The Lumix GX1 isn't going to win any awards for its good looks, but then again, being good-looking isn't what it's designed for. It comes in two colors, black and silver. While the silver body looks more sophisticated with the two-tone contrast playing between the silver body and the black grip, the white text on the silver body may not be as clear as on the black body. See for yourself in the shops to see which you prefer.
Besides the choice of color, you should also try and see if the GX1's grip appeals to you. In theory, the molded black grip should improve the GX1's handling, but this reviewer could never get comfortable with it. Because it's so aggressively shaped, it forces you to hold the GX1 in a certain way instead of giving you the liberty of holding it any way you'd like. When we passed the GX1 around the HardwareZone team though, some of our writers liked the new grip, so we would suggest trying it out for yourself.
We did discover that if you use the new X 14-42mm lens with the GX1 (pictured below), your fingers will constantly brush against the circumference of the thick lens - it can get to feeling quite claustrophobic around there. With the regular, smaller 14-42mm lenses you don't feel the same squeeze.
Like the GF1, with its wealth of physical controls, the GX1 is an ideal compact for the enthusiast photographer. But the GX1 goes one step further with added touch-screen controls to make the camera even more intuitive to use.
For example, to manually set a focus area, you can tap right on the d-pad, select the 1-Area AF mode, then move the AF target around the screen to position it. Or you can simply tap the screen when you're in the 23-Area AF mode, and the GX1 will confine its auto-focus efforts to that area of the screen you tapped.
The d-pad's dedicated buttons mean you're only one-tap away from changing ISO, white balance, drive and AF modes. Two Function buttons can be customized to any of the 25 available controls. One particular favorite is the Preview command, which gives you a preview of how your image will actually look if shot with current settings, instead of the brightened preview the LCD usually shows when shooting.
If those aren't enough, the Quick Menu button to the bottom left of the d-pad calls up a list of controls on the screen, like flash, image quality and photo styles. And yes, these controls can be customized too. And don't be fooled by the two C (Custom) modes on the Mode dial - there are in fact four Custom modes available, one set to C1, and three can be set on C2, then selected via the menu.
The dual-function rear control dial, a long favorite on Panasonic G cameras, gives you quick and easy access to shutter speed/aperture and exposure compensation control. When in shutter speed or aperture priority modes, the dial determines those settings, and when pressed, it switches over to control exposure compensation. In Manual mode, pressing the dial switches between shutter speed and aperture control. It's fast and easy.
In short, the GX1 handles like a dream for photographers who love to be able to manipulate the camera's settings quickly and easily. We only see one shortcoming; the Quick Menu button feels too small and awkwardly placed for comfort, sitting right on the edge of the camera, and squeezed in-between the d-pad and the end of the back plate. But because you can access the settings provided by the Quick Menu via other means, whether on the dedicated controls, saved on the Fn buttons or through the menu, this inconvenience is mitigated somewhat.
Oh, and if you just don't like touch-screen controls, there's a setting for that too. The GX1 lets you turn them selectively off, or all off in the menu. Nice.
The GX1 introduces a new feature to Panasonic's touch-screen stable. The Touch Tab is a drawer of touch commands - think of it like a small Mac OS X dock - which you can tap to show or hide. On show, you get four additional touch commands, touch to zoom, touch to shoot, and two digital Function controls which can be customized (that brings the total number of Function keys on the GX1 to four). Tap the arrow key to hide the Touch Tab (actually, it's more like pick with your fingertip instead of tap, as the target area is quite small).
It's an interesting innovation to give even more functionality to the user, and if you find it too troublesome, Panasonic has thoughtfully given you the option to turn the Touch Tab off.
In case everything has sounded terribly confusing till now, all you need to know is that there's also a control to clear the confusion. Just press the iA button below the shutter release, and the GX1 goes into Intelligent Auto mode. In Panasonic's brilliant iA mode, you don't need to know anything about shutter speed, aperture setting or ISO sensitivity. All you need to do is frame the picture and press shoot. In that sense, the GX1 isn't just for the advanced user, but also easily available for the casual photographer, making it an ideal camera to share with the family.
The iA button is also handy when you have settings all manually primed for a different kind of shot, say, a landscape, when you spot a new, fleeting subject, like a cute cat, and have no time to switch settings. Switch to iA, let the camera dictate the settings, grab your shot, and switch off iA to get back to your original settings. Easy.