Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Panasonic Lumix GF1 Field Report

The Panasonic Lumix GF1 was now on a bunch of trips with me, and it is time to have a closer look at this outstanding camera.

Lumix GF1 and the Joby Gorillapod SLR.

Getting this camera I made a few decisions, which meant a bit of extra work for me: Only shooting in RAW, and getting a photo editing software to work with the files. I think if you're not ready for this step, then you're better off with one of the excellent compacts out of the Panasonic range which let you import your photos using your existing software and you can manipulate in Picasa or similar. Why such a statement? If you are not going to work with your photos, you might as well get a cheaper compact camera, because you are not using the camera to its fullest. To make it more clear: You're not buying a Landrover Defender if all you do is drive to the supermarket.

The GF 1 sits between a compact camera and a DSLR. It is as small and light like a compact, but it has many feature of a DSLR and you can use different lenses with it. To illustrate what I mean, have a look at the size of my Canon EOS 50D which I use normally:

Canon EOS 50D with EF-S 17-85 lens

The EOS 50D with the 17 - 85 mm lens is an awesome camera, but at 1394 g as you see it above it is not light. I also have a Lowepro Toploader 65 AWcamera bag I use with it, which is 722 g, bringing the whole kit up to 2116 g - that is heavy! Now lets have a look at the Lumix GF1:

Panasonic Lumix GF1 with 20 mm Pancake lens.

The GF1 with the 20 mm Pancake lens and the Viewfinder is a mere 495 g - that is nearly a third lighter than the EOS 50 D. It is also significantly smaller as the EOS 50D, and I had it on my trips without a camera bag, carrying it just under my jacket. Now those who pay attention will say "But wait, Hendrik, the 50D has a 17 - 85 mm lens, and the GF1 a 20 mm Pancake - that's quite a difference, isn't it?". Sure it is, but to be honest, the 20 mm Pancake satisfies all my needs. I can get kickass Panaorama shots with it, and beautiful Close-ups with a blurred background or foreground. And also photos of fires at night are no problem with this lens, so pretty much all I do with the bigger Canon lens is handled very well by the 20 mm Pancake as well.

Sunset in Salamajärvi.

Blurry tree stump.

Melting snow in Salamajärvi.

But one of the reasons to get the GF1 is of course because you can use different lenses. Personally I am a sucker for wide angle lenses, the wider, the better. Now the GF1 has a 7 - 14 mm lens, so you can imagine the jumps of joy which I made as I got his beauty! It is 294 g light and I usually take it along when hiking, for panorama shots like the ones underneath.

The 7 - 14 mm wide angle lens.

Mountains and ice.

Mustavuori hill panorama in Repovesi.

Because I shot in RAW, I only use the Aperture and Manuel modes on the camera. Switching to different settings is fast thanks to the small wheel at the back of the camera, just where my thumb sits; though it takes some spinning of the wheel to go from one end to the other. The trigger button sits handy slightly to the front of the camera, all within optimal reach. What I love is that the bloody flash doesn't move ever. It is like it isn't there, which is exactly the way I like it.

Back of the GF1.

The LCD screen is huge and has a very crisp resolution, I reckon you could watch a movie on it so sharp is it. I don't use it, though, that's what I have the viewfinder for. It is an electronic viewfinder, so not the real deal, but better than the display, by far. To make a proper composition of a photo I find a viewfinder absolutely necessary, and this viewfinder is ingenious as you can move it up to a 90° angel to make great compositions and unique angles. So instead going down on your knees to get that reaaaaally close up shot of some plant or insect, you switch the viewfinder up and Voilá! there you go, Sir.

Viewfinder in a 45° angle.

The GF1 also makes Videos. That should be HD Videos as in High Definition, with 720P and 30 FPS (frames per second) that is plenty to shoot a video of setting up a MSR Hubba HP or boiling some water with the MSR Reactor. Video has its own quick-shoot button, or you turn the wheel to video and choose your own settings. I go with the latter, thus for me the quick-shot button can go.

Posing with the GF1 and a StickPic - not something I could do with the EOS.

Before turning my view on the things I do not like, I want to quickly come back to my point from the beginning of shooting in RAW and editing. I use Lightroom 3 Beta 2 at the moment, and while I am a newbie at editing the software - which is currently for free as it is a Beta, btw - is very intuitive and I quickly got the hang of it. Still not on the level of Fraser or Chris but I hope that I get there. And because I was able to test Lightroom 3 for free and could see how easy to use it is, I will have no problems to buy it later on. Anyway, shooting in RAW and editing has several advantages, upmost that you really can make the photo look like you remember it and make it presentable. JPEGs are often too light or too dark, and the editing with Picasa et al. is just for the bin. If you get this camera, or any camera which can shoot in RAW, do yourself and the onlookers a favour and shot in RAW and edit.

Then to the dark side of the GF1. There are a couple of things I do not like, for one, the GF1 doesn't switch off quickly automatically when you leave the on/ off button on "on". I have the 50D always switched "on" and it goes off after a minute of no activity. That's handy because I only need to push the trigger lightly to get it on again and start taking photos. Secondly, taking self portraits with the Pancake lens is not really satisfactorily. You always get a blurry result, and need something to focus the camera on before you jump in front of the lens. I also dislike that there is no cable connection for the lens cap, so you always need to stuff it in a pocket or hold it in the hand - I much rather have it hanging from the camera.

The GF1 is compact, light and isn't in the way when walking with a backpack.

Break down of weights:

GF1 Body: 364 g
Viewfinder: 25 g
20 mm Pancake lens:100 g
7 - 14 mm Wide angle lens: 294 g

So what is the conclusion? As the GF1 is only a loaned camera and I need to return it, with all the awesome lenses et al, I am starting to save for my own. A 495 g camera with a viewfinder and a lens which satisfies all my needs, at a quarter of the weight of my EOS 50D is completely in line with my UL philosophy. It takes splendid photos, survives bumps, wetness and extreme cold, is small enough to carry the whole day around the neck but never feel it and is beautifully light. While the Pancake lens is all I need for the trail, for the city or holidays the wide angle lens or a zoom could be useful thus it is cool that switching is possible. If you want to go to the next level with your photography, or are looking for a light and compact camera which can handle your advanced needs, I believe the GF1 will make you a happy, and better, photographer.

UL means to leave at home what you don't need, and with the GF1 + Pancake lens I can leave a lot at home, but never miss anything.