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