Review: The Panasonic Lumix GM1

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If ever there was a convincing argument for Micro Four Thirds, this camera and the Olympus E-M1 would form the vanguard. One lets you shoot under incredibly demanding conditions and extends the shooting envelope significantly over the competition; the other is so darn small that it puts most compact cameras to shame. In fact, the body is no larger than it needs to be to accommodate a 3″ touch-sensitive LCD, and a tiny bit of real estate to accommodate a few buttons and a vestigial thumb grip. To put things into perspective: the body is the same size as the ultra-compact Canon Ixus I used to have; the one so compact that it doesn’t even have a d-pad. Size does of course carry some compromises. But I admit that I was curious to find out just what they were; there are times when I need a bit more flexibility than the fixed 28mm of the excellent Ricoh GR, and this seemed like just the ticket…

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From the images floating around online, I expected it to be small. But not this small; I believe we have reached the limits of how small we can make a camera body and still expect it to be usable. Some of the controls – the rear ring, for instance – aren’t very useful and a bit too fiddly; I’d have preferred to forgo that, have a proper d-pad and put the command dial where the AF selector switch is on the top – that seems like a waste of real estate to me, especially given that most people will use it with the kit pancake zoom (also excellent, by the way) which doesn’t even have a manual focus ring – rendering one of the three positions on that dial useless. The function button in its centre can stay, however.

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Surprisingly though, the lack of real estate – and lack of buttons – do not really make for huge handling deficiencies; the impressive and highly customisable controls and touch screen shortcuts mean that a lot of the things you might usually need buttons for – AF point, for instance – aren’t necessary, or can be configured to be soft keys on screen. What did bother me more was the lack of any assigned button to be one-touch 100% magnification playback zoom, and the ability to jump between zoomed-in images to check focus/ sharpness – this is one of the most used features on my other cameras. Kudos for making playback mode full featured though – you can scroll and delete from the instant review (and even choose whether this behaviour is default or not).

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Overall though, the camera is well built, solid, and the metal bits feel like metal. I was a bit disappointed in receiving the silver unit to review, but it’s grown on me; every other camera I have is black, and perhaps a little boring. Button feel is good enough. The battery is tiny, and will only get you about 250 images in practical use, but then again we expected that and can accept it as a compromise to the size of the thing. I like how compact the whole basic package is – almost jeans-pocketable, definitely jacket pocketable – but I dislike how many steps are required before you are ready to shoot: 1. remove lens cap; 2. extend lens; 3. power switch on; it somewhat defeats the point of having a small, pocketable, fast camera that’s always ready to go – with the GR, I just hit the power button or switch. All in all, it passes the haptics test: I want to pick it up and shoot with it. And I still want to pick it up and shoot with it even though I’ve had it in my care more than a week, which is a good sign.

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In the past, I’ve had issues with Panasonic’s slightly confusing menus; whatever tweaks they’ve made to the GM1 have increased usability substantially, to the point that it doesn’t bother me anymore. Set and forget, then use the camera in glorified point and shoot mode, albeit with significantly better output. There are two gotchas here, and they’re pretty big ones if you shoot like me: firstly, program mode will tend to choose very small apertures and max out the mechanical shutter at 1/500s instead of switching over to the electronic shutter* – this results in very soft images indeed due to diffraction. And avoid the low ISO settings; there are visible compromises to noise and dynamic range.

*The GM1 has a dual electronic/ mechanical shutter, with the former taking over at 1/500s and up. Unfortunately, mechanical shutter speed and flash sync were sacrificed with size: just 1/50s; not that you’ll be doing much flash work seeing as there’s no hotshoe and the built in one is tiny. It can be bounced though, which is handy if you have low ceilings I suppose.

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You can of course work around this by leaving the camera in aperture priority, which is fiddly because of that rear dial. By far a bigger problem is that if you’re using the spot meter, it’ll show you the correct exposure of what’s under the spot all the time, even if you lock exposure and recompose – I seem to recall the LX7 also having the same behaviour, which is hugely annoying as you cannot really see the final composition. Worse still, the spot may move to a point with vastly different exposure to what you intended. I suppose somebody will point out that the function of a matrix meter is to remedy that; the meter could use a bit more consistency, especially with highlight overexposure.

