On the Panasonic G1

Calligraphy, Meiji Shrine, originally uploaded by Eric Jeschke.

Key: R20090118-180844-levels

(Image: Calligraphy examples at the Meiji shrine in Harajuku, Tokyo)

I spent some time last week in Japan fondling cameras at one of the major department stores. As I’ve been noting in this blog, I love the handling and files from my Ricoh GX-100, but it has not been reliable.

Like a lot of other photographers, I’ve been salivating over the prospect of a compact, interchangeable lens, all-electronic camera. The Panasonic G1 is in the vanguard of what is likely to be a growing and robust market segment.

I came this close to buying the camera, and if the dollar had not been so weak, I probably would have made my way home playing with a new G1, that’s how much I liked the camera. But the price is a bit high for the camera, especially at the current exchange rates, and a few niggling doubts still clung to my brain after some extended fiddling and rereading the internet reviews to date.

Here is a takeaway of my quick impressions:

  • Nice build.  Looked pretty rugged.  The controls felt just a little too flimsy for my taste, especially the finger scroll wheel on the front.
  • Good size, but a bit bigger than I am looking for in a compact camera.  This was offset by the low weight.  It was actually lighter with the kit lens than the smaller Canon G10 that was sitting near it.  ( I played a bit with that camera too, but that’s for another post).  Since the GX-100 is really too big to put in a pocket with necessary dust protection, I’d taken to carrying it around in a pouch with a shoulder strap.  So I was ok with the idea of a slightly larger, verging on small DSLR size camera that I’d carry around in such a pouch IFF it was light enough.
  • Great electronic viewfinder.  I didn’t get to play with it in low light, which is where I hear it falls down, but it appeared to work great under moderate fluorescent store lighting.  The manual focusing was unlike anything I’ve seen on a compact, and looked even better than I remembered from my SLR film days, with the exception of not having a split prism.  It was bright, clear, sharp…very nice.
  • Articulated LCD screen–YES!!
  • Auto focus seemed very fast and reliable.  No lag, locked on to everything I pointed it at.  Focus tracking seemed to work well too.
  • Ergonomics: would have liked to seen more manual control wheels, but what it had was pretty nicely implemented.  It was a bit like working the GX-100, a pressable wheel and a few dedicated buttons makes short work of changing settings.  It certainly felt “good enough” in handling.

Negatives (for me):

  • Image stabilization only in lenses, not in-body.  One of the advantages of buying this would be to get the Milich GT adapter and use it with all kinds of great older lenses.  But I like stabilization so much I don’t want to live without it.  If its built into the camera body, you get it for free with any lens.
  • No video.  Yes, I am looking for video in a carry-everywhere camera.  And I don’t apologize for it.
  • Slow kit lens, and currently a pretty slow lens lineup.  if you are going to buy a big sensor camera, don’t hobble it with slow lenses.

That’s about it.  There was an awful lot to like about the camera.  I’ve decided to wait a bit more and see if the Olympus micro 4/3’s offering or the followup to the G1 (rumored to have HD video capability)  will be the ticket.  In any case, it was pretty nice to see a good, solid offering in this market segment, and I’m sure Panasonic will sell plenty of these units, especially after the generally good reviews that have been going around.  Hell, I might buy one on a bargain price when the G1 followup comes out and the price plummets!

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