Panasonic Lumic GF1 + 20mm F/1.7 lens






First Impressions.

Having found a company (Toys R Us..... Actually Park Cameras) who were prepared to sell me a Red GH1 without insulting me, I received my GF1 + 20mm F/1.7 camera yesterday morning.
As it was a gorgeous sunny day I had the whole day to work with it & shoot some tests + used it in a "real-life" work situation.

GF1 Camera.

The first thing to notice is that it feels very solid. I was expecting a compact type weight but its heavier than that. Its lighter than a GH1 but doesn't feel it. It handles very nicely & again feels substantial, like a camera in fact.
There are slight differences in layout to G1/GH1 but overall if you are used to either of those cameras it will take about 5 minutes to adjust.
One thing I really liked was putting the AF/MF selector on the back on a button. This makes it easy to flip from one to the other - rather than using the dial on the G1/GH1.
I have ordered the electronic viewfinder but it wasn't available yet so I spent the day using the screen. This is the best G series screen yet. I worked the whole day in bright sunlight & it showed up pretty well.
Much has been made of the lack of Image Stabilisation but I was able to get sharp images at 1/30th sec using the 20mm lens, with no problem.
The menus are very similar to G1/GH1 & again if you are used to them the GF1 will be easy to navigate.
My first conclusion is that it was much nicer to use than I thought. In fact in lots of ways it feels better than my GH1 - however that may just be novelty. I'll find out more on that after using it for a while.
Image quality was as expected - identical to my GH1. One nice thing is that the 20mm focuses automatically while shooting video. I wasn't aware that it did that. Its slower and clumsier than the GH1 14-140 combination but was a nice surprise.

20mm F/1.7 lens.

I will try to keep this section as restrained as I can, since I am seriously impressed with this lens.
Oh what the hell...... ITS FANTASTIC.
I know its had some great reviews, e.g.
"Overall, we can't help but conclude that the 20mm F1.7 is the first must-have lens for Micro Four Thirds" from dpreview
but I don't think I was prepared for quite how good it is.

Firstly - Its sharp, and how. When I process files for reproduction I usually apply some small amount of sharpening on the final image. Its not necessary using this lens. The images I took were full of detail. This lens shows just how good the Panasonic m4/3 sensor is. These images look better than anything I ever shot with my D3 & D700. (At ISO 100-400 - the GH1 can't compete at higher ISO's) I put together a few multi-image panoramas with it & they were jaw-dropping.

Secondly - Theres hardly any chromatic aberration or fringing, even at F/1.7. This applies to files processed in Adobe Camera Raw as well as the in-camera jpgs using the in-camera corrections.

Thirdly - F/1.7 is wonderful. Let me say that again - WONDERFUL!! This is without doubt the best performance below F2 I have obtained on any lens I've used, ever. Wide open its tack sharp with virtually no CA or fringing. The bokeh is nice without being super-creamy. I found it pretty easy to manually focus using the GF1, though the AF is spot on. No back or front focusing.
There's a full set of test results at http://www.dpreview.com/lensreviews/panasonic_20_1p7_o20/page3.asp which give the facts and figures.
I actually found it difficult to use other apertures as I wanted to stay on F/1.7 all the time.

Fourthly - I should mention its very good at all other apertures too. It is very consistent throughout. There probably are measurable differences but for normal viewing at 100% on a monitor there's very little difference between F/1.7 & F11, which is pretty amazing.

The only negative I can report is it has some slight barrel distortion, despite the software corrections. However I do mean slight.

Without doubt this is one of the best lenses I've ever bought. It's definitely the sharpest "made for digital" lens I've ever used. Its going to be a classic. It probably already is.

Conclusion.

In my opinion this lens takes m4/3 into new territory, particularly with regard to Panasonic. They have produced a series of excellent lenses. While not extensive, they seem to have concentrated on quality.

With the ability to use so many other lenses from other manufacturers, this is rapidly becoming one of the most versatile camera systems ever created. (With the notable exception of seriously good super-wides) And all in a small, relatively light package.
Lots of people, including myself, are very excited by where this heading. For too long the major camera manufacturers have been producing DSLR's that are becoming like SUV's - overblown, overweight & overpriced. M4/3 is a step back from this. I believe many photographers are fed up with the predictability & similarity of DSLR offerings. I know I am. This also includes full-time professionals like me. I have every intention of using the 20mm lens & probably the GF1 on my next job as well as my GH1 + 14-140. The video possibilities with the 20mm are mouth-watering.

I've said before that I think Panasonic are a "contemporary leica" in terms of where they see their niche. They probably know that they are unable to compete with Canon, Nikon & even Sony in the mass-market & to an extent their pricing reflects that. They are producing cameras for photographers, rather than people who sometimes take pictures. Their association with Leica, is I think, both no accident & has influenced them in terms of mapping out a direction for them to follow. There is a market for well-designed, well-engineered products. Just look at Apple & the iPod & the resulting spin-off increase in sales of all their products. Not everything has to aimed at mass-market & lowest common denominator targets. To me the 20mm F/1.7 & GF1 illustrate that perfectly. They didn't have to make both so well & could have compromised in all sorts of ways. To their credit, they didn't & for that they have my thanks.

Theres a set of test shots at:-
http://www.flickr.com/photos/29782425@N08/sets/72157622451252281/