Panasonic GX1 Review
by Shawn Barnett, Mike Tomkins, and Zig Weidelich
Hands-on Preview posted: 11/07/2011
Review posted: 03/30/2012
Recapturing a classic. In recent years we've seen manufacturers back off from the megapixel race for the sake of image quality, and now we're seeing Panasonic back off from the race toward miniaturization. Since the Sony NEX-5, we've seen successively smaller designs like the Olympus E-PM1 and Panasonic's own GF2 and GF3 that moved away from the rangefinder ethos of the GF1 for the sake of fitting into the silhouette of the NEX-5. These smaller cameras worked quite well for the Japanese domestic market, we're told, but it's still primarily enthusiasts buying compact system cameras in the United States and Europe. Panasonic read the writing on the wall and took heed, wisely returning to the GF1 design, giving it a new name: Lumix GX1.
With a slightly more refined air, the Panasonic Lumix GX1 is indeed a better fit for enthusiasts who like a little more control. I know this enthusiast is pleased. I do miss a control or two, but two new function buttons help make up for that. I also miss the very Japanese minimalism of the GF1, which I hailed in that review. It's still there, I suppose, but it seems to have some more American big-handedness about it, with its larger grip and two-tone paint scheme. We got the silver version, which contributes to the effect.
The grip is pretty nice, with a good leather-like texture. It's hard rubber, but still soft to the touch, and warm. Just the right blend for a camera likely to get a lot of use. Panasonic moved the AF-assist lamp from the left to the right, a good move that makes it less likely to be blocked by a finger. I did find my thumb blocking it on occasion, as I worked the zoom control, but I still prefer this position.
Panasonic also went with a simpler design for the pop-up flash than appeared in the GF1. That design was precise with a scissors-like mechanism, but was more difficult to stow; this design allows a clever photographer to pull the flash back to bounce it off a wall for unique close-quarters lighting, though I doubt it would have enough power to illuminate well enough for ceiling bounce.
Stereo microphones sit right in front of the hot shoe. The hot shoe itself was abandoned in the GF3, so we're glad to see it back on the GX1. Note the locking protective cover. Intelligent Auto moved from the Mode dial to the now-standard button on the top deck. Retained on the Mode dial are two Custom settings, items that disappeared with the Mode dial on the GF2 and GF3 (at least one was available in the touchscreen Mode menu, but to visual people who like to see and activate their primary controls regardless of the LCD's status, it may as well have been deleted).
The power switch is nested under the Mode dial, a neater solution than the simple slider on the GF1. And both the Shutter and Record buttons are about where we'd expect them, more in-line left to right than in past designs. Gone, sadly, is the Drive-mode switch that was nested under the Mode dial on the GF1, jutting out toward the front.
Panasonic also stuck with the wide-loop metal strap lugs, thankfully, rather than D-rings, a quieter cloth-to-metal solution that I prefer, particularly for video. These lugs aren't as nice as the GF1's, which are rounded chrome that's a little softer on the hands, but the thinner stainless steel on the GX1 looks like it might be stronger.
The hot shoe's protective cover also conceals the rear accessory port, used for an electronic viewfinder. To the left is the release button for the Pop-up flash, with a little raised dot to the left, probably to reduce the likelihood of accidental activation in a bag. It's further left on the GX1 than on the GF1, another decision I like.
For GF1 owners, it's worth noting that Panasonic shuffled buttons a bit, adding a dedicated function button for a total of two, while moving the Drive mode that was once addressed by the switch on the top deck to the bottom navigation button. This is where the control is on the GF2 and GF3, so those users will find it familiar.
The Rear dial is great for making quick exposure adjustments, particularly Program Shift, which launches a graphical scale to help you visualize the resulting changes to aperture and shutter speed. Pressing on the dial switches to exposure compensation, making quick control of exposure really easy to execute on the GX1. In Aperture and Shutter priority, the behavior is the same, adjusting the named value and pressing the dial switches to EV. In Manual mode, pressing the dial switches between aperture and shutter speed values, again, a very quick interface. In all cases, the LCD displays an exposure preview, critical for photographers.
