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Panasonic Lumix CM1 may be the ultimate photography phone (hands-on) The Panasonic Lumix CM1 aims to be the pinnacle of smartphone photography thanks to its huge image sensor and high-quality Leica optics.

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Photographers, say hello to your next phone.

It's called the Panasonic Lumix CM1 and it's best thought of as a high-quality compact camera with a top-end phone squashed into it. Its metal and leather-effect rubber body houses a huge 1-inch sensor that delivers 20-megapixel shots in JPEG and raw, it uses a 28mm Leica lens and offers full manual control of settings.

Panasonic doesn't officially consider it a phone at all, instead calling it a "communication camera". I can see why -- from the design of the thing to its wealth of photography features, it's certainly far more camera than it is phone. It does operate just as any other Android phone would however and supports 4G LTE for super-fast data speeds.

It has a 4.7-inch full HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) display, a 2.3GHz quad-core processor and it runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat software.

Take a look at Panasonic's phone built for photographers (pictures)

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That's a potent lineup of kit all round, so it's perhaps no surprise that it comes with an eye-watering price tag. At its press conference at CES, Panasonic announced it would go on sale in the US for $999.

It's available now in the UK for £799, although in very limited quantities. You can find it in Dixons, in Harrods and Heathrow, as well as Jessops on Oxford Street in London -- which only has one remaining at the time of writing. Specific retailers and further availability in the UK or the wider world are as yet unknown. In Australia, the UK price would convert to roughly AU$1,500.

With such a high price, it's easy to argue that it makes more sense to just use a regular Android phone and simply carry a better camera when you want to take proper photos. Indeed, for most of you, that will certainly be the better option. If however, as I do, you nearly always find yourself wanting to snap away as you're going about your life, but don't want to always carry additional camera equipment, the CM1 will be a very welcome addition to your pocket.

Panasonic CM1 as a camera

At the heart of the CM1's imaging skills lies a 1-inch image sensor, which is physically much bigger than the sensors you'll find in any other camera phone -- by comparison, the iPhone 6 has a 1/3-inch sensor and even the photography-focused Nokia Lumia 1020 has a smaller 1/1.5-inch sensor. Sony's superb RX100 compact camera also has a 1-inch sensor.

The larger the sensor, the more light it can take in, resulting in more clarity in shots and better performance in low light. It's why most smartphones, with their typically small sensors, will struggle to take good shots of your food in low-lit restaurants. The CM1's sensor has 20 megapixels and it uses Panasonic's Venus image engine, which promises good noise reduction, clarity and contrast.

The lens bears the Leica name, which is reassuring -- Leica is known for its high-quality optics -- and it has a 28mm focal length. That's not particularly wide angle, so you'll need to move around a bit when squeezing all your friends into the shot. It has a selectable aperture from a fast f/2.8 to f/11.

Of course, numbers like that mean nothing if the resulting images look awful. Thankfully though, that certainly isn't the case for the Lumix CM1.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

On this first unedited shot of interesting looking fungi on a tree, there's a tonne of detail and the f.2.8 aperture has given a gorgeous shallow depth of field. It's very well exposed between both the bright snowy background and the darker tree bark.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Similarly, there's a beautiful overall exposure on this shot of my lamb lunch (it was delicious, by the way). At full screen, there's loads of detail to be seen too, meaning there's plenty of scope to crop into the image if you wish.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The clarity on the edges of these holly leaves is great and the shallow depth of field helps them really stand out from the scene. The leaves themselves are a little dark, however -- the camera has exposed more for the bright background.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, edited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The image was shot in raw, so there's plenty of room to lift the shadows without reducing any quality, as you can see in this edited version.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You can see similar exposure issues on this shot of my dog. The snowy background and sky were so bright that it's fooled the camera into underexposing for the whole scene, throwing the dog and wall into dark shadow. It's an extremely challenging scene for a camera to capture.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, edited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As with the holly, there's loads of detail in the bright sky and the shadows for me to bring under control in Lightroom, resulting in a much more impressive shot overall.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, edited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

These before and after editing shots of this wine bottle, backlit by a bright window, show just how much detail can be easily rescued from the CM1's raw files without significantly reducing the quality of the image.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, edited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The top shot of this snowy pathway looked great, even without any processing, with an even exposure and attractive blue and orange sky. With just a touch of shadow lifting and white balance tweaking, the edited version below really stands out.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The CM1 has done a great job at exposing for the bright snow and the dark sign, resulting in a good-looking scene, even without any editing.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, edited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, edited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

These evening landscape scenes have come out extremely well and required only a touch of minor editing to make them shine.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In low light, the CM1 was still able to capture a satisfyingly sharp shot of my cat here, with a minimum of image noise. Shooting in auto mode in low light will typically result in the camera selecting low shutter speeds, meaning hand-shake or movement from your subject (something of a problem for me when photographing animals).

