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a photographic escapade

GF1 Review, sort of…

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GF1 with 40mm Konica AR Hexanon f/1.8 lens and adapter

It would be fruitless to go into depth about the technical specifications of this camera. Likewise, this camera has already been poked at and photographed from every angle, so you won’t find any “tech porn” shots here. These have been done over in several great reviews already so you should be able to get a good technical understanding of this camera from them. I will not go into what this camera cannot do, rather I will touch briefly on some of its important features, how I use them, and you can decide if this is what fits your bill. Its basic specs are:

Resolution: 12.10 Megapixels
Kit Lens: 3.21x zoom
(28-90mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
LCD Size: 3.0 inch
ISO: 100-3200
Shutter: 60-1/4000
Max Aperture: 3.5
Mem Type: SD / SDHC
Battery: Custom LiIon
Dimensions: 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in.
(119 x 71 x 36 mm)
Weight: 10.1 oz (285 g)
MSRP: $900
Availability: 10/2009

General thoughts:

The camera I purchased came with the awesome 20mm pancake lens, also raved about in several reviews, videos, etc. The kit lens is nothing short of perfect for this unit. It features exceptional auto-focus (considering it’s not phase detection) and you will be pleasantly surprised especially if you’re coming from a point and shoot, or like some people I know, are getting into digital as they can use legacy lenses from older SLR and rangefinder systems. The aperture and resulting shallow depth of field at f/1.7 is also fantastic for the creative photographers out there. Contrary to some remarks I’ve read around the internet, the lack of in-body IS has not had much of a negative effect on my photography, rather it has made me focus on what I’m doing and try to ensure I get a good exposure. The lack of “zoom” on the 20mm kit lens has furthered my concentration in the sense that I now have to look twice at what I’m shooting and decide if I should move in physically or not. For all intents and purposes, you shouldn’t leave the house without the 20mm pancake, more than once I’ve regretted not taking it with me.

So you may wonder why I didn’t, on a couple of occasions, take it with me. To put it simply, this camera has ignited in me a lust for vintage lenses. Sure, you can adapt one of the remarkable Leica lenses, vintage or m4/3 specific, to the GF1 but for me, and I’m sure for a number of other people out there, these may be too expensive to justify purchasing. Welcome to the world of old glass. A brief search on eBay will yield a vast number of available adapters and accessories for the GF1. These adapters, many made in china, are basically extension tubes with bayonet mounts, male and female, to couple legacy glass onto any m4/3 body. Most can be had for under 40 dollars. From there, you can establish the brands and mounts you are looking to adapt to your kit. These can range from normal primes, to huge tele-converters. Really, it’s up to you, and what you consider reasonable in terms of weight and size. Personally I prefer to keep things tighter (not necessarily lighter) in order to keep the setup proportional and usable. I have however used up to a 200mm with success, though it wouldn’t be something I’d personally lug around for a long time.

Keep in mind that due to the smaller sensor (compared to modern day DSLRs) you get a nice 2.0x crop factor. This means if you put on a 50mm lens, you will get 100mm field of view, or equivalent to 100mm on a full frame camera. Basically you get the center portion of the light the lens projects onto the sensor.

At low ISOs the images look awesome. Color and luminance noise are well controlled up to ISO 800, though with a nice bright lens you shouldn’t need to crank it up too much. Unless I’m shooting in a very dark room, I usually look to keep shutter speeds at around 1/60 for steady hand-helds and do fine. Default raw output is not the punchiest around, however you should be doing post shooting work anyways in Lightroom or other Raw conversion software to make sure you attain your individual “vision” and that your images represent what you originally intended to convey.

Side view of the GF1 "blacked-out"

Unfortunately Panasonic decided not to give us a minimum shutter speed option, and the auto ISO tends towards the low side and may put you at 1/30 speeds in Aperture priority mode. Something of a hassle, but if you are shooting in manual, and you should, you will eventually get the sensibility and hang of changing all the settings on the fly, the camera helps you out with the live view and other on-screen assists though. This is something you can work around but for some it could be a deal breaker so…there it is.