Below is the transcript of a live Q&A session held on December 12th 2011 between IR readers and our writers and editors. Click here to see answers to some reader questions we asked Panasonic after the Q&A. Thanks to everyone for their participation, and the high quality of the questions submitted!
Panasonic GX1 Technical Info
by Mike Tomkins
Sensor and processor. The Panasonic GX1 features a Micro Four Thirds-format, 4:3 aspect ratio Live MOS image sensor with an effective resolution of 16.0 megapixels. It's the same sensor that features in the Panasonic G3, which started shipping last June, and total pixel count is 16.68 megapixels. Compared to the previous-generation twelve megapixel chip, the GX1's sensor not only has slightly higher resolution, but also offers better noise performance. According to Panasonic, this was achieved through noise reduction at the pixel level, along with improved signal amplifiers. When the G3 was launched, the company claimed a 6dB improvement at ISO 3,200, and 9dB at ISO 6,400, and indeed our own review of that model found significantly improved noise levels, which bodes well for the GX1.
The GX1's maximum image resolution is 4,592 x 3,448 pixels (15.8 megapixels), and it also allows shooting at two reduced resolutions of approximately eight and four megapixels. It also offers aspect ratio options of 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1, in addition to the sensor's native 4:3 ratio. Base sensitivity for the GX1's imager is ISO 160 equivalent, while maximum sensitivity has now been expanded to ISO 12,800 equivalent, double that of the earlier G3 and GF3 models.
Data from the GX1's image sensor is handled by the same Venus Engine FHD image processor as seen previously in the Panasonic GF3, although we're told that the noise reduction processing has been tweaked slightly, likely in order to take account of the different sensor used in the GX1. Panasonic's full range of advanced features is supported by the processor, including Intelligent Auto, Intelligent Resolution, and Intelligent Dynamic Range Control.
Performance. The GX1 is rated by Panasonic as capable of shooting around 4.2 full-resolution frames per second, an improvement of 5% from the 4.0 fps figure claimed for the G3, and up almost 11% better than the GF3's 3.8 fps rating.
JPEG shooters will be happy to see that burst depth is still restricted only by available space and battery life when shooting typical subjects, given a fast enough flash card. For RAW shooters, though, Panasonic rates burst shooting depth at nine frames.
Optics. Between those from Panasonic and its Micro Four Thirds partner Olympus, some 25 lens models are now available for the system. Panasonic itself offers a healthy selection of eight zoom lenses and six primes, including its unusual 3D lens, all compatible with the GX1. Olympus, meanwhile, offers eight zooms and three primes, and several other lenses are available or soon to ship in Micro Four Thirds-mount form from the likes of Cosina, Samyang, Noktor, SLR Magic, and Wanderlust. In addition, courtesy of mount adapters, it's possible to attach all sorts of current and historic glass to any Micro Four Thirds camera body--at least, as long as you're willing to live with limitations such as completely manual focusing.
It's worth noting that the Panasonic GX1 includes support for the company's Power Zoom lenses out-of-the-box, and offers two-step control over zoom speed. The Power Zoom function can also be controlled using the GX1's touch screen.
Dust reduction. For interchangeable-lens cameras in general, and especially for mirrorless models which must leave the image sensor exposed to provide for a live view feed, it's important that some method is provided to remove dust that enters the camera during lens changes. Panasonic's GX1 includes a Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction system, which vibrates the filter glass overlying the sensor at around 50kHz so as to shake dust particles free.
Touch-panel display. Like several of the company's earlier Micro Four Thirds models, the GX1's rear-panel display includes a touch-panel overlay, allowing it to be used both for camera setup, and to control features such as setting exposure and focus points, controlling the power zoom, and even triggering the shutter release. The touch-screen user interface has now been updated so that rather than being persistent, the soft buttons can be 'docked' to hide them to reduce on-screen clutter, then restored as needed with a simple touch on the dock button.
The three-inch LCD panel itself appears to be unchanged from that featured in the GF3. The Lumix GX1's LCD has a total resolution of about 460,000 dots, which equates to somewhere in the region of 153,600 pixels, commonly known as HVGA (Half-size VGA). Each pixel is comprised of adjacent red, green, and blue-colored dots. The panel has a 3:2 aspect ratio, approximately 100% coverage, seven-step brightness / contrast / saturation / red and blue tint adjustment, and a wide viewing angle (although Panasonic doesn't specify the actual horizontal / vertical viewing range).
Viewfinder. Like quite a few other compact system cameras, the GX1 forgoes a built-in viewfinder in the interests of keeping body size and cost down, but caters to those who want an alternative to the LCD with an external viewfinder accessory. Courtesy of a small connector beneath its hot shoe, the Panasonic's optional electronic viewfinder derives a live view feed from the camera body. It's not, however, the same EVF model seen in earlier cameras. Instead, there's a new DMV-LVF2 viewfinder accessory which still has a 100% field of view, but with a much higher resolution of 480,000 pixels, and 1.4x magnification. (By way of comparison, the earlier LVF1 model had somewhere in the region of 67,000 pixel resolution, and 1.04x magnification.)
You'll notice that we list a pixel count, rather than the more typical dot count. That's because the new EVF accessory is based around the same LCOS display that featured previously as the built-in viewfinder in the Panasonic G3. Unlike transmissive LCDs, this is reflective, allowing the circuitry to be placed on the rear, and in the process eliminating the gaps between pixels. It also forgoes the typical RGB dot structure of LCD viewfinders, in favor of a time-multiplexed design that shows red, green, and blue sequentially at every pixel location. We don't know the refresh rate, but the end result is a viewfinder that, says Panasonic, offers resolution equivalent to a 1,440,000 dot LCD viewfinder. As with the LVF1 model, the DMW-LVF2 has adjustable tilt angle (0 to 90 degrees). Eyepoint is 17.5mm from the eyepiece lens, and there's a diopter adjustment with a generous -4.0 to +4.0m-1 range.
Since it mounts in the hot shoe, use of the DMW-LVF2 accessory precludes use of an external flash strobe. That's perhaps less of an issue thanks to the inclusion of a built-in flash strobe, but it's still a compromise worth bearing in mind. The DMW-LVF2 is priced at around US$240. We don't know whether it will be compatible with other Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras.
Focusing. The Panasonic GX1 features a 23-point TTL contrast detection autofocusing system, dubbed 'Light Speed AF'. Focusing speed has been increased still further over earlier models, by increasing the lens control rate to 120 frames per second, matching the AF sensor cycle rate of 120 fps that was introduced in the G3, GF3 and GH2. The level of improvement varies by the lens, but can be on the order of around 10%, according to Panasonic's figures. With the LUMIX G X VARIO PZ 14-42mm / F3.5-5.6 ASPH. / POWER O.I.S (H-PS14042) lens, changing the focus from two meters to infinity at the wide position is said to take some 0.09 second.
There's also a new AF Flexible focusing mode, which locks focus when the shutter button is half-pressed, but continues to monitor the subject for motion. If the camera detects subject movement, another single AF cycle will be performed as necessary to regain focus lock.
The GX1 has an autofocus working range of EV 0 to 18 at ISO 100, and includes an autofocus assist lamp that helps when focusing on nearby subjects in low ambient lighting conditions. As well as multi-point focusing, the GX1 also provides single, pinpoint, tracking, and face detection autofocus modes. In single-point mode, the focus point can be placed anywhere within the image frame, by simply dragging it on the touch-panel display.
Of course, you can also focus manually, and the GX1 offers a manual focus assist zoom that enlarges the display around the focus point, allowing precise focus tuning. Three zoom levels are available -- either 4x, 5x, or 10x. As in the G3, the lowest zoom level shows an enlargement only at the center of the screen, overlaid on the full image, providing a reasonably intuitive way to focus while retaining your desired framing.
