Operation and Controls
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 offers a unique handling and operational experience, not out of sheer innovation, but in large part due to its combination of internal specs and external design found in the G3 and GF1 models respectively. The AF system is fast and reliable; among the best we've seen from any G-series model. The abundance of external control points along with a responsive and intuitive touchscreen interface make the GX1 a very pleasant camera to use, whether you are changing exposure settings between shots or tweaking menu options to tailor the camera's behavior to your liking. Users of any current G-series camera will feel right at home navigating the camera's menu structure which is laid out in a sensible, if not particularly efficient tab-based multiple page interface. Yet, with so may options that can be accessed either through the Q.Menu or one of four Fn buttons, trips to the menu system can be relatively infrequent.
Top of camera controls
Along the GX1's top plate lay the mode dial and power switch, in an arrangement identical to that found on the G3. Both controls offer resistance stiff enough to minimize inadvertent actuation when handling the camera. The shutter button provides positive feedback upon a half-press and the movie record button, while positioned very near to the shutter release is recessed into the camera plate to avoid accidental operation. The i(intelligent)Auto button toggles between the shooting mode currently set on the camera dial and either standard iAuto or iAuto Plus, depending on how its menu option has been configured.
Rear of camera controls
The rear of the camera offers a multitude of control points surrounding a familiar 3.0 inch 460,000 dot LCD, with the thumb wheel, AF/AE lock and playback controls most easily accessible with your hand in the shooting position. The thumb wheel copies the smaller diameter design found on the G3, and thus requires slightly more rotations when navigating through page-heavy menu screens. This is by no means a huge issue, but around the dpreview office, those used to larger thumb dials felt a noticeable difference.
The 4-way controller continues with recent Panasonic tradition (with the notable exception of the GF3 and its integrated dial) with ISO, WB, drive mode and AF mode controls surrounding the menu button. The AF/MF focus mode button makes a return, having been shelved after the GF1 was replaced.
The metal buttons and 4-way controller mimic those in Panasonic's premium compact models, like the Lumix DMC-LX5, right down to the silver-on-silver button labelling which is impossible to read in low light. We are thankful the GX1's buttons have not also been subjected to the same degree of miniaturization. Nevertheless, users migrating from the GF1 will find noticeably smaller control points on the GX1. In addition, its Fn1, Disp., Q.Menu and AF/MF buttons all sit flush with the camera plate. While this obviously helps to minimize accidental operation, some may find it that much more difficult to purposely engage them, particularly when wearing even the thinnest of gloves.
The Q.Menu button resides near the bottom of the rear plate, perhaps not the most convenient location for what we've long found to be a frequently used control point. All but the most dextrous of users will have to shift their hand from the shooting position to comfortably reach it. It would seem reasonable enough to switch its position with the Disp. button, as we'd guess that most users will access that button less frequently.
Minor quibbles aside, it's hard to find much fault with such an extensive set of external controls. What is perhaps most interesting is that the evolution of Panasonic's touchscreen interface, including a new Touch Tab feature, has made nearly all of the functionality of external controls available via the LCD screen. The GX1 provides an equivalent operational experience for those who prefer a touchscreen as well as those who would rather press external buttons.