|Panasonic Lumix GX1 with Lumix 1.7/20mm|
Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: It now costs 1/5 what it originally sold for.
The Long Version:
It may say "Henry" on my birth certificate but my middle name is really "Cheap." That's why I wait until the very end of a product's lifecycle to pick up a lot of µ4:3rds camera gear, especially camera bodies. I did that with my E-PL1 (US$150) and my E-PL2 (US$200). And I did it again when the price of the Panasonic GX1 body dropped to $200. With free shipping.
My primary reason for owning a Panasonic body is to have a reference against which to use my three Panasonic Lumix lenses; the 14mm, the 20mm, and the 25mm. I've never had any issues using any of those lenses with any of my Olympus µ4:3rds bodies, including the OMD E-M5, but I keep reading about the terrible problems other posters in other fora seem to have when using one vendor's lenses (Panasonic) with the other's bodies (Olympus). So far I'm happy to report that all my Panasonic lenses work just fine with the GX1, just like they work just fine with all the Olympus bodies I own. And if you think I own too many µ4:3rds bodies, I direct your attention to photographer William Eggleston's fine collection of Canon and Leica rangefinder cameras. I got nothin' on him.
In The Beginning...
The GX1 was first introduced nearly 18 months ago with a 14-42mm X kit lens for US$950. That put it squarely in the same price league as the Olympus E-P3. I'd already heavily panned the E-P3 on my personal blog, stating in no uncertain terms that hell would freeze over before I'd buy an E-P3 at Olympus' asking price. Two years later, even with the heavy discounts the E-P3 has undergone, I still feel no desire to own a copy. I took a dim view of the E-P3 and unfortunately cast the same jaundiced eye towards the GX1 when it was introduced. That was my loss.
With 20/20 hindsight I've come to realize the GX1 does have some key advantages over the E-P3. Foremost is the GX1's sensor vs the E-P3's. At 16MP, it could be argued the GX1's additional 4MP won't buy you much and you're probably right as far as raw resolution goes. But there's a lot more going on with that sensor and associated image processor than just four additional megapixels. Quoting DPReview conclusions about the E-P3 from August 2011: "The E-P3's biggest problem, through, is that its 12MP sensor is essentially the same as that which we first saw in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 almost three years ago, and in the face of rapid progress from other manufacturers it's now looking distinctly dated." The GX1 borrowed the sensor from the G3, which was released the same time as the E-P3, and which had at least two years of refinement behind it. DPReview's conclusions about the G3 (and later the GX1) were glowingly effusive in comparison to their E-P3 conclusions. I don't mind buying a two-year-old sensor from Panasonic, but five years for Olympus is more than a bit of a stretch, especially when I realize it's the same sensor I have in the E-P2, E-PL1 and E-PL2. Note that while I still don't care for the E-P3, my feelings for the OMD E-M5 are just the opposite, which I own and like greatly. You can have my E-M5 when you pry it from my cold dead fingers. But I digress...
Working with the GX1
The GX1 has a compact body with a design quite reminiscent of the Olympus E-PL2. Sit the two side-by-side and the Panasonic GX1 and Olympus E-PL2 look more alike than different, even if the E-PL2 is supposed to be channeling the old Olympus film Pen lines. Their construction bears remarkable similarities, even down to the use of the same number and placement Phillips screws on both ends of the body as well as across the bottom plate of the body. You'd think they came out of the same design bureau.
Dig a little deeper physically and there are differences between the two. The E-PL2 makes greater use of composites ("plastics") in its body, while the GX1 body is nearly all metal (the E-PL2 used metal on the front face plate, composite on the back). The tripod mount on the GX1 lines up with the lens mount and sensor, while it's very offset on the E-PL2. There're more direct controls on the GX1. Finally, there's an explicit on-off power switch on the GX1 top plate that wasn't mimicked by Olympus until the E-M5 and the just-announced E-P5. The construction, at first blush, appears a bit more robust with the GX1, although I wouldn't classify the E-PL2's construction as either poor or flimsy, far from it. They both exude good quality fit and finish. The best way to describe the GX1 with a Lumix 1.7/20mm and the battery is "dense", which goes to further reinforce the feeling of quality with the GX1.
