Panasonic GM1 Review - Field Test Part II

The devil's in the details

This next installment of my Panasonic GM1 Field Test won't be as long-winded as the first one, as this section is focused on two specific areas: macro and close-up shooting, as well as my experience with high ISO performance.

The GM1 + Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 M.ZUIKO PRO = a fantastic combo.

Up close and personal. If you go back to the first installment of my shooter's report, you'll see that I was a bit disappointed in the close-up focusing performance of the included 12-32mm kit lens. I would often find myself with an idea for a nicely composed close-up shot only to find that I couldn't focus at that distance using the 12-32mm. Of course, this is exactly why the camera gods made interchangeable-lens cameras, so I wasted no time in trying out some new glass with the GM1.

The close focusing distance of the Olympus 12-40mm lens let me get very close to the subject, and the fine detail from the GM1 is excellent. (40mm, f/2.8, 1/100s, ISO 1000)

We happen to have a lot of Olympus lenses here at IRHQ, and thanks to the Micro Four Thirds standard, I can easily use all of these great lenses on the Panasonic GM1. One of my favorite combos with the GM1, I've found, is the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO. Not only is it a fantastically sharp lens with a versatile zoom range and a constant f/2.8 aperture, but it also has an excellent close-focusing distance. (Note: I'll get more in-depth with using this and other, larger lenses with the GM1 and how they handle in my next shooter's report installment.)

(Olympus 12-40mm, 40mm, f/2.8, 1/100s, ISO 500)

Armed with the Olympus 12-40 on the tiny GM1 body, I took the camera out last weekend and got some nice close-up macro-ish photos. The Olympus 12-40 has a close focusing distance of 20cm (7.87 in.) for a magnification ratio of 1:3.3, making it a pretty nice close-up performer. As I suspected, the GM1's Pinpoint AF mode was very useful, offering more precise focusing and easier composition on smaller subjects, and making it easy to get the plane of focus exactly where I wanted it. The GM1 is so light and small that it's really fun to shoot, and it's easy to stick the camera close to small subjects. Coupled with the Olympus 12-40's nice minimum focusing distance, it's a great combo for macro of shooting.

(Olympus 12-40mm, 40mm, f/2.8, 1/100s, ISO 2500)

I also wanted to experiment with a true macro lens, though, and we also have an Olympus 60mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko lens here at HQ. I was hoping that the Pinpoint AF mode would help with focusing here as well, but with proper macro shooting, the depth of field is so razor-thin, that it was tough to simply point and autofocus on a subject using the full 1:1 macro magnification. If I held the camera close to the proper distance, both 1-Area and Pinpoint AF were useful for autofocusing on the subjects, though I didn't see a big benefit to Pinpoint AF mode in this scenario.

With a proper macro lens, the GM1 does excellent with fine detail, but using autofocus at 1:1 macro distances is very difficult due the extremely shallow depth of field. (Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro, 60mm, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 1600)

Let there be light, or a lack thereof. I've really been pretty blown away by this camera -- its size, its AF speed and overall image quality are really impressive -- and I thought that this camera could pretty much do it all. I've been really surprised by the excellent IQ of the latest Micro Four Thirds cameras in low ISO shots, and was expecting spectacular results from the GM1 at higher ISOs, like ISO 3200-6400. I realized my expectations were set a little too high, though, albeit perhaps not through any unusual fault of the camera.

Worst case scenario? Shooting the GM1, not only at ISO 6400, but also under extremely warm high-pressure sodium vapor lamps really push the smaller Four Thirds sensor to the extremes. (Olympus 12-40mm: 14mm, f/2.8, 1/25s, ISO 6400)

To preface this, I've been a full-frame and APS-C DSLR shooter for a number of years now, and I've grown accustomed to pixel peeping those kinds of images. I'm aware of how fine details get diminished in very high ISO images even from those types of cameras. So, when I shot some photos at ISO 3200 and 6400 with the GM1, I was initially pretty disappointed in the lack of detail, particularly in the JPEG images. The camera applied pretty heavy noise reduction by default, but the GM1 does offer a lot of flexibility (11 levels) in how much NR is applied to JPEG images. I did find the noise reduction settings easy to miss, though, as they are stuck inside the "Photo Style" menu settings. My first reaction when seeing this menu option was to assume it was for applying filter presets or effects to your photos, however it's pretty similar to Canon's "Picture Styles" menu minus the noise reduction adjustment.