Exposure. The Lumix GX1 offers still image shutter speeds ranging from 1/4,000 to 60 seconds. Images are metered with the Live MOS image sensor, using a 144-segment multi-pattern metering system, and the GX1 also provides both center-weighted and spot metering modes. +/-5.0 EV of exposure compensation is available, set in 1/3 EV steps, and the metering system has a working range of EV 0-18 (with an f/2.0 lens at ISO 100 equivalent.) The GX1's Program autoexposure mode does include a program shift function that allows the user to bias exposure towards their favored shutter speed or aperture while leaving exposure in the camera's hands, and a One Push AE function in the PASM exposure modes automatically returns the camera to a metered exposure.
Flash. The GX1 includes a built-in popup flash, located at the left-hand end of the camera body. The popup flash strobe is released with a mechanical switch at the top of the rear panel, and has a guide number of 7.6 meters at ISO 160 equivalent. That's just a little stronger than the flash in the GF3, which has a guide number of 6.3 meters at ISO 160, but still trails the 10.5m @ ISO 160 of the G3's flash.
In addition to the built-in flash, the Panasonic GX1 provides for the optional DMW-FL220, FL360 or FL500 flash strobes, courtesy of a dedicated hot shoe.
Level Gauge. Panasonic has added a new dual-axis level gauge function to the GX1, making it easy to get the camera level, ensuring tilt-free horizons, and making for easier tripod-mounted panoramic shooting. The tilt sensor display function has two parts: two curved outer brackets, and two centrally located bars. Rotation around the lens' central axis (roll) is indicated by a gauge shown on the outer brackets. Front / back pitch is shown on the inner two bars. In both cases, when the camera is level, the indication changes color to green.
Creative controls. The GX1 retains Panasonic's two main creative control function groups: Creative Control (known in earlier models as My Color), and Photo Style (aka Film Mode).
The Creative Color mode provides access to eight effects, two more than in the GF3. Choices are Expressive (pop-art style), Retro (soft, tarnished effect), High Key (brighter image), Low Key (darker image), Sepia, High Dynamic (localized color and contrast enhancement), Toy Effect (vignetting), and Miniature Effect (linear graduated blur towards the edges of the image).
The Photo Style function offers a selection of six presets, plus a custom mode, each of which can be tweaked in terms of contrast, sharpness, saturation (except in Monochrome mode, where it is replaced with a color tone adjustment), and noise reduction. Presets include Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, and Portrait.
There are also 17 Scene modes that help amateurs get the results they're looking for without the need to understand shutter speeds, apertures, and the like, as well as Intelligent Auto and Intelligent Auto+ modes that both offer maximum ease of use, but differ in their level of control over the look of images. Finally, four Custom modes let the photographer store camera setups for specification shooting conditions, ready for later recall.
Video. The Panasonic GX1 offers not only still image capture, but also allows standard or high-definition movie clips to be recorded. The maximum movie resolution is 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, while reduced-resolution offerings include 1,280 x 720 pixel, and 640 x 480 pixel. All three resolutions are available when using MP4 compression, captured at bit rates of 20, 10, and 4 Mbps respectively. In the default AVCHD format, only the two high-definition modes are available, with a bitrate of 17 Mbps for both resolutions. The frame rate of captured video depends on the camera's TV encoding and video compression type. For NTSC with AVCHD compression, the highest resolution 1,920 x 1,080 pixel mode is recorded at 60 interlaced fields per second (aka 1080i), while the 1,280 x 720 pixel mode is recorded at 60 progressive-scan frames per second (720p). For PAL recording in AVCHD, the rates are 50 fields per second for 1080i, and 50 frames per second for 720p. In MP4 format, all resolutions are captured at 30 fps in NTSC, or 25 fps in PAL. Regardless of the resolution and compression type used, the actual sensor data is clocked off at 30 frames per second for NTSC, or 25 frames per second for PAL. All videos include stereo audio from the GX1's internal microphone.
