Panasonic Lumix GX1 channels the spirit of the GF1

Despite its X-series moniker, the latest Micro Four Thirds camera from Panasonic uses the (good) design of an older GF series model.

The GX1 will ship in a kit with the new X series 14-42mm power zoom lens, though you can also get it with the traditional lens. Panasonic

I happen to like the Pansonic Lumix DMC-GF3 for what it is: a model that delivers the photo quality and speed that point-and-shoot upgraders are looking for in a size substantially smaller than a dSLR and with an interface that's familiar to them.

But when it came out, I heard quite a few grumblings from people who wanted the real successor in the GF series. They didn't mind the slightly bigger size in exchange for a physical mode dial and hot shoe. Well, it looks like Panasonic heard those grumblings, too. Or perhaps it was always in the master plan. In any case, the Micro Four Thirds-based Lumix DMC-GX1 looks like what the successor to the GF1 should have been. And I have to say, on paper--and in photos--it looks like a very promising offering.

Everybody seems to be pretending the GF2 never happened; even Panasonic compares the GX1 to the GF1 in its press release. Admittedly, we gave the GF1 an Editors' Choice and considered the GF2 a lackluster follow-up, but it's still a very good camera. But the nostalgia's also possible because the design hearkens back more to the earlier model, most notably with the return of the physical mode dial, which Panasonic dropped from the GF2. It's actually a little bigger than that model, longer and deeper, but the depth comes from a slightly bigger grip and I can't fault it for that.

The "X" in the product name is a bit misleading. Panasonic will offer it in a kit with the new X series zoom lens that was announced this summer, but it will also be available with the older 14-42mm lens or in a body-only configuration. Otherwise, it's just a modest update of the two GF models that precede it to bring it up to currency. It incorporates the sensor that's in the G3 (not the more advanced sensor from the GH2, despite the resolution similarity) and the current Light Speed autofocus architecture. Other additions to the camera are an electronic level and a one-button autoexposure override.

Here's a summary of its specs compared with its siblings:

 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
Sensor (effective resolution)16-megapixel Live MOS12.1-megapixel Live MOS12.1-megapixel Live MOS16-megapixel Live MOS16.1-megapixel Live MOS
17.3 x 13.0mm17.3 x 13.0mm17.3 x 13.0mm17.3 x 13.0mm17.3 x 13.0mm
Focal-length multiplier2.0x2.0x2.0x2.0x2.0x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 6400ISO 160 - ISO 12,800ISO 160 - ISO 12,800
Continuous shooting 4fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
unlimited JPEG/9 raw
5.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
magnification/ effective magnification
1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x magnification
1.5 million dots
100% coverage
1.42x/0.71x magnification
Autofocus23-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF
Shutter speed 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 2 minutes 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/160 x-sync60-1/4000 sec; 1/160 x-sync60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 2 minutes; 1/160 sec x-sync1/4000 to 60 secs; bulb up to 2 minutes; 1/160 x-sync
Metering144 zone144 zone144 zone144 zone144 zone
Image stabilizationOpticalOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
On-camera flashYesYesYesYesYes
Video AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17 Mbps; 720/60p @ 17 Mbps 1080/60i/50i @ 17, 13 Mbps
720/60p @17, 13 Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
1080/60i/50i @ 17 Mbps
720/60p @17 Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
AVCHD: 1080/60i/50i @ 17, 13 Mbps
720/60p/50p @17,13 Mbps: MPEG-4: 1080/30p/25p @ 20Mbps
AVCHD 1080/60i/50i/24p (60p sensor output) @ 24, 17, 13Mbps; 720/60p @ 17, 13Mbps
QuickTime MOV Motion JPEG
AudioStereoStereoMonoStereo Stereo, mic input
LCD size3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 250 shots 300 shots 320 shots310 shots 340 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.5 x 3.3 x 1.8 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.3 4.2 x 2.6 x 1.3 4.6 x 2.7 x 1.64.9 x 3.5 x 3.0
Body operating weight (ounces)11.8 (est)119.311.2 (est)17.8
Mfr. pricen/a$499.95 (body only, est)$499.95 (body only, est)$699.99 (body only)$899.95 (body only)
$699.99 (with 14-42mm lens) $599.95 (with 14-42mm lens) $599.95 (with 14-42mm lens) $949.99 (with X PZ 14-42mm lens)$999.95 (with 14-42mm lens)
n/a $699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens) $699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens)$799.99 (with standard 14-42mm lens)$1499.95 (with 14-140mm lens)
Ship dateJune 2011January 2011July 2011December 2011December 2010

