Panasonic GM1 Review - Field Test Part I

Initial thoughts

Posted: 12/5/2013

The Micro Four Thirds sensor is able to capture a lot of fine detail, and the AF on the GM1 is quick to capture active subjects. (12mm, f/5, 1/1000s, ISO 200)

If you've read any of my other reviews on the Nikon D7100, Canon 70D or Nikon D610, it's pretty obvious that I'm a DSLR guy for the most part. That kind of camera has been my preferred style for a long time. However, I recently experimented with the Canon EOS M -- being a Canon guy and all with a variety of EF lenses -- and just as many others have experienced, shooting with the EOS M is a little frustrating: slow AF, poor battery life, no EVF attachment and limited lens choices (without an adapter). The image quality was nothing to sneer at, but I was still left wanting in some ways.

I've taken on the task of our Panasonic GM1 review, and I can say, boy, this is the camera I wish I had bought instead of the EOS M! I've only recently begun my review process with this camera and have only shot with it for about a week, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some of my initial impressions -- both positives and negatives -- as well as a first set of gallery images. So, without further ado, let's hit the positives!

(28mm, f/5.4, 1/250s, ISO 200)

Size. This thing is tiny! I thought the Canon EOS M was small, but the Panasonic GM1 feels like a point-and-shoot camera in terms of weight and slimness, but with the added flexibility of interchangeable lenses and a larger sensor. Plus, thanks to the all-magnesium body construction, durability is surely increased over typical all-plastic point-and-shoots. The GM1 feels strong, light and sturdy, and the compact 12-32mm makes it a go-anywhere camera. I could easily slip this guy into a jacket pocket or a larger pants pocket like those on cargo pants (still a little on the wider side for smaller jeans pocket, for instance).

The Panasonic GM1 that I'm testing also came with the optional screw-on baseplate grip attachment, which is a fantastic accessory, and something I wish desperately was available for my EOS M. I found the 12-32mm kit lens to be small and light enough that using the grip wasn't necessary. And thanks to the standard Micro Four Thirds mount, you open up a ton of options for other lenses, but given the GM1's diminutive size, the grip is instantly appreciated as it gives you just a bit of extra purchase to help securely hold those less-balanced, heavier or larger lenses.

Not critically sharp, as Jack the Dog was running very quickly (and the shutter speed was a little too slow), but the AF on the GM1 did a great job. There's also a bit of rolling shutter, so beware with fast panning shots! (16mm, f/3.9, 1/640s, ISO 200)

Fast AF. Manufacturers, please take note: This is how you do AF on mirrorless cameras -- it's amazing! The autofocus system on the GM1 was brought over from the GX7, and it's quite impressive. The AF feels near-instantaneous on all but the lowest contrast subjects. Half-press after half-press of the shutter button is followed by a quick little beep signifying confirmed focus. I found the performance to be great for both still and fast-moving subjects. Now, I didn't go out and attempt to shoot sports or birds-in-flight, for which a dedicated Phase-Detect AF system on a DSLR would be preferable, but for a fast-moving kid, or a dog running around in the backyard in my case, the GM1 did a great job.

Just how fast is the Panasonic GM1? Find out by clicking here to see our full battery
of rigorous, objective speed and operation tests conducted in the IR Lab.

Pinpoint AF. (32mm, f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO 200)

I am also a big fan of the GM1's Pinpoint AF mode, which lets you autofocus on a very precise point. I found this great for shooting macro-ish photos or other subjects where I wanted to make sure I nailed the focus (i.e. flowers). The GM1 gives you a full-screen magnified view around the AF point for easy confirmation that your subject is indeed in focus. (As an aside, I really love the dedicated control dial shortcut (press left on the 4-way dial) to access the different AF point modes. I found this very handy when going back and forth between shooting various types of subjects.)

The color rendition on the GM1 was also very pleasing at default settings. (32mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 200)

Get a grip. Now for a few negatives, unfortunately, and they start with the grip attachment. ("But wait, didn't you say that you loved the grip earlier?") For the ergonomic benefit, the grip is a very nice addition, but there's one big issue: when the grip is attached, you not only lose your tripod mounting socket, but the plate also completely covers the battery and SD card door. This means that you have to unscrew the plate completely to change the battery and/or memory card. Now, if you're out for a day of shooting and don't use up a full battery charge or fill up a memory card, then this is less of a problem, but given that these smaller cameras have smaller batteries, they tend to eat through a full charge more often. And if you're out shooting for a long time, chances are you'll need to change the battery. If I was out for a long hike or any other kind of traveling where I'd be away from a charger, I'd want to bring along at least one extra battery. Having to remove the grip plate is just an extra hassle. However, given the svelte body-matching design of the plate, I don't see how Panasonic could have avoided this, but nevertheless I felt it was worth mentioning.

(25mm, f/5.1, 1/60s, ISO 640)

Sensitive to the touch. The second little "gripe" with the GM1 that I ran into quite a bit was with the 4-way control dial on the rear of the camera. It doesn't take a lot of effort to press the buttons and given that the dial's edge is also used to scroll for various adjustments, like aperture and shutter speed, for example, I found myself accidentally pressing the buttons when I simply wanted to quickly adjust an exposure setting or magnify an image in playback mode. Instead, an accidental press activated a menu and I subsequently started scrolling through other settings that I never intended to change. Overall, a minor issue again, but one with which I got a bit annoyed.

The Panasonic GM1 also features a touchscreen, which in some cases can be quite useful, particularly with the extra, customizable Function (Fn) Buttons along the right edge of the screen (those are awesome!). However, I found the touchscreen was quite sensitive, and when you enable the touchscreen, Touch AF gets enabled by default as well. I liked Touch AF for the most part as it allowed very fast adjustments to the focus point for quicker compositions, but I would often accidentally touch the screen between shots, either with the edge of my thumb or edge of my palm, and unintentionally change the AF point. Thankfully, you can disable Touch AF while leaving the "Touch Tab" enabled so you still have access to the on-screen Fn buttons, which is excellent -- a nice middle ground.

(32mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s, ISO 200)

Macro-ish. I noted above that I love the Pinpoint AF mode on the GM1 for fast and easy critical focus on small subjects. Naturally, this would be excellent for close-up, macro-type shots but, unfortunately, I found the close focusing distance of the GM1-specific kit lens, the Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6, to be a bit too far with too little telephoto zoom to really take close-up shots. This is a pretty minor gripe, like most of my issues with this camera seem to be, but I constantly found myself framing shots of close up subjects only to presented with a little red AF box telling me that AF was not possible. Frustrating.

Want to learn more about how the Panasonic Lumix G 12-32mm kit lens performs?
Click here to see our optical test results.

Overall, though, my first experience with the Panasonic GM1 has been overwhelmingly positive. This tiny, practically-pocketable Micro Four Thirds camera is a standout piece of photographic equipment. It's big on image quality, AF and speed, but not on size, weight or bulk. I'm looking forward to more!

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