Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 SLR Review
By Mike Flacy
Being the world's first camera to use the new Panasonic/Olympus Micro 4/3 system, the Lumix DMC-G1 is a very compact entry-level dSLR. It's easily the smallest camera in this class, weighing in at a mere 22.4 oz (1.4 lbs) with the lens attached, and battery and memory card loaded. While it boasts a slim body, Panasonic did not skimp on the features. The G1 offers a host of high-end features, including a 12.1-Megapixel Live MOS image sensor, Venus Engine HD image processor, compressed RAW and JPEG image formats (RAW+JPEG also), 3.0-inch 270 degree rotating color LCD with 460,000 pixels, high-resolution EVF or 'LVF' as they call it, ISO sensitivity settings from 100 - 3200, built-in flash and hot shoe for external units, HD video out, SD/SDHC/MMC card storage, Li-ion battery pack, etc.
Like past Lumix dSLR models, Panasonic has outfitted the G1 with a kit lens that offers true O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization). The LUMIX G VARIO 14-45mm/F3.5-5.6 ASPH/MEGA O.I.S. lens was designed specifically for use with the Micro 4/3 lens mount system, and like the camera body, this lens is quite compact. When attached to the G1, the lens offers a 35mm equivalent zoom range of approx. 28 - 90mm (about 3x). This is a nice starter lens, which offers a sufficient field of view for most snap shots. If you'd like a bit more versatility, Panasonic does offer the H-FS045200 45-200mm f4.0~5.6 O.I.S. zoom lens. On top of that, you can also use the DMW-MA1 lens mount adapter if you already have an arsenal of existing standard 4/3 system lenses. The only draw back is that several of the lens functions can not be used, like Continuous AF, etc. We are hoping that the success of the G1 will spawn more lenses made specifically for this system. Update 3/3/2009: Panasonic has just announced two more lenses for the Micro 4/3 system, Click Here to learn more.
While the G1 is about the most compact dSLR I've ever used, I will say it was also Very comfortable. Even though I have large hands, the camera fit well in them, and thanks to its light weight, I had no problems carrying it around all day. The position of the controls was well thought out, just within reach of my finger tips. Unlike most dSLRs that offer Live View as a feature, this is the primary and only way to frame with the G1. You can use either the high-resolution (1.4M dot) EVF or the 3.0-inch (460K dot) rotating LCD. Panasonic calls the EVF a LVF (Live ViewFinder), however they are one in the same. To switch between the displays, you simply press the LCD/LVF button on the back.
One feature I especially liked was the sensor located next to the EVF. It triggers the camera to automatically switch the live image to the EVF when you bring your eye up to it. I found both monitors worked very well in almost any shooting conditions. The LCD does have a few angles that still reflect the sun, but thanks to the bright image, it never caused any problems while framing. Since the LCD can be rotated up to 270�, you are going to be able to capture images that would be quite difficult with a typical dSLR that features a fixed screen. Whether you are shooting above a crowd, or from waist-level, you'll always be able to clearly see your subject; it also works well for self-portraits.
The menu system is logically organized. While many of the camera's functions can be accessed via a dedicated button on the camera, there are still various options you have to enter the menu to toggle. I found it was very easy to navigate the menu to find the function I was looking for. Panasonic also included a Fn (Function) button on the back that can be customized as to what it controls. The default settings is metering, however you can change it to control I.Exposure, Image Quality, Aspect Ratio, Guide Lines, etc. Another new feature is the My Menu. This 'shortcut' menu shows the last five functions you've accessed, allowing you to quickly call them up without having to flip through several pages of menu options.
While labeled an 'entry-level' dSLR, there are still plenty of exposure options available for all kinds of users. The beginner dSLR user will appreciate the Intelligent Auto exposure modes as well as the advanced and standard Scene modes. These will allow you to capture nice snap shots, no matter how much experience you have. Novice users will find the Program AE and Aperture/Shutter priority modes will help them learn how to control different aspects of the exposure process. While the full Manual mode will allow the advanced photographer to express their creative techniques. One feature I thought was very useful when using the Manual focus option was MF Assist. Like on a consumer model, when this option is enabled, the center portion of the screen automatically enlarges when the focus ring is rotated. This option will greatly imprive your manual focusing abilities, by helping you ensure that the subject is going to be in focus.
