The Panasonic DMC-LF1 represents a new line of cameras for the electronics giant: It's a compact camera with an optical viewfinder that fits in your shirt pocket.
In the dawn of the era of compact digital cameras, the first models had this antiquated hold-over from the film era: viewfinders. This lasted a few years but sometime between 2000 and 2006 they virtually disappeared, replaced with LCD finders that forced you to hold the camera at arm's length (promoting camera shake, often despite vibration reduction technology's best efforts). In bright sunlight, the live image was often unreadable. Camera manufacturers called this a "feature." Besides, we've been told, large LCDs don't leave any room for a viewfinder. I call it a design flaw. Now, along comes Panasonic DMC-LF1, a pocket-sized along with a nice little eye-level electronic viewfinder and a 3-inch LCD. Design flaw solved?
Note: The Panasonic DMC-LF1, which will be available in black or white for $499.99, is expected to be available in June, but Adorama is taking pre-orders for it now. Credit cards will not be charged until orders are shipped.
The Panasonic DMC-LF1 is the first in Panasonic's LF line of pocket-sized cameras with EVFs. Does "LF" stand for "Little Finder?" Maybe! Let's take a closer look at this intriguing new camera from Panasonic.
Panasonic DMC-LF1: Key Features
- 12MP, 1/1.7-inch High-Sensitivity MOS sensor
- 28-200mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.0 Leica DC Vario-Summicron lens
- Optical image stabilization
- 3-inch 920k dot resolution LCD
- 200k dot resolution EVF with 100% field of view
- ISO range 100-12,800
- 15 filter effects can be applied during or after image capture
- Manual focus, exposure control
- Wi-Fi connectivity, NFC (Near Field Communication) "touch and share" technology
- 1080 60i NtSC full HD video in AVCHD format
- 30p video in MP4 format
Viewfinder - A Compact Camera First
The 200k dot resolution of the 0.2-inch eye-level viewfinder is moderate, but the 100% field of view is a distinct advantage over other premium point-and-shot optical finders, which generally provide less than 70% coverage. Besides, when shooting in bright sunlight you will actually be able to see the image while you're shooting! The 920k 3-inch LCD should be more than sufficient for previewing images, but for shooting, the eye-level viewfinder will allow you to hold the camera more steadily in low light and reduce camera shake.
Sensor: Higher ISO, More Resolution
The Panasonic DMC-LF1 sports a newly designed 1/1.7-inch sensor, which is the same size as the sensor on the highly-regarded Panasonic LX7 but with higher resolution and a wider ISO range. The LF1 sensor boasts 12MP resolution and its ISO range reaches as high as 12,800. A high-performance Venus Engine image processor is said to reduce noise without missing low-frequency noise; more sophisticated edge smoothing technology is claimed to produce better image quality.
That said, the sensor is still smaller than the APS sensors that are popping up on competing (and more expensive) near-pocket-sized prime-lens-only compacts such as the recently introduced Ricoh GR, Sony RX100, and Nikon Coolpix A and so the image quality is not expected to be as good as those models.
The signal processing also promotes faster consecutive shooting speed—10 fps in full resolution, and a reduced-resolution high-speed burst rate of 60 fps, making this a great camera for capturing elusive high-speed subjects.
Newly refined lens.
A new Leica-branded 28-200mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.0 lens fronts the Panasonic LF1. Panasonic says the lens presents less optical distortion at 28mm than one might expect, and the lens uses 7 aspherical surfaces including an ED (extra-low dispersion) element to compensate for chromatic aberration. This lens is not as fast as the LX7's impressive f/1.4 but is still quite fast.
Creative options abound
As with the LX7, the Panasonic DMC-LF1 offers a range of filter effects—15, to be exact—which can be applied at the time you take the picture, or after the fact. These include Retro, Expressive, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Toy Effect, Miniature Effect, Star Filter, Cross Process, Soft Focus, One Point Color and Old Days. These can be applied to videos as well as still images.
More advanced photographers can take control of the camera via manual focus and exposure adjustments. The camera also offers an on-board Composition Guide for beginners.
The trade-off with the Panasonic DMC-LF1 when comparing with the LX7 is that with the LF1 you lose the faster f/1.4 lens, and there's no hot shoe for external flash or (now unnecessary) optical or add-on EVF finder (which would set you back an additional $160.95). The LF1's built-in viewfinder is very tempting, and creates a new sub-class of camera. I hope it's the beginning of what would be a welcome new trend in pocket-sized camera design.
The Panasonic DMC-LF1 will be available from Adorama for $499.99 in June. Pre-orders are being accepted now for the camera in black or white.