Panasonic GF1 External Electronic Viewfinder
One of the main design changes in the Panasonic GF1 which has enabled its more compact body as compared to the previous G1 and GH1 models is the removal of the electronic viewfinder. There are some times where an LCD display just isn't as versatile though, and for that reason we're glad to see that Panasonic has included a provision for an external electronic viewfinder. It's an optional extra, priced at $200, and mounts on the GF1's hot shoe - so its use precludes that of an external flash strobe. When slotted into the hot shoe, the viewfinder mates to a small connector that's ordinarily concealed behind a cover that doubles as a hot shoe cap. The connector provides electronic connections with which to provide a live view signal that's similar to that of the LCD display, although with a lower resolution.
The 0.2-inch LCD panel used in the GF1's external viewfinder is identical to that found in the company's fixed lens Lumix FZ35, although with a higher magnification of 1.04x (35mm equivalent: 0.52x). As compared to the 1,440,000 dot viewfinders found in the G1 and GH1, its resolution of 201,600 dots is significantly lower. It's not that the GF1's EVF has a low resolution, though - it's actually about typical of most electronic viewfinders and many LCD displays in current cameras. It just doesn't match up to the exceptional resolution offered by its siblings. Thankfully, the 100% field of view and 60 frames per second refresh rate are both retained. The GF1's removable viewfinder also includes two built-in controls - an LVF/LCD button and diopter correction knob.
Panasonic GF1 Full-time Live View
By its nature, the Panasonic GF1 is always in "Live View" mode: In that respect, it's like any point & shoot digicam with a rear-panel LCD that works as its viewfinder. The differences with this camera are that it has interchangeable lenses, focuses a lot faster than the average digicam, and has a larger sensor to provide better low-light performance than typical pocket cameras.
As with the G1 and GH1 before it, Panasonic seems to have made quite some effort in the Lumix GF1 to have the viewfinder display accurately mimic what you'll see in the final image file once you've snapped the shutter. They seem to be trying to go the point & shoot market one better with their viewfinder display accuracy and simulations, and they seem to be succeeding.
The GF1 gives you two options for viewing your subject in record mode. In the first, the subject can fill a larger area of the display, but with the exposure information overlaid on the bottom of the image. This gives more image area, but potentially makes the exposure info a bit harder to read. Alternatively, you can opt for your view of the subject to occupy a smaller area of the display instead, and place the exposure readouts on a sharply contrasting black bar beneath the image view, making them easier to see. While similar, the information overlaid on the optional external EVF screen is less extensive than that on the main LCD. (See the Operation tab of this review for illustrations and callouts describing the information shown on the various displays.)
The Panasonic GF1 features a live histogram display with a nifty trick: you can select to have it displayed or not, and you position it pretty much anywhere on the display screen that you like. In the screen shots above, I've put it in the lower right corner. There are three grid options available as well, including one that is customizable.
Viewfinder Test Results