The Panasonic LF1 is very much an underdog in my opinion, a hidden gem. The camera went pretty much unnoticed in the photography world, but it more than intrigued me. I am a firm believer that every photographer should have at least 2 cameras: A non pocketable one and a pocketable one. One should always be with you because pictures don’t wait for you. When it comes to a pocket camera, the LF1 Lumix is not only a great contender for a pocket camera, but it’s also a pretty amazing multi-tool. Here’s my review.
What’s so special?
The Panasonic LF1 is unique because it’s the first camera of it’s size to have an integrated electronic viewfinder. An amazing technological feat if you ask me because that camera has a lot to offer even without the viewfinder. Besides the finder the LF1 is an F2.0 Compact Camera with a sharp Leica f/2 lens and does video pretty well. The 10fps burst mode is pretty impressive for a camera that small. In a nutshell, it’s just an all around pocket beast.
How’s the handling?
When the postmaster arrived with a small box I was sure I would get my Panasonic LF1 the day after, but to my surprise, the LF1 was inside that small box! The Panasonic is small and sexy. It has an uber cool raised area for the viewfinder and wi-fi antenna that gives it a distinct look. The flash does not pop up and is discreet.
The LF1 is small when compared to other serious compact cameras, it’s more in the Canon S100 series range than say Ricoh GRDIV or Panasonic LX7. The back is nice and the screen is gorgeously seamless with the camera (No raised bezel). The only small issue with the back is the Fn button and Playback buttons are not raised enough, they are too caved in, no biggie tough. The front of the camera has the control ring and no grip. The control ring has a nice feel to it, kind of an aperture ring feel. Since the ring almost touches the bottom of the camera you can use the control ring like you would hold a rangefinder with focus tab. A cool experience since this is a compact.
The LF1 does not have a grip. I am afraid of holding the camera because it’s small and does not have anything in the font to hold the camera secure. When will someone learn that grips are essential? Good thing Just getting a flipbak G4 will resolve this issue. The back of the camera does have a thumbrest tough, so it does give you a non slippery feeling from the back, even if I wish it was raised a wee bit more.
The lens on the LF1 is a Leica Vario-Summicron zoom lens that goes from 28mm to 200mm. It’s f2.0 on the 28mm end, f/5.9 on the longer end. In other words, it’s fast on the wide angle end. The camera does allow you to step zoom and remember the last set focal length. But the only caveat is that the level on top near the shutter release will only allow smooth zoom, if you want step zoom you will need to use the lens ring.
Here’s the step zoom focal lengths: 28-35-50-70-90-135-160-200. They are common focal lengths and I am sure you will be right at home with it. To go from say 28mm to 200mm, it only takes a quarter turn to do so, but if you go too fast, it will take a much broader turn of the lens ring. The lens ring is like the Canon S100 series but with less resistance.
The Panasonic LF1 can go from 28mm to 200mm in 35mm terms. If the previous phrase sounds like gibberish, here’s what it means:
It can go from as wide as above to as telephoto as below:
And anywhere in between. Pretty useful.
A caveat with the zoom is that you drop from f/2 at 28mm to f/5.6 at 200mm, it’s 3 stops slower. The fastest you can get at popular focal lenghts is:
The Panasonic LF1 has great image quality. The Leica lens and Panasonic sensor really hit the spot in this one, the images coming out of the camera are sharp and defined. There’s no point saying it’s awesome without showing. So here are sample LF1 sample shots at the extreme focal lengths so that you can judge for yourself. Below each image there is the full size sample and RAW file to download
Here’s the Image Quality of the Panasonic LF1 compared to the Ricoh GRD IV, a 1/1.7 inch sensor:
All I can say is that I am very impressed by the LF1’s image quality. It’s not made for really high ISOs (no compact really is) but that’s why there’s the fast lens and the flash. Speaking of Flash, there is no manual controls for flash and no Hotshoe. If you really need external flash, just get a bottom plate and a slave flash.
