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Jan 17

Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1

Panasonic GX1 Review

Photographers who use the Micro 4/3 system of Compact System Cameras have long been awaiting a true upgrade to Panasonic’s original rangefinder style interchangeable lens mirrorless camera, the GF1.  The GF2 and GF3 saw a repositioning of the the GF series into a more consumer oriented device, eschewing many external controls found on the GF1 in the name of simplification, presumably to entice point and shoot users to upgrade to the GF cameras.  While the GF1 is older, it is in many respects superior to the subsequent GF series cameras due to its ergonomics, multiple dials and buttons for direct access to often used controls, and flash hotshoe.  (The GF2 has a hotshoe, but this was discarded on the GF3).

Enter the new DMC-GX1. Panasonic has responded to critics of the later GF line by finally giving photographers a true successor to the GF1.  The GX1 has an updated, 16 megapixel Live MOS sensor, shoots 4.2 frames per second in burst mode, incorporates a touch screen and retains all the external controls of the GF1, while adding even more quick access functionality.  Additionally, the body is slightly smaller, yet easier to handle due to the contoured rubber grip.  I’ll take a look at how this camera performs, its quirks, its successes and failures.

Panasonic GX1 with Olympus 17mm f/2.8

Build Quality / Ergonomics

The GX1 is a compact, rangefinder style body that is clad in an aluminum skin that is lightweight, yet sturdy.  With a pancake lens like the Panasonic 14mm or 20mm, or the Olympus 17mm, it is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket.   It is available in both silver and black painted finishes;  I happen to have the silver version.  The buttons on the back are metal, which is different from the G and GH series bodies which have plastic buttons.  The metal buttons give a very positive and satisfying click when pressed.  The top plate is matte plastic with good quality fit and finish.  As a nice touch, “Lumix” is engraved in the metal, and “GX1″ is raised.  The biggest change to the GX1 from the GF series is the addition of a chunky contoured rubber grip.  The grip is perfectly contoured to fit your hand, and it even works well when slipping your middle finger along it when carrying it around (which is more comfortable than carrying in the shooting position).

The rear of the camera is dominated by the 3″ touch sensitive LCD screen.  Panasonic has provided a small, yet comfortable thumb rest to support the camera.  I find that the shape of the grip and thumb rest forces your hand to a very specific grip for shooting.  Luckily, this grip is comfortable and allows for easy access to camera controls.

Ergonomically, Panasonic did a very good job for such a small camera.  While the grip isn’t as comfortable as the GH2 due to the size, it’s very good considering the size of the body.  Buttons are well placed and those that would be prone to accidental pressing with the heel of your palm are recessed, yet still easily accessed when needed.  There are two programmable function buttons, the typical four way buttons that control direction as well as ISO, WB, Drive mode and AF.  There is also a dedicated display button, a Quick menu button for changing other parameters and an AF/MF button for quick switching between focus modes.

On top, there is the mode dial, which contains the usual P, A, S, M shooting modes, plus two customizable settings, a scene mode and creative art filters.  The rest of the top plate contains the on/off switch, the metal shutter button, a dedicated movie shutter button and the iA button for toggling the intelligent Auto mode on and off.

The click thumb wheel on the back operates the same as on all other recent Panasonic G series cameras, though it’s a little smaller than on the GH2/GH1/G1, etc.  The first day I used the camera,  it was a bit stiff and finicky, but has been broken in now and feels good, though still not as nice as the GH2’s, presumably due to size.  Clicking the wheel transitions between changeable values when setting parameters (aperture and exposure compensation in aperture priority, aperture and shutter speed in manual, etc), or activates the zooming for focus assist if using an adapted manual focus lens, which makes using adapted lenses a breeze.  Because of Micro 4/3 short register distance, nearly every SLR and rangefinder lens can be adapted for use on the GX1.  I use a variety of adapted lenses on my cameras, so this is a very welcome part of the Panasonic user interface.

There is no built in viewfinder on the GX1, so the rear LCD is used for both settings and composing the image.  Panasonic does offer a brand new add on electronic viewfinder (EVF) which gives a 1.4x magnification ratio (equivalent to a 0.7x full frame viewfinder) with 1.44 million dots in sequential field display.  The new viewfinder, DMW-LVF2, is only compatible with the GX1 as of this writing.  The GF series cameras must use the earlier LVF1, due to a change in accessory ports made for the GX1.

