Announced in November and scheduled to appear in the US market in mid-December of last year, the Panasonic Lumix GX1 is the latest mirrorless interchangeable lens addition to the Panasonic G series of digital cameras. While the "GX" designation is a new addition to the line whose models include "G", "GF" and "GH" prefixes, Panasonic's press release "...expects the camera to please photo enthusiasts who have been eager for a technology upgrade comparable to the LUMIX DMC-GF1..." a camera to which the GX1 bears a strong family resemblance.
More than just a follow-on to the GF1, Panasonic is also market segmenting their mirrorless offerings by describing the GX series as the new premium line of their compact system cameras.
The GX1 features the micro four thirds lens mount and sensor, in this case a 16 megapixel live MOS sensor and Venus Engine processor. The camera has a 160-12800 ISO sensitivity range, and as with all Four Thirds/Micro Four Thirds system cameras a 2x crop factor (35mm equivalent). The camera can capture still images in JPEG, RAW or RAW/JPEG formats and video in full 1080 HD resolution. The GX1 uses a contrast autofocus (AF) system that includes a new AF flexible (AFF) mode that locks focus with a half push of the shutter button but then automatically re-adjusts the focus point if the subject moves. The 3.0-inch LCD monitor offers a touch control interface that can be used to set focus and trip the camera shutter.
Intelligent auto (iA) and intelligent auto plus (iA+) modes offer fully automatic shooting for both still and video capture along with scene and creative control modes - full manual controls are also available.
Video recording is a one-step operation via a dedicated video capture button and the camera accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media including UHS-1 standard SDHC/SDXC cards. Lens compatibility includes Lumix G lenses as well as any interchangeable lens that complies with the Four Thirds System standard via an optional mount adapter.
Panasonic includes a battery and charger, body cap, USB connection cable, shoulder strap and CD-ROM software with each camera. The GX1 is slated to be offered in black and silver variants as a body only, in kit form paired with powered or manual zoom versions of the Lumix 14-42mm lens or as a two lens kit adding the Lumix 14mm prime lens to the manual zoom.
MSRP for the body only is $700; the body with 14-42 power zoom lens is $950 while the body and the 14-42 manual zoom are $800. No price was given for the double lens kit.
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:
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.
Panasonic ad copy describes the GX1 as a "sophisticated premium design" offering "superb" image quality. Let's see how close the marketing ink comes to reality.
The GX1 powers up quickly, presenting a shooting screen in just over 1 second; I was able to get off a first shot in about 1.5 seconds. Single shot to shot times were basically as quick as you could take the shot, reacquire focus and shoot again, although there is just the briefest of blackouts between shots. Continuous high-speed shooting rates at full resolution were 4.1 fps, right at the advertised 4.2 fps claimed by Panasonic. The GX1 also has a super high-speed shooting rate that allows the camera to capture 40 images at 20 images per second with 4 megapixel resolution.
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Panasonic Lumix GX1||0.15|
|Sony NEX-7||20||10.0 fps|
|Pentax Q||6||6.2 fps|
|Panasonic Lumix GX1||32||4.1 fps|
|Olympus E-P3||13||3.3 fps|
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Shutter lag was a speedy 0.01 seconds - and sharp eyed readers may have noticed that we have deleted the shutter lag table from this review. With so many cameras beginning to perform at 0.01 seconds or better we're only going to use the table for cameras that don't make the magic 0.01 second cut off. AF acquisition time in good conditions came up at 0.15 seconds, virtually a dead heat with the class leading Sony NEX-7 according to our measurements. Acquisition time predictably slowed in dimmer conditions, but the GX1 still remained fairly quick as light levels dropped and struck me as being a little bit quicker than the NEX-7 in this regard.
Panasonic reports a 7.6 guide number for the GX1 built-in flash in meters at ISO 160; that translates into a flash range of approximately 7 feet at wide-angle maximum aperture and 4.45 feet at telephoto. Flash recycle times ran about 5 seconds with full discharges and the camera will allow you to reacquire focus and hold a full push with the shutter button immediately after capturing an image with flash, but the shutter won't trip until the flash is fully recharged.
Battery life for the GX1 is listed as 300 shots for the manual 14-42mm zoom lens, 310 shots for the power zoom (that's right, doesn't make sense to me either but I checked it twice) and 340 shots for the 14mm pancake lens. The battery "fuel gauge" consists of a small battery icon with three bars - after one bar the blinking red battery icon tells you your power has been exhausted.
Lens Mount/Kit Lens
With maximum apertures of f/3.5 and f/5.6 at the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the zoom respectively, the GX1 power zoom is about average in terms of kit lens speed. At wide-angle there was just a faint hint of barrel distortion and some image softening in the corners of the frame. Edges at wide-angle were bit softer than the center but less so than in the corners. Telephoto looked distortion free and also showed some softening of the image in the corners and edges.
The lens showed a bit of vignetting (darkening in the corners the frame) at both wide and telephoto ends of the zoom that, depending on the nature of the scene, might be noticed by sharp eyed viewers. The GX1 has a shading compensation feature (disabled by default) that can help reduce the effects of vignetting, but Panasonic cautions that use of shading compensation may cause noise in the periphery of the picture to stand out with higher ISO sensitivities.
There is some chromic aberration (purple fringing) present at both ends of the zoom in some high contrast boundary areas, but typically 300% enlargements are required before this defect becomes somewhat noticeable - our GX1 kit lens produced a fairly good performance in this regard.
