Panasonic has today unveiled the company’s first true compact-style Micro Four Thirds digital camera. The DMC-GF1 is set to go into battle against the Olympus E-P1 when it goes on sale next month.

Look out for an EXCLUSIVE FULL TEST of the Panasonic GF1 in Amateur Photographer magazine’s issue dated 12 September 2009

Boasting a ‘neo-classic’ design, the GF-1 is the third camera in Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds stable.

It houses the same 12.1-million-pixel LiveMos sensor as featured in Panasonic’s first Micro Four Thirds camera, the G1. And it borrows its Venus Engine HD processor from the G1 and GH1.

‘The GF1 is primarily targeted at photo enthusiasts looking for a compact camera to use at the weekend or when their DSLR is not with them,’ said a spokesman who claimed the GF1 delivers a responsiveness and image quality akin to a DSLR.

However, Panasonic also hopes it will appeal to compact camera users looking for a ‘more powerful and flexible camera’, without having to buy a DSLR.

Promising to be the first in a ‘new line-up’ the GF1 measures 119x71x36.3mm and weighs 285g body only (100g lighter than the G1). The similarly sized Olympus E-P1, which debuted in June, measures 120.5x70x35mm.

The camera includes an ‘improved’ version of Panasonic’s ‘My Colour’ mode – featuring seven pre-set options and a custom function that can be used to adjust colour, brightness and saturation.

A 1.5in ’tilting’ external Live View viewfinder (100% field of view) will be available as an optional accessory, for those who don’t want to use the camera’s built-in monitor.

The GF1 houses a built-in flash and 720×1,280 ‘HD’ movie recording, activated using a dedicated movie button on top of the body.

Meanwhile, a new ‘peripheral defocus’ option aims to enable ‘easy and fun depth of field control’. This is for people who are not used to controlling depth of field – though it is adjusted, via the camera’s aperture, in the same way (i.e. it is not software-based).

An ‘exposure meter’ graphic display illustrates shutter and aperture settings to help budding photographers ‘understand the relationship between shutter speed and aperture’. More experienced users can turn this feature off.

Functions also include three frames per second shooting and a 3in (460,000dot resolution) LCD screen.

Leica M and R-mount lenses can be attached, using an optional adapter.

Also new are two new Micro Four Thirds lenses in the shape of the Lumix G Vario 20mm f/1.7 ‘pancake’ and Leica DG Macro Elmarit 45mm.

The GF1 will cost £549 body only. It will also go on sale as a kit with a 14-45mm lens and in an outfit that includes the 20mm optic. The kit prices are yet to be confirmed but we understand that the 20mm ‘pancake’ outfit is likely to cost around £799.

The camera will be available in a choice of colours: black, red or silver.

A spokesman told AP that the firm has no current plans to launch a version that includes a built-in optical viewfinder.

Neither are there moves to launch a new flashgun to complement the smaller proportions of the GF1.

AP has learnt that Panasonic plans to continue to develop cameras that fit into three distinct categories of Micro Four Thirds camera.

In an interview with AP’s technical editor Angela Nicholson, Ichiro Kitao, manager of Panasonic’s Products Planning Team, said the firm will continue to produce SLR-style Micro Four Thirds cameras with video (as per the existing GH1); without video (G1); and more compact-style models such as the GF1.

Kitao said Panasonic would like to develop a 12mm pancake lens but conceded that this would be difficult to produce.

? Panasonic has today also confirmed to AP the upcoming launch of three further Micro Four Thirds lenses: a 100-300mm f/4-5.6 OIS; 8mm f/3.5 ‘fisheye’; and a 14mm f/2.8. Release dates have not yet been announced.

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