DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

Panasonic's interchangeable lens cameras are typically among the fastest on the market, so I had high expectations when I took the GX1 out of the box. Here's what kind of performance you can expect:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup * 0.7 sec / 1.0 sec Above average
Autofocus
(Normal light)
0.1 - 0.3 secs Above average
Autofocus
(Low light)
0.7 - 1.0 secs Above average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above average
Shot-to-shot
(No flash, JPEG)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(No flash, RAW)
~ 1.5 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(With flash)
~ 2 sec Average
* With the standard and power zoom lenses, respectively

As you can see, the GX1 is above average in nearly all areas. The only real delay is when the power zoom extends, though that only takes about half a second.

The DMC-GX1 is capable of shooting at 4.2 frames/second, which is the same as on the similar DMC-G3, and not far behind the flagship DMC-GH2. There are four speeds to choose from, including a super-fast 20 fps mode for small-size JPEGs only. The table below tells you what you can expect in the real world from the GX1:

Quality setting Low speed Medium speed High speed Super High speed *
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 9 shots @ 2.0 fps 8 shots @ 3.0 fps 9 shots @ 4.4 fps N/A
RAW 10 shots @ 2.0 fps 10 shots @ 3.1 fps 9 shots @ 4.2 fps
Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 2.0 fps Unlimited @ 3.0 fps 22 shots @ 4.4 fps 40 shots @ 23.0 fps

* Image size is set to Small (4 Megapixel) at this speed

Tested with a Panasonic Class 10 SDHC card

The DMC-GX1 can shoot pretty quickly at the high speed setting though, as you can see, the buffer memory fills up quickly. It also takes almost twenty seconds to save all the images to a memory card when RAW files are involved. For all but super high speed, you can keep shooting after you hit the limits in the table above, just at a much slower rate. Keeping up with a moving subject should not be a problem, as the image on the LCD keeps up just fine.

Let's move on to photo quality now, shall we? With the exception of the night test shot, all of these were taken with the 14 - 42 mm power zoom lens. The night shots were taken with my own Panasonic F4.0-5.6, 45 - 200 mm lens.

The GX1 did a nice job with our macro test subject. There's actually not much of a brownish cast here, which is a common problem that Panasonic cameras have in my studio (the GX1 struggled elsewhere, though). Colors are accurate and saturated. The subject has a smooth appearance, and would be sharper if Intelligent Resolution was turned on. I looked and looked for any sign of noise, but didn't find any -- and that's a good thing.

The minimum focus distance will, of course, depend on what lens you have attached to the DMC-GX1. The minimum distance for the power zoom lens is 20 cm, while it's 30 cm for the standard 14-42. If you want a dedicated macro lens, Panasonic sells a pricey F2.8, 45mm Leica model.

Ahh, there's that brownish cast I was talking about (you can see it in the church interior shot too). For those wondering what the colors should look like, have a look at this RAW conversion of that same shot (all I did was change the white balance from "as shot" to "tungsten", which is what the camera was set to in the first place). Anyhow, the photo (taken with the 45-200 zoom) is slightly soft, but otherwise satisfactory. The camera brought in plenty of light, and highlight clipping isn't too bad. Noise isn't a problem here, though I think noise reduction contributes to some of the softness. Purple fringing is present, but not bad enough for me to consider it a problem.

Now, let's use that same night scene to see what noise levels look like as you increase the sensitivity on the GX1:


ISO 160

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

Aside from the brown color cast, noise levels are low through ISO 400. At ISO 800 you start to see a bit of detail loss (notice how the corner of the US Bank building fades away), but it's still usable for midsize and large prints. Detail loss is more obvious at ISO 1600, so here's a good time to either switch to RAW, or just lower your output size. I'd save ISO 3200 for desperation only, and you should absolutely use RAW here. I would pass on ISO 6400, and avoid ISO 12800 altogether.

I already showed you that shooting RAW was a good way to rid yourself of nasty color casts like the one you see in the night shot. You can also use it, along with some easy post-processing on your computer, to improve image quality. Let's take those ISO 3200 and 6400 crops from above and see if we can't make them look a bit nicer:

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

As you can see, there's a slight improvement in the amount of detail visible at ISO 3200. I don't think there's much you can do to save the ISO 6400 shot, though -- it's just too noisy to be usable.

We'll do this test again under better lighting in a moment.

Like all of Panasonic's cameras, the GX1 combats redeye in two ways. First, it'll fire the flash before the photo is taken, to shrink your subject's pupils, which is supposed to reduce the risk of redeye. If that doesn't work (and it usually doesn't), then the camera will digitally remove any redeye that it finds in the resulting photo. Panasonic's digital removal system is very finicky in my experience -- sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This time it worked well, though yours truly needed to get the eye drops after seeing this photo! The bottom line here is that your redeye results may vary. For the least likelihood of redeye, use an external flash.


Lens used: Panasonic F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm (from DMC-G3 review)


14 - 42 mm Power Zoom lens

Both the standard and power zoom 14 - 42 mm zoom lenses show relatively mild barrel distortion at their wide-angle positions. Both of these lenses had very little in the line of corner blurring, and vignetting (dark corners) was not an issue.

Now it's time to see how the DMC-GX1 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Keep in mind that the crops only show a small portion of the test scene, so view the full size images too. And with that, let's take a journey from ISO 160 to 12800:


ISO 160

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

Everything is as smooth as butter through ISO 800, though you'll notice a slight drop in color saturation at that sensitivity. Noise levels remain low at ISO 1600, and it becomes pretty obvious at ISO 3200. It's at this point that I'd be switching over to RAW or making small prints. The ISO 6400 photo is still usable for small prints, but the same cannot be said for the ISO 12800 shot.

A few paragraphs up I did a RAW vs. JPEG comparison with the night shots. Let's do it again here, this time at the GX1's highest sensitivities:

ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.6 RC)

RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 12800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.6 RC)

RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

Here again you can see that you can squeeze more detail out of the DMC-GX1 by shooting RAW, though don't expect anything dramatic. Colors are more vivid and there isn't as much detail smudging, which will allow you to use ISO 6400. I'd still probably avoid ISO 12800, unless you're really desperate.

Overall, the Lumix DMC-GX1 produces very good quality photos. The only real issues are highlight clipping and the possibility of color casts in artificial light (mentioned above). Exposures were generally accurate, with occasional underexposure. Colors look pretty good to me -- nice and saturated. With Intelligent Resolution off, photos are "smooth" rather than "tack sharp". Turning I.R. on will certainly sharpen things if you think that's required. As the previous tests showed, the camera keeps noise at bay until ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light, though you can go at least a stop higher and still get usable pictures, especially if you shoot RAW. Purple fringing is a lens-related annoyance, and it was mild with the 14 - 42 mm power zoom lens (and the previously tested standard zoom, as well).

As always, don't just take my words as gospel. Have a look at our GX1 photo gallery, maybe printing a few photos if you can, and then decide if its image quality meets your expectations!

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