Olympus E-P1 vs Panasonic GF1

by Enche Tjin on September 4, 2009

The Micro four thirds system is now more exciting than ever with the introduction of E-P1 and GF1 this year. These cameras share most of the features found on digital SLR cameras but with the advantage of a 30-50% reduction in size and weight. Micro 4/3rds cameras represent an attractive alternative for compact camera users who want the imagine quality of digital SLRs without the added weight and size.

Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic GF1 are the smallest super compact micro four third system cameras produced to date. Personally, I think they have reached their design limit. Although many people feel the Panasonic GF1 might be a better option than the Olympus E-P1, a closer look at the features found on both cameras suggests that this might be not exactly true. The Olympus E-P1 has some important advantages worth considering.

olympus-ep1-vs-panasonic-gf1

Sensor size

Basically, both cameras employ the same 12 mp LIVE MOS sensor, making them pretty much a tie in this regard.

Kit lens option

1. Panasonic comes with a 20mm f/1.7 lens, which is one stop better than the Olympus 17mm f/2.8 lens. This makes the Panasonic lens more desirable for low light shooting. The good news is, if you own the E-P1 you can use the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 since it is compatible.

2. Panasonic’s 14-45mm MEGA OIS lens is longer and heavier because Panasonic employs lens-based stabilization. The Olympus E-P1’s 14-42mm lens, on the other hand, is much shorter because image stabilization is built into the camera. So, some might find the Olympus E-P1 favorable because it is more compact, which is what m43 concept is all about.

Your kit lenses selection will depend, of course, on your shooting style. Likely most people prefer the flexibility of a zoom lens, so the Olympus package might be more appealing.

Video Mode

Both has video mode, but with minor differences. Panasonic records in AVCHD format or Motion JPG, while Olympus only offers the option of Motion JPG. AVCHD format is more versatile, since you can burn it to DVD and watch it on an HD television via a DVD or Blue-ray player. Definitely a plus for Panasonic. However, Olympus records audio in stereo, while Panasonic records only in mono. If recording original sound is important for you, Olympus has the upper hand, but if you want the practicality on editing or viewing videos, then Panasonic’s AVCHD is a better choice.

Auto Focus

Auto focus speed on the GF1 is amazingly fast for non-SLR camera. It takes only 0.3 sec to focus end to end. AF speed on the Olympus E-P1, on the other hand, takes about 1 sec. It is three times slower.

Body and Handling

The Olympus E-P1 has in-camera image stabilization like their larger four thirds system digital SLR cameras. Panasonic’s GF1 unfortunately does not include this feature. But most Panasonic lenses have MEGA OIS (Optical Image Stabilization). Many micro four thirds and four thirds system lenses, however, do not have MEGA OIS, as it is exclusive to Panasonic. Even Panasonic’s new 20mm f/1.7 lens does not have it. The built-in image stabilization allows Olympus to produce lenses that are shorter (in collapsed position) than those offered by Panasonic. I think Olympus is the clear winner here.

e-p1-vs-gf1

Perhaps the biggest advantage of Panasonic GF1 is the availability of the  built-in flash and AF assist lamp that help you tremendously in low light or indoor. Olympus has none of those.

As for handling, both cameras are very good and similar to DSLR cameras. One big difference is size, with both 4/3rds cameras being so much smaller and lighter. The E-P1 has two dials, while the Panasonic has only one. But the dial on the Panasonic GF1 is larger and also functions as a button, like the scroll wheel on your mouse. I think it is very smart design.

As for size and weight, both are almost most identical. The GF1 body is just a bit lighter than the E-P1, but when mounted with lenses, they are almost the same with approx. 50 g difference. Both bodies are very well made. GF1 has a relatively plain, point & shoot design, whereas the E-P1 has a more retro and stylistic look.

Panasonic’s LCD display has twice the resolution, at 460k pixels compared to the Olympus’s 230k, making it the clear winner in this area.

ISO Sensitivities

Although both cameras employ the same sensor, Olympus bravely dials up its ISO level to 6400, while the GF1 reaches only 3200. This is partly due to an improved noise control algorithm in the Olympus E-P1. Based on the samples I viewed, E-P1’s image quality at high ISO is comparable to most digital SLR cameras with bigger APS-C sensors. GF1’s performance at high ISO is not that disappointing either, I should point out. At ISO 800 images are very clean and usable for large print.

