Panasonic GM-1 Review: Part 2 – Performance
You can read the first part of the review here: Panasonic GM-1 Review: Part 1 – Introduction
So how does the sensor do? At low ISO (200-400) it’s super. 200 does have a visible edge over 400 if you look carefully, but it’s not anything to write home about. At 800 and above things are starting to slide noticeably and its crystal clear that cramming 16MP into a tiny sensor is taking a toll (I understand that the pixel density is significantly higher than in the 36 MP D800/A7R sensor). That said, with care in post processing, ISO 800 is usually ‘good’ and 1600, often ‘OK’, but this all depends on the nature of the image and the intended print size. For family snaps, printed to modest household dimensions, it really is a pocket rocket, but if you are looking for immaculate images, you will be seeing a good couple of stops more restriction in terms of ISO than with something like the 5D III or A7 with large prints. That’s the price that comes with a small sensor, but lets not forget how much larger the sensor is compared to the Sony RX100/RX100 II….
Compete with FF it cannot; however, I did not buy it to produce technically perfect images all the time, under the same conditions as my larger cameras. I bought it to have that notebook close to hand. I bought it to produce great family and travel snaps, as well as the interesting photos that come when you are just having fun with a camera in hand, whether sitting in a train carriage, or in my case, photographing the (hopefully) Taliban proof house I am living in.
You will notice that many of the shots in this article were shot at 6400 and at this speed, I very much like the look of the files converted to B&W and given graphic treatment. I ha had a lot of fun shooting in what I’ve come to term the Raido Goriyama look. Although not consciously applied, I’d say that it’s a dose of Ralph Gibson and Daido Moriyama. While we’re on the subject, this camera works beautifully for the Moriyama snapshot style. It has enough high ISO ‘legs’ to have allowed me to shoot most of the frames after nightfall in the limited artificial light available in this poppy palace, with the ‘lightweight around wrist experience’ that made the whole experience so appealing. Frankly, I loved it. They may not be the best images the world has ever seen, but I had a blast and that’s what matters, right? Now that I know the camera reasonably well, I would feel comfortable taking images for serious applications, so its not all about fun….
Regarding dynamic range, the GM-1 has been measured by DxO as in the same realm as the Canon 5d III (11.7 stops). In my experience, while this is true, the GM-1’s files do not suffer the same pattern noise/banding as the Canon files when the shadows are pushed hard, which is handy. All in all, I am very happy with the files, but due to the less high ISO performance compared to larger sensored cameras, you will want to nail exposure and not lift shadows too much due to the noise penalty.
White balance seems spot on. I cannot complain at all. Colour depth appears fine – very Canon like – but not quite as subtle and wide ranging as the Sony sensors in the Sony A7/A7r or the D600/800.
Under ‘serious’ shooting conditions, this camera can make effectively perfect A2 prints with no excuses, at low ISO. You are not going to see any real benefit from shooting something bigger. On centre, the results are absolutely razor sharp. Really. They are also very surprising at the edges (most of the time), but will clearly improve with a really good prime lens. This kit lens is very impressive most of the time, but once in a while, I am confused by softness I did not expect around the edges, and which comes and goes depending on aperture, focus distance and focal length. I will say this: while the 23mm prime on the X100 is faster, once stopped down to f5 on the GM-1 and F8 on the Fuji, there is not a lot (if anything) in it…. On centre, the GM-1 resolves more detail to my eye.
I for one am looking forward to pairing this little camera up with some faster optics, such as the Olympus 25mm f1.8 and possibly the 15mm Panasonic Leica f 1.7 when they finally produce it. As it stands, the compact Panasonic 14mm f2.5 appeals. Stopped down to f5/f5.6, if the 14mm f2.5 sharps across the frame, I cannot imagine a much better daytime street camera. So small… so fast and with superb results. This is the area where I am really excited about using it back in London. Street images are about the moment and were absolute technical quality to reign supreme, nobody would know the name Henri Cartier-Bresson. This camera makes capturing those moments easier than ever before, most because this is a camera you are likely to have everywhere you go. It fits neatly into my jacket pockets and around my wrist I can carry it all day with a smile. It’s a camera that will encourage you to explore, to have fun, to be silly, to take chances and to simply let your creative interests take control as the other competing considerations retreat into irrelevance (bulk, weight etc). What’s also handy, for the majority of street shooters, is the ease with which you can achieve considerable depth of field due to the small(er than full frame and APS-C) sensor and short focal lengths.
