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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 review




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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
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  • Lumix DMC-GF1 Black Digital Camera Kit w/ 20mm Pancake Lens (12.1MP, SDHC Card Slot)


Our Score:


Within the digital cameras industry there are certain concepts that circulate as memes; everyone seems to to agree that they're a really good idea and just what everybody wants, but nobody seems to know exactly why or where the idea originated. One of these ideas that's been kicking around for at least the past ten years is the notion that digital SLR camera systems are far too big and bulky, and that what people really want is an alternative that offers all of the versatility and image quality of a DLSR but in a much smaller and lighter format. Over the years many cameras have been acclaimed as the embodiment of this concept, mostly advanced super-zooms or bridge cameras, or compact cameras with manual exposure controls. Some of them have been very good cameras in their own right, but all of them have fallen short of the mark for one reason or another.

Now however it looks like that elusive genuine DSLR-replacement might have finally arrived, in the compact and lightweight shape of the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1. It's the latest model in Panasonic's revolutionary G Micro system, following the original Lumix G1 and the HD-video equipped Lumix GH1 which I reviewed last month. The system is based around the Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens mount pattern which Panasonic co-developed with Olympus, and which has also been seen on that company's Pen E-P1 camera. It uses the same size 17.3 x 13mm Four Thirds sensor as found Olympus' full sized digital SLRs, but does away with the bulky reflex mirror and optical viewfinder that have always been a feature of conventional SLR cameras.

Comparisons between the GF1 and the Olympus E-P1 are inevitable. Both are examples of a type of camera that has yet to settle on a broadly accepted name, a relatively compact camera with a range of lightweight interchangeable lenses. A quick glance at the specifications of both cameras shows a number of similarities. Both use the same type of 17.3x13mm Four-Thirds Live MOS 12.1 megapixel sensor, both have (of course) the same lens mount, and both lack a built-in viewfinder, relying instead on a large three-inch monitor, although the GF1's screen has double the resolution. Both cameras are within a couple of millimetres of being the same size, but the GF1 is 100g lighter, so perhaps has a stronger claim to being called the photographer's compact camera.


October 31, 2009, 11:48 pm

This looks like the camera I have been waiting for & hoping someone would make. The one thing I would have liked to see in this review is some size comparisons with other cameras, such as a Nikon D60, Olympus E450, & maybe a compact camera or 2 such as the Panasonic TZ4. These are cameras many of us can relate to, & it would help with actually knowing how pocketable this camera really is.


October 31, 2009, 11:56 pm

It looks indeed like a wonderful camera!

Current price is one problem, as pointed out. The other one might be that this camera is only this portable with this prime lens, which (as good as it is) limits a bit its usefulness. Once you use a zoom lens it's no longer a pocket camera, so the smaller body size becomes less important.

Videos shot in low light with this lens look really good (example: http://www.vimeo.com/7165598).


November 1, 2009, 4:30 am

Always a pleasure reading a review that has real energy and enthusiasm, and gives a sense of what a new product will enable its owner to achieve technically and creatively.


November 1, 2009, 7:21 am

Hmmph. About time, I say.Wonder what all of the "there is no way DSLR's will EVER be replaced..." crowd must be thinking...I remember the "no way a mirror can be avoided because contrast-detect just CAN'T compete with phase-detect" comments...While this one isn't like the top-notch DSLR's in terms of focusing speeds, just wait a year or two.Better algorithms and processing muscle can do wonders.Sorry, guys, but DSLR's are a mechanical-electronical kludge created by companies with a vested interest in a profitable format who don't want to lose their lens markets. Sure, they take great pictures, but at the expense of a bulky, noisy carryover mechanism from the film era.These vested interests are the only real reason a "ground-up" pro-image quality electronic imaging device hasn't come up until the G-series from Panasonic. After all, what has Panny got to lose? This is really gonna loose the fox among the hens... The Big Two just gotta be grinding their teeth, cause this is probably just the beginning of Evil Panny's plot to take over the world...Har,Har,Har. The next coupla years are bound to be interesting (in the Chinese sense of the word).


November 1, 2009, 2:28 pm

I think the pancake description makes a lot more sense with a lens like the pentax 40mm. Victoria sponge for the panasonic 20mm maybe?

Oh and there's a typo on pg3 'the felling Panasonic was aiming for'

John 51

November 1, 2009, 4:23 pm

Regarding micro 4/3 compatibility - the Olympus micro 4/3 lenses will work without issue on the Panasonic cameras as it should be although the lack of IS may be an issue. Compatibility on the 4/3 SLR lenses isn't so simple though, the Panasonic micro 4/3 bodies can only autofocus with the newer 4/3 lenses that were optimised for the contrast detect AF such as the Panasonic 14-50mm (second one that came with the L10, the L1 lens doesn't AF with the Panasonic micro 4/3 bodies), 25mm, F1.4, 14-150mm, Olympus 9-18mm, 14-42mm (4/3 one, non-collapsible), 40-150mm (mk II), 25mm F2.8 and 70-300mm. If any of the other 4/3 lenses are mounted on a Panasonic micro 4/3 body the display will warn to change to MF mode. The EP1 can autofocus on all 4/3 lenses although it will be much slower on those not optimised for contrast detect AF will be slow.

