Panasonic GM1 with Panasonic 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 lens
I’ve been playing with the Panasonic GM1 ever since I bought it in late April 2020. The last 11 blog posts feature pictures from this camera. The following is a short review after making about 600 photos over the last month.
The Panasonic GM1 was released in 2013 along with the 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 collapsible kit lens. While it’s a 7-year-old 16MP camera, it’s surprisingly relevant in today’s world. The megapixel counts have gone up, and there are more gadgety features in the newest cameras. But, image quality hasn’t made a noticeable leap forward in quite a while. This means you can get an excellent used camera from 4 to 7 years ago for a remarkably attractive price.
What makes the GM1 so special? It’s the smallest micro 4/3 camera ever made. In fact, it’s nearly the same size as the Pentax Q series, but with a significantly larger sensor. I was always curious about this diminutive Panasonic, but couldn’t swallow the $750 price tag. Now, 7 years later, I bought it in excellent condition for $243 at keh.com. I already had the lens, which I bought used last year for $100. I basically got the combo for less than 1/2 of the original price.
At these prices, I can afford to play. I can get quirky cameras for specific purposes. With the Panasonic GM1, I get the superior Micro 4/3 image quality in a package smaller than a high-end compact, like the Canon G7X Mark II.
Here are two size comparisons from camerasize.com. The Canon G7X Mark II has been my go-to small camera. It’s larger and noticeably heavier than the GM1. The Pentax Q is the smallest digital interchangeable lens system ever made. I own a Pentax Q but rarely use it. I also own the Pentax Q7, an ever so slightly larger camera with a slightly larger 1/1.7″ sensor. However, the Panasonic GM1’s sensor is over 5x larger. Panasonic pulled off an amazing engineering feat. Of course, Panasonic can’t defy the laws of physics. The Micro 4/3 lenses are significantly larger than the Pentax Q lenses.
Having the GM1 in hand, it looks even smaller — impossibly small. It’s hard to believe it’s compatible with every micro 4/3 lens out there from Panasonic, Olympus, and others. Attach one of the larger zoom lenses like the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro, and the GM1 almost seems like a rear lens cap.
The camera has a well-crafted feel of meticulously designed Japanese consumer electronics. There are compromises in haptics, given its tiny size. But, the camera is surprisingly usable, at least for my smaller hands. Reading reviews, I feared the camera would be annoyingly fiddly — but it’s not — as long as you have the right expectations. This is not a fast handling camera. Don’t expect to shoot sports or quick changing events. No, it’s a thoughtful, even pleasant camera when you can shoot at a relaxed pace.
It’s the camera I’ll bring when I want high image quality, and even some interchangeable lens flexibility, in the smallest possible package. Is it as nice as using my Olympus PEN-F or OM-D E-M5 Mark II? No. But, it’s a heck of a lot smaller. The camera competes with my Canon G7X Mark II compact and not with my other micro 4/3 cameras.
My First Panasonic Micro 4/3 Camera
I still own seven Olympus Micro 4/3 cameras, including a pair of E-PL1s that I started with. This is my first Panasonic Micro 4/3 camera I ever bought — though I do own 5 Panasonic Micro 4/3 lenses. While I’m having fun playing with this super small gadget, it was interesting to compare the Panasonic to Olympus.
I’ve used Olympus since 2011. Since then, the simple menu structure has grown in complexity with each iteration. Each new option is added to an already over-burdened interface without any major overhauls during the last 9 years. Olympus rightly gets criticized for this. I know it well, and rarely have to dig into the menus. But, even so, I found the Panasonic interface to be more user friendly and better arranged. While new to the GM1, I quickly figured out all necessary settings without reading the manual.
Panasonic has added more gadget features since 2013, so I’m sure the likes of the 4K photo-mode and others have added complexity. But, the GM1 is surprisingly simple, even pleasantly enjoyable.
For day to day documentary photography or snapshots of the family, the GM1 more than adequately fulfills the task. It has superior image quality to the Canon G7X Mark II, and in some ways, beats the Olympus too. I think most people will be pleased. However, for me, there’s something about the pictures that don’t quite satisfy. It’s hard to explain, but let me start with the positives.
I have not done tests shooting the same scene with my Olympus and Panasonic. However, somehow, it seems like the Panasonic photos are sharper than the Olympus both for JPEGs and RAWs. Just an impression I get as I processed the pictures with Capture One. Both the GM1 and my latest Olympus cameras do not have an anti-aliasing filter, so this doesn’t account for the sharpness difference. Perhaps it’s the way the camera’s image processor works. I suppose I should do a more definitive test just to make sure. Either way, I’m really impressed with the image sharpness, even with the 12-32mm kit lens.
On the other hand, I’m not very impressed with the colors. While I shoot both JPEG + RAW, I mostly throw away the JPEGs, except for the photographs made with the Sunshine effect. I like this in-camera effect so much, I did an entire series of Sunshine posts. However, beyond the Sunshine effect, I find the JPEGs to be overly bright, and I’m not particularly fond of the colors. Even with my Sunshine series, I modify the colors in post.
The RAW files are better and more malleable. I can post-processes them the way I like them, for the most part. Even so, the colors look off to me. This is hard to explain, but I find the colors muted and flat — they seem to lack depth. Even when I add curves, contrast, and additional saturation, the images don’t seem to have the richness I desire. I also find a green shift in the images, and often add extra magenta in the tint settings.
Between the sharper images and flat colors, I think the Panasonic has a more clinical look than Olympus. Your mileage will vary, and you might like the way these Panasonic colors look. For me, I prefer the colors from Olympus, Fujifilm, and Canon. Also, perhaps, Panasonic might have changed their color science since 2013. Since this is my only Panasonic Micro 4/3 camera, I have no other reference.
On the other hand, the black and whites converted from RAWs in post-processing look outstanding. The sharp images, coupled with good high ISO performance, and no color issues might make this my best choice for a small monochrome camera. Image stabilization, unfortunately, is only through the lens, so it will not be the best low-light camera, however.
Given how good cameras are, even back from 2013, it makes a lot of sense to look at older, used models. You can pick up excellent cameras at handsome prices. I find this especially enjoyable since I also like to collect notable cameras.
I wouldn’t recommend the Panasonic GM1 as a primary camera unless you have an overriding need for something super small. There are equally priced cameras from Panasonic and Olympus that have better controls spread over a roomier body. The GM1 does give you a cost-effective alternative to the high-end compact cameras like the Canon G7X Mark II, which can still run about $500 to $600. The class-leading Sony RX100 series is priced significantly higher.
As a collector, I like that I have the smallest Micro 4/3 camera ever made.
As a photographer, the GM1 still doesn’t solve my problem of finding that perfect small camera. The Canon G7X Mark II has better ergonomic controls, but problems with distorted optics when shot in RAW. The GM1 has superior RAWs with better high ISO performance, but with colors that are not as desirable as Canon. For JPEGs, the Canon is clearly preferred over the GM1.
I’m happy enough with the camera to continue using it. Perhaps, over time, I might get better with my Panasonic post-processing to get the colors the way I like them. Is the Panasonic GM1 good enough to unseat the Canon G7X Mark II as my small carry around camera? Only time will tell.
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