The incredible shrinking camera.
Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-G1 isn't a DSLR. Yes, you can remove the lens, and the camera's $800 street price (with 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens) makes it more expensive than some entry-level DSLRs. But this tiny interchangeable-lens electronic-viewfinder model represents an entirely new class of camera.
The G1 is the vanguard of the Micro Four Thirds system, a format meant to bridge superzoom EVFs and DSLRs. The idea: To grab people who want the resolution of a DSLR but the simplicity, small size, and nonthreatening look of an EVF or compact.
The G1 (as with all Micro Four Thirds cameras scheduled to follow) has a DSLR-sized Four Thirds sensor, which captures more detail than the tiny chip inside any superzoom. It's also engineered to be smaller than a typical DSLR and super-easy to operate. And to prove it's not intimidating -- even fun -- it comes in colors (red and blue), as well as black.
WHAT'S THE SMALL IDEA?
A collaboration between Panasonic and Olympus, this new camera and lens system uses a lensmount that's smaller than the one on regular Four Thirds DSLRs from Olympus and Panasonic. With Micro Four Thirds, the distance from the back of the lens to the image sensor is shorter -- there's no allowance for a mirror box and thus no optical viewfinder.
The design also permits relatively tiny lenses, even with lens-based image stabilization. Compared with DSLR glass, Micro Four Thirds optics are about half the size for an equivalent focal length. And as with Four Thirds cameras, there's a 2X lens factor.
By EVF standards, the imaging sensor inside a Micro Four Thirds camera is gigantic. A typical superzoom EVF's chip has a diagonal measurement that's less than half of a Micro Four Third sensor's. What does this mean for you? The possibility of slimmer camera bodies that maintain the resolution and versatility of interchangeable lenses.
The G1 operates very similarly to other EVF cameras: You frame the image using either the 3-inch 460,000-dot LCD or the 1,440,000-dot (equivalent) electronic viewfinder. Much like a digital projector, this EVF rapidly combines separate red, green, and blue frames to create a full color image that refreshes at 60 frames per second.
The result? The highest-resolution EVF we've seen in a still camera. It still blanks out during burst mode, making it difficult to pan along with a moving subject. But it's bright and impressively detailed. The LCD tilts and swivels to make low- and high-angle shooting easier. When focusing manually, both the EVF and LCD zoom in on your subject automatically, as soon as you start turning the focusing ring on the lens. That's an advantage no optical finder can match.
While our editors like the DSLR-style body, it's not much smaller than the less-expensive Olympus E-420 ($448, street, with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko ED lens) or Pentax K2000 ($700, street, with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and AF200FG hot-shoe flash). The G1 measures 4.9x3.3x1.8 inches. That's less than a half-inch smaller than the E-420 in each direction. Doesn't seem like enough in itself to warrant a new system.
The G1 is really just a proof of concept. For instance, it doesn't shoot video, though Panasonic strongly hints that the next version will capture high-definition video.
Controls are, for the most part, well placed, with a decent number of switches, dials, and buttons. A four-way switch next to the mode dial and behind the shutter button lets you choose the drive mode, while a tiny dial on the top changes the focus mode. A cluster of buttons next to the LCD offers quick access to ISO, AF mode, white balance, and metering. A Quick Menu button takes you to image size and aspect ratio, while the Film Mode button gives you various color and black-and-white looks.
We really like the clickable scroll wheel in front of the shutter button. Just press it to get to exposure compensation, and again after dialing how much comp you want. Once our testers got the hang of it, adjusting exposure was fast and easy.
For those who want simplicity -- and the backers of this system count them in the millions -- there are lots of scene modes, as well as Intelligent Auto, which chooses a scene mode and ISO for you, and even adjusts brightness to bring out details in shadows or highlights.
IMAGING: 12.1MP effective, Live MOS Four Thirds sensor captures images at 4000x3000 pixels with 12 bits/color in RAW mode.
STORAGE: SD/SDHC cards. Stores JPEG, RAW, RAW + JPEG.
BURST RATE: Full-sized JPEGs (Extra Fine mode), up to card capacity at 3 fps; RAW, up to 7 shots at 3 fps.
AF SYSTEM: TTL contrast detection with 23 focus areas and adjustable size single-area focusing. Face detection, single-shot and continuous AF.
SHUTTER SPEEDS: ¼ 000 to 60 sec plus B (1/3-EV increments).
METERING: TTL metering with 144-zone Intelligent Multiple (a.k.a. evaluative), centerweighted, and spotmetering. EV 0-18 (at ISO 100).
ISO RANGE: ISO 100-3200 (in 1/3-, ½-, or 1-EV increments).
FLASH: Built-in pop-up flash GN36 (in feet at ISO 100). Supports TTL autoflash with Panasonic Lumix flashes; X-sync at 1/160 sec.
VIEWFINDER: Electronic viewfinder with 1,440,000-dot equivalent.
LCD: Fully articulated 3-in. TFT with 460,000-dot resolution.
OUTPUT: Hi-Speed USB 2.0, HDMI (mini-type) video, NTSC/PAL composite. PictBridge compatible.
BATTERY: Rechargeable DMW-BLB13PP Li-ion; CIPA rating, 330 (LCD) or 350 (EVF) shots.
SIZEWEIGHT: 4.9x3.3x1.78 in., 0.85 lb with card and battery.
STREET PRICE: $800 with Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 Mega O.I.S. lens.
FOR INFO: www.panasonic.com.
Accuracy 100% (Excellent)
Magnification 0.7X (Acceptable)