Panasonic GM1 Review, Field Test Part III

Big lenses, reader requests & final thoughts


GM1 + Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5: A bit on the heavy side and slow to focus, but if the subject doesn't move, you can still capture great images. (147mm, f/3.2, 1/320s, ISO 1250)

One of the big advantages of an interchangeable lens camera is the flexibility offered by those lenses. You can go from an ultra-wide landscape perspective to an up-close telephoto shot of a bird in a matter of minutes. However, as cameras get smaller and smaller, such as with the Panasonic GM1, you run into issues of comfort, balance and sheer portability when you want to use longer (and inherently larger) lenses. However, the fun of an ILC -- the flexibility -- is that you can do it if you want to, or need to.

In this last Field Test installment, I discuss my experience using larger Micro Four Thirds and even some Four Thirds lenses, just for fun. I also wrap up my Panasonic GM1 review with some reader requests and other small details, as well as my final summary. (Note: We'll be finalizing the entire review with test results, pros & cons and conclusions shortly.)

GM1 + Olympus 150mm f/2 (150mm, f/2.0, 1/320s, ISO 200)

Going BIG. The Panasonic GM1, like we've said before, feels like the best truly pocketable interchangeable lens camera. With the included 12-32mm kit lens, the GM1 is indeed a high performance camera that's perfectly suited to photograph a wide variety of subjects, but that combo is quite limited when it comes to shooting that bird in the tree or your child across from you on the soccer field.

I've always been enamored with huge, long lenses, so I took the GM1 over the Christmas holidays along with a couple of long and beefy lenses: the Olympus 150mm f/2 Zuiko and Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko, and had a little telephoto fun. I was curious to see a) if the GM1 had usable autofocusing performance with Four Thirds lenses, like the Olympus E-M1, and b) what the handling was like using such a tiny camera with these large lenses. I should also note that we have a much more practical telephoto lens here at IRHQ -- the Olympus M.Zuiko 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7, a Micro Four Thirds lens -- that I used on the GM1 and will discuss further down.

GM1 + Olympus 150mm f/2: While the lens is heavy and cumbersome, the quickly-adjustable AF points on the GM1 allows me to put focus exactly where I want. (150mm, f/2.0, 1/125s, ISO 3200)
Taken with the GM1 + Olympus 150mm f/2. (150mm, f/2.0, 1/400s, ISO 200)

Unfortunately, I'll have to start this shooter's report section with a negative. No, the Olympus 150mm f/2 Zuiko and Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko lenses are not practical to use on the GM1. At all. Particularly, the 150mm lens, with its massive size and weight -- 3.6 lbs. of it -- is definitely not suited for the GM1. It was hilarious to behold, however.

Do not try this at home. The Panasonic GM1 + Olympus 150mm f/2 with required adapter is quite a ridiculous combo: slow, heavy and unbalanced. No, I didn't carry the camera around like this.

I was quick to discover that Four Thirds lenses with the M4/3-4/3 adapter do not autofocus well. Like we saw on other Olympus cameras before the E-M1, focusing with the adapter is abysmally slow with a distinct stepping actuation as the camera attempts to acquire focus.

That being said, I had fun shooting with these lenses. Especially the 50-200mm lens, which was the more practical of the pair as it was significantly lighter and more fun to use. The GM1 and 50-200mm lens produced a 400mm equivalent field of view at maximum telephoto. When you consider using a DSLR to get a 400mm focal length with a fast aperture, you're talking about substantially more weight and possibly thousands of dollars. Using the GM1 and the 50-200mm lens was much lighter, and barring the terribly slow AF speed, was very useful to shoot wildlife (albeit only of the slow-moving variety) and other telephoto subjects.

GM1 + Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5. (200mm, f/3.5, 1/500s, ISO 200)
GM1 + Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5. (147mm, f/3.2, 1/320s, ISO 1250)

On the more practical side, I also had a chance to use a more sensible telephoto lens with the GM1: the Olympus M.Zuiko 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II. This lens, designed for Micro Four Thirds cameras rather than larger Four Thirds DSLRs, is still rather large for the tiny body of the GM1. However, it's considerably lighter and smaller than the Four Thirds 50-200mm lens, making it much more comfortable to use. The autofocusing performance also was a night-and-day experience compared to the older Four Thirds lenses, focusing very quickly like most other Micro Four Thirds lenses I've used.

Large, but lightweight. The Micro Four Thirds-specific Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II is a much more appropriate telephoto zoom, however the lack of IS and the slow f/6.7 at full tele make it challenging to use on the GM1.