Metering mode

Olympus E-P1 is smarter than Panasonic. It has additional shadow priority and highlight priority modes, which are very useful for producing creative images, such as low-key or high-key style.

Lens compatibility

This is the main problem for the Panasonic GF1, especially for those who already have Olympus four thirds system lenses. The GF1 is not compatible (read: can’t auto focus) when you use lenses that do not allow AF in live view mode.

Others

Panasonic offers an optional external viewfinder that can be tilted 90 degrees vertically, but the resolution and the size is much smaller than that on Panasonic G1 / GH1.

Olympus offers art filters, which can be fun to use, especially for beginners who might not want to or know how to edit photos later in the computer. The downside is the processing in camera is slow.

Panasonic GF1 and Olympus E-P1 side by side comparison with both kit lens extended

Panasonic GF1 and Olympus E-P1 side by side comparison with both kit lens extended

Conclusion

After the long comparison above, it is difficult to conclude which camera is better. I feel that they complement each other. Each camera has its strengths and weaknesses. But here is what I found:

Olympus E-P1’s strength is its compatibility to a wide range of lenses, from micro four third lenses and four third lenses via adapter. It also has built-in image stabilization, meaning you are not restricted to only lenses with that have the image stabilization built into them.

The GF1’s advantage is it seems to be a more practical camera. You might enjoy using it more because of its very fast auto focus, 460k LCD screen and availability of built-in flash and AF assist lamp, which makes shooting in low light condition a breeze.

So, now you should have a good idea of the differences between these two ultra compact m43 cameras. In short, if you have plenty of four third system lenses, you might be better off with the E-P1, but if you want a camera that is fast, versatile in bright or low light, then the GF1 is the answer.

E-P1 pros

  • In body stabilization
  • Compatible with all four third system lenses with adapter
  • Stereo audio recording
  • Art Filters
  • Bundle with compact zoom kit lens
  • Retro classic design
  • ISO range up to 6400

GF1 pros

  • Fast auto focus
  • AF Assist lamp
  • Built-in flash
  • Lens-based stabilization
  • Bundle with pancake 20mm f/1.7
  • Simple design with many colors to choose
  • Optional live view viewfinder
  • AVCHD movie format

Dave from The Lazy Photographer helped with editing the article.

Related Post:

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

martin david September 11, 2009 at 3:39 pm

can the olympus 17mm pancake lens be used on the GF1 ? it is closer to a 35mm lens which i like for street photography. BUT in your opinion which is the better lens from the point of sharpness , speed , contrast ? also does the mounting of the olympus lens on the GF1 body present any limitations or disadvantages ? thank you

admin September 11, 2009 at 6:14 pm

yes, any micro four third lenses are compatible with micro four thirds camera.

About image quality we don’t know. But usually Olympus make a great optics because they have strong background on that.

GF1’s body does not have built-in image stabilization while EP-1 has, So that is the disadvantage.

André van Sloten September 12, 2009 at 3:37 am

I own a Oly E-P1 with 14-42 zoom, but recently i bought the Pana 14-45 OIS , reason?
It focusses faster, plus it has a hood ( oly doesn’t ) and a filtersize i can use… i have loads of 52 mm filters.
in reality the pana zoom isn’t that much bigger, weight isn’t a issue as well.
So all in all, when you go for beauty, the oly14-42 wins, but in practical use the panasonic 14-45.
PS. 14-140 is a great one lens solution, have one and i lov it, but it does add weight
335 gr ( body) + 460 gr ( lens ) , there goes the travling light option :-)

max2 September 12, 2009 at 11:08 am

I agree with your conclusion.

DanCar September 12, 2009 at 11:27 am

You can set up a button to convert jpeg to AVCHD on your computer, so I don’t see AVCHD as much of an advantage. What matters is the video quality which isn’t mentioned. Probably they have the same video quality. If the Mjpeg has very high bit rate, then it can have better video quality than AVCHD.

cosinaphile September 13, 2009 at 1:06 am

i liked the tone of this article alot, however i believe it is incorrect on several points

the truth is that avchd, though more advanced than motion jpeg, is a real pain to edit and more difficult and less straightfoward and fewer video editing software programs will support it than motion jpegand in fact is alot less comptable for platback than avchd overall

secondly the ep-1 offers 4 different options for stabilization , vertical , horozontal , both ,and off. further, since stabilization is doner in real time during live view its effect is as visible as that of the gf-1 ,if perhaps less effective.