GX1 with Canon FD 200mm f/2.8 and Live Viewfinder LVF2

Overall, the camera feels good in hand and all major controls are quickly accessed.  The only negative is directly related to size.  With most Micro 4/3 lenses, the grip is sure and there is plenty of room for your fingers.  On some wider lenses, such as the Leica 25mm f/1.4, the fingers can be a bit cramped.  Also, if you are using a large lens, such as the Panasonic 100-300mm zoom, or an adapted telephoto, such as the Canon FD 200mm f/2.8 pictured above, the size can be a bit too small.  I much prefer the grip of the G or GH series cameras for long lens work.  It is a minor issue, however, since the weight when using such lenses is generally supported by the left hand.

Menus/Touch Screen

Like all recent Panasonic bodies, the 3″ LCD is a touch panel as well, and it works very well.  The LCD is a 460k resolution panel.  While I would prefer to see a higher resolution screen in 2012, the screen does display colors accurately and is crisp enough for good composition and is passable for manual focusing, though using the camera’s ability to zoom in when manually focusing is a great aid when using the LCD.

Panasonic has made some changes to the touch screen operation and the quick menu system that are for the better.  Like on other touch G series cameras, most major functions that have dedicated controls can also be changed via touch screen (but aren’t required to be).  The screen is a resistive touch panel, though it looks somewhat different than the screen used in the GH2, G2 and G3.  It is glossier, and at first glance appears to be a capacitive screen.  While capacitive touch panels are more responsive, they can’t be operated with gloves on, so I am glad they stuck with resistive for this LCD.  You can set focus point and focus point size just by tapping, which is is fast and intuitive.  There is a new touch activated pull out drawer which has two more customizable function buttons activated via touch, as well as the touch shutter control.  It doesn’t get in the way and is a nice way to get to other settings quickly.    This is a nice improvement over the touch interface in the GH2.

One nice addition to the GX1 is an electronic level.  This can be brought up via the Display button, or a shortcut assigned to one of the four customizable buttons.  It is easy to use and doesn’t disrupt composition as well.  My favorite part of the electronic level is that this addition has FINALLY brought automatic image rotation to Panasonic bodies with all lenses.  Prior to the GX1, Panasonic bodies only rotated verticals automatically when using an OIS lens.

I’m not going to discuss menus here too much.  If you’ve used any recent Panasonic Micro 4/3 body, you will instantly be at home with the menu system, as it is largely unchanged.  The only new items are those that are specific to the GX1, which are few and far between.  Overall, I find the menus to be relatively logically ordered, though they could still use some cleanup, as many of the sections are several pages long.  Panasonic has improved somewhat in the naming of its function items, but some functions are still rather ambiguous, and require a peek at the manual to figure out what they do the first time.

Next up: Performance:

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

27 comments

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  1. rogerml

    Great review, JS. Thx for sharing!
    Btw, – love your b+w portrait (GX1, Leica 25mm f/1.4, ISO 160, Off camera strobe), in the photo samples’ end.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rogerml

  2. Peter Arbib

    Excellent review, thanks
    Peter

  3. thomas

    thank you, great review.

  4. Ranger 9

    Thanks for a straightforward, understandable review. But could you please explain something you wrote about the viewfinder? You said:

    Panasonic does offer a brand new add on electronic viewfinder (EVF) which gives a 1.4x magnification ratio (equivalent to a 0.7x full frame viewfinder)

    When dealing with viewfinder magnifications, I’m more accustomed to seeing the viewfinder image compared to subject size rather than sensor size. For example, my Epson R-D 1 camera has a finder magnification of 1.0x — which means that when I look through it, the apparent size of the subject is the same size as the same subject viewed with the naked eye. This is a great feature of the R-D 1, because it allows the user to keep both eyes open at all times; both eyes see exactly the same magnification.

    The R-D 1 is a true rangefinder camera with an optical viewfinder, so the lens in use doesn’t make any difference; on cameras with through-lens viewfinders, the finder-magnification spec also has to specify the focal length in use. For example, my Nikon D300’s viewfinder magnification supposedly is 0.94x with a 50mm lens… so if I’ve got a 50 on the camera, look through the viewfinder, and then open my other eye and view the subject, the viewfinder image will look slightly smaller.