That kit lens 14-42 mm focal range translates into a 28 to 84 mm range in 35mm equivalents given the GX1's 2x crop factor: not overly wide and just starting to reach the low end of telephoto focal range. Not the setup to capture wildlife on a distant hill but if you can move relatively close to your subject or want to shoot distant vistas the GX1 and the kit lens do a pretty good job.
Above is a shot of the Navy fleet replenishment ship Henry J. Kaiser docked at the North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego with the carrier Ronald Reagan in the background; a shot of the San Diego skyline from across the bay in Coronado and a couple shots on the beach near the Hotel Del Coronado.
HD video quality is quite good in the GX1. Zoom and stabilization are available during video recording but the camera may record those sounds and the stereo microphone is also wind sensitive. There is an automatic wind cut feature enabled by default that may be disabled should the user so choose.
Because the camera has a CMOS sensor rolling shutter effect is in play when the camera is panned, and the GX1 showed just a slight hint of rolling shutter at relatively modest panning speeds. The effect is still quite well managed and probably would not draw attention unless someone was specifically looking for it, but not quite up to par with other cameras I've tested recently, notably the Sony NEX-7 and Canon S100. The one touch video capture process with the dedicated button is quick and seamless.
Maximum clip length is 29 minutes and 59 seconds or 4GB.
Default images out of the GX1 were pleasant as to sharpness and color fidelity. Here's four captures at Disneyland shot in iA at default settings.
The GX1 outputs images at 180 dots per inch - not optimal for best quality printing and not the most efficient size for e-mail transmissions. The shots above were all resized to 300 dots per inch but no additional sharpening was added, so they are representative of the image quality novice users can expect if they choose to shoot their GX1 in iA modes only. Sharpness, contrast, saturation and noise reduction image adjustments cannot be manipulated by the user in the iA or scene modes but are available in the other shooting configurations.
"Photo style" is Panasonic's basic color palette options for the GX1 and includes standard, natural, vivid, monochrome, scenery, portrait and custom color options. Here's a look at all but the custom option.
Auto white balance was used capture all the images used to illustrate this review and did a good job overall across a variety of lighting conditions including cloudy/overcast, direct sun, open shade and flash.
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light
The camera shot a bit warm with incandescent light and auto white balance - here's a flash shot of Kiwi with good color rendition on the foreground illuminated by the flash, while the background wall lit by the incandescent lamp is reproduced with a too-warm tint.
In addition to auto WB the GX1 provides sunlight, cloud, open shade, incandescent and flash presets along with two custom settings and a Kelvin temperature setting.
Multiple metering is the default setting and was used for all the captures the review. Multiple did a good job overall and while it would clip highlights on occasion in some high contrast scenes the number of these incidences were relatively low. There are center weighted and spot metering options available as well.
The GX1's Micro Four Thirds sensor falls in the middle of the pack with regard to sensor size for noise considerations: smaller than the APS-C sensor in Sonys and Samsungs, larger than the Nikon 1 models and much larger than the Pentax with its 1/2.3 inch offering. Low-end ISO settings in the GX1 are 160 and 200 and with virtually no noise penalty to be paid by selecting the larger of these two I opted for 200 ISO most of the time when shooting manually.
ISO 160, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 3200, 100% crop
ISO 6400, 100% crop
ISO 12800, 100% crop
In point of fact 400 is relatively difficult to distinguish from the lower settings in a quick sweeping glance; 800 is clearly the first setting where an increase in noise in the background is fairly easily noted, but even it and 1600 display a slow but steady deterioration over the lower numbers.Things change at 3200 and up however as each succeeding ISO level shows fairly distinct deterioration over its predecessor.
My eyes say you can shoot the GX1 from 160 to 400 ISO for large print work without too much worry; 800 and 1600 would probably provide an acceptable large print but would definitely be better for smaller images while 3200 on up to the 12800 ISO ceiling is best reserved for Internet work unless all else fails.
Additional Sample Images
When it was introduced back in 2009, Panasonic's GF1 created quite a fuss at least in part because it was one of the first mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras to reach market. But beyond that the GF1 generally garnered very positive reviews for its image quality and overall design and performance. Since then Panasonic introduced other "G" models that some would say tinkered with the basic recipe or moved off in a different direction altogether from the path first blazed by the GF1. Panasonic has apparently felt an undercurrent of sentiment for a return to a GF1-like platform and so we now have the GX1.
Shutter lag and autofocus acquisition times are better than the GF1 (and towards the top of the heap with regard to latest generation cameras), and the new camera can record full HD 1080 video with stereo sound. ISO sensitivity now ranges up to 12800; resolution is up to 16 megapixels. Power up and shot-to-shot times are a bit slower than the GF1 but still among the quickest in the class; the continuous high-speed shooting rate is much improved. Pretty much everywhere you look the GX1 bests the GF1 on the specifications sheet.
I think Panasonic missed the boat by not including a built-in electronic viewfinder on the GX1 and if the Lumix G series lenses don't meet your shooting requirements there are any number of legacy Four Thirds lenses as well as Leica M and R lenses. But just as with the GF1, legacy lenses require an adapter; M and R lenses each have their own adapters and if you include the Panasonic electronic viewfinder these add-ons are pushing your system cost toward the $1500-1700 level before you order your first piece of legacy or Leica glass. As it is, a body-only GX1 is going to run you about $700 and there are any number of kit lens equipped DSLRs available for less than that.
I reviewed the Panasonic GF1 for this site and liked that camera then; I like the GX1 now. If you're in the market for a performance-oriented mirrorless interchangeable lens camera but can't bear to part with the price of admission for a Sony NEX-7, give the GX1 a look.