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, unedited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

My Canon camera, upside down on a pub table in low light, also came out very well. There are crisp details on the buttons and an overall lack of image noise.

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Panasonic Lumix CM1 camera test, edited (click image to see full size) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I've boosted the shadows and tweaked the white balance on this shot in Salford to show what the CM1 is capable of achieving in night-time situations. There's a touch of image noise in the very dark parts of the scene, but overall, it's extremely impressive.

The camera interface itself may seem a little complicated to use at first, but once you've spent a couple of hours having a play around, it becomes easier. All settings are displayed as on-screen dials that you can either slide around with your finger or twist the physical wheel around the lens on the front to change values. You can keep it in full-auto mode -- which performs very well for the most part -- or use the scene modes for a range of filters and effects.

That's where you'll find artistic effects such as black and white, as well as various modes for different shooting conditions (think sports, night time, sunset and so on). They're all fairly standard effects, so you may just want to shoot in normal mode and apply your own with greater control in your editor of choice afterwards.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If you want to get more adventurous (and I suggest you should) then switch it to aperture priority, shutter priority or take full manual control of all settings. Even in manual mode, it's easy to select which setting you want to change using the onscreen menu then spin the dial to change the value. It's not quite as quick as it would be using physical controls on a dSLR, but it's still pretty easy.

The fact that there is so many settings to tweak, however, means it really is a camera for more experienced shooters. Novices aren't likely to understand the advantages of different metering modes and may well just leave many settings on automatic.

Shooting in raw

A raw image file is simply the data captured by the camera's sensor, before any processing of colour or sharpness is applied by the camera. Unlike a JPEG file, white balance is not recorded, meaning it can be altered in post-processing without affecting the quality of the image. Raw images also record much more detail in very bright and very dark areas, usually giving more flexibility to correct these parts of images afterwards. When I shoot professionally on my Canon 6D, I always shoot in raw as it gives vastly more flexibility when it comes to editing. I suggest you do the same on the CM1.

There are a few things to keep in mind though. For one, file sizes are larger, so you'll want to get a microSD card to expand the 16GB of built-in storage. Also, no digital sharpening is applied to the raw image, so they look a little less well defined than their JPEG counterpart before you do any editing.

The biggest issue to be aware of, however, is that very few Android apps can make use of raw files. You can't post them to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Editing apps like Snapseed or Photoshop Express can't edit them -- not yet at least, although as more Android phones begin using raw files, this functionality is likely to be added.

The only app I could find that supports Panasonic's raw format is a paid app called Photo Mate R2, which is very difficult to use on the phone as it relies on small sliders. While you can easily pop your SD card into an Android tablet and edit on there, I don't rate Photo Mate R2, so I'd recommend just popping the pics straight into a laptop and editing in Adobe Lightroom.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

What you can do, however, is choose to shoot every photo in both raw and in JPEG. While that will result in two identical (and rather large) files, it allows you to use the JPEG for quick sharing (bragging about where you are on Twitter, for example), saving the raw file for proper editing in Lightroom or similar when you're back at your laptop.

Design

From looks alone, it's easy to tell that the CM1 is way more camera than it is phone. From the back (well, the camera side -- it would be the back if it was a phone, on a camera you'd typically call it the front), it looks like a standard compact camera. A large lens protrudes from the body, with a movable ring dial around the outside. Physical camera buttons sit along the top edge and the SIM card slot, microSD card slot, micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack sit around the edges.

It's built primarily from metal, which has been given a brushed effect. A leather-effect rubber has been laid over the top which feels a little scratchy if you scrape your fingernail along it, but it feels nice enough to hold and gives a good grip. The black colour of the rubber offsets the silver of the metal nicely, together making it look like an extremely luxurious device.

It's worlds apart from specialist photography phones like the plasticky Samsung Galaxy K Zoom or the bright yellow Nokia Lumia 1020. It's much more akin to high-end compacts from Leica -- and indeed, that name is present on the front of the device, as the optics are Leica-made.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As it's carrying so much camera technology, the CM1 has had to balloon out rather a lot. It's 68mm wide and 136mm long, which isn't too bad, but it's 21mm thick at its fattest point which is very much on the chunky side (that's 2.7 by 5.4 by 0.8 inches). If you're used to your iPhone 5S subtly sliding into your jeans, this will be a significant change. Its 204 gram (7.2 ounce) weight may not go unnoticed either.