Out in the field the GX1 is fairly easy to get to work the way I expect all my cameras to work. The menus in the GX1 are radically different from the Olympus Pens, which is to be expected. The GX1 menus are fairly "flat" (few menu levels) while the Olympus cameras have greater depth (more levels to traverse). Having now had to deal with both I don't see where either one is better than the other. They're both equally bad in my not so humble opinion, but their menu systems aren't deal breakers. You dive in, learn the menu layout, make your changes, and then get on with photography.
I'll note at this point in the review that I set auto review to '0' (turning it off) and turned the focus assist light off. With auto review off there is no apparent delay between shutter releases (having the image pop up like that always surprises me enough to cause me to delay, even if very briefly). With the focus assist light off the camera and I are a bit more stealthy, and the battery lasts a bit longer.
As I noted earlier the GX1's sensor resolution is 16MP, which matches the resolution of the OMD E-M5. However if you look at the sensor scores for those two cameras at DxOMark, you'll see that the overall score of the E-M5 is 20 points greater than the GX1. That's pretty substantial and is due in part to the E-M5's greater exposure range (about 1 1/2 stops if I read the numbers correctly). From my limited experience so far with the GX1 with the 20mm produces excellent results, especially close to base ISO. I've set auto ISO on the GX1 with a maximum of ISO 3200. While I've gotten fairly high, I've yet to reach a point where noise has become a problem.
|Monochrome, ISO 400|
I have tried for years to get a decent monochrome exposure out of the Olympus Pens, and for my uses I've been pretty dissatisfied. And then, on a whim, I set the GX1 to Monochrome Photo Style, and further tweaked the following settings: Contrast -1, Sharpness +1, Saturation -1, and Noise Reduction -2. It took a few times to reach those settings, but once there I realized I'd finally found a decent monochrome µ4:3rds body. Coupled with the 1.7/20mm and I suddenly had a pretty decent "artsy" camera that more than satisfied my wants. I love the deep blacks that come out of the GX1 instead of the muddy darks that the Olympus produces. If I had any doubt about keeping the GX1 that doubt was completely removed when I saw the SOOC black and white JPEGs it produces.
Unfortunately it has also brought up a lot more detail in the mid-tones, especially in the bushes and across the car hood in the lower left corner. The top photo seems softer, more romantic, but there's enough detail and byte in the bushes to add interested to the overall composition. The bottom photo has too much busy detail. But these are meant to be references and comparisons. If I were really serious about producing a good final image and print from these files, I'd use at least two layers in Photoshop, one for the sky and the other for everything else, to isolate changes to the clouds in the sky. It would be the same as me burning a bit of the sky in a wet darkroom in the past.
|Edited with LR 4.4 and Silver Efex Pro 2|
That pretty much wraps up the first part of this review. In the final part I'll spend more time examining the ergonomics and how the GX1 compares with the E-PL2 and the E-M5. In the mean time, if you want a recommendation on whether to buy a GX1 or not, I heartily recommend you grab a copy while the price is down to $200. If you don't have any µ4:3rds lenses then I recommend either the Lumix 1.7/20mm (40mm equivalent) for $350 or the 2.4/14mm (28mm equivalent) for $250. If you get the 14mm you'll discover you have a camera that competes with the latest fixed lens cameras from Ricoh and Nikon that also have 28mm f/2.8 equivalent lenses, except they cost a whole lot more money and they're fixed lens
Hero photo of the GX1 taken with the Olympus E-M5 and M.Zuiko 12-50mm set at macro mode. All other photos taken with the GX1 and 1.7/20mm set at f/1.7. Color photos were processed in LR 4.4 and Color Efex Pro from RAW. Black and white were SooC except where noted.
last updated 29 may 2013