Handling & Operation
It will come as no surprise, but the GM1 is a very small camera and handles accordingly. Disregarding whatever lens is attached, the shape and size of the body is comparable to an enthusiast point-and-shoot, even a bit smaller than the larger enthusiast compacts like the GM1's LX-series siblings. Accordingly, it's easy to feel like you're shooting with a compact when using the GM1. The camera's physical controls are all very point-and-shoot-oriented as well, and without much real estate to work with, there are understandably few physical controls outside of the essential ones.
|The GM1 really is a very small camera, as you can see from this view. With the kit lens retracted, it's easily pocketable, albeit not quite as slim as some fixed-lens high-end zoom compacts.|
There's also a touch screen to consider, though it's a mostly optional (but useful) complement to the camera's physical controls. The touch screen allows the obvious maneuvers like touch focus, as well as the ability to set AE lock by touching the screen. There are a few more convenience features like the ability to double tap to zoom in image playback.
There aren't a whole lot of controls on the GM1 body (though its responsive touchscreen adds a few), and what controls there are will be familiar to most anyone who has used a point-and-shoot recently. Along with a dedicated movie start/stop button, display and image delete button (doubling as the quick menu shortcut) it's all very familiar. The wild card is the three-position focus mode dial on the top panel, with AF-S, AF-C and MF options.
The GM1 has one physical customizable button (Fn1, encircled by the focus mode dial on the top panel) and five more touch controls that can be assigned custom functions. These are accessed through a 'Fn' tab on the screen. Any of those buttons may be assigned the following controls:
• One-push AE
• Touch AE
• DOF preview
• Level gauge
• Zoom Control
• Photo Style
• Aspect Ratio
• Picture size
• Metering mode
• Shutter type
|• Flash mode
• Flash adjust
• Ex. Tele Conv.
• Digital zoom
• Motion Pic. settings
• Picture mode
• Silent mode
• AFS/AFF mode
• Guide line
• Rec area
• Step zoom
• Zoom speed
• Restore to default
The physical Fn1 button may be assigned any of the above as well as AF/AE lock and AF-ON. Additionally there are two custom setting modes on the mode dial.
Menus and touchscreen
The GM1 offers a two-tiered menu system with a quick menu available for heads-up information overlaid on the shooting screen, and a main menu for changing shooting and system settings. They can both be operated using the touch screen (and indeed the main menu options are large enough to accommodate this).
|The quick menu comes in two flavors: Preset or Custom. By default, the GM1 uses the preset style with pre-determined functions arranged on the top and bottom of the screen including shortcuts to focus area, aspect ratio, flash settings, and exposure parameters.|
|The custom menu allows the user to place shortcuts to ten settings of his or her choosing on the quick menu screen, arranged in a single row on the bottom third of the screen and split across two pages with five icons on each page. Arranging them is done in a neat drag-and-drop fashion using the touch screen.|
|Aside from the quick menu, there are two tabs on the live view screen with shooting controls, one marked 'Fn' and another denoted by an arrow. In the latter is a control for a power zoom lens, touch shutter on/off, touch AE lock and peaking on/off toggle.|
|The Fn tab reveals five 'virtual' customizable buttons labeled Fn2 through Fn6.|
Camera setup and operation settings are located in the main menu, accessed by way of the button at the center of the rear control wheel.
The GM1's touch screen goes a long way to make up for a relatively low number of external controls, and thankfully it's responsive and fluid. It rarely got in the way, and even with two tabs that separate on-screen menus positioned close together, 'misfires' are rare.
Panasonic DMW-HGR1 grip accessory
We've got mixed feelings about the grip accessory. It attaches to the camera via the tripod mount with a plate the covers the entire bottom panel of the camera. This means when it's in place, the grip blocks access to the battery, memory card or tripod mount (the grip itself has no tripod socket). The ability to transfer images via Wi-Fi mitigates some of the need to access the memory card, but it requires removal often enough to become an annoyance.
And there's the grip itself. There are differing opinions of it among our staff, ranging from all-out hatred to mild acceptance. To me, it feels too far to the side and requires a somewhat cramped grip in my hand. If it was just a bit farther toward the lens, or better yet, adjustable, I'd have had a more positive experience with it.
One of its primary attractions, as told to us by Panasonic reps, is that it adds a few more millimeters to the camera body's height, giving it a better fit with Micro Four Thirds lenses that aren't the 12-32mm kit zoom. Considering that there's just one lens specifically designed to fit this camera at present, it seems that the camera could have been just a bit taller to begin with.
In the end, I shot the GM1 with the grip when I had the 20mm F1.7 II pancake attached. As long as I'm not shooting one-handed, the slightly awkward grip position doesn't bother me, and I like the better fit with the diameter of the 20mm. It doesn't feel essential, however. Lenses with larger diameters will fit slightly awkwardly on the GM1 body when it's resting on a tabletop, but most times my camera is on a strap at my side or in my bag, not on a tabletop. The leather-like finish of the GM1's body is also grippy enough, so it's comfortable to use without the accessory anyway.
Bottom line, the grip is by no means a 'must-have' for GM1 shooters who plan to use non-kit lenses.
It's likely that anyone who's too put off by cameras with small controls won't be considering the GM1. If that's you, then this is likely not the right camera for you, but you probably knew that. All others may still be worried that even for a small camera the interface would be too finicky. We'll get to that in a minute, but first, the airing of some grievances.
We have only a couple of complaints about the camera's control interface, and one is the focus mode dial on the top panel. With only three options it's already limited in its usefulness, but taking into account that certain lenses can't use AF-C (and we wouldn't have high expectations of its performance in a camera of this class) it essentially becomes a two-position switch between AF and MF. We can't help but think that something else would be more useful here, like an exposure compensation dial or even something customizable. It's obviously small and that may limit its applications, but we simply didn't find it very useful - which is a problem on a camera with so few controls.
The small rear control dial was also frustrating to use (they usually are). A few times I found myself mashing one of the buttons as I turned the dial, suddenly adjusting white balance when I meant to be changing the aperture. This wasn't a frequent problem, but when it occurred, I found myself wishing for a proper command dial for such tasks. This sort of controller is tolerable on a point-and-shoot, where there's little expectation that anyone will use it but, again, a camera as potentially capable as this one deserves a few better thought-out control points.
That said, I didn't have any major problems using the camera over the course of this review. I gathered opinions around the office on using the camera to get a broader sampling of hand sizes, and though we all agreed it certainly felt like a smaller camera, it wasn't difficult for anyone to use.