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on October 6, 2009
Bottom line up front: The elusive compact camera with interchangeable lenses, DLSR Image Quality, DSLR Focusing speed and DSLR performance has finally been made. It is the GF1.

I live in Japan so I have been lucky enough to have been playing with this camera since 18 Sep. This camera sold out on the first day from Bic Camera in Japan so it is going to be hard to get a hold of one. Please be aware that this camera is "region" coded so if you buy a Japanese version you will not be able to change the menu language to English.

This review is equally applicable to both versions of the GF1. I personally prefer the 20MM (40MM equivalent) f1.7 lens to the 14-45MM (28-90MM equivalent) f3.5-5.6 lens for the following reasons: 1) Since the m43 is relatively small compared to a full frame sensor you need a fast lens to get shallow depth of fields. 2) As a fast lens it is far more usable in low light situations. This lens is ~2 to 3.5 f stops faster than the 14-45MM lens. What this means is that given a certain situation, if you were to select the same shutter speed you would let in 4-11 times more light (Each full f stop change changes the light by 2. Going to a small f stop doubles the light. Therefore, you arrive at how much more light there is by raising 2 to the number of f stops. 2^2=4 and 2^3.5 =11) allowing the use of a lower ISO setting or you could set a 4-11 times faster shutter speed to allow you to prevent motion blurring. 3) This lens is smaller so it makes the camera eminently more portable. What you give up is the ability to zoom with your hand. There is a work around for this and it is called zooming with you feet. However, in confined situations, you may not be able to move back are far as you need to. If this is the type shooting you routinely do then the 14-45MM zoom is probably for you. For me, and I believe for most people, I like the great flexibility the faster lens gives me and I am not usually constrained by space. Additionally, the 20MM lens, in my non-scientific tests, appears to focus faster than the zoom. Both focus fast but the 20MM feels faster.

STILLS

This camera along with the G1 and GH1 has the best contrast detection autofocus on the market. It is as fast if not faster than my Nikon D40 and is almost as fast as my D700. This is a great technological breakthrough and is what allows the camera to be smaller than a DSLR while giving nearly identical performance. With this camera you will not miss photos of your children or other fast moving subjects while you wait for your camera to focus. Bravo.

On top of the great focusing performance , this fresh design allows this camera to handle exceedingly well. In many ways it takes the best of the point-and-shoot (P+S) world and mixes it with the best of the DSLR world. It doesn't have as many dedicated buttons as my D700 but the Q Menu system works very well and allows for quick changes of most shooting parameters. There is a detailed menu system but I don't find myself using it very much while shooting. I feel that this setup allows photographers moving up from the P+S world to feel immediately comfortable on this camera while also giving experienced photographers the control they need to work their craft. It seems many reviewers find fault with the Panasonic one control click wheel that changes aperture and shutter speed (other cameras have two wheels or have a button and 1 wheel combination). I actually prefer the click wheel on this camera. With the other types of setups (which I have on the D700 -- two wheels and D40 -- 1 wheel plus button) I usually have to look away from the scene to find the other wheel or button. With the setup on this camera my finger is already close by the wheel and I just push it to change functions.

I don't know what kind of plastic Panasonic uses on this camera but I love the way it looks and feels. Also, I think having a red, white, or grey camera is cool (unfortunately only available in black in the US. The G1 was available in multiple colors but so far the GH1 and GF1 are "available in any color as long as it is black.") and this combined with its size makes it look more like a "consumer" camera rather than a "professional" camera. With the photographer unfriendly laws proliferating the world, it is nice to have an incredibly capable camera that doesn't look like a professional camera.

This is a micro-4/3s camera system. That has some pros and cons. The chip is smaller than most DSLR chips. A full frame (FX in Nikon speak) sensor is ~860 sq mm, a Nikon DX sensor is ~370 sq mm, the 4/3 sensor is ~225 sq mm, and the typical sensor used in a point and shoot range between ~25-50 sq mm. However, a 2/3 sensor like many TV shows are shot with is ~60 sq mm and a 1/4 sensor like most home video recorders is only ~10 sq mm. What does all of these numbers mean? From a "stills" perspective the 4/3 format is relatively small when compared to DSLRs. That means that for the same megapixel rating, the 4/3 sensor will have smaller photoreceptors and that means more noise. However, the 4/3 sensor is roughly 60% of a DX chip so while this is a great physics discussion, in real life you will not be able to tell the noise difference based on sensor size even with a picture blown up to 100%. This is born out by the GF1's excellent noise control up to ISO800. You can also still use shots taken at ISO 1600 and 3200 but those low light shots are usually better turned into black and whites for that noire grainy look. That is the "downside" (not really much of a downside especially when compared to the up side) of the micro 4/3 system. The upside is that because you have a smaller area to cover, you can make lenses smaller (less weight and less cost). You also get a 2x multiplication factor on your lenses. So now that 200mm lens gives you 400mm of reach. Yea. However, a down side of the 2x multiplication side is if you want to shoot wide. You need a 7mm lens to get a 14mm viewing angle and those can get pretty expensive (panasonic makes are really nice and small 7-14mm that is more expensive than this camera). The point of all of this mumbo jumbo is that this camera takes great pictures and the lenses are smaller than DSLR lenses. Less weight and smaller size with no practical image quality compromise equals great camera.

