The Panasonic Lumix LF1 is no ordinary high-spec compact camera: it comes complete with a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) the likes of which we've not seen in such a small compact camera before.
As you can tell from our front-on lead picture it's hard even to notice the EVF in the design, as the 0.2-inch, 201k-dot panel has been kept small and unobtrusive. While advantageous in terms of minimal design impact, the small size might not please more demanding snappers. As there's no eyecup or provision to add one, the small finder does feel quite "open" rather than fully connected to the eye - but that's to be expected at such a scale.
Despite some of the EVF's limitations, we love what the LF1's managed to do. It's all about context: the far chunkier Canon PowerShot G15, for example, is not only much larger, its optical viewfinder has a paltry 77 per cent field of view compared to the LF1's 100 per cent (even if the latter is an electronic panel). We can't think of any other small compact that offers a built-in EVF. Better still, when we queried the anticipated retail price we were pleasantly surprised with the suggested - but not yet confirmed - £379 price point. Nice.
Of course the LF1 isn't just about the viewfinder. Under the hood there's a 12.1-megapixel, 1/1.7-inch sensor which is the same size as that found in the Lumix LX7. Quality from that model is decent, even if it doesn't quite match up to some of its respective competitors. What made the LX7 such a success was just how good it is to use - and some of that ethic has been carried forward into the LF1.
On the front of the LF1 is a rotational lens ring that can be programmed for a variety of controls. Whether step zoom to jump through the 28-200mm f/2.0-5.9 equivalent range, or to adjust aperture or shutter speed - it's all available. Only problem we have with the lens ring is how far it's sunken back into the body - we'd like it to protrude a little more forward in the same way that, say, the Olympus XZ-10's lens ring does.
READ: Olympus XZ-10 hands-on
On top of the camera there's a small mode dial for quick and easy adjustment of shooting modes, while the rear has a 3-inch LCD - no touchscreen here has missed a trick, however - alongside a rotational d-pad which is surrounded a variety of unusually small one-touch buttons including a function button. Small they may be, but it wasn't a struggle to use them in practice; just a shame there's no touch-capable controls with this model.
Unlike many other high-end compacts with limited zoom lenses, the LF1 has gone down a broader route: that top-end 200mm equivalent isn't something we'd anticipate finding in such a dinky compact camera, particularly one with a larger-than-average sensor size. But then the LF1 looks as though it's designed to appeal to a broader audience than its bigger brother LX7.
Design-wise the black finish model looks rather classy, but the quality is less apparent in the finish. It's fine, there's nowt wrong with it, it's just that the rear panel is rather plasticky - something far more apparent in the white finish model, which has a subtle beige-coloured rear panel. UK buyers needn't worry about that though as the white version won't be available - it's reserved for other European territories instead.
As with all recent higher-spec Lumix models the LF1 also comes loaded with Wi-Fi connectivity and one-touch sharing with paired devices via NFC (near field communication). Our take on this is the very same as with the Lumix GF6 which we saw at the same Vienna conference: the sentiment is great, but the initial password barriers can be a downside. Still, there's really a price premium to pay for such tech now, and having it ready and available to share pictures with other devices will certainly come in handy from time to time.
At this stage we weren't able to take images away from this pre-production LF1 model. We're hoping for LX7-like, yet that broader lens range is unlikely to deliver the same degree of sharpness. It's that typical playoff between focal length, image quality and the model's design.
Again, in context, we think that for the money the LF1 will produce decent images, even if it's unlikely to win any awards for its higher ISO sensitivity shots. Unless we're made to eat our words if Panasonic's developed some new, ingenious noise-reduction software - it does boast of Panasonic Noise Reduction and Edge Smoothing systems in the official press release.
For now we won't know as the LF1 won't be on these shores in its finished form until the beginning of July. What we do know is that we're excited - from what we've seen so far this looks little camera looks like a winner.