Using the Panasonic GX1/Handling

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 is, in many respects a hybrid product. It clearly takes its design cues from the DMC-GF1, offering eight external control points, a 4-way controller and a mode dial. Yet this is all contained within a camera body with dimensions nearly identical to the DMC-GF2, from which the GX1 also inherits a touchscreen interface. The GX1 has a dense, solid feel in-hand and is very well balanced with either of the two kit lens options.

The most distinguishing ergonomic feature of the GX1, compared to its GF-series counterparts, is its textured hand grip. The more pronounced profile of the grip makes it a much more comfortable camera to hold and operate in one-handed fashion. Around the dpreview office, those with smaller hands can rest two fingers along the grip while maintaining a comfortable shooting position. While the addition of a prominent grip does not magically transform the GX1 into a camera as comfortable to hold as say, the Sony NEX-7, it does provide a more secure hold of the camera than any GF-series model to date.

Overall handling

The GX1 offers, in many respects, a unique handling experience. We've seen cameras with abundant external control points as well as those with well-implemented touchscreen interfaces. Yet the GX1 combines both of these attributes in a manner that we suspect may cause some internal debate when you first start using using the camera. 'Do I use the physical buttons to operate the camera, or rely instead on the touchscreen?' The answer, in all but a handful of situations is, 'whichever you prefer'. The GX1 gives you, essentially, two different methods of interacting with the camera that each allow for fast, intuitive operation.

The bulk of the rear external controls fall in line with the thumb of your shooting hand. The Playback, AF/AE lock, Fn1 and Disp. buttons as well as the thumb dial can all be accessed comfortably from a shooting position. Reaching for the 4-way controller, AF/MF button as well as the often-used Q.Menu button, all located towards the bottom of the camera requires a shift in hand position. In addition, the flatter profile and smaller size of the GX1's rear control points make them a touch more awkward to engage than those found on the GF1, particularly when wearing gloves. These are, admittedly minor criticisms that certainly aren't unique to cameras of this class. And we appreciate the fact the Panasonic abandoned the GF2's rocker-style controller, which in our opinion provides less tactile feedback.

With the exception of the flash release, the GX1's rear buttons all lie within easy access of the thumb... ...but reaching the lower-positioned of these buttons does require you to move your hand from the shooting position.

The GX1 offers a level of customization that, if not as mind-bogglingly exhaustive as you'll find on the Olympus PEN E-P3, is comprehensive enough for most practical purposes. With four function buttons, (two of which are onscreen), a dedicated AF/AE lock, Touch AF, and the onscreen Q.Menu, any shooting parameter you're likely to change between shots can be adjusted with a minimum of gestures. The familiar Panasonic clickable thumb dial that is used to adjust exposure compensation as well as shutter and aperture values makes the GX1 an easy camera on which to change exposure parameters between shots.

Overall, we find that the camera responds quickly to user input, whether changing shooting modes, exposure parameters, moving through menu items or switching between display and playback modes. You will not find yourself waiting on the camera.

Specific handling issues

We struggle to find much to complain about in such a well-designed, intuitive and comprehensive touchscreen interface. Yet, alongside the inability to use the touchscreen in any of the Menus pages, when shooting in either Creative Control or Scene modes the camera presents instances of onscreen button-like icons that cannot be pressed. Instead, just like the more traditionally styled menu options, they must be navigated via the 4-way controller.

Somewhat misleadingly, while the camera's live view previews the effects in real time as you navigate among the Creative Control options, the effect is not actually registered until you press the 'Set' button. We suspect some first-time users may be hard-put to immediately determine why the effect they see onscreen when navigating to a particular control is not in fact, applied to subsequent image captures.

As you cycle through each Creative Mode preset, the live view preview updates to show the relevant effect. Frustratingly though, it is not until you take the additional step of 'confirming' your selection by pressing the 'Set' button that any effect other than the one previously active will be applied to subsequent images you take.

While we applaud the vast array of external controls, we do regret the silver-on-silver button labelling on the rear of the camera, as it becomes impossible to read in low light. Granted, we expect that regular users of the camera will quickly remember which button does what, but we much prefer the more legible white text/black button approach of the GF1.

Powerzoom kit lens: PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 OIS

One of the GX1's kit lens options is the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS power zoom, shown below. Silent AF and a zoom lever are hallmarks of this video-optimized lens. Yet we find the zoom lever implementation less than optimal. The lever's placement along the left side of the lens caused mixed reaction among dpreview staff, with some feeling the placement to be a bit awkward when shooting in portrait orientation. The focus lever offers relatively gross adjustments of focus, making subtle adjustments much more difficult that with a traditional lens ring implementation.

The X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 offers a lever-controlled power zoom, for steadier zooming during video recording.
The lever has a relatively small travel between its wide and tele ends. Zooming at less than maximum speed can require a bit of finesse.
Of great interest to most users, we suspect, is the lens' ability to make the GX1 one of the most pocketable interchangeable lens cameras in its class.

At any given maximum zoom speed (which can be set via the Q.Menu or assigned to a Fn button), some of us in the dpreview office found the lens requires a bit of a deft touch to zoom at a speed slower than the maximum, compared to other power zoom implementations we've seen recently, like that of the Nikon 1 Nikkor VR 10-100mm lens. And we question how useful a power zoom is in real-world scenarios on a lens with such a narrow range of focal length range. We suspect that for the majority of users, the overwhelming benefit of this lens is its collapsible design, which makes the GX1 pocketable in a way that few, if any, of its competitors can match. It should also be noted that we do find some image quality issues under specific conditions with this lens.

Electronic viewfinder DMW-LVF2

The optional LVF-2 electronic viewfinder adds to the camera's bulk, but provides GX1 users with a viewing experience matching that of the G3's built-in finder.

Although it's available only as an option, the LVF2 viewfinder deserves a brief mention if only because it offers such a significantly improved viewing experience compared to the LVF1 that was available when the GF1 was launched. The LVF2 shares the same specs as the EVF found in the G3. Unfortunately, as is the case with the G3, there is no eye sensor, meaning that switching between a rear LCD and EVF view requires the press of a button. GF1 users should note that the LVF2 is physically incompatible with that earlier model; nor can the old LVF1 be used with the GX1.