Panasonic Lumix DMC – GX1

Panasonic expands its compact system range with a fourth model, the GX1. Tim Coleman tries out a pre - production model and gives his first impressions

PRIOR to using the Lumix DMC - GXl for an afternoon, Panasonic sat me down to talk through the companys performance over the past year, in what is an evergrowing interchangeable - lens camera market. A growth in sales of 120% year on year over 2011 was driven mainly by a 203% growth in compact system camera sales. In Europe, the sales ratio for CSCs against SLRs is very low at 9%, but in the UK CSCs account for 19 in every 100 interchangeable - lens camera sales, with Panasonic taking 44% of this market share. This accounts for a total market share of 9%, with the companys Lumix DMC - G3 the best - selling CSC this year.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the company is focusing a lot of energy on its Lumix G - series compact system cameras. The GX1 widens the current line - up to four models, splitting the range into two distinctive styles The GH2 and G3 are SLR - style cameras that include a built - in viewfinder, while the GX1 and GF3 are compact - style models. Panasonic has also promised to add a further two lenses to its range in 2012.

The GX1 is positioned as the luxury compact - style model, effectively replacing the GF1, and its features are suited to the more knowledgeable photographer who wants a compact body. The pared - down GF3, meanwhile, is ideal for the mass market. For those who like the idea of the compact body of the GX1 but would like a viewfinder, Panasonic has also released the new LVF2 electronic viewfinder, which I also had the opportunity to try out.

FEATURES

One of the most significant features of the compact - style GX1 is that its imaging sensor has been passed down from the larger G3, which makes it a 16 - million - pixel, four thirds unit. This marks an approximate 4 - million - pixel increase over that of the GF1 and GF3, and gives an output of 4592x3448 pixels. The sensitivity range is between IS0160 and 6400

Speed and ease of use are demonstrated through several key features. For example, the sensor readout has been increased from 60fps to 120fps One resulting benefit is a faster autofocus system, with pinpoint AF and shutter lag through the touchscreen measured at 0.09secs. The touchscreen offers more controls than ever, such as full - area AF, touch zoom and two user - defined functions.

High - speed continuous shooting is available at 4.2fps in full resolution or 20fps for 4 - million - pixel JPEG files. Burst rates are limited to a total of nine frames in raw capture, but JPEG offers unlimited capture, which depends on the file size and memory card being used.

Video recording at 1080p now offers MPEG4 format at 25fps, which is also the case for the GH2 via a firmware upgrade. As before, video files can be recorded as 60fps in AVCHD format.

Added to the creative control are low - key and toy effects, making eight settings in all.

BUILD AND HANDLING

Holding the GX1, it is clear that the build quality is a cut above that of the GF3. Its aluminium chassis is reassuringly weighty and sits well in the hand, thanks to a new - style faux leather hand grip. The grip curves naturally around the middle finger for a solid hold. Buttons are tactile and appear to be durable.

Customisation is a key plus - side to this camera. There are four user - defined function buttons: two on the rear of the body and two accessed through the touchscreen. There are 25 functions that can be assigned to these buttons, including displays such as digital level gauge and exposure settings such as photo style for colour settings. As a default, Fnl operates autoexposure, which is a very handy way of snapping to the correct aperture and shutter speed for the available light - in line with the ISO of the camera. Likewise, the quick menu is adjustable and there are two custom modes on the exposure - mode dial. Thanks to the customisation possible on the GX1, operation is speedy and simple.

Many of the same functions - such as intuitive touchscreen operation - remain from the last generation of G - series models, which is a good thing. The company claims the response time for AF and shutter release has been improved to 0.09secs, and I certainly enjoyed using it. Professionals and beginners alike should appreciate touch focus in pinpoint AF, where focus is achieved by pressing the desired point of focus on the screen. There is also now full - area AF, which is very handy indeed. In other systems where the AF areas are restricted to a large central area of the frame, any desired focal point outside this area requires focusing and recomposing - but not so with full - area AF.

The touchscreen also benefits from a zoom. It has three speed settings, which can be assigned separately for video and stills. Most touch controls can also be operated via the buttons on the camera.

Those disappointed by the lack of a hotshoe on the GF3 will be pleased with the GX1, which is compatible with flashguns such as the DMW - FL220E and the 1.44 - million - dot LVF2 electronic viewfinder. It is tiltable up to around 90 and more often than not I found that tilting it by around 60° made for the most comfortable viewing angle. The EVF is bright and offers the benefit of shooting displays and menu navigation.

As well as the usual PASM shooting control, Intelligent Auto Plus remains It is reliable across a variety of situations, although I suspect users looking at this camera will often opt for some level of manual control regardless.

PERFORMANCE

Panasonic was at pains to make clear that I was using a pre - production model, and as such it is difficult to scrutinise image quality at this time. I look forward, then, to getting my hands on a full production model. With the same 16 - million - pixel imaging sensor as the G3, it would come as no surprise that image quality is just as impressive. Early indications back up this notion, with the sensor capable of producing high levels of detail. JPEG files benefit from a little sharpening, but this is not at all unusual.

Having recorded the same image across the entire sensitivity range, it appears that luminance noise at higher sensitivities does not dramatically affect resolved detail, so I expect the GX1 to do well in our resolution charts.

I used the camera in overcast light, evening light and indoors in tungsten light. Colour rendition from the standard setting in picture mode gives pleasing natural results. Auto white balance is a little cool in tungsten light, for which the dedicated tungsten white balance is best, while in overcast light there is a slight magenta tone.

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