First Look: Panasonic DMC-GM1

If you are in the market for the latest Micro Four Thirds such as the Olympus OMD EM1 or the Panasonic GX7 but still find problems with the size, then perhaps the new Panasonic GM1 should be in your equipment test list.

The target market of the diminutive GM1 is pretty straightforward – ladies or girls – or in some cases, guys with very small hands. It is really small. Even the buttons are small to the point I would even put them at the same level as watch buttons.  And since it is small and you do like its size but would need a bit of a grip, then the GM1 do come with a very cool looking metallic grip (see above). It actually feels really nice with the camera and improves the handling tremendously.

During the time I was using this to shoot the happenings during the launch event, the grip was sorely missed.  If Panasonic is going to sell the camera, at the very least, sell this as a set with the camera; heck it- it should be designed with the camera in the first place, after all it didn’t add much bulk to the camera itself and it actually allow the kit lens to flush with the camera bottom as well. It leads me to think that the grip was taken out at the last moment to make it smaller.

The camera is superbly well made. At least it doesn’t have that dreaded small mode dial that I normally would associate with Panasonic cameras and instead comes with sizeable aluminium  mode dials on the top. The magnesium alloy encased camera IS well put together. The whole thing just feel premium to the core so much so I am readily led to believe that Leica may actually use this as their mirrorless crop sensor system camera offering. I can just imagine the red dot on this camera. The brand conscious would definitely go gaga over this!

With the grip, the GM1 feels so much better with it that exudes that post modernism design look. I like!

So how about using the camera? I would have died of frustration punching the small buttons just to use the camera. There are three saving grace to this camera – one, it has a Q menu button or Quick button. Two, it has at least some good direct access buttons to engage important settings such as White Balance, Continuous Shooting mode, timer and Exposure Value Compensation. Last but not least, the a touch-enabled rear view monitor screen that makes it easier to quickly do settings selection.

Good thing was that Panasonic has graciously lend us the camera for the whole launch experience and provided us the SD card to shoot with and bring the images back (more sharing later). So I did a lot of twisting and turning to utilise this camera as I would normally do with any cameras that is in my hands. The first test was the fashion shoot. I quickly engaged P mode, push EV to -0.7 so as to capture the actual lighting situation instead of over exposure, Auto ISO to let the camera do its worst in terms of ISO noise and lastly, engage the continuous shoot drive.  If the menu allows me to change the settings fast enough, I would even use spot metering too but it turned out okay in the end.  The experience is mostly good I must say. Apart from some shutter lag due to some difficult focusing situations as the interior was dark, otherwise the camera did very well indeed.

The GM1 16 MegaPixel Digital Live CMOS Sensor is matched with a LUMIX G VARIO 12-32mm/F3.5-5.6 ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S. as a kit lens that will yield a focal length of 24-64mm at 35mm sensor equivalent (2x crop factor) good for everyday shots. It is the same as entry level kit lens you would get from the DSLR brands. What I would really like to have with this camera would be the LEICA Summilux 14mm f1.7 lens  (28mm) and it would be the perfect street photography machine and perhaps so good one don’t really need to change the lens.

The small camera can shoot RAW and can be converted using Silkypix RAW convertor, the same company that provides Fujifilm’s X-Tran RAW conversion.

Here are some test shots!

Denise Keller’s moment of light heartedness captured for that decisive moment. The contrast AF is pretty quick! The shutter lag is ok though for some it may be slow as this can be subjective. If I can capture this quickly, it is good enough for me.

Karen and Denise talks about who the camera is targeted at. Yup, for the size, the ladies would love to have them in the bag. Honestly even the guys are going ga-ga over this camera. On closer examination though, you could actually see some purple colour fringing or booming particularly beside strong light source such as the words on the boards.

Typical pop up flash effect. The high ISO and active control of the flash did help to capture the background and scene too so much so even a GM1 photo bombed is captured on the side pretty easily. Skin tone tends towards red for calibrated screen but should be just nice for uncalibrated monitors, tablets or smartphones. Unlike the Sony RX100 II, once you pop the flash, it can be used.

Same lighting situation.

The camera was on Auto ISO and it chose ISO 2000 for this shot. The ISO noise control is pretty evident in the dark areas and the edge is starting to be hazy. But compared to the old models, the improvement in JPEG in camera processing has improved tremendously.

Two upcoming lenses from Leica designed for the GX7 but can be used with the GM1 though the size of the 42.5mm f1.2 (85mm which is good for portraiture) would cause the GM1 to be lopsided.  It won’t come cheap though judging by the current lens price and will only be launched next year. Another thing to note is the lens distortion at the corner and is obvious when shooting geometric shapes.

Induced bokeh with the focusing on the word Lumix.  Very good Bokeh and the sharpening is just right for me. At this point I realised that the White Balance is not as accurate as it is too yellow/orange on calibrated screens.

Denise going postal shooting back at us! LOL…shot enabled courtesy of fast AF and quick shutter release.

Was never a fan of filter effects on camera, preferring to do the effects in post editing on the computer. That said, the art filter on the GM1, particularly the Rough Monochrome effect do give a really great art photography feel to it.  I would still shoot in camera and do the filter later. May have to shoot RAW to run the  VENUS processor through the filters in the camera to save both colour and black and white images together.

The best, if not one of the best, mobile app camera controller interfaces in the market where everything can be manipulated except for zoom (since it is not power zoom). There is still one thing not implemented – tethered shooting where I can still shoot using the camera and the images are automatically being saved and shown in the devices.

I can look at what’s inside the camera using my ASUS Padfone Infinity smartphone. If I like something I can just drag my finger over the picture to be transferred and drag to the “Save to smartPH” area on the left.

Lotus Pond at Arts Science Museum. Shot with dark clouds hanging over us.

Tweaked the White Balance to get that yellow hue look.  Somehow the AWB can be frustrating at times.

At this point, the camera AWB has failed to detect the correct colour and custom white balance has to be measured using the plate as the gray source.

Baked Sea Bass for dinner. The green and red is a tad vivid but is acceptable.

Another induced Bokeh shot with the Fullerton Bay Hotel’s Christmas Tree as the subject. The AWB’s yellow hue is wee bit too strong.

ISO 1600 shot handheld propped on top of a ledge. For a snap shot this would be fantastic for sharing on Facebook. The camera is on AWB and it works well here!

Generally the Panasonic MFT system has improved tremendously over the years since the standard was launched and to use it to shoot big prints (the biggest I have seen was the A2 size  at the launch event) is actually quite good at 16MP. On closer scrutiny there tends to be a bit lesser details at the edges. Since most people won’t be printing that large, the GM1 is placed correctly at the position where people would share online more often than to say, print a photo book. So yes the image quality is good for the sensor size. Again, the issue is not about the camera per se, but the small sensor do require a very wide lens and in full frame terms, fish eye lens in order to achieve a ultra wide angle shot. That would in fact introduce distortions and colour fringing. Judging by what the VENUS engine has done, it has controlled the phenomenon pretty well and the images are more than usable in most cases IF the white balance is correct.

Do check back when I have the unit for a real test shoot.

The DSC-GM1 will be made available at S$999 and comes in black, silver, white and orange (my favourite of the lot).

To see more sample shots: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilzworkz/sets/72157638183743953/

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