Exposure during video recording is fully automatic, though aperture can be adjusted while recording using the Defocus Control slider in Intelligent Auto or Intelligent Auto+ modes, and a flicker reduction feature lets you force the shutter speed to 1/50, 1/60, 1/100, or 1/120 second. Exposure compensation and white balance can be adjusted before recording starts in Intelligent Auto+ mode. Creative Control effects, Photo Styles, and some scene modes are also available for videos.
Of course, continuous autofocus is available during movies, complete with Touch AF. Other video recording features include an optional wind cut filter, and a four-step microphone level adjustment.
See the GX1 Video page for more details and video samples.
Connectivity. The Lumix GX1 includes a mini HDMI Type C high-definition video output with VIERA Link compatibility, which allows the camera to be controlled by the remote control of a Panasonic VIERA Link-enabled HDTV. (VIERA Link is Panasonic's brand name for the HDMI Consumer Electronics Control standard, although compatibility with devices made by other companies is not guaranteed.)
A socket for an optional DMW-RSL1 wired remote shutter release is provided.
The GX1 also includes a proprietary connector that provides for both USB 2.0 High Speed data transfer, and standard definition NTSC/PAL composite video output with monaural audio (although US-market models are limited to only NTSC video output). The USB port has PTP (for PictBridge compatible printers) and Mass Storage modes.
Storage. The Panasonic GX1 stores its data on Secure Digital cards, including not only the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types, but also the higher-speed UHS-I types. As well as storing still images in JPEG compressed format, the G3 can also write RAW files, either alone or alongside a JPEG copy of each image. When using Panasonic's unusual 3D lens, the GX1 saves images in MPO (Multi Picture Object) format, with each MPO file containing two JPEG images with differing perspective. As noted previously, movies can be stored with either AVCHD or MP4 compression, depending on the resolution.
Power. The Panasonic GX1 draws power from a proprietary 7.2V, 1,010mAh DMW-BLD10 battery pack, the same as that used in the DMC-G3. The GX1 is rated as good for 300 shots on a charge when using the 14-42mm lens (non-Power Zoom version), based on CIPA testing standards, down a little over 6% from the GF3 despite a 7% increase in the pack's capacity compared to that camera. With the Power Zoom version of the lens, this increases just slightly to 310 shots. With the 14mm lens--which lacks optical image stabilization--battery life improves still further, to 340 images, unchanged from the GF3. The Lumix GX1's battery/card door features a covered pass-through, for use with optional DC coupler and AC adapter.
Panasonic GX1 Shooter's Report
by Shawn Barnett
Here's a challenge: write a Shooter's Report on a camera that in most ways has returned to a former design. Finding unique things to report on will be difficult. In many ways, though, that's the story. Panasonic did the right thing starting back at the GF1, especially for the US and European markets. I'm sure camera enthusiasts around the world will appreciate it. Most hobbyists prefer fast, easy control over a camera, not a camera that does everything automatically. That's what the GF3 had morphed into. Though the GF3 still has manual controls and modes available via the dial, a few buttons, and the touchscreen, they aren't enough, lacking tactile control over major settings.
It's not just speculation on my part that Panasonic returned to the GF1 to create the GX1; they plainly told us they did, and they also told us why: the GF2 and GF3 turned off too many enthusiast buyers.
While I mention the controls, only one thing put me off buying a GF1, GF2, or GF3: the JPEG engine. It just didn't do well with oranges, yellows and greens, a problem that increased as ISO rose. Otherwise, I loved the small, tight, minimalist designs, particularly the GF1. I still think it's a unique example of Japanese minimalism at its finest, one that could stand alone to illustrate the concept. I don't quite think that of the GX1 in terms of its look, but they really did get the ergonomics right. The grip is almost as good as the grip on the G3, a deeper, tapering design that gives a solid feel to the lightest fingertip hold; I just let the bottom right corner of the camera settle into my palm and it's a very natural fit.
As much as I like the gunmetal gray on the silver GX1 we have, I prefer the black model. Fitted with a pancake prime, it's a pocket camera dream. I prefer the 20mm -- equivalent to a 40mm -- but the 14mm (equivalent to 28mm) is also excellent, even a little smaller. I'm more of a people photographer, so the 40mm-equivalent appeals to me. I also like the image-stabilized 14-42mm kit lens, a no-nonsense design that sticks out quite a bit more than the new 14-42mm X Vario, but I also prefer the physical zoom control for most of my shots.
