The new Canon G11 vs Olympus E-P1 vs Panasonic GF-1

Written by Gary on August 21st, 2009

Canon have just announced the G11, the next in their line of well respected compact digital cameras, and given that it is almost identical in size and weight of the Olympus PEN E-P1 Micro Four Thirds camera, I thought it would be handy to do a quick comparison of the two.

Canon G11

Canon G11

Interestingly, Canon has quite wisely reduced the number of pixels from the silly 14.7 mpixels in the G10 to a much more sensible 10mp in the G11 – see my posts in Sept and Nov 2008 regarding the G10.

They both have flash hot-shoes with system-dedicated TTL capability, have 2 or 10-12 sec self-timers, optional wireless remote controls,  contrast detect AF including face detection AF, mono-aural video, a multitude of scene modes, shoot in RAW or jpeg, and use SD/SDHC memory cards, have USB 2.0 and HDMI outputs.

Olympus E-P1 with kit lens

Olympus E-P1 with kit lens

See for demonstration of the E-P1’s retractable lens.

But there are some VERY important differences.

The Canon G11‘s 5x zoom lens is a touch more compact and has macro to 1cm, and has the nice flip out LCD screen (and thus it may be better to compare it with the forthcoming rumoured Panasonic GF-1 in this regard), an optical viewfinder that zooms with the lens, and for outdoor flash in sunlight, it has a flash sync to 1/2000th sec presumably at full flash output which can be very handy. It has a small built-in flash (the GF-1 will have this but not the E-P1). Although no tests have been published as yet, it would be reasonable to expect that the AF on the G-11 may be faster than the E-P1 but perhaps not as fast or equivalent to the Panasonic GF-1 when it is released (assuming it uses similar AF technology as the very fast AF in the Panasonic GH-1)

The Olympus E-P1 (and Panasonic GF-1 when it comes), can be expected to have more dynamic range and much better image quality at higher ISO given its photosites are some 5x bigger, greater image detail as less diffraction limitation issues, and allows far more versatility in terms of much better ability to control depth of field, and ability to use almost any lens ever made and have them all image stabilised including very fast f/1.4 lenses, tilt-shift lenses, dedicated macro lenses, ultra-wide lenses such as 14-28mm zoom lenses, and super-telephotos. It has HD video not just VGA video, and can shoot at 3fps not just 1.1 fps.

In contrast, the G11 having a fixed lens limits you to a very useful 28-140mm focal length range at f/2.8-4.5 image stabilised which can be extended to some extent by attaching conversion lenses but these generally decrease image quality.

The G11 may better suit a significant niche of the market consisting of those who are happy to carry around a marginally smaller camera and with a more useful optical viewfinder, with built-in 5x zoom and macro and who do not need the higher image quality or versatility of the E-P1. Canon users in particular, can leverage their Canon speedlights in TTL mode on the G-11, while Olympus dSLR users can use their Olympus flash units in TTL mode on the E-P1 or GF-1.

Personally, the few areas where the G11 beats the E-P1 are not enough for me to recommend the G11 over the E-P1 or the GF-1 or the E-P2 which are more likely to be a G11 killer (or GH-1 if you don’t mind a bulkier camera), as image quality and ability to create shallow depth of field for pleasing portraits is important to me, particularly when you can combine that with the sheer fun of using almost any lens ever made.