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I haven’t said anything about image quality yet. In light of recent news regarding the origin of the E-M1’s sensor – Panasonic – I’m now starting to think that the GM1 and E-M1’s sensors are related; they aren’t the same because the GM1 lacks PDAF photosites, and as far as I can tell, still has an AA filter – though a very weak one. Its pixel acuity is comparable to the E-M5; i.e. just slightly below the E-M1. Dynamic range and noise characteristics are very similar; almost identical, in fact. I process the files the same way, and feel that I’ve got the same amount of latitude. Base noise seems to be a bit higher with the same ACR NR settings though – I have no explanation for this – which lowers the highest usable ISO by about a stop to 3200 in a pinch with some NR and DR compromises.

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There is one important difference, though: colour. The E-M1’s native colours are much more pleasing than the GM1; neither is accurate, but I have to do more work with the GM1 to get to a point I’m happy with. I’m pretty sure this is down to the camera displaying the usual Panasonic trait of an odd shift in the blue channel towards cyan, which is especially noticeable (and unnatural) in skies; this in turn affects magenta. A custom ACR profile would probably cure this, and if I decide to keep the camera in the end, I’ll probably go produce one. Bottom line: image quality is better than adequate, and a big step above any of the small sensor (including 1″) compacts – even with the kit pancake.

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Ahh, that pancake. The 12-32/3.5-5.6 OIS has some odd specifications – it’s a 24-64 equivalent, slow aperture, has no focusing ring, but is positively minuscule; it’s about the same size as a spare body cap and lens back cap put together. It manages this by collapsing, which makes it easy to store but requires and extra step to shoot. I’ve actually owned one of these lenses since December last year, and have been using it on my E-M1 to make a point and shoot on steroids; I like it very much. A shame that it isn’t available on its own outside of Japan. The black version appears to be made of anodised aluminium; I can’t tell what the silver version is made of – I suspect the zoom ring is metal, but the body is plastic. In any case, it moves smoothly, is easy to frame, and locks open and closed positively. Focusing is fast, and the stabiliser is effective – I can’t tell much of a difference between the lens’ stabiliser and the E-M1’s stabiliser.

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Optically, it’s surprisingly good – much better than you’d expect given the spec and the fact that it’s a kit lens; I personally find it to be sharper and more distortion-free than the 14-42 pancake it appears to replace; it also has slightly better microcontrast. Both lenses still have pronounced distortion at the wide end, however; neither is fast to shoot because of the design compromises required to achieve that size – the 14-42 pops out by itself, but has a slow e-zoom lever, and you have no idea where in the zoom range you are until you start zooming; the 12-32 has to be extended manually before shooting. I have not used the new Olympus 14-42 pancake enough to make a meaningful comparison, but it is slightly thinner and also pops out by itself (and even has an optional self-opening petal-shaped lens cap, too).

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If I had to sum up the GM1 – and 12-32 pancake – in one word, it would be fun. This camera is one you do not take too seriously, but whose results are always surprisingly good – especially given the size of the camera – and it can also serve as an emergency backup body if you’re shooting a M4/3 setup anyway. In my mind, you can only really pair it with the 12-32 or 20/1.7 pancakes before it becomes a bit of a pointless exercise due to imbalanced ergonomics; it can be done, but I don’t see why you’d do it. It isn’t a serious camera: you’re missing a lot of things like a hot shoe, viewfinder (or ability to take one) and there are some bugs like the spot meter behaviour; but that’s not the point: if you’re going with the intention of shooting, you’ll take the right tool. This isn’t going to be your only camera, so it doesn’t matter -unless perhaps you’re flying an extremely budget airline, or backpacking, or doing some other extreme sport. I’ve carried the GM1 in my pocket for the last two weeks, and produced some images I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise because my primary intentions at the time were not photographic – this is the important bit – because I had a) a capable device and b) the right range of perspectives with me. You might begin to think I like this thing; you’d be right. MT

I will be uploading more GM1 images to this set on flickr.

