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The GF-1 — my camera for travelling / nomadic lifestyle

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As a photographer, people often ask me my opinion on camera’s.
Any camera is a good camera’ is a fairly accurate statement these days*.
So, giving good advice on cameras isn’t easy— it always depends on what you want to do with it.

I personally love the idea of ‘The best camera is always the one you have with you’; and for this reason, I like the portability of camera phones**. Many phones now have sufficient resolution for nice snapshots and small prints. But the quality is often what I don’t like — and they absolutely suck in low light.

I have a Nikon D700 myself, and while it is the best camera I’ve ever used, I hate the weight. I hate the fact that after only half-an-hour or so, my neck starts to hurt. And although the quality is stunning, I hate dragging it around on trips.

So, I started looking for something portable that gave me similar quality to a DSLR and would be equally wonderful to take along on trips. It turned out to be a difficult search.***

I tried the Canon G7, and hated it. The DOF sucked and low light performance was awful. I read dozens of reviews, and every camera lacked something. Most of all, I wanted good DOF. I was tempted to buy the Panasonic LX-3, because of the number of good reviews I had read about it. But I didn’t like the way it worked; I wanted the possibility of a ‘manual’ mode. So I waited with baited breath until the GF-1 was released.

Although I still had a few doubts — only half of the sensor area of a DSLR, no viewfinder, etc.— I bought it. I went with my gut feeling when testing the camera and comparing it with the Olympus EP-1. While I found the controls unnatural on the EP-1, the GF-1 felt ‘right’. I have to admit that I fell in love with it there and then.

The reviews all said the same thing; while it lacked some things from a technical point of view, it introduced an new way of taking pictures. And I couldn’t agree more. While I *hated* dragging the D700 around, my GF-1 is sitting in my bag all the time, and I don’t even notice it. Unusually for a snapshot camera, this one has manual mode — and it works well. The DOF (with the 20mm lens) is simply stunning compared to other snapshot camera’s. My Canon G7 didn’t even come close…And I have to admit that I often leave my D700 at home in favor of the GF-1. It’s just not worth the effort. The DF-1 also has a cute video function which I use once in a while, but it’s hard to edit because of the strange format.

Some extra info:

  • I opted for the 20mm lens (which results in a 40mm, in fact) because of the beautiful DOF.
  • My camera is ‘modded’; I bought a ‘leatherette’ for it, which I found on a forum, giving it the retro look of my old Nikon FM (I even modded the leatherette a bit to have it look more like an FM).
  • I bought an adaptor, enabling me to use my old Nikon lenses on the camera (search for Lens Adaptor to GF-1 on Ebay) The camera is extremely versatile as regards old lenses. Be sure to checkout the DF-1 pics on Flickr. You can find incredible lenses mounted on it. All the old Leica lenses work on it, and other lenses with the same mount — old Canon and Nikon lenses too. You need an adaptor though, which are readily available on e-bay.
  • I even found a stupid vintage bag for it (second hand) for €2, making it look old. I love it —it almost feels like my old Nikon FM.
  • I love the thumbwheel; it’s click and turn. You can change functions in an instant. It’s clever — in fact, much smarter than the thumb and pointing finger system employed on DSLR’s. Really!
  • I love the manual mode; it’s convenient due to the click and turn wheel.
  • In fact I love the whole interface; it’s easy to understand and you don’t need to read a manual.
  • I love the fact that my old lenses fit on the camera.
  • I love its sturdy feeling.

While I thought I’d miss the extra megapixels, and be dissapointed by the ‘half-sensor’, I never noticed it in my results. I intentionally modded the camera — I was afraid of taking a professional camera to South Africa and having it stolen there. Making it look old definitely made me feel more comfortable with it hanging around my neck all day.

Some disadvantages:

  • manual focus is something you need to get used to
  • also the 2x factor is something to get used to.
  • I miss the viewfinder and, although it is pretty expensive, I’ll definitely buy it.
  • battery life is quite short compared to Nikon’s batteries.
  • high ISOs are still a problem, but quite different from, let’s say, the Canon G10.

