Panasonic Lumix GM1 Review – The Panasonic Lumix GM1 features a substantial 16MP Live MOS sensor in a body that's barely bigger than a pack of cards. Is this the perfect pocketable CSC? Read our Lumix GM1 review to find out
Not to be outshone by its rivals, Panasonic seem to have their finger on the pulse when it comes to imaginative designs and the recent release of the Panasonic Lumix GM1 is a classic example. With a body size that’s not dissimilar to that of a pack of cards, Panasonic have yet again demonstrated what is possible in terms of the technology that can be squeezed inside a tiny space.
The question is; has the GM1 been made so small that it has an adverse effect on the handling and performance?
Panasonic Lumix GM1 Review – Features
Interestingly, Panasonic sought inspiration from its premium GX7 before developing the GM1. Though there’s a significant difference in size between the two, the GM1 inherits many of the GX7’s innards, which can only be seen as a good thing having been so impressed by the GX7’s performance earlier in the year.
Behind the GM1’s Micro Four Thirds lens mount that makes it compatible with all Micro Four Thirds lenses, lies the same 16MP Live MOS sensor as found in the GX7. This is capable of a 4592×3448 pixel output with a standard output sensitivity range of 200-25,600, and is extendable to an equivalent of ISO 125.
Panasonic previously said the GX7 is capable of producing up to 10% better images than the GX1, and this is also true of the GM1 thanks to the inclusion of the latest Venus processing engine that’s designed to have better light-gathering capabilities, an improved image noise performance as well as a broader dynamic range.
It’s perhaps no surprise to find that the camera also inherits Panasonic’s tried-and-tested Light Speed AF system which has a sensor data read out time of 240fps and focus speeds of around 0.06secs. For practical control of focusing, the GM1 also supports Focus Peaking in three levels (High, Low, Off). The purpose of this is to illuminate the in-focus areas of an image onscreen to make them more visible – an extremely useful feature that comes into its own when focusing manually, both on near and far subjects.
In addition to this, those who regularly find themselves shooting in low-light will appreciate the GM1’s -4EV detection range (roughly equivalent to starlight), while there’s also the intuitive Pin-Point AF mode that allows you to precisely select the area of focus within a magnified view of up to 10x on the screen.
On the subject of the screen, this is an area where the GM1 differs to the GX7. Rather than being the tilt type, the 3in, 1,036k-dot display remains fixed, however its 100% coverage of the sensor and touch functionality will prove popular for novice users and more advanced photographers who may be looking at the GM1 as a pocket-friendly alternative to a larger camera.
Another feature that’ll appeal to the more experienced photographer includes an impressive shutter speed range that spans from 60 – 1/16000 sec – something that’s made possible thanks to the GM1’s electronically-controlled focal plane shutter. To help reduce the size of the shutter mechanism, the shutter itself is powered by a small stepping motor instead of having a sprung-loaded design.
The result is a maximum mechanical shutter speed of up to 1/500sec, after which the electronic shutter takes it up to 1/16,000sec. Other reductions in size have been made to the sensor unit and circuit board, both of which are said to have been reduced by 30% according to the manufacturer.
The key feature the GM1 lacks is a viewfinder. Unlike two of its rivals – the Sony RX100 II and Pentax Q7, there’s sadly no option to attach one via an accessory port or a hot shoe, leaving users of the camera to rely solely on the screen for composition purposes.
There is a small popup flash that sits flush to the body when not in use and for those who’d like to rattle off a quick succession of shots, the GM1 can shoot at up to 5fps set to its AF-S autofocus mode with its mechanical shutter, or up to a spritely 40fps once the electronic shutter is enabled.
Despite its dinky proportions, the GM1 features Wi-fi connectivity, just as we’ve come to expect from Panasonic’s G-series cameras.
To take full advantage of it users will be required to install the free Panasonic Image app (available for iOS and Android) from after which it’s possible to transfer images wirelessly before sharing them with others, or alternatively there’s the option to control the camera remotely and take control of settings without having to physically hold the camera.
To round off its feature set, Full HD 1920×1080 video is supported in variety of frame rates with an image sensor output of 50p,25p and 24p in the AVCHD format, or 25p in the more versatile MP4 format. As to be expected there is a stereo microphone, but the lack of a hot shoe to support an external mic is the giveaway there’s no 3.5mm port.
