Tuesday, 31 March 2009

the Panasonic G1 (brief review and impressions)

Well my G1 has arrived and I'm happy to say that it has totally met, my built up and maybe unrealistic expectations.

One of the major ones I had of the camera was for its physical size (NB compact). I've scoured the websites which have comparisons (such as dpreview) of this and other cameras. From that I'd been able to get a rough comparison of sizes by looking at the images from them (such as the one I've used before to the left here) resizing them based on their dimensions and overlaying them.

Not having a G1 in any shops around me its hard to get one in my hands and get a feel for it. Just holding one makes understanding things much easier. Its very compact!

So now that I've finally got one I've been able to use it hold it and take some pictures of and with it. Here they are together on my desk.

Here you can see the fully exposed sensor as well as the focusing screen in the moving mirror of the 10D. The G1 looks a little more compact, but 2 dimensional images are deceptive.

comparedSo I took this pair of pictures on my kitchen scales (for a constant reference) and merged them into a morphing animation. I think it shows well not only the size difference but the weight difference. I put my EF 50 lens on the 10D as this is about the same weight as the "kit" EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens which often comes with cameras like Canon and has the same "effective focal lengths" as the kit lens on the G1. (note: both are image stabilized which is very nice thank you!)

This comparison shows up that the Canon 10D (which is more or less exactly the same as the 20D, 30D 40D and 50D) is really quite a chunk beside the little G1.

Yep, and as you can read on the scales the 10D weighs just over 1Kg while the G1 around 0.64Kg, this is with both having a battery in and a media card ready to roll.

Worse for me is that the 10D can not use the EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (although later models like 20D can) and I use instead the Tokina 12-24 lens as my normal lens. This is a really nice wide angle lens, but its rather bulky weighing in at 560g and bringing my camera to 1.4Kg.

Here is a picture of my nikon Coolpix (which is almost exactly the same size as the G1) beside the 10D with the Tokin on it. I loved the images I got in India with my 10D and this lens, but I really didn't like carrying the brick around my neck.

Not only is the G1 much lighter (nearly half) but its considerably smaller and thiner in all directions. Using the G1 makes me feel like I've got my Pentax MX back in my hands again (if you don't know the MX, it stamped compact as being possible on professional 35mm SLR when it was released in the late 70's).

In fact, my film EOS 630 (which I still have after 17 years of use) is more compact in my hands and feels better than any of the digitals I've used before this G1. The 630 was quite a camera when it was released, with the fastest AF in the business and 5 frames per second motor drive. Strangely I've always thought that the digitals were 'bulky' for what they were (even more so when you add something like the BG-ED3 grip to theses cameras. Perhaps it might be a nice fantasy to have a "big chunk" to look like a professional, but I'm willing to bet many professionals would be happier if their 1Ds was more compact.

If a camera has to be bulky, then fine, but I don't love bulk for bulks sake. The Imaging Resource also have some excellent images comparing the G1 to the even smaller Canon Rebels here.

I recommend reading that review in fact, they have a different style to DPReview and present different and interesting information. For example they have this diagram demonstrating just how much depth the camera saves by not having a moving mirror and an optical light path.

At the prices these cameras seem to be selling for I can only say that its well worth getting one.

While I have really liked my 10D (and there is still nothing wrong with it), after using the G1 for a few days I am very much sold on the lightness and image quality. It is so good that it competes with the Canon 40D and 50D quite evenly. I encourage you to download the DPReview test images for the 50D here and for the Lumix G1 here.

View Finders

quite a lot seems to be discussed about electronic view finders on cameras, but it seems to me that many have really no basis to compare anything with anything. Before I started using 35mm SLR cameras (yes, film ones) I used 35mm range finder cameras. I liked SLR cameras because they offered a way to be sure that what you were seeing in the viefinder was actually what you were taking (no parallax issues). However they were rather difficult to tell if you were exactly focused on subjects (especailly when its a little dim) compared to range finder cameras (like the Leica or Nikon range finders). This is especially an issue when using zoom lenses which aren't very bright (like f4.5 or 5.6) compared to nice prime lenses like the EF50 f1.8

With the advent of effective auto-focus (AF) systems I can honestly say that most of the time I simply rely on it as most optical viewfinders are simpy too small for critical focus.

My first digital camera with a swivel body was the Nikon Coolpix 950. After being able to view through the lens from any angle I wanted I was sold, I could never go back to only peeping through a small hole in the back of the camera.

