Recommend this product?
DMC-G1 Camera of the Year
If you've read some of my past reviews, you know I'm a camera buff. I've owned at least ½ dozen digital cameras in the last 3 or 4 years and am always yearning for the next set of features. But all of my past digitals have been digital compact cameras AKA "point and shoot". As I'm sure you are aware, the DMC-G1 is a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses and all the features you would expect in a DSLR type camera. OK, some purists say the G1 is not a "real" DSLR because it uses a second sensor to capture and display the viewed image where "real" DSLR cameras use mirrors to project the main image to the display LCD or Viewfinder. There are pro's and con's to this but IMO I think this is a DSLR for sure and Panasonic has advanced the technology by thinking outside the box ... viewfinder... I mean camera.
Further, I really like Panasonic cameras. I still own the TZ3 which I've reviewed on Epinions previously. It's a really great travel camera and I carry it everywhere I go - golfing, trips, etc. Panasonic's menu and a lot of their controls/buttons are consistent across their camera families so you don't have to relearn everything to start taking decent pictures. The G1 is smaller than most DSLR's which allows you to carry it most places you go but once you start adding zoom lenses, even it becomes a bit more to carry.
FIRST SOME EXPLANATIONS
Micro Four-Thirds: Cameras using this technology have a slightly smaller sensor size (18x13.5mm) compared to a 35mm or full size sensors (36x24mm). Canon and Nikon also use reduced sensor sizes in most of their entry and mid level cameras in this price range (approx. 23x15mm). The majority of compact (point and shoot) digital cameras use a 1/2.5 sensor (5.7x4.3mm) so you can see that the Four-thirds is appreciatively larger than the compacts. This becomes even more important as you increase the pixel count of the cameras - 12MP (mega pixels) in the case of the G1. All those 12 million pixels are individual light sensors on the face of the sensor so the bigger the overall sensor, the bigger each of those 12 million pixels are and the better they can capture the amount of light coming into them. This results in better control over images, particularly in lower light conditions.
Micro Four-thirds moves a step beyond the original 4/3 concept by removing the mirrors normally used in DSLR's which reflect the incoming image onto the viewfinder/LCD. Instead, the G1 uses a second sensor to project the image on the LCD screen or in the viewfinder. The normal mirror approach used in almost all DSLR cameras allows the user to see the image and when the shutter button is pressed completely, the mirror drops out of the way to allow the light to hit the main sensor. With the G1 concept, there is no mirror action. In conventional DSLR's there has to be a certain space between the mirror and the lens to achieve the necessary optics. With the G1, the absense of the mirrors allows the main sensor to be closer to the lens thus reducing the thickness of the camera 20mm or more (approx. 0.78"). The 4/3 lens concept also means the lenses are smaller in diameter by about 6mm (approx ¼").
There are simply too many features to cover them all here so I'll discuss some of the main ones that I like and ones I think have some shortcomings from my perspective. For all the details I suggest that you pull up the G1 Specifications from numerous web sites selling the camera.
OIS - If you are an active photographer, I imagine that over 90% of your shots are "hand-held" shots rather than tripod based. That's certainly my case and I just don't know how you can get by without Optical Image Stabilization unless you're really skilled and have really steady hands. To me, it's a ‘MUST HAVE'. My only ‘complaint' here is that Panasonic put stabilization in the lens and not in the body. That means you have to pay for it on every lens you buy. But this is also true of Canon and Nikon.
LCD Screen - One of the largest screens at 3" and the best resolution at 460,000 dots (about 2x others in this price range). The really neat feature is that the display is articulated. It folds flat into the camera back with the display hidden so it doesn't get scratched when storing. You can unfold it, pivot it 180 degrees and set it in the camera back like typical cameras have as fixed. Or you can tilt it out to the side and rotate it up and down to allow you to take shots over your head or near the ground or to adjust for glaring sunlight. You can also set up the LCD brightness in the menu to kick up the brightness automatically or manually when you're in bright sunlight. In the same menu area, you can adjust default brightness, saturation and contrast of the LCD.
VIEWFINDER - I didn't realize how much I missed having a viewfinder until I got this camera, particularly on action shots like trying to photograph a bird flying by. While the G1 viewfinder hasn't received rave reviews in the pro circles, I'm not sure why - it's pretty high res (1.4mega dots) and 100% of the viewing area. It does get noisy in real low light but still works. It displays all the set up conditions around the peripheral of the display similar to what you would see on the LCD screen. There is a one button access to switch between LCD and Viewfinder. I wish they had used this button for something else (flash modes for example) because I find it unnecessary. There is a great optional feature that automatically turns off the LCD and turns on the viewfinder when it senses you moving your eye to the viewfinder. It's Perfect! I also like leaving the LCD folded into the camera so your face isn't smudging up against it while viewing through the viewfinder. I don't know if the LCD is active when parked in this mode (does the light really go out when you close the refrigerator door?) but seems like it would save a little power. Oh, and the viewfinder has a diopter adjustment so you can adjust for your vision preferences.
