Panasonic DMC-G1 Overview
Reviewed by Shawn Barnett, Dave Etchells, and Zig Weidelich
Review Date: 11/13/08
Updated 11/26/08: Added results from third-party RAW converters
In mid-September 2008, Panasonic Announced the first Micro Four Thirds digital camera: the Lumix DMC-G1. The new non-SLR digital camera uses an interchangeable lens design that fulfills the size promise of Micro Four Thirds, besting the current world's smallest digital SLR, and almost matching it for weight as well. In this compact body, the Panasonic G1 fits in 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'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 accepting Panasonic's new Micro Four Thirds lenses, the Lumix G1 can also use existing Four Thirds lenses with a special converter. Not all Four Thirds lenses will be compatible with the Panasonic G1's contrast detection AF, though. Two Micro Four Thirds lenses have been announced alongside the Panasonic G1: a LUMIX G VARIO 14-45mm/F3.5-5.6 ASPH/MEGA O.I.S. lens which will be bundled in kit form, and a LUMIX G VARIO 45-200mm/F4.0-5.6/MEGA O.I.S. lens which will be sold separately in the USA. Both lenses include mechanical image stabilization; important given that there's no provision for image stabilization in the camera body itself.
The Panasonic DMC-G1 stores images on Secure Digital, SDHC, or MultiMedia cards, and draws its power from a lithium-ion battery. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 High Speed, plus both standard and high-definition video. Panasonic will be selling the Lumix G1 digital camera in kit form with 14-45mm lens in the USA with three body colors -- black, red, or blue -- from mid-November 2008. Pricing for the Panasonic Lumix G1 camera kit is expected to be $799.
Panasonic G1 User Reportby Shawn Barnett
As SLRs get better, they seem to get bigger as well. Two of the leading digital SLRs on the market, the Canon Rebel XSi and the Canon 40D/50D are bigger than their predecessors; but there's a bit of a rebellion stirring -- a rebellion not just against size, but against the SLR itself -- and its arrival is marked by the introduction of the Panasonic Lumix G1.
Stung by the lack of success with their Lumix L1 and L10 introductions, Panasonic went back to the drawing board and essentially created a new category for themselves. It's the first mass-market Micro Four Thirds interchangeable-lens digital camera. Like the original Four Thirds system, Micro Four Thirds seeks to throw off the encumbrance of 35mm SLR design. Only now, in addition to rebelling against 35mm's large lenses, they're dumping its moving mirrors, expensive pentaprisms, and often complex, expensive solutions to the problem of integrating Live View into a digital SLR. Panasonic's solution is the Lumix G1, a quite elegant little interchangeable-lens digital camera with much of what made the L10 interesting, most of what makes an SLR more useful, plus most of what's great about the standard enthusiast digicam.
The beauty of an SLR is that it delivers a truly live image to the photographer's eye by gathering light from the same lens that will be used to make the image and reflecting it through a series of mirrors. In the old days, that kept the film in place to receive the image when the photographer pressed the shutter button. Of course, that meant they had to move the mirror out of the way, and open the shutter to expose the film, all of which takes time. The Panasonic Lumix G1 eliminates the mirror altogether, because today we have sensors that can not only capture a low-noise still shot, they can deliver a live view electronically.
Look and feel. At first glance the Lumix G1 has an odd shape, with certain features out of proportion to the overall camera's size. The center 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 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. The thumbgrip on the back has a nice bevel up toward the right corner, a design element that probably couldn't have been done better given the short stature of the Panasonic G1.
The left front of the Lumix G1 has a flat area that will be good for gripping as well. Though the G1 rests in my palm comfortably, my fingers struggle to turn the small lens ring. It's grippy enough, but smaller than normal, and it's stiff enough that it requires two fingers to turn, rather than just one as most small kit lenses allow. That's not a criticism, really, just an observation. While I was impressed with Olympus's small 14-42mm f/3.5 lens that comes with the E-420, the Lumix 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 G Vario is lens is smaller still, and includes Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization). It's impressive that they built such advanced technology into so small a lens.
