Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-G1; The First Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera (ILDC) Page 2

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The best feature borrowed from the latest Lumix “point-and-shoot” models, Intelligent Auto is selected by setting the mode dial to iA. The camera will then evaluate the scene conditions and automatically activate six features to operate simultaneously. These include the lens’ Image Stabilizer, Tracking AF and Intelligent ISO Control (for a faster shutter speed) when motion is detected, Face Detection AF/AE (for up to 15 faces), automatic Scene mode selection plus Intelligent Exposure for lightening dark areas.

As the Specs confirm, the Lumix G1 would also be suitable for families that include an individual with D-SLR experience. Aside from the wealth of operating modes and familiar overrides, the Film modes (or picture styles) provide great versatility with Standard, Dynamic, Nature, Smooth, Nostalgic, Vibrant, and three B&W options. More importantly, the user can fine-tune the levels of contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction for each of the modes.

Evaluation: The camera seems very solid and adequately rugged for its intended owners. Scrolling through the numerous menu items is a bit tedious but that’s not often necessary after an initial setup thanks to the many analog controls. I do wish that the buttons (and labels) were a bit larger, however. The control dial works well, but it’s too easy to press inadvertently, setting some unwanted exposure compensation. In terms of feature set, the Lumix G1 is close to perfect, although my daughters would like lots of in camera image-enhancement options (in Playback mode) and video capture. The latter—employing some technology used in camcorders—will be available with a future G-series model.

According to Panasonic, the Lumix G1’s contrast-detect AF system is twice as fast as a phase-detect AF system. While I was not able to confirm that claim, Continuous Tracking AF, with predictive autofocus technology, was remarkably successful in outdoor photography but it was also quite reliable indoors in moderately dark locations. (Continuous Tracking AF in iA operating mode was used.)

The ability to preview the histogram, actual depth of field, long exposure blurring, as well as the effects provided by many overrides—right in the viewfinder—is a real plus. The iA mode also makes the Lumix G1 perfect for anyone without photographic experience. While many D-SLRs include a Green Auto mode, none provide such a comprehensive combination of valuable automatic options with a single mode dial setting. Naturally, every feature provided by iA mode can also be user-selected, so an experienced photographer can access one or more of them while using another (less automatic) shooting mode.

Performance And Image Quality
Since Panasonic provided both lenses, and because of the many advanced Lumix G1 features, I tested the G1 as if it were a D-SLR. I was particularly impressed with the 23-point AF system; except in very dark conditions, at long focal lengths with the 45-200mm zoom (with its small maximum aperture), autofocus was quick and reliable. While some D-SLRs do provide a higher success ratio in tracking the erratic motion of action subjects, particularly in an indoor arena, the G1 was competitive with many entry-level D-SLRs.

The camera started up in 0.5 seconds and responded quickly to a touch of the shutter button, so I cannot recall missing a single photo opportunity. In Single Frame advance, I was able to take a shot every 0.3 seconds in outdoor photography where autofocus was very fast. The finished image was displayed in under a second. Continuous Drive mode was more useful for long bursts in action photography. After six Large/Fine JPEG or raw+Small JPEG captures, the camera was ready to shoot another burst almost immediately with a fast SanDisk Extreme III SDHC card.

My JPEGs made with Standard Film mode exhibit accurate but nicely saturated colors, with bold greens and reds. In camera sharpening was slightly low. Multi-segment metering was generally quite accurate, with a tendency to slight underexposure with light-toned subjects. Highlight and shadow detail in high-contrast lighting was very good, except at ISO levels above 800. Naturally, you can modify any or all of those aspects to achieve any desired effect(s).

At low ISO levels, the Lumix G1 can produce images of superlative quality, particularly with the 14-45mm zoom and especially in the f/8 to f/11 range. This ISO 100 image allowed me to make a 12x16” inkjet print (with an Epson R1900) of gallery quality; the framed photo looks excellent even under close examination. (This image was made at 45mm at f/9 and 1⁄60 sec.)

The Lumix G1 is roughly average in terms of digital noise; it’s competitive in this respect with the two most popular entry-level D-SLRs, however. My ISO 100-400 images are beautiful, with very high resolution; my best photos produced excellent 12x16” inkjet prints. When well exposed, even ISO 800 images made for very good letter-sized prints. By ISO 1600, however, the images are soft and colorful speckles obscure some fine detail, but 5x7” prints are still quite good. Because of the Image Stabilizer I rarely ever needed ISO 3200; that’s just as well, since that ISO produced blotchiness and noticeably lower resolution. Some G1 owners might want to set Noise Reduction (NR) to High, but post-processing with NR software (such as Nik Dfine or Neat Image) provides better results.

The Bottom Line
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 resembles a D-SLR such as the Lumix DMC-L10 and includes many of the same features. A fine performer, it’s smaller/lighter, more elegant, and available in three colors. This Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera (ILDC) also offers some unique features and provides a better Live View experience. While the G1 is just as “complicated” as a D-SLR in terms of menu items, novices tend to view it as more user-friendly, because of the Intelligent Auto mode. Except for some high ISO issues, photo quality is very good, particularly at a +1 setting for sharpness.

Although the most important accessory types were available, the selection of Micro Four Thirds lenses was limited at our press time. The 14-45mm model (impressive in all aspects) and the 45-200mm zoom (very good especially at f/8 or f/11 in the 45-150mm range) provide a 28-400mm equivalent. That should satisfy those first trading up from a camera with a built-in lens. Note, too, that the company plans to introduce three additional lenses this year: a 14-140mm f/4-5.6, a 7-14mm f/4, and a “very fast” 20mm f/1.7 model.

It may take a wider choice of cameras—including more affordable models—for the innovative “mirrorless” concept to reach the degree of popularity that it deserves. Sure, I’ve heard the comparisons with the old (and unlamented) APS film cameras but that analogy is not valid at all. Micro Four Thirds does not employ a smaller sensor; only the hardware has been downsized while convenience has been increased. I predict that the ILDC will be far more successful because it’s a perfect choice for people who are upgrading from a less sophisticated digicam with a built-in lens.

Image quality at low ISO levels is absolutely superb, but the Lumix G1 is capable of surprisingly high image quality at ISO 800 and decent quality at ISO 1600. I used the standard level for in camera Noise Reduction (NR). Some photographers will prefer to set the lowest NR level (especially at ISO 1600 and 3200) and later use NR software in a computer to achieve a better effect: a smooth image that retains as much fine detail as possible. (This high ISO photo was made during the rodeo at the Royal Winter Fair, Toronto. Photo taken with the 45-200mm zoom.)

Technical Specifications
Sensor: 13x17.3mm Live MOS; 12.1 megapixels (4000x3000 pixels)
Lens Mount: Micro Four Thirds; Four Thirds with optional adapter
Viewfinder And LCD: Electronic LCoS with 1.44 million dots and 3” articulated LCD with 460,000 dots; full-time Live View
Sensitivity: ISO 100-3200; Auto; Intelligent ISO with motion detection
Storage: MMC, SD, or SDHC card
Dimensions/Weight: 4.9x3.3x1.8”/13 oz (body only)
Street Price: $700 with 14-45mm lens

For more information, contact Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company at: www.panasonic.com.

A long-time “Shutterbug” contributor, stock photographer Peter K. Burian (www.peterkburian.com) is the author of books such as “Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging” and a series of “Magic Lantern” guides to D-SLR camera systems. He is also an online digital photography course instructor with BetterPhoto.com.

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