Olympus E-P1 Canon G11
dimensions 121mm (W) x 70mm (H) x 36mm (D) (excluding lens) 112 x 76 x 48 mm
weight w/o battery 335g 355g
sensor size 18.00 x 13.50 mm, 2.43 cm² (ie. almost 6x larger!) 7.60 x 5.70 mm, 0.43 cm²
pixel density (smaller is better) 5.1 mpixels/cm² (ie. almost 5x better) 23 mpixels/cm²
pixels 12.3 million 10.0 million
ISO 100-6400 80-3200
shutter 1/4000th sec – 60 sec + BULB 1/4000th sec – 15 sec + BULB
flash modes Auto, Slow sync, rear curtain, 2nd curtain, manual levels, red-eye reduction, flash sync to 1/180th sec but in SuperFP/HSS mode to 1/4000th sec with FL-36R or FL-50R flash.
Panasonic do not currently support superFP/HSS mode and flash sync on GH-1 is 1/160th sec.
Auto, Flash On, Flash Off, Slow Sync, Red-eye reduction, Slow sync 2nd curtain, manual, face detection FE compensation, +/- 2EV
flash sync to 1/2000 sec with full output flash possible (not just HSS mode)
exposure compensation -3 to +3 EV in 1/3, 1/2, 1EV steps -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 EV steps
continuous shot burst rate 3 fps 1.1 fps
movie video modes 1280 x 720 (30 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps) 640 x 480 @ 30 fps, 320 x 240 @ 30 fps
LCD 3″ 230,000 dots fixed

GF-1 also has a fixed LCD

2.8″ 461,000 swivel
viewfinder optional optical fixed focal length for 17mm lens – slide onto hot shoe

GF-1 has an optional EVF which attaches to the hotshoe

in-built optical zoom
lens kit lenses – 28-84mm f/3.5-5.6 and 34mm f/2.8 pancake (all in 35mm terms – divide by 2 for actual focal length)

Micro Four Thirds (including the awesome Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake) PLUS almost any lens ever made via adapters, with most of the Four Thirds lenses having AF capability albeit slowly.

28-140mm f/2.8-4.5


Olympus has introduced another Micro Four Thirds body, the E-P2 which is similar to the E-P1 but adds the ability to use a removable electronic viewfinder placed in the hotshoe which is said to be better than the Panasonic GF-1 EVF, and the accessory port also allows for an external mic to be used. It also adds subject tracking AF in still and movie mode (but not as fast as on the Panasonic GH-1), and some image processing enhancements such as i-enhance that tweaks color, and 2 new art filter modes. These enhancements will mean that for many people, the E-P2 will be the camera to get over the E-P1, as you can now bring the camera to the eye which gives you steadier shots and also removes the problem of bright sunlight on the LCD screen. It also has leveling indicators which can be very handy.


14 Comments so far ↓

  1. Lloyd says:

    Precisely the review I was looking for. Thanks. One question: I’d like to make 11×14 and A3 size prints. Exactly how much better is the image quality of the EP-1??

  2. admin says:

    I have made good looking prints at 20″x30″ from my Olympus E510 with ZD 50mm f/2 macro lens.

    The sensor of the E-P1 and GH-1 should deliver more detail than the E510, and they have better noise at high ISO – thus, as long as you use good technique, focus well, avoid camera shake and use a sharp lens, you should not have any trouble at all creating A3 prints.

  3. Gilbert says:|0/%28appareil2%29/327|0/%28onglet%29/0/%28brand%29/Canon/%28brand2%29/Olympus

    The EP1 has less dynamic range and does not reach as high as could be expected from its larger sensor.

    Except at 100 ISO, the ISO sensitivity of the G11 is always superior to the Olympus.

    The Olympus is better at Signal to Noise Ratio albeit it has a larger sensor that might come with more noise (this is not the case here, the Olympus engineers did a good job).

    On dynamic range, the G11 is rated slightly above but they’re quite close.

    The Olympus shines on tonal range. The greater captor really helps.

    Same on color sensitivity.

    The Olympus is a 4/3 and it should not be compared to a G11. It should be compared to other 4/3 models.

    The EP1 back screen sucks pretty bad : it offers 230 000 pixels.. Very low compared to the G11.

    The G11 beats the EP1 in rapid photography and street snapshots. The EP1 has half a second focus lag, it fails to aim properly at faces, must be used in P mode to be really good, and the battery is pretty bad : about 200 shots in real tests, compared to the announced 300 shots claimed by Olympus.

    It’s a nice camera. A good 4/3. Speed of focus really needs improvement (installing the Panasonic 14-45mm of the G1, the focus lag goes down by 2/10th of a second).

    Its stabilization is very weak because it’s sensor based, compared to the far better one in the G11.

