Earlier, I posted a Panasonic GM-1 ‘Taster’ article here. This explains a little of how I came to own this camera and why it appealed to me in the first place. I’ve also had fun shooting in a casual style I’m going to call ‘Raido Goriyama’, which is just a bit of fun. I’m sure some of you will understand what that means!
Panasonic GM-1 Review: Part 1 – Introduction
At this point, I have two choices: write a reasonably technical review or do something more subjective and hopefully more interesting for you and for me! Naturally, I chose the latter.
In the hand, the camera feels good. It is easily held, due to its small size (once can cradle the entire camera, rather than needing to ‘grip’ it) and the build quality is superb. The body is metal and the dials move very positively. Only the small door revealing the batter and SD card feel a little flimsy, along with the command dial, but considering their size, its perhaps not easy to make them feel solid. Neither will be an issue unless attacked, so I see no problem here. Overall, the camera does feel very well made and in keeping with the price tag.
Although I have been using my GM-1 for only a couple of months, I feel it is long enough to get a clear sense of how the camera and photographer are getting along. Some cameras would have me wanting to punt them into the nearest pond at this point, whereas others would have me somewhere on a scale running from ‘contented’ to ‘ecstatic’. The diminutive GM-1 has be somewhere in the region of ‘very happy, with sprinkles on top’. And I will leave you to figure out what on earth that means. I did say this was a non-technie review, right? 😉 Also, and very importantly I think, I have gone for a week or so at a time without picking the thing up, so I have a good sense of how easily it is to reconnect with operation-wise after other cameras have been in my hands.
I have thoroughly enjoyed using the GM-1, I look forward to using it and I feel a creative buzz when I pick it up. Few other cameras foster such enthusiasm and I can explain why I think the Panasonic ‘does it for me’. It is not that it is very small, or that it is very capable, it is that it manages to blend these two qualities to a far higher standard than anything else I have ever used. Sure, the Sony A7 performs to a higher standard in most areas, but the GM-1 is simply miles smaller. As you can see from the photos above, the body is about the size of a box of cigarettes and retracted, the lens protrudes about 3cm from the body (including the camera’s mount). You are always aware that you have a camera to hand with even the very small Sony A7 or Fujifilm X100/X100s, but with the GM-1 you can often forget entirely. What a wonderful feeling and your eyes and brain reward you….
With the GM-1, secured by a neat Gordy strap in my case, it is held with such ease and lack of effort that the process of exploring is that much more enjoyable. While this might seem a strange comparison, it reminds me of my Macbook Air, which changed what a notebook/laptop felt like. The Macbook Air is very slim and light and so can be stowed with ease within bags. Its no chore to carry and so you carry it, which means that you want to use it, which is also not a chore because it is very responsive due to its solid state drive. You open the lid, it awakens instantly, you type your notes or email, you flip the lid down and it goes to sleep: rinse and repeat. The GM-1 is similar; it is a photographic notebook, but with image quality capable of serious application.
Start up is excellent. AF is very quick. The shutter is effectively silent. Good start and to be honest this was completely unexpected form such a small camera packing a good punch. I was expecting a much more evident series of performance trade-offs… more on this later.
Ergonomics are ‘good’ but perhaps not ‘great’, owing to the small size of the camera and I suspect men will have a little more adjusting to do to ensure their fingers land in the right place with respect to dials and screens. The touchscreen is a wonderful addition and I find myself using it a lot. While it can result in accidental presses, this is nothing a bit of muscle memory training can’t fix. I find myself holding it like this, because it feels secure and prevents me touching the screen during carriage. Occasionally, I find that I have jogged the command dial, but I am now in the habit of checking the settings quickly, as shown on the screen, if I have been wandering about with it jostling around in my hand. It’s no biggie. Wake up from sleep is very quick, so no problems there.
Menu? What menu. It’s easy and intuitive to use and making adjustments to the main settings you are going to change is a doddle. Well-done Panasonic. You really do not need instructions with this camera.
The screen is bright, clear, non-laggy and generally faultless in my view. I am sure someone somewhere will be horrified at this verdict, but it’s my impression from using it extensively for my purposes.
The Kit Lens, Lenses and AF
The included 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 zoom surprised me with how good it is, but it’s not perfect. What’s good is that peak performance across the frame appears to come close to wide open (unless close up), at least in my sample. Stopping down really does not achieve much other than depth of field, although for close up work, stopping down does seem needed for good across the frame performance. Having 12mm (24mm on Full Frame) available at the wide end is vey welcome, although performance in the corners is a touch better at 14mm and beyond.
The pedestrian aperture speed of the lens is not going to suit itself to portraits, but what can be expected from a zoom lens of such dimensions? This is what primes are for. Personally, I find the kit zoom great for walk around purposes as it is stabilised, sharp, quick to focus and, well, just great at what it is supposed to do. The only negative comment I can make is that I’ve still not figured out optimum apertures at each focal length and have detected some slightly bizarre inconsistencies where edges just aren’t too sharp and I cannot figure out why. With the next frame and the next 99, it’s all very impressive. With some modern zooms, there are so many optical compromises being made that they are surprisingly complex to understand and need figuring out.
Image stabilisation is not something I have tested as such, but it seems you are getting a good couple of additional stops of stability here. The camera has a nicely weighted shutter release, which makes cleanly and gently tripping the shutter quite easy, so between the two, sharp frames down to single digit shutter speeds is usually not a problem.
The only downside to such a small camera, is that some of the M43 lenses seem big in comparison! Even the modestly proportioned Panasonic 45mm f1.8 looks like a cannon. The other issue is that some lenses, like the Panasonic 20mm f 1.7, have a diameter that reached beyond the baseplate of this camera, which make it sit badly on a table and looks odd. This does not mean the camera cannot be used with such lenses only that for optimum ‘synergy’ only the smallest M43 lenses seem ‘right’.
AF is very quick – quite a bit faster than the Sony A7, miles faster than the X100 and I would say noticeably quicker than the X100S I played with. The latter’s AF did not thrill me in the way I had hoped after all the talk of the ‘fastest AF in the world etc’. The GM-1 is not instant, but sometimes it’s not far off…
More to come in Part 2: Performance.
Update 12 March 2018: The GM-1 is no longer available, but the Panasonic GX800 is and that camera offers the same sort of performance with an even lower price tag. See below for Amazon UK links.