Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Review

October 8, 2009 | Mark Goldstein |


The Panasonic DMC-GF1 is a natural evolution of the Micro Four Thirds format, offering similar functionality to the G1 and GH1 models in a smaller and lighter body. The GF1 isn't perfect, but it is one of my favourite cameras of 2009.

The DMC-GF1 isn't as small as all those glossy marketing shots may have suggested, but it subsequently handles really well, even for someone with large hands. It delivers all the convenience of a compact camera shooting experience with the benefit of a DSLR-sized sensor in a body that is smaller and more portable than any DSLR. Users looking to move-up from a point-and-shoot compact should definitely consider the GF1. It delivers a near-seamless Live View experience which doesn't feel as though it has been literally forced into the overall design, as with the Live View function on the majority of DSLRs.

In addition the GF1's auto-focus system is lightning fast and very accurate, outpacing its main competitor, the Olympus E-P1, and even rivalling most DSLRs. Some compromises have been made to physically reduce the size of the GF1, most notably the almost pointless handgrip and the removal of an integrated eye-level viewfinder. While the optional Live View Finder is just about worth buying because of the ability to compose an image with the camera held up your eye, it does fill the external flashgun slot, spoils the aesthetic look of the camera, isn't as clear and bright as the G1 and GH1's fantastic EVF, and is very expensive. The pop-up flash is a more inspired addition, with a unique double-hinged design that scores another important point over the flash-less E-P1.

The new 20mm pancake lens is the most natural partner for the GF1, creating a small and light system that can be easily stowed away. The fast maximum aperture of f/1.7 makes it easy to create out-of-focus backgrounds, and the 40mm equivalent focal length provides an appealing angle of view that's slightly wider than human vision. We also tried the GF1 with the 14-45mm and 45-200mm lenses - you definitely need to use the Live View Finder with the longer telephoto lens in order to achieve consistently sharp results. With a new 45mm macro lens due out before the end of October and at least three more lenses scheduled for 2010, Panasonic are clearly committed to the Micro Four Thirds format, an important consideration.

In terms of still image quality, the Panasonic GF1 gets almost everything right. Colours are accurate when using the default Standard setting, with lots of scope to adjust the JPEG output to suit your own tastes, and the auto white balance is spot-on in most lighting conditions. The diminutive pop-up flash is OK for use as fill-in, the ability to make bulb exposures up to 4 minutes long will please night photographers, and anti-shake via compatible lenses helps to keep things sharp in low-light. Noise performance has also been improved compared to the G1 and GH1 cameras, with a very usable range of ISO 100-800 and good results even at 1600. The GF1 still can't quite rival a decent DSLR camera with an APS-C sized sensor in low-light, but the gap has certainly narrowed.

In summary, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 takes most of the good points of its bigger brothers, the G1 and GH1, and literally squeezes them inside a smaller, more compact-camera-like body. The fantastically well-implemented Live View, lightning fast auto-focus, excellent image quality and added bonus of 720p video make the GF1 a great camera for beginners and more serious photographers alike.

4.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4.5
Features 4.5
Ease-of-use 5
Image quality 4.5
Value for money 4.5