A revolution is afoot, and Panasonic is leading the rebel movement. After pioneering the Four Thirds sensor size along with Olympus, that non-conformist couple is now trying to thrust Micro Four Thirds upon the world, and the Lumix G1 is the first ‘MFT’ camera trying to prove its merits.
The idea of MFT, as with the original Four Thirds system, is to pack SLR quality into as small a form as possible, and also decreasing the size of the lenses needed. The Olympus E-420 is a great example of what Four Thirds brings to the table, and MFT is all about making SLRs even smaller.
Not the norm form
Strictly speaking, though, this isn't an SLR; it's a digital compact with interchangeable lenses. That's why the eye viewfinder is digital rather than optical, as with a long-zoom bridge camera.
Talking of that viewfinder, it's one of the highlights - bright and sharp enough to use for precise focusing, even if it shares the same blotchiness as the main LCD.
What comes as perhaps the biggest surprise is that the Panasonic G1 is rather chunky. It's not as significantly smaller than the Olympus E-420 as we expected and would have liked – it shaves just a few millimetres off in each direction.
Part of the bulk might have been saved by having a fixed LCD, rather than the swivelling one that's been chosen. On the flipside, the bulky handgrip makes the G1 comfortable to hold.
The 14-45mm kit lens is very compact, though, as is the 45-200mm model, but sadly that's where the lens choice ends at the moment. A nice, fast prime would be welcome.
Against the grain
One of the dangers of a small sensor is increased noise, particularly at high ISO. The G1's problem is that it suffers from noise even at ISO 100 and steadily gets worse until it's unusable past ISO 800.
Colours are a little insipid, too. The captured detail is good, however, despite some clipping issues, and the autofocus is nippy. The flash performance is also quite sympathetic.
The controls could be more ergonomic and logical. The Quick Menu button gives access to many settings, such as exposure compensation and metering modes, but it ironically encompasses too many options, so none of them are quickly accessed. At least ISO and white balance are available directly from the D-pad.
If Micro Four Thirds is to succeed, it needs a more competent champion than this – something with the intuitive controls a photographer requires but that's not trying so hard to look like an SLR.
Go for an Olympus E-420 or Canon G10 for now, not this poor halfway house.