Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Review
Design & Features
If you've used the DMC-GF1 or GF2, then you'll feel right at home with the GX1. The camera has a rectangular shape with a mostly flat body, save for its new, larger right hand grip. Don't believe me? Have a look:
|My old GF1 next to a shiny new GX1|
You can see that a few things have moved around since the GF1, and the accessory port is different, as well. While the original GF1 didn't have the dedicated iA button or stereo microphone, the GF2 that followed it did. The opposite is true about a mode dial: the GF1 had it, the GF2 didn't (which not a popular decision), and it's back on the GX1. The DMC-GX1 has two customizable Function buttons, compared to one on the GF1 and GF2.
The DMC-GX1 is very well built, with a solid metal body, "notchy" dials (this is a good thing), and metallic buttons. The only things that seem a bit flimsy are the pop-up flash mechanism and the door over the battery/memory card compartment. The GX1 is easy to hold, with the most important controls within easy reach of your fingers.
Images courtesy of Panasonic
The GX1 is targeted more toward enthusiasts than consumers, so it should come as no surprise to hear that it comes in silver and black, instead of things like red and pink.
I already compared the dimensions and weight of the GX1 versus its predecessor back in that huge table at the start of the review. How does it fare against other interchangeable lens cameras? Have a look:
As you can see, the GX1 is the largest, but not quite the heaviest camera in this class. It's not the pocket camera that the GF3 was, but it travels just fine over your shoulder or in a small bag.
I don't know about you, but I think a tour of the GX1 is in order. Use the tabs to navigate your way through it!
As with all of Panasonic's Lumix G series cameras, the GX1 supports the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, with a 2X focal length conversion ratio. As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous adapters available that allow you to use other lenses, as well. To release an attached lens, just press the button to the right of the mount.
At the center of the photo is the GX1's 16 Megapixel Live MOS sensor, which is apparently the same one that's on the DMC-G3. Micro Four Thirds sensors are smaller than APS-C (used in Sony and Samsung interchangeable lens cameras) but much larger than what you'll find on models from Nikon and Pentax. Recent Lumix G cameras had their sensor drive speeds increased from 60 to 120 fps, which greatly increased autofocus speeds. Panasonic has taken things one step further on the GX1, boosting the camera-to-lens communication speed to the same rate, allowing for focus times as short as 0.09 seconds, which is faster than the DMC-GH2 and most professional D-SLRs.
With the sensor exposed to the elements, you need a system to prevent dust from collecting. Like its siblings, the GX1 has an ultrasonic dust removal system that shakes dust off the low-pass filter at 50,000 cycles per second.
While many interchangeable lens cameras have image stabilization built right into the body, Panasonic's do not. This feature is built into the lens instead, and both of the available kit lenses have it.
At the top right of the photo is the GX1's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The flash has a guide number of 6 meters at ISO 100, which is consistent with what similar models offers. If you want a more powerful flash, there's a hot shoe right next door that you can use.
The only other item of note on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp (also used for visually counting down the self-timer), which is located right under the GX1 logo. This lamp is fairly easy to block with your fingers, so be careful.
On the back of the camera is the now familiar 3-inch, 460,000 pixel touchscreen LCD that's found on many other Panasonic cameras. The screen is very sharp, and outdoor visibility is top-notch, as is usually the case on Lumix cameras. In low light, the screen brightens up nicely, so you can still see your subject. I'll tell you about the touchscreen functionality later in the review.
Above the screen is the accessory port, which is where the optional electronic viewfinder plugs in. As I mentioned earlier, the EVF is very nice, though it's on the expensive side.
Everything else here is either a button or a dial. There are two customizable buttons (Fn1 and Fn2), plus three more covering what's shown on the LCD, switching focus modes, and entering the Quick (shortcut) Menu. The four-way controller can also be found here, which is used for menu navigation, replaying photos, and also adjusting the ISO, white balance, and drive/focus modes.
Up at the top-right of the photo is the camera's sole control dial, used for adjusting manual exposure settings, as well as navigating menus.
The first thing to see on the top of the camera is the flash, which is closed here. When it's popped up, there's a little "ditch" in which can you put your fingers, if you're holding the camera that way.