    The G11 is much more tailored to the street photography than the EP1.

    Have you really tried to make a video with the EP1 ? Seriously ? While the G11 does not offer 720p.. its VGA video has constant fast and good focus. The EP1 I tried… The focus was very erratic when doing videos. It stops on a subject, stays stuck for 1-2 seconds when aiming at something else, where the G11 is focusing immediatly. When the constrast goes down, the EP1’s focus is really lost (the GH1 is the same spot doesn’t fail).

    The EP1 has a back screen with a very weak resolution compared to cameras below its range. You have no viewing window, and must use an external one with heavy parallax problems (the G11 only covers 78 % but there’s no parralax and it zooms with the camera’s zoom). The image stabilization of the EP1 is innefective and too weak. The battery autonomy is half of what the G11 offers.

    The G11 is much more adapted to street photography and snapshots photography : autonomy, stabilization, focus lag, shutter lag. I tried the G11, the EP1 and the GH1 and I kept the G11.

    I took over 100 pictures, and the battery still shows 100 %, I have been carrying it for two weeks and it’s still running on the first cycle charge.

    It all comes down to why you buy a camera, since there’s no perfect camera. But I believe the EP1 should not be compared to the G11 because it’s not a 4/3 and for the subject that matters to me, snapshots and urban street photography, the G11 is far better.

    The EP1 offers a classic look. Might not please the younger generations, but it’s a rather good camera. They really need to fix the autonomy, then the stabilization. The back screen could be improved but if you shoot in RAW you don’t believe what the back screen displays anyway.

  4. admin says:

    Hi Gilbert, thanks for your inputs, although I have to disagree with you on a few points.

    The E-P1 should be compared to a G11 as the size is similar enough that prospective buyers will consider both irrespective of sensor sizes.

    The E-P1 is MUCH better for street photography BECAUSE you can mate it with a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens and you then get FAR better low light image quality performance, and the E-P1 is great for using manual focus legacy lenses such as an OM 21mm if you can’t afford a 20mm f/1.7.

    Some of the points you make are largely irrelevant to image quality:

    ISO sensitivity just means how close the indicated ISO is to true ISO – of little relevance.

    Much more important to image quality is Signal to Noise ratio, tonal range, color sensitivity and the EP1 is the clear winner in each of these areas.

    The resolution of the LCD screen is adequate and even though it is less than that on the G11, will not mean you get nicer photos.

    Image stabilisation of the Olympus cameras is VERY effective, and when combined with the ability to use higher ISO than the G11 and faster lenses such as f/1.7, the EP1 beats the G11 hands down for low light image quality performance.

    The EP1 is NOT designed to continuously AF during video – you need the GH1 for that.

    1.1 frames per second burst rate of the G11 is NOT very helpful, especially if you wanted to bracket exposures or capture some quick action – 3fps on the EP1 would be MUCH better, especially if you have pre-focused or manually focused.

    For battery life, as long as a battery lasts me a day’s shooting then I’m happy, and I always take a 2nd one with me just in case.

    I do agree there is no one perfect camera, and I prefer a EVF over a crappy optical one as in the EP1 add-on, or the G11, so I personally bought the Panasonic GH1 which incidentally is FAR better than the G11 on nearly all your measures (including full AF in HD video and fast AF even in low light) BUT it is a touch bigger and more expensive and these factors may be important to some people.

  5. tf says:

    So for someone who doesn’t know a lot about cameras and wants to take pictures of his children (inside & outside) and have good quality is there a difference between the G11 (which I’ve been looking at) and the other two? I’d rather not go above $500 USD.

    I’m upgrading from a cheap kodak C1013 $90 point & shoot camera and I’m tired of the poor quality. At first I thought I had to move to a DSLR to get decent quality, but then was recommended the G11 as an alternative but still very good.

    For my stated purposes, any suggestions between the G11 and the others?

  6. admin says:

    hi tf,

    taking photos of moving kids indoors in low light is one of the harder things for cameras to manage.

