First Look: Lumix GM1

20131226-131505.jpgI flew to Hong Kong the other week expressly to pick up the Panasonic GM1, the world’s tiniest video worthy interchangeable lens camera. I should mention that I bought the camera at Wing Shing Photo in Mongkok, a well-stocked store with a friendly and knowledgeable staff, which also happens to have some of the best deals in town. My salesman Kelvin threw in two 16GB SD cards, an extra battery and leather case, all for USD 750. He pointed out that the camera is covered by Panasonic’s worldwide 1-year warranty.

So why exactly did I have to get another camera? Well, first of all, because it’s a micro four thirds camera, it’s compatible with my other lenses, so for example, I can carry a wide angle lens on the GM1 and a telephoto on the GH3, sparing me the inconvenience of changing lenses in the middle of a shoot. And then again, because it is ridiculously tiny, it can be paired with an equally small brushless gimbal stabilizer costing 75% less than one designed to fly a typical DSLR. But the real reason is, I just had to have one!

I had a chance to take the GM1 for a spin over the weekend to compare the performance of the kit lens with the bulkier G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 lens. For sure, the kit lens delivered acceptable results, and will come in handy when I pick up Mastor Tech’s Sailfish SF1 gimbal stabilizer next year, but unsurprisingly, Panasonic’s pro zoom yields more detail and the extra speed comes in handy in low light. I was also surprised to find that, when shooting stills, focal lengths longer than the kit lens provided will cast a huge shadow when operating the minuscule in-camera flash.

It takes some getting used to handling a device this small, and at first I found myself fumbling with the controls. But I’ve come to appreciate the splendid capacitive touch screen, the admirable user interface and the amount of manual control provided – the ability to set the white balance by degrees Kelvin, for instance. As for the drawbacks, my biggest gripe would be the lack of slow motion capability and the ergonomics: it can be awkward shooting video with arms outstretched for any length of time. I would also have been willing to spend even more if Panasonic had seen fit to offer weather sealing. This will likely be the last HD capable device I ever purchase, as the CES is underway and manufacturers are announcing 4K enabled cameras and televisions at prices consumers can afford. The first salvo was fired by Sony, who just announced the XA100, a 4K consumer camcorder set for release in March for only $2,000.

[edit 08/01/2014] I’ve since watched a video of an auto show posted on YouTube by Nick Cara using a GM1 handheld with the kit lens and have had to revise my estimation of the optical quality. It is not acceptable – it is sensational! And because Nick was shooting outdoors in bright light with no ND filter, he had to stop the lens down much of the time, where performance usually suffers due to diffraction. Granted, Nick left the in-camera sharpening, contrast and saturation levels at their factory settings and reduced noise reduction to -5, all of which will increase apparent sharpness. But I don’t see any ugly haloing and and try as I might, I couldn’t find any signs of aliasing in the grilles of the muscle cars. Very nice job!

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