On thing that is a negative is the slow 1/160 flash sync speed. This will be very limiting for off camera flash during bright light. With such a slow sync it will be exceedingly difficult (impossible?) to get shallow depth of fields while lighting. Most people probably won't use this feature but for those that do it will be a bummer. (Super FP mode and ND filters can help with this though)

This camera, also, does not have in Camera IS. The IS is in the lenses. The reason that Canon, Nikon, Panasonic do this is they say on-lens IS performs better. From what I have seen that is a true statement. However, in camera IS is better than no IS. Also, this camera can mount lens from numerous other systems. None of those will have IS. If you have an on board IS, then all of those other lenses will now have IS. The Olympus E-P1 does have in camera IS. The camera has many flaws but that is a benefit. Also, the E-P2 is supposed to be announce on 31 Oct 09 so hopefully many of the flaws of the E-P1 will be fixed.

I also love the face recognition on this camera. When I am taking group photos, the faces that I really care about are my families'. Now I can register 6 peoples' faces and it will focus on them. Nice

VIDEO

In many ways, this camera lacks some of the features of a dedicated video recorder and doesn't do the 1080P of the GH1 or have the manual shutter speed control. So why would I want to use this camera for video. There are two main reasons. The first reason is Depth of Field (DOF). As I mentioned earlier the micro 4/3 sensor has 4 times more area than the 2/3 sensor used for many TV shows and is 22 times more area than many video recorders. Smaller sensors = larger DOF. This makes it harder to isolate your subject from the background by having the background out of focus. Pay attention to movies when you watch them and you will notice how they shift focus to "highlight" their subject. If you have wondered why you can't do that with a home video recorder, now you know. If you shoot with a F4 lens on a 4/3 system you will need a .8 aperture on a 1/4 system to get the same DOF (by the way there is no such home video recorder). The second major reason to use the GH1 is the ability to change lenses. Right now there are not many micro 4/3 lenses. However, the micro 4/3 format is so flexible that, with an adaptor you can use just about any camera lens you want (Nikon, Canon, Leica, etc). The trade off is that you lose autofocus with most non-4/3 lenses. The ability to change lenses grants two major benefits. First, you can put all sorts of exotic lenses on. For example if you put on a 7mm lens, you would give your video a perspective not often seen in home footage. On a 1/4 sensor of a video recorder you would need a 1.4mm lens to get the same perspective as the 7mm on the 4/3 system. (Most camcorders are not going to go wider than 4mm which is roughly equivalent to a 20mm lens on a 4/3 system.) Secondly, you can put exceedingly "fast" (a fast lens is one with a low aperture number. A lower aperture number means more light hitting the sensor so you can run your shutter speed faster. Hence fast lens) lenses on to get shallow DOF. You could easily put a f1.4 lens on this camera. You would need a f0.3 lens to get the equivalent DOF on a 1/4 sensor.

Anyway, it is relatively easy to make beautiful videos with this camera. It does not do 1080P. However, I don't think that will be a loss to most. The GH1 1080P files are much bigger, require more post work to achieve really good results, and, from normal sitting distances, most people can't tell the difference between 720P and 1080P. Also, in the movie mode you can set aperture but the camera will set the shutter speed automatically. This leads to a caveat that you need to be aware of when shooting movies with this camera. If you want to use the wider apertures in bright light to get the smaller depth of fields then you will need some neutral density filters to put over the lens. As a rule of thumb you want your shutter speed to be twice the frame rate. So you need to shoot at 1/120. On a bright day at f1.7 you could easily need 1/9600 to properly expose at ISO200 (Well beyond the camera 1/4000 shutter limit). 5 to 6 Stops of ND would get the camera to set the shutter speed around 1/120. If you just set the camera on automatic it will take care of the exposure for you so you can just press the record button and go. However, one of the reasons to step up to a camera like this is take some control for yourself and create some art from within.

I will finish this review by making some comparison between some other camera choices out there.

First, this camera works very similar to the G1 and GH1 so what people have said about those cameras applies to the GF1. The big difference is the GF1 is smaller, the G1 doesn't do video, the GH1 can do 1080P, the GF1 does not come with a Electronic View FInder, the GF1 separate EVF is not in the same league with the G1 and GH1, and finally, the GF1 does not have an articulated screen like the G1 and GH1 do.

GF1 vs GH1 vs G1 vs Olympus PEN E-P1 vs Canon G11 (Not yet released)

GF1

Pros:

Smallest camera in the world with DSLR performance
Blazing focus performance
Great Picture Quality
HD 720P video capability
Compatibility with nearly every lens every made including Leica, Nikon, Canon, etc (you do need to purchase an adaptor to do this and you do lose auto focus in most instances)
Great Handling

Cons:
No built in EVF (add on not in the same league as G1 and GH1)
Live View screen not articulated
Hard to find
Only Black in the US

Who's it for?: Anyone who want to have a small compact and lightweight camera that packs the performance and features of DSLR. It does nice video but not nearly as well as the GH1.

