Four-Thirds Format is Finally Where it Should Be

It has been a very busy week for us here at Photography Life with so many new products announced and launched by several major camera and lens manufacturers. The marathon of announcement articles is coming to an end and the last (hopefully) camera that we need to mention is the new m4/3 sensor mirrorless Panasonic Lumix GM1. But, by all means, it is not the least interesting product to come out this week. In fact, the GM1 is rather special. Let me start by saying this – it is tiny.

Panasonic-Lumix-GM1

1) A Few Thoughts on (Micro) Four-Thirds System

Before Olympus mirrorless took entry-level DSLR market by storm, the 4/3 format didn’t really make all that much sense. With a sensor smaller than APS-C, it was distinctly amateurish. Image quality just wasn’t there, either, and the 4:3 aspect ratio, while a classic, was only shared by compact cameras. However, Olympus insisted on putting such a small sensor into rather large DSLR camera bodies, such as the Olympus E-5. A sensor four times smaller than full-frame in a comparable body? Four-thirds was always supposed to be minuscule – win in size where it lost in performance. That was the only real advantage it could exploit and for a long time Olympus made the mistake of trying to keep its DSLR system alive (which, incidentally, had a very loyal group of users). I still remember how they promised four-thirds would continue to exist when they introduced the E-5 in 2010. Make no mistake. Olympus DSLRs are done for. The only way they are going to “live on” is “spiritually” through micro four-thirds system and cameras like O-MD E-M1 that can use original four-thirds Zuiko lenses effectively.

After the failure of four-thirds, Olympus and Panasonic came up with a brilliant idea. