It may be frustratingly expensive, but this is the first compact camera to deliver genuine SLR quality and performance.
17.3x13mm 12.0-megapixel sensor, 1.0x zoom (40mm equivalent), 385g
We’ve seen various cameras that claim SLR quality in a compact package, but none has quite hit the mark – until now. The GF1 is a Micro Four Thirds camera, which means it uses a large, SLR-style sensor and interchangeable lenses but lacks an SLR’s optical viewfinder to keep the bulk down. Whereas Panasonic’s similar G1 and GH1 aren’t really much smaller than conventional SLRs, the GF1 squeezes itself into a smaller compact-style body.
It’s only just pocket-sized, though, measuring 65mm from front to back with the supplied pancake lens fitted. Still, that’s much more compact than any SLR. The GF1 body is also available with a 14-45mm kit lens, but this is bulkier and doesn’t offer the low-light performance of the 20mm fixed focal-length lens.
This lens is arguably the best thing about the GF1. Its maximum aperture of f/1.7 captures four times more light than f/3.5 lenses, and the 40mm equivalent focal length is well suited to both portraits and outdoor photography. Focus is astoundingly sharp, and geometric distortions and chromatic aberrations are corrected electronically in the camera.
The wide aperture and large sensor give a narrow depth of field, blurring out the background to help draw the eye to the main subject. This is a key attraction of the GF1, but it does mean that more care must be taken over the autofocus point than with other compact cameras. A more significant drawback is that there’s no image stabilisation – presumably a casualty of miniaturisation. The wide aperture arguably makes it unnecessary, but Olympus’s similar E-P1 includes in-body stabilisation, giving the best of both worlds when using faster lenses.
The GF1 claims points back by including a flash – something the E-P1 lacks. An electronic viewfinder is only available as a £200 upgrade, but the 3in, 460,000-pixel screen is great to work with. Despite the slimmed-down design, there’s still room for lots of physical controls and a chunky Li-ion battery. 380 shots per charge is impressive considering the screen size, and 210 minutes of 720p video per charge is excellent. Sadly, the GH1’s 1080p mode with manual exposure isn’t included here, but the GF1 has the best video mode to be found on a camera of this size.
It also took the best photos we’ve seen from cameras in this class. Automatic exposures were expertly judged, details were crisp and noise was low high ISO speeds – far lower than any conventional compact. Performance fell squarely in SLR territory, too, with a 2.9fps continuous shooting mode plus extremely fast autofocus contributing to gaps of just 0.7 seconds between shots during normal shooting.
Olympus’s E-P1 is currently the GF1’s stiffest competition, but the GF1 wins hands down with its superior lens, faster performance and built-in flash. If you really can’t live with the bulk of a DSLR, the GF1 is a stunning alternative. However, this is still a new type of digital camera, and the choices are limited. There’s bound to be a much broader selection (and, perhaps, lower prices) by this time next year, but until then, the GF1 is the premium compact to buy.
|CCD effective megapixels||12.0 megapixels|
|Viewfinder magnification, coverage||N/A|
|LCD screen size||3.0in|
|LCD screen resolution||460,000 pixels|
|Zoom 35mm equivalent||40mm|
|Maximum image resolution||4,000×3,000|
|Maximum movie resolution||1280×720|
|Movie frame rate at max quality||30fps|
|File formats||JPEG, RAW; AVCHD Lite, QuickTime (MJPEG)|
|Battery Life (tested)||380 shots|
|Connectivity||USB, AV, mini HDMI, remote|
|HDMI output resolution||1080i|
|Lens mount||Micro Four Thirds|
|Focal length multiplier||2.0x|
|Kit lens model name||H-H020|
|Accessories||USB and AV cables|
|Warranty||one year RTB|
|Exposure modes||program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual|
|Shutter speed||60 to 1/4,000 seconds|
|Aperture range||f/1.7 to f/16|
|ISO range (at full resolution)||100 to 3200|
|Exposure compensation||+/-3 EV|
|White balance||auto, 5 presets with fine tuning, custom, manual|
|Additional image controls||contrast, saturation, sharpness, noise reduction, dynamic range, colour space|
|Closest macro focus||20cm|
|Auto-focus modes||multi, centre, spot, face detect, tracking|
|Metering modes||multi, centre-weighted, centre, face detect|
|Flash||auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction|
|Drive modes||single, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket|