Panasonic GX1 Micro Four Thirds digital camera reviews

Panasonic’s DMC-GX1 arrived the day after I’d watched a doco on mid-20th century street photographers. Do you reckon I wanted to hit the street with a compact, unobtrusive camera that could handle an unpredictable range of subjects, or what?

Picking the GX1 out of the box, it certainly seemed to fit the bill. OK, so it’s not a Leica like Garry Winogrand used back in the day but it does manage to be unobtrusive, and that’s the key to street photography: get the subject quickly, before they see what’s going on and react to the camera’s presence.

Technically speaking, it has the right stuff, as long as you don’t mind the Micro Four Thirds format, with a 16-megapixel sensor, full-time live view, a touchscreen display that is suitably responsive, “creative control”, a level gauge, and Panasonics’s excellent iA  (Intelligent Auto).

The iA failed me only a couple of times but that shouldn’t be too surprising. Backlit pigeons swarming over bread crumbs fooled it, with the iA preferring a slow shutter speed over an action-grabbing fast shutter.

Good thing it’s easy to switch into manual mode to take control of that and with the GX1’s thumbwheel doing double duty to manage aperture and shutter speed –  ie adjust aperture, push to switch to adjust shutter speed – it’s a cinch to take charge of matters.

I do still prefer a dual-button/thumbwheel system over the GX1’s single thumbwheel control method but that’s probably just years of being conditioned by DSLR use.

Users fresh to using digital cameras may not give it a second thought.

What is this telling us?

That the GX1, like the others in the G-series from Panasonic, is a very handy shooter, close to being idiot-proof for novice users who don’t care to move past happy snaps yet easy to switch up to full creative control in manual or other modes.

There are a couple of things, however, that I found a bit awkward.

The 14-24mm lens that came with the GX1 has the zoom control on the barrel of the lens. This is a common feature of Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds lenses.

While holding the lens in a surreptitious fashion, the palm of my hand often nudged the zoom control and, bringing the camera up for the shot, I discovered it was zoomed to 42mm when I wanted the wider shot.

Just a bit annoying, that, especially as the lens at the 42mm is a bit soft, but not something you couldn’t get used to and work around.

If you want to shoot with a viewfinder, as we older types tend to prefer to, you’ll need to fork over an extra $349 for the newly-developed DMW-LVF2 Live View Finder.

Frankly, this really bugs me. One of the GX1 kits on offer includes a body and 14-42mmm lens at about $1200.

To add a viewfinder, you’re looking at spending about $1600 with an extra SD card or two, at which point this camera’s competitors, such as the rather nifty Sony NEX-7 with its excellent 24.3-megapixel sensor, is looking all the more tempting, although this camera doesn’t come with a viewfinder, either.

In any case, the responsiveness of this camera in very immediate situations, as proven during my two-hour street walk in central Sydney, tells me this camera should be well received by all sorts of users who just want something that gets the job done.

HD video captures are suitably impressive, though the blacks crush too easily.

Those who like to fiddle with controls will be pleased to learn there are two customisable function buttons added to the body and two more via the touchscreen.

Once you’ve figured some favourite settings, it’s easy to switch between them using these buttons.

Also a handy addition is the ability to customise the Quick Menu, adding control buttons with drag and drop ease.

However, so complete are the touchscreen options that I often found myself tripping over whether to make selections using the rear display or choose settings via the well-worn menu mining option.

Confusing? A little bit? Sure, but my bet is most users will be quite happy to drive this shooter without leaving the touchscreen.

Very good image quality, responsive handling, excellent iA, and a solid feel in the hand combine to make the GX1 a very worthy successor to the GF1, which was the first Micro Four Thirds camera I tried that I liked.

If you’re looking to trade up from the GF1, wait no longer. This is it, especially if you have some system lenses.

If you’re not married to the Panasonic G-series cameras, you really should be doing some careful comparison shopping because this market segment has become very competitive.

Just be sure to list the GX1 as one to try. If you don’t, you might just be sorry you didn’t.

* Chris Oaten is a professional photographer, and Tech Guide’s digital camera reviewer, from Insight Visuals.

Panasonic GX1

Price: $899 body only, $999 as kit with 14-42mm lens, $1199 with power zoom kit.

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