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The Panasonic Lumix G1 is a glorious piece of photographic equipment. It's only a very small amount bigger than a regular compact camera but does almost everything you expect a DSLR to do.
First, the look. It looks like a small DSLR, and it's very ergonomic, with the hand grip fitting comfortably in the hand so you can be free to play with the lens with the other. It also has a little clip to add a strap if you want to be safe. It does have a bit of an odd shape, with certain features out of proportion to the overall size. The centre flash/viewfinder hump is wide and low, the mode dial is unusually large, and the shutter button seems to stand out while the 14-45mm lens seems disproportionately small. It's unusual, quite burly and sturdy looking despite its small size. The G1's soft, rubbery skin has a sheen as elegant and warm as it feels. Though it is small, the grip is good, and the camera is sufficiently wide that it still feels substantial.
Specs-wise, this camera has a 12.1 megapixel image sensor, 60 frames-per-second electronic viewfinder with 800x600 gapless pixel resolution, a 3.0-inch tilt/swivel LCD display, and three frames-per-second shooting. There are fully automatic settings available as well as totally manual, DIY settings. The only thing it lacks is video recording, which would be nice but isn't available on this model.
There's also Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction, a built-in flash, plus a hot shoe, a newly developed 23-point high-speed contrast detection AF system with face detection and tracking modes, and ISO sensitivity from 100 to 3,200 equivalent.
As well as Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds lenses, the Lumix G1 can also use existing Four Thirds lenses with a special converter. Not all Four Thirds lenses are compatible with the Panasonic G1's contrast detection though. The two Micro Four Thirds lenses that go with the Panasonic G1 are the LUMIX G VARIO 14-45mm/F3.5-5.6 ASPH/MEGA O.I.S. lens, and the LUMIX G VARIO 45-200mm/F4.0-5.6/MEGA O.I.S. lens. Both lenses include mechanical image stabilization; important given that there's no provision for image stabilization in the camera body itself.
It stores images on SD, SDHC, or MultiMedia cards, and draws its power from a lithium-ion battery. You can connect to your computer using USB 2.0 High Speed or a traditional card reader. It's available in kit form with 14-45mm lens with three body colors -- black, red, or blue. I have the black one and it looks extremely classy.
Something very cool for people who are used to using SLRs rather than cameras with screens: you can set the Custom Menu to allow automatic switching between the LCD and EVF, thanks to the infrared sensors on the right side of the EVF eyepiece. With the LVF/LCD AUTO option set to ON, the camera switches to the EVF when you bring the camera to your eye. That's more convenient than a live-view SLR, because you have to choose to turn on the LCD's live view mode, whereas here all you need to do is move the camera.
Swivel. The LCD has the best kind of swivel, which swings out and pivots to face most directions, even forward for self-portraits. You can choose to turn it inward to protect the LCD as well; though oddly the camera won't automatically switch to the EVF at that point, until you raise the LCD to your eye. If you don't have it in LVF/LCD AUTO mode, though, you have to manually activate the EVF with the LVF/LCD button. The good news is that if you fold the LCD inward, it does at least turn off.
The swivel hinge itself is firm yet smooth, with a solid feel, and it stays where you put it.
You can choose to leave the LCD off, and the EVF will only come on when you bring the LCD to your eye, or you can use the LCD panel as a status display. Just cycle through the modes with the Display button.
The LCD's 3:2 aspect ratio is the mode I'd choose to shoot with, but you can also use 4:3 or 16:9. Unlike the Panasonic LX3, the overall pixel width of 4,000 doesn't change as you switch aspect ratios, so to get the full 12 megapixels, you need to shoot in 4:3 mode. It'll give you more pixels to crop from later.
Panasonic had to create a new type of shutter for the Lumix G1, one that is open at rest, rather than closed. The new mechanism uses at least two shutters: One closes from the bottom first, to prepare the sensor for image capture. Then that shutter falls first, and the second curtain follows after. Then the second curtain opens for the next exposure.
Panasonic's image stabilisation is impressive in most of the company's cameras, but I'm particularly pleased with how well the included 14-45mm lens stabilises the scene. Whether at telephoto or wide-angle, I get a rock-steady image. Even when I zoom it in and try to shake the camera, the image stays impressively steady.
