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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 review

Ben Pitt
4 Feb 2010
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 with H-H020 lens
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
637
inc VAT

It may be frustratingly expensive, but this is the first compact camera to deliver genuine SLR quality and performance.

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Specifications

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.

Basic Specifications

Rating****
CCD effective megapixels12.0 megapixels
CCD size17.3x13mm
Viewfinderoptical electronic
Viewfinder magnification, coverageN/A
LCD screen size3.0in
LCD screen resolution460,000 pixels
Articulated screenNo
Live viewYes
Optical zoom1.0x
Zoom 35mm equivalent40mm
Image stabilisationnone
Maximum image resolution4,000x3,000
Maximum movie resolution1280x720
Movie frame rate at max quality30fps
File formatsJPEG, RAW; AVCHD Lite, QuickTime (MJPEG)

Physical

Memory slotSDHC
Mermory suppliednone
Battery typeLi-ion
Battery Life (tested)380 shots
ConnectivityUSB, AV, mini HDMI, remote
HDMI output resolution1080i
Body materialplastic
Lens mountMicro Four Thirds
Focal length multiplier2.0x
Kit lens model nameH-H020
AccessoriesUSB and AV cables
Weight385g
Size71x119x65mm

Buying Information

Warrantyone year RTB
Price£637
Supplierhttp://www.simplyelectronics.net
Detailswww.panasonic.co.uk

Camera Controls

Exposure modesprogram, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
Shutter speed60 to 1/4,000 seconds
Aperture rangef/1.7 to f/16
ISO range (at full resolution)100 to 3200
Exposure compensation+/-3 EV
White balanceauto, 5 presets with fine tuning, custom, manual
Additional image controlscontrast, saturation, sharpness, noise reduction, dynamic range, colour space
Manual focusYes
Closest macro focus20cm
Auto-focus modesmulti, centre, spot, face detect, tracking
Metering modesmulti, centre-weighted, centre, face detect
Flashauto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction
Drive modessingle, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket