Thursday, June 11, 2009

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1: First impressions

Way back in 1995, I purchased a Sigma SD9 DSLR camera. It was the first digital camera to produce images of a quality that compared with 35mm film (remember film?) cameras. However, like most SLR cameras, it was a heavy thing to carry around and the software to process the RAW images it produced was slow and clumsy.

In 2003, I purchased a Pentax Optio 555. At the time it was a very impressive piece of kit, with a 37-187mm lens and a 5 megapixel CCD. It soon became my primary camera, its optical limitations outweighed by the fact that I could carry it with me everywhere I went.

Since then I have purchased a variety of digital compacts, including the Fuji F30, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 and DMC-LX3. Each one has produced incrementally better images, but their tiny recording sensors prevent them from matching their bigger DSLR cousins.

Recently I found myself browsing reviews of a number of semi-pro DSLRs, including the Nikon D700, Canon 5D Mk II and Sony A900. The image quality of all three cameras is quite stunning, especially in low-light situations. However, their physical size prohibits them being included in my 'always-with-me' bag. And the price of a 'body' (before a lens has been added) is close to £2,000.

Which brings me to the subject of today's blog. The DMC-G1 is an attempt to bring DSLR quality to a more compact format (for more about the format, click here). And, at the moment anyway, you can purchase one from Jessops complete with a 14-45mm and 45-200 lens (equivalent to 28-400mm on an old-school 35mm camera) for £650.00.

I bought one a couple of weeks ago, and so far I am delighted with it.

– I can (just) squeeze it into my current laptop bag.
– Its controls are well laid-out and lag-free.
– The image quality is much better than the LX3.
– Hurrah for blurred backgrounds!
– The articulating viewing screen is excellent.

Things I miss include:

– Lack of proper macro
– I love the shutter sound, but would be nice to have a 'silent' option

Also, the viewfinder is better than any other video viewfinder I have used, but still grainy and artificial, especially in low-light.

The RAW format images are noticeably better quality than the JPEG option. I began by using a standard SD card, but the Sandisk Extreme III card I purchased last week is noticeably quicker, especially when taking sequential shots.

Time will tell whether this becomes my 'Goldilocks' format, or whether I will continue to long for the superior image-quality of the bigger DSLRs. Right now the DMC-G1 is providing me with a lot of fun for the same price as a 'medium-quality' lens for one of the semi-pro DSLRs.

Now if Panasonic could just bring out a 'compact' using the four-thirds format...

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For in-depth reviews and sample images, visit Photography Blog and/or Digital Photography Review.

To see some images I have produced using it, visit my Flickr site.