Panasonic's in lens OIS will work on the Olympus EP1, it's controlled via the on/off switch on the lens barrel. It will only work in 'constant on' mode which is generally considered to be slightly less effective than when only applied at exposure plus there's no panning mode. One IS system must be disabled otherwise the two systems will just blur the scene, the in lens IS doesn't have the advantage of a stabilised viewfinder but may be more useful on the longer lenses such as the upcoming 100-300mm. Admittedly it makes little sense to put such a lens on the little EP1 though.


November 1, 2009, 5:47 pm

You say comparisons with the Olympus E-P1 are inevitable, but I find it hard to reconcile this review with your E-P1 review few months ago. I understand you don't like being picked-up on the review scores in particular, but even so... for the same list price, with a very similar kit lens, this similar E-P1 scored 7/10 features, 8/10 image quality, and 4/10 value! Other review sites with direct comparisons to the E-P1 suggest, if anything, JPEG image quality might be slightly better on the E-P1, with both cameras very similar in RAW. On the E-P1 you concluded "the enormous cost compared to a good DSLR, and the lack of either a viewfinder or built-in flash will put many people off." So the GF1 fixes the flash, but does this justify the huge difference in your opinion between the two? Sure, the E-P1 has other points, but also does better in some areas. Comparison of your reviews will do nothing to lessen suspicions of a Panasonic bias!

For what it's worth, I think your GF1 review is on the mark, but you were pretty harsh on the E-P1, especially regarding its value for money. Have you changed your opinion as to the value of paying for near SLR quality in a much smaller package?


November 1, 2009, 6:27 pm

Yes I think we were served a great and positive review, but I don't think it heralds the death of the DSLR as one commentator seems to believe, that will take decades yet, even in the happy or happier snap segments of the market.

More likely (as Cliff touched on) is the demise or rethinking of Leica and its' pricing if it wants to avoid becoming just an exquisite and ever rarer niche product.

Luis pointed up an important issue, that when you start to incorporate a zoom lens or bulkier glass the portability is almost as diminished as with a DSLR, for me though even this truly great Panny/Lumix camera needs an intergrated viewfinder to pull my thoughts away from my less compact, but paid for, DSLR, with lenses I can easily see through from eye level.

Future pricing will also add extra "interest" in the Clovis sense of the word.


November 1, 2009, 7:11 pm

"Is this the first real compact alternative to a digital SLR?"

Yes and could be only a Panasonic.

Paul 15

November 1, 2009, 10:47 pm

I think the lack of a viewfinder is a big mistake. I have an fz18 compact at the moment and must use the viewfinder 9 times out of 10, could never get used to holding the camera at a distance to see the screen.

Martin Daler

November 1, 2009, 11:52 pm

but guys, if you add an optical viewfinder then you are back to having a reflex mirror - there is already a range of 4/3 cameras which have this feature, made by Olympus. I thought that the whole deal here is precisely that there is no mirror/optical viewfinder.


November 2, 2009, 2:12 am

... what's happening to viewfinders on cameras... they are disappearing rapidly... is that consumer demand or what? No way will I even entertain looking at any camera no matter how good if there is no quality or at least half decent viewfinder... a camera without a viewfinder is just simply daft. I cannot believe that the traditionally great producers of quality cameras are removing this essential part of any camera.


November 2, 2009, 6:00 am

Martin Daler, quote -

{"I thought that the whole deal here is precisely that there is no mirror/optical viewfinder".}

Cant speak to the mirror biz, but since they offer a viewfinder as an option, electronic or not, indicates they realise 'No Viewfinder' is the equivilant of a lead ballon joke or commiting suicide just after commencement of the first breathing, then I don't see how it could possibly be "the whole deal here".

When I last checked the cost of the option was circa £70, for something that very many people* would want to be integral and not an additional cost item.

*Bald unresearched statement based on instinct, personal preference, Terrys' comment and outrage at the imposition of a crap - hat trend by multi nationals on the more refined and perspicacious of us, please excuse any spelling/grammer errors, I'm having difficulties typing with a finger that really wants to prod Pannys' CEO, I also wonder if he's the same bloke who developed Windows Mobile 'Threaded Texts'.


November 2, 2009, 12:45 pm

silly question, but how would the lumix g1 look with the gf1's lens? body alone, the g1 is pretty small itself.


