Digital Cameras Guide

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 review

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 - A Top Still Photography Companion

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Overall rating 9/10
Performance:
9
Design:
8.5
Features:
9
User-Friendliness:
9.5
THE GOOD
Fast and accurate auto-focus
Great ISO performance
Manual controls at fingertips
Plenty of customizable commands
Very easy to use camera
THE BAD
Awkward forced grip
X 14-42mm lens is difficult to use
Quick Menu button is close to edge


Design & Handling - The X Lens

Design & Handling - The Lumix G X 14-42mm Lens

In reviewing the Lumix GX1, we have to mention the new Lumix G X 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, as it's likely that Panasonic Singapore will offer the choice of either this or the older 14-42mm as the kit lens. The 'X' is supposed to denote a new premium lens series direct from Panasonic, without the Leica co-branding seen in their previous lenses.

While Panasonic's pancake lenses have been compact and convenient, they have also been fixed focal length lenses which cannot zoom. The X 14-42mm was designed to combine a pancake lens' compact size and the telephoto's zoom range. The lens eschews the traditional zoom ring and instead has a zoom toggle affixed on its side, similar to the zoom toggles you find on camcorders. There is also a manual focus toggle, below the zoom.

It was not love at first sight with this lens, but we wanted to give it a fair go. After having used it for a while, we still have to say that it hasn't grown on us.
 

The Lumix G Shuriken Logo

For starters, the entire aesthetic of the lens is quite loud, with the two zoom toggles swelling on the circumference of the lens. The 'X' logo on the lens doesn't invoke 'premium', instead it looks more like a shuriken bumper sticker out of Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift


 

Slow to Zoom, Confusing to Use

Secondly, the lens is confusing to use. Unlike a traditional lens, there are no focal length markings, so you cannot see at a glance what focal length your lens is in. Instead, you have to glance at the screen where a sliding indicator will show you the info, but only when you press the zoom toggle.

This was jarring on many levels. We would be holding the GX1 while walking, then bring the camera up for a shot and find ourselves at the wrong focal length. We couldn't twist the lens to the approximate focal length like on a traditional zoom lens, a quick motion which takes milliseconds, but we had to push the zoom toggle and wait while the lens zoomed. It just took too long.

There were times when we would push on the toggle and wonder why the lens wasn't moving, then realize we were pushing on the focus instead of the zoom toggle. Chalk this up to silliness on our part, but it happened once too often, even after extensive use of the lens. Because the two toggles feel almost exactly the same - the zoom toggle has a slightly wider surface, but both have the same shape and texture - it's almost impossible to distinguish either by feel. You might wonder why we didn't simply look at the lens, well, we had our eyes on the LCD, framing our subject, as we imagine every other photographer would be doing.

In short, the X 14-42mm lens was too frustrating to use while shooting photographs with the GX1. What benefits may be had - its small size - aren't enough to offset its deficiencies.


Better for Video?

It's quite conceivable that the X lens is better suited for shooting video than stills. It's difficult to achieve a smooth zoom with a traditional zoom ring, and the X lens' zoom toggle makes it easier. It's curious then, that the X 14-42mm lens is included with the GX1, a camera which doesn't seem geared towards shooting video at all.

The frame rates are limited for HD video: 1080/25p, 720/25p when recording in MP4, and 1080/50i (sensor output is 25p) and 720/50p (sensor output is 25p) when recording in AVCHD format. Essentially it means that the GX1 really record at 25p only (this is for the PAL version, NTSC records at 30p). And there's no 24p mode in either 1080 or 720. The GX1 also has no audio jack for an external microphone (even though it comes with microphone levels display).

We also imagine that anyone serious enough about shooting video would prefer working with primes, and not a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6. Perhaps if Panasonic wants to create a 'premium' line of lenses, it could consider making fixed aperture telephotos, a category sorely missing in the Micro Four Thirds catalog. Or take a page from Olympus and release a couple of high quality, appealing primes like the 24mm f/2 and the 45mm f/1.8.

All things considered, the X 14-42mm lens might make a good lens for the casual videographer who wants to grab a few smooth zooming shots. But it's not an easy to use lens for stills, so it won't make a good dual-function all-in-one solution for both stills and video.