The Panasonic GM1 with 12-32 collapsible pancake is available here from B&H.2

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. michael baler says:

    I love this camera but the RX100 series fits better in a pocket. That is important.

    • Yep – but the new one is not much thinner…neither is really pocketable unless you’re wearing a coat or cargo pants.

      • michael baler says:

        Funny, for those of us that are forced to wear suits and sportscoats to work the Rx100III (which I just received in the mail) is perfect for inner pocket. The GM1, with the kit lens, is just enough to make a big bulge that doesn’t feel right. It’s nice to have a camera that you can just transport without thinking twice about it. Fact is, as you know, its the person behind the camera that makes the shot regardless of the camera.

        • Neither camera works for me – I’m average Asian size, which probably has something to do with it. Most of the time I’ll wear the compact on a belt holster for easier access. So far, only the GR really works for me in this way…the rest land up going in a bag.

  2. Michael Nussbaum says:

    Ming: I am curious as to how you feel the best way to hold the GM1 with the kit lens attached. Thanks.

  3. I think the results from this camera look really superb. Worth the money IMO

  4. How good is the screen in sunlight? I previously had an E-PL5 and that was horrible. E-M5 and E-M1 work well.

  5. Does the gm1 with the 12-32 get close to the Ricoh in Image quality?

  6. Great review and photos as usual. My girlfriend has that camera and is very happy with it. For me, the only reasons to pick this camera over something like the epm2 are wanting to get the absolute smallest m4/3 camera, needing wifi or needing a built-in flash (though the GM1’s is almost useless). I guess I’m in a minority in thinking that none of those features make up for the serious design compromises the camera has to achieve this level of miniaturization. This is especially the case since the gm1 costs twice as much as the epm2 and its image quality is on par with it, at best. In fact, I have an epl5 and when my girlfriend and I compare pictures, often of the same subjects, the epl5 invariably has the edge, especially in low light.

    • That would be because of your stabiliser, perhaps? Raw files look almost identical to me.

      • We rarely shoot raw and Oly’s jpegs have the edge from my experience as I said. In low light with the epl5 sharpness and noise reduction set to the lowest levels, the jpegs are more contrasty, sharper and have fewer artifacts than their gm1 equivalent from ISO 3200 upwards. The difference isn’t huge, but it’s there, imo anyway.

        • That isn’t surprising, then. The Oly JPG engine is one of the best. Raw lets the GM1 claw back quite a bit, though.

          • That may be true, but my initial point is that the advantages of the gm1 over the epm2, provided they are indeed advantages everyone which isn’t the case for me, don’t justify the markedly higher price and the gm1 design compromises (e.g. low mechanical shutter speed, no IBIS, etc.), especially when the image quality is barely in the same league and the epm2. Speaking of IBIS, I was in a tennis match and shot a crisp, blur-free photo of Nadal using the epl5 and the 40-150mm lens at maximum tele and 1/40 sec! That’s a pretty impressive IBIS performance, I’d say (though I also do have steady hands).

  7. It’s unhealthy reading your reviews. I find myself actively seeking anything you like, especially when you bring it over when we catch up -_____-

  8. (a little off topic)
    Oh. I never realized Ming was a fountain pen user, until I spotted what appears to be an aluminium Lamy. Bottle or Cartridge?

    • I’m an avid fountain pen user. Started way back in college when I had to write a lot by hand. All bottled ink – various shades of Pilot Iroshizuku at the moment – and I grind my own nibs.

  9. I has a Panasonic GF1 and the images always seemed a bit flat and needed working on and had that blue/cyan shift.

    I bought an Olympus 45mm and then, because it was a cheap ‘risk’ I bought an Olympus E-PM1 and I love the colour. It’s a dream.

    Here’s a shot: http://www.photographworks.com/at-the-makers-fair/

    You mention that a custom ACR profile would probably cure the blue/cyan shift, and if you decide to keep the camera you’ll probably go produce one.

