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Panasonic GF1 Review/Rant…

Okay, this is not a proper review, but lots of the “proper” reviews seem obsessed with details that to me, and I expect a lot of other photographers, don’t really matter. Low light performance for me is about long exposures, not high ISO. Metering is about accuracy and control, the camera doing what I want it to, rather then what a computer thinks it should do. Same for auto focus, accuracy and control are more important then speed.

Before talking about the camera, it is probably relevant to talk about why I came to choose it. Firstly, for image quality, i prefer medium format film, technically and aesthetically. I love the look of film. My main film camera is currently a Fuji GW690, a big 6×9 format rangefinder, with an amazingly sharp fixed lens. It is a fantastic camera for landscapes, and that is what I mostly use it for. When I scan the images I get 100mb Tiff Files, equivalent to 35mp resolution, with a very large sensor!

I have experience with a wide range of digital cameras, I have owned a Nikon D1h, a Leica D-lux 2, a Pentax ist dl something, a Pentax K200d and a sigma DP1s. I have also worked with the Canon 5D and Nikon D2x and D3x etc, and a couple of medium format backs. Of the SLR cameras I have owned, I liked the handling of the D1h best, as it was essentially a Nikon F5 with a digital camera stuck inside. It was big, but felt nice to use, and it was made before they had found to many things to stick inside a camera, essentially it handled like a film camera. The Leica D-lux was a fantastic camera to use, and gave very good images, with nice colours. The Pentax cameras were okay, quite nice to use, and with good lenses they were quite capable, but I never got that attached to them. I really liked the Sigma, the software is not as bad as a lot of people have made it out to be, and the handling was good, with just the features that are needed.

Unfortunately my Leica stopped being reliable, after taking well over 15,000 images, and several years of use. The camera would sometimes freeze and refuse to take any more pictures. I Chose the Sigma to replace it, and found it to be a very nice camera. However I wanted to be able to upload images to a stock library, and the sigma was on there list of cameras that they will not accept images from, which ment while it was great for personal use, I still had to carry another digital camera to take stock images on, which ment I wasn’t taking as many pictures as I would have liked for this use.

I decided to sell the Sigma and my Pentax K200d, and buy a Panasonic GF1 with 20mm f1.7 lens, and it has been a very capable replacement for both. I am a big fan of prime lenses, and the 40mm focal length (the 20mm on the GF1 is equivalent to 40mm on a 35mm camera), I have an Olympus 35RD with a 40mm f1.7, and a rollei 35 SE. So 40mm works well for me. The camera is unobtrusive, and I find the handling very smooth. It is easy to get the camera to do what i want it to do, and the menu’s are similar to the Leica D-lux (which was made by panasonic) so I found it very easy to get used to. The camera is essentially a grown up Leica D-lux/ Panasonc LX. 

I Find that I take a lot more images for stock now, because I have a camera capable of producing excellent image quality always with me. Battery life is great, I got a spare, but haven’t had call to use it yet as the main battery has never run out during a days shooting. 

Image quality wise, I think the camera is fantastic. I think that digital cameras basically fall into 4 categories, Compacts, Small SLR’s/System Cameras, Full Frame SLR’s and Medium Format. Within those categories image quality is largely similar between different brands and cameras, an entry level SLR from any of the camera brands with similar resolution is going to give pretty similar results, that will improve with better lenses. Same for compacts, most from the main brands are very capable, with the more expensive models offering better lenses and more control. There is not much to choose between different brands in terms of image quality. I believe that the real choice is in which format camera you want to use, and which camera you find nicest to use.  

I have been very happy with the Panasonic as my main (only!) digital camera, it is very capable, and is a good companion to my medium format camera when i am setting out to take pictures, and great on it’s own as well. For me, I don’t especially like SLR cameras, and find the handling and style of the Panasonic a lot nicer to use. It does almost everything that I want a digital camera to do.

My only major criticism of the camera is that there is no focusing scale on the 20mm lens, and no way of setting focus by distance in the menu system of the camera. It would be nice to be able to set a hyperfocal distance, and it would also be able to set focus by distance when it is too dark for the autofocus.  

So far I haven’t got any other lenses for it, and haven’t really felt the need to. I am waiting for an adaptor to use a couple of old olympus OM lenses with it, mainly to see if the focusing scale will still work with any accuracy. I like working with just one lens, it is simpler, and the 20mm is a fantastic lens to work with. 

There is probably a lot of other details about the camera that other people will care about a lot more then I do. But for me, my way of working and my style of photography, it is a fantastic camera.