Panasonic DMC-GH1 12MP Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Camera with 1080p HD Video

Pros:

Blazing focus performance
Great Picture Quality
HD 1080P video capability
Compatibility with nearly every lens every made including Leica, Nikon, Canon, etc (you do need to purchase an adaptor to do this and you do lose auto focus in most instances)
Best EVF seen to date
Awesome articulated Live View screen
Best Implementation of video in a "stills" camera
Great Handling

Cons:
Expensive
Hard to find
Only Black in the US

Who's it for?: Anyone looking to have a camera that takes great still images and has best seen to date video integration in one package. Larger than the GF1 but worth it if you are serious about your video.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 12.1MP Digital Camera with Lumix G Vario 14-45 mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Mega OIS Lens (Blue)

Pros:

Blazing focus performance
Great Picture Quality
Compatibility with nearly every lens every made including Leica, Nikon, Canon, etc (you do need to purchase an adaptor to do this and you do lose auto focus in most instances)
Best EVF seen to date
Awesome articulated Live View screen
Great Handling
Cheaper than GH1, GF1, and E-P!

Cons:
No Video

Who's it for?: Anyone who wants an all around great stills camera and wants to save money by not paying for video features.

Olympus PEN E-P1 12.3 MP Micro Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with 17mm f/2.8 Lens and Viewfinder (Silver)

Pros:

Small Size
Great Picture Quality
HD 720P video capability
Compatibility with nearly every lens every made including Leica, Nikon, Canon, etc (you do need to purchase an adaptor to do this and you do lose auto focus in most instances)
Image Stabilization(IS) built into the camera not the lens (it makes no IS lenses into IS lenses!)
Styling of the camera has Cache. (I personally prefer the GF1 but there are a lot of people commenting on how nice the PEN looks)

Cons:
Abysmal focus performance (worse than most point and shoot cameras)
No flash
Incredibly poor low res live view screen (The GF1 has twice the resolution as the E-P1)

(I would really only recommend this camera to someone who has lenses from other systems that is looking to make them Image Stabilized and is willing to manually focus them.)

Who's it for? Anyone who wants to have a small compact and lightweight camera with great image quality, are not concerned about focus speed/flash and want to use the in camera IS to stabilize non-IS lenses.

Canon PowerShot G11 10MP Digital Camera with 5x Wide Angle Optical Stabilized Zoom and 2.8-inch articulating LCD

Note: This camera has not been release in the US yet. It was released on 2 Oct in Japan and I got to test it a couple times since then.

Pros:
Smaller Size than any other camera listed here
All in one package and lens (28-140MM) no need to buy other lenses
Decent detail retention up to ISO 800 (up from ISO 200 for the G10)
Optical View Finder
Articulated Live View Screen
1/2000 flash sync speed!
Built in flash
Built in ND filter on Lens
Relatively Inexpensive

Cons:
IQ not in the same league as m4/3 cameras
No HD movies (640x480 is the largest movie format)
Can't swap lenses (this is both a plus and minus and there are modifiers you can put on to make the lens "wider" or "longer")
Small Sensor (1/1.7 sensor is only 43 square mm compared to 225 for the m43. This usually equates to poor ISO performance all thing being equal. It seems Canon has figured out how to make things not equal. However, if shallow depth of fields are your thing then look elsewhere.)
Construction quality as good as the G10 (No longer built from metal. Some people may list that as a pro.)

Who's it for? Anyone who wants more portable camera than any other listed here while still keeping many professional features and is willing to sacrifice a bit on IQ for an all-in-one package with nothing else to buy.

OVERALL

The Panasonic GF1 is a fantastic camera and the first to deliver on the promise of a compact camera with DSLR performance and image quality. It obviously has places in which it can improve. However, for the current state-of-the-art, this camera is the best performing small camera available. Panasonic's contrast detect autofocus has raised the bar and no more excuses can be made for this type of autofocus system. (It probably heralds the extinction of the DSLR) Based around this, Panasonic has engineered the worlds first compact camera with "DSLR" level performance and has created an outstanding stills camera with good HD video camera capabilities. It's a great time to be a photographer!
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on November 15, 2009
Ok - so this is hands down the best little camera available right now. But is it good enough? My humble opinion - not so. I bought this camera from Amazon a month ago - with the 20mm 1.7 lens. I have used it for a vacation in Barbados as well as street photography and 'go anywhere' type of shots. Here are my impressions.
Pros:
- Nice form factor and small size. It can easily slip into a big pocket.
- Finally, someone figured out the contrast detection autofocus. It's not perfect. On about 5% of my shots - the autofocus locked but the shot came out clearly misfocused. I found this to be acceptable, though.
- The 20mm 1.7 is a great lens - very sharp, very fast and a pleasure to use.
- The build quality is good.
- The camera feels solid, the controls are generally well laid off, and it is speedy to shoot.
- The features offered are on par or above the mid level DSLRs out there.
- Good image quality up to ISO 200.
- The display is good (especially when compared with the dinky display of the EP1), but not as good as the Nikons and Canons in the same price range (e.g. 3inch, 920k dots).

