Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Silver, Part 2

Panasonic Lumix GX1 with Lumix 2.5/14mm

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but:  It may be small but it takes a while to write about it.
The Long Version:

This is the second part of a two-part thewsreviews review. Part one is here. Which means it's based on a paid-for copy and it touches on what strikes my fancy, which may not strike yours. Now onward...

As I mentioned earlier the GX1 is a "dense" feeling little camera with what appears to be an all-metal body (with the notable exception of the top plate and the battery cover on the bottom). By the time you have any lens mounted and the battery in the base you know you have a substantial piece of machinery. The only camera in my arsenal that feels anything like this, if not better, is the Olympus OMD E-M5. Which brings me back to the battery cover. It is as cheap as the rest of the body isn't. It's thin and flimsy and may very well wind up being broken before too much longer. Which means I better look for a few spares from somewhere...

To be fair to Olympus, the E-M5 is better in my not so humble opinion. And I would imagine, not having held one, that the Panasonic GH3 is in the same league as the E-M5, at least as far as build quality. But still and all the GX1 is no slouch (with the notable exception of the battery cover), and for the discounted prices you can find for the GX1 at right now it makes an excellent camera.
Top deck with major controls
The top controls for the GX1 are clustered around the upper right. You're limited to the on/off switch (a real switch, extra points for that), the mode dial, the shutter release, an IA push button, and a movie start/stop push button. The IA and movie buttons are small and set flush into the deck to avoid accidental triggering. You can argue if this is the best place to put these buttons, especially the movie button, but considering that Olympus and Sony have put them on the back where they are easier to reach by hand as well as accidentally trigger, I think putting them here was a good idea. Filming is not the same as taking stills, and I don't mean the obvious. It's a different process and mindset where you don't have to have the movie trigger as easily accessible as say the shutter trigger. In my mind Panasonic made the right placement choice on this camera.

The only controls I pay any attention to on the top deck outside the shutter release is the mode dial, and it stays on 'A' (aperture control) almost the whole time. I might go to 'S' (shutter control) for a deliberate slow shutter speed, or 'M' (manual) when I want to set the exposure once and have every other image come out the same (and I'll set ISO and white balance as well in that case). But I've yet to dive into and try any of the other modes (C1, C2, SCN (scene) and that funky symbol which is Panasonic's version of art filters).

By the way, that funky symbol, which is supposed to be an art pallet and paint brush (yes, I once took art in college), selects Creative Control on the camera, from which you can select from eight different controls. I've yet to try them out and if I do will probably review them separately. For now I'm busy just using the GX1 as a "real" camera, whatever that means.

The movement of the mode dial and on/off toggle are solid and stiff, which is what you want. Too many of the Olympus Pens, specifically the E-P2, have dials that are too easy to twist especially when the bodies are held against the body and you're moving (i.e. walking) about.
Back with major controls and Q.Menu selecting RAW + largest JPEG output
The back of the camera is dominated by an LCD with touch capabilities. This makes the third such camera with this capability I've purchased. The first was the Sony NEX 5N, and after less than 30 minutes I went into its menu system and turned it off it became so frustrating. The second is the OMD E-M5, and it is so good I just about can't use the camera without it. The GX1 falls right in the middle of those two. While I certainly won't disable that feature I've yet to find where it will become a critical feature. Perhaps over time I'll learn to love it more. It does have touch-to-trigger on the LCD like the E-M5, a feature where touching the LCD will focus the camera's lens before taking the photograph. I love the way it's implemented on the E-M5; it's hair-trigger in a good way and the focusing on the E-M5 is lightning fast and accurate. It's a great tool for picking the focus point in rapid action or complex scene. The GX1 by comparison is slower. If my photography is more measured (meaning slower, and a lot of it is) then the GX1 touch-to-focus is just as accurate. It's just not nearly as fast, and I attribute that in large part to the slower focusing speed of the GX1.

Many users, myself included, talk about the Super Control Panel available on Olympus LCDs. It's been a camera feature since at least the Olympus E-3 for me, and it has undergone refinements over time. You access it by pressing the 'OK' button on the back of Olympus cameras. For some Olympus cameras (E-3, E-M5) it sits right in the middle of the LCD, while on others (E-P2, E-PL1, E-PL2) it wraps around the bottom and right edges. In both cases the rounded buttons around 'OK' serve as navigation buttons on the Super Control Panel to pick a feature and adjust it. It's a fast way to set the most-often modified camera features. The Panasonic GX1 has something similar called the Q.Menu, which has its own dedicated button on the bottom, right next to the LCD's bottom right corner. You hit the Q.Menu button, then navigate around to pick a feature to modify, modify it, and then touch Q.Menu or the shutter to exit. I can't say if it's better or worse than the Olympus, which is actually a good thing. I will say this, it's leagues above the Sony menu system.

