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Panasonic Lumix GX1 Compact Digital Camera Review

January 19 2012

by Philip Northeast

The Lumix GX1 is the latest of Panasonic’s Compact System Cameras, or mirror less interchangeable lens cameras.

The aim of mirror less camera design is providing DSLR like image quality and versatility with the convenience of camera that is as easy to carry as a compact Point and Shoot digital camera.

“Panasonic expects the LUMIX GX1 to please a lot of photo enthusiasts who have been eager for a technology upgrade comparable to the LUMIX DMC-GF1, which continues to be a very popular digital camera with dedicated followers who appreciate the compact size, yet high quality of photos and video,” said Darin Pepple, Senior Product Manager, Imaging, Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company.

Panasonic Lumix GX1 front view with the  new compact zoom

Panasonic Lumix GX1 front view with the new compact zoom

The mirror less cameras are for Point and Shoot photographers upgrading their cameras who perceive DSLR systems as complex, large, and expensive.

To cut costs and size manufacturers did away with the reflex mirror of the DSLR’s optical Through The Lens viewfinder system. Without the precision mechanical and optical components the camera bodies have much less depth compared to a DSLR.  The GX1 camera body is about 40 mm deep, compared to 76 mm for a compact DSLR camera body such as the Nikon D3100.

The usual downfall of this compact intention is the lens. To get full advantage of the compact size the main lens choice for mirror less cameras has been a pancake style prime lens. To get the focal length flexibility of a Point and Shoot camera, photographers needed to use a bulky zoom owing much in its design base to existing DSLR thinking.

Panasonic addressed this issue with a new micro four thirds zoom lens for the GX1.  This needed some new thinking because by making it so compact there is little room for a zoom ring to hold and operate, along with a focusing ring.  The new lens has power zoom capabilities similar to Point and Shoot technology zooming familiar to most GX1 owners.

The Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 Power O.I.S. zoom lens adds about $US250 to the price of the camera compared to $US100 for current 14-42 zoom.

Adorama have the Panasonic  Lumix GX1with the new lens currently listed at $US949.

Panasonic Lumix GX1 in use

Panasonic Lumix GX1 in use

The size difference is significant, the new lens is only 27mm long when the camera is turned off, while the older 14-42 zoom is 64mm long.  Even the pancake 20mm prime is 46mm long. Clearly if size and convenience are important factors in choosing the Lumix GX1, then the extra expense of the new lens is justified.

The Sony kit lens for the NEX-C3 is 60mm long on a similar size camera body to the Panasonic GX1 and the kit lens for the Nikon J1 is 61mm long. Generally the camera bodies are similar in size with depth ranging from 30mm for the Nikon to just under 40mm for the Lumix GX1.

Adding the lens changes the size of the camera, with the slightly deeper body of the Lumix GX1 being offset by the compact lens, giving it an overall depth of around 67mm, while the compact Nikon 1 body goes out to 91mm. Most of the mirror less cameras have general purpose zoom lens longer than the camera body, making them look a like a lens with tiny camera attached. The Panasonic Lumix GX1 has a clear advantage in compact mirror less camera stakes using the new zoom lens

DxOMark Performance Tests

The Lumix GX1 excels in the convenience stakes, but in the DxOMark lab comparisons it falls behind the Sony NEX-C3 , while matching the Nikon J1.

 

DxOMark score summary

DxOMark score summary for Lumix GX1, Nikon 1 J1, and Sony NEX-C3

This is not surprising as the Sony uses the larger APS-C size senor commonly found in DSLRS.

The larger senor helps the Sony NEX-C3 produce cleaner  digital photos with less distortion due to electrical noise. This is more noticeable at high ISO settings in low light conditions.   The GX1 does have an advantage over the Nikon J1,not only in the amount of noise produced, but with a wider range of ISO settings

 

 

DxOMark noise

The Panasonic Lumix GX1 is in the middle of the Sony NEX-C3 and Nikon J1 for noise performance according to DxOMark

 

The other important performance indicator is Dynamic Range.  This is a neglected area digital camera performance. Dynamic Range is how much light, from dark to bright, the camera captures.  This is in scenes with bright light that casts shadows on the scene. When the camera’s dynamic range runs out part of the image is either all white, or all black, with little visible detail. Cameras with better dynamic range capture details in theses areas. Because bright light is involved normally the ISO is set to the minimum value.

The DxOMark results show the Lumix GX1 has a pronounced peak in dynamic range at its lowest ISO setting.  This peak puts it about the same as the Nikon J1 for practical dynamic range, but both trail the Sony NEX-C3.

 

DxOMark dynamic range

The Dynamic Range performance varies unusually with ISO , but jumps noticeably at the important low ISO setting

Auto Focus Performance

Panasonic are making a big deal over the focusing performance of the GX1, particularly the accuracy of their Contrast detect AF system compared to the Phase Difference system used in the best DLSRs, on the market.

This is only one aspect of Auto Focus performance and does not address the focusing speed issues in real life situations. Top photographers prefer speed over accuracy in Auto Focus because in sports and journalism it is all about capturing the decisive moment. For accurate focusing DSLR photographers use the high quality optical viewfinder built into the cameras that use the reflex mirror to view the scene through the lens and manually adjust the focus.

focus accuracy

Panasonic’s theoretical focus accuracy chart

The other interesting aspect is that most of the lenses in the Lumix line up have relatively small maximum apertures so they are operating in the area where there is no real difference in the focusing accuracy between the two technologies.

Ignoring the marketing hype, the Lumix GX1 should have much faster AF performance than Point and Shoot digital cameras and not suffer from their noticeable shutter lag. The GX1 does share the touch screen focus point selection and focus tracking capability of the Lumix G3.

“The LUMIX GX1 is an extremely flexible and capable digital camera with fast AF speeds and outstanding image quality.  Plus with a built-in flash and a hot shoe allowing for accessories like an external view finder, the GX1 is a powerful compact system camera that is small enough to be a photographer’s everyday camera choice,” said Pepple.

Viewfinder

The Lumix GX1 does not a have built in viewfinder and photographers have to rely on the rear LCD screen to compose and focus their images. This should be familiar to users of compact digital cameras, but experienced photographers will miss a real viewfinder.  The lack of viewfinder is a compromises Panasonic made to achieve a compact design for the GX1.

Panasonic GX1 back LVF2

Panasonic GX1 back view with viewfinder attached

There is an accessory electronic viewfinder that clips onto the hot shoe. Not only is it bulky but it presents problems if photographers want to use an external flash as well as the electronic viewfinder.

Video

The Lumix GX1 has a range of sophisticated options and aids to help with exposure and focusing. Naturally it can record HD video and has a stereo sound microphone system in the camera.

Flash   

The GX1 has a pop up flash unit built in, but Panasonic included a standard hot shoe mount for external flash units.

Lenses 

The GX1 has a micro four thirds lens mount that Panasonic shares with Olympus. This means GX1 owners can choose from an increasing range of lens from Olympus and specialist lens manufacturers such as Sigma and Voigtlander are starting to produce lenses for this system.

Panasonic Lumix GX1 lens family

Panasonic Lumix GX1 interchangeable lens family

Battery Life

Panasonic say they have reduced power consumption in the GX1 to 11% less than the Lumix G3 that uses the same type of battery.

 

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