Next to that is the hot shoe, with the stereo microphone above it. The hot shoe works best with the three Panasonic flashes I listed earlier, as they'll sync with the camera's metering system. If you're using a third party flash, you'll have to set the exposure manually. You can use shutter speeds as fast as 1/160 second on the GX1. None of Panasonic's cameras support wireless flash control.
Moving to the right, we find the mode dial (which I'll tell you about after this tour), which has the power switch attached to it. The buttons to the right of that include shutter release, movie, and Intelligent Auto mode. The iA button will quickly switch the camera into this easy-to-use shooting mode, which can be a blessing when you hand the camera to someone who isn't as camera savvy as you are.
Here you can see just how far up the GX1's flash protrudes from the camera. This isn't a big surprise, as it has some large Micro Four Thirds lenses to clear!
Down near the bottom of the body is the GX1's speaker.
The 14 - 42 mm power zoom lens is at its wide-angel position here. You can see the manual focus lever on the bottom, with the zoom lever above that. As I mentioned earlier, reaching the zoom lever was a bit of a stretch for me.
On the other side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, which are under a plastic cover. The ports here include remote control input, USB + A/V output, and mini-HDMI.
Aside from the sizable right hand grip, the only other thing to mention here is that the power zoom lens is at full telephoto here.
On the bottom of the camera is a metal tripod mount (hidden from view here) and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over this compartment is on the flimsy side, and you won't be able to open it while the camera is on a tripod.
At the lower-right of the photo you can spot the included DMW-BLD10 battery.
The "view" in live view, complete with histogram and electronic level
Now we're going to talk about features. The most important one on the DMC-GX1 is its live view feature, which is what you'll use to compose all your photos on this mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Panasonic has created a first rate live view experience on all of their G series cameras, with the GX1 being no exception. You get a bright, fluid image, super fast autofocus, a movable histogram, customizable grid lines, and frame enlargement for manual focus. There's now a handy electronic level available, too, which handles both tilt and pitch.
|The customizable Quick Menu can be accessed via touchscreen (or buttons)||The "tab" menu can slide out with the touch of your finger, and offers various soft buttons, plus two custom spots|
Since we're talking about live view, I figure that I should tell you about the features tied to the GX1's touchscreen LCD now. Here are some of the touch-enabled features that you'll have access to:
- Touch AF: touch the area of the frame on which you'd like the camera to focus (for stills or movies); you can adjust the size of the focus point, as well; the Pinpoint AF lets you do this practically at the pixel level
- Touch Shutter: same idea as above, except that the camera will take a photo, too
- MF assist: enlarge the frame and then use your finger to move around; handy for manual focusing
- Sliders: makes adjusting depth-of-field, color, or brightness (the last two in iA+ mode) a snap
- Touch zoom: if you've got one of the Panasonic power zoom lenses attached, the tab menu can show zoom controls
- Custom grid lines: don't like the preset choices? Drag the lines anywhere you want with your finger.
- Custom menus: drag-and-drop to create a custom Quick Menu (which can also be operated with the four-way controller); there's also a drawer on the right side which holds a few extra things, including two more custom Fn buttons!
- Touch playback: swipe your finger to move between photos and tap to zoom in; deleting a bunch of photos is a snap -- just tap the thumbnails you want to trash
The nice thing about the GX1 is that you can choose which touch features are active. You can shut most everything off too, if you're a button person like me.
One of the features that was lost on the GF2 and GF3 that has triumphantly returned on the DMC-GX1 is a real, physical mode dial. Here are the options that you'll find on it.
Adjusting brightness, background defocus, and color in iA+ mode
The first thing you may be wondering is, where's Intelligent Auto mode? While it's not on the mode dial, you can turn it on at any time by pressing the dedicated button on the top of the GX1. Once in iA mode, the camera will handle everything, including scene selection, blur reduction, intelligent sharpening, shadow brightening, and more. If you want a bit more control, head to the menu and turn on iA+ mode, which gives you sliders that let you adjust the background defocus, brightness, and color, without having to know what aperture, exposure compensation, and white balance (respectively) mean. Panasonic's iA modes really are the best auto modes out there, whether on compact or interchangeable lens cameras.
