When Panasonic unveiled the GF-3 last year, the company seemed to be moving its MILC line towards a more consumer-friendly market, and away from enthusiasts. But the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 proves Panasonic is still making outstanding cameras for a more serious audience who want to take control of their cameras.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Key Features:
- Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Compact (MILC) Camera
- Micro Four Thirds mount
- 16MP Four Thirds format CMOS sensor
- ISO range 160-12,800
- JPEG, RAW image formats
- Contrast Detect AF
- 3-inch, 460k dot resolution LCD monitor with Live View
- Shutter speeds 60-1/4000 sec
- Pop-up flash, Hot shoe for external flash
- +/- 5 EV exposure compensation
- MPEG-4, AVCHD, Motion JPEG movie formats
- Stereo Mic
- Orientation Sensor
After a brief detour into more consumer-oriented cameras, meet the enthusiast-friendly Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX-1. In 2010, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3, a nimble little camera with an interface, made it fairly easy to access manual exposure and focus controls while introducing the world to the Panasonic flavor of the new Micro Four Thirds standard lensmount and half-sized sensor. Finally, after expanding the lineup with a couple of more amateur and stepping-up-from-snapshooter oriented models, Panasonic has returned to its enthusiast base with a refreshed and updated higher-end MILC, the GX-1.
Like the original model, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX-1 puts manual control at the user's fingertips (if you want it) but also adds several modern amenities, as well as a new sensor that promises better image quality and a wider ISO range. A new focusing system, a touch screen interface, and the promise of virtually no shutter lag make this camera a serious contender to be your interchangeable-lens pocket camera of choice.
Can it deliver the goods? Let's find out!
The GX-1 features a new, higher-resolution sensor that delivers 16MP vs. the 12MP sensor found in older Panasonic MILCs, and has a top ISO of 12,800, up from the original GF1's 3200 (although I wouldn't recommend going that high under most circumstances unless you don't a lot of grain and noise suppression artifacts. Also new is touchscreen operation. It's very cool to be able to say “hey, I want to focus on this thing,” touch the screen at the spot you want to focus on, and voila, it snaps into focus. The flash is said to offer a tad more power, reaching over 21 feet at ISO 100 vs. its predecessor's 18-foot range. Drive mode has been increased from 3 to 4.2 fps. The exposure control range has been stretched from a typical 3 stops to a more pro-level 5 stops. Videographers will be happy with the addition of MPEG-4 format video in addition to Motion JPEG and AVCHD.
I was inspired by a recent Bryan Peterson video to shoot line, form and color, and found inspiration in this discarded, rusting recycling canister top.
In the Hands
Grasp the GX-1 and the first thing you'll notice is the comfortable, nicely-contoured, rubberized hand grip, which made the camera quite comfortable and well-balanced. The camera's top plate features a small pop-up flash that extends nearly an inch above the surface, which should help reduce the chance of red-eye. The center features a hot shoe/port that accommodates a shoe-mount flash such as the Panasonic DMW-FL220, or the new, higher-resolution Panasonic DMW-LVF2 external viewfinder, a redesigned model with sharp 1,440,000 dot resolution. Built-in stereo microphones are located immediately in front of the hot shoe.
Moving to the right, the main mode dial is tall enough and nicely knurled for a firm grasp, and clicks from mode to mode with authority. You can choose from Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes, two custom settings where you can program your choice camera defaults, a Scene mode which accesses 17 scene modes, including Portrait, night portrait, night scenery, sports, flower, food, time exposure, baby, pet, party and sunset. In these settings, the camera automatically chooses the most appropriate combination of exposure, white balance and other criteria for that kind of scene. The final choice is the Creative Control mode, which accesses eight artistic filters: Expressive (intense color and contrast), Retro (softer, pastel palate and slight haze), High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Hight Dynamic Range (combines two exposures for expanded shadow detail), Toy and Mini effects.
In the mode: I shot this tree, waiting to be planted, on Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, NJ with the camera set in Mini mode; you can see the top and bottom areas of the frame are thrown out of focus.
