Panasonic Lumix G1

Panasonic has made a compact camera that offers the advantages of a DSLR.

Dec. 2, 2008— -- Fitting a lot into a small package isn't always easy, but that's what Panasonic has done with its Lumix DMC-G1.

The camera is an attempt to bridge the gap between bulky DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras that offer a wide range of features, interchangeable lenses and the ability to really control the photos you take, and the compact point-and-shoot cameras that fit easily in pocket or purse but leave you at the mercy of what the camera wants to do.

The G1 is a great first attempt, but as with most first attempts, you have to take the good with the bad.

Fortunately for those who have been waiting for a reasonably compact camera with the features of a DSLR, there's a lot of good in the G1, and the bad is not so bad.

First and foremost is the quality of the pictures it takes. Even if you are shooting in the intelligent automatic mode, with its 12-megapixel Live MOS chip, the G1 gives you true, rich, subtle colors.

It is also wonderfully fast for a 12-megapixel camera, so when you press the shutter, you get the picture you actually want and the flip-and-twist LCD is large and sharp.

Like the large DSLRs, the camera offers various levels of control, from completely automatic to completely manual, where you set everything and focus yourself. That makes the camera a good transition for people who have only used point-and-shoots but want to get more artistic.

Of course, those are features you'd expect in a full-size DSLR, but the G1 does it in a lightweight body (it weighs just under a pound with the Lumix G Vario f3.5-5.6 14-45mm -- 28-90mm equivalent -- lens attached) that is shaped like an SLR with the grip on the right side. It isn't going to fit easily in your pocket, though, unless you've got deep pockets.

Some bloggers and reviewers have complained about the layout of the controls, particularly the front jog dial, which is used to change exposure compensation. I did not find myself inadvertently rotating the dial but judging from other reviewers' reactions, maybe I was just lucky.

The icons used in the display, however, I found to be unintuitive, and users will need to really study the thick manual to learn what they are, which could be daunting to those with little photo experience beyond automatic cameras.

And while it is nice to have a zoom as a standard feature, the lens that comes with the camera just leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, Panasonic has a second lens available, the Lumix G Vario f4-5.6 45-200mm (90-400mm equivalent). With a converter, you can also mount standard Four Thirds lenses, though many will not support the G1's autofocus.

Despite these quibbles, the G1 is an exciting camera. Its small package is packed with more than enough features to satisfy both the casual shooter looking to move up and more serious photographers looking for a less bulky alternative to their DSLR.