Hands-on: Panasonic Lumix GM1 review

Is it a compact? Is it a compact system camera? The latest Panasonic Lumix GM1 is a camera that feels somewhere between the two. It's small and compact-like in form, yet its Micro Four Thirds mount means you can chop and change between different lenses. Just after its official announcement, Pocket-lint got to play around with the camera in its orange-finish, no less. This brightly coloured compact-meets-compact-system puts the micro in Micro Four Thirds, but does it diminish performance in doing so?

The Lumix GM1 is, in essence, a miniaturised Lumix GX7 without the built-in electronic viewfinder. It's been redesigned from the inside to incorportae the same 16-megapixel sensor and Venus engine as the GX7. And with the same array of lenses available - plus the new 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 collapsable lens, as pictured - the picture quality ought the be just as quality. We've snapped a couple of frames in and around a London club and were just as impressed anyway.

READ: Panasonic Lumix GX7 review

But just because the GM1 is small doesn't mean it's not mighty in the performance stakes. The autofocus system is also the very same as found in the GX7, and that makes for super-fast response whichever mode you have it in. It's called "Light Speed AF" for a reason. The 3-inch, 1036k-dot LCD screen on the rear offers a touch-panel so literally pressing in on the action makes light work of picking out subjects.

We even tucked ourselves into a corner of a dark room to test out the -4EV autofocus ability and, despite a more generalised focus area rather than a small, specified one, the GM1 was still able to focus. Good stuff.

There are other internal changes too, including a stepping motor to power the mechanical shutter to 1/500th sec max, and an electronic shutter that maxes out at 16,000th sec.

No viewfinder, and no hotshoe for accessories on the GM1 might frustrate some, however, but then the argument here is that the GX7 also exists to cover multiple user bases. In the GM1 flash sync tops out at 1/50th sec, but as there's no external flash compatibility this isn't going to be the pocketable camera for strobists. We would like to see a hotshoe, but if an accessory terminal was on board then we suspect the size would inflate - even if just by a couple of millimeters.

As much as it compares to the GX7, the GM1 is a wholly different prospect. Just one glance at it makes that clear. The faux leather finish has an essence of Fujifilm about it - think Fujifilm X-A1 - and looks ok in orange, but not as shining as the colour itself. But each to their own. The aluminium and magnesium body under the skin does exude a feeling of quality and if you're not into orange then there's also a black model available, or if you live outside the UK there will be white and silver versions in some territories.

READ: Fujifilm X-A1 review

The layout is a mixture of rear right-aligned buttons, including a small rotational d-pad control; and an array of controls on top including a mode dial, autofocus selector switch, on/off toggle and function button (Fn1). Everything is very small though, but the buttons are spaces out just enough to ensure that they're usable without accidental knocks of other settings.

At first we thought that the placement of the Fn1 button might get in the way of the shutter button, but the finger naturally falls to the shutter - the conscious decision to reach over to the Fn button requires a significant reach. Some may find to autofocus selector a touch fiddly, however, despite a small raised section to offer additional grip.

With the 12-32mm lens attached the process of switching the GM1 on requires two motions, however, as the lens has to be twisted out of its locked position to extend before it's available to use. Again, an essence of Fujifilm X-F1 about that, but it works well enough and is all about keeping the system extra compact.

READ: Fujifilm X-F1 review

All Micro Four Thirds lenses are compatible with the GM1, but there will be future lenses designed specifically with the small design in mind, including a "GM-style" Leica 15mm f/1.7 and other future collapsable lenses to be announced.

Elsewhere there's a 5fps burst mode, which dips to 4fps in continuous tracking mode; built-in Wi-Fi for sharing straight from camera, but no NFC; while video capture maxes out at 1080i50 - a shame it's not progressive, something the processor is capable of but that has been limited due to potential heat issues in the smaller physical configuration.

The price point isn't miniature, but with a list price of £629 including the 12-32mm kit lens it's not too steep either. We rather like this dinky little package, it takes an interesting angle against the competition: whether you're thinking Sony RX100 or system camera. With the GM1 the range of lenses makes for a versatile product. Interesting stuff indeed.