Monday, May 21, 2012

Panasonic GX1 Review

Panasonic GX1

My journey into the Micro 4/3 camera systems began when I purchased the Olympus E-P2 few months back.

After carrying my semi-professional Nikon D300 with some heavy lenses for 8 straight days (during my trekking trip in the Himalays), I had come to the rather painful realization that I needed something compact and light - but at the same time, did not compromise on image quality. The E-P2 seemed to fit that bill perfectly.

I liked the E-P2, and its abundant manual controls that allowed me to manage all aspects of the shooting without the need to dig into the menu system. The camera, however, had one main problem. It's auto-focus system was nothing to write home about. After being pampered with super-fast auto-focus systems in my Nikon dSLRs, I realized that this was just not going to work for me. I should have waited a bit longer and got the E-P3, which has resolved the auto-focus issue.

Instead, I decided to try the other Micro 4/3 alternative. The much acclaimed Panasonic GF1. I immediately fell in love with the GF1 - especially when paired with the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 pancake lens. The combination is perfect and I thought I had found my "no-compromise" camera option for trekking.

But then Panasonic went ahead and released the GX1. It is like a clone of GF1 except that everything that the GF1 does, the GX1 seems to do just a little better. It was too tempting to resist. I gave in to my geeky side, and purchased the body along with the new Power Zoom lens (14-42mm).

This is not a technical review of the camera. For that, you can read a very comprehensive review at dpreview, This is just my quick observations, and the features that matter to me the most.

The camera is fantastic. I can easily slip it into my jacket pocket or hang around my neck without feeling any strain. The auto-focus is lightning fast, and almost everything can be controlled via knobs and dials without every reaching into the menu system, which is exactly the way I like it.

My Micro 4/3 system.
1. Lenses: The Micro 4/3 has a wide range of lenses available. Currently I have the:
          - Panasonic 14mm f2.5
          - Panasonic 20mm f1.7
          - Panasonic Leica Elmarit 45mm f2.8 Macro
          - Panasonic Kit Lens PZ X 14-42 f3.5-f5.6
          - Panasonic 45-200mm f4.0-f5.6
  (It should be noted that the camera can easily use any of the fine Olympus m 4/3 lenses).
The great thing about these lenses is that they are very compact and light. The above configuration of the camera body and 4 lenses weighs less than 900 grams, and easily fits into a small camera bag that I can sling on my shoulder without feeling any burden during the long treks in the mountains.

2. Image Quality: The GX1 is currently the highest resolution Micro 4/3 camera at 16 mega-pixels. And even with all those pixels crammed into the sensor, its noise performance is excellent. Here is an image taken at the base resolution of 160.

ISO 160 @ f8.0
16 mega-pixels means plenty of detail to work with. Here is a 100% crop of the above image.

100% crop of above image.
Images are almost noise free even at ISO 800 - something that was unheard of even in big dSLRs just a few years ago. In the random picture below, the noise looks almost non-existent.

ISO 800 @ f1.7
Here is a 100% crop of the above image.

100% crop of ISO 800 image.
The camera can shoot at a maximum ISO of 12,800. In the example below, the room is completely dark. The only light is the one from the laptop screen.

ISO 12,800 @ f1.7
The image is certainly noisy. But the very fact that you can get usable images at that ISO is simply amazing.

3. Touch Auto-Focus: The GX1 has a touch-screen which adds a neat twist to the shooting experience. Instead of fiddling with the dial to get precise focus, you can just tap on the area where you want to focus, and the camera automatically sets the focus point where you tapped. This is much more handy than it appears. It completely changes the way you frame your pictures.

4. 20 fps shooting mode: The camera supports a high speed shooting mode, where it can shoot 20 frames per second. The images are shot at much lower resolution (4 mega-pixels), and there is no live preview during the shooting, but the ability to shoot high quality images at near video speed will certainly come in handy in some fast pace action scenes.

5. HD Video with Stereo Mic: The ability to shoot full-HD video is definitely a big plus in my books.

The dpreview has more details on the other features of the camera, but in my books, I have a winner.

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