November 2, 2009, 2:17 pm

I had a nikon 995 & the whole point of that was the "twist" in the middle, enabling one to take pictures easily above one's head or when on the quiet from waist level. No need for a viewfinder there then!

It was also great for taking a picture from ground level, without getting down flat onto the ground. No need for a viewfinder there then!

After a while with that camera I purchased a nikon slr & it had a viewfinder but no live view, Agh, back to the old days of having to peer through a little hole to see what the camera could see.

I have to admit that for me a viewfinder is just an add on, so any fuss about has it or hasn't it, is actually beside the point on this style of camera.

If you want a viewfinder then get an SLR!

Paul 15

November 2, 2009, 4:58 pm

Martin: It doesn't have to be an optical/mirror viewfinder - electronic ones are improving all the time and I don't think it would make much difference to the overall size. I wouldn't consider this camera as it stands with no viewfinder even if it was selling for half the price.


November 2, 2009, 5:21 pm

"No need for a viewfinder there then"

Not in your limited experience there then.

"If you want a viewfinder then get an SLR!"

No !I want a great camera like this to incorporate an integral viewfinder, so there then.

There are times when then the flexible monitor is beyond helpful, but actually makes awkward angle shots possible, it brings much to the party and makes for a great addition to the toolbox, however if I understood the meaning of the words in this great review and the images provided this exciting camera doesn't actually have one, so there then.


November 2, 2009, 7:33 pm

At one stage I used to think the ideal was a normal viewfinder plus a plug-in screen that could be held at any angle and possibly at some distance (e.g. arm's length). Juggling the two (camera and plug-in screen, that is - oh, what about infra-red or something instead of wires?) and keeping the camera steady could prove tricky....

Extremes could be to attach it to a 'virtual reality'-type viewer - the wearer may get arrested locked-up, I guess ...

But the gist of this is that despite the digital aspects these things haven't progressed in any really imaginitive way.


November 2, 2009, 9:26 pm

Frank... "bald?" mmmmm well, nearly! "unresearched?"... definitely not! Used the Argos catalogue and my two not so good as they used to be viewfinders!!!


November 2, 2009, 11:20 pm

I agree with Paul

I want to see a digital that displays a tiny image in the viewfinder as good as an SLR, but without the mirrors - one that can do multi-point autofocus.

Is that so hard? Probably.


November 3, 2009, 12:15 am

Hi Frank

Good to hear from you. I am sure your comments are justified as you see it, & I believe mine are justified as I see it.

I would totally admit to being an amateur photographer as I only bought my first SLR in approx 1968 (or was it 67, I am forgetful), & have therefore not had long to get used to a viewfinder .

Technology is moving fast. Maybe a flexable screen is around the corner, & maybe a camera with a viewfinder is also soon to be launched.

But possibly this camera is different to most that have come before & I can only say it as I see it.


November 3, 2009, 12:47 am

Good on you Mark ! kudos to your dignity and courtesy.

Long may you continue to call things as you see them and (with the camera of your own choice), , , call the shots : - )


November 3, 2009, 12:49 am

Does anybody know if a viewfinder bought for one of the micro 4/3rd cameras would work on another model/make, (if not they should!) also can newer viewfinders (when they come out) be used on older models as this and the EP-1 will be one day? (To benefit from higher resolutions) My point is if they can, then they are an investment such as lenses currently are, not a one off purchase and threfore should be seen in the same light.

I've been looking at the reviews for the G11 (with viewfinder built in of course). Alot of the them say it's too small and the G11 is very bulky. Now if thats too bulky, what would the GF1 be like if they stuck one in it? In fact, it would be as bulky as a smaller DSLR so what would be the point? This is a good compromise. Small enough for some who find DSLR's too bulky or noticable as a DSLR but retains the option of a viewfinder for people who want one. It's a good design.

The only thing I would like (and most compacts I like would hugely benefit from) is an articulated screen.


November 7, 2009, 1:00 am

I can neither add to nor improve upon anything that Clovis has written!

When the dust has settled, the GF1 is going to be my next camera. For the less demanding stuff I shall use my beloved FZ-18.


April 6, 2010, 11:53 pm

I love this camera! I read numerous positive reviews before buying it and even then, it surpassed my high expectations. I usually use my Nikon D80 when picture quality is imperative but found it too big to carry with me all the time, particularly on holiday. The GF1 gives me the picture quality I want but is eminently portable. The GF1, particularly with the 20mm pancake lens, is a joy to use. I now take it out everywhere with me and have consequently taken many more pictures.

The one minor disappointment is the cost and the quality of the optional Electronic Viewfinder (DMC-LVF1) which is adequate but overpriced. I think I'll wait for the price to drop (between £100-£120 seems reasonable to me) before I buy or hopefully Panasonic will listen to it's customers and upgrade the resolution.

If image quality, portability and low-light capability are high on your list of priorities, I would recommend GF1 unreservedly.

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