Panasonic G1 — first impressions

For quite some time now I’ve found myself frustrated with manually focusing adapted lenses on my Olympus E-P1. The low-resolving display simply isn’t accurate enough to focus without the magnification loupe. And even with the loupe activated, focusing can still be tricky. Then there is the issue of holding the camera still when you have it at arms length in front of you. So I was contemplating a number of options, chief among which ranked getting an E-P2, E-PL1 or E-P2 with the VF-2 external viewfinder. I would’ve known the interface, the menus, I would’ve gotten those great Olympus JPEG colors AND I would’ve had a high-resolving viewfinder that would a) allow more precise manual focusing and b) help stablising the camera. But since my budget was very tight, I couldn’t get either. (Thus, the new OM-D E-M5 was out of the question right from the beginning.)

Then I remembered that Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds cameras have been using integrated hi-res EVFs from the very beginning, starting with the G1, the first Micro Four Thirds camera ever. So I did some research and found out that — despite lacking a video mode — the G1 still seemed to be a viable option, from a technical as well as financial point of view. A quick look at current eBay auctions conveyed that G1 bodies are being traded at insanely low prices these days, going as low as 100 € depending on their condition. None of the Olympus options would’ve been available for that low a price. And the main point for me was having an EVF with high resolution, which the G1 has. It might be considered “old” already  from a technological point of view — especially considering the brilliant EVF in the Sony NEX-7 –, but it resolves 1.44 million dots, which should in theory make manual focusing even without magnification a blaze.

So I took the plunge and got myself a black G1 in very good condition, looking like it had hardly been used. As soon as I received it, the first thing I tried was of course the EVF. While it is indeed not the best there is, it is absolutely sufficient for my needs. The image is created by sequentially displaying the red, green and blue channels at a high frequency that is not visible when your eye holds still. However, as you move your eye around, you can see colour artifacts that can be a bit distracting. But the resolution is very good, and high enough to even focus my 50mm f/1.4 SLR lens manually without magnification — although activating the magnification loupe, which needs two button clicks and a third for the higher magnification grade, helps significantly with achieving critical focus.

One thing that bugs me about the G1, though, is that when light gets sparse, the preview on the screen or the EVF is nowhere near what you will get in the final image. I am not used to this — the E-P1 will always preview exactly what I will get in the final JPEG image. With the G1, images taken in low light generally turn out a lot darker than the preview, while the display and/or EVF can get very noisy. This can be quite frustrating, but since I am shooting RAW (something that was recommended since Panasonic’s JPEG engine allegedly isn’t very good — something I have yet to confirm), I suppose I can always correct exposure in post-processing.

So far, I have only taken a couple of test shots, none which have any artistical value at all. But what I can say already is that I am quite satisfied with the EVF, and happy that I finally have a camera that enables me to manually focus my adapted lenses much easier and much quicker than was possible with the E-P1.

Another thing I found was that the G1 and the 20mm lens seem to be a perfect match — size-wise as well as technically. Since the lens was made for Panasonic’s cameras, the two work together very well. Focusing is much quicker than on my E-P1 (which was never famous for having a quick AF algorithm), and because of the size-adjustable focus point of the G1 also much more precise when it comes to critical focusing. Also, I really like the size, feel and handling of the package. BUT … the E-P1 + 20/1.7 is still smaller, and is still my favourite combo if I want to carry a small package that takes great JPEGs that don’t need much post-processing.

Stay tuned for future reports!

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