Cons:
- Overall image quality came below my expectations - for a sensor close to APS-C in size. It's head and shoulders above a compact camera, but for $900, you can get much better IQ from an entry level or mid level DSLR, especially above ISO 200.
- Low light performance is at the level of APS-C sensor a generation or two ago (think Nikon D40, not Nikon D90). This is particularly problematic in the shadows - with significant noise visible at relatively low ISOs - e.g. ISO400. The noise is also of the worst type - chrominance as opposed to luminance.
- I do not miss the viewfinder and I would not get the optional EVF for this. You have to get used to a new way of shooting with this camera - in front of you, using the screen in the back for composition. HOWEVER, in order for this to work, one needs two essential things (both missing in the GF1): an electronic horizon level (to make sure you're lining up those shots) and in body stabilization to compensate for the extra shake from not having this camera supported on three points (two hands + your face) as for a DSLR. This was the deal breaker for me. I found that the rule of thumb for DSLR - shoot at 1 over the 35mm focal length equivalent does not work for the GF1 way of shooting. For the 20mm, not image stabilized, to ensure a good shot - I would have to shoot at 1/80s.
- Other than the 20mm lens (which is great), all the other m34 lenses out there are too big - they negate the size advantage of the format. So I don't really buy the interchangeability advantage - if you want a small package, the 20mm is going to live on your camera, and you shouldn't really pay an premium over non-interchangeable package such as Sigma DP1 or DP2.
- It is overpriced at $900+. The G1 - the GF1's bigger brother (same sensor) sells as a kit for $700. Considering that G1 has a EVF incorporated, and the GF1 lacks that, I value the GF1 kit at around $600. I hope its price settles there after the initial feeding frenzy is over.
- If you are serious about image quality, you shoot raw and part of your workflow involves post processing the image. In that workflow, the GF1 is held back by the fact that the in camera choices you make (film modes, contrast correction, etc.) are not carried over to the RAW developer included with the package - Silkypix. You have to start all over again - which is annoying and a waste of time. I wish Panasonic put some resources in developing their own raw developer - like Nikon's Capture NX or Canon's DPP - this way they can carry over the settings once you get to the computer.
- If you don't shoot raw, well - you have another problem to deal with - the jpeg engine incorporated in the camera is mediocre at best. The colors are off (especially the blues) and the dynamic range of the jpegs is 2 or 3 stops below what the sensor is capable of.
- Crappy flash sync speed of 1/160. This not only applies to the underpowered built in flash, but also external flashes. The GF1 does not offer high speed flash sync like the better DSLRs out there. This is very limiting when you want fill flash on a bright Caribbean day.

So, what does this all mean? If you are looking for a small camera to carry around - either get one of the fixed lens packages from Sigma, Leica, etc. or wait until Olympus perfects the autofocus on the EP series. If you are looking for a travel camera - go for an entry level or mid level DSLR - the size and weight difference is not that great and the difference in flexibility and image quality is well worth the tradeoff. The m43 format has potential, but we're not quite there yet.
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on October 10, 2009
Fantastic portable cam with decent image quality and extraordinary features. It filled the gap between my Panasonic LX3 and Canon 5DMkII as a small size camera with all the features I want. What do you get? Small package; fast great lens (20mm); DSLR IQ; HD movies; fast autofocus (+ face-recognition AF); super looks (+ pride of ownership); very sharp LCD. Importantly, you don't look like a geek when you use it in a group. The colors are very very good (I shoot raw and develop in Panasonic Silkypix in "Filmcolor A" mode).

Downsides? High ISO noise is not as good as Canon DSLRs (40D etc). AF area selection is painful, because the arrow buttons no longer can be used for their original functions. Colors of the LCD screen are not accurate. Continuous autofocus in movie mode tends to use f/1.7 & it hunts a lot. This means significant portions of the movie end up out of focus. In some auto modes (e.g.: aperture priority + auto-ISO), camera picks 1/30 exposure time, resulting in blurry photos. Current price is quite high ($900 for body+20mm). These are small nags compared to what you get.

Doubts about fixed focal length lens? Fast 40mm-equivalent lens is sufficient for ~90% of my daily shooting needs (family, kids, friends etc). Unless travelling or taking artistic shots, I don't feel the need of a different focal length. I think most casual shooters would feel the same.

You may want to consider getting a Lowepro Rezo 60 camera bag. The camera + 20mm fits snugly into that.
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on October 25, 2009
Summary: This is an excellent camera for its intended use--prosumer controls on a camera that is much lighter than a DSLR but not small enough to slip in the pockets in your shirt or pants. Outstanding build quality, flexible feature set, good but not superb low light performance.

Background: My previous digital experience is with Nikon DSLRs (D3, D200, D70, D40x and with Canon "SD" or digital elph pocket cameras (several models). I am an experienced photographer, shooting both raw and jpeg in all modes (fully manual, automatic, etc).

Comments: Like many photographers who use DSLRs, I have been looking for a camera that is easy to carry, but provides the same level of control and image quality associated with DSLR cameras. The features that are important to me are: (1) full manual control over exposure (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO); (2) useable built-in flash, (3) high quality screen for image review, (4) portability, including both volume and weight, (5) decent low-light performance, (6) excellent image quality from both raw and jpeg files, and (7) design (simple and elegant). My impression after several hundred images is that the GR1 with the 20mm pancake lens is the first camera that falls within the acceptable range on all my criteria. Here are some thoughts about specific features:

(1) The control system is complex, but can be mastered within a few hours of normal use. Once you learn to use the control wheel (which can be depressed to switch between modes), it is easy to adjust aperture and shutter speed. The "quick menu" provides easy access to most important features, and the programmable function button is very handy.