Though the Panasonic G1 has the gold L badge on the front that I've always associated with the inclusion of a Leica lens, it's interesting to note that neither of the Micro Four Thirds lenses currently available is branded with the Leica name, though the first three Panasonic Four Thirds SLR lenses were. Apparently the little L is a secondary Lumix logo.
On the Panasonic G1's top deck are two switches that surround the mode dial. One powers up the camera, the other sets the drive mode. I just love switches, especially for oft-changed items. The mode dial is large, and unfortunately it's too easy to turn, making accidental mode changes more likely.
The shutter release button is mounted on a metal stand, positioned out on the top of the grip. It's similar to the Panasonic L10's shutter release, but is flat instead of round.
Just below the Panasonic G1's shutter button is the Front dial. In Manual mode, you press in on the dial to switch between Aperture and Shutter speed settings on the LCD; in Program mode, pressing in on the Front dial activates the EV adjustment mode.
Though they're somewhat nostalgic, we here at Imaging Resource headquarters agree that the floppy camera strap rings are a hassle, one that gets worse when the camera is small like the G1. I just take them off and put them back in the box until I need them. We prefer built-in strap lugs that require no accessory rings.
Heft. The Panasonic Lumix G1 at 1.4 pounds (638g) is actually a little lighter than the Olympus E-420 (640g), each with their kit lenses, but the G1 has a slightly more concentrated, or dense feel, making it seem more solid. It was quite gratifying to grab the little G1 and head out to shoot some galleries. No big bag necessary, no camera strap either; just me and the G1. The lens hood is small enough that I didn't mind leaving it on most of the time, either (I do wish it locked in place better, though, as it can move easily and interfere at wide angle).
LCD and EVF. It's easy to forget that the Panasonic G1 is not an SLR, but I'm reminded when it comes to choosing whether to use the LCD or the electronic viewfinder (EVF) to compose my images. Because it looks like an SLR and I know the lens is interchangeable, I'm wont to just bring the viewfinder to my eye by default, especially out in daylight. Eventually I learned that 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.
Both the LCD and EVF are remarkable in their clarity and sharpness, with the LCD resolving 460,000 dots and the EVF resolving 480,000 RGB pixels.
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 (as we did to shoot most of our test shots) 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.
EVF. The electronic viewfinder is particularly impressive, easily the clearest EVF we've seen. It uses an LCOS (Liquid Crystal On Silicon) chip to display the viewfinder image at a 60 frame per second refresh rate, besting most any other electronic viewfinder on the market. As I move my eye around behind the viewfinder, there is a tendency toward barrel or pincushion distortion at the edges depending on where your eye is, so be sure not to confuse that with lens distortion when aligning objects such as buildings or horizon lines.
Another difference between the EVF and the LCD is the relative contrast ratio. When looking through the EVF at a scene with a high contrast ratio, detail in shadow areas falls off abruptly into relative blackness, while the same shadow scene on the LCD still holds detail. It's just a difference in the amount of contrast the LCOS chip inside is able to display compared to the LCD.
Diopter. I was impressed that the diopter correction lens was able to compensate for my nearsightedness, and still have some wiggle room. It compensates better than any I've seen so far, from -4 to +4 diopter. Impressive.
Histogram. It's great that you get an optional histogram with the G1, though I'm disappointed that only the background is translucent. What's a major bonus, however, is the ability to move the histogram around the screen to wherever you like. There's also a crosshairs gridline feature that you can also move around the screen.
Focus. The Panasonic G1 uses contrast-detect autofocus, but it still manages good speed and accuracy.
Snicking the AF dial into Manual focus mode brings a nice surprise too, as it's very easy to get sharp focus via both the LCD and EVF. Just turn the focus ring on the front of the lens and the camera zooms to 10x. I found it easy to make fine focus adjustments and actually see a difference onscreen, despite the fly-by-wire focusing ring. Even when the display gained up and got grainy in low light, there was still enough resolution and contrast to judge focus thanks to the zoom.