If you want to pick a scene mode yourself, there are plenty to choose from, as you can see. There is also a Creative Control mode, where you can select from various special effects, and then adjust them to your liking using the touchscreen.
Naturally, the GX1 has full manual exposure controls, as well. There are also two spots on the mode dial that can hold a total of four sets of your favorite camera settings. As you'll see below, the camera has plenty of other goodies that enthusiasts will enjoy.
Now I want to talk about some of the items found in the GX1's menu system. Before I do that, let me say that the GX1's menus are attractive and easy to navigate. About the only thing I'd add are help screens for the menu options. Keep in mind that you won't have access to some menu options when using the automatic shooting modes. And with that, let's go over the most interesting items in the shooting and custom settings menus:
- Photo Style: allows you to have multiple sets of image parameters, which include contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction; there are several presets (standard, vivid, monochrome, etc), plus a custom style, all of which can be adjusted
- Quality: the GX1 supports JPEGs in a number of sizes, plus RAW, or a combination of the two. A RAW image should be about 20 MB in size, while a Large/Fine JPEG weighs in at 9.1 MB
- Face recognition: the GX1 can recognize faces (automatically or manually), and you can attach a name and age to that person. In future photos, they'll be given focus priority
- Quick AF: the camera activates autofocus when it detects that the camera is being held steady, which reduces focus times (though at the expense of battery life)
- Redeye removal: the camera will digitally remove redeye from photos, as they are taken. Or at least try.
- Intelligent Resolution: a "smart" sharpening system that looks for detailed texture areas, outlines, and soft gradations, and applies different amounts of sharpening to each. There are four levels to choose from, including "extreme". It's off by default, except in iA mode.
- Intelligent Dynamic: improves overall contrast in a photo, though it does more for shadows than it does for highlights; three levels to choose from, off by default, except in iA mode.
- ISO range/limits: the GX1 has a range of 160 - 12800, and you can choose to go up in 1/3 or 1EV increments; you can also set the highest ISO that the camera will use when Auto ISO is turned on
- Extended tele conversion: gives you extra zoom power when you lower the resolution, up to a maximum of 2X for stills and 3.6X for movies, without a drop in image quality
- Auto bracket: take three, five, or seven shots in a row, each with a different exposure; this is a good way to ensure accurate exposure; you can also bracket for white balance, as you'll see below
- Fn button set: assign functions to the two physical and two touchscreen buttons here; you name it, it's probably available
- Touch settings: here's where you turn touch AF, the tabbed menu, or the whole interface off
I want to write a bit more about some of those options. Let's begin with Intelligent Dynamic, which brightens shadows and is supposed to help with highlight clipping, as well. This feature is always on in Intelligent Auto mode, while in the manual modes it's off by default. There are three levels of Intelligent Exposure to choose from (in the manual shooting modes): low, standard, and high. Here's a real world example for you:
|I. Dynamic off
View Full Size Image
|I. Dynamic low
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|I. Dynamic standard
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|I. Dynamic high
View Full Size Image
If you flipped through all four of those, you may be thinking "Jeff, you screwed up the link on the last one". That's not the case, actually, because when you set the Intelligent Dynamic setting, you're choosing how much of this effect the camera will use. In this situation, the camera didn't need to use more than "standard" level brightening, which is why they're the same. Intelligent Dynamic does work at brightening shadows, but it's very finicky. While it worked here (mostly), It did nothing in the purple fringing tunnel, a place where there are plenty of shadows to be brightened. One thing Intelligent Dynamic doesn't so anything for is highlight clipping, unfortunately.
Next up is Intelligent Resolution, which selectively sharpens objects that need it (edges, trees), and leaves alone things that don't (skin or the sky). There are four levels to choose from (low, standard, high, and extended), plus "off". As with Intelligent Dynamic, this feature is on by default in iAuto mode, and off in every other mode. Below are crops from a larger photo that attempt to show this feature in action (view the full size images too):
|I. Resolution off
View Full Size Image
|I. Resolution low
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|I. Resolution standard
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|I. Resolution high
View Full Size Image
|I. Resolution extended
View Full Size Image
Hopefully you can see what happens as you increase the level of Intelligent Resolution! It's really hard to tell the difference between high and extended, but if you flip between "off" and, say, standard, the increase in sharpness is obvious. I personally like the standard setting, and it's what I'd use if I owned the GX1.