Similar to the comparison with the 50-200mm, the 75-300mm lens provides a whopping 600mm equivalent focal length, that, in typical DSLR-size lenses, would equate to significantly more weight and bulk, not to mention price. Taking this into account, the GM1 and the Olympus 75-300mm is an amazing combo.

GM1+ Olympus 75-300mm: The lens provides a versatile reach, but the lack of IS makes precise framing at full tele a challenge -- the lack of an EVF makes it even more difficult as you have to hold the camera farther out from your center of gravity. (300mm, f/6.7, 1/640s, ISO 200)

However, the biggest downside to using these longer, and often-heavier lenses, is that the lack of a viewfinder, built-in or otherwise, making for an awkward shooting stance. You're forced to hold the camera farther out in front of your face to use the LCD, rather than centering the camera up against your eye in a more balanced shooting position, making it quite uncomfortable to hold the camera, especially for any length of time.

GM1+ Olympus 75-300mm. (187mm, f/6, 1/3200s, ISO 200)

Now, this isn't an issue exclusive to the GM1, as both the Sony NEX-3N and Canon EOS M, for example, offer the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, but lack any form of viewfinder. However, it's an issue nonetheless with this type of camera.

Also, the lack of body-based image stabilization on the GM1 is another ding to versatility and flexibility of lens choice. While it's not impossible to shoot with super-telephoto lenses that lack IS, simply framing your shot is more challenging at these very long focal lengths, as any and all camera vibrations appear magnified the farther you zoom. Combining this with the viewfinder-less shooting position makes the GM1 a not-so-stellar telephoto camera when shooting handheld.

Reader Requests. One of the best things about these episodic Field Tests is that we can now have a dialog with readers and take suggestions for things to test or compare while we review a camera. In this case, I'm going cover a few things readers have asked about or wanted confirmed.

First off, Harald E. Brandt commented after purchasing his own GM1 that the embedded JPEG thumbnail when shooting RAW-only was much lower in resolution that RAW+JPEG, which most likely displays the corresponding JPEG photo. I tested this out, and yes, this does seem to be the case. When shooting RAW-only, the image of the shot, when magnified is noticeably lower in resolution. I wouldn't consider it a deal-breaker for the GM1, but as Mr. Brandt indicated, it does make it more difficult to discern the sharpness of images. See for yourself in the table below:

 

Panasonic GM1: Playback Review: RAW vs RAW+JPEG
RAW
RAW+JPEG
RAW @ 8x Magnification
RAW+JPEG @ 8x Magnification
RAW
RAW+JPEG
RAW @ 8x Magnification
RAW+JPEG @ 8x Magnification
RAW @ 16x Magnification
RAW+JPEG @ 16x Magnification

Another reader comment, from Jason Ushkowski, asked about video priority mode on the GM1 and the image quality of simultaneously captured still photos. The GM1, like many cameras, lets you start recording video from any still shooting mode, and vice versa -- you can take a photo while shooting video (though not in the dedicated Movie Mode, as the shutter button acts as a secondary recording start/stop button). However, the GM1 gives you two options for how to snap still photos while recording video: Motion Picture Priority and Still Picture Priority.

In Motion Picture Priority, pressing the shutter button silently snaps a photo without interrupting the recording process. As the name suggests, priority is on the video recording and not still image quality. As such, the captured still in this mode is a much lower quality (small JPEG) and in the 16:9 aspect ratio (1920 x 1080; even when recording 720p video). Up to 30 stills can be captured during video recording in this mode. However, in Still Picture Priority, video recording is briefly interrupted allowing for the capture of a high resolution image, including RAW (4592 x 2584 pixels), but the image (even the RAW) is in the 16:9 aspect ratio. Video recording is then immediately resumed, and the resulting single video file is shown with a brief pause where the still was captured. Unlike in Motion Priority, in Still Priority only up to 4 images can be captured during video recording.

 

Panasonic GM1: Still Picture Priority vs Motion Picture Priority
Still Picture Priority Mode
1920 x 1080, H.264, Progressive, 30 fps
Download Original (17.0MB MP4)
Motion Picture Priority Mode
1920 x 1080, H.264, Progressive, 30 fps
Download Original (15.9MB MP4)
16:9, 4592 x 2584 pixels (RAW)
16:9, 1920 x 1080
16:9, 4592 x 2584 pixels (RAW)
16:9, 1920 x 1080

Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of the Panasonic GM1's video capabilities and quality.