Boris Moscow September 13, 2009 at 1:13 am

I wonder, if you’ve tried the cameras of course, how would you compare the quality of their jpeg’s? Which camera do you like better?
Thank you.

admin September 13, 2009 at 1:41 am

Hi Boris, I haven’t tried the cameras. But based on the specs and sample images I saw from other websites, they are almost identical. They share the same sensor anyway.

Probably the difference will be in the white balance. E-P1 image is a bit colder than Panasonic. But it depends on your taste and you can adjust it, so I would say image quality is not a deal breaker.

admin September 13, 2009 at 1:48 am

cosinaphile, you are right, thanks for the correction.

jack September 22, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Another to add to the video functions. For E-P1, you have a choice of plugging in a high-end external microphone. The GF-1 doesn’t even have an external microphone jack. You are basically stuck with the mono microphone. I see this as a main shortcoming of the GF-1. I don’t understand why Panasonic engineers could put so much effort in giving the GF-1 an almost perfect specification and left out something so fundamental and important.

Joe October 3, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Jack, the E-P1 does not nave a mic in jack. If you want mic in jacks, and want to stick to a hybrid camera platform, you go for either a panasonic GH1 or a pentax k7.

avchd is only a “pain” to edit if your computer is ill-equipped to handle the compression, so how much of a pain it truly is is dependent on how modern your processor and vid processor is.

If you have much interest in maintaining characteristics of large apertures (shallow DoF, available-light photography) across your focal lengths (f/2.0 or brighter) Access to Oly’s legacy lenses is a pretty significant factor in favor of e-p1, since they have several pro-grade (and weather-sealed) lenses that get you f/2.0+ qualities from focal lengths between 14mm though 200mm. Those are significant assets available *today* whereas with panny you are currently significantly hamstrung.

Slaven October 14, 2009 at 1:26 am

Re AVCHD: GF1 offers _both_, AVCHD and motion JPEG (as an option in the menu) so if you’re scared of using one there’s always the option for the other.

Moondog January 15, 2010 at 3:06 pm

The E-P2 will offer an external mic via an optional mic-jack that supposedly attaches via the flash mount (which doubles as an accessory mount). I don’t think the E-P1 can use this device unfortunately. :-(

One major advantage of the E-P1’s in-body optical image stabilization vs. the Panasonic’s in-lens stabilization, is that when you use a vintage manual lenses (via a M4/3 adapter) and they too will have stabilization!

Josef April 24, 2010 at 10:11 am

It is still not clear to me if the panasonic lenses sauch as 20/1.7, 14-45 and 45-200 can be used with EP-1/2 retaining all their functions as; autofocus, appeture control, all programs, image stabilisation, namely are they fullu compatible?

Enche Tjin April 24, 2010 at 10:23 am

yes there are. For full compatibility list check out: http://panasonic.jp/support/global/cs/dsc/connect/index.html

Josef April 24, 2010 at 10:43 am

Thanks Tjin. For me the stabilisation in body of EP-2 outweight the Panasonic when used prime 20/1.7 as well as legacy lenses, which in fact I am using must of the time. Still such comatibility will allow me to retain my other Lumix lenses which are quite good, especially 45-200. regards

Luxembourg August 22, 2011 at 11:16 pm

This is small lens. That’s its main claim to fame, not the speed at f2.8, nor the focal length, the equivalent of about 35mm in 35mm photography. But on the small Olympus PEN body, this lens gives you a small package that takes quite good pictures without messing around with a zoom. In particular, it works well as a walking-around street camera, much like an old Leica or a Canon rangefinder of the 1950s/1960s. (See also the optical viewfinder which has image lines specifically for this 17mm lens.)

Leave a Comment

{ 10 trackbacks }

Previous post: Panasonic GF1 launched! – Specs & Press Release

Next post: Canon 7D vs Nikon D300s – Duel of two powerhouse