(2) the built-in flash is usable for "fill flash" and for a limited range of situations, but is not sufficiently powerful for most flash applications. I prefer natural light and rarely use flash for any reason other than fill, so the flash meets my needs.

(3) the image review screen is excellent. I did purchase the external viewfinder. I find it useable for framing and for for manual focus. It is not a high resolution screen, but I do not regret the purchase. After an initial trial period, I now leave it off the camera most of the time.

(4) the GF1 just meets my need for portability. No interchangeable lens camera will fit easily in a pants or shirt pocket, and the GF1 does not. It does fit in a jacket pocket with the 20mm pancake lens attached. It can be carried in a smallish purse or bag. It fits easily in a computer bag, messenger bag, or in a backpack compartment. It easily can be stowed in a medium-sized or larger camera bag--it is small enough so that it will not displace a significant amount of gear. Of course, I would be thrilled if there were a camera with the capacities of the GF1 that were even smaller, but I find the tradeoff to be very acceptable. The GF1 has now totally displaced my current Canon SD (digital elph or Ixus).

(5) the low-light performance is acceptable, especially at the 1.7 aperture of the 20mm pancake lens. Of course, the low-light performance of the GF1 does not come close to the Nikon D3, but the images at ISO 800 are very acceptable and I find the ISO 1600 & ISO 3200 images to be useable--although I am not bothered by graininess.

(6) more generally, the image quality is excellent. In my opinion, the image quality is substantially better than any P&S camera with which I am familiar. I have no experience with the new Canon G11 or S90--but I suspect that in some situations the GF1 with the better Micro Four Thirds lenses will have a significant edge over those cameras. Many of the images from the GF1 have significant "pop" or "wow factor." As is usually the case, the raw files can produce better images with post-processing (I use Lightroom and Photoshop), but I am happy with the jpegs, including the black and white jpegs.

(7) the design is (in my opinion) excellent. I am impressed by the simplicity of the design. The camera feels very solid and in my (large) hand, it has a satisfying "heft." Tastes differ, of course, but I believe that many users will find this camera to be among the most aesthetically attractive cameras on the market today--taking into account appearance, ergonomics, and build-quality.

Conclusion: The GF1 with the pancake lens is a real step forward in the category of compact cameras for serious photographers. In my opinion, it is the best camera in its "weight class" as of October 2009. Rumor are flying about new cameras from Nikon, Ricoh, Sony, and others; and Leica has announced the X1--so a case could be made for delaying a purchase for a few months. But in my experience, the GF1 is a very satisfying camera. Like many other reviewers, I am using the GF1 extensively in situations where it is difficult to cary a heavy DSLR with multiple lenses.
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on February 24, 2010
i own the canon G10, LX3/D-lux4 (and a canon EOS 1Ds & SD790IS), and spent a LOT of time with the olympus E-P1 in various camera stores manhandling it with different lenses. i chose the GF1 20mm kit based on

1) DSLR-like image quality in stealthy compact form. Granted my 1Ds is 7 years old now, but it was the best camera of its era. the GF1's files are better than the 1Ds with more ISO options and low-light capability (i took a lot of test shots in camera stores and checked out the files at home before purchasing). Dxomark would disagree, but on my computer screen, the GF1 is better. i think a lot has to be said for the latest and greatest noise reduction algorithms, and for a lighter anti-aliasing filter on the sensor. i'm also pretty sure i can sneak the GF1 into concerts etc where pro-level cameras are outlawed. it just looks like a big LX3.

2) Shallower depth of field than LX3/G10. I love making dreamy pictures with nice bokeh and subject isolation (my favorite lens on the 1Ds is the 50mm/f.14, and i almost always shoot wide open), and it's tragic that you cannot create those pictures in a small form factor - the closest would be a Leica M9 with 50mm summilux, if you have $10000 to spare. the GF1 + 20mm 1.7 is a good compromise, and not much worse than an APS-C camera in terms of depth of field increase. In other words, the samsung NX10, sigma and sony interchangeable lens compacts will likely not have substantially shallower DOF.

3) snappy autofocus. everyone claiming the E-P1/P2's autofocus is on par with the GF1 is smoking something, or aren't sensitive to AF speed (e.g. landscape/portrait shooters). the GF1 focuses faster than my 1Ds does, way faster than the E-P1, and offers pretty good control over the AF point. this is critical for street shooting, where you have just a second to compose, focus and take a shot. the E-P1 just felt sluggish, even when i put the 20mm/1.7 on it. it felt slower than the LX3/Dlux4 and even the G10. the GF1 takes pictures when i expect it to, even with focus-priority...i couldn't say the same for my time with E-P1.

4) user interface. although a life long canon shooter, the LX3/dlux4 introduced me to panasonic's UI, and i've found it fairly logical and easy to navigate. almost everything is just a few buttons away. in the time i spent with olympus i was completely confused.

5) incredible low light performance. the 1.7 is surprisingly sharp wide open if your subject is distant enough. this means i can street shoot at about ISO400 at dawn or dusk, 1/100 or 1/250 shutter sometimes to stop motion. ISO 1600 is amazingly clean to my eye, and beats ISO1250 on my 1Ds.