There are a few aspects I miss with the Panasonic G1 that you'd get with an SLR. The first is the lack of a real-time optical live view of my subject. An SLR gives you the view at the speed of light, but electrical live view systems introduce some lag as the image is captured, processed, and written to the LCD. Extra lag means that you're more likely to miss the moment you see on the screen, adding to the overall shutter lag.
You also don't get a live view of moving subjects when shooting in Continuous mode. While it's great that you can capture 3.15 frames per second, the Panasonic G1 only serves up the images you've captured while it shoots in Continuous mode; there's no return to live view in this mode, so you just have to aim and fire, hoping to get lucky, whereas with a digital SLR, the mirror moves back into position between frames, so you can keep the camera pointed at the subject. That's true even with the professional cameras that can crank out 10 to 11 frames per second.
We also encountered two errors that we haven't seen before. First, if you accidentally press the lens-release button even slightly, a black screen comes up saying, "Please check that the lens is attached correctly." You can get around this error message if you set the SHOOT W/O LENS option to On. And while I haven't seen it, I've read that some people have experienced that inserting an SD card often resulted in an error message that the camera could not communicate with the card. When they removed and reinserted the card, it worked just fine.
Improving upon the digital camera often comes through the addition of some high-tech feature, like face detection or intelligent ISO, but though the Panasonic G1 has those features, its significant addition is more mechanical, with the addition of interchangeable lenses. Sure, we already have digital SLRs that can do that, but most of them are quite a bit larger, and they have to do tricks to enable live view, tricks that take more time and money. The Panasonic G1 has most of the benefits of an SLR without the necessary time delays inherent in live view with a digital SLR.
The new price is about £420, and for your money you get:
Panasonic G1 Basic Features
12.1-megapixel N-MOS sensor
Interchangeable lenses; kit comes with 14-45mm 3.2x (28-90mm equivalent) lens
2x, 4x digital zoom
Electronic optical viewfinder, 480,000 RGB pixels
3.0-inch color LCD monitor, 460,000 dots
Full Manual through Automatic exposure available, including Aperture and Shutter priority and 10 Scene modes
Built-in flash with seven modes
SD and SDHC memory cards supported
USB 2.0 High Speed computer connection
Lithium-ion rechargeable battery and charger
Software for Mac and PC
Panasonic G1 Special Features
Mega O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization) built into lens
Special Film modes to simulate types of films
High or low speed continuous modes
Swiveling LCD mount
High-speed electronic viewfinder
First Micro Four Thirds camera
RAW recording mode
Shutter speeds from 1/4,000 to 60 seconds
Aperture range from f/3.5 to f/22 (wide), f/5.6 to f/22 (tele)
Self-timer for delayed shutter release
Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Metering modes
1-Area, 23-Area, AF Tracking, and Face Detection autofocus modes
Auto ISO, Intelligent ISO or 100 to 3,200 ISO equivalents in 1/3 stops
White balance (color) adjustment with nine options, including a kelvin setting and two presets
DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) printing compatibility
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
Panasonic DMC-G1 body and cap
Lumix G Vario 14-45mm Interchangeable lens with Mega O.I.S.
Battery Charger/AC adapter
Lens storage bag
Lens rear cap
Instruction manual and registration information
Highly recommended for people who want the flexibility of a DSLR without the weight, this is a wonderful compromise. The only downside is the lack of video.
I got one of these cameras for my 21st birthday, I have always loved photography but had never used a decent camera. I played about with it taking snaps for the first few weeks until I went on holiday to Paris; in Paris' beauty with it's architecture which would create some beautiful images, it was quite dark weather wise and the camera just wasn't taking decent enough photos. I then changed from the preset settings to my own custom settings, chaning the iso, flash and so on and from then on it took some beautiful photographs! And especially in black and white. It has a fantastic battery life, perfect size and weight also so it is ideal for travelling. The flip out screen is ideal for taking photos of yourself or avoiding sunlight, alternatively you could use the view finder which senses how close you are and switched off the LCD screen to save power when you are not using it. In comparison to the G2 it is far better priced; this could be to do with the fact that the G1 has no high definition recording, or any recording at all, but if recording is not what you are interested in then you might as well save your money and go for the G1 which is half the price of the new G2. Extra lenses for the G1 do cost around the same price as the camera itself which is something worth looking into is you are wanting to invest in some lenses also.