Panasonic Lumix GM1 Review – Design
The key talking point about the Panasonic GM1 is its size, and to come up with the idea it’s as if Panasonic’s designers upended a lens, drew around the circumference of the Micro Four Thirds mount with a pencil and said that would be the height of the camera the body should be designed to.
This is no bad thing however, and thanks to it being so small it’s lightweight, weighing a mere 204g (body only) that rises to just 274g when the G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 MEGA OIS kit lens is attached.
The lens is bespoke to the GM1 and is superbly made with a smooth zoom ring that has to be rotated to extend the lens to its minimum focal length. Equivalent to 24-62mm, the lens protrudes from the front of the body but remains slim to ensure it easily fits most trouser or jacket pockets.
The metal-to-metal lens to body mount adds to the cameras high-end feel and soon after picking the camera up you get the sense Panasonic has paid close attention to its finish. There are no creaks from the GM1’s body when its squeezed, while the durable magnesium alloy construction that’s united with the faux-leather frontage puts it in a higher league of finish compared to its Lumix cousin, the GF6.
Due to the nature of its size, the body isn’t littered with buttons. A mode dial offering full manual control is provided, as is a switch to control the autofocus mode (AF-S, AF-C, MF), with a customizable function button located within, which can be used to switch on Wi-fi as default. At the rear beside the screen there’s a small thumb wheel to change settings or scroll through the menu, but for most commands the touchscreen can be used.
The Q.Menu gives instant access to important settings such image quality, drive mode and metering modes, while the central button within the thumb wheel loads the main menu, with white text appearing on black and bold icons positioned off to the side.
In the average sized hand, the GM1 feels small, meaning those with large hands or thick fingers could find it problematic to use. At times we found our thumb casually rested over the top of the screen, and this combined with the amount you rely on the touchscreen means the screen does need a wipe frequently to keep it fingerprint free.
There’s no handgrip to wrap your fingers around either, and while this may have been done on purpose to preserve the minimalist styling, it certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss. In an attempt to make up for the oversight, Panasonic has produced the DMW-HGR1 (£88) handgrip that attaches via the tripod thread, but this seems an exorbitant price of pay for what should have been included in the design or offered as an extra within the box.
The other compromise you have to make for it being so small is the lack of command dials to control aperture and shutter speed independently. If this is a preferable for your style of working, you may find the GX7’s larger body and twin command dial design better for you.
Panasonic Lumix GM1 Review – Performance
Whereas most CSCs can shoot over 300 frames before a recharge is required, the Panasonic GM1 has a more modest battery life of 220 images. The physical size of the battery is smaller than that used for the Lumix GF6 and GX7, and given its conservative battery life, it’s disappointing the GM1 doesn’t support USB charging.
At some point or other, most users of the GM1 will find themselves purchasing an additional DMW-BLH7E battery pack, and it’s worth bearing in mind this could cost an extra £55.
The GM1 really impresses when it comes to focusing. Just like the GX7, the GM1 locks onto targets in a blink of an eye and rarely struggles or shows any signs of hesitation in low-light, which is in part thanks to its bright orange AF assist beam. Having the option to pin-point, reposition and resize the AF point so intuitively means you can work incredibly quickly without waiting around for the camera to function.
In single (AF-S) mode it always feels one step ahead, whereas switched to continuous (AF-C) mode the kit lens did have a tendency to hunt, with a very low-frequency whir. This was picked up by the in-built mic when recording HD video, but could barely be traced in anything other than silent scenes.
Face detection and AF tracking work instinctively too, with the latter being able to follow most slow-medium paced subjects around the scene, keeping up to speed with sporadic movements.
Lens and screen
With the lens pre-extended, the Panasonic Lumix GM1 fires into life in a fraction over a second and just wants to get on with the job of taking images. Retract the lens with the camera still switched on though and won’t go into its sleep mode for over five minutes – something we’d like to see speeded up to preserve the already limiting battery life.