ONE BUTTON Access - ISO, WB, Focus Mode (face detection, 1 area, etc.) and AF/AE Lock are dedicated button controls on the camera back for quick access to their adjustments. There is a small dial in front and below the shutter button that gives you quick adjustment for EV (Exposure Compensation) and also performs other functions like zoom during playback. Also the Q Menu button gives you quick access to most menu items without having too many menu layers to scroll through. In addition, the main Menu (access with the center button in the Cursor) gives you quick access to My Menu. This menu displays the latest 5 items that you changed to quickly make further changes as needed.
CUSTOM Settings - One of the 4 buttons on the Cursor control is a Fn button that can be programmed to provide one button access for functions that you use most often. These include Aspect Ratio, Quality, Meter mode, Intelligent Exposure and Guide Lines on LCD. I touch on some of these in the Explanations section.
CUSTOM Programs - I really like this feature! Let's say you frequently take pictures in the A mode (Aperture) with an ISO of 400, spot metering, Auto Focus, etc. You can set the camera up with these conditions, go to Menu and to Custom Setup and select Custom 1. It will ask if you want to override the current settings and then will save the above features. At a later time if you want to quickly use these same settings, you rotate the Mode Dial on the top of the G1 to C (Custom) and select Custom 1. All these features are restored. You can set up 3 different Custom modes.
MANUAL FOCUS - There is a dedicated dial to select Auto Focus Single or Continuous or Manual Focus. In Manual, when you begin focusing by turning the focus ring on the lens, the image will be zoomed in to better enable you to achieve a clear focus. Manual focus may be required if you use lenses with adapters that aren't the Micro Four-thirds equipped lenses or if you use a 2x Telephoto adapter on the end of your 4/3's lens. (Yes there is an adapter that allows you to use other 4/3 lenses on the market - typically from Olympus.)
GENERAL Features - The G1 is loaded with all of what I would consider to be standard DSLR type features. These include Histogram (optional viewing on the LCD screen and you can place it in any quadrant to lessen it from covering the viewed subject matter); Burst Mode (again the G1 doesn't claim the fastest ‘frames per second' but still acceptable); Bracketing (allows you to take 3 pictures with various levels of EV [compensation] and/or levels of White Balance; Multiple Focusing Modes including Face Detection; Raw and JPG file formats; All the Playback modes you need and many others. The G1 also has a Remote Shutter option which is great for taking photos when using a tripod. This eliminates camera shake caused by pressing the shutter button. I'm using a 3rd party remote and it works great.
> Physically the camera is 4.8x3.3x1.8 inches (WxHxD) by spec but this depth is without a lens and doesn't include the extended viewfinder. It weighs about 15 oz without the lens. I find the size and weight to be very good. Much lighter than most DSLR's yet heavy enough to feel stable in your hands when taking hand held shots.
> Battery life is reasonable. I probably shot over 450 shots with one charge although this was primarily using the viewfinder and many shots were burst mode. I didn't do a lot of playback or in camera editing which can easily eat up battery time. I think you can expect an average of 300 shots of normal usage.
> Live View: The mirror-less G1 gives you a live view of the image you are shooting. However, as you snap the first photo, the display goes blank. So if you're shooting burst mode and panning the shot, you won't see your image again until maybe the 3rd shot. This hasn't been well received by the experts but it hasn't been a real problem for me.
> Times: Power Off to first shot: 0.8 sec; Shutter Lag time for Focus and shot: 0.37sec; Lag time from Pre-focus (shutter ½ depressed): 0.07sec.
> Color/Focus/Noise: Most professional reviews rate the G1 favorable or comparable with Canon & Nikon price-compatible cameras. From an amateur perspective, I really like the color reproduction and the overall performance of the camera.
> Lens Removal: Dust is always a concern and the G1 doesn't have a shield to cover the sensor when you remove the lens so you need to be careful and try to avoid dusty areas when doing so. The G1 does have an automatic feature to ‘blow' the dust off the sensor each time the camera is turned on and a ‘Pixel Refresh' option in the Custom Menu for further maintenance.
OPERATION - The mechanics of the G1 are good. Although primarily a plastic body, it feels rich and solid. It also comes in three colors: Black, Blue and Red. I got the Blue one and it's a dark blue so doesn't jump out too much. The dials and controls are all solid (although the power switch feels like you could break it with a little bit of force). The SD Memory Card has it's own access door on the side so you can change it out even when mounted on a tripod. Don't think you'll be able to swap batteries when tripod mounted though but it does have a metal tripod mount.
FLASH Mode - The G1 has a pop-up style flash unit where you have to slide a button to pop it up. Access to Flash Mode Menu is cumbersome - you have to go into the Menu and search for Flash and then set up Red Eye, Forced On, etc. I suggest setting this on the Q Menu if you frequently use flash or on one of the Custom Programs. Really surprised they didn't provide a dedicated button for the flash menu. The G1 does provide a hot shoe for external Flash Units.
