Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Performance, Timings and Image Quality

by J. Keenan Reads (364)

PERFORMANCE
With interchangeable lenses and a sensor the same size as that in the Olympus DSLR flagship, you’d expect the GF1 might provide some real punch in the image quality department, and you wouldn’t be disappointed. This camera can allow a novice plenty of point-and-shoot type options for automatic image capture yet provide an experienced user with ample tools to create to their heart’s content.

Shooting Performance
The GF1 powers up quickly and displayed a focus icon in about 0.7 seconds – I got off a first shot just 0.96 seconds after powering up. Single shot-to-shot times ran about 0.9 seconds – continuous shooting with full resolution, standard quality JPEGS rang up about 3.1 fps for 10 frames, and even with fine quality JPEGS the camera managed over 2 fps.

The GF1 was perfectly content to continue on past 10, but we called a halt at that point. There’s about a 0.3 or 0.4 second blackout after the first shot in the burst with fine quality, and about half that with standard quality, while images lag one shot behind the monitor – it’s still easier to follow moving subjects with a DSLR, but the GF1 is much better at it than any other compact digital I’ve reviewed. Shutter lag came in at 0.02 seconds.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 0.02
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 0.04
Nikon D3000 0.06
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 0.06

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 0.19
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 0.32
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 0.37
Nikon D3000 0.60

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 170 3.8 fps
Nikon D3000 5 3.5 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 5 2.8 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 10 2.2 fps

AF acquisition times are good – we measured a 0.32 second press to capture time with no pre-focus. Not quite as good as the better entry-level DSLRs, but right in stride with the middle of the pack.

The flash on the GF1 is not particularly powerful, and with the fairly slow 14-45mm zoom lens we had for this review the range was given as 3.28 feet to about 11.2 feet at auto ISO. Shooting at 100 ISO from distances of about 5 and 7 feet respectively in program auto mode, the GF1 was at the edge of its flash performance envelope.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

Fortunately, the GF1 enjoys good higher ISO performance, so bumping up the ISO to 400 gives the flash the extra distance needed to produce brighter shots while retaining good image quality.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

Flash recycle times at 100 ISO with a fresh battery were good – under 3 seconds for partial discharges in moderate lighting conditions and about 4.5 for full discharges in pitch black conditions. You’ll want to lose the lens hood for flash photography – it casts a shadow in the lower right portion of the frame.

Depending on the subject and additional illumination the effect can be muted to the point where a casual viewer might not notice, but in cases where the flash is the primary illumination the shadow can be quite dramatic. In any event, there is some degree of shadow in every shot from wide angle to telephoto. Here’s an obvious example where the flash was the primary light source:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Flash with lens hood

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Flash without lens hood

Lens Performance
The Panasonic 14-45mm zoom lens is fairly slow, with maximum apertures of f/3.5 and f/5.6 at the wide and telephoto ends, respectively. There is a tiny bit of barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, and negligible pin cushion distortion at telephoto. Edges are a bit soft at wide angle, but telephoto is pretty good across the frame.

There was a bit of chromic aberration (purple fringing) from time to time in high contrast boundary areas, but this was generally difficult to see at anything under about 300% enlargement – very good performance overall from this lens.

While the lens has a nominal zoom multiplication of about 3.2x, Panasonic has included their extended optical zoom feature that bumps this factor up by capturing images at reduced resolutions using only the center portion of the sensor.

The 14-45 lens is stabilized, with an on/off switch located on the lens barrel. The GF1 allows selection from three stabilization modes via menu – continuous, when the shutter button is pushed, or during panning.

Video Quality
The AVCHD Lite movie mode is recommended for video that will be viewed on a HDTV, and Motion JPEG for computer/internet viewing. Unfortunately, the software included with the GF1 for AVCHD playback didn’t like my 64 bit Vista platform (or vice versa) so I had to do all my viewing on the camera itself. AVCHD records at 60 progressive frames per second, but the output is at 30 fps – I understand this is good for action and high speed, but I couldn’t really tell much difference between it and Motion JPEG on the small screen. The Motion JPEGs looked good on the computer – video quality is quite good with this camera.

Zoom is available during video and the continuous AF catches up with zooms fairly quickly. The microphone is quite sensitive to wind noise and there are three menu settings to help reduce its impact. Motion JPEGs are limited to 2GB file size; AVCHD can go as long as 110 minutes.

Image Quality
Default images out of the GF1 were very good with regard to color, quality and sharpness, and if you shoot program auto or any of the manual modes you have a wealth of adjustments to manipulate the final result. Here are the standard, dynamic, nature, smooth, nostalgic and vibrant film modes.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Standard
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Dynamic
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Nature
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Smooth
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Nostalgic
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Vibrant

Along with these processing options, users can tweak color and sharpness settings themselves. Below is an example of an image in standard mode that has contrast, sharpness and saturation increased to maximum.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Maximum contrast, sharpness and saturation

The camera has Panasonic’s intelligent exposure feature that adjusts contrast and exposure to expand the camera’s perceived dynamic range – it can be disabled or set to low, standard or high settings. Here is an example of each.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Intelligent Exposure off

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Low Intelligent Exposure

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Standard Intelligent Exposure

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
High Intelligent Exposure

Auto white balance did a good job with most lighting conditions, but shot warm in the studio under incandescent light. There are daylight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, flash, custom and preset color temperature options but surprisingly no fluorescent settings.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light

Multiple metering is the default and did a good job overall. There were some lost highlights in bright contrasty scenes, but overall these were relatively isolated. Center-weighted and spot metering options are also available.

ISO noise performance predictably left compact digitals in the dust, and fell a stop or two shy of the best DSLR performance with APS-C sized sensors. The Micro Four Thirds System standard sensor is much larger than the 1/2.3″ sensors that are found in so many compacts, yet about only 2/3rds as large as an APS-C sensor. With everybody putting 12 megapixels on their respective sensors, it’s usually the guy with the biggest sensor who wins.

The GF1 is very clean through the 400 ISO crops, with just a hint of noise starting to creep in at 800. There’s a bit more degradation at 1600 but that value is still quite good, but 3200 definitely shows the effects of rising noise levels.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 100
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 200
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 400
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 800
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 3200
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
ISO 3200, 100% crop

Additional Sample Images

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1


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