Panasonic helped introduce the world to the Micro Four Thirds format with cameras like the GF1, lauded for its size, handling and image quality, and the GH3, which proved a hit among videographers. With the GM1, Panasonic has created a camera that is compatible with all of the lenses created for the Micro Four Thirds format, but has managed to shrink the camera body down to the size of a typical compact camera. The GM1 is portable enough to be slipped into a jacket pocket and so light that it’s never a chore to take it with you when you leave the house. At first sight, the GM1 strikes you as something of a technical marvel, but can the camera hope to match the performance of its predecessors, despite its diminutive frame? We put it to the test to find out.
Features & Build
The GM1 houses a Digital Live MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor measuring 17.3 x 13.0mm. It shoots 16Mp photos that are 4,592 x 3,448px in size and has several cropped shooting options like 16:9 widescreen.
Data from the sensor is processed, compressed and saved by Panasonic’s Venus processing engine. The camera controls are concentrated on the rear and top right of the camera. On the top of the GM1 you’ll find the Mode dial with Manual, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Program, Intelligent Auto, Scene Guide, Creative and Custom modes. Beside that are the shutter release and power buttons, as well as the Focus mode lever, which houses the first Function button – by default this activates Wi-Fi photo sharing via a Panasonic smartphone App, and you can also couple the GM1 with the Panasonic Image App for remote shooting.
On the rear of the camera is a touch sensitive 3.0in, 1,036k-dot non-tilt TFT LCD, which offers approximately 100% field-of-view coverage.
Alongside are the Motion picture button, a Playback button, a Control dial (which houses the Cursor buttons), the Menu/Set button, the Delete button and a DISP button.
We tested the GM1 with the bundled Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH collapsible lens.
Performance & Handling
Measuring just 99mm tall and 30mm deep, the GM1 looks more like a modern point-and-shoot compact camera than a CSC. With a body weighing just 204g, or 275g with the kit lens attached, the GM1 adds very little to the weight of your bag and can easily be dropped into a jacket pocket.
Out of the box the GM1 doesn’t give you much to hang on to, but for an extra £89 you can get hold of the Panasonic Handgrip. If you’re a man with average-sized hands, the fingers on your right hand will butt up against the lens when you try to hold the camera. Our female staffers also reported the controls were a little cramped for comfortable use and we found it a little hindering when navigating nested menus due to this. If you have dainty fingers you might appreciate the proximity of the buttons, concentrated as they are on the right-hand side of the camera, but in our tests the cursor buttons under the Control dial were a little too sensitive, and regularly resulting in unintended button presses, accidentally opening menus when we were trying to scroll. The faux-leather finish, however, is high quality and makes the camera a joy to hold. It also looks great with its Aluminium dials and brushed metal finish.
The compact size of the GM1 means that some features have been compromised with no hotshoe to attach accessories such as a flashgun and no viewfinder to look through. But the built-in flash can be tilted and held upwards to bounce it off a ceiling. Although framing has to be done through the LCD screen, fortunately the 1,036k-dot screen is very high-resolution and performed well with 100% frame coverage.
The 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens felt good in the hand with plenty of grip around the zoom ring and has a film-equivalent of 24-64mm. This made it great for wide architectural shots and portraits, although in Aperture priority mode, our test shots tended to underexpose by a stop – but this was easily rectified with a little Exposure Compensation.
The Intelligent Auto Mode made shooting in low-light conditions a breeze, especially when paired with the maximum ISO setting of 25,600.
The GM1’s shutter speed range stretches from 60secs to 1/16000sec – four times faster than the fastest shutter speed on many D-SLRs, thanks to its electronic shutter mechanism. It also enables the GM1 to shoot silently, which coupled with its excellent low-light focusing ability, makes the GM1 far less intrusive than the ‘quiet’ modes on most modern D-SLRs.
For its size the GM1 is certainly groundbreaking, and at just 99mm wide and 24mm deep, it really does feel like a compact. But with the same 16Mp sensor, Venus engine and AF system as the GX7, the GM1’s petite persona has filled large shoes.
However, the size also comes at a cost. There’s no external microphone socket for recording audio to make the most of the 24p, 25p and 50i modes in full HD movies. Despite being compatible with Micro Four Thirds lenses it’s best coupled with smaller, collapsible lenses designed specifically with the GM1 in mind. Some lenses, such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, protrude below the body and this meant some tripod plates wouldn’t fit on the base.
To test the speed of the GM1 we coupled it with a PNY class 10, 80MB/s SD card and found the GM1 could shoot 7 RAWs before the buffer kicked in, and 13 JPEGs before the GM1 slowed. A single RAW file wrote in just 0.93sec and a JPEG in 0.79sec. The camera took an impressive 3.34sec to clear the buffer after RAW burst shooting.
Value for Money
At £579 the GM1 is good value for a small CSC that packs in some of the functionality of the GX7 and the ability to use Micro Four Thirds lenses. The GM1’s closest competitor is the Pentax Q10, which is almost half the price at £329. However, the trade-off with Q10 is that it implements a 1/1.7in type sensor, far smaller than that found in the GM1.
Seeing as the GM1 borrows many features from the GX7, including the sensor and Venus processing, all in a more compact body, it’s worth seeing the price difference between the two. The GX7 costs £749 with 14-42mm lens while the GM1 retails for £579 with 12-32mm lens. If you’re after a camera with a bit more to hang on to and an EVF, the GX7 received 5 stars in our November 2013 issue, but if size is critical and you don’t mind the slightly imprecise controls, the GM1 is good choice.
The GM1 is a game changer; it shows the Micro Four Thirds format has the potential to rival compact cameras in terms of portability. The number of retractable lenses will have to increase for the GM1 to come into its own and the controls can be frustratingly fiddly, but if you can adjust to its petite proportions, the image quality and portability make the GM1 a compelling camera for anyone looking to upgrade from a compact camera or buy a truly pocketable CSC.
- Street price: £348 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Resolution: 16Mp (4592x3448px)
- Sensor: Micro Four Thirds
- Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
- ISO range: 200-25,600 (125-25,600 expanded)
- Shutter range: 60-1/16,000sec,
- AF system: Contrast detection
- AF points: 23-area
- Focusing modes: Face detection, AF Tracking, 23-Area, 1-Area, Pinpoint
- Burst rate: 5fps
- Monitor: 3.0in, 1,036k-dot non-tilt TFT LCD
- Flash: Pop-up
- Hotshoe: No
- Video: Full HD (1920x1080 @ 50i/25P/24p)
- Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Weight: 204g (body only with battery and memory card)
- Dimensions: (WxHxD) 98.5x54.9x30.4mm
- Visit: www.panasonic.com/uk
This review was first published in the March 2014 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.