The Panasonic LF1 allows shooting in RAW mode, and yes it allows you to shoot in RAW mode while keeping your screen in BW, no need to add a JPG. The RAW files are great and can be twisted an turned at desire (Below with these presets applied):
In other words it’s a very capable camera, especially for enthusiasts and advanced photographers. There is definitely character to the images you get with the Panasonic LF1, when I look at them, there is a certain feel, a certain texture to them that I find very pleasing. I think it has a signature look. Unfortunately tough the camera does tend to fringe on the purple side. Nothing a little Lightroom won’t fix but it must be stated.
You can get so close to your subject in macro mode you will wonder if you won’t hit the lens. If bugs and flowers are your thing, it’s an amazing little camera. The macro is only for 28mm tough, at longer focal lengths there needs to be more and more distance between the lens and the subject. Before we get on to it, here’s a full size sample of macro mode:
The image above shows what I mean by “character”. The images from the camera just has a certain emotional resonance to it due to the way the Panasonic LF1 renders the images. Anyhow, the macro performance is sharp.
Here’s two shots of flowers with my hand and fences for size reference (Second shot with these presets):
If you like your flower and bug shots, with this camera you can be a bug-flower paparazzi. The Bokeh (out of focus area) is very pleasing in Macro because it’s very smooth and natural-looking. If you look at the pictures above, it the macro mode tends to compress everything in the center which I find pleasing. And again, look at the texture of the image, especially in BW, it has a nice feel to it….such nice rendering…. Yeah I’m in love.
Autofocus on the Panasonic LF1 can be summed up in one word: Real fast. That’s two words, but who cares? The auto-focus on the LF1 is almost as instant as you half press the shutter release. It’s impossibly fast and has 23 point AF areas. Or you can choose face detection or one point AF. With one point AF you can set the Fn button to select your Focus point.
The AF focus on Macro mode is slower tough, the camera basically resets the focus every-time you press the shutter release half way. I’m stating this in order for you not to leave the camera on macro focus mode for regular shooting…it’s slower than regular AF mode which is fast.
[highlight] Low Light Performance[/highlight]
The Panasonic LF1 is equipped with a 1/1.7 inch sensor. Larger than most point and shoots but smaller than APSC sensors and micro 43. The smaller the sensor the lower the noise performance at higer ISOs. But the Panasonic LF1 is quite impressive for it’s size at higher ISOs. I see acceptable results even at ISO 1600. The max ISO of the LF1 is 3200, but you can go in a menu and turn on High ISO and you will be able to go up to 6400. But there is one thing that the LF1 has that might keep the photographers using it going to higher ISO’s: Stabilization.
As I stated before I find the images from the Panasonic LF1 to have a certain character to them. I also find this character more pronounced when it comes to higher ISOs in BW (below ISO 1600):
Photographers are limited by the light that they have. The less light, the higher the ISO will need to be. Usually most folks can get away with 1/30th, maybe 1/15th of a second hand-held, but since the Panasonic LF1 has image stabilization, you can get up to half a second reasonably sharp and have a usable photograph (look at the 100% crop on the left for sharpness reference):
So not only the ISO performance good for the format, the image stabilization also is. I’m mainly a small, compact camera shooter, that’s my thing. I start sweating when the light drops because low light is to a small sensor camera what water is to a cat.
But I must admit that the Stabilization emboldened me, I found myself shooting at night, at ISO 400 (!!!) and still get a usable photograph thanks to the stabilization. Here’s a random shot at night, ISO 400, 1/6th of a second:
So the stabilization does in fact change the ISO game because you can go slower and still have a sharp picture, without having to bump out the ISO. Wonder what they do in Woman’s club?
If you do not like the AF (who doesn’t?), you can set your camera to manual focus. To focus you can use the front ring but it has to be left on default (the camera chooses what the ring does). By rotating the ring you will get to a zoomed in view to fine tune your focus.
