Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1: Tiny camera with big specs

The company's latest interchangeable-lens camera incorporates much of the power of bigger models at a fraction of the size.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
5 min read
John Chan/CNET

How small is too small? It's pretty easy to dismiss the tiny Pentax Q7 with its equally tiny sensor, but what about a camera roughly the same size with a Four Thirds sensor? That's the question we're asking about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1, an ultracompact Micro Four Thirds (MFT)-based interchangeable-lens model that the company claims delivers roughly the same image quality and performance as the not-quite-so diminutive GX7. Panasonic is targeting the camera at enthusiasts who want something smaller than a dSLR but with comparable photo quality and folks ready to step up to better quality than you get from compact cameras and smartphones. It sits in the lineup between the GX7 and the elephantine-in-comparison G6.

The back controls are the typical arrangement you'd find on a point-and-shoot. Panasonic

The camera is a nice feat of miniaturization. It's slightly smaller than the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II point-and-shoot (and the same price), but with a bigger sensor. It's got a die-cast aluminum and magnesium alloy body, and at least in my opinion, a really pretty yet functional design. (Sadly, the orange model will not be available in the US.) Panasonic developed a new, compact MFT lens for the kit, a 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 (24-64mm equivalent) with a manual zoom but no manual focus ring, and plans a Leica 15mm f1.7 for 2014. Of course, standard MFT lenses will also work, though even the pancakes feel a bit bulky on the body. Panasonic will offer a small grip that screws into the tripod socket, but really -- why not just give the front side a bit of a bump instead? The optional grip blocks the battery compartment and bulks the body up a bit, which is completely unnecessary. Pentax managed it on the Q7.

The GM1 has a full set of manual and semimanual controls as well as a programmable function button. In addition, the flash can tilt to bounce light while shooting. John Chan/CNET

Shrinkage doesn't come without tradeoffs. Because of the size constraint, the camera has a completely new, shrunken shutter mechanism, which results in the camera's top shutter speed with the mechanical shutter maxing out at only 1/500 sec; for faster speeds it's electronic shutter only. That means potential problems with rolling shutter in video and distortion when photographing fast-moving objects. (Read about the issues raised by electronic shutters.) It doesn't support 1080/60p because at that frame rate the components generate more heat than can be dissipated in a chassis that small.

It has most of the features of the GX7, including Wi-Fi -- no NFC, as the chipset is too big to fit -- touch screen, focus peaking, the same effects and color controls, and stop-motion and time-lapse modes. It incorporates the same metering and autofocus systems as well.

A new version of the Silkypix raw-processing software will ship at the same time as the camera, and Panasonic made a big deal of emphasizing the vastly improved noise-reduction algorithms. Unfortunately, the software has more problems than just poor processing results, but at least folks who want to use the bundled software shouldn't have a completely dismal experience.

Here's an idea of what $750 gets you:

Fujifilm X-M1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 Sony Alpha NEX-6 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS 16MP Live MOS 16MP Live MOS 16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS 20.2MP Exmor R CMOS
23.6x15.6mm 17.3x13mm 17.3x13mm 23.5x15.6mm 1-inch
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x n/a
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (exp)/ 200 - ISO 6400/25600 (exp) ISO 125 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 125 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 160 - ISO 12800
Continuous shooting 5.6fps
(5fps without AF; 40fps with electronic shutter)
7 raw/unlimited JPEG
40fps (with electronic shutter)
9 raw/unlimited JPEG
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
(10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/12 JPEG
Viewfinder No No EVF
2.76 million dots
100% coverage
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
Tilting OLED
0.5-inch/2,359,000 dots
100 percent coverage
Hot shoe Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 49-area
Contrast AF
23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 99-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range n/a -4 - 18 EV -4 - 18 EV 0 - 20 EV n/a
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 60-1/500 sec. (mechanical); 60 - 1/16,000 (electronic) ; 1/50 sec x-sync 60-1/8,000 sec.; bulb to 2 min; 1/250 x-sync (external flash) 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync 30-1/2000 sec.; bulb
Metering 256 zones 1,728 zones 1,728 zones 1,200 zones n/a
Metering range n/a 0 - 18 EV 0 - 18 EV 0 - 20 EV n/a
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wireless flash Yes No No No no
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift Optical Optical
Best video 1080/30p H.264 AVCHD, H.264 MP4 1080/30p/60i @ 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24Mbps AVCHD, H.264 MP4 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24Mbps AVCHD
Audio Stereo Stereo Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3-inch tilting
920,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
1.04 million dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
1.04 million dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
Wireless connection Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, NFC
Battery life (CIPA rating) n/a 230 shots 350 shots 270 shots
(with viewfinder)
350 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.6 x 2.6 x 1.5 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.2 4.8 x 2.8 x 2.2 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.1 4 x 2.3 x 1.5
Body operating weight (ounces) 12.8 7.2 (est) 14.2 (est) 12.3 9.9
Mfr. price $699 (body only) n/a $999 (est., body only) $749.99 (body only) $749.99
$799 (with 16-50mm lens) $749 (with 12-32mm lens) $1,099 (with 14-42mm lens) $899.99 (with 15-60mm PZ lens) n/a
n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Ship date July 2013 November 2013 September 2013 October 2012 July 2013

When you consider that the GM1 has the RX100 II right in its crosshairs, I think it actually has a pretty good shot; it's a lot more stylish and can probably deliver on the speed and image quality. It's not a no-brainer, though; the RX100 II has a better lens than the 12-32mm kit's 2.7x, with faster apertures and bigger zoom range, and it offers better battery life, a tilting LCD, and 1080/60p video with a mic input. However, if you go bigger -- not crazy-big, but big enough that you're not paying a premium for miniaturization -- you can get some very nice ILCs with some more features and even bigger sensors.