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.