FILM Mode - This is a one-button access to a menu to select color tone and contrast characteristics. This allows you to change the saturation for nature (brighter colors) or others like smooth, nostalgic and vibrant. You can also set B&W modes here as well as setting up 2 custom modes.
SCENE Modes - The Mode Dial on the top of the G1 provides quick access to a variety of pre-programmed modes for Scenery, Sports shots, Portraits, Macro, and Night photos. These vary in terms of whether you can change ISO, Aperture or Shutter Speeds. They are intended to provide pre-assigned camera settings to match the type of scene you are shooting. The G1 also provides modes for simpler ‘point and shoot' photos using the iA (Intelligent Auto) mode when you don't have time to set up your shot.
SOFTWARE - The G1 comes with a photo editing software but there are so many better ones, I've never looked at it. I did install Silkypix which is their RAW image conversion software and it is a pretty good product for working with RAW files. There are some variances between RAW files coming from different cameras and not all Photo Editing S/W will handle the Panasonic RAW files. So SilkyPix may be the best fall back.
LENSES: The G1 Kit comes with a 14-45mm Zoom lens - the model H-FS014045. Typical of the DSLR industry there is a 2x conversion from the lens in the camera. So this is really a 28mm to 90mm lens. 28mm provides a reasonable wide angle and 90mm provides approximately 2 times magnification of the naked eye. Comparing this to compact cameras rated as "zoom", this is just over a 3X Zoom lens. For telephoto, Panasonic offers the 45-200mm lens, model H-FS045200. Similarly, this is equivalent to 90 to 400mm in 35mm terms. Using the 28mm as a base, this lens would be just over 14X zoom in compact camera terms.
IN THE BOX: The G1 comes with quite a few accessories, some of which aren't found with other cameras. You get all the cables for USB and video (not HDMI although the camera does have an HDMI output). You also get a lens hood and all the lens caps and covers and battery chargers. The printed manual is actually pretty decent and fairly easy to follow. It provides adequate explanation of the camera features and operation.
NITS & Dislikes:
NO VIDEO, NO Sound - A lot of people and reviewers don't like the fact that the G1 doesn't have video capability or even sound for annotating pictures (this can be done in post processing). But DSLR's are just now starting to provide this feature. You can argue both ways. If it had video, I might rarely use it myself. Panasonic recently brought out a pricey GH1 with video that has had great reviews. So if you need video, check it out.
FLASH Menu - wish it had easier access. Even if they would pop it up on the screen when you open the flash unit I could live with that.
BATTERY CHARGER - Previous Panasonic chargers didn't have power cords - just small fold out plugs on the charger body that plugged directly into an outlet and were easy to carry around. Now you have to lug a power cable when traveling. Also time to charge the battery is quite a bit longer than previous models.
PROPRIETARY BATTERY - Panasonic frowns on you using 3rd party batteries and has designed the G1 to only recognize it's own product. A software update to the G1 really enforces this. So beware in buying 3rd party batteries since they may not work. Problem is that Panasonic has their batteries terribly overpriced!
FOUR THIRDS Accessories/Lenses: Limited availability and little compatibility with lenses or options you may already own. Plus the lack of competition keeps things expensive.
Hope this review was helpful in understanding some of the rich features of the G1 and helps in your buying decision. Personally, I love the camera but haven't had the experience of owning a Canon or Nikon DSLR. But I bought it because of the size. If a camera is too big to carry around comfortably, you will leave it behind and regardless of how good a camera it is, if you don't take pictures, it's pretty worthless sitting in a bag at home :>)
Here's a link to a couple of pictures I took with the G1 in Ireland. Please keep in mind I'm a novice photographer so if you like the pictures, it was the camera and not the photographer. OK, if you insist: if you didn't like the pictures it was the camera and if you did like them it was the photographer!!
I can't put in a direct link so here's a shortened version of the link if you need to copy and paste to your browser: http://tinyurl.com/yhnpmz6
EXPLANATIONS: Here are a couple of explanation of features mentioned above.
Intelligent Exposure - If set to ON, the camera will automatically adjust contrast and exposure when there is a big difference in brightness between the subject and the background, i.e. bright sun behind the subject.
Histogram - provides a graphic chart to show the tonal distribution of the image with dark on the left and bright on the right. This helps to make sure you're getting a good exposure.
Exposure Compensation - Abbreviated as EV, this is typically in 1/3 increments and enables the camera to ‘brighten' up an image as you adjust EV above zero and darken the image as you adjust below zero.
Burst Mode - If set to ON, this causes the camera to take multiple shots as long as you hold the shutter button down. The number and speed of these repetitive shots can be adjusted on the G1.
Bracketing - If set to ON for Exposure Compensation, the G1 will first take a shot of the image with your current settings and automatically take a second shot with EV +1/3 and another shot with EV -1/3. You can also set WB (White Balance) Bracketing to ON. The second and third shots shift the WB tone either side of it's current setting.