Fast flash recycle. We were surprised in our testing with just how fast the Lumix G1's flash recycled. After a full-power flash, it was ready to fire again in 1.4 seconds. Most cameras take about five seconds. Raising the flash power output to +2 changed the recharge time to four seconds, but that's still pretty impressive. Flash range was good for a small strobe, exposing well at 13 feet at wide angle and 11 feet at telephoto.
Speedy. Also impressive is the Panasonic G1's fast continuous mode and buffer clearing speed. 3.15 frames per second is good for a digital camera at this level, and with a Class 6 SDHC card, write times can be quite fast as well, with five RAW + Large Fine JPEGs shuffling off to the card in 3.5 seconds. Indeed, if you're shooting just Large Fine JPEGs, you can shoot and shoot more than 250 frames without a detectable slowdown, and probably more (250 was the limit to our patience).
Fast shutter lag. While not quite up to current digital SLR camera standards, the Panasonic G1's shutter lag numbers are still good, better than most digicams. At wide-angle, it'll capture a shot in 0.37 second, and at telephoto it's a little faster at 0.36 second. For contrast-detect with an SLR lens, that's pretty fast. Naturally it'll be different from lens to lens. Prefocus shutter lag is blazing fast, at 0.077 second.
Though it's a little bit of a drag that the screen blacks out before exposure to allow the shutter to close, I haven't found it a problem yet. The Panasonic G1's autofocus is impressively fast and seems pretty accurate.
Image stabilization. Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. is impressive in most of the company's cameras, but I'm particularly pleased with how well this little 14-45mm (28-90mm equivalent) lens stabilizes 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. My heartbeats, which often smudge images when I'm really concentrating on a subject, have little effect on the Mega O.I.S. in this lens.
Depth-of-time preview. The Panasonic G1 has a depth-of-field preview button, right below the five-button navigator on the back, which stops down the lens aperture to your current setting. But the G1 also has a unique mode called Shutter Speed Preview. First press the Preview button to activate the depth-of-field preview, then press the Display button. The camera will then leave the aperture stopped down and essentially expose the sensor at the selected shutter speed, refreshing the display at the intervals set. For example, if you want to capture a waterfall at f/8 to get most of the picture in focus, and you want the water to appear as a soft cascade, you can set the camera to the aperture you want and see the live effect onscreen. If it's too bright or dark, you can make the necessary adjustments to ISO, aperture, and shutter speed and work out just how you want the photo to look without taking a bunch of test shots.
Missing. 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, the lab guys report 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. These were most often Panasonic SDHC cards, strangely enough.
Panasonic G1 Size Comparison
Lumix G1 vs Canon Rebel XSi. From the front, the Lumix G1 isn't that much smaller than the Canon Rebel XS. It's shorter, and the lens is smaller, but it's about as wide.
From the top you can see quite a big difference, hinging mostly on the size and length of the lens. Note that the Panasonic G1's optical viewfinder juts out quite a bit from the back, hence the substantial tilt up from the light table.
Panasonic G1 Image Quality
Compared to its closest competition, the Panasonic G1 comes in with better image quality than the Olympus E-420, but slightly less than the Rebel XSi. That's about what we'd expect given the relative age of the E-420's sensor, and the larger size of the Rebel XSi's sensor.
Because it's a small SLR-like design that competes closely with the E-420, I was very concerned that it might have the E-420's odd tone curve, the only major drawback we saw to that camera. According to our Imatest results, the Panasonic G1's dynamic range performance is quite a bit better, and the tone curve looks more natural than the E-420's, with more detail in the shadows and better performance in the mids.
