged directly into many devices and accommodate large files, including videos.
New Powerfully Simple Pop-Up Flash
The E-PL1 is the first camera in the Olympus PEN series with a built-in pop-up flash that makes it easy to illuminate low-light subjects, reduce red-eye and fill in dark areas. The camera is also compatible with a range of optional external flashes, including the Olympus FL-36R and FL-50R, which can be controlled wirelessly by the E-PL1 so you can dynamically control lighting as your photography skills grow.
How do professional photographers capture the stunning images you see in the pages of glossy magazines and coffee-table books? Talent matters, of course, but you also need the right equipment. Rest assured that the E-PL1 has everything you need to produce vibrant, professional-quality images: a large image sensor, in-body Image Stabilization, Imager Autofocus, the proven Olympus Dust Reduction System and the TruePic™ V Image Processor.
Big Sensor, Not a Big Body
At the heart of the E-PL1 is a large-size image sensor that’s the same sensor as the one inside the Olympus E-30 and E-620 DSLR models. The only difference between this sensor and what the pros use is that this big sensor is inside the much smaller body of the E-PL1. This high-performance 12.3-megapixel Live MOS image sensor (eight times larger than the average point-and-shoot camera sensor) delivers excellent dynamic range, accurate color fidelity, and a state-of-the-art amplifier circuit to reduce noise and capture fine image details in both highlight and shadow areas.
Stabilize All of Your Lenses
Instead of selling more expensive lenses that have image stabilization inside them, Olympus takes a different approach by having image stabilization built right into the body of the E-PL1. This means that any lens (Micro Four Thirds™, Four Thirds and any third-party lens) attached to the E-PL1 will deliver blur-free images thanks to three modes of In-body Image Stabilization that automatically compensate for camera shake, including in low-light situations or when shooting without a tripod. Since the PEN cameras are the world’s smallest interchangeable-lens cameras with image stabilization built inside the body, you can take the E-PL1 with you and capture great images, and it won’t weigh you down.
Track Your Subjects Wherever They Roam
The E-PL1’s Continuous Autofocus (C-AF) Tracking and Autofocus (AF) Target Registration locks your subject into focus and constantly adjusts focus and brightness whether you or your subject is moving. With this mode, a simple push of the shutter release enables you to keep moving subjects in focus – tracking them from left to right and from front to back – within the frame, automatically ensuring that even active subjects, like kids playing sports, are captured clearly.
The E-PL1’s Imager Autofocus in Live View enables you to compose, focus and capture the shot quickly and easily without ever taking your eyes off the camera’s large, 2.7-inch full-color, high-contrast HyperCrystal LCD for an easy, seamless viewing experience when shooting still images or videos. The LCD also provides a wide viewing angle of 176 degrees, which ensures that images can be composed from even the most obscure angles.
This Camera Leaves Others in the Dust
If you’re just starting out with a camera that has interchangeable lenses, you don’t have to worry about dust spots on your sensor ruining the perfect image every time you change lenses. Spend more time shooting with the E-PL1 and less time worrying about dust with the proven Olympus Dust Reduction System that produces spot-free photos with the exclusive Supersonic Wave Filter™, a patented ultrasonic technology that vibrates to remove dust and other particles from the front of the image sensor, capturing them on a special adhesive membrane every time the camera is turned on.
The E-PL1’s Live MOS image sensor is complemented by Olympus’ TruePic™ V Image Processor, which produces clear and colorful photos using all the pixel information for each image to provide the best digital images possible. The image processor is noted for accurate natural color, true-to-life flesh tones, brilliant blue skies and precise tonal expression; it also lowers image noise in photos shot at higher ISO settings (ISO 100 to ISO 3200), enabling great results in low-light situations.
EASILY EXPAND YOUR CREATIVE HORIZONS WITH BUILT-IN EFFECTS
Express yourself with in-camera creative features. Professional images are rarely unedited images. Video and still image pros use computer-editing software to render their images with effects that set their shots apart from the pack. Olympus appreciates that you may not have hours to spend retouching your images at the computer, so the E-PL1 incorporates editing effects inside the camera to save you time. Whether you apply in-camera creative effects while shooting an image, or apply them later to images captured without the effects, all are inside the E-PL1, so you can achieve dramatic results on the go without a computer or editing software.
The E-PL1 has six in-camera Art Filters, including a new filter called Gentle Sepia. This filter gives your images and videos a soft, warm sepia cast similar to historical images from the early days of photography. The sepia tones are softer and the blacks are a true black, unlike traditional sepia images. The new filter joins Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pin Hole, Grainy Film and Diorama (the filter that makes everything look as small as the E-PL1).
With the E-PL1’s Multiple Exposure function available for still image capture, you are free to tell a visual story your way. The image capture options enable you to shoot one shot, then another and combine them in real time, or capture both shots separately and combine them within the camera later. Take a shot of your significant other, and overlay your self-portrait on top to figure out what your kids will look like. If you have kids already, overlay your kid’s face on top of a shot of his or her favorite cartoon character for laughs. Your ability to manipulate space and time makes this new creative multimedia device a veritable time machine.