There's no question, though, that the X Vario would be tempting for everyday carry, offering the small package you get with a pancake prime and the full 28-84mm equivalent zoom. Its electronic zoom control isn't as tactile as I like, but it is better for smooth zooming in videos.
Unfortunately, we ran into trouble with the Lumix G X Vario lens at our near full telephoto, finding the same characteristic image doubling that we found with the Olympus E-P1 (for exhaustive detail on that camera's problem, see Blur Anomaly write-up here). Because both companies use different image stabilization strategies, we suspect the cause is slightly different, but the doubling appears whether the X lens's stabilization is on or off.
|1/80s, IS off||1/200s, IS off||1/320s, IS off|
|1/80s, IS on||1/200s, IS on||1/320s, IS on|
The above image blur occurs on both the GX1 and E-P1 cameras with the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm lens, though the angle of blur is more vertical on the E-P1 than the diagonal motion we see here in images from the GX1 images. The blur is most noticeable at shutter speeds where it should not occur, 1/160 and 1/200 second, at or near full telephoto. We think the opening motion of the first curtain is vibrating an element inside the lens with a motion that the image stabilization system can't fix, since it occurs whether IS is on or off. (Initially, we thought it was worse with IS on, but additional testing revealed that turned out not to be the case.) At 1/320 second, the second curtain has started its closing motion before the first curtain hits the bottom of its stroke, so no vibration occurs during the exposure. Our best suggestion is to either avoid the lens or avoid these shutter speeds with this lens at our near 42mm, because the blur occurs in almost every shot.
Autofocus. The Lumix GX1 has incredibly fast contrast-detect autofocus. Olympus wowed us with the autofocus system in their latest cameras, but Panasonic's wowed us again. It's incredibly fast, enough to make your pulse quicken. It's also so fast that once you're used to it, just about everything else seems slow. After testing, turns out the Olympus tests a little faster still. The GX1 turns in a 0.259 second lag, while the E-P3 managed 0.222. Still, a dead heat with contrast-detect autofocus competing down in SLR phase-detect territory, so we're pretty impressed.
I also tried the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 ASPH Leica DG Summilux lens. It's a mouthful of a name, but a small, unassuming lens design. I enjoyed shooting with it in extreme low light, and I also made an effort to show its nice, buttery bokeh. Micro Four Thirds cameras are a little more challenged to produce any bokeh at all when compared to APS-C and full-frame cameras, so it's nice when a lens design can give you that big-camera look. Below are a few examples.
|f/1.4, 1/4,000s, ISO 160||f/1.4, 1/640s, ISO 160||f/1.4, 1/320s, ISO 160|
|f/1.4, 1/4,000s, ISO 160||f/1.4, 1/4,000s, ISO 160|
Also included in the Gallery is one image where shooting at f/1.4 for effect ran up against the GX1's 1/4,000 second shutter speed limit. With the ISO set to 160, I was unable to get a shot of a shirt that was quite blown out even though I set -1 EV. And unfortunately I continued to shoot at -1 for the rest of the session. That's not a fault of the camera, but the photographer.
The GX1 performed about as well as the G3 in terms of auto white balance and color rendition, which you'll see in the comparison crops below. As ISO rises, color tends to desaturate a bit, but it's not bad. If I owned the GX1, I'd shoot in RAW + JPEG to have a backup in most cases, giving me more control over color, saturation, noise processing, and sharpening, among other things.
