Let me say straight away that I am no photographer or camera expert. I don't know much about camera's at all so this review is literally from the average consumer's point of view.
Also all pictures in this post are from the iPhone 4S so sorry about the quality.
First of all, I absolutely love this camera. It's bloody amazing and more than I ever expected. Micro Four Thirds has really been taking off in the recent year or two. Their sensors aren't as big as some high range DSLR's but they beat many beginner and mid-range DSLR's.
The reason they're so small is because they remove the mirror block you find in DSLR's. This makes them a lot more compact and means manufacturers can pack it all into a small package.
The design of this thing is beautiful. Panasonic haven't tried to make it look all fancy with some cheap frills, it's just a standard rectangular body. The shell of the camera is made from aluminium and it feels solid. It's got quite a weight to it but it's a nice weight. The kind of weight where it feels packed and expensive. The aluminium frame really adds to that expensive feel. It's great to hold in the hand and feels like a real good bit of kit.
It's not got a minimal design exactly, but if they removed all those logos and badges it sure would look minimal. Would look smarter too.
Sensor & Lens
It shoots up to 12.1 megapixel cameras. Now people need to understand that this is more than enough for most people, especially for myself. Also people need to understand that the more megapixels you have doesn't mean better pictures. You also need a good lens and a good sensor. These three blended together is what makes a picture sharper. It also shoots full HD 1080p video and the video quality is amazing. Even though the lens I have on it isn't a good video lens.
The lens I have on the camera is a wide-angle 14mm f/2.5 lens. It's an amazing lens and is the smallest interchangeable lens in the world - the last time I checked, I could be wrong. It is super small, seriously. I have ordered the 20mm f/1.7 lens which should be coming soon - this lens is great at taking low light pictures.
I myself don't know much about sensors. All I know is that the bigger it is, the better the pictures...usually. It looks gorgeous though.
The back of the camera has very few buttons compared to DSLR's because it's made to be simple. It's made for consumers so it's been made to be easy. Also that screen is touchscreen, quite a good touchscreen at that - obviously it won't match up to a high-end smartphone such as the Galaxy Nexus or iPhone. You can control most of the camera from the touchscreen without having to use any buttons. The screen is also very rich in colours and is at a resolution of 460,000 pixels. When previewing pictures taken they look great on the camera screen. Sometimes even better than viewing them on my computer screen.
Those 7 little holes you see by the hotshoe, above the screen, is the speaker. I never even realised there was a speaker on this thing till I recorded some footage.
The top of the camera has the main buttons you would expect. The shutter button is nice and big and obviously has the half-press to focus, and then press all the way down to take picture feature. You also get a dedicated video recording button, an auto mode button and the on and off switch. You get stereo mics which are OK quality, not amazing. There is no mic input either so don't expect this to be a dedicated video camera. One of the main gripes I have with this is switching functions. Because there is no dial at the top to change modes and functions, you have to do it through the touchscreen. It takes a bit getting used to but I'm sure it wouldn't have hurt if they put a mode dial on top.
Even though the battery is only 1010mAh it will easily go a day with snapping hundreds of pictures. However if you're going to go into the thousands, you will most likely need a backup battery.
There is a flash hidden away within the left side of the camera. It pops up quick and is points out a bit from the body of the camera. My favourite part of it though is the ability to point it upwards. When indoors, you can bounce the light off the ceiling and it looks amazing. Drastically changes the quality of the picture and makes them feel warmer and softer.
There isn't much to the software. It's quick and has quite a good set of features. Also the UI is darn ugly. You get 8 modes, Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter-Priority, Manual Exposure, Intelligent Auto, My Colour, Scenes and Custom. Don't expect this to match up to all the features and manual controls you get from a DSLR though. You can get full manual control but I usually leave most things on auto because it does a great job at doing things for you.
Picture Samples & Quality
I was amazed out how something so small can produce such amazing pictures. The quality and sharpness are spectacular and it makes nearly any picture look great. I won't go into detail about things like ISO, cropping, artefacts and all that kind of stuff. I don't even know how you measure those things anyway.
All the pictures below are highly edited, I mean like who doesn't edit pictures these days. However if you want to look at some natural examples I suggest checking out my recent reviews, all the pictures in them are unedited - UltraLinx reviews.
As I said earlier, I love this camera. It's made for the basic user who wants to get pictures as good as DSLR's but doesn't want the extra bulk and doesn't mind losing some of the manual-ness from a DSLR. It takes amazing pictures and I can easily put it in my jacket pocket. I don't have to keep it round my neck or keep it in my hand. I can just whip it out discreetly wherever I am and start snapping away. That's the great thing about Micro Four Thirds cameras, they are small and compact.
As always, if there isn't something I have mentioned or you have questions about the camera, please feel free to ask in the comments section below. I'll be happy to answer.