Customer Review

475 of 509 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the holy grail - not yet, November 15, 2009
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This review is from: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 12.1MP Micro Four-Thirds Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 Aspherical Lens (Electronics)
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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Comments

Tracked by 6 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 40 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 16, 2009 3:53:15 PM PST
Jack Rice says:
Great review. Too bad about the result, because the GF1-20mm was a dream combo for me as a pocket camera. As for pricing, I think what we're seeing is the worthless dollar driving up import prices. And since all cameras are imported these days, I'm afraid all new models will be more expensive than they deserve to be.

Posted on Nov 17, 2009 8:21:30 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 17, 2009 8:22:44 AM PST
K F says:
Very thoughtful critical review, easily the best I've seen so far. I especially appreciated the part discussing the merits of GF1 as a system camera. Why indeed would one need a "system" camera, if the size/weight advantage disappears once you attach anything but a pancake lense? Why wouldn't major manufacturers come out with fast fixed lens ultra-portables with a large sensor (APS-C or better)? (This is largely a rhetorical question, since we do know "why").

I do take issue with one statement: "think Nikon D40, not Nikon D90". Actually, with the exception of resolution, the Nikon D40 sensor, despite being "several generations old" outperforms GF1 in all sensor characteristics: SNR, dynamic/tonal range and color sensitivity - even if you account for resolution difference, i.e. a photo from D40 printed at the same size as GF1 will have lower noise, more distinguishable colors and better color rendition.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2009 3:38:26 PM PST
Radio Man says:
Mod..I think you are right on re: "the D40 outperforms"...I had a D40 and miss it.and it wasn't a terribly large camera really. I also have a D90 and it's better than the D40 but still the D40 is a GREAT camera.

I also reviewed the GF1 and mostly agree with the critical review above, but I'd add a star and 1/2. Agreed once you stick a zoom lens on the GF1 it really becomes a much larger camera..so seems the best way right now is go with the 20mm lens. So to Micro 4/3rds it really is a camera between a compact and a true dslr in my opinion THOUGH pretty dran close to a GOOD DSLR.

One other thought I don't fully agree with anything above 200iso looks BAD. Seems to me iso640-800 is rather usable on this camera in even dim light. However I had the E-P1 and it had a much less noisy high iso than the GF1.

My biggest complaint about the GF1 is SOMETIMES skin tones JUST don't look right..even when I tweak in raw. BUT often skin tones are right on and looks as good or better than my e-p1 did..and close to my D90.

One other small point..the 20mm lens is so fast you don't NEED to go to as highan iso as often as you might on say a D40 or E-P1. 400iso on the GF1 may sort of equal 800 iso on an e-p1 with their collapsible zoom. That's my opinion anyway...

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2009 3:58:45 PM PST
Nick says:
Mod - thank you. I will defer to you regarding the D40 - I did not own that camera, just shot a handful of frames with a friend's.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2009 4:08:37 PM PST
Nick says:
Radio Man - my assessment of the GF1 low light performance was of course subjective. ISO 640-800 is certainly usable for some purposes - such as web posting, and even some small prints.
The skin tones rendition didn't bother me, although I have heard other people complaining about that.
Regarding your last point - I disagree. In my opinion, GF1 is about opportunities - having a better camera when you need one (the best camera is the one that you have with you, right?). If you have the GF1 as a go anywhere camera, chances are you're not going to carry an external flash and a tripod and rely most of the time on the sensor ability to tackle a range of lighting conditions. I think any help that the camera/lens can give you with available light will expand your range of opportunities - e.g. taking better images in a wider range of circumstances. Shallow DOF is not always desirable - so I want not only a fast lens, but also good high ISO performance AND image stabilization in the lens or body in case my composition requires stopping down the lens.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2009 7:32:57 PM PST
Radio Man says:
Nick, I now have to more agree with you..re: the camera/lens available light...and being ABLE to use a high iso when needed, IS rather important. I also agree shallow DOF is not always what you are going to want. What you said about The noise, it's also of the worst type - chrominance...I have noticed in semi to dim light a lot of yellowish noise too much for a $900 camera I suppose...yes that's not so great. But, as a whole...and overall..I am still impressed with most of the output of my GF1. I do find I AM taking the GF1 with me, it's small enough ..well yeah with JUST the 20mm lens...Though it's far from perfect, in most lighting conditions I feel I am getting very good results..certainly sooo much better than any point and shoot..but yeah..it's no D90 or even D40, and yes you are going to get shallow DOF over and over with the 20mm lens, So to sum up..I have to mostly agree with everything you wrote in your review...it's very accurate..but for NOW, at least for ME the GF1 takes really good to great pictures "OVERALL"..but NO it is far from perfect...agreed . Your Title says it all..well done!:)

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2009 1:09:49 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jun 27, 2010 10:33:21 AM PDT]

Posted on Dec 7, 2009 9:51:39 AM PST
tigereast says:
Good review, helps me a lot to know this camerca. thanks

Posted on Dec 10, 2009 10:33:37 PM PST
Jason says:
Thanks for the review. Just one gripe: What DSLR has a size/weight that's not considerably different from the GF1? I have a Canon Rebel, which is about as small as DSLRs go, and it definitely sticks out in a crowd, my back can feel it on hikes and it certainly doesn't pack small. The GF1, on the other hand, has a completely unassuming presence. I'm infinitely less likely to regret grabbing it when I walk out the door.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 11, 2009 5:59:20 AM PST
Radio Man says:
Jason, I have to agree with you re: DSLR vs the GF1 in size /weight. I owned the Rebel XSI too for a small while..also a Nikon D40. Both rather small for DSLRS but to me at least twice as heavy and twice as big as the GF1 with pancake lens. I also find GRABBING the GF1 is easy..grabbing a Rebel or D40 was not something to do with such ease...if you are walking around a lot. The GF1 is by no means perfect..and frankly..you are not going to get the same quality pics..especially indoors as you can from most full size DSLRS. But the GF1 IS a camera you WANT to take along with you. Actually outdoors I have probably gotten better pics with the GF1 than I ever did with the Nikon or Canon DSLRS. Just in rather dim light...the GF1 is more noisy but NOT so bad, vs those full size cams. But as a carry around ALL around..wow I really LOVE my GF1 ...anyway just my opinion.
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