Touchscreen. It's a shame to have to say it yet again, but I'm not a fan of touchscreens. The good news is that it seems manufacturers are getting the message and in some cases limiting just how the touchscreen is used. In the case of the GX1, Panasonic has created a little virtual tray that slides out from the right of the screen. Touching it just right isn't that easy, but because I'll seldom use it, I'm glad the icons it conceals are not cluttering up my view. Slide it open and by default you get the Touch shutter option and two additional Function buttons (Fn3 and Fn4). Again by default, the two buttons activate the built-in Level function, which is very fast and slick, and the Histogram, which can be moved around the screen with your finger. Notice that I'm not complaining about either of those features; in fact, I'm glad they're there. Having a level image means less tweaking after the fact, preserving your framing, and seeing the histogram before capturing the photo also allows you to fine-tune exposure before you commit to pressing the shutter.
Touchscreen capability is also present in the Quick Menu, making adjustments ridiculously easy; actually a little easier than using the navigation buttons, because you don't have to remember to use the up arrow to access the options. Instead, you just touch the button you want.
Touch control disappears in the main Menu, though, which is probably for the best. Touch control in Playback mode is problematic, not working as well as it should. This didn't get better with the shipping version, unfortunately.
Running around shooting with the Panasonic GX1, I found it to be as enjoyable and capable as its predecessor, the GF1. Fast autofocus is joined by a easy-to-master interface, and reasonably fast capture.
I ventured to try a few of the GX1's more interesting options, like Autofocus Tracking. As I was shooting, it seemed to work great, locking onto my little running subject and following her better than I could as she ran down a big hill. Looking at the 460K-dot screen, I was pretty pleased with the results, but back at the computer they didn't look as good. Tracking in videos looked a little better, so that's comforting.
Though it lacks an articulating screen, I found composing from low and high angles with the GX1 pretty easy thanks to the LCD's wide viewing angle.
In its first iteration on another camera, I found the Intelligent Auto button annoying, but Panasonic quickly made an option to keep it from activating with a single touch -- requiring a press and hold -- and now I appreciate the mode more. Why? Well, I too often get a camera from the lab with some unknown mode set, thanks to the many tests we run on the cameras, and the iA button allows me to quickly set it to dummy mode and get some kind of shot before the moment's gone, after which I can find the offending setting and fix it.
Conversely, I'm more likely to want to switch into some custom mode, then right back out into Program or Aperture Priority modes, so I'm grateful for the return of the Mode dial. I've programmed the C1 position on the dial to black and white, capturing RAW+JPEG. That allows me to see and compose in black and white, but also captures a RAW image so I can reprocess it from scratch if I want to. And rather than having to reset two menu items to get those items set, I just spin the dial.
I was pleased shooting the Panasonic GX1. It was nimble, stealthful, and gave me easy access to basic controls. I'd like to see discrete controls for aperture and shutter settings on a future version, but for now the simple press on the rear dial is sufficient for a small camera like this. We weren't very happy with the new 14-42mm G X Vario lens, so we recommend the standard zoom kit over the G X Vario until Panasonic can address this serious issue.
I'm glad Panasonic saw the light and made a camera for people who love photography and want a smaller tool to work with--but not too small. I also like that they put the G3's sensor into this format. Some of us want the smallest camera possible, while maintaining physical controls, yet don't see the value in an EVF, so the GX1 answers those needs better than the G3, whose rear EVF housing juts quite dramatically out the back.
Panasonic GX1 Image Quality Comparison
Most CSCs will produce a reasonable ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do at ISO 1,600 and 3,200 in terms of low-contrast detail, and from 100 to 6,400 in high-contrast detail. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. Don't forget that these are JPEG images, and you're likely to get better performance out of the GX1's RAW files.
Panasonic GX1 versus Olympus E-P3 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GX1 versus Panasonic GF3 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GX1 versus Panasonic G3 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GX1 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GX1 versus Sony NEX-5N at ISO 1,600
Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.
Panasonic GX1 versus Olympus E-P3 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GX1 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-P3 at ISO 3,200
At ISO 3,200 we see Olympus using more sharpening and increasing contrast, and more luminance and chroma noise appear in the shadows. Detail retention, however, is about even between the two.
Panasonic GX1 versus Panasonic GF3 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GX1 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GF3 at ISO 3,200
The GX1's ISO 3,200 performance clearly outdoes the GF3, with more detail, better color, and a smoother overall image.
