Following up on last month's Micro Four Thirds system announcement, Panasonic has launched the world's first compact interchangeable lens camera to employ the technology this morning, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1. Tipping the scales at well under a pound and measuring just a hair more than five inches wide, the G1 is the latest and one of the most promising attempts to date in bringing DSLR image quality to a camera with point-and-shoot compactness. According to Panasonic, with a "lens mounted" form factor roughly the size of the manufacturer's FZ28 ultrazoom, the new Lumix can lay claim to being the "world's smallest and lightest digital interchangeable lens camera." As a Micro Four Thirds system body, the G1 operates in a full-time live view mode with shot composition on either the camera's LCD or its electronic viewfinder – just like an advanced point-and-shoot. But from a specs perspective, the latest Lumix's sheet reads like what you'd expect from a current consumer DSLR, with a 12.1 megapixel Four Thirds format "Live MOS" CMOS sensor handling imaging duties. Simultaneous four-channel data reading supplies a 60 fps imaging to the camera's display, meaning smoother, more lifelike shot composition whether you're using the LCD or the EVF. While we're on the subject, the G1 continues to impress with a pair of nice LCDs. The primary display is a 3.0 inch flip-and-swivel unit with 460,000 dots of resolution and, of course, 100 percent frame coverage. For an experience more akin to working with a traditional DSLR, the G1 also utilizes an ultra high-res electronic viewfinder, or EVF, boasting the equivalent of a whooping 1.4 million dots of resolution. Unlike in a true DSLR, both displays are electronic: this means that the G1 can be configured to mirror the LCD view through the EVF, to show exposure parameters on the display while allowing for shot composition through the viewfinder, or to show a live preview with differing levels of information on each. However you choose to configure it, a proximity sensor automatically shuts off the LCD panel and switches on the EVF when the viewfinder is raised to eye level. The G1's lens mount provides compatibility (including AE/AF support) with both the new Micro Four Thirds system lenses – like the ultra-small 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens that Panasonic is releasing in conjunction with the G1 announcement – as well as full-size Four Thirds lenses from Panasonic, Olympus, Leica, and Sigma using an optional adapter. A DSLR-style pop-up flash provides additional illumination as needed. The G1 also packs a hot shoe, which can be used in conjunction with a new accessory flash from Panasonic designed especially for the G1 to further expand shot lighting options. One obvious technological challenged presented by Micro Four Thirds involves finding a means for quick AF performance. Design considerations mean the G1 uses a point-and-shoot style contrast detection AF system, rather than the generally quicker and more accurate phase detection systems from DSLRs. In order to provide a DSLR-like AF experience, Panasonic has developed a new imaging engine, Venus Engine HD, utilizing a pair of processors. This arrangement gives the G1 an advanced 23-area auto focus system that also supports user-selectable single-area AF, continuous focus tracking, and face detection for up to 15 faces. Although Panasonic declined to provide AF acquisition speed numbers in the official press release, if our experience with a pre-production G1 proves to be indicative of production model performance, press-to-capture times in the 0.3 to 0.4 second range shouldn't be unreasonable. In short, assuming everything plays out as expected in the final version, the new camera's AF performance should be somewhere on the border between the best compact cameras and consumer-grade DSLRs. Likewise, Panasonic's shooting speed claims rival those made by entry-level DSLRs, with the G1 dashing off JPEGs and raw images at an advertised 3 fps. Because of its full-time live view operation, the G1 is also able to draw on many of the user-friendly "Intelligent" technologies developed for Panasonic's Lumix point-and-shoots. Most notably, the G1 is equipped with Panasonic's iA Intelligent Auto mode. According to the manufacturer, iA offers an integration of several key technologies – including Intelligent ISO, Intelligent Exposure, automatic scene selection, AF tracking, and face detection – designed to improve the auto-exposure shooting experience. Like much of the rest of the camera, the G1's control arrangement and physical interface is a compromise, drawing on both compact-camera and SLR influences. A front-side control wheel with press-to-select functionality suggests the G1's DSLR roots, though much of the rest of the interface, including the rotating LCD and numerous dedicated controls, can be credited to Panasonic's long-running FZ50 ultrazoom. Style-conscious users should also take note: the G1 is also unique among current interchangeable lens cameras insofar as it's available in blue and red variants, in addition to the expected black finish. Panasonic's own market research has suggested that only about a third of those who intend to purchase a DSLR actually do so. Explanations for this gap? The size, weight, and general intimidation factor of SLR cameras are the most cited reasons for not making a DSLR purchase, according to Panasonic. Traditionally, ultrazooms or advanced compacts have existed to ease this transition, serving as a connecting link between the point-and-shoot and DSLR markets. With on-LCD shot composition and a combination of SLR and point-and-shoot features and exposure control options, the G1 also fills this "bridge camera" niche, however – and does so in a format that allows for many of the conveniences of an SLR (interchangeable lenses and excellent image quality) in a smaller, lighter, and easier to manage package. In discussing the G1 announcement, David Briganti, National Marketing Manager for Panasonic's Imaging Group, described the new Lumix as providing the "ultimate live view experience," and assuming everything rolls off Panasonic's final-production assembly line as anticipated, this may well be a fair assessment. Certainly, Panasonic has shown us an impressive, appealing package that combines many of the best features of SLRs and point-and-shoots in a single device. Panasonic has slated the G1 for retail availability in November. Official pricing is still TBA, but the word on the street is that the camera should be available in kit form with the new Lumix 14-45mm Micro Four Thirds lens for less than $800. Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 Specifications Sensor 12.1 megapixel (effective), 17.3x13.0mm Live MOS sensor Lens/Zoom Micro Four Thirds lens mount (full-size Four Thirds mount with optional adapter) LCD/Viewfinder 3.0", 460K dot TFT LCD with tilt/swivel function; high-resolution electronic viewfinder Sensitivity ISO 100-3200 Shutter Speed 60-1/4000 seconds Shooting Modes Intelligent Auto, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Scene, Custom Scene Presets Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night, Close-Up, Sunset, Party, Baby, Pets White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Flash, White Set, Color Temperature Metering Modes Intelligent Multiple, Center-Weighted, Spot Focus Modes Face Detection, Focus Tracking, 23-Area, One-Area Drive Modes Normal, Continuous, Self Timer Flash Modes Auto, Auto/Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced On/Red-Eye Reduction, Slow Sync, Slow Sync/Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Off Self Timer Settings 10 seconds, 10 seconds (3 shot), 2 seconds, Off Memory Formats SD, SDHC Internal Memory Not Specified File Formats JPEG, raw Max. Image Size 4000x3000 Max. Video Size N/A Zoom During Video N/A Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion, 330 shots Connections USB 2.0, MiniHDMI, DC input Additional Features Face Detection, Intelligent Auto mode, Venus Engine HD, three body colors, hot shoe, 3 fps continuous shooting, 23-area AF, film modes About Micro Four Thirds The Micro Four Thirds system emphasizes building smaller, lighter interchangeable lens cameras. Functionally, a Micro Four Thirds camera differs from a DSLR (that is, a "digital single-lens reflex" camera) in that it has no mirror to provide a through-the-lens image to an optical viewfinder. Eliminating the mirror improves the live view experience – essentially, Micro Four Thirds cameras are full-time live view devices (just like a point-and-shoot digicam) by design – and allows for size and weight reductions by moving the lens mount closer to the sensor and eliminating the need for a bulky mirror box. Our write-up on the Micro Four Thirds system launch has more on the technology involved in making the G1 and other forthcoming light and small interchangeable-lens cameras from system partners Olympus and Panasonic a reality.