Panasonic Lumix GM1 Digital Camera Review
Panasonic's latest Lumix is a downsized dynamo.
By the Numbers
There’s no mistaking the calling card of the Panasonic GM1: A Micro Four Thirds camera packing some serious image quality chops that could, quite literally, hide behind an actual calling card (those still exist, right?). With the same sensor/processor as Panasonic’s flagship GX7, the GM1 produced excellent test scores in our lab, providing excellent value at its $749.99 kit price.
As of publication Adobe Camera RAW has not yet been updated to handle the GM1’s RAW photos and the GX7’s ACR profile does not process the files. We’ve done our best to score the GM1 to this point based on available test data, but all results should be considered provisional until standard RAW profiles are available.
The Panasonic GM1 performed ably in our color accuracy test, right in line with the flagship GX7. With the standard color profile we recorded a saturation-corrected ∆C00 of just 2.58. The other modes were also quite accurate, with the lone exception being the Vivid mode, which emphasizes colors to produce more punchy JPEGs out of the camera.
Noise & Noise Reduction
While Micro Four Thirds sensors have an inherent disadvantage when it comes to low light shooting compared to larger APS-C or full-frame image sensors, the GM1 held its own in our high ISO shooting tests. The GM1 provides a whopping 11 levels of noise reduction with a ±5-stop scale, with very different noise profiles throughout the ISO range.
The -5 setting preserves the most fine detail, with a base noise level of 0.81% at ISO 125. Noise predictably rises from there, crossing 1% at ISO 800, 2% at ISO 6400, and maxing out at 4.59% at ISO 25600. If you stick with the default setting of 0, noise only hits 1.1% at ISO 1600, 2.2% at ISO 12800, and barely crosses 3% at ISO 25600.
If you really want to keep noise out of your shot and don’t need fine details, the +5 setting keeps noise under 1% all the way through ISO 6400 and maxes out at just 1.37% at ISO 25600. That performance sounds great on paper, but in achieving those numbers the GM1 wipes away any and all fine detail from your shot, as there’s a ton of post-processing going on. Of course, you can always shoot in RAW and apply noise reduction at your leisure later, but the amount of control Panasonic is offering here is a boon to JPEG shooters.
The GM1’s combination of 12-32mm kit lens and image sensor produce generally sharp images through most of the focal range. In our tests we found that the GM1’s JPEGs straight from the camera were capable of resolving upwards of 1600 line widths per picture height at MTF50 through most of the scene, though with default sharpening the JPEGs from the camera frequently topped 2000 lw/ph at MTF50*.
Looking at the actual shots, it’s clear that the new kit lens isn’t that sharp on its own, as a combination of a low diffraction limit and compact design yield fairly soft corners at most apertures. The GM1 combats this by applying some software enhancement to make edges look sharper than they really are. While we generally frown on this sort of thing, the GM1 doesn’t apply a blanket filter and call it a day, but rather applies it selectively.
The result, as you can see in our sharpness crops above, is an improvement in the acutance—the perception of sharpness—without introducing too much ugly haloing that would ultimately detract from overall image quality. Given that we’re talking about a $749.99 kit here, we think Panasonic deserves a pass here, at least for JPEG shooters.
The Panasonic GM1’s sensor is capable of producing some excellent dynamic range at the base ISO speed, but it appears to run into the same high ISO issues that we saw with the GX7. While we’re still waiting on final RAW profiles that will tell the whole story, from what we can tell the GM1 and GX7 share very similar dynamic range profiles.
With the GX7, we saw very strong base ISO performance that held strong through ISO 800. From ISO 1600 and onward, however, the GX7 begins to lag behind some of its contemporaries as noise levels begin to climb. This is still one of the best Micro Four Thirds sensors on the market, but this is one area where the larger APS-C sensors in cameras like the Pentax K-5 II/IIs, Nikon D7100, and Canon 70D will win out.
That said, those cameras also aren’t really the GM1’s primary competition. High-end point-and-shoots like the Sony RX100 II and compact system cameras like the Nikon J3 are a more apt comparison, and they don’t fare nearly as well as the GM1.
If there’s one test where Panasonic has been routinely cleaning up in our labs, it’s white balance accuracy. While white balance is often overlooked for RAW shooters—who cares when you can just fix it later?—it’s a crucial component to producing attractive out-of-camera JPEGs.
In this regard the GM1 does extremely well, acing both our automatic and custom white balance tests. The custom white balance is among the most accurate we’ve ever tested, off by an average of just 20 kelvins when anything less than 100 is considered acceptable.
The automatic white balance performed well also, with very accurate daylight reproduction. The GM1 had a little trouble with fluorescent lighting, however, with a temperature error of around 780 kelvins. Under incandescent lighting the GM1’s AWB performance was typical, with an error of around 2000 kelvins.
The GM1 continued the Panasonic tradition of delivering better-than-average video. Even though it couldn't touch either the GX7 or GH3, the GM1 held its own. The top progressive recording mode of 30p provided decent detail, a little trailing and less-than-ideal smoothness. In bright lighting conditions, we observed resolution of 675 lw/ph horizontal and 625 lw/ph vertical. When we cranked down the lights, we measured 650 lw/ph horizontal and 600 lw/ph vertical. The GM1 required a minimum of 14 lux to make an image at 50 IRE.
Continuous Shooting Speed
The Panasonic GM1 offers the ability to use either a physical or electronic shutter, with either option affecting your maximum burst speed. With the physical shutter the GM1 tops out at around 4.5 frames per second, while with the electronic shutter you can reach speeds as high as 9.8fps at full resolution with focus locked on the first frame.
Capacity is a major concern for the GM1, however, as we were only able to record around 5-6 frames at the maximum speed before things slowed down dramatically. Still, 9.8fps is great in a pinch. If you really need to push the envelope you can also activate a 40fps mode, though this reduces the resolution to the camera’s “small” setting.
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