Dive under the hood of the world's first interchangeable-lens Micro Four Thirds EVF camera and gain expert knowledge of this small wonder.
• High-resolution electronic viewfinder has 1.4 million dots
• Four Thirds-type, 12MP sensor
• Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lensmount
• Live View
• Compact, lightweight body
• Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes
• Built-in flash
• Hot Shoe for external flash
• 3-inch rotating LCD monitor
• JPEG, RAW image capture
• Adaptor for standard Four Thirds lenses available
• ISO range 100-3200
Price: $680 (as of date of article)
The innovative Panasonic Lumix G1 is the first Micro Four Thirds Camera, and is a bona-fide game-changer. By removing the space-eating SLR reflex mirror system and replacing it with an electronic viewfinder with unprecedented resolution, Panasonic was able to reduce the distance between the back of the lens and the sensor surface (flangeback), thereby shrinking the size of both camera and interchangeable lenses without reducing the size of the sensor. The result is a compact camera that feels like a superzoom EVF but offers standard DSLR image quality and performance.
As I wrote in my review of the G1, the camera is well-balanced and easy to hold, with well-proportioned, logically placed controls (with only one or two minor quibbles). The viewfinder is the best EVF finder I've used, thanks to its 1.4 million dots. And the camera offers a wide range of control options that will keep everyone from snapshooters to veteran DSLR users happy.
The Guided Tour
First, let's look at the camera's external controls, then we'll dive into the menu options.
Top of camera
From left to right, we start with the small focus control knob, which lets you select single-shot autofocus (AFS), continuous autofocus (AFC), or manual focus. (MF). Single-shot activates focus when you press the shutter release halfway down, or when you take the picture. Continuous keeps focusing whenever the camera is on. In manual focus, you turn the lens focus ring (the forward ring on the camera's kit lens) to focus.
Tip: In general, keep the camera set to AFS. This will conserve battery power.
On the left side of the EVF/flash housing is the flash lever; push it forward to flip up the onboard flash. You can also mount an external flash such as the Panasonic DMW-FL360E or DMW-FL220E on the TTL hot shoe atop the EVF housing.
To the right of the EVF housing is the exposure control dial with a chef's dozen options for exposure mode, scene mode or custom settings. Settings are fine-tuned using the forefinger-controlled wheel at the top of the grip. The modes are:
Intelligent Auto (iA): In iA, the camera analyzes the lighting and scene conditions and chooses the best scene mode for optimal exposure, ISO, and focus. If you're not technically oriented or simply want to concentrate on the creative aspects of photography, this is the scene for you. Programmed Auto Exposure is a less sophisticated version and is somewhat antiquated by comparison.
Aperture-priority autoexposure (A) lets you control the lens aperture, and automatically selects the shutter speed for proper exposure.
Tip: Use this setting to control depth-of-field, but be careful when selecting smaller apertures; this could cause the camera to choose too slow a shutter speed.
Shutter-priority autoexposure (P) lets you control shutter speed.
Tip: Use this setting when you want to freeze (or deliberately unfreeze) motion; the faster the shutter speed, the better the stop-action freeze.
Manual exposure (M) lets you take control of shutter speed and aperture settings. This is for advanced photographers who prefer total control over image quality.
Custom (CUST) lets you choose from 20 possible settings to create easily-recalled groups of preferences.
Color Palate lets you fine-tune color balance, brightness, and saturation.
Scene lets you choose optimal camera settings for sunsets, parties, babies (including indicating up to two babies’ dates of birth) and pets.
Night Portrait balances flash exposure with longer exposure speed to capture details in shadows and at night.
Tip: When shooting in Night Portrait mode, be sure to keep IOS on or mount the camera on a tripod because the long exposure for ambient light can otherwise result in shaky backgrounds.
Closeup optimizes exposure when shooting macro subjects.
Action chooses faster shutter speeds to freeze active subjects.
