Panasonic CM1 Review
|Full model name:||Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1|
|Sensor size:||1 inch
(13.2mm x 8.8mm)
|Viewfinder:||No / LCD|
|Native ISO:||125 - 12,800|
|Extended ISO:||100 - 25,600|
|Shutter:||1/16000 - 60 sec|
5.3 x 2.7 x 0.8 in.
(135 x 68 x 21 mm)
|Full specs:||Panasonic CM1 specifications|
Panasonic CM1 Review -- Now Shooting
by William Brawley
07/01/2015: Field Test
First announced at Photokina 2014 for the French, German and then UK markets only, the Panasonic CM1 -- a rather ambitious combination of smartphone and dedicated, large-sensor compact digital camera -- is making its way to the US market later this year. And we've got hands-on with one of the first units to hit US shores!
The compact camera market has seen the writing on the wall, and it's no surprise smartphones are now dominating the market in place of dedicated, pocketable digital cameras. Today's smartphones are slim, compact (for the most part), and the cameras built into these devices are getting better and better with each new model. As the old adage goes, "the best camera is the one you have with you," and smartphone cameras are more than acceptable to a large number of people, with their surprisingly-good-enough or in some cases, rather decent image quality. And combined with the always-connected nature of smartphones, sharing photos and videos has never been easier, which makes the smartphone as a photographic device a force to be reckoned with.
As such, camera makers are trying to find ways to tap into smartphone users' pockets, and the new Panasonic CM1 is a bold new experiment. What sets the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 -- yes, it's part of Panasonic's digital camera family as opposed to part of their smartphone lineup -- is the fact that it marries a typical Android smartphone with a relatively huge 20-megapixel 1"-type CMOS sensor and bright 28mm-equivalent f/2.8 Leica-branded prime lens. A 1-inch sensor is very large by compact camera standards, and one which we've seen in other premium compacts like the Sony RX100-series, as well as large bridge zooms like the Panasonic FZ1000 and even ILCs like the Nikon 1-series. The fact that such a huge sensor is crammed into a relatively slim smartphone is rather impressive.
However, this isn't the first camera-cum-smartphone combo from a dedicated camera manufacturer. Nikon and Samsung have dabbled in this arena of Android-powered compact cameras, but both have been met with a rather lackluster response. The small 1/2.3"-type sensors and less-than-impressive optical zoom lenses were a big downside as was the rather clunky software/hardware integration of the camera and Android OS on some of these models. The Panasonic CM1 on the other hands feels more like a stock Android smartphone software-wise, but simply with a dedicated Panasonic-created camera mode and user environment in place of the default Android camera app.
In terms of features and specs, apart from the large sensor and bright prime lens, the Panasonic CM1 camera is powered by Panasonic's own Venus Engine FHD, while the Android part is powered by a 2.3GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with 2GB of RAM running Android 4.4 KitKat.
The lens, which protrudes considerably from the back of the device, has a dedicated adjustment ring around the outer perimeter and can be used to change the aperture (from f/2.8 to f/11 in 1/3 EV steps) or other settings such as shutter speed, ISO or exposure compensation, depending on what parameter you specify on-screen or what mode you're in. Unfortunately, the lens does not feature Panasonic's excellent optical image stabilization system, and we don't know yet if there's any electronic stabilization available for stills or video.
The camera features a mechanical and electronic shutter, with a 60s-1/2000s shutter speed range for the mechanical shutter or shutter speeds up to 1/16,000s with electronic shutter turned on (set to "Auto").
Speaking of modes, the CM1 has full PASM exposure modes, as well as two custom mode presets and a host of scene modes, art filter modes and a sweep panorama mode, just like a "normal" enthusiast camera. The CM1 also offers RAW+JPEG shooting, as well as varying speeds of continuous shooting, including a 50fps burst of 5MP JPEGs with a maximum of 23 frames. Normal, full resolution burst shooting goes up to 10fps with a maximum of five full-res JPEGs at a time or three frames in RAW+JPEG mode.
For video recording, the CM1 offers Full HD and 720p resolutions at 30fps, as well as a standard-def VGA video and a square 1:1 format video at 30fps (think Instagram or Vine videos). 4K video recording is also available, but it's limited to 15fps, which in itself is not very useful for dedicated video, but with the included 4K Photo mode, you can record a video stream and pull out 8-megapixel stills.
Other camera functions are rather par for the course compared to dedicated premium compact cameras, with amenities such as HDR modes, built-in GPS, manual focus with focus peaking, and Wi-Fi. Plus, being a smartphone, you gain the added connectivity of GSM cellular service.
Unlike a typical camera, the battery of the Panasonic CM1 is not user accessible. The built-in 2600mAh Li-ion battery pack is CIPA-rated for 300 pictures per charge. The camera features 16GB of built-in storage (shared with the OS and apps), but is expandable using microSD cards up to 128GB.
Now that we've covered most of the main features and specs of the camera, let's explore the size, ergonomics and handling of this unique device...
