It's been more than a year since the Micro Four Thirds standard was announced, promising DSLR-like quality images in smaller than DSLR bodies. With four of these cameras in the market, including the new Panasonic Lumix GF1 we're reviewing today, has the standard delivered? To answer this question, it helps to look back at how the Micro Four Thirds platform has progressed.
Panasonic took the lead in introducing the first Micro Four Thirds cameras with the G1 in late 2008 and then quickly followed it up with the GH1 update in early 2009. While noticeably smaller than an entry level APS-C sensor based DSLR, the G1 was not much smaller than an Olympus Four Thirds system DSLR, the E-420 (touted as the world's smallest DSLR during its March 2008 release). The GH1 had essentially the same body as the G1, but added HD video recording, and was the world's first interchangeable lens camera that could auto-focus while shooting video.
Both cameras were fine performers, but we lamented their high price tags. The G1 was selling for S$1199 at its release, the price of competing entry-level DSLR cameras with wider selections of lenses. The GH1 however, was going for US$1499.95 at release.
While their camera bodies and lenses were smaller, they weren't much smaller than the smallest DSLR cameras already retailing at that point of time. In fact, they retained familiar DSLR-like bodies. Our dreams of DSLR-like quality in compact bodies seemed like they were going to be more hype than reality.
Then came the PEN E-P1 from Olympus. Already gathering excitement from sneak previews of its retrospective camera body, the most exciting thing about the E-P1 was its size. While bigger and heavier than a compact, it was noticeably smaller and lighter than the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 and GH1. It was released to generally positive reviews, including a Gold award from our HWM tech publication and a solid 4.5 stars rating from our own online review in July .
When the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Micro Four Thirds camera's photograph was leaked online, we were as surprised as anyone. While anticipating an update to their successful LX series, we didn't expect Panasonic to release its third Micro Four Thirds camera within a year, and especially not in a compact body unlike its predecessors. This one even had the built-in flash that we missed on the Olympus PEN E-P1, together with an optional live view viewfinder that the E-P1 also lacked.
Despite the feature additions on the new GF1 from Panasonic, is it too late for Panasonic to catch up with the lead time that Olympus has enjoyed on its popular E-P1? And more importantly, does the GF1 measure up to its closest competitor, the E-P1, and does it live up to the Micro Four Thirds promise? Stay tuned for the verdict after our thorough assessment in the following pages.