The manual focus should not be used if you need to focus quick, AF will take care of that. In order to get from say 0.98ft to infinity, you have to twist the front lens quite a few time….alternatively you can use the ring on the back which is much quicker and easier. But the good thing is that Praise-the-Lord this thing has a visual focusing scale. Joy!.
When you pop to manual focus by pressing left on the directional button an start twisting the lens you get this: This is a representation of your depth of field. So the camera can focus from 0.98ft to infinity. The yellow thing shows what will be in focus. So here’s what’s going to be in focus at f/2 (At 28mm):
And now f/8 (at 28mm):
You can see a visual representation of your depth of field. You know what that means? It’s a good street photography and landscape camera if you are into these things.
If you do not know what hyperfocal is, please skip this part. If you do know, I’m sure you’ve been waiting to know how you can set your focus! I’m pleased to tell you that hyperfocal setting is simple on this little camera. Here’s how to do it:
Go to M mode (or A mode if you want the camera to have control of the Shutter speed), make sure you are at 28mm, press left on the D-pad in the back, select MF. Change your aperture to 5.6. Turn the lens ring so that the yellow part hits 3.3ft (about 1 meter) and infinity, you are at hyperfocal! Everything from 1 meter will be in acceptable focus.
Here’s the hyperfocal table for the 3 most popular focal lengths:
28mm: f5.6 at 1m (about 3.3 ft)
35mm: f8 at 1m (about 3.3 ft)
50mm: f8 at 2m (about 3.3 ft)
You cannot set auto ISO in manual but you can in semi auto modes like Aperture priority. There is an iISO but it’s not an auto ISO with a user defined limit, it’s ISO based on light and subject movement. If you opt for a more automatic hyperfocal experience, all you have to do is point and shoot, a real trip when using the viewfinder.
Above is a quick video with the Panasonic LF1 (Full HD Sample)
Like I said I consider the Panasonic LF1 to be a multi-tool than just a camera: One part it excels in is video. How do I say this? It can record AVCHD and 2 channel stereo! But the real icing on the cake for me is twofold: The ability to shoot stills while recording (9mpx, 15 pics max) and the stabilization. Oh the stabilization!
Say you are walking, you move and shake, but the brain compensates for it and you are not aware of it. But this is not so for the camera, it records every shake you make. Enter stabilization: Software technology that analyses the movements of the camera and compensates for it. Once you press the red button to record a movie, everything becomes smooth, you feel your hand moving but the camera only gently moves. It’s such a pleasure to watch. Actually, heres a small video I shot with the Panasonic LF1, completely handheld:
It’s me walking, notice how smooth the movement is. Without the stabilization the video would be so much more shakier. With two hands and not moving you can get pretty steady shots. I’m not a video wiz, a client pushed me into it because he loves my photography so much, but I know when I should be impressed and I am. Amazing, amazing video for such a small compact camera.
Autofocus is still fast in Video, and if you use MF, it will be locked in video mode. Here’s a video of the AF speed:
No, you cannot record audio alone, but the audio is so good it needs a section by itself. Video is only as good as the audio, if the audio sucks, it’s going to detract from the video. The Panasonic LF1 has two amazing audio
features: Wind cut and stereo. The Panasonic LF1 has two microphones, giving you natural, spacial sound. But the really useful feature is the wind breaker. Ever recorded video only to hear FFFfffFffFFf? That’s wind in your mic, to remediate you need a wind breaker over the mic. The Panasonic LF1 has technology to cut out the wind. Mighty impressive. In the video below, observe how you don’t hear the wind and how much the sound is clear and natural:
It’s clear from the features of this camera that video was not an aftertought, it’s not poopooed like certain other manufacturers do. Great audio + great video = a great pocket video package. It’s amazing how you can get such high quality video from this little gem. I like it so much, I expect myself to do more video on a personal level.