The last reader request actually came to me from multiple readers, as "Whayne" and "Geordon" were interested in how the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens performed on the GM1. If you recall back in my second SR installment, I described using the fast, high-performance Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, and despite being a little on the large size for the tiny GM1, I found it to be an excellent experience. Somehow, at that time, I never got around to using what I consider to be Panasonic's equivalent to the Oly 12-40mm. Now I have.

GM1+ Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8. (18mm, f/3.5, 1/640s, ISO 200)

Right off the bat, I felt that the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 was a much better fit on the GM1 than the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8. It's noticeably lighter and a bit smaller, making it more comfortable to use with such a small camera. However, one of best things about this lens is how easily and smoothly the zoom ring rotates. Despite being a bright f/2.8 lens, it didn't feel like it had to move a lot of large glass elements around. This was very pleasing given how tiny the GM1 is and how little grip you have on the camera itself. With other lenses, such as the Olympus 12-40 and the Olympus 75-300, the zoom action is stiff enough that it's hard to hold the camera in shooting position while zoom smoothly -- I'm often having to bring the camera down to adjust the focal length. The 12-35mm f/2.8, in contrast, is very easy to rotate; zooming is easily accomplished with only two fingers.

GM1+ Panasonic 12-35mm. The Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 is a compact, lightweight zoom that feels great on the GM1. The constant f/2.8 aperture helps create some smooth background blur. (22mm, f/2.8, 1/2500s, ISO 200)

And of course, being a highly-rated lens, the images from the 12-35mm were excellent. Plus, the addition of built-in optical image stabilization is a much welcome feature considering the GM1 does not have the sensor-shift in-body IS like its bigger brother, the GX7. This makes the 12-35mm not only better for stills in low light, but also better for video recording.

GM1+ Panasonic 12-35mm. (35mm, f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 200)
GM1+ Panasonic 12-35mm. (27mm, f/9, 1/500s, ISO 200)

Final Thoughts. So, is the Panasonic GM1 an awesome camera? Absolutely. It's a fantastically small, lightweight and high-performance camera that's packed with lots of features much like a larger camera, such as the Panasonic GX7. The big story with this camera is, of course, its size. It's one of the best go-anywhere, carry-all-the-time, daily shooters out there today. While I wouldn't consider it "pocketable" in things like jeans or chinos, it's definitely small enough with the retractable 12-32mm kit lens to slip into a cargo pocket or jacket pocket with ease.

Get a grip. Panasonic GM1 with Richard Franiec's grip.

Unfortunately, its diminutive size can also be a downside. Especially when using larger and heavier lenses, the small, thin design of the GM1's body leaves little area for a secure grip (and the faux leather texture isn't all that "grippy," I found). Thankfully, Panasonic has recognized this issue and created a screw-on grip attachment plate that maintains the small size (no DSLR battery grip-like accessory here) while giving a more secure hold on the camera. Sadly, it's a bit awkward to use in some cases, as it not only uses the tripod socket but also blocks the battery and memory card door. As an alternative, the enterprising Richard Franiec has released a custom grip for the GM1 that does not use the tripod socket or block the battery door.

On the performance side of things, there's not much to complain about with the GM1. The autofocusing is amazingly fast. It feels near instantaneous when I half-press the shutter button and locks onto subjects quickly without a lot of hunting back and forth like I've seen with some other contrast-detect AF systems. And while it may not be as fast as a traditional phase-detect DSLR, the GM1 is certainly more than capable of shooting the majority of subjects most people tend to take, such as landscapes, portraits, travel and street photography as well as macro shots.

The big downside with the GM1 is if you're a fan of shooting telephoto shots like I am, this little camera may not be the best choice (not surprisingly). Longer, heavier lenses are quite awkward to use on such a small body (although the ability is there if you need it). Not only do you not have a lot of grip in the hand, but the lack of a viewfinder or optical viewfinder attachment also makes it uncomfortable to hold these longer, heavier lenses out in front of your face for any length of time.

I realize I'm probably trying to find a downside where there is none, as the Panasonic GM1 is clearly not designed for the telephoto wildlife or sports shooter. For 99% of the other possible subjects to photograph, however, the GM1 is an excellent camera with impressive performance and image quality all packed into an extremely convenient, compact and lightweight package. If you want a camera that's big on image quality with a large sensor and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, but one that you can take with you everywhere, the Panasonic GM1 is that camera.



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