When I bought this camera, I can largely resolved to keep it simple and stick with only the kit lens, but the more I use it and the more I see it is capable of, the more interested I am in picking up a couple of primes and shooting specific projects on this camera out of preference. Its just great.
Sometimes by thumb strays off reservation and hits the touch screen and the same can be said of the command dial, but the more I use it the less this is an issue. I’m just learning to work with it, which is outrageous behaviour on my part in an era when everyone expects manufacturers to produce products free of compromise, which are perfect for everyone all the time. Sadly, this attitude is not going to help those people become better photographers, because it’s a ‘gear head’ mentality. The fact that a Leica M film camera can easily be shot without film inside (and without realising)… and loading can be tricky… and baseplates can fall on the floor in the process…. never stopped that camera becoming an absolute legend! So, after writing the paragraph above, I should perhaps have written ‘none’ under niggles, but did not think you would believe me, so wrote 150 words to make it more convincing 😉
Conclusion and Recommendations
Brilliant. Simply brilliant. No, it’s not perfect, but this is in part down to the compromises that come out of its very small size and modest cost.
It cannot out-gun a Sony A7 or D610 in the image quality department, but if you are looking for a photographic notebook to take everywhere, this camera will likely wow you. Compared to 22-24MP cameras at low ISO (if using comparable lenses) printed to A3+ you are not going to see any difference. At A2, you will need to look very, very closely and then may still fail to see a difference, but above that the bigger cameras will pull away. At higher ISOs, differences will be visible at smaller print sizes.
If you were driven a little crazy by the X100 menu and found it too big anyway…. If you want to be able to achieve reasonably slim depth of field with prime lenses and so ruled out the Sony RX100 II, this camera may well be right up your street. While there are those who say the GM-1 has no sensor-size advantage over the RX100 II, due to the much faster lens on the RX100, lets not forget that you can put fast lenses on the GM-1.
If you are looking for something fun to use, perhaps as an escape from your more serious photographic ventures, this camera is like a new skateboard to a kid.
If you have invested in the M43 system and perhaps own an Olympus OM-1 or OM-5, but want something teensy weensy for ‘walkabout’ this IS the camera for you. It will also provide you a neat back up body on those far-flung foreign adventures, at next to no weight. I can also guarantee you that, if you are such an owner, the little GM-1 will come out in preference to your bigger camera in some situations. It will feel leaner, lighter and just more appropriate some of the time.
The price of this camera seems to me to be very reasonable, considering what you get (body plus kit lens). Ask a mountaineer about the relationship between size/weight and price. In this light, it’s a miracle that the GM-1 costs as little as it does.
I see the only real competitor to this camera being the Sony RX100 II (see a technical sensor comparison here at DxO) which is slightly larger in body terms, but of course has a lens that retreats into the body (so overall the GM-1 is larger). Retreating lenses are fine until they break (or get sand inside), or you want another focal length. With the GM-1 you can change lenses, you can add new and wonderful lenses, which have not yet been designed! Personally, after some deliberation, I was convinced the GM-1 was a much better buy, for me. With lens attached it will not slip into an internal jacket chest pocket, but it will fit easily into external coat pockets, upper or lower. With that small compromise, you have so much more potential. A prime or two in other pockets and you have a formidable street/travel combo, with no bag to slow you down. With primes I can achieve shallower depth of field than I would with the RX100 too, so serious portraits are more achievable.
I’ll conclude by saying this: this is very possibly the most ‘useful and fun’ camera I have ever bought. It may not be the best at every task, but it puts in a very competent performance at them all. Most importantly, you’ll get to see its strengths and you’ll have shots where you wished it could do a little more, but you’ll have it with you.
Note 12 Mar 2018: The Panasonic GM-1 and it’s successor, have been discontinued. However, the Panasonic GX800 was created from the same mould and represents even better bang for the buck.