Landscape automatically selects infinity focus. This is useful when shooting through windows since the glass can mislead the focusing system.
Portrait optimizes color balance and exposure for flattering portraits.
The camera's on/off switch can be found at the lower right edge of the exposure mode dial. The drive modes, which select picture shooting/sequence speeds, can be found on the upper right surrounding the dial. Choose one-shot mode (single rectangle) for general shooting, and AE bracket (stacked rectangles) for up to 3 fps rapid-fire exposures. Exposure compensation burst mode (stacked rectangles with +/-) lets you shoot overexposure, correct exposure, and underexposure in rapid sequence. The self timer delays shutter release for 10 seconds (can be changed in the menus).
Tip: Use exposure compensation burst mode with the camera on a tripod to create a range of images that can be combined later in software to create high dynamic range images. Read how to do this here.
At the far right of the camera top are the shutter release (at the top of the grip), and two quick access buttons that call up specific actions that are controlled in the menus:
Q Menu quickly accesses frequently-used settings, such as film mode, shake reduction, meter pattern, aspect ratio/image size, JPEG or RAW/image quality, autofocus mode, ISO, and exposure compensation bracketing amounts. Use this button with the Display button on the back of the camera.
Film Mode (which seems redundant since it's also included in the Q menu) selects color and contrast settings that produce images that are similar to what you would get from popular types of film. These include Stanadard, dynamic, nature, smooth, nostalgic, vibrant, and several black-and-white film options. There are two customized My Film settings where you can select color intensity and contrast levels, essentially creating your own film look.
Back of camera
Starting from the upper left corner, the LVF/LCD button manually switches between the LCD finder and the smaller electronic viewfinder. If you want to save battery power, select the LVF, which uses a little less juice.
The Diopter Adjustment dial, located to the right of the viewfinder, is used to manually set image sharpness. When adjusted for your eyes, you will marvel at how sharp the electronic image is!
The back of the G1 is dominated by the flip-out LCD monitor. You can turn it so it's facing the subject for self-portraits or simply to provide feedback, or shoot with it at any angle from straight down to straight up. If you only want to shoot using the EVF (which saves battery power), simply flip the monitor so it's facing the camera.
Tip: You can do "hip shots" with this camera, but be aware that if you're holding the camera at waist level with the LCD angled up and you hold the camera too close to your body, the image will turn off. That's because the distance sensor under the viewfinder will think that you're holding the camera up to your eye, and it automatically switches to the EVF view. You can override this in the Setup menu.
Immediately to the right of the EVF finder is the green Preview button, which switches the camera into image preview mode.
Next is the AF/AE lock button, which locks in the focus and/or exposure setting, allowing you to recompose without affecting focus or exposure. You can also do this by pressing the shutter release; your preference for which button controls focus and which controls exposure can be customized in the set-up menu.
At the far upper right corner of the camera back is a thumb rest. Sounds trivial? This is a little touch that makes the camera more comfortable to hold. Kudos to Panasonic for their attention to detail!
The Display button, located below the thumb rest, controls what information appears with the image during shooting and playback.
Tip: I prefer keeping the histogram on when I'm shooting manual exposure. This gives me instant, visual exposure feedback. I can make adjustments quickly without taking my eye from the viewfinder.
The circular array of cursor buttons is used both to navigate the menus and to quickly access and adjust ISO, meter pattern, white balance, and the customizable Fn function button.
The Fn button can be assigned to control aspect ratio, image quality, metering mode, exposure, or display composition guide lines, based on what you choose in the setup menu under Fn Button Set.
In the center of the curser button circle is the Menu Set button, which accesses the menu. Press it to approve any changes when the menu offers choices.
Finally, below the cursor buttons, is the Trash/Preview button. In preview mode, hit this button to delete images. In shooting mode, hit the button once to quickly access the preview image; hit it again to go back to shooting mode.
Tip: Use the preview feature to quickly check depth of field, or to confirm the effects of a chosen shutter speed.