To the right of the shutter release are two buttons, for movie recording and iA (intelligent autoexposure), which analyzes the scene and automatically chooses the most appropriate scene mode for the best result. I found that it usually got it right.
The back panel is dominated by a bright, 460k dots resolution 3-inch touchscreen LCD monitor. There are a dozen, mostly well-placed and clearly labeled buttons and switches on the right side of the back. Navigate the modes via the Menu/Set button and surroudning array of toggle switches which also control ISO, White Balance, burst rate, and meter pattern settings. Fn1 and Fn2 buttons can be assigned specific functions, while the Q.Menu button gives quick acc
Sharp shooter: I chose a more intense color setting and got this study in blue that I found at my feet when I crossed the street. ISO 160, iAuto.
In the Field
After a couple of weeks of use in a variety of situations, I found the GX1 to be up to most of the challenges I threw at it, from capturing fast-changing action on the streets of New York (most of the time) to performing admirably capturing a variety of quieter situations. When shooting in all-manual mode, I was pleased to discover this camera had virtually no lag time, and in autofocus focus acquisition was faster than previous Panasonic MILCs and should be more than adequate for most users.
The exception, of course, is street photographers—many of whom who are on the hunt for a small, easy-to-operate, inconspicuous digital camera. Manual focus, as is typical with all wire-focusing lenses, is less than ideal. When you turn the lens focus ring, the center of the image is enlarged so you can fine-focus, and while this is pretty accurate, it's a slow process that doesn't lend itself to street photography. If you want to do street shooting, I recommend crossing brand lines and getting the Olympus 12mm f/2 IOM12M, which has a good old-fashioned depth-of-field scale, which gives you a better shot at getting things in focus by using the zone focusing technique. (Read why I think this is the best Micro Four Thirds lens that has been produced to date.)
My main quibble with the GX1's handling is its shutter, which seemed to have a louder-than-usual click. Yes, it had a nice traditional camera feel when it did that, but it made shooting candids a bit more of a challenge and near impossible in quiet places.
Street Photos with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1:
DxOMark Lab Test Results (Courtesy DxOLabs)
Overall score: Good (55)
Color Depth: Good (20.8 bits)
Dynamic Range: Good (10.6 stops)
Low-Light ISO: Good (ISO 800)
Despite the new sensor, the Panasonic Lumix DMC GX1's image quality scores were within the typical range for a Four Thirds sensor camera and very similar to previous GF models, although its low-light performance improved by approximately half a stop over that of the original high-end Panasonic MILC, the GF1. The GX1's ISO accuracy showed the biggest improvement, from approximately 2/3 stop more than the indicated speed to within ¼ stop. That's good, although the images produced from my camera tended to be a tad underexposed and needed to be adjusted in post-processing. Overall, the GX1 showed modest gains over its predecessors.
At 10.6 stops, the Panasonic GX1's dynamic range is moderate (and similar to that in other Four Thirds cameras), as you can see here in this strongly backlit shot, which is somewhat lacking in shadow detail. A bit of post processing would make this better.
My field tests confirmed DxO's lab results, which showed that acceptable image quality was possible up to ISO 800. After that, the signal-to-noise ratio drops and graininess increases. However, there's a slight overall image quality at all speeds with the new sensor.
Above: In iAuto mode, exposure was a tad on the dark side, but this ISO 160 image does fine. Below: 100% detail blow-up shows very good image quality that is more than sufficient for a sharp 11x14-inch print, and beyond (any apparent blur is due to camera shake because I drank a bit too much coffee before taking this photo!).
Conclusion and Recommendation
With overall improvements in performance, image quality and operation, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 takes its rightful place as the head of the maturing lineup of Panasonic MILCs. Is it worth upgrading from older GF models? If you do a lot of shooting at ISO 400-800, and need the fastest-reacting camera you can get, then it's certainly worth considering.
If you are a casual shooter who doesn't demand top performance, you are probably fine sticking to what you have—invest the money in a lens upgrade instead. However, if you are thinking about stepping up from a compact camera to the exciting, optically more varied and specialized world of interchangeable-lens photography, or you are a more experienced photographer looking for a small body that you can take full control over, this is a great camera to buy.