If there's a nit to pick over the Panasonic menu system it's that the text rendering is crude when displayed on the LCD. It looks like somebody in management decided that the older menu software was Good Enough, and refused to spend a little more money to clean up the text. Olympus did a good job cleaning up the text in their menus starting with the E-PL2, which is the same vintage as the GX1. The GX1 is a nicely refined little camera, which makes the crude menu text just that much more jarring when you see it.

There are two definable hardware function buttons on the back of the GX1 labeled Fn1 and Fn2. You can find where to set these in the menu. They are worth setting up. There are two "soft" buttons on the LCD which slide out from the right edge, Fn3 and Fn4. They are not worth setting up. They are difficult to "pull out" from the right edge of the LCD and do nothing but frustrate you when trying to reach them. The only reason for trying to use the slide-out tray is to enable or disable the LCD touch-to-trigger functionality. Once I had it enabled I pretty much left the slide-out tray alone.

The one lone wheel on the GX1 is buried in the plastic thumb rest on the top right corner. It's a surprising control in that it's both a wheel and a push-button switch. I use it to control aperture and EV compensation, and that's accomplished by the push-button action. You press the wheel in to set either aperture or EV compensation, then turn the wheel to make the changes. You know which function you're accomplishing because the values for aperture and EV change color on the bottom of the LCD. If you can change it, it's yellow. If you can't, it's white. The wheel is stiff enough not to be accidentally turned, and the button stiff enough not to accidentally press it in. It's a clever engineering solution and I like it. Yes, it slows you down over a two-wheel design, but I change aperture (or shutter speed) a lot more than EV compensation so it's not that big a difference for me.

I'm sure there's lots of additional features I haven't delved into, but I've had the camera now for about a week. My attitude is if I can't dive into a camera after opening the box and start taking photos after about 30 minutes, as bad as they might be at first, then it's a crap camera. None of my cameras are that way, although two were over the years and they were sent back. I can grumble about certain features, but the key is how quickly can I configure the camera to my tastes and what kind of results can I get. All of my cameras pass that basic test with flying colors (or black and white... sorry).

This is the last of the 20mm photos. It was processed in LR 4.4 to bring out color and detail, of which the 16MP sensor has loads. And that's another reason for getting the GX1. It's sensor resolution matches the E-M5. The E-M5 sensor has a lot more exposure headroom than the GX1 and I've seen it, but in a lot of circumstances the GX1 can produce acceptable, if not beautiful, results in the right kind of light that doesn't stretch the sensors exposure limits (and isn't that true about every camera ever made?).
Monochrome, ISO 3200, straight out of camera
These two photos were produced from the same GX1 raw image. I used touch-to-shoot to bring the E-M5 text into focus, and let the rest of the focus fall where it may. I have auto ISO enabled up to ISO 3200 and that's what you have here, a pair of ISO 3200 images. The upper photo, if you care to pixel peep, has a lot of processing artifacts in the darker regions that look very crystalline in nature. The bottom photo was produced in LR 4.4 and Silver Efex Pro 2, and has a more grainy, film-like noise. I don't mind noise, I just wish it were more like large clumps of random developed silver. The hard part about doing this is I like the tones of the in-camera photo. I tried to match that look with SEP, but wound up pulling too much up out of the shadows to suit my tastes. Under most circumstances, even up to ISO 3200, I would probably accept it and move on. Shrink the image down enough, put it on the web, and nobody will know nor care. Only a pixel-peeping idiot like me would even bother.
Monochrome, ISO 3200, post processed

These last five photos were taken with the GX1 and the Panasonic Lumix 2.5/14mm lens. I have this lens and chose this combination because of all the interesting press that's been generated lately by cameras such as the Nikon Coolpix A, the Ricoh GRD V (which Matthew dreams about constantly these days) and the Fuji X100/s. All of these cameras have an APS-C sensor, an equivalent 28mm with a max aperture between f/2.8 and f/2 (the Fuji). The Lumix 14mm is a 28mm equivalent, and its max aperture of f/2.5 sits between those other cameras. Whether the GX1 plus 14mm is as good as those other cameras with fixed focal length lenses is open to considerable subjective interpretation, so have at it. I do know that if I have the 14mm on the GX1 I can slip the combination into a rather capacious pocket on my cargo shorts and go anywhere incognito (well, maybe the cargo shorts draw attention, but that's another issue). And the same thing can be said for the even faster 1.7/20mm.

The monochrome photos are straight out of the GX1. The color photos were manhandled by me in LR 4.4 and Color Efex Pro 4. Enjoy.

last updated 2 June 2013


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