In late 2009, Panasonic released the Lumix GF1, which turned out to be a wildly popular camera. Panasonic too the GF series in another direction with the GF2 and GF3 however, tailoring them to the casual user, simplifying them, which ended up alienating the enthusiasts. The GX1, despite being the first in a new series, with its focus on user control and portable power, is really the spiritual successor of that original camera.
The GX1 comes with a brand new 16MP Live MOS sensor. Its high-speed Venus engine promises quick AF speeds of 0.09 seconds, slightly faster than the G3 and GF3’s already quick AF speeds of 0.1 seconds. It shoots up to 4.2 frames per second at full resolution, and 1920x1080 pixels full HD video with stereo sound. The touch-screen introduced in the GF2 remains, with a new feature called the Touch Tab.
Battery life is shorter than the GF1 though, which was rated good for 350 to 380 shots at full charge, while the GX1’s battery is rated to last 300-340 shots. The GX1 is slightly smaller than the GF1 by about 3mm on each side, and lighter by about 13g, but includes even more physical controls; the physical Mode dial, which went missing on the GF2 and GF3, makes a comeback with two Custom modes.
The Lumix GX1 comes in two colors, black and silver. While the silver body looks more sophisticated with the two-tone contrast playing between the silver body and the black grip, the white text on the silver body may not be as clear as on the black body.
You should try and see if the GX1’s grip ap0peals to you. In theory, the molded black grip should improve the GX1’s handling, but I could never get comfortable with it. Because it’s so aggressively shaped, it forces you to hold the GX1 in a certain way instead of giving you the liberty of holding it any way you’d like so I would suggest trying it out for yourself before buying this camera.
Life the GF1, with its wealth of physical controls, the GX1 is an ideal compact for the enthusiast photographer. The GX1 however goes one step further with added touch-screen controls to make the camera even more intuitive to use. For example, to manually set a focus area, you can tap right on the d-pad, select the 1-Area AF mode, then move the AF target around the screen to position it. Of you can simply tap the screen when you’re in the 23-Area AF mode, and the GX1 will confine its auto-focus efforts to that area of the screen you tapped.
The Quick Menu button to the bottom left of the d-pad calls up a list of controls on the screen, like flash, image quality and photos styles. And yes, these controls can be customized too. Don’t be fooled by the two C (Custom) modes on the Mode dial – there in fact four Custom modes available, one set to C1, and three can be set on C2, then selected via the menu. The dual function rear control dial, a long favorite on Panasonic G cameras gives you quick and easy access to shutter speed/aperture and exposure compensation control.
The GX1 introduces a new feature to Panasonic’s touch-screen stable. The Touch Tab is a drawer of touch commands – think of it like a small Mac OS X dock – which you can tap to show or hide. On show, you get four additional touch commands, touch to zoom, touch to shoot, and two digital Function controls which can be customized (that brings the total number of Function keys on the GX1 to four).
In short, the GX1 handles like a dream for photographers who love to be able to manipulate the camera’s settings quickly and easily. We only see one shortcoming; the Quick Menu button feels too small and awkwardly places for comfort, sitting right on the edge of the camera, and squeezed in-between the d-pad and the end of the back plate.
In case everything has sounded terribly confusing till now, all you need to know is that there’s also a control to clear the confusion. Just press the iA button below the shutter release, and the GX1 goes into intelligent Auto mode. In Panasonic’s brilliant iA mode, all you need to do is frame the picture and shoot. Because of iA, the GX1 isn’t just for the advanced user, but also easily available for the casual photographer, making it an ideal camera to share with the family.
In reviewing the Lumix GX1, we have to mention the new Lumix GX 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens which launches with the camera. 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 a 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 toggle you find on camcorders. There is also a manual focus toggle, below the zoom. Unfortunately, the lens is confusing to use. Unlike a traditional lens, there are not 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; it also takes too long to zoom.
The 16MP sensor inside the Lumix GX1 is Panasonic’s latest and greatest, building on the success of the sensor launched with the G3. In my opinion, the GX1 has the best looking images yet seen from a Micro Four Thirds camera.
The GX1 produces images with deep and rich colors, with especially vivid reds, and it garners a high 2200 x 2200LPH from our resolution chart. It also manages image noise quite impressively, striking a good balance between keeping image detail and curtailing noise – in fact, it has the best ISO performance we’ve seen yet. We’d shoot comfortably with the GX1 up to ISO1600, and it retains more detail than its closest competitor the E-P3 at this setting.
The Panasonic Lumix GX1 presents an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary upgrade from the GF1. In fact, you could pretty much think of the GX1 as the GF2, as if that actual GF2 had never happened. Those who have waited two years for a new GF1 may feel a little disappointed (even ourselves) that the GX1 doesn’t take a giant revolutionary leap, especially since both Sony and Fujifilm have redefined the mirror less camera with the NEX7 and the X100 respectively.
Have we changed our minds after having used the GX1 sports a combination of quick and accurate auto-focus, image quality and plethora of controls laid right at the photographer’s fingertips. The only thing we don’t like is the unconformable and forced grip, which can be a subjective experience, and the X 14-42mm lens, which is difficult to use for still photography. You can easily try the GX1’s grip in retail stores for yourself, and opt for the standard non-X14-42mm kit lens if you want to focus on still instead of video.
The GX1 currently sits among the cream of the crop of all mirror less system cameras today, and it is easy to recommend, especially so for GF1 users who have been waiting a while to upgrade.