    You can probably tell from this that finder magnification is an important spec for me! So can you explain what you mean when you say the GX-1’s finder magnification is 1.4x, or that that’s equivalent to 0.7x on a camera of a different format?

    If I’m looking through the GX-1’s finder with a “normal” lens (presumably 20mm or 25mm) on the camera, how will what I see compare in size to the same subject viewed with the naked eye?

    Thanks…

  5. Jordan Steele

    Ranger 9 –

    The reason micro 4/3 viewfinder magnifications are somewhat confusing is that they use the 50mm lens definition as well, even though it’s a longer field of view. It’s a 1.4x magnification with the 50mm reference. With the 25mm reference (as it should be), it’s a 0.7x viewfinder.

    As a result, the viewfinder has the same apparent size as a full frame cammera with a 0.7x viewfinder (which, incidentally is the same size as the Canon 1Ds Mark II). Make sense? Since your D300 is a 1.5x crop sensor, but is using the 50mm reference, it is equivalent in size to a 0.62x Full frame viewfinder. So, the LVF2 will have a larger viewfinder image than your D300. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

  6. Bob Bowné

    Nice to see a competent review with some REALLY great image samples that show some creativity and show the traits of the reviewed product! No brick walls…amazing!
    Nice work….review and photos.
    Have the camera. Love it. Your review is spot on.

  7. Forseti

    Hi,
    Tks for the excellent review. Really awesome pics of the kid, and the black and white portrait really rocks..me!

    I’m a relative newbie in the photo realm, and processing raw seems challenging, will the jpegs churn out similar quality to ur shots posted here?

    Much Tks!

    1. Jordan Steele

      JPEG processing on this camera seems to be a little better than on previous Panasonic cameras I’ve used. If the light isn’t too strong, and you dial back noise reduction in the JPEG engine (Film Styles), you can get very good results. I don’t have a ton of experience with the JPEGs, though, as I almost always shoot RAW, simply because I get a little better dynamic range, more detail and the ability to set white balance and color balance after the fact.

  8. ian drury

    Many thanks for your excellent review, it provides an ‘owners’ opinion of how this camera performs, much more realistic compared to magazine ‘pro’ reviews and articles.

  9. Madalene Burningham

    Recently i came accross your web site and have been reading along. I thought I might leave my initial remark. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this web site very frequently.

  10. Kirk Merritt

    Nice thoughtul review, if they had included a built in EVF I’d jump in. For now sticking with my G3. A better mix for me. The images in your review are exceptional, you have a great eye and that’s a gift.

    Kirk

  11. Luc de Schepper

    Excellent real-life review. Great images also, thanks!

  12. Salome Marroguin

    Hi. Just simply want to leave a quick commentary and inquire where you grabbed your particular page graphics I will be launching own internet page and absolutely appreciate your design.

    1. Jordan Steele

      I use WordPress to publish this site, with a customized version of the Graphene theme. The images, of course, are all my own photographs.

  13. lisandra

    Fantastic review, I link it often. Just like I like em, with comparisons and good samples.

  14. Mei Waguespack

    I love your blog :)

  15. Posterous

    Once I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a remark is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Is there any manner you’ll be able to remove me from that service? Thanks!

    1. Jordan Steele

      Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find anything in WordPress to remove notifications. Do the emails have a link to unsubscribe or anything? I’ll continue to try and figure out how to do this.

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  17. Robert in Arabia

    I learn a lot every time I visit your site. Your photographs are outstanding.

  18. Lean Muscle

    Thanks for the information/review. I have been wanting to get a good quality camera for some hobby photog. and this was very informative.

  19. John Rappold

    Great review, and I love your sample shots. Got the GH3 in late November and love it. Looked seriously at the GX1 to replace my GH2 to use as my carry cam. Unfortunately, I like to shoot a lot of video, so the GX1 doesn’t work for me. Hopefully the GX2 will up the video for some 60P and 24P 1080 goodness with more manual control.

  20. cosinaphile

    caught this late but better late than never

    great

  21. Pete

    I really like your site. I too have a GX1 and I am curious whether you use an external flash and if so would you recommend it.

  22. Arrow CW

    couldnt agree more

  23. Andrew Devlin

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