Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 Review
In good light, the GM1 turns in very good JPEGs straight from the camera. At default processing settings colors look good. Landscapes are rendered with nice blue skies and healthy greens, though using Standard JPEG processing mode, yellows are sometimes a bit washed out. Switching to Vivid Photo Style mode boosts color across the spectrum, including yellows. Default sharpness is adequate, though processing Raw files can render slightly more natural-looking results.
|Original JPEG, ISO 200, 1/1250 sec, f/5.6|
|JPEG, 100% crop||Raw converted 'to taste' ACR 8.3, 100% crop|
In this example the GM1 has struggled to render the very finest detail, and ACR is able to produce slightly better results. Overall though, low ISO JPEG images from the GM1 provided nice levels of sharpening and detail with pleasing color rendition. Moving on to high ISO, the samples below are straight-from-the-camera JPEGs. There's more pixel peeping fun to be had at our studio test scene page, but the samples below show some real-world results with default noise reduction settings.
|ISO 3200, 1/40 sec, f/3.5, 12-32mm lens at 12mm (24mm equivalent)||100% crop|
|ISO 6400, 1/30 sec, f/2.8, 20mm lens||100% crop|
|ISO 12800, 1/160 sec, f/2.8, 20mm lens||100% crop|
In a way, the GM1's key feature might be its Micro Four Thirds lens mount. The camera is ready and willing to accept all MFT lenses, including those good prime lenses, and with an extremely small camera body it essentially becomes a compact and lightweight vessel for something like the 20mm F1.7 (have we mentioned that we like that lens?).
Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 Mega O.I.S.
For a uniquely tiny camera, Panasonic developed a tiny kit lens. It's a collapsible, stabilized zoom covering a 24-64mm equivalent range on MFT cameras. It's a perfectly nice walking around kit lens that gives a wide enough angle of view for landscapes, while offering a moderate zoom reach too.
|ISO 200, 1/1250 sec, f/4.5 at 12mm.|
|ISO 200, 1/100 sec, f/5.6 at 32mm||ISO 200, 1/800 sec, f/5.6 at 17mm|
We have no major complaints to lodge against the 12-32mm. Like many kit lenses it will be too slow and too short for photographing sports, and there's some expected softness approaching corners, but it's a portable little zoom that's a good companion to this small camera.
Historically we've found Panasonic's high ISO noise reduction JPEG processing a little bit sloppy, leaving too much grain and false color behind, giving an overall 'mushy' look to images. The GM1 seems to have inherited some of this quality as the ISO 25600 JPEG below shows. The good news is that the camera's ability to record Raw files provides a lot of flexibility in post-processing.
|Original JPEG, ISO 25600, 1/100 sec, f/4.0|
|JPEG, 100% crop||Raw converted 'to taste', 100% crop|
The above example shows that there are real gains to be made in applying your own noise reduction. The GM1's noise processing leaves a considerable amount of grain and color noise behind, where ACR is able to take more out.
|Original JPEG, ISO 400, 1/60 sec, f/4.2|
|JPEG, 100% crop||Raw converted 'to taste', 100% crop|
Even at lower ISOs, as the shadow area in the above image shows, the GM1's processing engine sometimes leaves behind color noise. The rocky surface is likely not helping, and it's relatively easy to remove in ACR. In general, Panasonic's processing for noise reduction takes a 'less is more approach' which leaves more color noise and grain in JPEGs than most of its peers. Noise reduction can be adjusted +/- 5 levels per each Photo Style.
Panasonic's bundled SilkyPix 4.1 software is capable of processing the GM1's Raw files, and this version promises better balance between noise reduction and fine detail. Like previous versions though, the software is slow and unintuitive. It will handle basic conversion but for in-depth editing, users will find it frustrating to work with.
Shooting Raw will certainly bring the best out of the GM1, but it doesn't necessarily feel like a Raw-only camera. If you plan to do a lot of low light shooting and you'd like to fine-tune your results for printing, investing in a more polished and capable raw converter would be a must.
On the other end of the spectrum is a user who doesn't want to change settings and fiddle with Raw conversions. For this user, Panasonic created iAuto. Though the GM1 holds plenty of enthusiast appeal and will behave accordingly, it offers fully automatic shooting for the hands-off photographer. We've found Panasonic's iAuto mode to be reliable in the past, and that holds true in the GM1.
It chooses exposures that will give a beginner good results, and will accurately identify most scenes. It found a couple of 'faces' where there weren't any, but it wasn't especially prone to doing so. There are two versions of this fully auto mode offered in the GM1: standard iAuto, and iAuto+ which offers exposure compensation and white balance tuning by way of an amber/blue sliding tuner.
|iAuto Shooting Mode||iAuto Shooting Mode|
As with the GX7's auto modes we occasionally saw it choosing smaller apertures rather than faster shutter speeds, introducing diffraction to some images and thus loosing a bit of sharpness. I only found it to be a problem in the GM1 with a handful of photos, but it's something to watch out for. This quirk aside, iAuto will serve a beginner well.
Using the electronic shutter can produce banding under certain types of artificial lighting, especially fluorescent lights. Throughout the course of the review the GM1 was used indoors in many different conditions, and banding wasn't a noticeable problem in the images we shot. Higher shutter speeds tend to produce more banding, so the long shutter speeds normally used under dimmer artificial lighting may not produce the problem noticeably. Mechanical shutter is available up to 1/500 sec, so the average GM1 user may never encounter it unless he or she uses silent mode.
The GM1's built-in flash is rated as a guide number 4.0 at ISO 100, with a 1/50 sec flash sync speed. In other words, it's a bit under-powered. It won't be able to freeze motion at 1/50 sec, so it's best used for fill or portraits in low light. Flash output can be adjusted +/-2 EV by thirds of a stop. Flash modes include force on, red eye reduction, slow synchro and slow synchro with red eye reduction. However, in electronic shutter mode, the flash is completely unavailable.
|The GM1's built-in flash unit does a nice job of preserving skin tones in our example to the left. There's quite a harsh shadow behind the subject, and experimenting with tilting the flash can help reduce shadows.|
It also does the neat Panasonic trick of tilting backward by about 90 degrees, which makes it possible to bounce the light off a ceiling for a little indirect lighting as long as you don't mind holding it in place with one hand and shooting with the other. With no accessory port (and really no room to support one) there's no option for mounting a more powerful flash to the camera or triggering an off-camera flash wirelessly, so what you get is what you get.