By smartphone standards, the Panasonic CM1 is far from the slim and svelte form-factor seen from most of today's current smartphones. In order to fit all the guts needed to power a dedicated camera with a relatively massive 1-inch imaging chip plus an f/2.8 lens, Panasonic had to compromise with a slightly thicker body design and a slightly heavier one, too. The bottom of the body is about 0.6 inches thick, while the lens protrusion adds a bit more for a total thickness of about 0.8 inches. The CM1 is not uncomfortable to hold and to use, however, but it certainly has a heft to it compared to something like an iPhone 5S.
The Panasonic CM1 (left, bottom) vs The Apple iPhone 5S (right, top).
Perhaps the most notable design feature is that protruding lens. With such a large sensor, the lens can only be so small. Typical smartphones have much tinier sensors and can therefore offer lenses that are flush with the device's back surface (except for some models like the iPhone 6/6+, which have lenses that stick out slightly). Not only does the lens add extra thickness to the device, it also makes it a little unnerving to place on a table. You can lay the CM1 on the front screen, but I felt a little weary about potentially scratching or smudging it, but on the other side, the camera/phone doesn't lay perfectly flat, and the lens itself does not have a lens cap to protect the front glass.
In a brief experience taking some quick snap shots with the camera, the feel of the device is nice -- it feels like a large point-and-shoot camera with a HUGE screen! There's enough bezel space around the top of the screen and also the bottom, which is great. (The top is also home to a front-facing one-megapixel camera.) I can place my thumb on the back and my forefinger on the shutter release button and not interfere with any on-screen controls. Although we haven't put the CM1 through our timing tests, the AF speed of the CM1 feels okay, though not great. It uses contrast-detect AF, so there's a noticeable "wobble" when achieving focus. I also noticed the lens itself is quite noisy as it shifts around while focusing.
To give a little tour of the Panasonic CM1, let's begin at the front of the device -- front meaning the screen in this case! The CM1 features a large 4.7-inch, 1920 x 1080 LCD touchscreen, and it looks fantastic. The 6,220k-dot resolution screen makes it extremely crisp and images and text look very good on the device. The touchscreen interaction is responsive and works well.
The sides of the device are both constructed out of metal, and the device as a whole feels very solid and well-constructed in the hand. The beveled edges on the sides allow the camera to sit more comfortably in the hand while using in portrait/"smartphone" orientation. The right side of the device, which is actually the "top" when in horizontal camera mode, houses the majority of the CM1's physical controls and buttons, as you can see below.
Starting from the left, we have a standard volume rocker switch and then the on/off button next to it (which also functions as a sleep/wake button while powered on). On the right half of the top plate, we have the camera mode shortcut switch. You can be in any app or other phone mode, then flick the spring-loaded camera switch, and it will automatically take you directly into camera mode. You can flick the switch again to return to the last opened app or screen you were in. Finally, at the far right, we have the shutter release button. Being a smartphone, you can of course easily fire the shutter with an on-screen button, but you can also use the shutter release, which gives you the ability to focus and recompose, for example, or provide easy one-handed operation.
On the left side, or bottom, of the camera is a small door/flap that covers the SIM card and microSD card slots. There are also two gold-colored metal contact points, which look like some sort of dock connector, but as of this writing details are scarce and no dock accessories have been announced.
On the back -- or front, depending on if you're calling this device a camera or a smartphone -- it features pretty much one thing: the lens. The rest of the device's back surface is covered in a faux-leather-texture plastic for a little bit of grip. The lens barrel itself is constructed of metal and is a little over two inches wide. The outer ring, as mentioned earlier, is a rotating control ring for various setting and exposure adjustments, as well as for manual focusing if you enter MF mode. The light knurling on this control ring provides a nice amount of grip, and the clicked ring provides enough resistance to avoid accidental setting changes. Lastly, a small LED flash which also functions as an AF assist lamp is located at around the 10-11 o'clock position next to the lens barrel.
On the top edge -- 'top' meaning while facing the LCD screen in portrait orientation-- you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack in the center and on the right side, you'll see a small flap that covers the Micro USB port which is also used for charging. The camera doesn't feature any other ports, like HDMI, for example.
The GSM-based Panasonic CM1 can be purchased unlocked for around US$1,000. Availability in the US market starts from mid-June, 2015.
Panasonic CM1 Field Test
A bold experiment, but it's not quite there yet
By now, camera manufacturers are undoubtedly aware of the popularly and influence of smartphones and their built-in, always-connected, always-with-you cameras. People love viewing and sharing photos, and smartphone cameras allow people to shoot photos more easily and share them more quickly than ever before. While nearly every, if not all, camera manufacturer is putting Wi-Fi or other wireless technology for smart device connectivity into their cameras, Panasonic is trying something a little more bold with their CM1 smartphone: blending a smartphone with a feature-rich, dedicated compact camera with a massive (for a smartphone) 1-inch-type CMOS sensor.
Now, for me personally, I've always enjoyed the more traditional shooting experience with a camera that offers a more substantial grip, a viewfinder of some kind, the versatility of interchangeable lenses and, perhaps most importantly, as large a sensor as possible. I've tried taking photo with my smartphone, but it's always come across as an unsatisfying experience and the resulting photos nothing more than toss-away snapshots. I've now spent some time shooting with the large-sensor Panasonic CM1, and while the CM1 gets it right on some points, it misses the mark unfortunately in some other quite important areas. Read on to find out which.