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*September 9, 2008 - *Panasonic, which in partnership with Olympus introduced the Micro 4:3 format in August (see news story here), has now announced the 12.1-megapixel Lumix G1, the company’s first camera in the new format. Micro Four Thirds is designed to enable interchangeable-lens cameras in a significantly smaller size than a traditional SLR body, by eliminating the moving mirror (photo composition and auto focus are both achieved in Live View mode) and using a smaller lens size. As promised, the G1 is decidedly compact at 4.88 x 3.29 x 1.78 inches (124 x 83.6 x 45.2mm) and 0.85 ounces (385g). The shape is basically similar to a shrunken SLR body. There are both a 3-inch (76.2mm) LCD, with 460,000-pixel resolution, and an electronic viewfinder, both with approximately 100% viewing area. The LCD is hinged, allowing it to swing away from the camera body, rotate and pivot. A built-in sensor automatically boosts LCD screen brightness by up to 40% when shooting in bright environments. A sensor beneath the electronic viewfinder automatically switches the view between displays when it senses the user has raised the camera to his or her eye.
One significant hurdle to creating a viable Live View-based camera has been the slow auto focus performance found in Live View mode in current SLRs. When shooting through an optical viewfinder, SLRs use phase differential auto focus and a dedicated focus sensor, which works very quickly. In Live View mode auto focus relies on the image sensor itself, using contrast detection technology, which has worked slowly to date. Panasonic claims to have solved this shortcoming, promising Live View focus between 0.3 and 0.4 seconds. Another improvement over existing Live View implementations is the 60-frame-per-second LCD display refresh, eliminating the visible stuttering typically seen when panning a current camera in Live View mode.
Two optically stabilized lenses are scheduled to ship at the same time as the camera, a 14-45mm (f/3.5-5.6) and a 45-200mm (f4.0-5.7). Compared to the 14-50mm lens currently available for Panasonic’s L10 SLR, the new 14-55 lens weighs less than half as much, at 6.87 ounces (195g). Micro Four Thirds cameras, including the G1, will be work with some existing Four Thirds format lenses, by way of an optional adapter ring, but there are significant compatibility limitations, because only a handful of 4:3 format lenses are compatible with contrast detection auto focus.
While the format will allow future cameras with video recording, the G1 does not include a movie mode, though there is an HDMI output for viewing photos on an HDTV. It does have an intriguing new feature called shutter speed preview, though. Users can display an interactive simulated photo live on the LCD, demonstrating the degree to which movement will be slowed or stopped at the current shutter speed setting.
The Lumix G1 will be available in three colors, black, blue and burgundy. Pricing and availability will be announced in early October, though the camera plus 14-45mm lens combination is expected to sell for under $800.