Functionality wise the GF1 is on par with most of the similarly priced DSLR bodies out there, so expect a fully manual capable camera.

When you are done with the thrill of shooting with the 20mm, though I admit you probably will never be “done”, you may find yourself lurking for famed legacy glass. Search flickr for GF1 and specific lenses and you should be bombarded with examples. This is the best way, along with Dpreview forums, to get a feel of what each lens is capable of and looks like on the m4/3 sensor.

Basically I have been using this camera as a everyday street shooter but would not hesitate in using it for more serious work or nice portraits. It really depends on what you are looking get, vision-wise, and what lens you are willing to use.

For bright light shooting, it becomes a hassle to deal with the washed out LCD. You can get by, but this impediment should become a bother under bright, direct sunlight. Thinking of us customers and our money, Panasonic released alongside the GF1 the cutely named DMW-LVF1, the external live electronic viewfinder. It’s nothing like the finder on a DSLR or the GH1 for that matter, but it does not go out without a fight. First of all, since the camera is live view, and the finder replicates exactly what the camera sees, you are able to use one of the settable filters and compose in that style, be it Black and White, Vivid, or Standard (there are other modes available too). The resolution is somewhat low for today’s standard and the overall image size is small, but it serves as an indispensable tool, especially if you are shooting fully manual lenses.

This is exactly where it gets fun. If you are familiar with the manual focus assist that the 20mm lens (and other compatible ones as well) offers, you will like this. When you turn the focus ring on a compatible m4/3 lens, the image on the LCD or viewfinder “zooms in” to the center of the image to help you fine focus, and once it’s in this mode, you can use one of the four directional buttons to move the zoomed area around to find a good focus point. If you have legacy glass installed, you can still use this feature, however it will not be automatic, you need to push in the thumb dial and it will zoom in, and if you turn it, you will zoom in further, or back depending on the direction.  Right, in, left, out. It’s pretty straightforward and once you get the hang of it it becomes second nature, especially if using the viewfinder, and you are able to get reasonably fast manual focusing. It is truly dependent on practice.

The GF1 obviously got some of its design cues from early 80's Japanese rangefinders, like this Yashica


The overall design and execution of this camera is nothing short of the finest in Japanese minimalist design. The feel and handling are both very solid, and every element seems to be intelligently thought out. It’s not for little that this camera has received so much praise. From the hinged battery compartment that feels very precise, to the solid metal outer shell, to the complex flash ejection mechanism, the GF1 feels, looks and is very well built and finely designed. Although I try to keep my equipment all in one piece, I would not hesitate in taking this camera to rough conditions where it could get jostled around. Unfortunately, probably someone in marketing, convinced them to plaster shiny and flashy logos all over the front of the body. Nothing a good sticker can’t cover up. This is, obviously, a matter of personal preference.

The body itself is indeed slippery especially with sweaty hands, but since you shouldn’t be carrying a 900 dollar camera without some sort of strap anyway, it’s not enough to keep me worried. The sticker I purchased for it increased the grip considerably, and I could go as far as saying 100% better. As you can see from the photos of my setup the camera is “blacked out” with gaffer tape over anything that shines and calls attention to the camera. Since I’m in shooting on the streets its a good idea to keep a low profile.

Final Thoughts:

This is certainly not the camera for everyone. It wont give you the best high ISO shots, nor will it excel as a sports photography camera. It wont yield you the largest possible prints (though I wouldn’t hesitate to make very large prints with it), and the lack of viewfinder or its low resolution could be a bother for some.

This is a camera for someone who simply wants more than “acceptable” image quality, in a VERY compact package (and it all comes with the added bonus of magically resuscitating all those old OM and Pentax lenses you have laying around). Buy this camera, experiment with manual lenses, and re-find the joy in photography!

You can find examples of shots taken with the GF1 and Legacy lenses as well as with the 20mm pancake throughout my blog and see some large examples with EXIF data at my Zenfolio!


Written by Fred Bonatto

April 22, 2010 at 11:05 pm

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  1. […] GF1 Review, sort of… (foundinbrazil) […]

  2. […] over to the review page if you would like to read a little bit about the equipment I am using! Share […]

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