28/11/2013 17:45 | By Dan Sung, contributor, MSN Tech

Panasonic Lumix GM1 review

Compact delight from the Japanese giant


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What is it?
The Panasonic Lumix GM1 is a CSC camera of a truly compact nature. It's all the power with none of the bulk.

What's great?
All of it. Picture quality, creative control and the focusing system are the stars of the show along with the sturdy and attractive build.

What's not?
The video could be better and the battery a bit bigger but they're well-placed trade-offs.

The bottom line:
Good camera, good price, goodbye and enjoy owning one.

Panasonic Lumix GM1 (© Panasonic)

Panasonic Lumix GM1: Review

There are two classes of camera that are all the rage right now – high-end compacts and CSCs (compact system cameras). The Panasonic Lumix GM1 is both.

Technically speaking, as part of the Panasonic G-Series, it's very much a CSC. It's got an image sensor that's bigger and therefore better quality than a traditional compact camera and you can put different lenses on it just like a DSLR. At the same time, however, it's positively teeny-tiny for one of Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds machines. So much so, indeed, that if you didn't know what it was you'd mistake it for a standard compact.

The trouble is that pocket-size doesn't always lend itself to image quality and many, like the Pentax Q, have had such dreams dashed on the rocks poor usability. So, does the GM1 tread that fine line? We went shooting with our new little chum to find out.

Panasonic Lumix GM1: Compact camera

We've already established that the Panasonic GM1 is small. It's 98.5 x 55 x 30.5mm small to be precise. That's without a lens on the front. In real money, it's palm of the hand small; small wallet small.

Naturally, it gets a lot bigger once you stick some glass on the front but the Micro Four Thirds lenses are fairly little themselves and many of them – like the 12-32mm kit lens that comes with this one – shrink down when not in use. The end result is that the whole array is a good size for sticking in your coat pocket. As we say, think of it making the same kind of dent in your mobile life as a compact.

It's also built very nicely with largely authentic, or certainly authentic looking, materials. A metal chassis makes it nice and dense, and there's enough room to mount a 3-inch touchscreen on the rear next to a leatherette thumb grip to match the same faux mottled finish that covers the front. In short, it's a stylish little thing, and not too heavy either at around 250g – about the weight of two smartphones.

At the same time, there's just about enough room for all of the buttons and controls. None are either too small nor so cramped that you end up mashing collections of them one you're trying to select just one. There's your standard rotatable d-pad on the rear, a dedicated record button, Quick Menu key and, on the top, a mode dial and handy focus select wheel.

The only slight oddity is with the shutter release mounted on the power control. It's not a totally unusual set up but we kept finding ourselves reaching here for the zoom and accidentally switching the whole device off.

Panasonic Lumix GM1:Usability

Cramped, awkward, fiddly in the slightest; the Panasonic GM1 is none of these and that's a triumph of design unto itself. It's also easy to forget that this machine has a touchscreen too which provides a virtually duplicated set of controls for selecting the settings you need. We did find ourselves accidentally knocking the touchscreen from time to time but once you get it into your mind that it exists in the first place, it's not too hard to avoid.

Panasonic Lumix GM1 (© Dan Sung)

All the same, the controls of this camera aren't a total cinch but that's as much a product of how fully-featured modern day snappers are as much as anything else. As usual, each of the main modes (P, S, A, M, iA, Movie and the Art Scenes) dictate which settings you're allowed to play with at any time and which are inaccessible. It takes some learning to work out what you can use and when, as well as where you find and how you toggle each one.

If in doubt, head for the Quick Menu on the touchscreen which covers most of the shooting bases. It's certainly easier than diving into the dedicated menu screens.

Ultimately, this is a usable machine but it'll take a while to fully get to grips with it and you might need to hand over a few words of advice if you're letting another, less camera-savvy, member of the family have pop.

Panasonic Lumix GM1: In focus

The other great claim for Panasonic on the the GM1 is the speed, accuracy and difficult conditions within which the autofocus system can operate, and we don't remember ever using a compact device like this with so many AF shooting options.

There's the focus peaking which we're seeing more and more in CSCs. It displays coloured edges on the screen around the objects which are in sharp focus. That's useful because it's not always easy to tell on a relativity small display in quite the same way as is obvious when viewing your blurry snaps on a laptop screen or monitor. To be fair, the purely manual focus method is a bit of faff but the peaking system is superb when using AF within a MF setting. Start prodding the part of the frame that you'd like to be in focus and you'll see what we mean.

Pin Point AF is the focusing that we rather got hooked on. All you do is pick a spot on the screen where you'd like the camera to lock on regardless of what it sees. When you half press the shutter, the GM1 will then magnify that area so that you can check the focus is secured on the precise speck that you need. The Pin Point system will magnify anywhere between 1x and 10x but the best results are when you go between 3x and 6x which is when it all happens as a picture within a picture. It works fantastically well and is particularly good for people shots to make sure eyes are nice and sharp.