Fine-tuning and bracketing white balance at the same time
I'll have examples of those two "Intelligent" options in the final review. There are two things only available via direct buttons that I want to talk about next, with the first being white balance. The DMC-GX1 has the usual presets (save for fluorescent) as well as two custom spots (for use with a white or gray card). You can also set the color temperature manually, with a range of 2500K - 10000K. If that's not enough, you can also fine-tune and bracket for white balance (see screenshot).
|23-area AF mode doesn't have to be automatic; here I selected five points in the frame to use for focus.||In 1-area mode you can select the location and size of the focus point, all using the touchscreen.|
The other thing I wanted to mention are the camera's AF modes. You can choose from face detection (15 faces max), AF tracking, 23-area (you can select sections of the total area to focus on), 1-area (which can be moved and resized), and pinpoint. The camera has the usual single and continuous AF modes, plus a new Auto Focus Flexible (AFF) mode, which keeps unpredictably moving subjects in focus. There's also manual focus, of course, and you can use the touchscreen LCD to enlarge an area of the frame (and move it around), to ensure that your subject is properly focused.
Now let's talk movies. The GX1 can record Full HD movies at 1920 x 1080 / 60i (30p sensor output) using the AVCHD codec, complete with Dolby Digital stereo sound. You can keep recording until your memory card fills up, except in Europe, where you're limited to just under 30 minutes. If you don't need Full HD, you can also drop down to 720p60 (30p sensor output).
AVCHD movies look great on your HDTV, but they're kind of a pain to edit and share. Thankfully, Panasonic gives you another option: MPEG-4. You can record both 1080p and 720p video using this codec, both at 30 frames/second. The only real downside to MPEG-4 is the 4GB file size limit, which is reached in about 22 minutes at the 1080p setting.
The camera supports continuous AF in movie mode, so if your subject is moving or you're zooming in and out, they'll stay in focus. The touchscreen LCD allows you to tap on a subject and the camera will focus on them almost instantly. If your lens has an image stabilizer, that'll be available too. The extended tele conversion feature will let you get up to 3.6X of extra zoom power in movie mode, at all resolutions except for Full HD.
Panasonic has pretty much made the DMC-GH2 their "movie camera". That's probably why the GX1 lacks manual controls in movie mode, and doesn't have a external mic input either. Everything will be point-and-shoot when you're recording a movie, though you can adjust the microphone level. An automatic wind filter is also available, which comes in handy when recording videos outdoors.
The GX1 has two ways in which you can take still photos while recording a movie. In motion picture priority mode, the camera records movies at 2 Megapixel, without any pause in the video. If you switch to still picture priority mode, the camera takes up to eight full resolution stills, though the video will pause while they're recorded to the memory card.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting. I converted the AVCHD file to QuickTime format using Final Cut Pro X. If you'd like to download the original MTS file, it's yours for the taking.
The DMC-GX1 has a pretty standard playback mode for a camera in this class, though I have to admit that the touchscreen interface makes it a bit more pleasant to use. In addition to things like slideshows, image resizing/rotating/cropping, there are also these features:
- Playback mode: view only still photos, 3D photos, videos, and photos taken in certain categories (which are auto-assigned in scene modes and can be chosen in playback mode, too)
- Calendar view: quickly jump to photos taken on a certain date
- Title edit / text stamp: print the date and time, location, names of recognized subjects, and more on your photos
- Video divide: pick a spot in your video and split it two
- Multi Delete: deleting a bunch of photos is a million times easier with the touchscreen, so it deserves a special mention
Sadly, there's no redeye removal tool in playback mode, which is something you might need on the DMC-GX1.
By default the GX1 only gives you basic information about your photos. Pressing the display button will give you a lot more, including an RGB histogram. The camera moves between photos instantly, whether you're using buttons or the touchscreen.