Digital cameras continue to evolve adding more features and new formats. The first cameras using a new camera format called Micro Four Thirds have just started to appear. The Panasonic G1 is the one of the first new cameras of this type. Let’s see how it performs.
The G1 and other Micro Four Thirds cameras have interchangeable lenses, so they fit into the SLR category but they are not SLRs by the strictest sense of the word. SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. This refers to the mechanical mirror system that reflects direct light from the lens to an optical viewfinder. Micro Four Thirds cameras substitute an electronic viewfinder for the mirror box. So they can be physically smaller and have smaller lenses than traditional digital SLRs. We took a look at the Panasonic G1 to see if this new format could deliver SLR-quality photos in a smaller form factor.
As you can see from Figure 1, the G1 comes in a fairly plain cardboard box. Unpacking the box reveals the camera itself. As shown in Figure 2, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 body comes with a G Vario 14 – 45 mm F3.5 – F5.6 ASPH.Mega OIS lens, lens hood, lens cap, and neck strap. A lithium-ion battery pack is also included. Although we reviewed the black model, one of the unique features of this camera is that it also comes in red and blue which is unusual for a camera of this size.
Figure 2: The G1 with lens and hood.
As you can see, the G1 is smaller than other digital SLRs, but not as small as we had hoped it would be. It measures 4.9 x 3.3 x 1.8 in (124 x 84 x 45 mm). We have seen prototypes of smaller Micro Four Thirds cameras and think that future cameras of this type will become even smaller.
The G1 also comes with several other accessories, as shown in Figure 3. There is a video cable, USB connection cable, software CD, small wrist strap, rear lens cap, body cap, and lens storage bag. The battery charger has a long cable as is standard for cameras of this type. The 166-page manual comes in several languages.
Figure 3: Included accessories.
[nextpage title=”The Lens, LCD & EVF”]
A first glance, the Lumix G1 looks like any digital SLR. It is big and chunky when compared to a pocket point-and-shoot camera. However, as you can see in Figure 4, the G1 is actually quite a bit smaller than a the Olympus Evolt E- 510, which is a Four Thirds Mount full SLR camera with a mirror box. At just about 5” (12.7 cm) wide and under a pound (450 g), the G1 is one of the smallest cameras with removable lenses.
In this figure you will also see that the hardware and controls are similar to those of the Evolt and other digital SLR cameras.
Figure 4: The Lumix G1 next to an Evolt 510.
There are, however, several big differences. This camera does not have a mirror box to reflect the picture into the viewfinder, instead it has an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Panasonic calls it a Live View Finder and lists its resolution at 1.44 million pixels. While traditionally most professional photographers do not like electronic viewfinders, this one may even turn a few professional heads. The picture quality of the EVF is superb. It allows you to see exactly what the camera sees. You can also see the camera information superimposed on the view right through the viewfinder. The viewfinder also has built-in eye sensor. When you put it up to your eye, the camera automatically switches of the LCD to conserve battery life.
Another unique feature of the G1 is the 3” flip-out rotating LCD display, shown in Figure 5. The LCD has excellent clarity and provides great visibility even in direct sunlight. The LCD rotates out by as much as 180 degrees and pivots up to 270 degrees vertically. This allows you to take photos above your head, at ground level, as well as at other odd angles.
The Micro Four Thirds system uses special lenses that are also slightly smaller than other lenses. Right now there are very few lenses of this type available, but the number is expected to grow as more Micro Four Thirds cameras are introduced. You can also purchase an adapter so that the camera can use regular Four Thirds lenses, but not all of the auto features can be used with regular Four Thirds lenses. Figure 6 shows the Micro Four Thirds lens next to a regular Four Thirds lens.
Figure 6: A Micro Four Thirds lens next to a regular Four Thirds lens.
