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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Review
Sunday, July 8, 2012  
The Lumix DMC-GX1 is an addition to Panasonic's growing G-series family of micro four-thirds cameras. First impressions are that the GX1 is the successor to the popular DMC-GF1. Both GX and GF models attempt to lure those committed to compact cameras with the ability to upgrade, albeit modestly, to a small, lightweight camera with an interchangeable lens. On the other end of the spectrum, DSLR owners might be looking for a smaller, lighter alternative with some manual controls and RAW capability that they can take anywhere. And, for our testing purpose, we are most interested in how this camera performs as a travel companion.

We immediately could see Panasonic DNA in the GX1 and there are similarities even with your pedestrian (by comparison) DMC-ZS20, which we absolutely love at CruiseReport.com. The GX1 employs the same 16MP sensor found in the DMC-G3, although max ISO has been pushed to 12,800. For those who demand a viewfinder, Panasonic has introduced the DMW-LVF2 that fits onto the camera's hot shoe.

Panasonic's touchscreen has been updated with a cool new level gauge. An orientation sensor will automatically rotate vertical images for viewing. The touchscreen works well and is relatively easy to see in bright conditions. But if you do a lot of outdoor shooting, you will probably want the LVF2 viewfinder option. If you want an articulated LCD touchscreen and built-in viewfinder, you would need to step up to the DMC-G3, but you will gain extra bulk as well.

Our test unit came with the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 OIS lens. This is a good general purpose lens for travel photography. It is compact, lightweight, and offers a good wide-angle field of view. Of course, Panasonic has a wide range of lenses available for the GX1, which makes this platform an attractive option.

The GX1 is a great option for enthusiasts who are looking for high-quality images from a compact size, while still retaining the ability to change lenses.

DESIGN

The styling of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 sends the message that this camera means business. This camera is designed for those who are interested in function over form. The touchscreen is perhaps the most notable high-tech design feature of the GX1. You can invoke the autofocus by simply tapping on any portion of the screen. This is great for pulling focus on the fly while shooting video. And, you can even change the size of the focus point from the touchscreen. There are more than 15 different settings that can be adjusted using the Quick Menu (Q. Menu) and the Touch Tab is a new concept that displays control functions from a hidden dock.

Unlike some of Panasonic's other touchscreen systems which seemed hell bent on replacing all physical controls and buttons, the GX1 instead gives the user a nice combination of on-screen control combined with old-school physical buttons. I actually prefer the touch and feel of the physical controls. The GX1 is a very nice design for a casual user. You can become familiar with the functions in one afternoon of shooting and from then on, the camera is very intuitive. A typical Panasonic trait.


The built-in flash extends from the top of the body with the push of a button. It springs to life on a double hinge that sort of shocks you the first time you deploy it. But, the action is smooth, fast and reliable. It also extends the flash far enough from the sensor and lens to prevent shadowing, at least with the 14-42 lens we used for testing.

When recording video, stereo sound is captured through two microphones located on top of the camera in front of the hot shoe. You can adjust the sound record levels and there is a wind cut filter option. Unfortunately, there is no external mic jack.

The camera controls on top consist of a power switch, mode dial, shutter release, movie record and iA buttons. There is no zoom switch since this is found on the lens itself. The iA button has a blue ring that illuminates when it is engaged and it replaces the iA mode on the dial. I actually like the iA button design as opposed to the mode dial option. No matter what mode you are in, you can instantly and quickly switch to iAuto. I wish they would add this to the ZS20!

Another great feature that this camera has over our ZS20 is the playback button (instead of a switch). Located on the rear of the GX1, you can play back recorded images by pressing the PLAY button. Press any other button (e.g. shutter release) and the camera switches from Playback to Record mode instantly.

On the right side of the GX1 body you will find the ports covered by a plastic cover that flips open. There is the ubiquitous mini-HDMI port, mini-USB and a remote jack.

USING THE GX1

A good camera design should not intimidate the user. In this respect, the GX1 shines. You can pop in the battery, flip the power switch, press the iA button and 9 times out of 10, anyone can take a great picture with this camera. That alone makes this a great travel companion. One thing people routinely do when they travel is hand their camera to a friend, or complete stranger, to have them take their photo. If the camera is too complicated, you are out of luck.

The basic functions of the camera are obvious and prominent. Many users may never need to delve into the many customizable and manual functions that this camera offers. For example, perhaps you are buying the GX1 simply because it has the ability to record RAW images. You could use this camera as you would use your ZS20 and never feel uncomfortable.

For those of you who do want the extra functionality, there is an abundance of external controls, and, a responsive  touchscreen interface that come together quite nicely. Anyone familiar with Panasonic's menu system will feel right at home navigating through the GX1's menus. And, you can customize the four function (Fn) buttons to make going back into the menus unnecessary for repetitive tasks.

The On-Off switch is a much better design than on our ZS20, which can inadvertently be switched on when placed in your pocket or a carrying case. The power switch on the GX1 requires a firmer tug. The movie record button is located a little too close to the shutter release, but is recessed to avoid accidentally pressing it when trying to shoot a still photo.

The 4-way rocker controller provides ISO, WB, drive mode and AF mode controls surrounding a menu/SET button. There is also an AF/MF button. Even though all of the manual buttons are small and can be tedious to access, especially in a hurry, at least they exist!

I was pleased with how the GX1 responded quickly to user input. The speed of the interface is excellent, whether you are changing exposure parameters, switching between playback and record modes, etc. The camera responds instantly.

SUMMARY

Once again, Panasonic finds a way to impress us. We still prefer our little DMC-ZS20 for everyday travel photo duties simply because we do not require all of the features of the GX1. However, having the RAW file recording capability would definitely be a plus. If you find yourself stuck between pulling the trigger on a DSLR and know that a pocket digital will never satisfy your needs, the GX1 is a great choice. You really do get the best of both worlds, and then some!


What We Like:

  • Level Gauge
  • RAW file capability
  • ISO 160-12,800
  • 3.0", 460k dot LCD
  • Full AVCHD 1080/60i video (from 30fps sensor output)
  • Four programmable Function (Fn)

SAMPLE PHOTOS

Click the thumbnails below to see the full-size image.












   

SAMPLE VIDEO



     
     
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