Panasonic GF1 first impressions

26 Aug

As anyone who’s been following this blog knows, I’ve been very excited about the whole inception of the new micro four thirds standard… I decided not to jump on the EP-1, waiting to see the developments from Panasonic etc…  With the release of the GF1 and the announcement of the EP-2, I finally decided to get myself a GF1 for my birthday.   Of course my B-day isn’t for another month, but given the impossibility of actually finding the stupid thing in stock, when I saw one available from amazon I jumped on it and received it last week.

Of course a week and a few shots are not nearly enough to get the real “feel” of a camera, but here are some initial thoughts:

  • I bought this camera as a replacement for my G9 (which I subsequently sold). my first thought was “this is just like my G9, only better”
  • Image quality is superb – particularly with the 20/1.7.  Plenty of detail, and the raw files hold up to processing well (using LR3 beta).  High ISO is perfectly adequate for me.  I’d use it comfortably up to 800/1250, and 1600/2500 are definitely usable with some NR/processing.  3200 is a bit noisy, but still seems perfectly usable for smaller prints etc… with some NR.
  • I don’t miss an OVF at all.  I don’t know why folks get hysterical about composing on a screen- to me it’s just another way of composing.  SLR finder, Rangefinder, Waist-level finder, ground glass… whatever.   as long as I can compose my image, it’s all good.
  • Much like the G9 it’s not truly “pocketable” it definitely needs a small bag or coat pocket.  To me this is basically a camera for “good pictures that’s lighter/easier to carry than an SLR”
  • Responsiveness is excellent.  Shutter lag is negligible, and focus is nice and snappy even in low light.  It’s not quite as good as my D700 (!) but it’s more than adequate.   I can’t see myself missing any shots due to lag (caveat: I don’t shoot kids or sports, so if you do YMMV!)
  • build quality is… decent… it’s not a leica, but it doesn’t feel like its going to fall apart either.  Probably the cheapest-feeling part of the whole thing is the zoom action on the 14-45 kit lens, but even that isn’t terrible (hey it’s a kit lens!)
  • Manual focus with the m4/3 lenses is actually not bad at all.  The “focus by wire” doesn’t bother me, and the focus rings (particularly on the 20/1.7) are surprisingly smooth and well damped, unlike many modern AF lenses.  I’m curious to try some real MF lenses on it with an adaptor.
  • I’m still getting a feel for the menus/controls, but they seem perfectly adequate.  I wasn’t sure about the whole “push-turn” control wheel but I actually really like it now.  All the necessary info is shown on screen, and all the settings I need to use regularly are easily accessible without digging through 27 menus (<cough> canon mirror lockup<cough>
  • I’m curious how the lack of a mirror will affect hand-holdability.  I know I can handhold a rangefinder at least a stop slower than an equivalent SLR, I wonder if the GF1 will have the same advantage…
  • So far the main “negative” I can find with the camera is that the grip on the front feels a little slippery (the rear has a nice rubber thumbpad, but the front “fingertip” area is too slick for me) Surprisingly this makes the grip less sure than my G9… it might be worth getting a little stick on pad for the front to alleviate this.

Overall, the “gestalt” of this camera is the same to me as the G9 – not a “pocket camera” per-se, but a “real camera” that I can carry around more easily than a full SLR.  In this regard it succeeds superbly.   For my purposes, the GF1 realizes the dream of “SLR image quality in a compact body” perfectly, particularly with the superb 20/1.7.   I’m actually toying with using it fom a couple of “real” shoots coming up, to see if the ability to go ultralight/minimalist will give added freedom in location shooting.

more to come…





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