The viewfinder (How to be a badass 101)
The viewfinder is one of the unique attributes of the Panasonic LF1…..well it’s a small viewfinder, 2000.000 dots, it’s not going to be as clear as a DSLR viewfinder but it’s more than enough. Due to the shape of the optics in the viewfinder it always tends to pick up a wee bit of background light but that’s negligible. Since it’s a small viewfinder, you have to squint in order to see clearly the fame. I personally can’t hold that much squinting and a lot of people are complaining about the viewfinder….but there’s a better way.
Ever seen the Disney movie “Pocahontas”? Remember when John Smith’s partner was shooting with one eye closed and he remembered Smith’s words “Both…eyes…open”? Well that’s the trick. Just put the viewfinder to your eyes with both…eyes…open. There’s much less eye fatigue that way and makes you look badass.
Oh and if you want to be even more badass try this:
The viewfinder is good enough, especially in bright sunlight, just don’t squint and use both of your eyes. To use the viewfinder one must press the EVF button before. Well that might sound like an issue but it isn’t because it’s called a habit. Once you start getting used to pressing a button before an action, you will start doing it without thinking.
I know so because I had a camera that required you to press a button before using the EVF, after using it a while, you won’t think about it at all.
Wifi-fi on the Panasonic LF1 is impressive. It also has NFC if you want to connect phone and camera without much setup. The reason why it’s impressive it’s because of the refresh rate between the phone and the camera. The lag between moving the camera and seeing the result on a phone screen is quick, I would eyeball it at 1/15th second.
Here’s what the video means: The camera is recording the phone that is controlling the camera. That little lag you see is the time it takes for the camera to transfer the data from camera to phone over wifi. Impressive. Zooming takes about twice as long but it’s still fast operation. Speaking of witch, the phone application is pretty darn complete, including geotagging the images, manual focus, change settings like ISO, focus mode, etc.
You can even playback your images on your phone. Impressive. All you need is a phone with the Panasonic Image app, sync with wifi and you are good to go. To get the devices going again beyond the original setup, it takes about 5 seconds. You can view your pics but not videos from phone.
But what’s the point of the remote viewfinder? Well there’s a few uses, first of all of you have a bloated ego this is for you! Who needs others to take a picture when you have yourself? Seriously tough, it’s good for remote release without a cable, landscapes (Pressing down on the button will produce micro vibrations that may affect your pictures with longer shutter speeds), doing videos by yourself (you have the viewfinder in your hands!), family pics with you included….It has it uses….
Actually I found one use yesterday: A Baby monitor. I let my wife sleep in the morning, and yesterday I had two toddlers to watch by myself. But Duty was calling me on the throne. Well, why do I have a Panasonic LF1 for? I put on a cartoon show for them, placed the LF1 so that I can see them and went to the bathroom with my phone. Who said Remote viewfinder can’t be useful?
Image Playback on smartphone Just like shooting from the smartphone is snappy, image playback is also snappy, about 3/4th of a second to stream the full resolution from camera to phone. When loading the Panasonic Image app, you can choose directly to view mode where the lens will retract and the back screen of the camera will go black. To transfer an image to your phone, there’s an unintuitive interface to go through. You have to press for a second on the image you want and it will give you this weird box thing to go through.
Basically you are allowed to select 3 applications to be able to share to and set them to 3 directions. When you long press on an image you can drop them to one of these applications and it will act as a regulare image to be shared. Or you can just select Save to “SmartPH”, your smartphone. It takes 10-15 seconds to copy a full rez JPG to your phone (No Raw). Impressive once more.
Other Wi-Fi features
With Wifi you can offload your pictures, but you will still need a cable because it can only transfer files from camera to your computer while charging. I’d like to see a dock for this I guess. You can also directly upload to the cloud and post to your social networks. But the real useful wi-fi feature in my opinion is being able to download the pics to your phone.
So you will be able to edit your pics right from the phone, pretty cool. I occasionally do Instagram, sometimes I want to put pictures taken with my point and shoot, that means offloading them on computer and then putting them on my phone. The wifi in the camera removes this step and allows sharing almost instantly from your phone.