You can see the price premium you pay for the new lens is about $150. It's more compact than the old version and optimized for video, which makes it kind of annoying that the camera doesn't support 1080p. The camera's also a lot more expensive than the GF2 for no obvious reason in terms of capabilities; we're used to getting a faster AF system and higher-resolution sensor for the same price. (It's possible there are economic reasons, though.) True, the maximum ISO sensitivity has gone up a stop, but I'll have to wait to test it before I can say that it's meaningful.

Here's where it sits relative to similarly priced competitors:

 Nikon 1 V1Olympus E-P3Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1Samsung NX200Sony Alpha NEX-5N
Sensor (effective resolution)10-megapixel CMOS12.3-megapixel Live MOS16-megapixel Live MOS20.3-megapixel CMOS16.1-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
13.2 x 8.8 mm 17.3mm x 13mm17.3 x 13.0mm23.5mm x 15.7mm23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier2.7x2.0x2.0x1.5x1.5x
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded)ISO 200 - ISO 12,800ISO 160 - ISO 12,800ISO 100 - ISO 12,800ISO 100 - ISO 25,600
Continuous shooting5fps
(60fps with fixed AF and electronic shutter)
3.0 fps
unlimited (LN) JPEG/17 raw
unlimited JPEG/9 raw
11 JPEG/9 raw
3 fps
unlimited JPEG/6 raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
mag/ effective magnification
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
phase detection, 135-area contrast AF
35-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF15-point contrast AF25-area contrast AF
Shutter speed30 - 1/16,000; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/4000 FP sync60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 2 minutes; 1/160 sec x-sync30-1/4000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes30-1/4000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Meteringn/a324 area144 zone221 segment1200 zone
FlashIncluded optionalYesYesIncluded optionalIncluded optional
Image stabilizationOpticalSensor shiftOpticalOpticalOptical
Video1080/60/ 30p; 720/60p H.264 MPEG-4 QuickTime MOVAVCHD: 1080/60i @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13MbpsAVCHD: 1080/60i/50i @ 17, 13 Mbps
720/60p/50p @17,13 Mbps: MPEG-4: 1080/30p/25p @ 20Mbps
720/30p H.264 MPEG-4AVCHD: 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4
Manual shutter speed and aperture in videoYesYesYesYesYes
AudioStereo; mic inputStereo; mic inputStereo StereoStereo; mic input
LCD size3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
3-inch fixed OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed AMOLED
614,000 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating)350 shots330 shots310 shots330 shots430 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD)4.4 x 3.0 x 1.7 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.44.6 x 2.7 x 1.64.6 x 2.5 x 1.44.4 x 2.4 x 1.6
Body operating weight (ounces)12 (est)13.011.2 (est)9 (est)9.3 (without flash)
Mfr. pricen/an/a$699.99 (body only)n/a$599.99 (body only)
$899.95 (with 10-30mm lens)$899.99 (with 14-42mm lens) $949.99 (with X PZ 14-42mm lens)$899.99 (with 18-55mm i-Function lens)$699.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$1,149.95 (dual lens kit)$899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens)$799.99 (with standard 14-42mm lens)n/an/a
Ship dateOctober 2011August 2011December 2011September 2011September 2011

This is a widely varying crowd with a variety of designs, and the least expensive--the Sony--has one of the better feature sets. But I really like the way the Panasonics operate, and I'd be thrilled if the JPEG processing is better in the GX1. And it's important that those new Panasonic X lenses should be usable on Olympus cameras (though I'm not sure if the necessary firmware updates are already in place), which could also affect your buying choices; the cheaper E-PL3 has the attractive tilting LCD, after all. I'm definitely looking forward to giving this one a whirl.

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