6) lighter than E-P1. ostensibly they're about the same size/weight, but the E-P1 just felt heavier & bulkier to me.

7) handling. a bit of an x-factor. it feels good in hand. although tricky i can use it with gloves. it starts up almost immediately, whereas the E-P1 runs its sensor cleaning. the shutter gives a satisfying chunk. i leave it around neck & shoulder without a lens cap and i can quickly shoot from the waist or bring it up to eye level for composing. it just feels good to use. it begs to be used every day. i think if the GF1 didn't exist, i'd have saved up for the leica M9 and 50/1.4. the gf1 feels like what the M10 should be (except with a sensor half the size).

8) lens compatibility. there's an adaptor for practically every lens system out there to micro-4/3, including leica M, R, nikon, canon, etc. i look forward to trying my canon 50mm/1.4 on it (effectively turning it into a 100mm f/1.4!!). you lose autofocus and perhaps aperture control (modern lenses use electronically controlled apertures), but if you're a rangefinder kind of person, you won't miss it.

9) sharper rear display. the low-res LCD on the E-P1 is just not good enough. i like to adjust/check focus manually, and the high res screen on the GF1 makes it easy. the E-P1 has to zoom in more to confirm sharpness, and it's just not as usable (imagine being forced to always zoom 10x in the moment you touch the manual focus ring - you have no idea where you are. GF1 zooms 5x with an option to go 10x).

Things that you have to compromise:

1) no in-body image stabilization like on E-P1. in practice, i don't think this matters for my kind of shooting. the tele lenses that need it will have it for panasonic, but IBIS doesn't help if you're trying to freeze motion, such as in street shooting.

2) size/weight. it's not as pocketable as the LX3/dlux4. but so much better than lugging an SLR around. i can keep this on me all day and not notice it or want to take it off.

3) DOF. the shallower depth of field can work against you if you need to stop down to get more things sharp in lower light. there are shots that are more easily taken with the LX3/dlux4 than this or an SLR. recall that the LX3 has an f/2.0 at wide angle, but because of the roughly 4x smaller sensor, the DOF is much deeper.

4) prime lens. i don't think this is bad, but today's consumer may need some adjustment. my DSLR always had a 50mm on it. zoom with your feet.

in summary i'm selling my G10, some of my canon lenses, keeping the LX3/dlux4 and GF1.
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on November 30, 2009
Dpreview has an excellent review of the GF1 and I won't elaborate on their technical assessment.
I'll focus on the usability of the camera, for me.

I've owned about a dozen film and digital cameras, including compacts and SLRs of both types, and like many camera enthusiasts I've long wanted the image quality of an SLR in a compact size. The GF1 is a big step in the right direction, a very fun camera to use, but it just doesn't quite meet my hopes for portability - the camera + pancake lens still are just a tad too big to comfortably fit in a large pants pocket. For me this is supposed to be the main appeal of micro four thirds cameras - smaller than SLR isn't good enough, it has to be small enough so that you always take it with you without hesitation. The whole point of this camera is its compact size, and if you are going to have it dangling around your neck and bouncing around, or tucked into a case or backpack to keep it out of the way, you might as well save a few bucks and get a cheap SLR with comparable image quality. (I know Panasonic offers the excellent LX3 for true portability).

One other minor gripe: there is almost no grip on the camera so I found it a little harder to solidly hold than I would have expected, given its light weight. A larger grip wouldn't have added any to the overall size since the lens still protrudes far more.

Anyhow I still love the camera and especially the super-fast pancake lens - I am enjoying the lack of zoom, forcing me to think a little more about composition. And, it does fit well in a jacket pocket, so is certainly a big improvement in portability over an SLR.

Recommendations for a full kit:
- UV filter to protect your $400 lens
- Lens Cap keeper so you don't lose the cap
- Wrist strap - toss the enclosed neck strap - if you are going to hang a camera around your neck you might as well get an SLR. This camera is light enough that you can tether it to your wrist
- Small bag or case
- 8GB or larger card - 1 min of high-res video eats up about 250M
- Spare battery (optional - battery life is excellent)

Wish-list for Panasonic development team:
- a few more fixed length, fast, compact (pancake) lenses - maybe start with 24mm & 80mm (35mm equiv.) to go with the current, excellent 40mm (35mm equiv). Given that the average GF1 buyer is probably very interested in its small size, killing that advantage with a long zoom lens seems pretty pointless.
- make the GF2 even smaller - goal is to have lens + camera that can fit in a large pants pocket
- articulated screen would be a nice bonus
- better grip
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on September 3, 2010
*NOTE: Because there is some active discussion here in the comment area behind the more negative reviews I was asked to cross post my following review. Technically this camera that I am reviewing came with the 14-45 kit lens, but my comments apply equally well here...*

I am an 'old fart' and come from the now old world of film cameras.

I grew up in 4x5 sheet film and still think 35mm format is a 'toy' .. But since I can no longer effectively use my old 120 roll film cameras like the Zeiss Super Ikonta and Hasses' & Rollies' what to do?