    The much larger sensor of the micro four thirds cameras will give you better image quality in low light conditions than a G11, allow you to blur the background better by using wide aperture lenses.

    But what it will come down to is how fast they will AF on a moving kid in low light.

    Out of the 3, I would go for a Panasonic GF1 with 20mm f/1.7 lens as the f/1.7 lens allows faster shutter speeds at lower ISO in low light, give a good compromise on focal length and background blurring, and should be the fastest kit to autofocus in low light.

    An image stabiliser does not help for moving subjects such as kids.

  7. I have recently purchased Canon G11. I bought the G11 for my wife, who wanted an easy-to-use camera with an optical viewfinder and a swing-out LCD that was viewable in bright light.

  8. Wong Kim Seng says:

    I have digital SLR system and all 10 lens from micro to telephoto. I don’t think I would like to start another system of lens that going cost very much. Canon G11 fits me better for snapshots and street photography. I will go for DSLR if for much more quality shots. I like the combination of the tiny Canon 270ex speedlite for G11 which can have the bounce flash function for far better indoor photography. The outdoor pictures are very sharp and noises well controlled. As a user that’s my choice of buying a G11 than the 4/3.

  9. admin says:

    Hi Wong Kim Seng, appreciate your situation and G11 may suit you best, although you could use ALL your dSLR lenses on a Micro 43 camera albeit in manual focus, but it is the best manual focus available.
    You can use the Canon 270ex speedlite as well but you wont get TTL mode – but that’s not such a great deal, Canon’s ttl flash is not that consistent anyway – I have 2 580EXII flashes with my Canon 1DMIII.
    Check out the new Olympus E-PL1 coming out in March!

  10. Wong Kim Seng says:

    That is an good idea of using all my Nikon lens into manual focus. I don’t think that going to suit me as I am getting old with fading eye sight and I greatly depended on the autofocus system to help me out. That is a very good suggestion of yours.

  11. Anonymous says:

    manual focus is fantastic on M43 – fast access to a magnified view makes it possible even with poor eyesight – much better than MF on a dSLR’s optical viewfinder.

    and don’t forget, your Nikon lenses will automatically get image stabilisation – just dial in the focal length.

    and if you get a tilt shift adapter – you can convert them all into tilt shift lenses too!

    M43 is all about fun and creativity not just wide DOF point and shoot images that a G11 delivers – put a Nikon 35mm, 50mm or 85mm f/1.4 lens on a M43 and you will be in heaven 🙂

  12. sk says:

    I am interested in the G11 particularly using it for macro photography? Is there something else with a viewfinder that would do the job as well or better?

  13. admin says:

    If I was going to go to all the trouble to get macro photos, I would want to ensure I had great image quality.

    The sensor on the G11 is much smaller than dSLRs or MFT cameras, and thus, particularly if you need to use higher ISO in available light to either minimise camera shake or increase depth of field, a dSLR or MFT camera will serve you much better.

    As macro work is essentially about manual focus, a MFT camera will be MUCH easier than a dSLR to manually focus as there is no mirror to keep moving out of the way, and also, at high magnifications of macro work where mirror vibrations can blur your image, mirrorless cameras such as MFT and Sony NEX will be easier to use as you don’t need to resort to mirror lock up.

    A flip out and swivel LCD screen is a real benefit for most macro work, and thus I would suggest a Panasonic GH-1, G2 or G1 as your best options for macro work, and you have an excellent built-in EVF in these cameras.
    You can use almost any macro lens ever made with these cameras – but you will have to use manual flash as Panasonic don’t seem to have worked out how to to TTL flash properly with legacy lenses.

    If you want to use TTL flash, you would need either the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 MFT macro lens, or the Four Thirds macro lenses such as Olympus 50mm f/2.0 which is one of the sharpest lenses ever made.

    Finally, you can buy a tilt adapter and use a legacy macro lens to experiment with changing the focal plane and thus either give you more depth of field or use it to selective focus – this can be very useful for static macro subjects.

  14. Bob says:

    what is the canon G 11 good for ?