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My Practical Experience with Lumix GF1

posted Dec 16, 2009, 10:31 PM by Christopher Tan
It has been about a month since I got my Lumix GF1 and have been shooting quite a lot with it. Quite a few people have been asking me what I thought about the Micro 4/3 system and GF1 in particular, so I thought I shall do a short writeup about it.

First things first, people need to be realistic and set their expectations accordingly. The GF1 body itself cost about RM1800 (USD500), and as such, should be compared to entry level DSLRs in the same price range. Obviously, its performance is not comparable to mid-high end DSLRs.

So, how does it compare to entry level DSLRs ? Well, I would say its performance is in the same league, up till about ISO800. For ISO1600 and above, APS-C sensors still outperforms 4/3 sensors when it comes to noise. Apart from that, I really do not see any significant differences.

Shooting with the GF1 is a real joy. The user interface (menus, buttons, etc) was very well thought out, allowing for quick access to most settings. The layout of the buttons and dials are nicely done, I do not have any problems with accidentally hitting buttons or turning dials, despite my rather large hands.

AF Speed
The AF speed is comparable to entry level DSLRs when using 14-45mm and 45-200mm lenses, but slightly slower when using the 20mm pancake lens. This is quite an achievement given that it is using contrast-detect AF, rather than phase-change AF normally used in SLRs.

The speedy AF of the GF1 was crucial for my shots taken at the floating market, as I was on a moving boat, and my subjects are also constantly moving. When I see a photo forming, I probably have a few seconds at most to lock the exposure, lock the focus on the subject, then reframe to get the composition I want, and take the shot.

The GF1's build-in flash is something that many people dismiss off-hand without much thought because it's only GN6, but after shooting so much in Bangkok, I cannot stress strongly enough how useful it is, as fill flash. I found myself using it quite often for those typical holiday snaps when you are trying to take pics of people in front of whatever scenery and the sun is blasting down, or when the subject is in a shaded area (in a car, boat, etc) and the surroundings are bright as heck. And of course, it is useful for night portraits too.

Shooting under tropical sun, as you would imagine, makes the LCD pretty hard to see. This is true for any LCD, not just the GF1. I can see enough to frame the shot, get the focus, and the live histogram tells me the exposure, so I can still live with it. But if you want to preview your photo and zoom in to double check the focus, WB, etc. under the sun, I would say it's difficult. Most times, you can just find a shaded area nearby to rest and do this, so it's not a big deal.

I am not thrilled about the low resolution EVF for the GF1, so I have decided to get the Hoodloupe 3.0, which is pretty much future proof and I can use it with any DSLR. Yes, it does add some bulk, but it is light and *optional*. I only need to bring it out with me if I believe I have a need for it.

Well, unless I am being paid to do a shoot, it is quite unlikely that I would bother to bring out my Canon gear anymore. The GF1 + 20mm f1.7 + 14-45mm + 45-200mm weights almost exactly 1kg in total, and fits easily into a very small sling bag (see below).

And if I was just going out for a casual outing, I will just bring the GF1 + 20mm, which fits into a small pouch. Contrast this to the fact that my old Canon 80-200mm f2.8L lens alone weights 1.33kg, and I think you can see why I am in love with this system.

As the saying goes ... "The best camera is the camera that you have with you". With the GF1, I find I have a SLR-class camera with me more often than not, and that makes up for everything.

More pics taken with the GF1 over here and here.