BUILD AND DESIGN
Our review unit was the black variant with the 14-42mm power zoom lens – here’s a look at both ends of that focal range.
Measuring about 4.75 x 2.75 x 3.125 inches in shooting configuration (battery, memory card, and camera strap) and weighing in at about 15.5 ounces the GX1 is a bit too bulky to be carried around in a shirt pocket. That 3.125 inch depth comes down about 2.375 inches when the camera is powered off and the lens retracts so a large jacket pocket is a viable carrying alternative. The body is rectangular, made of metal and appears well-built.
Ergonomics and Controls
The GX1 paint finish is smooth and on the slippery side but the built-up handgrip at the right front portion of the camera body has a modestly tacky rubberized material that provides a fairly sure grip. My index finger fell naturally onto the shutter button and my thumb to the modestly built-up thumb rest on the camera back. Two-handed shooters will want to make sure to keep fingers away from the upper left front of the camera body to avoid obscuring the focus assist lamp.
With a built-in flash and a decent number of dedicated controls, there is not much vacant real estate on the top and back of the GX1 body. The top includes the built-in pop-up flash, left and right stereo microphones, a hot shoe, mode dial, on/off switch, shutter button, dedicated video capture button, and iA button. Much of the camera back is taken up with the 3.0-inch monitor, but Panasonic has also found a way to fit in flash open and playback buttons along with an AF/AE lock button that doubles as a function button. And just for good measure, they added another dedicated function button. There’s also a rear dial, thumb rest, display, quick menu, menu/set and AF/MF buttons. The menu set button is surrounded by ISO, WB, AF mode and shooting rate/self-timer keys. Despite this abundance of external controls I had no problems with inadvertent inputs.
As might be expected, some of these controls may have multiple functions depending on the shooting context. For example, the keys located around the menu set button are all marked for dedicated camera functions and in the manual shooting modes perform as indicated. In scene mode the same keys act as left, right, up and down scrolls. If you use the quick menu button these keys act as scrolls once again.
The mode dial is used to set still image capture methods but strays a bit from the typical layout of most cameras with regard to the iA and iA+ fully automatic modes – these are initiated by pushing the iA button, which glows blue when activated. Turning off the iA button returns the camera to the shooting option set on the mode dial.
The GX1 offers a limited touch screen interface that, when activated, allows the user to simply touch a subject on the screen to direct the camera to focus and shoot. Other touch screen options include defocus control, lens zooming (with a power zoom lens only), and two additional function buttons which activate the electronic level and histogram, respectively. These function buttons along with the two built-in function buttons on the camera body may all be customized by the user to perform a variety of camera operations. Using the touchscreen to focus and shoot may be of value when confronted with sudden “grab” shots, but the downside is that continued touching of the screen deposits fingerprints which only make viewing the screen in bright outdoor lighting conditions more difficult.
HDR shooters will be happy to know the GX1 offers an automatic bracketing feature that can take 3, 5 or 7 images with 1/3, 2/3 or full stop exposure intervals with a single push and hold of the shutter button. That’s the good news. The better news is Panasonic offers a wired remote that fits the GX1 so you can fire that shutter with minimal camera shake. I didn’t have the remote when I captured interiors at Mission San Luis Rey in 7 burst/1 stop exposures. The shots were then merged in Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro and finally sharpened with Sharpener pro 3.0 – and are reasonably sharp considering I had to hold the shutter button down while the camera made the 7 captures.
Menus and Modes
With the GX1 designated as the first of Panasonic’s new premium line of compact system cameras and carrying a feature set that can appeal to enthusiast-level users, it’s not surprising to find that menus in the GX1 are approaching DSLR-like in size and complexity. The menus themselves are fairly intuitive but they can be lengthy, depending on the shooting mode chosen.
For example, in the manual shooting modes the record menu consists of five pages with five submenus per page; switch to iA and the record menu skips over pages two and three. The motion picture menu consists of three pages and the custom, set up, and playback menus have seven, four and three pages respectively. These internal menus are accessed via the menu/set button while the quick menu button provides access to some shooting related camera settings: photo style, picture setting, image quality, metering mode, flash, motion picture set up, histogram, guideline, and still or video capture angle of view are the default settings but up to 15 settings may be customized by the user. And, as befits a “quick” menu, items that are displayed may be selected by the touchscreen or the more traditional scroll keys/set button.
Shooting modes encompass the typical range of automatic and manual exposure options:
- Intelligent Auto (iA), Intelligent Auto + (iA+): Fully automatic modes with the camera handling virtually all settings; user may select standard or monochrome color, image aspect ratio, picture quality, face recognition feature, burst rate, auto bracketing, self-timer, color space and stabilizer function (with stabilized lens). iA+ setting also offers the user the opportunity to change image brightness or color from warmer to cooler.
- Creative control: An automatic mode offering a palette of eight image effects including expressive, retro, high key, low key, sepia, high dynamic, toy and miniature options; user may select aspect ratio, image quality, face recognition, quick autofocus, metering mode, redeye removal, flash adjustment, intelligent resolution, long shutter noise reduction, and shading compensation, digital zoom, burst rate, auto bracketing, self- timer and stabilization function if available.
- Scene: Automatic modes with camera optimizing settings for specific type of subject from menu of 17 choices; user may have additional inputs that approximate those available in creative control mode, but actual choices may vary depending on the individual scenes chosen.
- Custom 1/Custom 2: Permits users to register up to four sets of current camera settings as custom sets; one set may be registered under Custom 1 and three sets under Custom 2 – using sets registered under Custom 2 requires selection of a specific set via internal menu.
- Program auto: An automatic mode with the camera setting aperture and shutter speed; user has a wide variety of inputs to affect image quality.
- Aperture priority: User sets aperture, camera sets shutter speed and user has a wide variety of inputs.
- Shutter priority: User sets shutter speed camera sets aperture and user has wide variety of inputs.
- Manual: User sets shutter speed and aperture; wide variety of inputs.
- Video: Capture full HD video in AVCHD format: 1920 x 1080 at 60i or 1280 x 720 at 60p with output from both at 30 fps. Capture full HD video in MP4 format: 1920 x 1080 at 30 fps; 1280 x 720 at 25 fps or 640 x 480 at 30 fps. Audio format is Dolby Digital 2 channel for AVCHD and AAC 2 channel for MP4.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor on the GX1 has a 460,000 dot composition, offers approximately 100% coverage and is adjustable for seven levels of brightness. The monitor may also be adjusted for contrast as well as red or blue tint. In our studio test the monitor produced a 300 nit peak brightness and 416:1 contrast ratio – figures that are among the lowest in any camera I’ve reviewed thus far. Even so, the GX1 monitor proved to be fairly average in its outdoor performance in bright conditions. It proved difficult to use with certain combinations of sun angle and subject contrast but overall didn’t strike me as being significantly worse than the typical compact digital monitor.
Panasonic offers a 1440k dot-equivalent live view finder that attaches to the GX1 hot shoe and offers approximately 100% coverage. The viewfinder articulates from level through 90° up and was available on Panasonic USA’s website for $180. We didn’t have a viewfinder to try during the course of this review, but if I was in the market for a GX1 I’d skip the kit with the more expensive power zoom lens and use the $150 I saved by going with the manual zoom and apply the savings towards a viewfinder. With both Nikon and Sony producing latest generation mirrorless interchangeables with built-in viewfinders (V1 and NEX 7, respectively) one would expect Panasonic’s newest offering would have done the same.