I’ve had my little Lumix GF-1 for two months plus now. This is not a technical or “proper” review of the camera but it’s more like my experience using it. My GF-1 comes with the 14-45mm stabilized lens. I might add the 20mm pancake lens at some point but for now, it’s a one-lens camera. My reason for the GF-1 is purely to complement my full-sized 35mm DSLR. I use the 5D Mark II by the way so the GF-1 is not a replacement for my main cameras. The GF-1 is used for situations where a larger DSLR and lenses are not required. For me, it’s primarily for travel and all-round carry with me camera. My need for the GF-1 comes from situations where I would like a better camera than my iPhone but the situation doesn’t warrant me carrying my 5D.
Travel. I always travel with my full kit of photo equipment. However, there are times the GF-1 gets used such going down for the hotel breakfast, on the flight, serious hiking when my DSLR is stowed because I need my hands. Since the GF-1 is lightweight, I can have the GF-1 around my neck, ready to shoot something. It’s also less intrusive when doing street photography. As the GF-1 can look like a little point and shoot camera, more likely everyone’s going to ignore what you’re doing. When not traveling, the GF-1 goes with me to little restaurants, coffee shops, work (sometimes), and all sorts of places. Currently, either I carry it naked as is or in my ThinkTank Photo Speed Changer. I’m looking to get either the Trim Changer or All the Other Stuff as a permanent GF-1 case though. It’s a relatively hardy little camera though and fairly well built.
The GF-1 is pretty much fast enough for almost everything I use it for. From street photography to people and a little bit of action. Yes, the buffer is small when you shoot raw but if I’m shooting fast action, chances are, I’m using my DSLR. Quality is good if you keep the ISO below 800 and if you shoot raw. In well lit scenes (i.e. outdoors), the quality can be comparable to a cropped sensor DSLR (i.e. 500D, 50D, etc). In low light, the sensor does struggle but you can have everything. Battery life is amazingly good — I do have a spare and I only charge it after three days. Note that I do use my DSLR as well so remember that this is assuming a second camera. That said, I have the camera power save set to five minutes and it’s hardly turned off. Auto-focus is mostly good with occasional misses. The stabilized lens helps here. The lens hood works well to minimize flare and I’ve used the GF-1 in light rain, heavy wet fog without problems.
The ability to shoot HD movies is great although audio capture is just average without an external mic. The wind-filter works to some extent but it doesn’t help stop user and other little sounds from being captured. The AVCHD lite codec is a pain in the ass to work with though.
Ergonomics and usability
The menu system is overly complex and the usage of icons and abbreviations doesn’t help. I find it easy to inadvertently set something up when the camera is bumping around powered on. The small size however makes camera shake more pronounced. The shutter lag is almost negligible with the camera focusing and taking the shot almost as you press. That can’t be said about the video though. The dedicated video start/stop button is great but it’s laggy and sometimes takes a second or two to register. That said, if you ensure the shutter speed is relatively fast (1/100s), you can get great results. It’s also the camera I let other friends, local guides or strangers to take photos of myself or our group.
In China, I shot RAW exclusively. While noise levels above ISO 800 was fairly high, it definitely beats any point-n-shoot’s pixel dense sensor out there. The ten-plus megapixel (I’m no fan of 4:3 ratio images so the GF1 is set to 3:2 ratio) images are quite awesome – with some processing, they look great. With ISO 1600 or 2500, a bit of noise reduction processing (I use Noise Ninja), the output is still pretty fantastic. With ISO set below 800, prints up to 12R (12″ x 16″) are quite achievable and look indistinguishable from any mid-range DSLR.