Although the 3in screen at the rear may not be the vari-angle or tilt type we’re so used to seeing on G-series models, it’s an impressive display all the same. The 1,037k-dot resolution provides a clear view of detail with an image, both for composition and review. The rich colours and high level of clarity tie in well with its functionality and for those coming from a touchscreen device such as a smartphone or tablet, the double tap, pinch and zoom and slide gestures will be welcome for reviewing images in playback mode.
Though its been said before, if there’s one minor gripe, its that the 3:2 aspect ratio of the screen doesn’t marry up with the native 4:3 format of the GM1’s sensor, resulting in small black bars running either side of the image, though for those shooting video in 16:9 format or images in 3:2 (at a reduced resolution), this may offer the best all round solution.
Something we’ve long been a fan of is Panasonic’s sophisticated, yet refined menu system. The GM1’s is no different, with options in the menu being listed in priority order – for example the picture size, image quality and sensitivity are all listed on the first page under the record heading.
There’s an excellent level of customization too, particularly in the Q.Menu where five of your most frequently used settings can be arranged from a selection of twelve options.
For those who’d like to take advantage of touch shutter, whereby the shutter can be fired by simply touching the screen, the small outwards arrow above the function button at the bottom right of the screen can be used. The onscreen function button mentioned above can be used to turn on the electronic leveling function or reveal a live histogram based on the positioning of the AF-point.
Loaded with a class 10 Lexar Premium Series SDHC card, the GM1 is capable of shooting 7 Raw files at 5fps before the buffer interrupts and slows down shooting. Switching the file format the Raw&JPEG resulted in the same figure, while it was happy to shoot a continuous burst of JPEG files without slowing up for over 27 files.
Panasonic Lumix GM1 Review – Image Quality
The key difference between the GM1 and the similarly sized Pentax Q7 is the increased level of detail that the sensor is able to resolve. The GM1’s Micro Four Thirds chip is significantly larger than the 1/1.7in type as found on the Q7 and as a result our lab tests revealed that it’s capable of resolving 24 lines per mm (lpmm). This puts it on par with the GX7, which isn’t surprising given that it’s the same sensor partnered alongside the same image processor.
A 24lpmm readout was observed up to ISO 800 beyond which detail slowly starts to tail off, with a readout of 20lpmm at ISO 6400 and 18lpmm readout at its highest ISO 25,600 setting.
An inspection of JPEG images at 100% revealed a noise-free performance between ISO 125-400, with only the faintest trace of noise visible in images at ISO 800. Luminance noise becomes progressively pronounced at ISO 1600 and 3200, with finer detail becoming harder to distinguish at ISO 6400 and beyond. ISO 12800 is just about useable if you’re desperate, but we’d say clear of using ISO 25,600.
It’s a similar story for Raw files, with noise creeping in fractionally later at ISO 1600. Again, ISO 3200 and 6400 can be used effectively by adding a touch of noise reduction in post processing and the most noticeable fall off in detail is traced between ISO 6400 and 12,800, with ISO 25,600 producing an unwanted waxy appearance but with relatively little colour noise.
Raw vs JPEG
A side-by-side comparison of JPEG versus Raw revealed you’ll want to shoot in the latter format to achieve the very best results and image quality from the GM1’s sensor. While JPEGs do appear a fraction sharper and have a touch more contrast applied (most noticeable at higher ISOs), Raw files display more noise at higher sensitivities, but ultimately retain better detail and don’t feature a waxy appearance.
Given the choice to shoot JPEG or Raw, we’d always shoot Raw, however the GM1 does provide the option to shoot both simultaneously with the choice of either standard or fine JPEG capture. At the time of writing the GM1’s Raw files were supported by a Camera Raw and DNG converter 8.3 release candidate via Adobe labs.
Colour and White Balance
We found little to fault in regard to how well the GM1 resolves colour. Straight out the camera images appear as vibrant as we remember seeing them with our eyes at the point of capture, however there is the option to enhance colour saturation and vibrancy with seven different photo styles, which include Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait and Custom.
For day-to-day shooting we selected Standard and only switched to Vivid or Scenery modes when a little extra punch was required in overcast conditions. The Auto White Balance System can be relied on too. It produced accurate tones that appeared neither too warm nor too cool in outdoor and indoor scenes we subjected the camera to on test.