The Panasonic LF1 allows you to select a Image effects to be applied on your images like contrasty BW, Cross Process, etc. For most folks the fact that your mode dial has to be in the “Creative effects” mode is fine. But for those who want to use say manual mode with said creative effects won’t be able to. You can turn your screen in an average BW, Sepia, Vivid or normal color. But you can use the Creative effects on video (Except a few) and you can have a certain degree of control over them, like the amount of contrast in High Contrast BW.
Street Photography Settings
The camera’s autofocus is fast, and is good for street photography, but for photographers who don’t do anything but Hyperfocal, this camera is also great. Say you setup your camera to be at hyperfocal on A mode, if you opt for Auto ISO, you are pretty much set for the whole day, everything will be in focus from 1m to infinity.
If you opt for manual operation, it’s also easy. When you want to change your exposure, simply roll your hands on the wheel in the back. To change your ISO, press the quick menu (the trash button) and you will be able to change it with the same wheel. You can also do all of these things right from the viewfinder. Hum…impressive?
This is the sort of camera where if manual operations are your thing you can simply set-it-and-forget it. A joy to use once you get used to it. To jump back to regular AF all you need is to press right, up, up and enter. So you can jump from MF to AF in a second or so. Once you remove all of the beeps from the camera, the Panasonic LF1 is definitely a silent camera. The shutter click is also very discreet.
The Panasonic LF1 allows you to overlay some compositional guidelines over your images. You can have the rule of thirds, diagonals, S shape. All good stuff if you need a little guidelines for your photos, my only issue is the lack of a golden rectangle overlay.
Front Focus Ring
The front focus ring with the viewfinder in my opinion transforms the Panasonic LF1 into a sort of the smallest digital rangefinder. Rangefinders are an experience, the way you use them. The LF1 is the closest you are going to get on such a small camera. The front focus ring can do many things: Manual Focus, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, etc. At least on paper. Truth is, not all of these are available for the user to set up. I’m on Manual mode, here’s my options:
-Default -Step zoom -Exp compensation -Aspect Ratio -ISO -White Balance
As you can see manual focus, Aperture, Shutter speed are not available to me. But if I leave the front ring to Default, I can control my Aperture with it (The ring in the back will control the Shutter speed). Now if I go to Manual Focus, the lens ring will not be able to change my aperture but will now control the manual focus. You can still change Aperture and Shutter speed with the wheel on the back tough.
You can still step zoom and change your ISO by pressing the quick menu (trash can button) and use the lens ring to go back and forth. Leaving the lens ring on default will change it’s function depending on the mode you are in. Just like any camera, it will take some getting used to, but every crucial setting is not too far away, so the camera can offer quick operation.
The Panasonic LF1 has two user set modes that you can switch to as you please. There’s C1 and C2. Simply change all the settings you want and save them to one of these modes. Useful if you juggle multiple types of photography.
One feature I find useful is the Travel feature, you can setup your travel date and if you want the camera to stamp the location. Useful for travels because the camera will adjust to the destination time when you go there. There’s also the features you have on other cameras like send to TV, etc.
This camera has a lot to offer for those who are enthusiasts. First is the fact that the LF1 is just a darn good camera. Perfect for travel because of the zoom range, and with the wifi connectivity, you can backup your images and send to social media where you have connection. For video it’s just impressive and will capture great colors at full HD mp4.
For Advanced Shooters:
This camera is good for the consumer market, but it’s also great for photographers looking for a serious compact. It’s highly versatile and does many things very well. I personally trust my LF1, the meter is great, dynamic range and RAW files are good and offer good wiggle room. This camera simply packs a serious punch that photographers should look into.
An Amazing pocket multi-tool:
The Panasonic LF1 is a great still camera, it does video well, it’s light, records great audio, allows wireless connections, has stabilization, windcutter, has a fast lens….It’s just a versatile camera, a multi-tool in an unbelievably small package. Panasonic really did well with their DMC-LF1 and comes highly recommended.