Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Review
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 is an interchangeable lens camera that brings the design of the beloved DMC-GF1 back into the Panasonic lineup. It has a solid, rangefinder-style body, and it comes in your choice of black and silver. While there have been several minor changes to the design of the GX1 (mostly button rearrangement), one especially nice addition is a large grip for your right hand. The DMC-GX1 supports the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, with a growing collection of lenses available. If you'd rather use something another lens mount, there are plenty of adapters out there. Like all of Panasonic's MFT cameras, the GX1 has image stabilization built into its lenses, rather than the body itself. Photos are composed via a 3-inch touchscreen LCD display on the back of the camera, or via an optional electronic viewfinder. The LCD is sharp (with 460k pixels), and offers very good outdoor and low light visibility. The GX1 has a built-in flash with a guide number of 6 meters, and its hot shoe lets you add something more powerful.
The GX1's feature set is not a whole lot different than the GF1 that it unofficially replaces. You'll still find an Intelligent Auto mode, which is easily the best auto mode on the market, just with a few new bells and whistles. Many of those new toys are related to the touchscreen LCD (something the GF1 lacked), and include touch focus, shutter release, zoom (for use with a power zoom lens), and image review. There are also "sliders" which allow you to adjust the amount of background blur, color, and brightness, without having to know what the words "aperture", "white balance", and "exposure compensation" mean. The GX1 has plenty of scene modes and a good collection of special effects (known as Creative Controls), as well. If it's manual controls you're after, the GX1 will be right up your alley. In addition to the usual exposure controls, you've got two types of bracketing, numerous white balance adjustments, and support for the RAW image format. The GX1 is highly customizable, whether you're talking buttons, menus, or spots on the mode dial. You can even place a histogram or grid lines wherever you want them. Two other features of note are called Intelligent Dynamic and Intelligent Resolution, which handle shadow brightness and sharpening, respectively. The former is rather finicky and only works in certain situations, but when the camera decides to use it, it works. Intelligent Resolution always works, and is worth turning on if you want sharper photos. One of the biggest differences between the GF1 and GX1 is in the movie department. The DMC-GX1 records Full HD video at 60i (though sensor output is 30p), with stereo sound and continuous autofocus. There are two codecs to choose from: HDTV-ready AVCHD, or easy to edit and share MPEG-4. The bad news about movie mode? No manual controls (unless a wind filter counts).
Camera performance is very good in most respects. If you're using the standard 14 - 42 mm lens, then you can expect the GX1 to be up and running in about 0.7 seconds. The new power zoom takes some time to extend, so you'll end up waiting for around a second before you can start taking pictures. Panasonic says that the GX1 focuses even faster than the GH1, and that certainly seems to be the case. It often feels like focus is instantaneous, and the only time you'll really do any waiting is in low light. Shutter lag was not a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were very brief, regardless of the image quality setting or if you're using the flash. While the GX1 is capable of taking full resolution photos at up to 4.4 frames/second, the party ends after nine RAW or twenty-two JPEG images. At slower speeds you'll be able to shoot for longer (infinitely for JPEGs), but RAW images will always be limited to around nine or ten shots. While battery life on the GX1 is a bit below average amongst its peers, it's not horrible.
Photo quality on the Lumix DMC-GX1 is very good, and comparable to what you'd see on other Micro Four Thirds cameras (including the DMC-G3, which shares the GX1's sensor). Exposures were generally accurate, save for the occasional underexposure. Like other MFT cameras, the GX1 will clip highlights, so you'll want to keep an eye on that. Colors were pleasing 95% of the time, with the 5% being under artificial light, where there's a pronounced brownish color cast (this is a common issue with Panasonic cameras). With Intelligent Resolution turned off (which is its default setting in most shooting modes), images have a "smooth" appearance to them. Turning on the I.R. feature will make things a lot sharper and more pleasing. Noise is kept under control until ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light, and you can squeeze a bit more detail out of your high ISO photos by shooting RAW and doing some easy post-processing. Purple fringing is mostly a lens thing, and it is not an issue with either of the 14 - 42 kit lenses. Redeye may or may not be a problem for you. You'll definitely want to turn on the camera's digital removal system, but don't expect it to catch this annoyance every time.
While the Lumix DMC-GX1 isn't a big leap over the now the two year-old DMC-GF1, it doesn't really have to be, as the GF1 was a very solid product. Panasonic did throw in a new sensor, Full HD video support, a touchscreen LCD, and even more customizabiliity If you've got a GF1 (like I do), you'll have to decide if these changes are worth the price of an upgrade. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, and just want a capable interchangeable lens camera with tons of features and a rangefinder-style design, then the DMC-GX1 should be high on your list.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality
- Solid rangefinder-style body is easy to hold, comes in two colors
- 3-inch touch LCD with 460,000 pixels, good outdoor/low light visibility; touch features include AF, shutter release, zoom control, image review, menus
- Responsive performance, with very fast autofocus
- Full manual controls with RAW support, numerous ways to adjust white balance, two types of bracketing, and more
- Intelligent Auto mode does it all for you; sliders in iA+ mode let you adjust white balance, exposure compensation, and aperture without having to known what those words mean
- Highly customizable: two custom buttons, do-it-yourself quick menu, and movable grid lines (to name a few things)
- Intelligent Resolution sharpens photos nicely
- Fast continuous shooting, though buffer fills up relatively quickly
- Handy electronic level for both tilt and pitch
- Records movies at 1080/60i with stereo sound and continuous autofocus using AVCHD or MPEG-4 codecs
- Optional articulating EVF
What I didn't care for:
- Some highlight clipping
- Images have yellow/brownish cast in artificial light
- Buffer memory fills quickly in burst mode
- No manual controls in movie mode
- Poorly placed zoom controller on 14 - 42 mm power zoom lens
- Can't access memory card while camera is on a tripod
- Full manual on CD-ROM (it's not very user-friendly, either)
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our photo gallery to see how the GX1's image quality looks!