We interrupt our regular programming this morning to bring you news of the cute li'l Panasonic G1, the first camera announced in the Micro 4/3 standard. Panasonic shares the new standard with Olympus, but has been expected to be the prime mover behind the new standard, and sure enough. Its aims are clear: it says the diminutive new camera is "as easy to use as a compact digital camera, with the stunning photo quality of a digital SLR camera." It's basically a tiny live-view camera with an EVF and an articulated viewing screen (take your pick). The similarity to a DSLR is its large 4/3 sensor with generous 4000 x 3000 pixel size, and the difference is that it has no reflex mirror and the flange distance is half that of a conventional DSLR, allowing for a corresponding shrinking of all its other dimensions. (The linked illustration from Imaging-Resource shows the Panasonic L10's Four-Thirds lens mount, mirror box and sensor assembly [left] versus the G1's Micro 4/3 lens mount and sensor assembly [right].)
How small is it? Well, small, but not too small. Probably the best clue from these pictures is to take a look at the standard-sized strap lugs. The camera is only 3.29" high by 4.88" wide by 1.78" deep, and weighs 13.6 ounces. Compare this to the Olympus E-420, the current DSLR small-size champ, at 3.6" high, 5.1" wide, and 2.1" high, and 15.5 ounces.
The G1 does have a wee built-in flash, but a separate unit is among the first accessories. I like that; the further off the camera your flash is, the better your flash pictures.
The first two interchangeable lenses (both equipped with Panasonic's "Mega O.I.S.," by the way, a.k.a. image stabilization), are, naturally, kit-type zooms, one normal and one long. The normal lens is 2.36" long and 2.36" in diameter (60x60mm), takes 52mm filters, and weighs less than 7 ounces (6.88 to be exact). The normal zoom has a range of 14–45mm (28–90mm-e, which, as I have opined elsewhere, is all most people really need), ƒ/3.5–5.6, and the longer one is a 45–200mm (90–400mm-e) ƒ/4–5.6. No primes yet, but we hope until we die.
Gender marketing will probably be downplayed in the U.S. and Europe, but see that image of the bride and groom? The camera is available in (yipes) colors—there's the G1K (black), the G1B (blue), and the G1R (red). This is a pretty clear signal that the G1 will be marketed most energetically to the fair sex in the all-important "home market" in Japan. Just a guess.
Another feature that will be touted is "HD TV mode," whereby you can shoot in 16:9 aspect ratio and easily hook up the camera to your flat-screen HD TV to look at your pictures. The G1 has no movie mode, though (which is fine with me).
All in all, a conservative but very interesting first step for Micro 4/3. Even the smartest people get very dumb fast when predicting the future, and I ain't even smart, but I expect Micro 4/3 and its inevitable followers to come on like an avalanche, providing a useful bridge between the limited IQ of digital point-and-shoots and the inherent complexity and cost of cameras with reflex mirrors. After all, it won't be long before APS-C-vicinity sensors get very cheap, but optical prism and reflex mirror assemblies are always going to be fairly intricate and expensive to manufacture.
No word yet on prices. There is a "world exclusive preview" at dpreview.com.
Imaging-Resource.com Hands-On Preview with lots of interesting technical background.
Sample Images (only a few up so far; see below for one if you don't want to bother downloading it yourself).
ADDENDUM: A sample image from Panasonic (at the link above). Taken with the 45–200mm lens. (There are no samples posted yet from the normal lens, but check back later for that.)
Featured Comment by John: "If you want to see the size of the 20mm ƒ/1.7, take a look here."