Extremely close to the stunning Olympus E-P2 in terms of size and spec, the Panasonic GF1 even shares its sensor with its Micro Four Thirds rival, offering an effective resolution of 12.1 megapixels from its 13.1 megapixel chip. However, being more contemporary looking, a great deal cheaper and with a built-in flash, it’s obvious that Olympus is going to have its work cut out keeping up with Panasonic.
A 14-45mm (28-90mm equivalent) zoom is provided in the kit bundle. It’s optically stabilised, which is essential as there’s no in-body anti-shake. That limits your choice of extra lenses unless you’ve got exceptionally steady hands or always use a tripod.
Alongside manual features, it’s also possible to use the camera as a glorified point-and-shooter, thanks to Panasonic’s reliable intelligent Auto (iA) mode, which recognises common scenes and subjects and adjusts settings automatically.
Image results are consistently impressive whether you’re in iA or manual modes. The control layout is functional and intuitive, with a dedicated thumb-operated button for recording 1280×720 HD video, although sound is mono only. A side mounted HDMI port is provided for connecting the camera up to a flat panel TV, though the required cable costs extra. The 460,000-pixel, 60fps LCD is excellent for framing and reviewing shots, and its life-like fluidity when panning around a scene is on a par with semi professional models.
Digital effects are provided via My Color (sic) modes similar to Olympus’ Art Filters, plus film simulation modes borrowed from Panasonic’s DSLR-styled G cameras. These lend images a softer, smoother, less overtly digital look that is pleasing to the eye.
We’ve only minor criticisms of the GF1. It lacks a decent grip, and there’s no viewfinder included, with a compatible EVF setting you back upwards of £165. And, like the E-P2, with a lens attached it’s still too large overall to truly be called a pocket camera. But at least Panasonic has opted for a fuss free manually operated zoom in its current bundle rather than a fiddly retractable mechanism. If you truly want portability, a physically shorter 20mm lens is available, working best for close-ups, though an on board Peripheral Defocus mode does a similar job of blurring distracting background detail whilst keeping your foreground subject pin sharp.
Image results may not be quite as stellar as the likes of Leica’s X1 at almost three times the price, but they are very good, and the far more reasonable outlay currently makes it the high-end compact champ when also compared like for like with the Ricoh GXR, Sigma DP2 and Olympus E-P1.