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Not quite a day after Sony made its announcement of two mirrorless cameras with full frame sensors, Panasonic unveiled something of a very different shape: the Lumix DMC-GM1, a pocketable camera with a 16 megapixel Four Thirds sensor. It uses the same Micro Four Thirds mount that its much larger Olympus and Panasonic siblings have been using for years, but at introduction will be sold with a specially designed 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 kit zoom sporting a smaller diameter for the GM1's especially diminutive form.

Panasonic GM1 specification highlights

  • 16MP Live MOS sensor
  • Built-in Wi-Fi (no NFC)
  • 3.0-inch, 1036K dot touch-sensitive LCD
  • 1080 HD video recording at 60i/30p
  • Built-in pop-up flash
  • 1/16,000 maximum shutter speed (with all-electronic shutter)
  • Focus peaking
  • Picture-in-picture magnification for manual focus
  • Micro HDMI output
  • Magnesium-alloy shell with aluminum top and bottom plates

Micro Four Thirds made its debut in 2008 with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1. The G1 was DSLR-shaped, with a handgrip and built-in viewfinder, but smaller and lighter than its other interchangeable lens peers at the time. Not long afterwards Olympus joined the party with the PEN E-P1, which was smaller and rangefinder-shaped. From there, the Micro Four Thirds platform split into roughly two camera styles - those that looked like DSLRs (mostly the preserve of Panasonic) and those that didn't (mostly those made by Olympus).

Understandably, in those early days neither manufacturer seemed entirely sure whether the platform would catch on more to step-up beginners or more advanced photographers looking for a lighter second camera, so they tried to appeal to both. Panasonic's first rangefinder-style model, the GF1, was a hit with enthusiasts, but Panasonic engineers quickly steered succeeding models away from that crowd toward the beginner set with simplistic control layouts and easy access to automatic exposure settings. The introduction of the button-and-dial-encrusted-GX1 marked a renewed focus on the enthusiast crowd, but by that time other manufacturers had a lot to offer that segment of the market.

So what's the 'State of Mirrorless' today? Rangefinder-style mirrorless cameras have enjoyed some popularity among enthusiasts, and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-M1 have proven MFT cameras have real potential as serious alternatives to mid-range and semi-pro DSLRs. Their smallness as compared to DSLRs is no longer Micro Four Third's sole selling point - they've just become really good cameras that happen to be smaller and lighter. At the same time, compact enthusiast cameras with large sensors are becoming popular too. A fixed zoom lens no longer denotes a major sacrifice in image quality in a post-Cyber-shot RX100 world.

This is the enthusiast camera market that the Panasonic Lumix GM1 enters, donning the title of smallest interchangeable lens camera to date (by Panasonic's reckoning). It boasts the same 16 megapixel CMOS sensor as the GX7, with muted retro design cues borrowed from the same camera. The GM1 uses the familiar Micro Four Thirds mount and it is introduced alongside a new 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 with a retractable design that is specifically designed with a small enough diameter to fit neatly onto the camera body, which is barely taller than the lens mount itself.

It would draw obvious comparisons to the Pentax Q-series, the other miniature interchangeable lens system, but the Q7 uses a definitely compact-camera-sized 1/1.7" type sensor. The GM1 could also be compared to the Sony Cyber-shot RX00 II, both priced at $750 US at introduction and targeting roughly the same group of users. That camera offers a 1" type sensor that's big for a compact but nowhere near the size of a Micro Four Thirds sensor, as well as a fixed zoom lens. However, the Q7 and RX100 II seem most similar to the GM1 in terms of size and target audience, despite their smaller sensors.

Specifications compared to Pentax Q7 and Sony RX100 II

  Panasonic GM1 Pentax Q7 Sony RX100 II
Sensor 16MP, Four Thirds 12MP, 1/1.7" BSI CMOS 20MP, 1"-type BSI CMOS
Sensor size (mm2) 225mm2 42mm2 116mm2
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds Pentax Q Fixed
Zoom range (kit or fixed, 35mm equiv.) 24-64mm 23-69mm 28-100mm
LCD 3.0-inch 1036K-dot fixed touch screen 3.0-inch 460K-dot fixed 3.0-inch 1229K-dot tilting
Viewfinder option None OVF accessory EVF accessory
Raw shooting Yes Yes Yes
Connectivity Wi-Fi None Wi-Fi with NFC
Video capture max. resolution 1080 60i, 30p 1080 30p 1080 60p, 60i
Stabilization In lens - Mega O.I.S. Sensor-shift IS Optical Steady Shot
Dimensions 98.5 x 54.9 x 30.4 mm (3.88 x 2.16 x 1.20") 102 x 58 x 34 mm (4.02 x 2.28 x 1.34″) 102 x 58 x 38 mm (4.00 x 2.29 x 1.51″)
Weight 274 g (0.60 lb / 9.60 oz) 200 g (0.44 lb / 7.05 oz) 281 g (0.62 lb / 9.91 oz)

There are any number of ways to slice and dice the information in the table above. In some respects, the GM1 seems to be miles ahead of the cameras we're comparing it against but in other ways there's an advantage to the Sony or the Pentax. The GM1 offers compatibility with a great many lenses (the Pentax Q 'system' is small and arguably not very 'serious' and the RX100 II's lens is fixed), but it lacks an accessory port or hot shoe. It offers 1080 HD video, but the specification falls short of the RX100's 60p offering. Such is the nature of the current enthusiast market - lots of options, and no clear leader in any single respect. And depending on how you look at it, the GM1 is poised to really shake things up.

The above chart shows just where the GM1 stands in terms of sensor size. Its Four Thirds sensor is head and shoulders above the Pentax Q7, and larger than the RX100 II's 1" type chip.

Enthusiasts also tend to be interested not just in the maximum aperture of a camera's lens, but also the size of its sensor, as depth of field control will depend on those two characteristics. Though the GM1 has a larger sensor than the Sony RX100 II, it doesn't really offer better depth of field control, and the RX100 II's ability to zoom out to a 100mm equivalent focal length gives it a little bit of an advantage in blurring backgrounds.

The chart above shows each camera's corresponding kit lens (or fixed lens) and its equivalent maximum aperture at wide and telephoto. Equivalent apertures tell you how the lens compares to a full frame lens with similar characteristics - much as the more familiar 'equivalent focal length' does.

It is certainly true that the GM1 represents a new feat in Micro Four Thirds - not just smaller and lighter than a DSLR but truly pocketable. Does that dramatic size reduction compared to previous M43 offerings come at the expense of features or performance? And does the GM1 come up short in handling and user experience just to nab the title of 'world's smallest'? Read on to find out.