As a phone, it's a little bulky to hold then, although it's still very easy to wrap your hand securely around -- something I can't say of wider and longer phablets like the Galaxy Note 4. It's very comfortable to hold up and use as a camera though and the physical shutter button is easily placed and comfortable to press.

It does at least feel extremely well put together, and indeed it took a few tumbles to the ground in my own testing time and was totally unscathed. I even managed to drop it in a snow drift and was about a minute before I was able to find it and dig it out. Although it has no waterproofing, it was still unharmed. This could have been averted if the CM1 came with a loop for attaching a lanyard -- something I make regular use of on other cameras for peace of mind when taking shots in risky places (over the edge of boats, for example).

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

A slider on top that activates the camera does stick just a little, but as I didn't receive the camera as new, I'm not sure whether the previous user may have spilled something sticky -- such as Coke or beer -- on the camera, so I can't hold this against the overall build quality too much.

Display

The CM1 comes with a 4.7-inch display. Sure, a 5-inch or larger screen would give more room to frame your shots -- not to mention making your favourite Netflix shows a little more immersive -- but it would make the CM1 even more bulky than it already is and would possibly make it too big to squeeze into a pocket. I'd say Panasonic has struck a good balance with the display size here.

It has a full HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolution which results in a very good pixel density of 468 pixels per inch. From high resolution pictures taken on the phone to fine text on Web pages, the CM1's screen is pin sharp. It seemed bright too in my testing time. It was easily able to counter bright overhead office lights as well as reflected light from snowy fields, although (unfortunately) I can't say how it will fare under the midday summer sun on a beach.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Colours are very good, and you can dive into the settings menu to tweak not only brightness, but colour strength and contrast too. I found it looked pretty good on default settings, although you might want to give it a little boost to really make your images pop, or try and match it to your camera or laptop's screens to ensure shots look consistent across all devices.

Processor performance and Android software

A quad-core Snapdragon processor clocked at a mighty 2.3GHz lies at the heart of the CM1, backed up by 2GB of RAM. That's a meaty serving of power and certainly no less than you should expect to find inside a top-end phone. Navigation was mostly very swift and opening apps, menus and pulling down the navigation bar was free of lag and delay making it a breeze to use. It scored 21,423 on the Quadrant benchmark test, putting it among top-end phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5 (23,707) and the LG G3 (23,103).

It of course handles more intense photo editing tasks extremely well too. Editing high-resolution snaps in Adobe Photoshop Express and Snapseed was well tackled with no fuss whatsoever and there's plenty of power for processing raw images in Photo Mate R2 -- although the interface isn't particularly suited for a small screen. Glossy games such as Asphalt 8 and Grand Theft Auto San Andreas played with high frame rates for smooth gameplay, so gamers among you are well catered for.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The phone runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat software, which sadly isn't the most up to date version of Google's mobile operating system. That honour goes to version 5.0 Lollipop. Still, the CM1 runs a near-stock version of Android so in theory it shouldn't be too difficult to update it to the latest version. At the time of writing though, Panasonic has yet to announce whether it will see an update.

Battery life

The phone runs on a 2,600mAh battery, which is a pretty decent size, although with so much burly camera tech to power, the amount of battery life you can see from the CM1 can vary wildly.

If you don't use the camera all that much throughout the day, using it primarily as you would any other phone, you won't struggle to get a full day of use from it. Avoid keeping the screen on all the time and go easy on tasks like gaming or video streaming to eke out the extra hours. Turning off Wi-Fi and GPS when they're not in use will help as well.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If you're on holiday and plan to use the camera almost constantly throughout the day, you can watch the juice drain away pretty quickly. Extremely heavy usage will demand a charge some time in the afternoon if you want to have power left to catch those late-night city shots. Naturally, using the flash will drain even more power.

The battery sadly isn't removable which would allow you to carry a spare on holiday so you could snap away worry-free. Instead, I recommend carrying an external battery pack like the Anker Astro 2 portable battery. It means carrying another thing in your backpack, but it'll give the phone a full charge at least a couple of times over so may well be worth the extra weight.

Outlook

Yes, the Panasonic Lumix CM1 costs an awful lot of money, and no, it's hardly what you'd call small, but if photography is your passion then those costs are worth putting up with to put this cameraphone in your pocket. Its huge sensor and high-quality optics help it achieve image quality that's unrivalled in the smartphone world, while the full manual control of all settings allows for a wealth of creative shooting options.

If you only indulge in casual photography when you're out and about then your regular Android phone will probably suit fine. Consider spending your cash on Sony's superb RX100 compact camera to carry with you when you head out on holiday. If you love the idea of always having a great camera to hand for when inspiration suddenly strikes, whether on a trip or just walking to work, the CM1 is a superb compromise.