Unlike the fashionable retro chic of the Olympus E-P1 the design of the GF1 is relatively understated, with a plain rectilinear shape reminiscent of a vintage rangefinder camera, something which will no doubt appeal to traditionalists for a few seconds before they start twitching and have to buy another Leica. In many ways the GF1 resembles a scaled up version of the widely acclaimed Lumix LX3. The shape and proportions are very similar, with the same top panel control layout, centrally mounted flash hot shoe and even a similar pop-up flash. The build quality is excellent, as we've come to expect from Panasonic, and the fit and finish are of a very high standard. Like other cameras in the G Micro series the GF1 is available in colours, specifically silver, red or the black shown here.
The rear panel control layout is frankly a bit of a mess, with an array of different shaped buttons scattered apparently at random across the back of the camera, but I actually rather like it. The important controls are in the right place, with an adjustment wheel under the thumb and the AE/AF lock button right next to it, and the rest are at least clearly labelled, well mounted and have a nice positive feel. To be perfectly honest the rectangular body with its small handgrip isn't the most comfortable thing in the world to hold either, but it's easy to forgive a few small handling quirks because the GF1 is great fun to use. It has that indefinable charm that makes you want to pick it up and start taking pictures. This is the sort of camera that people fall in love with.
The GF1 has many of the same features as the Olympus E-P1, but the implementation is slightly different. Both cameras feature 1280 x 720 HD video recording, but while the E-P1 has stereo audio through non-directional microphones, the GF1 has only mono audio and no provision for an external microphone, but offers a wider range of resolutions and frame rates, and records the result in the higher quality AVCHD Lite format. It can record video for up to 110 minutes at a time at maximum quality, although for some reason the type of lens used makes a slight difference to the recording time.
It's worth pointing out that like the other models in the G Micro system the GF1 has no built-in image stabilisation. Most of the lenses in the system do features Panasonic's acclaimed Mega OIS optical image stabilisation system, but the 20mm f/1.7 kit lens shown here does not. It's not that much of a problem, because the wide angle and fast shutter speed help to eliminate blurring from camera shake, but it could be an issue with third-party lenses, if and when they appear. As to whether you can use Olympus lenses on the GF1, the answer seems to be a qualified yes, although nobody I've spoken to at either Olympus or Panasonic was prepared to state categorically that they would work. Other Four Thirds lenses and even Leica lenses can be used on the GF1 via optional adaptors. It's pretty safe to say that the Panasonic Mega OIS won't work if its lenses are used on the E-P1 though.