Front, bottom, and sides
The front of the camera includes the all-important forefinger Front Dial, which controls aperture and shutter speed (in manual, press in to switch from one to the other, then turn the dial to adjust).
To remove the lens, simply press the button to the right of the lens, then turn the lens counterclockwise to dismount. To attach a lens, match the red dot on the camera mount to the dot on the lens, then turn the lens clockwise until it locks in.
The bottom features a standard tripod mount centered under the sensor, and the battery compartment.
The left side of the camera has two doors--a smaller one for a remote control such as the DMW-RSL1E. The second, larger door reveals ports for HDMI cables (to attach to HD TV) and a standard USB digital Video Out port. The SD or SDHC memory card is inserted into a compartment on the right side of the camera.
The kit lens
While you can use the Panasonic DMW-MA1E adapter to use any standard Four Thirds lens on the G1, the standard kit lens is simple enough to use. The mystery ring towards the front of the lens adjusts focus when the camera is in manual mode. Zoom is obvious. As with all other Four Thirds lenses, aperture is controlled from the camera, but optical stabilization is controlled via a switch on the side of the lens. I found Panasonic's Mega Optical Image Stabilization to be very effective!
The G1's menu structure is divided into five categories: Record, Custom, Setup, My, and Playback. Let's look at each of them.
When you first start up your G1, go straight to the Setup menu and set the Clock and World Time.
You may also choose a setting to assign to the Fn button: Aspect Ratio, Image Quality, Metering Mode, Intelligent Exposure, or Guide Line.
Auto Review lets you determine how long to display the preview of the photo you've just shot--1, 3, or 5 seconds, off, or hold (until you're ready to shoot again).
HL (Highlight) turns on "blinkies"—dark areas that blink on and off to indicate parts of the image that are overexposed.
Economy lets you choose a "Power Save" mode that automatically turns off the camera after 1, 2, 5 or 10 minutes of inactivity. The default is 5 minutes.
Tip: You may want to change this to 1 minute. You can turn the camera back on by simply pressing the shutter release halfway.
LCD Mode instructs the camera to automatically adjust brightness depending on ambient light. So, if you're shooting outdoors, the camera senses this and intensifies the output.
# Reset lets you set image file numbers.
Beep controls the focus confirmation beep. It can be off, muted, or loud. The default is muted.
Monitor lets you set monitor brightness (by pressing the up/down buttons) and saturation (by pressing the right/left buttons).
TV Aspect lets you choose camera settings based on the aspect ratio of the TV you are playing back pictures on.
HDMI Mode chooses NTSC or PAL TV playback mode. NTSC is the default for North American TV sets.
Viera Link offers enhanced connectivity to Panasonic Viera-compatible playback equipment.
Language lets you change the menu language from English (default) to French, Spanish, or Portugese.
Version Display tells you which firmware version the camera is using for the camera body and current lens.
USB Mode has you select what kind of device you are connecting to: A PictBridge printer or a PC.
Format lets you format the memory card.
Tip: This is generally a good thing to do on a regular basis.
The Record Menu offers settings that you may frequently need while shooting pictures. Many of these can also be accessed via the control buttons or Q.Menu.
Aspect Ratio lets you choose the relative dimensions of the image: 3:2 (similar to 35mm negative), 4:3 (reflects the actual sensor dimensions and uses the most of the pixels), and 16:9 (wide-screen, compatible with HDTV).
Picture Size controls image size, in pixels—Large, Medium, or Small
Quality selects JPEG or RAW image file format as well as the amount of compression.
Tip: Choose the lowest compression rate. You can always compress later, and memory cards are inexpensive now.
Metering Mode selects spot, center-weighted and general metering options.
Stabilizer: The G1 has three stabilizer modes. Mode 1 compensates for shake at all times when in record mode; Mode 2 compensates for shake only when the shutter release is pressed. Mode 3 compensates only for up/down motion.