Panasonic GM1 High ISO crops
These four crops from the photo above really show how the high ISO combined with the JPEG noise reduction take its toll on fine detail. However, in this class of camera, the GM1 is very impressive.

I brought the GM1 and the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens along with me to my brother's college graduation this past weekend, and took a handful of shots after the ceremony in a dimly lit Irish pub. I was pretty much pushing the GM1 to its limit with Auto White Balance, ISO 3200 and, in the case of JPEGs, heavy noise reduction applied by default. The lighting, however, was probably the biggest factor working against fine detail, with an intensely warm, ~2200 Kelvin color temperature (a 60 watt incandescent bulb is around 2600-2700 K, so this is crazy warm lighting, really a pathological case).

Again under extremely warm, yet dim lighting. (Olympus 12-40mm: 30mm, f/2.8, 1/30s, ISO 3200)

The resulting images were pretty lacking in fine detail to my eye, particularly when considered against my familiarity with high ISO images from larger-sensor DSLRs. The GM1's default noise reduction is pretty heavy-handed and really flattened and smoothed out fine detail in the images. Even with RAW photos, adjusting the very warm white balance back to an acceptable color took its toll as Adobe Lightroom had to boost the blue channel pretty dramatically to get back to a neutral hue, thus increasing blue channel noise significantly. Applying my own choice of noise reduction in LR5 helped to remove the noise, but fine detail still suffered.

Panasonic GM1
(Olympus 12-40mm: 19mm, f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 3200)
Canon EOS M
(Canon 22mm f/2 STM: 22mm, f/2.8, 1/80s, ISO 3200)
Four Thirds vs APS-C. The GM1 does exceptionally well against other Four Thirds cameras, but compared to larger sensor cameras like the APS-C Canon EOS M, you can start to see a slight drop in fine detail due to the GM1's heavier default noise reduction. The EOS M does appear a bit more grainy in this JPEG image, while the GM1 opts for heavier noise reduction, degrading its ability to resolve finer details at higher ISOs.

On the other hand, it's not all bad news -- quite the opposite, in fact. When compared to other Micro Four Thirds cameras, even flagship models like the Olympus E-M1, the Panasonic GM1 is one of the best Micro Four Thirds out there for high ISO performance. Once I realized that I shouldn't be expecting APS-C, and certainly not full-frame high ISO performance from a camera with a much smaller sensor, I was much happier with the GM1's high-ISO results. And it's all relative to what you'll be doing with the images, too. As seen in our Print Quality results, the Panasonic GM1 does very well, indeed, unless you're needing to print ISO 6400 images at large sizes.

Panasonic GM1 (ISO 3200)
Olympus E-M1 (ISO 3200)
Apples to Apples. The Panasonic GM1 has fantastic low-light, high ISO performance when you compare it to other Four Thirds cameras, including the pro-level Olympus E-M1. The GM1 really is a stunning little camera.

The bottom line is that the Panasonic GM1 does indeed have a Four Thirds sensor, which is significantly smaller than both APS-C and full-frame sensors. If you're a photographer like me, who's used to full-frame and even high-end APS-C performance with high ISO, low-light shooting, then the GM1's images at ISO levels in the 3200+ range might look disappointing to your eyes. Unless you're trying to print at large sizes from your very high-ISO shots, though, the results are entirely adequate. Compared to other Micro Four Thirds cameras, the Panasonic GM1 is actually a stellar performer at higher ISO levels. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's one of the best cameras in its class when it comes to high ISO performance, especially for a camera that small. When compared to other pocketable cameras, most of which have much smaller sensors, the Panasonic GM1 blows them out of the water at high ISO performance.

[The below obviously doesn't belong; cross-links to other review parts should be generated programmatically, so they'll auto-update as other sections and pages are added]

View the IR Lab's in-depth Panasonic GM1 image quality test results by clicking here, but be sure to read further on to see side-by-side comparisons of the GM1 against its top competitors.

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