Some projected that the Micro Four Thirds cameras might have a dust problem because the sensor is closer to the lens mount and there is no mirror to protect it from dust. But Panasonic has incorporated a Supersonic Wave Filter ultrasonic dust reduction system that shakes dust away when the camera is powered on. We had no problem with dust during our testing and others are also reporting that this anti-dust system works quite well. This is not surprising since the Micro Four Thirds system was created in conjunction with Olympus who was the first to introduce a good dust-reduction system into their digital cameras.
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The left side of the camera, shown in Figure 7, has a sturdy clip for attaching the neck strap. Right under that is a small door that opens to reveal a jack for the optional remote shutter control. Under that is a door that conceals a proprietary USB/Video out connector and a mini HDMI port. This can be used with an optional HDMI cable to connect the camera to a high-def television. All the doors on the camera are made of solid-feeling rubber-like substance. They open easily with your fingernail and close securely.
Figure 7: The left side of the camera.
The right side of the camera, shown in Figure 8, has a matching neck strap connector near the top. The door below that slides back to reveal the SD/SDHC card slot. A small rectangular door near the bot
tom hides the access for the optional DC adapter.
Figure 8: The right side of the camera.
The bottom of the camera, shown in Figure 9, has a solid door with a secure sliding latch that holds the rechargeable battery pack. It also has a sturdy metal tripod mount.
Figure 9: The bottom of the camera.
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The top of the camera, shown in Figure 10, has several dials and buttons. Yet, they do not feel cramped. All are easy to access and clearly marked. The dial on the left has three options: AFS (auto focus single), AFC (auto focus continuous) and MF (manual focus). Right next to that is a very small switch the releases the pop-up flash. A hot shoe for an option external flash is located in the middle.
The mode dial on the right side of the top provides the main settings for the camera. A red icon is labeled iA (Intelligent Auto). Other choices include P (Program), A (Aperture-priority) S (Shutter-priority), M (Manual), CUST (Custom Settings which include three user-programmable groups of settings), an artist’s palette icon (My Color mode where you can control color, brightness and saturation), and SCN(Scene mode). There are also icons for five advanced scene modes: Night Portrait, Close-Up, Sports, Scenery and Portrait.There is also a mode lever at the front right of the mode dial with four positions: single shot, burst mode, auto bracket and self-timer. Just below that is the on/off switch. The shutter button is located over the handgrip to the front of the top. Below that is the Quick Menu button, which provides access to several frequently used settings. Below the Quick Menu button is the Film Mode button, which lets you choose from a variety of virtual film modes which are basically combinations of contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction settings.
Figure 10: The top of the camera.
The back of the camera contains even more controls. To the left of the viewfinder is a button marked LVF/LCD. This can be used to switch between the Live Viewfinder and the LCD.
To the right of the viewfinder are two buttons, one with a green “Play” icon for the playback mode and the other for AE/AF Lock. To the right of the LCD screen is a button marked “Display” which toggles different scene views. Below that is a four-way controller with a MENU/SET button in the middle. This controls ISO and white balance, and also has a programmable function button and an auto focus mode.
Under this is a dual-purpose button that triggers depth of field preview during recording and allows for photo deletion during playback.
Figure 11: The back of the camera.
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We thought that Panasonic might use the fact that the G1 was smaller than SLR cameras to give it fewer features and make it easier to use. But they did the opposite. They gave this camera almost every feature found in most SLRs and they added several features from their point-and-shoot lineup.
The G1 has excellent face recognition as well as three different image stabilization modes. The AF tracking mode allows you to lock on to a subject and the camera will follow that person as they move. It has a variety of scene modes, digital red-eye correction, and an excellent macro mode.
It has an automatic ISO selection and an Intelligent exposure mode that brightens the dark areas of a photo as it is taken. It also has an impressive Intelligent Auto mode. This mode, which has become popular in point-and-shoot cameras, works quite well. It analyzes the photo that is being framed and chooses the settings that will produce the best results for that photograph.