As for overall image quality, we found the Panasonic G1's performance to be quite good, but it doesn't match the Rebel XSi at higher ISO settings.
|Panasonic G1 vs Canon Rebel XSi @ ISO 1,600|
|Panasonic G1 (12.1 megapixels)||Canon Rebel XSi (12.3 megapixels)|
|Panasonic G1 vs Olympus E-420 @ ISO 1,600|
|Panasonic G1 (12.1 megapixels)||Olympus E-420 (10 megapixels)|
Softness. I was surprised by an overall softness to most of my gallery shots. Thankfully they do sharpen up well in Photoshop, and at 12.1 megapixels, it's not as big an issue when printing.
I found a leaf bug on the screen outside our office, and tried to get a decent shot of him. The G1 didn't focus on it well until I popped up the flash, which helped increase the depth of field. There's also a slight shadow from the lens on the left side of this shot. That's after I removed the lens hood, but it's also to be expected from only a few inches away with the lens zoomed all the way to telephoto. Simple sharpening in Photoshop brings this shot up to snuff.
Overall, the lens and camera combination was quite good. Colors look good, detail is strong despite the softness, and white balance is pretty well on in most situations. Even indoor incandescent lighting is detected and compensated for about as well as I'd like: leaving just enough warmth to remind you that it's tungsten lighting without having a yellow cast. In short, no red flags go up in the image quality department.
Analysis. Panasonic has hit on a good combination that makes us appreciate the original mission of Four Thirds, which was to produce smaller cameras and smaller optics while achieving higher optical quality. And they did it with style, giving the Panasonic G1 a soft, almost organic feeling, thanks to the rubber coating on most of the body. The extremely small 14-45mm lens and its relatively small 45-200mm lens perform well, and keep the promise of smaller lenses. Though it's quite a bit bulkier than the kit lens, the optional 45-200mm zoom is equivalent to a 90-400mm lens on the Panasonic G1. Image quality when printed is pretty close to what we get from the Canon Rebel XSi, which is pretty darn good. It's also good image quality compared to Four Thirds cameras, so Panasonic's recent advances really have made a difference. We're looking forward to seeing what they can do in terms of size and video capture with the next Micro Four Thirds camera, be it from Olympus or Panasonic; and it'll be interesting to see the new lenses Panasonic has planned for this new small form factor. Meanwhile, it's clear the Panasonic G1 is a novel camera that's likely to be quite popular, and for good reason.
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 pack
- Battery Charger/AC adapter
- AC cable
- Video cable
- USB cable
- Lens hood
- Lens storage bag
- Lens cap
- Lens rear cap
- Instruction manual and registration information
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity SDHC memory card. These days, 4-8GB cards are cheap enough
- Medium camera case
Panasonic G1 Conclusion
Improving upon the digital camera often comes through the addition of some high-tech gee-whiz 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.
And it takes a pretty darn good picture too. Because the sensor is smaller than modern APS-C-sized digital SLRs, you'd expect image quality to be slightly lower, but printed results really show surprising parity. I took a couple of 13x19-inch print samples from the Panasonic G1 and the Canon Rebel XSi down to the lab guys and asked them to pick their favorites. It was too close to call. There were preferences in some areas, with the XSi showing slightly more detail and higher contrast than the G1, but in other areas, the G1 actually delivered more detail, especially at lower ISOs; but this also differed by subject texture, color, and contrast. Both cameras produce excellent image quality, which is pretty high praise for the live-view-only Panasonic G1.
Optical performance is pretty impressive as well, so be sure to see our review of the Panasonic G1's kit lens on SLRgear.com. Just bear in mind that Panasonic is doing more than a little post-processing to improve distortion and chromatic aberration numbers, something we also saw with the Panasonic LX3.
About the only time you know that the Panasonic G1 isn't an SLR is when you're trying to shoot action in continuous mode, because you can't track a subject as it moves through a scene. Instead, all you get are brief glimpses of the images you've already captured. If action is your thing, you'd do better with an SLR. But as a second camera or a small primary shooter that will let you shoot at odd angles and carry a smaller camera bag, the Panasonic Lumix G1 is impressive, and a certain Dave's Picks.