You often can achieve greater photographic expression by framing a scene in a unique way. The E-PL1 provides four aspect ratios that serve as masks to frame your image to the desired proportions, including the standard 4:3 aspect ratio that is suited to an 8 x 10-inch enlargement; the 16:9 aspect ratio that will display beautifully on a widescreen television; and other popular aspect ratios, such as 3:2 and 6:6. The Multi-Aspect Shooting further expresses your creative vision when combined with in-camera Art Filters and Multiple Exposures.
With the E-PL1, you have your own living library of still images, HD video and audio to remix at your command. In playback mode, you can seamlessly mix stills and movies inside the camera to create a multimedia slideshow, and dub in one of three built-in dramatic background music options to provide a soundtrack for your cinematic creation. With so many creative options, there’s no limit to what you can create. Choose whether or not you want to play back just pictures, just movies or a combination; also control playing back the whole movie or just a clip.
OPEN SYSTEM EASILY GROWS WITH YOUR ABILITY
With a basic point-and-shoot camera, you get one lens built into the camera. One lens, that’s it. And it’s likely a small lens, which doesn’t allow a lot of light through to hit the image sensor. So, you may have a difficult time in low-light conditions. And without the option of adding more lenses, you’re limited to what that one point-and-shoot lens can do. The E-PL1 solves these issues by accepting a variety of lenses to maximize its functionality. Whether shooting still images or HD video, you can add everything from an extreme wide-angle fisheye lens to a super-telephoto lens for a wide range of expressive options.
The M. ZUIKO DIGITAL Micro Four Thirds lenses are designed to be more compact and portable like the E-PL1. Choose from the ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 zoom lens (28-84mm equivalent in 35mm cameras) sold with the E-PL1, the ED 17mm f2.8 lens (34mm equivalent), the new super wide-angle zoom ED 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 lens (18-36mm equivalent) or the high-power wide to telephoto zoom ED 14-150mm f4.0-5.6 lens (28-300mm equivalent).
If you want to have even more options, the MMF-2 Four Thirds System Lens Adapter makes the E-PL1 compatible with all Olympus ZUIKO Digital Specific™ lenses and other Four Thirds System lenses from Sigma, Panasonic and Leica. Olympus OM film-based lenses can be attached to the E-PL1 with the MF-2 OM Lens Adapter, and there are third-party adapters developed for lenses from most other manufacturers.
SOFTWARE AND ACCESSORY OPTIONS WHEN YOU’RE READY
The E-PL1 incorporates an accessory port for connecting the optional VF-2 live-finder, a detachable electronic viewfinder, or the new optional SEMA-1 external microphone adapter set (which includes the EMA-1 adapter, the ME-51S stereo microphone and a cord) for those who want to capture enhanced audio with any microphone that has a 3.5mm plug. These optional accessories easily slide into the camera’s accessory port and hot shoe.
Consumers who wish to hold the E-PL1 up to their eye rather than use the LCD will appreciate that the optional VF-2, which provides 1.15x magnification and a 100 percent field of view with sharp resolution, brightness and contrast. The viewfinder refreshes quickly to minimize image ghosting on fast-moving subjects. It also rotates up to 90 degrees to enable photographers to look down into it, which is useful when shooting subjects from challenging angles. The built-in diopter adjustment and high magnification offer easy viewing with and without glasses.
The E-PL1 offers OLYMPUS [ib] software that includes photography workflow, browsing, editing and unique photo-organizing functions. You can organize your photos by person with automatic face-recognition technology, by location with a Geotagging function or by event. You can easily view photos on an HDTV or on the camera’s LCD with the Photo Surfing or Slideshow functions. The name [ib] stands for image bridging, image browsing and image brightening. The software will be available for Windows operating systems only.
Underwater Housing for Aquatic Adventures
The new camera’s compact design makes it the perfect companion for all of your dive trips. The PT-EP01 underwater case has been specially customized for the Olympus E-PL1 and is waterproof to a depth of 40 meters (approximately 130 feet). With its durable, high-quality polycarbonate construction, this Olympus housing protects the camera from water while also cushioning it from knocks and bumps on land. The housing enables viewing from either the camera’s LCD screen or an optional electronic viewfinder. The flash connectors allow optional use of up to two UFL-2 underwater flash units via fiber optic cable. A nonremovable front lens port accommodates multiple Micro Four Thirds lenses.
New Exterior Design, Same PEN DNA
The E-PL1 streamlines the Olympus Micro Four Thirds PEN series form and is available in three new body colors, including Black, Champagne Gold and Slate Blue. Thanks to its compact size (4.51″ W x 2.84″ H x 1.63″ D excluding protrusions) and light 10.4-ounce body, the E-PL1 won’t weigh you down when you’re on the go.
The Olympus E-PL1 will be available in March 2010. It includes the E-PL1 Body, M. ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zoom, USB Cable, Video Cable, Li-Ion Battery Pack (BLS-1), Li-Ion Battery Charger (BCS-1), Shoulder Strap, OLYMPUS [ib] software CD-ROM, Manuals and Registration card.
U.S. Pricing / Product Configurations
E-PL1 Body with M. ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zoom Lens
Estimated Street Price: $599.99