It seems like camera models sporting G, 1 and X are almost as popular as Game of Thrones. There’s the new Canon PowerShot G1X, JVC Everio GX1 camcorder and this one. Similar nomenclature aside, they’re all very different and the Panasonic is generating quite a bit of buzz, thanks to a high-quality lens and overall imaging package. Now let’s see if this one wins our seal of approval.
Features and design
The 16-megapixel GX1X is a mirrorless Compact System Camera, offering interchangeable lenses and a smaller body than a classic DSLR such as the Nikon D7000. Check out the images and you’ll see the GX1 is around the same size as an enthusiast digicam like the Canon G12. The Panasonic has a much larger imaging sensor for improved stills and videos plus all the flexibility of high-end photographic tool like a DSLR.
Our review sample was black, giving it a very serious aura (it’s also available in dark gray). The camera’s solid feel reinforces that first impression. The GX1X measures 4.6 x 2.7 x 1.5 (W X H X D, in inches), weighing 11.2 ounces with battery and card. Unfortunately, it has a too many logos and icons plastered on it for our taste.
We reviewed the GX1X, a specific version of the GX1 that comes with a Lumix G X 14-42mm lens. The Power OIS X lens goes beyond ordinary glass since it’s very compact, has a special coating for improved quality as well as a silent motor to move you smoothly through the focal range. This is very important shooting video as the built-in mic won’t pick up annoying noises as you zoom away. Since this is a Micro Four Thirds CSC, the digital factor is 2x so the supplied lens is 28-84mm (35mm equivalent). It’s a good starting point and Panasonic has 14 optional lenses available. And that’s not counting what’s available from third parties, so you should find one or five that fit your vision.
In keeping with its sturdy vibe, the GX1X has a comfortable grip with a textured non-slip surface. On the top deck is a built-in flash, two stereo mics and a hot shoe for optional accessories such as a viewfinder. There’s a large mode dial with the usual options—Program, Aperture/Shutter Priority, Manual, Custom 1 and 2, Scene (17 options) and Creative Control. This is Panasonic’s term for art filters and there are eight choices (toy camera, miniature effect and so on). We found it very strange full auto was a separate button labeled iA (Intelligent Auto) near the mode dial. Press it and blue ring lights up, showing it’s active. Blue lights are kind of cool, but the iA setting should be on the mode dial for uncluttered access; just drop one of the Custom options. This is an issue because the red-dot movie button is right next to it. Although there is a textural difference between them, they’re simply too close so you can inadvertently change modes. Yes, this is being picky — but for $849, there really should be no issues of this sort.
On the back is a fixed-position 3-inch LCD rated 460K pixels. This is a very good CSC screen with strong, accurate colors. It’s also a touch panel which lets you set focus points and make other adjustments using taps and swipes. It’s far from an iPad, but Panasonic gets positive marks for moving into the current decade. Overall the menus, icons and descriptive text are nicely done. On the down side, the touch screen is not super sensitive and it takes heavy taps to get an accurate response.
The rear also has the usual four-way controller with center menu/set button offering fast access to ISO, white balance, burst mode and AF mode. It would be much nicer if AF was exposure compensation, but you can’t have everything. There’s also a rear scroll wheel near the thumb rest for making various adjustments. Other keys include AF/AE Lock, Function, Display, Quick Menu, and AF/MF. This is very good selection and an excellent indicator of who should buy this camera — a serious or wannabe serious photographer.
What’s in the box
The camera, battery and charger for starters. The battery is rated 310 shots per CIPA standards, which is decent. You also get the higher-quality 14-42mm lens, various caps, strap, a 56-page basic owner’s Mmanual and USB cable. There are two CD-ROMs — one has the full manual as a PDF while the other has PHOTOfunSTUDIO 7.0 HD Edition (Windows), SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE (Win/Mac) and a trial version of LoiloScope (Win).
Performance and use
After loading a 16GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC card, the 16-megapixel camera was set to maximum resolution – 4,592 x 3,448 pixels for stills and AVCHD 1080/60i at 17Mbps for movies. The GX1X shoots RAW files, takes MPO 3D stills and also captures MP4 clips, adding to its versatility. We did most of shooting in JPEG Fine and AVCHD Full HD.
We had the camera with us for Opening Day baseball, a trip to Las Vegas as well as around our home base in the Northeast. In other words, it was a good mix of outdoor and indoor subject matter.
Before getting into the results lets discuss how it feels using this camera in the real world. In a phrase — just dandy. The camera and lens combo is compact, sturdy and it just feels right. Other than a few weird button placements and learning how to access certain features (exposure compensation for one), the GX1X has a lot to offer experienced and aspiring shutterbugs. We won’t bore you with the details, but delving into the 225-page manual at least once should be high on the to-do list of anyone purchasing this camera.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1X starts up fast and focuses promptly. The company claims a .09-second Light Speed AF. We can’t verify that number to a hundredth of a second, but the camera has very little shutter lag. You won’t twiddle your thumbs waiting to take your next shot, which is great. Top burst speed at full resolution is 4.2 fps which is a good spec but many other CSCs are 5 (Olympus) and 10 fps (Sony and Nikon).
After capturing our stills and video, we did our pixel peeping (viewing at 100 percent and blow-ups on the monitor), made prints and reviewed the videos on a 50-inch 1080p HDTV.
Not surprisingly, when there was a nice amount of ambient light (or flash), the GX1X turned in some really fine images. A Mets fan’s Gary Carter jersey had loads of fine detail and sparkling colors. The same held true for architectural shots of City Center in Las Vegas. Shots taken of indoor glass sculptures in Vegas were also good (they were framed by a skylight) as were flowers and swans in the Bellagio Conservatory. The camera had issues with some blown-out highlights as well as noise in low light.
The GX1X has a sensitivity range of 160 to 12,800. In our tests digital noise was under control until ISO 800 with relatively decent results at 1,600. From that point on, colors began to shift very noticeably and noise started to really rear its ugly head. 12,800 is particularly bad but this is to be expected with a relatively small Micro Four Thirds sensor compared to the much larger APS-C size imagers used in Sony and Samsung CSCs. It would be nice if there was an ISO limiting function at 800, but that’s not the case. In the Auto or Intelligent ISO settings the camera will top out at 1,600 but that’s too high a figure. Best bet is adjusting exposure compensation, aperture and shutter speed for superior results. Fortunately, the Power OIS stabilization is very good; we were able to handhold shots at ¼ second before the inevitable blur took over.
Video is almost as important as still quality today and the GX1X works well in this universe with barely a hint of shutter roll. We took short clips of waterfalls and dancing fountains in Las Vegas (where else?), and were quite impressed with the results. Color was very accurate in AVCHD and the lack of mechanical noise while zooming was most appreciated. Another plus is the ability to tweak your videos in many ways — using art filters, manual adjustments and so on. The GX1X’s movie clips made it easy to understand why sales of Full HD camcorders are slipping.
For all its issues, we liked shooting with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1X. Sure it’s quirky, but like Sony’s NEX interface we’re sure it’ll become second nature over time. However, it’s too expensive to recommend unreservedly. Even with the quality lens and extensive photo-centric features, $849 is just too much compared to higher-end Olympus PENs and Sony NEX models. If you do find it at a competitive price, by all means, pick it up but at current levels, pass it by.
- High-quality 16-megapixel stills and Full HD AVCHD movies
- Extensive photo tweaks
- Solid build with quality 3-inch touchscreen LCD
- Just too expensive
- Weird button arrangements
- Noisy at high ISOs
- Touchscreen should be more sensitive