I’ve owned the GF1 for just under a month now, and have had the chance to use it enough to form some opinions on where it excels and where it could improve. In no particular order, here they are:
The Auto ISO feature leaves a lot to be desired. It allows you to set a minimum shutter speed and it will adjust ISO up to keep the shutter speed above that value, up to a user-definable maximum ISO. Sadly, it doesn’t work in manual mode. I’d really like to be able to dial both shutter and aperture to a value and have the camera try and compensate with ISO to get the exposure right. Also, in Aperture-Priority mode, I’d like to be able to prioritize ISO ahead of shutter speed; right now the camera will push the shutter speed to barely hand-holdable levels while there are plenty of decent quality ISOs that could bring my shutter speed up and hold my dialed-in aperture.
The P (Program) mode will stick at f/1.7 even when there’s plenty of shutter speed and ISO headroom to go for a smaller aperture. f/1.7 is really wide-open, with very shallow depth-of-field to be the go-to default. Yes, I can use program-shift to get an equivalent exposure with a smaller aperture, but I’d like it to start a bit smaller when appropriate. Likewise, the full auto mode also likes to shoot wide open even with plenty of available light, which is often not what someone like my wife would want in a point-and-shoot mode.
I hate that “My Menu” isn’t customizable, but simply has my last used menu items. It sticks “format” as the top item when it’s the last thing you do, making it too easy to reformat your card accidentally.
I find the interface to be generally intuitive. A lot better than the mess Olympus made with the E-P1 menu system. The most common controls are pretty easy to get to.
Rear LCD/Optional Viewfinder
I generally want reviews and menus on the rear LCD and the current view and shooting info in the finder–it’s all EVF or all LCD right now. The LCD is beautiful. Upon review, it’s not quite as good as the D700’s but it’s close enough. It sure would be nice if the resolution and color rendition of the EVF were better. The refresh rate of the LCD is excellent. It’s not easy to make critical decisions with it in bright light/outdoors, but that’s to be expected. I wish there were better post-shot review options with the histograms.
Image quality is overall quite a bit better than the G9 it replaces in my stable. The noise gets pretty bad at ISO 1600, but it’s usable for most of my purposes. 3200 is only for use if it’s the only way to get some sort of shot, and there’ll be some real noise reduction post processing work necessary.
Ooh, la, la. This is a sweet little lens! It’s fast, fast, fast, and has nice bokeh. On the down side, the manual focus ring gives no real feedback, and isn’t a pleasure to use, although it works better than most manual focusing on small cameras I’ve used. The lens cap sucks–it’s deep and pops off too easily.
The GF1 has proven to be a decent mountain biking camera, although it’s clearly not built for fast action. It works well when pre-focusing and shooting action; fast moving subjects coming at the camera are not handled super well by the AF. Shutter lag is minimal and power on time is good enough for me.
Conclusions and Comparisons
To date, this is by far the best compact camera I’ve used. Despite its drawbacks and high price, it has the best build, handling and image quality I’ve seen. The G9 was good in the build regard, not as close in image quality (although it was no slouch), but far off from a handling point-of-view. The menu system is much better than the E-P1 based on the brief time I handled one of those, and the EVF is a differentiator. I do wish the GF1 had the E-P1’s in-camera image stabilization–that would be killer for low-light pics like those I’ve been shooting on the bike. Overall, though, this camera wins.
The Canon G11 and S90 are now out and gaining a lot of buzz. It would take a very impressive camera to make me sell the GF1 at this point, and I can’t imagine that either of them will compel me to do so. Still, I’m interested to play with them and see what the state of the art from Canon is. The G9 has been a great camera, and I’m sure Canon isn’t out of this race.