The camera doesn’t come cheap, and having approximately the same price tag as some DSLR’s, people might tend to buy the more advanced camera — in my humble opinion, they’re wrong. There’s nothing worse than walking around with a heavy camera on your trips, worrying if it will get stolen. The GF-1 fits easily in the daypack I always carry around, but I don’t feel it at all.

If you would like to see pictures taken with the GF-1, check out our pictures on Flickr
These, for example, are all taken with it — and so are many of these.


Some more pics of the *modded* camera here ….. and another interesting review here

If you are considering buying a GF-1 online, after this review, consider buying it through the following link.
I bought it there myself, after researching a lot and I figured out Pixmania/Pixmania-Pro was the cheapest on the 20mm version. Buying through this link also earns me some money, and indeed helps me to carry on writing interesting stuff ;) and, most importantly, it doesn’t cost you anything.

Alternative:
Fotokonijnenberg (Belgium) — also quite cheap, but has high shipping cost.

Enjoy the camera!

*As long as you stick to the known brands, that is.
**In fact, I will be buying the iPhone 4 for exactly this reason.
***People who know me, know how carefully I research stuff. I am not tempted by technical stuff too much. I want things that ‘work’ rather than megapixels. I bought a digital Canon, and worked with it for FIVE! years before changing to newer camera. I am convinced this camera will also last a long time.

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10 Responses to “The GF-1 — my camera for travelling / nomadic lifestyle”

  1. bruno decock says:

    I like the modding possibilities, but low light is a must have for me.
    The latest incarnation of the Canon G series is a real winner too: the G11. The advantage being it works pretty good in lower light as well..

  2. yeps, modding is a nice extra. I'm really attracted by the DOF on the 20mm, i didn't find any other “smaller” camera's offering this.

  3. nomadznu says:

    Hi Bruno,
    I think they'll update the low light in the next version.
    Must say: I didn't have any problems with it until now. The 20mm has 1.7 as max aperture. Which saves you some stops compared to most other lenses these camera's often offer. It was one of the reasons why I hesitated. Then again: I'm happy to see in the LR3 noise correction has become a hell of a lot better.

    If I were you, I'd definitely compare the GF-1 to the G11.
    (When doubting between the D700 and the 5DMarkII, I took some memorycards to Mediamarkt and asked if I could take some pictures to compare. Back at home I could compare the images easily.)
    The DOF is simply stunning.

  4. nomadznu says:

    Hey Pierre.
    Indeed. I guess the only other camera of similar size is the Olympus. (Lenses are interchangeable between Panny and Olympus) But as said, the scroll wheel they are offering isn't that easy according to me.

  5. bruno decock says:

    LR3 to the rescue! the noise reduction function is indeed amazing. Thanks for the testing tip.

  6. bruno decock says:

    I like the modding possibilities, but low light is a must have for me.
    The latest incarnation of the Canon G series is a real winner too: the G11. The advantage being it works pretty good in lower light as well..

  7. yeps, modding is a nice extra. I'm really attracted by the DOF on the 20mm, i didn't find any other “smaller” camera's offering this.

  8. nomadznu says:

    Hi Bruno,
    I think they'll update the low light in the next version.
    Must say: I didn't have any problems with it until now. The 20mm has 1.7 as max aperture. Which saves you some stops compared to most other lenses these camera's often offer. It was one of the reasons why I hesitated. Then again: I'm happy to see in the LR3 noise correction has become a hell of a lot better.

    If I were you, I'd definitely compare the GF-1 to the G11.
    (When doubting between the D700 and the 5DMarkII, I took some memorycards to Mediamarkt and asked if I could take some pictures to compare. Back at home I could compare the images easily.)
    The DOF is simply stunning.

  9. nomadznu says:

    Hey Pierre.
    Indeed. I guess the only other camera of similar size is the Olympus. (Lenses are interchangeable between Panny and Olympus) But as said, the scroll wheel they are offering isn't that easy according to me.

  10. bruno decock says:

    LR3 to the rescue! the noise reduction function is indeed amazing. Thanks for the testing tip.

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