Better yet, the display screen of a digital camera provides us with immediate exposure and compositional information on the image we've just taken. Digital camera screens are nice but suffer from difficulty of actually seeing what's being displayed when you're outdoors in full sunlight, and this is where the electronic view finder "EVF" of the G1 simply rocks. Compared with any other EVF I've ever used this one is the largest and most detailed. So, if you're a digital camera chimping kind of user you'll love the G1 because when using the EVF in bright light you don't need to chimp its there instantly.

None of these advanced features is available with a plain optical view finder as on cameras like the EOS series.

Worse, on the cheaper models the optical viewfinder is so small dark and pokey its frankly an insult to anyone who's used a proper SLR before. Do yourself a favor, go visit a second hand shop and pick up any decent Japanese film SLR from the 70's you find, look through the view finder and compare it to the dim small thing (search on penta-mirror) that are found on "starter" DSLRs like the 350D, 450D or even Nikons D60.

Once upon a time big bright viewfinders where what people sought ... now its just "DSLR" without any idea as to why.

Whats not to like?

well, first cab off the rank is battery. Why do makers continue to shaft us with one-off orphan batteries and charge ridiculous prices for them. At the moment a battery is 89 Euro or over US$100. I feel so strongly about this that f I had been thinking about it in the beginning I would have avoided buying the camera. Seriously I feel that strongly about it. For years I avoided any digital camera that didn't have AA batteries simply because the proprietary Li-ION battery's are annoying:
  • don't last as long as AA NiMH batteries
  • are often way more expensive
  • require you to have a specific charger for each camera (I now have 3, one for a Canon, another for a Nikon and one more for this Panasonic). A friend has 2 canon IXUS camera's and each has its own charger and battery.
  • do not allow you to go "whoops I forgot to charge the camera while on the way to a camping trip / wedding / party and thus you have no options for buying disposable

Next, well lens selection really, though this is a two way street (if you don't mind used manual focus lenses via an adaptor) and not an absolute as some people are buying these cameras because they can use other lenses.

The camera comes with a 14-45mm lens, this is about 28-90mm in good old 35mm world and is 90% of what I'd like to have (and almost exactly what comes with my Coolpix 5000 as well as most compact digital cameras). I've used cameras for quite some time now and to be honest this represents 99% of what I like. In fact with 35mm I often use only either a 24mm or 50mm fixed focal length lens.

Certainly for a working professional this may be an issue (depending on what you do with the camera), but for many folks I wonder just how significant it really is? In fact these days I prefer to use a less extreme wide lens for landscapes and stitch. This image for instance was made with a moderate wide angle lens and stitched together (using PTGui) from 4 images. This gives so many more pixels that a 50cm wide prints looks magnificent above my desk (and I'd need a vastly more expensive camera to achieve it without stitching).


Because this system is slightly different to the regular 4/3rds system it needs an adaptor to use their lenses and will not work fully compatibly with them either. Panasonic publishes a list of compatible lenses here, and reading it seems a little disappointing with almost all of the telephoto lenses operating in manual focus mode only and many having compatiblity listed as "NG" (which seems to be technical for unworkable).

But its not all grim, as the micro 4/3rds offers the ability to interface with many older (and beautiful to use) manual focus lenses. Such is the interest in these cameras that there are already options out there for adaptors. I've just bought one and an FD 300 f4 myself. I've paid about US$75 for the adaptor and about US$300 for the lens.

bird buttholeIf you've ever taken wildlife photographs much you'll know that AF can be annoying (bird goes out of AF spot and paf .. focus goes nuts .. while trying to recover you miss any good shots) and if you've ever used (or grew up on) older manual focus lenses you'll know that the build quality and focus feel is just beautiful. You'll need to spend thousands of dollars to buy (say) Canon EF 300mm L series lenses to equal them.

Even better, the smaller sensor means that my FD 300mm lens will more or less turn out to be a 600mm lens on the little G1, for birds thats fantastic as in the past I needed to either use a tele-converter (which degrades image quality) or buy a longer lens (which degrades my bank balance).

I will be posting more on how this lens works out when I get it.

anyway ... that's all for now, check back later for more details on how its going :-)

1 comment:

Charles Maclauchlan said...


Any additional thoughts about the G1 now that you've had it for a bit?

I am particularly interested in your feelings about it's auto focus. I think Panasonic is one of the first companies to really devote resources to auto focus on a non-mirrored camera. I hope they have it right.