The GM1 adopts the 1728-zone multi-pattern sensing system from the Lumix GX7, which has been tried and tested before in the Lumix G6. It’s a system that works effectively – producing accurate exposures in a vast range of lighting conditions from dark indoor scenes through to high-contrast landscapes.
In scenes where there’s stark contrast, the GM1’s i.Dynamic mode is handy for retaining a little extra detail in the shadows. There’s the choice of five modes – Auto, High, Standard, Low, or Off. For many of our shots we left it set to Auto and found no disadvantage in doing so.
Panasonic Lumix GM1 Review – Verdict
Panasonic have achieved something quite remarkable with the GM1. The way such impressive features have been squeezed into such a small body goes to show what is possible, and as well as being a great technological achievement in its own right, its put its own stamp on what we define as compact in compact system camera.
In comparison with a majority of other CSCs, and other Lumix models for that matter, it makes the competition look big and bulky. The GM1’s petite size will undoubtedly win people over, especially those that don’t want bulk but want the versatility of being able to interchange lenses. With the kit lens or Panasonic’s 20mm f/1.7 LUMIX G II ASPH G pancake lens it’s an ideal pocket-friendly companion, but with anything bigger, such as a long telephoto zoom, it feels a bit lost and indistinct.
While we’re full of praise of the features, build quality and image quality, the performance, or to be more specific the battery life is the underlying concern. You really need to be able to shoot more than the allotted 220 images from a single charge, and what with USB charging not being supported, the main trade off for choosing a camera so small is having a much more limited battery life. While we predict users will run out of power fairly quickly, at least there is the option of purchasing an additional battery.
Other than the battery life issue, the GM1 is a cracking little camera and would make a top choice for those stepping up from a basic point and shoot compact or those seeking a model that’s smaller and less cumbersome than the camera they already own.
The GM1 could also spark the arrival of other dinky system cameras from other manufacturers, so watch this space, it could become a camera in a new sector of the market.
Panasonic Lumix GM1 Review – Sample Image Gallery
This is just a small selection of images captures with the Panasonic Lumix GM1. For a wider range of images, along with a full set of ISO comparison shots, head to the Panasonic Lumix GM1 review sample image gallery.
Panasonic’s new ultra-compact Micro Four Thirds CSC is quite a feat of engineering. Using the same 16MP sensor and Venus processing engine as the excellent GX7, Panasonic’s engineers have worked hard to reduce the size of pretty much every internal component to arrive at the GM1’s diminutive proportions of 99 x 55 x 30mm. That’s actually smaller than Pentax’s Q7, which sports a much smaller sensor.
Panasonic say they’ve reduced the size of the sensor unit by 30%, the shutter size by 80% and the circuit board by 30%, while the GM1 features a aluminium frame and magnesium alloy chassis which we have to say provides a real high-end, luxury feel.
There’s a broad ISO range from 125-25,600, while the contrast-detect AF system can focus in light levels as poor as -4EV, so we should expect a similar performance to the GX7 in that respect.
With such a compact body, its little surprise not to see a built-in electronic viewfinder, while the GM1 has also foregone a hotshoe, so there isn’t the option to attach an optical viewfinder at a later date. That said, that isn’t the market its aimed at and the large 3in touch-sensitive display appeared bright and crisp in our brief hands-on.
There’s no space inside the body for NFC connectivity, but it does have Wi-fi built in and couples with Panasonic Image App to allow remote shooting with mobiles or tablets and instant sharing of images to the web.
The GM1 will be shipping with a newly developed 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Lumix G Vario lens (Micro Four Thirds equivalent 24-64mm), which is incredibly compact, collapsing down to the size of a pancake lens when positioned in it off position. Not only that, but it incorporates a stepping-motor for smooth AF and the metal exterior is a nice complement to the metal body.
The GM1 and 12-32mm lens will be available as a kit from the middle of November priced at £629.
Panasonic believe they’ve found a gap in the market for the GM1 – those looking for a high-quality, large sensor camera, but with a small footprint and who place a lot of emphasis on style.
We have to say that it certainly looks the part, and while we’re impressed with the engineering that’s gone into the GM1, it almost feels just that bit too small from our initial experience with it. This may be a personal thing, and we’ll get a clearer idea of what its like to shoot and live with once we get our hands on a full test sample.