    How would you go about that?

  10. Ming, OT and maybe you’ve answered this before, if so apologies. But you take some great watch shots, are you a WIS yourself? If so, what’s on your wrist?

    • It’s how I got started in photography in the first place. I have a few watches. What I’m wearing depends on what I’m doing on the day. Today it’s a PAM176.

      • That’s a $5000 watch with a $100 Unitas movement. Quite an opposite to the GM1 with a top of the line sensor in a small and cheapish body.

        • It also retains 90% of its new value, which is unheard of otherwise. Go in with eyes open, enjoy it for a whole and then sell it on for something else.

        • Amazingly inspiring images of the simplest everyday items, this time from an almost toy camera, it just blows me away… Bravo…

          BTW,a Rolex Daytona in steel retains 120% plus of its value, and it has been this way for the past 30 years. A bit boring, but a classic.

  11. Agree about the GM1…and about the 12-32 lens. I used the 12-32 exclusively on a recent trip to Rome attached to my GX7. Wow…what a great combo. Check it out: http://www.thelostcompass.net/articles-2/rome-for-christmas-2013/

  12. Ming, another good review and, more importantly, inspiring images. Yet another review that speaks to the image quality of recent Panasonic cameras at ISO’s up to 1600 and 3200. The photos from my GX7’s look great on the screen but horrible at 100% in my computer. There must be some basic in-camera settings I’m missing because I don’t seem to be getting what you and other reviewers are getting.

  13. Elliot Colton says:

    Thanks for the review. Definitely food for thought.
    Would you rate it higher than the Oly E-PL5? I ask because the E-PL5 is also a relatively small camera. I would also like to know how fast was the AF on the GM1?
    Best,
    Elliot

  14. Thanks. I have been using the GF-3 as a small backup. It is not ideal, but it used to be the smallest m4/3 body around. This sounds like a nice improvement. Two other lenses to consider, the 2.5/14 Lumix is even smaller than the 20 and pretty good. 28mm fov so maybe not for you since you have it in the GR. The Olympus 9-18 zoom also collapses and makes a pretty small super wide angle package if that is what one needs. Or you could put the 8/15 bodycap on it for an even smaller set (or the new fisheye cap which I have not yet seen.). I actually like the 24-60 range. Probably easier to make it smaller with shorter focal length and slow speed. Sometimes size matters. Actually quite often.

  15. Martin Nekowitsch says:

    Thanks for the review.
    What about the new OM-D M10? M5 sensor and M1 processor, but why is it so much cheaper? Just because of 3- axis IS and no weather sealing?
    You seem to be more enthusiastic, when using an OM-D.
    Kind regards,
    Martin

    • You answered your own question.

      The GM1 cannot really serve as a primary camera for the professional. An eye level finder of some sort is necessary for use with non-stabilised lenses to maximise stability, and the external controls are limited – not an issue in a casual situation, but it can be make or break under higher pressure situations.

  16. Jorge Balarin says:

    Sounds very nice. The lack of a viewfinder is a pity.

  17. Nice review, and as usual, nice images Ming. Did the electronic shutter give you any rolling effects in any of your images of objects in motion? I had considered the GM1 when I purchased the GR in December, because this was a concern of mine (and the GR better fit into my jacket pocket). It is still on my wish list, although I had wanted to see if this was a problem in normal shooting situations involving objects in motion before giving it serious consideration.

    –Ken

    • Thanks. No, I didn’t see any rolling shutter issues – but then again I didn’t shoot too many moving objects.

      The GR of course won’t have that problem because of the leaf shutter…you can also do some very interesting things with flash using that camera because it’ll sync all the way to 1/4000.

      • plevyadophy says:

        Interesting things with flash like what?

        • Better control over the ambient-flash mix.

          • plevyadophy says:

            Oh, I see. I just thought for a minute that there was something else.

            And yeah, it is super liberating to just aim and fire without having to muck around worrying about sync-speeds. It really is a pain in the butt having to muck about with stuff coz of this sync speed thing. Phase One shooters must be in a state of near constant bliss being able to shoot at 1/1600 sec with flash.

