Editor's note: Updated with US availability.
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 photos, it shoots in JPEG and raw, and it 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 though 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.
That's a potent lineup of kit all round, so it's perhaps no surprise that it comes with an eye-watering price tag.
It's available now in the UK for £799, although in very limited quantities. You can find it in Dixons, Harrods and Heathrow, as well as Jessops on Oxford Street in London -- which only had one remaining at the time of writing. Specific retailers and further availability in the UK or the wider world are as yet unknown. As of mid-June, it began shipping in the US for $1,000. 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-focusedhas a smaller 1/1.5-inch sensor. 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. It's actually a Leica DC Elmarit lens (that you'll find in other compact cameras), rather than the ultra high-quality glass Leica puts in its own elite cameras, although you can expect it to be of higher quality than the majority of other camera phone lenses. It has a 28mm focal length, which isn't 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.
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.
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.
The clarity on the edges of these holly leaves is great and the shallow depth of field helps them to really stand out from the scene. The leaves themselves are a little dark, however -- the camera has exposed more for the bright background.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These evening landscape scenes have come out extremely well and required only a touch of minor editing to make them shine.
In low light, the CM1 was still able to capture a satisfyingly sharp shot of my cat here, with minimum 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 will blur the shot (something of a problem for me when photographing animals).
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.