If that's all too complicated for you then there's the standard continuous focusing mode (AFC) and single focus mode (AFS). Whichever you go for, what stands out a country mile is how absolutely bang on they all are even in low light conditions when AF systems usually struggle to keep up. They're speedy, they hit their mark and, even if they don't, it's easy enough to give the touchscreen a poke in the right direction. Very impressive indeed.

Panasonic Lumix GM1: Image capture and quality

As hoped and promised, the stills you get out of the GM1 are superb. Everything is nice and sharp, the colours look right and the pictures as clear as glass under normal conditions. As things get darker, noise begins to creep in but we were really impressed that you could barely notice it until you get up to ISO 3200. A word of warning though – do make sure to set an ISO limit when shooting in any automatic mode. The GM1 is a little overconfident in its high ISO performance and is far too quick to get up there for our liking.

We also love that this cameras system deals with high dynamic range situations really well. It gets a very good sense of what you're trying to capture even when there's strong backlighting or other kinds of mixed luminance in the scene, and it generally exposes things properly. We don't remember using a camera where we had to make so few manual adjustments.

Panasonic Lumix GM1 (© Dan Sung)

Video is probably the only slight let down for quality. You can shoot in Full HD but only 1080i rather than 1080p and it tends to show. Footage is ok but there's a danger of flicker here and there and we'd probably recommend dropping the resolution to shoot in 720p to get things as smooth as possible instead.

Audio recording is also typically bad for cameras without microphone jacks here too. The bottom line, though, is if you want better video, go and buy a DSLR or a camcorder.

Panasonic Lumix GM1: Fun features

We probably say this every time we review a Panasonic Lumix camera but it thoroughly deserves to be said. Panasonic boast simply the best and most enjoyable set of Instagram-esque art filters in the business. There are 25 on offer with the GM1 with big hitters like Impressive Art, Cross Process, Toy Camera and Dynamic Monochrome to lift your snaps from obscurity and turn them into bonafide Facebook hits.

Toy Pop, Silky Monochrome and Rough Monochrome are a couple of new additions we liked too. What really makes all these filters sing, though, is that you can use the on-screen controls to tweak them out even further if you like what they're doing for your photography.

Another one to look out for is Clear Retouch. It's one of the post-production editing options you'll find in camera and it's a way of manually removing unwanted parts of your snaps. It's a nice idea that works in some situations better than others but it's quite fiddly to do and it tends to look a bit too obvious. Nonetheless, worth a crack from time to time.

Panasonic Lumix GM1: Battery and connections

The GM1 is as connected as the modern camera comes. Thankfully, it's all done through direct Wi-Fi with a tablet or smartphone rather than having to mess about with finding an internet network.

You still have to install the Panasonic Image App – make sure you do that in advance – so that you can make the link. Once attached, there's the option to shoot remotely from your smart device as well as use its GPS facilities to geo-tag your shots. It sounds easier on paper than it is in practice. Somewhere between our mobile's GPS chip and the GM1, a location wasn't always available.

Better use of the Wi-Fi link is to transfer pictures and videos and then upload to the web. That's all pretty standard fare but what was nice was the Instant Transfer function that made the process automatic to known devices. So, the minute you take your snap with the GM1, the transfer occurs should that smart gadget be in range. It's rather like Eye-Fi, if you've tried that before.

Now, that's all well and good but it does have a considerable effect on battery life, particularly when you realise that there's only a very small power pack that's already having to provide the energy to run a high resolution, 3-inch touchscreen and all sorts of crazy AF modes. The result is that you'll struggle to get two days heavy shooting on a single charge. It's not a huge problem. You just need to bear that in mind as a GM1 owner. Don't leave home without your cables.

Panasonic Lumix GM1: Verdict

There are bad words one can say about the Panasonic Lumix GM1 but they're really not worth utterance. This is a beauty of a camera. It's small, it's light, it's solid, it's good looking and it still manages to bring home the photographic goods in all reasonable light conditions. It also has just about every feature mod-con in the 2013 camera book.

Sure, the video's unimpressive, the battery's a little hairy and it's maybe not the easiest piece of kit to learn your craft on but it's an enthusiast's compact dream. At £629 including a kit lens, it's a little bit pricier than the £500 Sony RX100but that added outlay buys you better image quality, lens-changing ability and a camera that's more fun to use while still similarly compact in size.

We know which way our bread's buttered. GM1 all the way, baby.

stars

Panasonic Lumix GM1: available now for £629 with kit lens – check the latest prices with Bing

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