            I can at times be in a similar state with my old Canon 1D, which,with a non-Canon flash, I can get to sync at well over 1/1000 sec (if my memory serves me correctly, I got it to do it at 1/2300) but the down side is that the old 1D produces a puny 4Mpx file :o(

  18. Good review. I considered this against the RX100 M2, but I went with the M2 because of the hot shoe.

  19. A very accurate and detailed review, Ming, and wonderful images, as usual! I specially like the boats, cloud, plant and pool shots.

    I have been playing with the GM1 and the 12-32 kit zoom myself since December and I totally agree with most of the points you mention; handling is surprisingly comfortable for such a tiny size, quality is more than decent and portability brings the concept of CSC to a whole new level. The parts that most strongly resonate with me are the fact that it’s a fun camera to use and, specially, that it allows us to capture scenes that previously we would have missed not having a proper camera at hand.

    Those are in fact 2 of the points I discuss in my own review (much more humble than this one), which I recently wrote in my blog, explaining my experience with the camera and showing pictures taken with it. I take the liberty to share the link here in case anyone is interested in seeing more captures (mainly in color):

    http://gonzalobroto.blogspot.com/2014/02/gm1-me-review-of-how-we-met-each-other.html

  20. Ming – slightly loosely related to the GM1, but allowable as it’s apparently been designed with it in mind – what are your thoughts on the upcoming PanaLeica 15mm f/1.7? I’m quite keen as I find 12mm a bit too wide for a prime and although I like my PanaLeica 25mm f/1.4, I find it a bit too ‘narrow’ to have as a ‘lens for around town’. I’m wandering whether the aperture ring with work with Olympus bodies (EM5 specifically in my case) too…. Thanks

  21. plevyadophy says:

    Nice review.

    Not a camera for me (far too many compromises for me, or at least issues that I am not prepared to put up with).

    And, with the exception of three that I really really don’t like, lovely images (one of which made me stare for a long while).

    Thanks.

  22. Oh, I like the pictures in this review very, very much! There is something about the symmetry I like, in the first half of the pictures – to motorcycle. Good timing on the pool picture and I like the colors of the chairs, I often find brown is a hard color to handle, don’t know why…

    Cliche warning! It shows it’s not the camera, but the photographer. Albeit this (camera – well, and you I guess) seems to be a very capable one, pound-for-pound.

    Actually also made me feel a bit better. I’m quite frugal nowadays, so when I got into photography I bought a GF3 + 14mm and the lovely 45 1.8. If I remember correct, the kit cost just as little as the 14mm only. I have been quite happy with a a camera everyone online mocks. I do have my sights set for a OM-D though, as I just got into off-camera flash photography. I loong for a camera with real dials, I dislike the control wheel deeply, bad ergonomics, bad in manual and too loose, both button and wheel functions. Especially in Finland with winter gloves on…

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you. And you’re absolutely right – the photographer makes all the difference.

      No reason why you can’t use the GF3 for off-camera flash work; just use the built in as an optical trigger on the lowest power setting.

      • Stevey G says:

        Almost no reason…Except the GF3 gives no control whatsoever over flash exposure. So it’s hard to use it to trigger lights without dumping too much on-axis light into the frame. You can tilt it, which helps some though.

      • True for optical triggering. But sadly, I can’t set flash strength. It’s quite limited when it comes to flash functions. It does bounce well though and I’m also making some DIY filters to reduce the output on target.

        I’m actually very much a proponent of going back to basics to get real feedback and learn to improvise. Includes many parts of my life. :)

  23. Michael says:

    Hi Ming.
    Thanks for all the articles.
    I do have a custom color profile for the GM1 – and that changes much!
    If you want i may send it to you by eMail.
    Just give me a note.

    Regards
    Michael

    • Thanks for the offer. If I do buy one for myself I’ll do the usual thing and create my own profile.

