Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Highest resolution Micro Four Thirds sensor
- Very good quality JPEG high ISO images
- Improved white balance and skin tone rendering (compared to GF1)
- Fast AF acquisition (particularly impressive in low light)
- Shooting is possible while the buffer's data is being written to the card
- Well-implemented touchscreen interface
- Extensive manual control points including a mode dial and four Fn buttons
- Robust build quality
- Very pocketable form factor with the collapsible kit zoom
Conclusion - Cons
- Conservative metering tends towards underexposure
- Fastest continuous shooting modes come at the expense of live view
- 20fps SH mode yields poor image quality
- Limited manual exposure controls for video recording
- Continuous tracking performance suffers in low-light, low contrast scenarios
- Minimal effect of in-camera dynamic range settings
The GX1 is an extremely satisfying camera to use. Extensive, and generally well-positioned external control points are coupled with the latest iteration of Panasonic's highly regarded touchscreen interface. We struggle to think of a camera in this class that offers such an equitable choice between touchscreen and external button control. Truth be told, users preferring one mode of operation over the other give up very little in terms of quick access to and operation of commonly used shooting parameters.
Although it is clearly geared towards the photographer who prefers manual control over camera operation, the GX1 performs quite well in semi and fully automated modes. A reliable face detection feature along with a fast AF system lead to a high percentage of sharply-focused images. While we take issue with the results of the camera's 20fps shooting mode, we are excited to see not only a larger buffer capacity but the ability to shoot and access menu screens while the camera is writing to the card; both significant improvements over previous G-series models.
When viewed from the perspective of an upgrade to the much-loved GF1, we're hard-pressed to find areas in which the GX1 does not either maintain the positive attributes of the earlier camera or offer significant improvement. Some users may miss the drive mode lever, and monochrome shooters may lament the demise of 'Dynamic B+W', but that's about it.
The GX1's 16MP sensor has been inherited from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3, matching the highest resolution of any current Micro Four Thirds camera. Improved image processing produces the most impressive high ISO JPEG performance we have seen in any Micro Four Thirds offering from Panasonic or Olympus. Chroma noise is well-suppressed and an impressive amount of image detail can be seen as high as ISO 6400. Unlike most previous G-series models, the GX1's auto white balance performance makes using JPEGs straight from the camera a viable option even when shooting skin tones. As with all G-series cameras we've tested, we still find Panasonic's 'multiple' metering mode to err a bit too far on the side of underexposure, often requiring a positive exposure compensation adjustment to render a pleasing image.
The move to a 16MP sensor, while not eliminating the gap between Micro Four Thirds cameras and their APS-C competition, does narrow the difference to a noticeable degree, particularly in low to mid ISO ranges. Image processing improvements to high ISO JPEG output at the highest NR setting compared to the G3 currently put the GX1 at the head of the Micro Four Thirds class.
We do find an isolated, though significant issue when using the GX1's 14-42 power zoom kit lens option at its long end, with images that are much blurrier than those captured at shorter focal lengths. The problem appears to be lens-specific as we see no similar issues when using Panasonic's standard kit zoom lens.
The GX1 combines the design, styling and physical handling of the GF1 with the latest iteration of Panasonic's touchscreen interface, for an overall handling experience we find unique among any G-series model, past or present. The level of customization offered by a 15 item Q.Menu and four custom Fn buttons (two of which are onscreen) complements the inclusion of a mode dial, dedicated AF/MF button, 4-way controller and thumb dial. The GX1's menu system, like those of other G-series cameras, is fairly straightforward to navigate, without the need to delve into an inordinate amount of sublevel menus. Changing camera settings is in most cases a quick and intuitive process that lets you get on with the act of shooting with a minimum of fuss.
The build quality of the GX1 is defined by a pleasingly substantial heft that balances nicely with a range of Micro Four Thirds zoom lenses. Buttons and dials provide positive tactile feedback and are well-positioned to avoid accidental operation. The nicely textured and prominent handgrip (compared to the GF1) offers a firm platform by which to hold the camera in both landscape and portrait orientations.
The optional LVF2 viewfinder gives GX1 users to ability to add a G3-specified viewfinder. At a list price of $200 though, it adds to the already significant premium you'd be paying for the GX1 over the G3 if you really prefer using an EVF. And while the LVF-2 is lovely to look through, we do wish for a method of automatic, versus manual switching of view between it and the rear LCD screen.
The Final Word
Simply put, the GX1 is a camera that gets a whole lot right. Assessing it against its true predecessor, the GF1, you'd have to look very hard to find areas in which it does not represent a clear improvement. Perhaps some users may regret the lack of a drive mode switch that sits alongside the mode dial, but this minor inconvenience would easily be overshadowed by the wealth of touchscreen-enabled functionality, for example.
Of course, Panasonic has to hope the GX1 does more than simply appeal to GF1 users looking to upgrade while maintaining the rangefinder aesthetic. And the marketplace it enters is significantly different from the one that greeted the GF1 just a few short years ago. Both Sony and Samsung have entered the mirrorless market with compelling offerings for enthusiasts, boasting APS-C sensors in camera bodies that are not that much larger than the GX1, and at similar price points. In addition, even a loyal Panasonic user has to give serious consideration to the G3, which offers identical image quality in Raw mode, very similar touchscreen functionality and comes with both a built-in EVF and lower street price.
We can't help but feel that the wealth of competition makes buying the GX1 a more difficult proposition than would have been the case even a year ago. If the combination of small form factor and high number of external control points are priorities, the GX1 has to be at the top of an enthusiast's wish list. You'd be taking advantage of the highest quality image sensor available for the Micro Four Thirds market and buying into an extensive range of high quality optics including fast prime lenses.
Yet for those willing to consider the image quality benefits of a larger APS-C sensor and who do not plan on investing in a wide ranging lens system, Sony's NEX-5N, not to mention the NEX-7 and Samsung's NX200 make compelling cases for a look at alternatives beyond the Micro Four Thirds realm.
In summary, the GX1 is a very capable and solid, but not ground-breaking camera that does a very fine job at what it sets out to accomplish. Panasonic has addressed almost every criticism of its early generation G-series cameras in a package that, when paired with its collapsible kit zoom is among the most pocketable cameras in its class. It earns a very strong Silver Award, missing out on our top honor by a slight margin due to its rather conservative metering, mediocre video performance and controls and not least, the extremely strong competition from its APS-C rivals.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The GX1 packages external camera control points and a class-leading touchscreen interface in a classically-styled small form factor that produces the best image quality we've yet seen from a Micro Four Thirds camera.
- Panasonic Lumix GF1 Review
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Review
- Olympus PEN E-P3 Review
- Sony Alpha NEX-5N Review
- Samsung NX200 Preview
- Olympus OM-D EM-5 Preview
- Mirrorless roundup 2011
- Mirrorless Cameras: A Primer
We would like to thank Glazers Camera of Seattle for the loan of some of the equipment used in this review.
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