How small is too small? How about a micro 4/3 camera that is smaller than most any fixed lens compact sporting a 1/1.6″ or 1/1.7″ sensor (not to mention any of the 1″ sensor cams, or even most compact p&s cameras I’ve owned)? Well, I’d heard that the Panasonic Lumix GM1 was small, but I don’t think I was prepared for HOW small this thing actually is. Have a look…
It is kinda like taking a relatively large (compared to the body size, one could and should say Huge) sensor and wrapping it up in a slightly thick smart phone, then shaving off about an inch in length. Is it too small? Simply put, yes, and no. If you look at it from a system camera standpoint, there are about three or four lenses that even remotely make sense as far as balance for the from the hip, one handed shooting that will probably be seen when this camera is employed by most, but more on that in a minute. If you’re looking at it from a compact, take anywhere and everywhere pocket camera, then no, it has the potential to be (and arguably already has been) groundbreaking. There may be a system camera or two that will shave off millimeters here and there to claim the smallest moniker, but with an APS-C sensor, the lenses will be more imbalanced, larger and heavier, not to mention no where near as fast if trying to reduce overall size. The Nikon and Pentax 1″ sensor type MILC systems (even smaller than a 4/3 sensor) have shown me that with an even smaller sensor, the lenses aren’t losing a noticeable amount of bulk without compromising lens speed, so it’s a trade down in image quality for a lateral size move more or less. Hence, my constant pumping up of the micro 4/3 system as the best balance of size reduction, sensor size, quality and diverse optical offerings in a mirrorless interchangeable lens compact system.
So, how does it fit in the hand? It feels like a point and shoot body to be honest, and with a pancake or the new 12-32mm kit zoom, it feels just fine. Tiny, but fine, even for my gargantuan hands believe it or not.
The smallest micro 4/3 body yet created, and currently the smallest ever interchangeable lens camera body. By an absolute long shot from my experience. (The newly announced Sony “don’t call me NEX” A5000 claims to be the “smallest, lightest” but still won’t hold a flame to the GM1 when you start looking at lenses, and I don’t see how a camera with an integrated grip can measure thinner than the GM1… we shall see when the A5000 is actually released.)
I can already see that I will be wanting to setup a custom function button (one of the six available customizable function buttons, all but one are touch screen implemented) to adjust the ISO as there is no direct button for that, but having just said that, I just took thirty seconds to do so, and now it’s set up. Great, easy, intuitive interface. I know that the Oly E-PM series is small, but this little GM1 is bordering on ludicrous. I have large hands, as I’ve mentioned before and there’s no photoshop’n in that sweet shot of me palming a regulation NBA sized b-ball up there (high five sixth grade self, you did it!), so I never felt to be a good candidate for a camera this small and largely ignored it, until I started selling off and trading various bodies, realizing I wanted a back up body to my lovely GX7. I was of two minds on this decision… Go with a more expensive and larger, more “serious” body like the EM1 or (more than likely) a GH3, or, look to find a smaller, more compact option to play to what I see as one of the systems primary benefits, size reduction.
Well, I went into my local store and had a good play around with the GH3 and GM1. While it has sacrificed external buttons and overall external control, has a very limited amount of real estate from which to grip the camera and has various limiting settings or excluded features (ridiculous flash sync speed, ignored the recent GX7 IBIS to remain as tiny as possible, to name a couple) I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, and how well it did seem to fit into my hand when shooting with a pancake or the kit zoom. I will say that the external controls that are included are rather handy, and well thought out. The custom, assignable function button (1) is located on top of the camera, surrounded by a focus mode selection wheel (AF-Single, AF-Continuous and Manual Focus which includes focus peaking!). The mode dial has the usual suspects, AND has two custom assignable modes which is very cool. The video record button is recessed near the thumb grip which is a nice touch as it is difficult to accidentally depress it, and the scroll wheel, used to adjust settings and navigate menus also is a directional button pad. I’ll go deeper into the bells and whistles in the review, but I feel that overall, this is a well thought out and nicely designed, tiny camera.
Now, time will tell if this is more just giddiness due to the sheer amazement of size, having fallen for such a small camera with such a relatively large sensor and the subsequent marketing hype, but I will certainly be reporting back on what I do and don’t like about it in the near future.
Now, if only I were about a quarter the size of my current self, like I’d been put in the dryer for too long, I could stand on the sideline of a sporting event with this setup and fit right in! Okay, so I’d be a minuscule person, with a tiny camera and imbalanced lens, but as long as nobody stood beside me, I might pull it off.
I chose the GM1 because I saw what it offered, a light weight, compact camera that was capable of remarkable image quality when looking at anything even remotely sized in the same neighborhood. This camera is going to be with me everywhere. I just got back from brunch with the family and I had the GM1 with a lens attached in one pocket of my sweatshirt and two other lenses (the two Lumix pancakes) in the other pocket and I could hardly tell that any of it was hanging from my person. This camera for me is more about replacing the need for a compact point and shoot, or my camera phone, to have around at any given moment than it is about competing with my full frame cameras for work. I don’t want, nor need a huge camera, or even decently sized camera with me all the time, but I do enjoy having a quality camera with me, and this new little guy is just that.
No, this camera is not a replacement for a more serious body in that it has removed the hotshoe (too bad), minimized external control (forced into menu diving and touch screen interface for most things) and will not do too well to balance a larger lens (although I’ll be debating this in a later article). But, in my opinion this is the future of and replacement for the compact point and shoot sector for a more discerning shooter I feel.
Sure, smart phones are fun to have, allow kitschy apps to create on the fly filtered images, and I do enjoy shooting with my phone, but anyone who has looked at the files from even the highest end smart phone cameras vs a larger sensor system knows that they are remarkably limited comparatively in resolution, dynamic range, fidelity and certainly struggle in lower light. We’ll even ignore the fact that it is near impossible to control any function of the exposure manually on a phone, so while each has their place, I feel that those who want to actually interact with photography in any meaningful capacity outside of basic composition and one button pushing auto mode, these system cameras are always going to offer something and have a place when considering the image quality they’re capable of.
If all you do is take pictures of your lunch to share on Myinstafacespace, then sure, your money is best saved by not buying into a system camera, but I think that even many of the smartphone generation of young, budding photographers or newly minted hipsters, are going to want to grow as they begin to realize there is more to photography than pushing a button and applying a filter, and cameras like this offer quite a bit more in quality and control while not adding much in the way of bulk in the purse or pocket. An image is an image, but an image captured with a better camera, better sensor and through a higher quality optic will be a better version of that image. When all of that can also fit into your pocket, it becomes a very interesting conversation. This type of camera enables very little need to compromise, and that is pretty cool.
You can see the Panasonic GM1 here at B&H.
Until I have the time to do some real comparisons, here is the tiny GM1 attached to the back of some of the micro 4/3 system lenses. I’d love to hear your thoughts, or would be happy to answer any questions in the comments.
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