In the not too distant past, you had to choose between size or power for a digital camera. Now however, you can have your cake and eat it too. The Panasonic Lumix GM1 is a sterling example of a camera that can be compact, well-made and powerful at the same time.
The GM1 will appeal to two camps. For the casual user, the GM1 presents a portable, well-made body, with an easy to use touchscreen. For the prosumer, the GM1 comes with the same sensor as the one in the higher-end GX7, a Mode dial, one customizable FN button, five more digital Fn buttons, and a single control wheel on the back, as well as the option to swap out lenses from the Micro Four Thirds library.
The first thing you notice about the GM1 is how impossibly small it is for a camera with a Micro Four Thirds sensor and an interchangeable lens mount. Toget her with the 24-64mm (35mm equivalent) kit lens, the GM1 weighs a mere 361g; you hardly notice it in the bag.
Paradoxically, the GM1 is almost too light and too small. The front side of the camera is smooth, and coupled with its featherweight, makes me feel like I’m about to lose grip at times. Panasonic sells a grip which can screw on, it doesn’t add much size and weight but it’s extra cost.
The rear controls can feel a bit cramped, but since the emphasis here is on size I feel it’s a good trade-off. The rear wheel takes over exposure control in PASM mode, and helps when you want a little bit of manual adjustment. The touch-screen offers a quick way to adjust focus by simply tapping, and the Quick Menu activated by the Q.Menu button gives you quick access to vital settings.
Panasonic does one of the best UIs among cameras today, and beginners to experienced users should find it easy to navigate their way around. Plus, the GM1 comes with built-in Wi-Fi, which is a must in today’s photo-sharing age.
That said, there are two design decisions which don’t seem to translate well to a smaller screen. The Touch Tab, a digital drawer to the right of the screen which can expand for more controls, feels cramped and all too easily activated by accident here. It’s turned on from the start, but for a casual user it offers too much complexity by default. The other is an on-screen delete button which shows up when previewing images, on such a small screen it’s way too easy to accidentally tap on it when looking through pictures. It does fade away after a couple of seconds, but would have been better without.
The kit lens folds nicely into itself for compact keeping but has a short 2.6x optical zoom range. You have to unlock the lens by twisting it in order to use it, which does add an additional step to the shooting process. While the GM1’s small size doesn’t mount well with the bigger MFT lenses, it’s perfect with smaller primes and pancake lenses like the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7.
The biggest disappointment however, is the camera’s short battery life, approximately 220-230 images on a full charge. By contrast, Sony’s RX100 II compact camera can get about 350 shots per charge.
But in the end, the trade-offs feel like they’re worth it for the GM1’s design, portability and ease of use. Its magnesium alloy frame makes it feel sturdy and adds a touch of class to its gorgeous retro-inspired look. The on-screen UI makes it easy to handle, and manual handling is there if you must have it. Just remember to charge it or bring a second battery.