Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 13.1 MP Micro Four Thirds mount Digital Interchangeable Lens Camera with LUMIX G 20mm/F1.7 Aspherical Lens
Perfect Travel Camera for DSLR Users
Pros: ControlsMenu Setup, Small / Compact, Good in Low Light, Good Image Quality, Large Clear LCD, HD Video
Cons: Noise above ISO 400, Dymanic Range
Best Uses: When DSLR is too much, Travel, Family Photos, Indoors/Low Light
Describe Yourself: Photo Enthusiast
Was this a gift?: Yes
I think the best way to start this review is to explain why I bought the camera. I was looking for something that was close to a DSLR in IQ, controls, and features, but in a smaller and more travel friendly package. I wanted something I could toss into a jacket pocket or small backpack and not have to worry about weight, size or carrying a bunch of lenses.
I started off my search by looking at advanced point and shoots (e.g. G10, LX-4, S90, etc.) but the weak ISO performance and slow lenses forced me to drop them from my list. From there, the next step was to look at Micro Four Third (M4/3) and compact ASP-C setups. Along with the GF-1, I looked at the Olympus EP-1, EP-2, EPL-1 and the Sony NEX-3/5. I tested all of these and narrowed it down to the GF-1 for the following reasons:
• Controls: The GF-1 just felt like using my 5D. The dials, menus, and controls are very intuitive and the settings/functions you need to change frequently (ISO, metering mode, aperture, shutter, exposure comp., etc.) are just a button push or dial turn away. The Olympus required a little more digging and performance was a sluggish compared to the GF-1. The Sony wasn’t as bad as people make it out to be, but it does get old shuffling through menus to change simple things like the ISO. Supposedly, Sony is going to release a firmware update to remedy this issue in the near future.
• Speed: The focus speed of the GF-1 with the 20mm vs. any of the Olympus models is noticeably faster. This makes a huge difference for street photography which is important to me. The NEX was just as fast (if not faster) but the GF-1 was fast AND accurate…the Sony missed it’s mark quite a few times.
• Price: I’ve invested a significant amount of money into building a DSLR setup that works for me and to invest even more money into a camera that I will only really use when traveling was not an option. When I finally decided on getting a M4/3, the EPL-1 was the cheapest of the bunch and it looked like my only option at that time. I was going to settle for this as I had a limit that I didn’t want to exceed. Luckily, two weeks before my trip, the price of the GF-1 with the 20mm lens dropped to a price where it made the GF-1 a no-brainer.
• Lens Quality: The 20mm is a fantastic lens. Distortion is undetectable (with in camera correction) and color and contrast are excellent. Sharpness is also excellent between the f/2-f/6.3 range. Images produced wide open are still very good. Olympus has some good offerings at decent prices, but I think the 20mm is THE lens to have for M4/3 bodies. The Sony lenses just could not compare which is a real shame. I probably would have purchased the NEX if it had a prime lens in the 20mm area that could compare to the Panny’s 20mm.
• Picture Quality: I thought my initial test images were good but after using this as my only camera for two weeks in Europe, I have to say that I am truly impressed with the GF-1. While I did miss my 5D on occasion, I never really felt like I was in a position where I was limited because I had the GF-1 instead of my 5D. Color reproduction and AWB accuracy is VERY good. I usually shoot RAW and I’ve only had to make minor adjustments which is always nice.
• Battery Life: I’ve been getting close to 400 shots on a full charge which seems pretty good to me. I’ve had point and shoot cameras in the past that have had awful battery life. There’s nothing worse than having a nice small camera to put in your pocket but then you have to put two extra batteries in your other pocket to make it through the day. Defeats the purpose of the small camera.
I’ve also discovered a few cons with this camera. No deal breakers or anything significant enough to make me want to get rid of the GF-1…just a few gripes.
• Noise: Starting at about ISO 400, noise becomes very noticeable. Sadly, ISO 800 is about the max I will use with this body. I have gone higher and had “OK” results, but the images will be chocked full of grain. Luckily, Lightroom’s noise reduction is very good.
• Size: Don’t get me wrong, this is drastically smaller than my 5D with a 50mm but it’s still not really a “pocketable” camera. I have some fall/winter jackets with larger pockets that may be able to hold the GF-1, but that’s about it. It does however fit into my wife’s purse quite nicely 🙂
Overall, I’m very pleased with this camera. It’s by no means the holy grail of cameras but it is a very capable setup that is compact and fun to use. The GF-1 will definitely be coming on more day trips and vacations where the 5D would be too much camera.
A few recommendations for potential buyers…
I ended up buying the EVF (electronic view finder) which has come in handy when working in bright sunlight as the back LCD gets washed out quite easily. It also has less draw on the battery than the big LCD. It’s a little pricey and small, but I think it’s worth the $.
If you can live without image stabilization, I HIGHLY recommend picking up the GF-1 with the 20mm instead of the zoom as it makes the kit more compact and it really is an excellent piece of glass.
I picked up a B + W UV filter for the 20mm but I ended up taking it off. I was getting some nasty flare in bright daylight. After taking the filter off, the flare is gone. This seems to be a common problem with this lens (pancake style) so I would say hold off on the filter…but that’s just me.
Below is a straight out of the camera shot from the GF-1. I know that I complained about the ISO noise, but this is one of the cleanest shots I got at ISO 800. Again, this is straight from the camera…no post processing at all. I probably should have cropped it to get the wooden frame out of the shot but I wanted a “pure” image to show what this camera/lens is capable of producing.