We believe that these features were added to allow point-and-shoot users to start off with auto modes that are similar to their point-and-shoot camera and to then move on to learn more about the camera adjustments. Unfortunately, there is no real documentation to alert the user of how to start with these modes and move on to the more professional photography that this camera is capable of. Most users who purchase this camera as their first semi-professional camera will probably be just as confused by the multitude of knobs, dials, and settings as they would with any other high-end camera. That’s a shame because this camera has the potential to be a great camera that could bridge the gap between point-and-shoot and digital SLR.
The documentation that comes with the camera is adequate, but could be better. We would like to see a quick start guide, and easier-to-understand documentation that could accommodate those who would like to use this camera as their introduction to better photography.
However, those who have some experience with SLR cameras will find the G1 has most everything they need in a slightly more portable device. More professionally-orientated photographers will appreciate the fact that the camera can take RAW images and provide on-screen histograms. The included SilkyPix Developer Studio software will help you manipulate the RAW images. Although we found that this software had a fairly high learning curve, it is a capable piece of software. We loved the custom spot on the mode dial can hold up to three sets of your most commonly used settings. The G-1 also has three burst rates, a self-timer, metering mode, three aspect ratios: (4:3, 3:2, 16:9)
The 12-megapixels of this camera combine with the full-sized CMOS sensor to produce excellent photos. The camera has the snappy performance of an SLR with no shutter lag. The auto-focus is superior to most SLRs that we have tried.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1K digital camera main specifications are:
- Megapixels: 12.1 megapixel
- Sensor: 17.3×13.0mm Live MOS sensor
- Lens Mount: Micro Four Thirds lens mount
- LCD: 3.0” TFT LCD with tilt/swivel function
- Viewfinder: High-resolution electronic viewfinder
- Sensitivity: ISO 100-3200
- Shutter Speed: 60-1/4000 seconds
- Shooting Modes: Intelligent Auto, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Scene, Custom
- Scene Presets: Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night, Close-Up, Sunset, Party, Baby, Pets
- White Balance Settings: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Flash, White Set, Color Temperature
- Metering Modes: Intelligent Multiple, Center-Weighted, Spot
- Focus Modes: Face Detection, Focus Tracking, 23-Area, One-Area
- Drive Modes: Normal, Continuous, Self TimerFlash Modes: Auto, Auto/Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced On/Red-Eye Reduction, Slow Sync, Slow Sync/Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Off
- Self Timer Settings: 10 seconds, 10 seconds (3 shot), 2 seconds, Off
- Memory Formats: SD, SDHC
- File Formats: JPEG, raw
- Max. Image Size: 4
- Battery: Rechargeable lithium-ion, 330 shots
- Connections: USB 2.0, MiniHDMI, DC input
- More Information: https://www.panasonic.com
- Suggested Retail Price in the US: USD 799.95
The G1 introduces an entirely new category of digital camera. At a suggested retail price of USD 800 in the USA (can be found for less), it is competitively priced. More like an SLR than a point-and-shoot, it has a myriad of useful features. The numerous controls and options mean that a neophyte user may be dismayed at first. Yet, it also means that there are enough features to warrant months of investigation.
Semi-professional photographers will find that this camera offers just about everything that they need in a slightly smaller and more portable form factor. The biggest drawback is the fact that the camera requires an investment in a new size lens and there are currently not many lens of this size available. While both Olympus and Panasonic seem committed to the format, how widespread it becomes remains to be seen.
Although we liked the camera and we happy with the image quality and size, future cameras of this type will be appearing that may outdate this one quite quickly. In fact, Panasonic has already introduced the GH1, which has most of the features of this camera and also takes high-definition movies with the ease and acuity of a camcorder. We will be watching to see what Panasonic and its competitors introduce in this format in the future.
- Very good image quality
- Sturdy build
- Excellent electronic viewfinder
- Small & lightweight
- Snappy performance
- Automatic Settings
- Great dust reduction technology
- HDMI output
- Excellent LCD screen that flips out and rotates
- Comes in body color choices
- Good selection of features like digital red eye reduction, face detection
- Good image stabilization
- Limited lens selection
- Complex controls
- No movie mode
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