We looked at a pre-production sample of the GX1 back in November. It greatly impressed us. Now Panasonic has started shipping the first finished units we've called one in and run it through our regular rigorous tests, to see whether it lived up to our expectations.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 is available now for around £450 body-only, or for around £550 in a kit with a 14-42mm lens.
Features and usability
The GX1 is built on Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds platform, here delivering 16 megapixels in a compact body with interchangeable lens. Buy it with a kit lens and you can choose from two 14-42mm f/3.5-f/5.6 units; one powered and one manual. The Micro Four Thirds system has a focal length multiplier of two, so each of these lenses acts like a 28-84mm unit on a 35mm camera.
If you've opted for the powered lens, the primary zoom is on the left side of its stubby barrel and replicated on the rear display, where a four-step slider zooms in and out at two speeds in each direction. What those speeds are is up to you, as you can set the zoom independently for stills and video shooting modes to high, medium or low.
This is just one of many touchscreen controls, as many of the GX1's core features are presented in a similar manner. Switch to full auto mode, for example, and you can use the neat defocus feature for blurring your subject's surroundings. In effect you're playing with the aperture here, but it's presented in a more friendly manner for less experienced users.
The Q menu, which runs across the bottom of the screen and is again controlled by tapping directly, can be fully customised by dragging those settings on which you rely most often into empty blocks on the menu strip. So, if you only ever want to change sensitivity, image quality and white balance, you can drag out everything else, and drag these in.
Further options present themselves while shooting, such as the built-in level gauge. This is a line that runs across the display; line this up with the horizon and then tilt the camera until it changes from yellow to green and you know it's perfectly square. This works in both landscape and portrait mode, and within it there's a further tilt gauge, which shows green when the camera is held level in front of you, but yellow if you're tilting the lens either up or down.
You need more feedback? Not a problem. How about a live histogram to show when your frame is under or over exposed? You can position this where you like, hiving it off into one corner if you find it distracting, but for our money we'd rather take advantage of the fact that it's semi-transparent and leave it in its default position: square and centre in the middle of the level gauges. You can still see your subject through it.
There's plenty here for advanced photographers to get their teeth into, but Panasonic hasn't forgotten the more ambitious beginner. As well as full auto there are 17 scene modes to choose from, covering all the usual bases, including portrait, pets and party, and a creative control menu with retro, high key and toy effects, among others.
When you've found a combination of settings that you want to save for future use, there are two further slots on the mode selector -- C1 and C2 -- in which they can be stored, while four custom buttons, two on the body and two in the on-screen menus give direct access to whichever controls you assign them.
We performed our first batch of tests under very overcast conditions, yet the GX1 made great use of the available light to nonetheless produce realistic, often vibrant colours at fairly conservative levels of sensitivity.
The image below was shot at half past three, in drizzle, on a December afternoon at ISO 160 (f/3.5, 1/125 second exposure), yet the light within the frame is extremely well balanced. There is a wealth of detail in the underside of the white boat, and no sign of chromatic aberration where the highly contrasting rigging passes over the pale sky.
Chromatic aberration is an undesirable effect in which the lens fails to exactly focus each wavelength of available light in the same position on the sensor. The result, absent here, is a coloured fringe running along the edge of strong contrasts such as branches, window frames and ropes.
We switched to the GX1's Intelligent Auto mode so that it could decide on the appropriate shooting settings. Again, it performed extremely well, with the dockside below well balanced, with a neat tailing off of levels towards the shadow end of the spectrum and no loss of detail in the darker portions of the frame.