Panasonic GX1 versus Panasonic G3 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GX1 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic G3 at ISO 3,200
Again the G3 and GX1 are close enough to call even, but with a few obvious tweaks to noise suppression, effectively increasing it on the GX1.
Panasonic GX1 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GX1 versus Sony NEX-5N at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GX1 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-5N at ISO 3,200
The Sony NEX-5N once again turns out more detail and better color than the GX1 at ISO 3,200, and the red leaf swatch is noticeably better.
Detail: Panasonic GX1 versus Olympus E-P3, Panasonic GF3, Panasonic G3, Samsung NX200, and Sony NEX-5N
Panasonic GX1 Print Quality
ISO 200 shots are almost identical, being nearly the same exposure, so 20 x 30 inch prints look just fine.
ISO 400 images are a little softer at 20 x 30, if still usable; but they look better at 16 x 20, which is still quite large.
ISO 800 shots are not usable at 20 x 30, as low-contrast detail looks a bit too hazy. 16 x 20 inch prints look better, but are still just a bit hazy in a few areas.
ISO 1,600 images start to show a bit too much of a green cast in yellows, and noticeable noise in flatter areas, requiring a reduction to 11 x 14 inches.
ISO 3,200 images are usable for less critical applications at 11 x 14 inches, though the red leaf swatch in our Still Life image is a total blur, and yellows continue toward green. We have to prefer the image printed at 8 x 10.
ISO 6,400 image are too noisy at 8 x 10 inches, but look fairly good at 5 x 7.
ISO 12,800 images are a little flatter overall than the other settings and this ISO is best avoided for most applications.
Overall, the GX1 does quite well, with a large starting size of 20 x 30, easily maintaining good quality all the way down to 5 x 7 at ISO 6,400. Oddly, as ISO rises, at around 3,200 printed quality is not quite as high as we saw on the Panasonic G3, even when comparing the printed images side-by-side. It might have to do with a slightly different exposure at those settings.
In the Box
The Panasonic GX1 ships with the following items in the box:
- Panasonic GX1 body
- Kit lens if bundled (G VARIO 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 with lens caps and hood, or G X VARIO PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 with lens caps)
- Body cap
- Hot shoe cover
- Lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- USB cable
- Shoulder strap
- CD-ROM (includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO 7.0 HD Edition, SILKYPIX Developer Studio 3.1 SE, Super Loilo Scope trial version, and USB driver)
- Quick Start manual
- Warranty card
- Extra battery pack
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC memory card. 8-16 GB or larger makes sense if you plan on shooting lots of HD video. Look for a speed grade of at least Class 4 for video capture.
Panasonic GX1 Conclusion
With the Lumix GX1, Panasonic addresses several crucial complaints from enthusiasts about their Micro Four Thirds cameras, particularly the rangefinder-style class once represented by the GF series. They've returned to a larger size that's a better tradeoff between a large SLR and a small pocket camera. They've added back the mode dial, hot shoe, and a few more controls, while maintaining the touchscreen. Even the touchscreen is less of a nuisance, though, with major components hidden an easy-to-ignore, virtual sliding tray.
Though they missed a few key features users were hoping for, like dual manual control dials as seen on the Sony NEX-7, the Panasonic GX1 is a good start toward making a camera that enthusiasts will appreciate. An increase in resolution comes with an improvement in high ISO performance too, as is evident from the crops above. There are tradeoffs here and there when compared to the competition, but the GX1 still performs admirably.
We were disappointed to find the motion blur issue again, initiated by the Micro Four Thirds shutter mechanism's vibration. As such, we can only recommend the longer, manual zoom 14-42mm kit, at least until Panasonic issues a fix to the X lens that solves the problem.
Otherwise, though, we found the Panasonic GX1 quite a pleasure to use, with excellent image quality, surprisingly fast autofocus, and generally reliable results. The ever-growing list of lenses compatible with the Panasonic GX1, like the Leica 25mm, make the camera an easy choice for enthusiasts who like to carry quality glass without taking up too much space. We think it's a clear Dave's Pick.