Due to a brief loan period, we were unable to conclude our normal shooting performance timing tests with this model. However, I will say that while out capturing our sample images, I found the camera did perform quite well, with quick start-up and shot to shot times.
THe G1's 12-megapixel Live MOS image sensor offers enough resolution to suit most all user's photo taking/printing needs. When combined with the Venus Engine HD image processor as well as the white balance and AE systems, the G1 captures beautiful images that show excellent exposure, pleasing sharpness and contrast as well as vivid colors. All of our sample photos were captured using the Standard (STD) film mode, however you can also choose from Dynamic, Nature, Smooth, Nostalgic, Vibrant, etc. These 'film' or color modes allow you to add a more creative look to you images. Like the DMC-L10, the G1's 17.3 x 13mm image sensor is a bit smaller than of its competitors with similar or less resolution. This means they have crammed more pixels into a smaller surface area, which can raise some concerns about pixel density and image noise. However, I found the G1 handles noise rather well, producing images that are usable for large prints all the way up to ISO 800. Even the ISO 1600 setting looks rather good in my opinion. Once you reach the maximum of 3200, you can see harsh speckling across the entire frame along with a good amount of detail loss from the noise reduction algorithms.
Unlike most dSLR models that feature a phase detection auto focusing system, the G1 employs a 23-point contrast detection system, much like a consumer digicam. I found the AF system worked great in various lighting conditions, finding and locking onto my intended subject quickly and accurately. The system even did well in dim lighting conditions thanks to the AF assist lamp.
The G1 also offers Face Detection AF, which picked up my subject's face right away. This is the default AF setting when using the pre-programmed Portrait scene mode. We chose this settings to capture most of our indoor people photos, and overall we were pleased with the results. The flash has a guide number of 11m at ISO 100, which equates to a maximum range of about 10 feet with the attached kit lens. As you increase the ISO speed, this range will increase by about 1.44x each time the speed is doubled. So, at ISO 200, your flash range with the kit lens is a bit over 14 feet. The flash can also sync with shutter speeds up to 1/160 of a second and also includes a slow sync feature. While capturing my close-up portraits, the flash did a fine job when shooting within the 10 foot range. As you can see from the example on our Samples page, the flash, coupled with the Portrait Scene mode settings, produced a well exposed image with sharp facial detail and very pleasing skin tones. While the built-in unit should give you very few problems when shooting single or small group portraits, it still lacks the power to illuminate a larger open room. That is why Panasonic has also included a hot shoe for attaching a more powerful flash unit, like the DMW-FL500 (about $599) or DMW-FL360 ($299).
If you plan on shooting in the RAW format, you will need a good post processing or editing software for converting your RAW images into another format that you can easily view and print from; whether at home or your local photo lab. Panasonic includes a program called SILKYPIX Developer Studio v3.0 SE. This program offers a full list of controls to adjust your photographs, allowing you to explore and express your creativity. While using this software to create our Bundled software page, I found it was a very user-friendly program that not only allows you to edit your RAW files, but JPEGs too.
Bottom Line - the Panasonic DMC-G1 is an amazing little dSLR. Being one of the smallest interchangeable lens cameras in the world, the G1 performs well enough to keep up with its 'bigger' competitors. My only concerns with this model are the fact that the lens offerings are very slim right now, and the image sensor not being protected by a mirror scares me a bit. However, it seems the Dust Reduction system is very effective, as I saw no traces of dust being on the sensor in our sample photos; and I was pulling the lens on and off quite often. With that said, I have no problem giving the DMC-G1 a very high recommendation to those who are interested in taking the leap into the dSLR world, but don't want to carry around a huge bulky camera. With a street price of about US$669 for the body + lens outfit, we feel this camera offers an outstanding value for the amount of features, technology, performance, and portability you are receiving.
Panasonic Posts Firmware Updates For The DMC-G1
Firmware v1.2 offers the following improvements:
For those who have not yet applied the previous Version 1.1 Pananonic DMC-G1 firmware update, you will also receive these improvements:
Please Visit Panasonic's Support page for more information on how to download and install this new update.
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