I am an amateur with my only requirement being to document my RV trips and the back-country 4WD adventures and the 'less than 5 mile' day hikes, so I may as well use one of these new fangled digital cameras.

I always thought my old Nikon F bodies were too heavy for the result they gave and now the new breed of 10 pound DSLRs are even worse yet. It's the same bad trade off today as it was in 1965, nothing has really changed. A ten pound mirror slapping monster with a one ounce result.

The GF1 is very much like my old M2 Leica rangefinder. It has all the benefits of the rangefinders, none of the SLR drawbacks. Faster than lightening to bring into play, very responsive, excellent fit and feel in the hand, and very well thought out in design and manufacture. A one pound camera with a ten pound result ! Rangefinder 35mm of this style and design are the ultimate 'candid' and street cameras, and they can not be beat on the trail unless you are hiking with a pack burro to help you along.

If you are looking for a modern camera that will do the job the old Leicas' did then this is the one for you. The lens and the sensor and the resultant image quality is excellent. You will have no problem up to 11x14 prints and perhaps beyond. I noticed in the excellent dpreview review of this camera that they have some minor moans and complaints about the JPEG engine in the camera. I do not agree with them on this point. If you set the 'my film' settings in the GF1 correctly you can get an almost indistinguishable color result against a RAW development. Admittedly you loose some image information in the JPEG, and have to experiment a little with it, but once you develop a 'my film' profile for various standard shooting situations then you are good to go and save yourself the later workload of the RAW development.

The Japanese software that is supplied as a freebie with the camera is excellent, and very sophisticated. You will not have to buy $300 worth of junk from Adobe unless you want to. Once you get over the 'translation chuckles' of the various menu items in the software you will have a powerful tool in your hands. Admittedly there is a learning curve with any software of this complexity, but it is doable and is a significant value added bonus to the price of the camera.

When even the GF1 is too heavy for me to take on the trail, I pocket my Cannon S90. There is no comparison between the image quality of the Micro 4/3s and the little chip in the Cannon. It is the difference between night and day, apples and oranges. If you are one of those that are tired of the 'almost' image quality of your little pocket digital camera but do not want all the same old - same old SLR negatives, then I don't think you could do better than the GF1. Of course this Micro 4/3 world is just in it infancy and and you will probably watch the world pass you by a little as new cameras of this class are released over the next few years, but you will be taking great shots with it now, and having great fun as well.

If you are one that used to use, appreciated, and understood rangefinders like the old Leicas, and now watch, with disbelief, the endless profusion of so-called "pro grade DSLRs " pour out of Japan then you need to have a close look at the GF1. Only thing it is missing is the wind-lever under your thumb, but hey, you can't have everything.
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on November 24, 2009
Personally the pros: build quality, features and size far outweigh the cons: low light performance. I have used many cameras for the past 20 years including film and some of the first digital models. The GF1 is almost perfect. It's compact and non-threatening to subjects you're shooting (I walked into a Starbucks with a brand new 400mm lens attached to my big DSLR once and was told "no photography is allowed here"... meanwhile a friend of mine with a small camera was snapping away.) My other camera is a Nikon D300 which takes amazing photos in bright light or low light and I have a good selection of lenses for it. I've been using the GF1 for a few weeks now and have to say I'm blown away by the quality. In situations with a good amound of available light I cannot tell the difference between 12MP images from the GF1 compared to those taken with the Nikon. It's that good! In low light, however the GF1 falls a little short. But it's not that bad when you attach really fast lenses from other manufacturers. I have attached a Nikon 50mm f1.2 lens and it gives you that much more in low light situations. Shoot raw and there shouldn't be that much of an issue. That is one of the great things about this camera. There are adapters available for nearly every lens ever made. I have attached Voigtlander (leica mount) lenses as well as very old 16mm movie camera lenses such as the angenieux f/.95 Each bring their own style and uniqueness to the camera. On very rare occasions will I lug a giant SLR. It usually stays at home on a tripod. I find myself grabbing the GF1 and taking it along everywhere I go. It's also much better and more flexible than a point and shoot or a cel phone cam.
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on February 15, 2010
I'll try no to repeat what's already been said, but rather summarize my experience and provide some insight to things I feel are the most important. First of all, this camera really depends on your needs, because it's unique and not a do-it-all like some suggested. Let's drill down the tree of what we're comparing to by first highlighting the biggest advantages and drawbacks to the camera.
NOTE: I'm only comparing the camera to entry or mid-level DSLRs. It doesn't match high-end DSLRs, and doesn't serve the same functions.

Biggest advantages:
* Form factor (especially with the 20mm/f1.7) - size and weight
* Ease of use - your significant other can get great shots even if he/she isn't into photography
* VERY accurate metering - can't blow easy/medium shots with intelligent Auto (but tough shots require more)
* intelligent modes just simply get it right 90% of the time - you don't need to be a pro to shoot!
* The 20mm/f1.7 lens is just simply outstanding!!

Biggest drawbacks:
* Expensive (I tend to discount that - memories are worth more than a few hundred dollars)
* Poor selection of lenses
* No flash button
* No viewfinder (or rather, $200 more expensive to get an electronic one)

Things I don't care about:
* Build quality - it's super solid, but I don't think it or any other camera would survive a fall to concrete.
* Weak flash - all internal flashes are weak, but they're convenient.
* The manual sucks - but practice makes perfect anyway
* movie mode - give me a break! All cameras today are pretty much the same, some shoot full 1080p HD but low frame rate, GF1 only shoots 720p - but they look the same to me. If you want to shoot good videos with great quality, get a camcorder.

