Camera Review – The Panasonic GX1.
Shooting with the Panasonic GX1 –
Now before the pixel peepers and gear heads tear this apart with various comparisons and references to other competitor cameras such as the Canon G1X or Olympus E-P3 I thought I should say that I’m writing this review for those who really want to know what shooting with the GX1 is like. This is also the first camera review I have written so if you have any critiscisms or comments please mention them below or send me an email.
Firstly a bit about how it came to be –
Ever since my Dad came home from a trip to Canada with the camera that started this line, the almighty Panasonic GF1; I’ve really enjoyed Panasonic cameras. I’m not sure if it’s the way they handle, the image quality or those lovely subdued colours the sensor produces but Panasonic m4/3 cameras have always been a bit special to me.
I could never quite justify purchasing my own GF1, partly because Dad already had one and also because I simply couldn’t afford it. I didn’t want to take my 5D Mk II out with me everywhere so I shot a ton of film instead. You could argue that accumulatively I probably spent more on film than I would of if I’d just saved for a GF1 or the likes but I’m sure wouldn’t of got some of the images I have. Anyway, with Kodak and Fuji’s film departments getting increasingly tighter and developing prices getting more expensive I finally took the initiative to seriously start researching m4/3 cameras. I’d been keeping my eye on what was happening and wasn’t too impressed by the next in line of the Panasonic G series being the GF2, 3 and 4.
Out comes the mighty GX1. From what I could initially see it was essentially a remodelled and buffed up GF1, with a large rubber handgrip on the front, slightly different button layout and a similar very sturdy construction.
I was happy with what the various reports and reviews had to say and quite impressed by the image quality I’d seen online, plus the genius of Panasonic and Olympus making m4/3 lens with the same mount meant I’d be able to (if I wanted or could afford) try some beautiful lens such as the Olympus 45mm 1.8.
Now it didn’t exactly fit my original criteria of must have a viewfinder and no touch screen but it did slide in nicely a bit under budget, so compromises were made and it was purchased.
Lens Choice and Focusing –
I bought this camera as a twin kit with the 14mm 2.5 Pancake and the standard 14-42 3.5 zoom lens. From previous experience with the GF1 and the superb 20mm 1.7 Pancake I already new I’d hardly touch the zoom lens. I bought the camera as a compact, pocket-able walk around and adding a zoom onto it defeats that purpose for me. If I want to get closer to compose the image I’ll just walk up. I did use the 14-42 once at a concert where I knew I’d be sitting quite far away and I was impressed by it. The images we’re sharp and it focused fast enough to capture the moments on stage. The 14mm Pancake is fantastic; it’s wide, fast and sharp enough at all apertures. At f2.5 it is sharp in the centre and even in the extremes it punches through with good enough quality and fairly minimal vignetting. I have found shooting at around f4 proves to just about be it’s sharpest overall. Focusing is fast and as accurate as you will ever need, I’m not a huge fan of the wire based manual focusing but it is something to get used to.
LCD/Touch Screen –
My initial reaction to the touch screen was that it was just something that would break and not be responsive enough to be really useful. How wrong I was. I immediately took a liking to the touch screen. It took a bit of getting used to and some figuring out but when used properly it can be an extremely effective tool. I especially like the ability to change the size of the focus area so I can be as selective or un-selective as I like (handy for street photography). The touch screen is responsive, tough* and fast. Touch to shoot works like a dream. My only real criticism of the touch screen is that there is no way to lock your selected focus area. I’ve been caught out shooting a few times when I’ve accidentally moved the focus area with out realising. Then, when quickly wanting to take a shot, I compose, assuming the focus point is on the same area, only to have it focus somewhere else and miss the shot.
*Please note since writing this review I have indeed cracked the touch screen. My fault though as it was in a sock for a case and it was crushed in my luggage during a weekend photoshoot. Touchscreen still functions perfectly and I will be looking at getting the screen fixed. I have also purchased a case for it.
Manual Control –
Now, as with a lot of m4/3 cameras, they are designed with the person in mind who wants SLR quality and functionality but with compact size. Obviously a big drawcard an SLR has over most other styles of cameras is the control and ease of use, especially when shooting in manual mode. Coming from a 5D MKII i’m used to using my thumb to control the aperture and my forefinger controlling my shutter speed. In my opinion these are located in the best positions for effectively changing my aperture and shutter speed combinations whilst shooting. With the GX1 you will notice there is only 1 operating dial (controls both aperture and shutter speed), which is located on the top right of the camera. To swap between aperture and shutter speed you simply click the dial in and it will immediately change. You may think this seems a bit iffy but really it is very effective. It is not as quick as a more traditional double operating dial configuration, though not by much, it is easy to use and really lends itself to the smaller size of the camera. The other main element of manual control is your ISO, thankfully it is conveniently located right there on the top of the four way d-pad and it takes one click to quickly be able to change between your varying options. The GX1 also offers two programmable function buttons, that you can change to display a varied assortment of functions if needed. I personally haven’t found them overly useful and have left them be. Changing white balance is just the same as changing your ISO with the WB button being on the right side of the d-pad. Overall manual control is quick, effective and super easy to use.
Overall I am incredibly impressed with the Panasonic GX1. It is a small un-assuming camera, which has the ability to produce incredible images. It is well made, sturdy and the touch screen does exactly what it is meant to. The only real downside that I can find to it is that there is no lock for the touch screen so the focus point doesn’t randomly shift on and also, the lack of a viewfinder; however the lock is a fairly minimal concern and adding a viewfinder would of added a considerable change in the layout, size and weight of the camera and most likely the price too. Panasonic have done a fantastic job at bringing back a much-loved classic in the GF1 but in a buffed up and higher powered body, which we know as the GX1.