      • Michael says:

        I think one really need a custom profile for the GM1. I made mine with color checker and that works just fine.
        I am always speechless of the clarity of your images.
        A graet inspiration!

        • To be honest, you really need a custom profile for every camera to achieve consistency of output and style. Clarity is down to shot discipline/ pixel quality, not the profile – but thanks anyway :)

  24. Beautiful Set Ming! Would the 45mm Oly be out of the question?

  25. Matthias says:

    Precise as ever, very informative – just a tiny piece of added information: The 12-32mm *is* available seperately, at least here in Europe. And it makes a fantastic walkabout lens. It practically lives on my PM1 at the moment since it gives me virtually everything I need for street and casual photography – but I have done a lot of more dedicated shooting on it, too, since it’s such a lot of fun and extremely convenient (I keep it extended with the cap off when I’m doing street photography – it’s still small enough that way, and start-up is fast as anything; you can even preset it to whatever focal length you want). The lens is very sturdy, too: I took a fall (very embarassing story …) and it certainly took some hits on the barrel, but no real (deep) damage whatsover – well, thankfully, it wasn’t extended at that point (so, for added security, retracting it *can* have its advantages).

    This lens and the 45mm f/1.8 would make a great travel kit, at least on newer Olympus cameras (due to in-body stabilisation – which you don’t even need with the 12-32mm!).

    Of course, pairing the lens with the GM1 gives you an even smaller and certainly very potent combination. However, I decided against the GM1 because my shooting needs have turned out to be different (I *need* a viewfinder, so it’s going the be the M10) – but the lens is a keeper!

  26. I have friends of friends who use this now and it’s been popular due to size and its output. Most important feedback of all is that everyone seems to like it. That is good and you just confirmed it. Thanks!

  27. Thoughts on the gm1 vs the epm2 as a backup to an e-m1?

    • The E-PM2 has a stabilizer, but it isn’t that great. Better than nothing. IQ is a wash but I believe the GM1 is a bit more customizable.

      • IQ on the E-PM2 seems to be marginally better in terms of DR and Noise according to DXO. However, I’m much more concerned about handling. There’s a lot of reports that the GM1 dial is nearly unusable. Yet if you look at the specs, the GM1 has a screen that’s more than double the resolution of the E-PM2 although the GM1 is double the price here in the US… Hmmm!

  28. I’ve had the GM1 since it came out last year, it’s nothing but joy to use. Sick of DSLR or heavy gear? This does it all almost without weight. Want a companion for the GR? GM1 is ideal. Want a backup cam for your big E-M1/5/10, or G-whatever Pannys? GM1 maximizes the value of existing M43 lenses. Thanks MT for your observations on IQ, confirming what I’ve been noticing too.

  29. Elliot Colton says:

    Thanks.
    I understood that the Oly M4/3 cameras had the fastest AF of all the mirrorless cameras. Has Panasonic caught up?
    I just followed your link and saw that B&H are selling the GM1 for $699. For this price you can get a Sony Nex6. The AF on the Sony is supposed to be phenomenal because of the Phase Detect system it employs. Is this true?

  30. It’s fast enough.

    No idea on the Sony, I’ve never used one.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Review: The Panasonic Lumix GM1 – Ming Thein | Photographer […]

  2. […] (like me) seem to be fairly ecstatic. Here are a few of the sort of reviews I am talking about: Ming Thein Review & Amateur Photographer […]

  3. […] example a fixed-lens large sensor camera like the Ricoh GR, or a small mirrorless camera like the GM1. These are situations in which photography might not be your primary objective, but there’s a […]

  4. […] (also crippled by shutter shock). It’s middle of the pack for responsiveness; comparable to a GM1 and kit lens, I’d say – but with better optics and a better sensor (comparable to the […]

  5. […] thing aren’t. (The latter really should be though.) Being smaller than most compacts, the GM1 got in without a second glance; I paired it with the 45/1.8. Despite being in row 4, the 75 would […]

  6. […] Re: GM1 anyone? Ming Thein apparently likes the little bugger Review: The Panasonic Lumix GM1 […]

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