Some comments about other reviews:
* shooting with VF is great - but VF is still important for sports shots and more importantly for extra bright days. EVF is more bulky and extra $200
* it does have horizon markings and grid
* I personally didn't even consider the EP-1 or EP-2 to be competition. Regardless of GF-1 coming out better in most tests, one crucial feature to a m43 is built-in flash. If you have to walk around with an external flash (like on the EP1 or EP2), that negates the whole point of compactness - just get a DSLR.
==================
Some drilling down to help you choose:
* If you are into photography as an art, get a DSLR. They're still more versatile and you'll get more choice of lenses - and you're probably carrying around a significant package anyway.
* For portraits this camera (with 20mm f1.7 lens) simply can't be beat. Quality is outstanding and can match mid-range DSLR easily. The bokeh is beautiful! And if it's day-to-day that you want (like catching your kids at the right moment), let's see you do that with a DSLR. It may fire within 0.1sec, but takes 10secs to setup...
* If you want your photos (e.g. family photos rather than scenery), you'll have to let others take pictures too. Like strangers taking pictures of your entire family, your spouse taking pictures when she doesn't care to read the 200 page manual - if that's the case, THIS CAMERA BEATS EVERYTHING ELSE BY A MILE!!! Taking pictures with auto settings and using the LCD is Soooooooo much easier with this camera.
* Don't know what it is - indoor closeup flash pics just meter so much better than with T1i or D5000.
* Contrast focus is fast! Faster than most entry level DSLRs, that's for sure.

Summary:
Buy a DSLR if:
* you don't care about package size
* you want diversity and flexibility in what you photograph today and in the future (like taking photos of a basketball game, then go out and take scenery shots) and want different lenses for different tasks.

For everything else, this will deliver the good, and then some!!
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on October 31, 2009
Excellent image quality via processing raw photos with the included software or with Lightroom. It's worth the extra effort to process raw photos - the jpgs from the camera are ok, but it's easy to get better color, contrast and sharpness from raws.

The 20mm has excellent sharpness when jpgs are created from raw files, and a very nice smooth look in out of focus areas (nice bokeh). Shooting at f1.7 to f2.8 produces really nice isolation of close subjects from the more distant backgrounds. Great for environmental portraits and general photography.

The way Panasonic has designed the operation of manual focus is excellent. You put it in manual focus mode, then turn the focusing ring on the lens, and automatically the image on the LCD is magnified, so it's easy to see enough detail to focus accurately. The focusing is done electronically and moving the lens focus ring produces minor changes in focus, such that it's easy to fine-tune the focus. GF1's autofocus is reasonably fast and very accurate, but it's nice to have manual focus for special situations.

The grip on the right side of the camera is a little slippery for my taste, and that's one thing on the camera I think Panasonic could have done a better job on.

Exposure compensation is done a bit differently than most other cameras, but it's easy to learn and I've found it convenient and secure in use.

I am used to DSLR image quality and I would say that this camera and lens delivers quality very similar to 1.5x (cropped sensor) DSLRs. With the 20mm f1.7 lens I actually prefer the GF1's image quality to that of cropped sensor cameras using typical consumer-grade zoom lenses. I've sold my cropped sensor DSLR and in the future would consider only a full DSLR (Sony 850, etc.). I do mainly landscapes and general photography. If I was shooting sports or wildlife then a cropped sensors DSLR makes a lot of sense - those are not jobs for a camera like a GF1.

Another benefit is for taking this camera on a vacation trip, where you want to get high quality photos, but don't want to take a larger heavier camera, such as an SLR. It's much easier to have around your neck or shoulder than a heavier bulkier camera like a DSLR. Also, it doesn't stand out as much to onlookers - it's much stealthier (at least with the 20mm lens).

ISOs up to 400 provide very low noise images. Faster ISOs up to 1600 yield more obvious noise, but still very usable shots.

I like the angle of view that the 20 mm lens offers (equiv to 40mm in standard focal length terms - a moderate wide angle, or 'wide-normal'). Ok for many scenics and ok for portraits wider than head & shoulders. Not fussing around with a zoom is a nice change of pace. Yes some shots that can only be obtained with wider or longer lens will be missed (unless you take the time to change lenses - in which case some shots might be missed entirely), but the simplicity shooting with just one focal length (that happens to be a versatile focal length) has resulted a more pleasurable experience than shooting with a zoom and a higher percentage of 'keepers' for me.

VIDEO - I've shot a few videos on AVCHD-lite. The video quality is very good. Audio mediocre at best. I use Media Player Classic-Home software (virtually free) to play the videos on my computer. I suggest this to my friends to they can play my videos on their PC. Although Panasonic provides software on included CD, not many people will have that! I wonder when Windows Media Player and Quicktime players will finally provide built-in codecs for AVCHD. Maybe it's a competition thing. AVCH-lite seems to me to provide better quality than the alternate format provided in the camera (mov).
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