Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 review
Superb controls, lightning fast performance, slim profile and excellent (but not class-leading) image and video quality – a sublime package that's worth the high price
Review Date: 16 Jan 2012
Price when reviewed: £700
Reviewed By: Ben Pitt
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We're big fans of compact system cameras (CSCs) but we're yet to see one that hits a home run of image quality, performance, controls and features. The Sony NEX-5N came closest with its exceptionally high image and video quality, but it can be slow to focus and its scarcity of buttons and dials isn't ideal for photography enthusiasts. That's the camera the Panasonic GX1 has to beat.
The GX1 takes an early lead with its controls. It's reminiscent of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, with a proper mode dial plus dedicated buttons for ISO speed, white balance, drive mode, focus area, focus mode and AE/AF lock. The latter can be reassigned, and there's a further unlabelled Fn button that can be assigned to one of 25 functions. The metal buttons look smart but their engraved labels are a little tricky to read. The touchscreen is extremely useful for moving the autofocus point and navigating the appropriately named Quick Menu, which gives access to other photographic settings.
The NEX-5N has the advantage for ergonomics, though. The GX1 has a rubber handgrip – a significant improvement on the flat-fronted GF range – but the NEX-5N's grip is more substantial. The NEX-5N's tilting screen is extremely useful for video and macro photography, although we prefer the GX1 screen's 3:2 aspect ratio to the 5N's 16:9, as photos fill the screen and so are bigger in real terms. The GX1 makes up further ground by including an integrated pop-up flash rather than a clip-on unit. It's also possible to tilt the flash to bounce light off the ceiling, although its limited power restricts this function's usefulness. We're delighted that Panasonic has gone with a standard hotshoe, which is much more versatile than the Sony's proprietary accessory port.
The kit lens uses a pair of levers rather than rings to control zoom and focus. It took us a while to get used to using them without having to peer around to the front of the camera to remind us of their location. Both offer a two-speed operation, adjusting faster when they're pressed harder, but neither was as quick or as satisfying to use as a lens ring.
However, if that's the price that must be paid for this lens's remarkable compactness, then it's one worth paying. CSCs' portability is often compromised by their bulky kit lenses – the NEX-5N may be light but it's not pocket-sized, measuring 99mm from screen to lens cap. The GX1 is 65mm when powered down, so it'll fit in a coat pocket much more easily. There are various fixed-zoom pancake lenses available, but fitting a 3x zoom lens into such a small space is a remarkable achievement.
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