The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 is small, athough if you put it side-by-side with the Olympus E-420, you find that it's just a centimetre here and a centimetre there.
Neither camera will fit in a pocket; both will need a shoulder or holster bag of some sort. Despite looking like a slightly scaled-down DSLR, the G1 nevertheless handles very well.
The controls aren't particularly cramped,and it's easy to keep a secure grip on it with one hand.
The electronic viewfinder is a pleasant surprise too. Usually, they're grainy and jittery, but this one has a resolution of 1.4 megapixels and produces a much smoother and sharper image.
It still has a 'digital' look about it, though, and it does slow down in poor light. It doesn't match the clarity and brightness range of a conventional SLR viewfinder and detail is missing in darker areas, which you'd expect to be able to see into (and which do come out in the saved image).
But for an electronic viewfinder it's state of the art – and the 3-inch folding LCD on the back isn't far behind it for quality, either. Other premium DSLRs now use 920,000-pixel displays, but the 460,000 pixels used here still give a really crisp, vibrant display.
The point about the G1 is that it offers a continuous Live View just like a compact, with the image fed to the viewfinder direct from the sensor.
An eye sensor next to the eyepiece switches the display automatically between the LCD and the EVF, so the transition is seamless – and the same information is displayed in both.
Focusing is carried out using contrast-detection rather than the phase-detection systems used in other DSLRs. Contrast-detection has a reputation for being versatile but slow, yet the G1's autofocus is really fast – faster even than most of its DSLR rivals.
Lens changing is easy. You press a button on the body to release the bayonet mechanism, then turn and remove the lens. It's titchy compared with a standard DSLR kit lens, presumably because the shorter back focus means that the lens design is simpler and more compact.
It's a bit unnerving, though, to see the sensor so close to the front of the body when the lens is taken away, but presumably it's no more at risk from dust here than it would be another 20mm further back. The Panasonic has a Supersonic Wave Filter to dislodge dust, just like Olympus DSLRs.
At the moment Panasonic has two Micro Four Thirds lenses on its list. This one, and a 45-200mm telephoto. Given the 2x focal factor of the Four Thirds sensor, that equates to a 90-400mm telephoto, so it's got a pretty long reach.
The kit lens performs extremely well. It's sharp right into the corners of the frame and there's no distortion and almost no chromatic aberration. It's tempting to concentrate on sensor performance when comparing cameras, but lens performance is surely just as important? And this one's excellent. It may be the optics, it may be the Micro Four Thirds format, it may be in-camera firmware, but the outcome is the same.
But the G1's sensor does lag slightly behind the APS-C sensors in rival SLRs. At low ISOs there's nothing in it, but by ISO 1600 the level of noise reduction is such that images take on a wishy-washy look where too much fine detail is suppressed. For most of us, though, high ISOs are for emergency use only anyway, so this is hardly a deal-breaker, and the G1 certainly has a lot to offer in other ways.
It has a selection of customisable Film Modes for example, and scene modes which each have a number of variants aimed at different sets of circumstances. And if you don't know what scene mode to choose, let the camera's Intelligent Auto mode work it out for you. This mode also uses the lens's Mega OIS stabilisation system to detect camera shake, a focus-tracking system to detect subject movement, selective ISO adjustment to handle high-contrast scenes and automatic face detection too.
The G1 impresses with its very good EVF, lightning-fast AF, excellent lens and strong, natural colour rendition. But after a while you may find yourself hankering after the simplicity and clarity of an old-fashioned optical viewfinder, and a smaller and simpler set of controls.