Tip: Use Mode 3 to smooth out panning when shooting a subject that's moving parallel to the camera.
Flash switches the flash setting; this menu is more easily accessed by pressing the flash button on the back of the camera.
D. Red-Eye, when turned on, will automatically detect and correct red-eye in flash pictures.
Flash Synchro lets you choose first or second-curtain flash.
Tip: Second-curtain flash, combined with long exposure when shooting moving subjects, leaves a ghost-like tail behind the subject, a more natural look. In first curtain flash, that "tail" seems to come before the moving subject and it appears that the subject is moving backwards!
Flash Adjust lets you change the amount of light put out by the flash, in 1/3 stop increments, by as much as + or - 2 stops.
I.Exposure (Intelligent Exposure Adjustment) automatically adjusts contrast and exposure to maximize the image's dynamic range and reduce the difference between the brightest and darkest areas of an image. Three choices let you choose the degree of adjustment.
Tip: Shadow areas may exhibit more grain when using this mode, so use it sparingly, and at lower ISO settings for best results.
EZ Ex. Opt. Zoom, according to Panasonic, enlarges the picture "with no quality deterioration. It does this by reducing image size, using only the 3.1 million pixels in the center of the sensor.
Digital Zoom uses all 12MP, but essentially zooms in on the pixels to either 2x or 4x.
Tip: I see no practical difference between Digital Zoom and EZ mode. Both should be avoided.
Burst Rate lets you shoot multiple frames, very fast. There are two modes, High (3 frames per second) and Low (2 frames per second). You need to switch the Advance lever to access the burst rate (the icon of stacked rectangles).
Auto Bracket lets you control the exposure increments when shooting in Auto Bracket mode. In Auto Bracket, the camera shoots a fast sequence of over, normal, and under-exposed images. You can set the difference between these three stops to be anywhere from 1/3 to 2 full stops. You can take a sequence of up to seven shots this way.
Self-Timer lets you choose a delay of 2 or 10 images--or 3 images in 2-second intervals after a 10-second delay).
Tip: Try the 10 seconds/3 pictures feature when photographing groups with the photographer in the picture, because you can edit out the shot where someone blinks.
Color Space lets you choose sRGB (the default) and AdobeRGB color space. Adobe RGB is useful for reproduction via offset printing but otherwise should not be selected.
Long Shtr NR tells the camera to reduce digital noise that results from longer exposures. Keep in mind that processing time in this mode may be longer than usual.
ISO Limit Set lets you choose the highest and/or lowest ISOs that the camera can automatically set.
ISO Increments lets you choose intermediate speeds in 1/3-stop increments (such as ISO 125, 320, 1000, etc.) The default is full-stop steps (100, 200, 800, etc.)
Custom Menu lets you create up to three combinations of settings that let you quickly access your most-accessed preferences. You can choose from AF/AE lock and lock hold, AF+MF, focus priority, AF assist lamp on/off, pre-AF, Fn button set, auto review, long shutter noise reduction, and shoot without lens among the 25 options. Display options can also be changed in this menu.
Tip: This menu is somewhat confusing and perhaps unnecessary because you access the same customization more easily by turning the top-camera control dial to CUST.
My Menu lets the camera memorize up to five recently-selected menu items. This makes it easier to recall frequently-used settings. The settings (explained above) are: LVF/LCD Auto, I. Exposure, Metering Mode, Quality, and Picture Size.
The Playback menu lets you create slide shows, controlling duration. You can also tag individual photos as favorites (which would be the only shots to play during slide shows), and set the camera to automatically (or not) rotate verticals so you don't have to turn the camera to view them. You can also protect specific images, which will prevent them from being deleted when you press "delete all". (The photos will, however, be erased if you reformat the memory card.)
DPOF Print lets you choose which images to print, how many, and what size, and then transfer the print order to a DPOF-compliant printer of photoprocessing service. You can also resize, crop (trim), or change the aspect ratio of a 16:9 image to 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratio.