Panasonic has introduced two new 12-megapixel Micro Four Thirds cameras -- high-end compacts with swappable lenses, like dSLRs -- to replace the original Lumix G1. The G10 reviewed here is the cheaper, entry-level model (the G2 is the other), but at a street price of around £470 it's competing head-on with a whole bunch of rather good low-cost digital SLRs from Canon, Nikon and Sony.
First impressions are good: the G10 is small, neat and light. The silky matte finish looks and feels smart, the controls are clearly labelled and everything has a precise and positive feel.
Round the back, the four-way navigational buttons double up as shortcuts for adjusting the ISO, white balance and metering mode. The fourth 'Fn' button can be configured to set the Film Mode (picture style), the aspect ratio (including a new, square 1:1 format) or any one of a number of other common adjustments.
Or you can press the 'Q.Menu' button on the back and change settings directly on the screen. The icons around the edge change into drop-down menus you can navigate around with the directional buttons.
The 76mm (3-inch), 460,800-pixel LCD display is particularly good. It has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which means there are narrow black bars either side when shooting in the normal 4:3 ratio, but it's probably the best compromise for a camera that also shoots 16:9 HD movies.
The LCD is used for live-view shooting and movies, and it's in these modes that the benefits of the mirrorless Micro Four Thirds system are most apparent. You don't get the mirror clanking up and down like you do in a dSLR, and the autofocus is much faster. The G10 will also focus as you film, keeping up quite smartly with changing camera angles and subject distances.
The picture quality is very good, and more than a match for any dSLR, except perhaps at the very highest ISOs. Although this is a low-cost model aimed primarily at beginners, it offers all the manual control an enthusiast could ask for too.
Perhaps the most important point here is that this sensor is the same one used throughout Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds range. It might be the cheapest model, but the G10's picture quality is on the same level as the rest.
The money's got to be saved somewhere, of course, and after a while the cost-cutting does start to niggle a bit, particularly when you compare the G10 with the old G1. There's no eye-sensor for the EVF, for example, which means you have to press a button to swap between the LCD and the electronic viewfinder.
The EVF itself is unexpectedly poor. The G1 and the new G2 have a very good 1.4-megapixel display, but the 200,000-pixel unit in the G10 is pretty ghastly by comparison. It's coarse, undersaturated and doesn't have much contrast either. The LCD display on the back is fixed, too, unlike the handy swivelling displays on the G1, GH1 and G2.
Interestingly, Panasonic's replaced the old 14-45mm kit lens with a new 14-42mm version. More cost-cutting? There doesn't seem much difference in the pictures, but the new lens loses 3mm of focal length at the long end of the zoom range and the Mega OIS switch on the side is gone (the image-stabilisation mode is now set on the camera body).
The G10 is quick and efficient to use, delivers good results and offers fuss-free HD movies. But it does feel like cost-conscious range-filling on Panasonic's part. Apart from the movie mode, which the G1 didn't have, the new camera isn't really as good as the old one.
Edited by Nick Hide