Panasonic Canada lend me a Lumix GM1 for two weeks. For those following my ramblings on my Life's Journey, you already saw some pictures, but here is what I think about this little camera.
What's that little thing
Ok, I knew it was small... but THAT small? I am impressed. That's the first thing that hit you when you open the box of the Panasonic GM1. It weights almost nothing either. When I showed it to my wife and daughter, they both had really girly reactions: «ooooohhhhh! It's so cuuuuuuute!» I don't know if Panasonic is targeting women in their marketing for the GM1, but judging by the reactions here at home, they should.
You know the saying: size does not matter? The GM1 might be tiny but it can deliver great image quality. I knew it would fit very well in my coat pocket because it is smaller than my LX100. It even fit my training pants pocket. I brought it a couple of time with me on my runs. It does not even bother me while I'm running.
When you reduce the size of a camera, the first thing that usually suffer is ergonomics. I have mixed feelings on the GM1. There is no grip, but it is so light it does not matter. There is an auto-focus selection dial allowing you to quickly switch from single, to continuous, to manual focus. Unfortunately, you can't focus manually the 12-32mm lens (which is so dumb). You have focus peaking, a switch for manual focus, but no focusing ring on the lens. What the heck were they thinking? I know, they wanted to keep the thing small, but I find it stupid nonetheless.
There is one physical customizable Fn button and 5 more available on the touch screen. There is a dial on the back like on most Panasonic cameras, with 4 functions on it. I don't know if it is the review unit that I have but the wheel is really hard to turn and it makes it painful to adjust the exposure compensation. It seems sticky. I had to use my nails to turn it. I often end up pushing it instead of turning it. That is my only strong negative point about the buttons and controls.
Like the LX100, if you have a tripod plate installed, you can't remove the battery or the SD card. The tripod screw is centered with the lens though. There is a small pop-up flash that is tiltable like on the GX7. I did not try it because I'm not a fan of on-camera flash. It can't be used to control off-camera flash though like all the recent Panasonic cameras. I guess it can be useful as a fill flash or in birthday parties.
The screen is fixed but it is a touch sensitive one. It is so easy to change the focusing point with the touch of a finger. The menu system is the same that you find in any recent Panasonic cameras. Coming from the LX100, GX7 and GH4, it was really easy to get productive right away with the GM1.
The Panasonic GM1 comes with a very small 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. It is a mechanical zoom lens, not an electronic one. What I mean is you turn the zoom to change the focal length instead of using a lever like on the LX100. That's the first thing I liked about the zoom. The other thing, and what surprised me the most, is how sharp it is. The optical quality of that lens is very good. Sharp and contrasty, with nice colors rendering. I already told you what I hate: the omission of a manual focus ring. It is such a turn off for me.
It is nice for everyday photos, especially outside, but it is not fast enough for what I mostly do. I need that f/2.8 and even wider aperture for my portrait work or the low light shooting. The GM1, like the GX7, does a good job at high ISO but f/5.6 does not cut it. That is more than three stops slower than my primes. That would be a really nice lens for landscape though. The lens shows almost no flare, even when shot straight at the sun. No purple rays or green blobs like the LX100.
What I did not like
Small usually means no viewfinder. They found a way to put one on the GM5 though. It did not bother me, until I shot outside in bright sun and in the snow. It was almost impossible to see the screen. I was seeing just enough to compose my shot, but barely. For that alone, I would look at the GM5 instead of the GM1.
The control wheel is really tough to turn without pushing it in. I suspect that is a problem with the review unit I have. It makes me wonder on how well the GM1 will age. Will the wheel become hard to turn with time?
Like I said already two times, I hate the lack of a focusing ring on the lens. On the other hand, that lens is sharp with bright colors and contrast. It is also very small. Since the GM1 has a standard MFT mount, you can use any Panasonic, Olympus or third party lens on it.
There is no flash shoe and you can't control an external flash from the camera. It is not a big deal though because it is not the point of that camera. I won't bring 3 external flash and start doing a strobist shoot with the GM1. For people who only want one camera, it is something to consider.
Who is it for? How does it compare to the LX100?
The Panasonic GM1 with the 12-32mm would be great for a backpacker or a cyclist. It delivers high quality images while being so small and lightweight that you can fit it almost anywhere. A woman could probably lose it in her purse. I'm not being misogynous here. I just talk from experience with my wife's purse. I'm always afraid when she tells me to get something in that. Anyone carrying a small bag or backpack can put the GM1 in there, and always have it with him/her.
The question I have been ask a lot is how does it compare to the LX100? Which one should I get? That question could be answered in so many ways. Here are some points that could help you make up your decision. I can't decide for you because it depends what you need and what you want to do with it.
- The GM1 with the 12-32mm is sharper edge to edge than the LX100. The LX100 is really sharp in the middle but not as much in the corners. For someone doing mostly landscape, the GM1 could be a better choice. I would consider the GM5 because of the viewfinder though. The lack of bad flare when shooting into the sun is a good point for that too.
- The LX100 is better in low light because of the lens. You get an aperture ranging from f/1.7 to f/2.8. That's a 2-stops difference with the 12-32. On the other hand, you can bring a few primes with the GM1 and that would solve the problem.
- Even though the LX100 lens is not sharp from edge to edge, it has character. It brings a look to the photos. I love it for lifestyle and portrait work. The zoom range is bigger, making it more versatile.
- The LX100 offers 4K video and a 4K photo mode. The quality of the video you get from that camera is incredible.
- Both are stabilized.
- The LX100 has the DFD technology. This is something developed by Panasonic that first appeared in the GH4. It allows for faster focusing and better continuous auto-focus. The AF on this camera is almost instant. It also has the same processor found in the GH4.
- The GM1 has a touch screen. That helps to quickly set the AF point.
- The manual controls and ergonomics of the LX100 are really tough to beat. This camera is such a joy to use. Fun should be an important part of photography.
- The LX100 has a leaf shutter allowing very high flash sync speed. It also has a flash shoe and can control external flash right from the camera. It's the perfect strobist camera.
- The LX100 has a viewfinder which is essential for me.
- The burst rate of the LX100 is more than the double of the GM1, at 11 fps
- The LX100 sensor is multi-aspect ratio, but the GM1 sensor use all the 16MP of the sensor.
- The GM1 price has gone down and is quite a bit cheaper than the LX100.
I would be curious to try the GM5 to see how many of the weaknesses of the GM1 are gone. One thing is sure, all those cameras can produce great images. If I had to buy a camera now, I would still go with the LX100. I have way too much fun using it. For the kind of work I do, it is the better choice (portrait, low light, kids running around). I also try to do more video and on that part, the LX100 beats the GM1.
If you want to read on my experience with the Panasonic DMC-LX100, check out those two following posts. You can also check My Life's Journey where a lot of photos are taken with the LX100.
Here are some photos taken with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 over the last ten days.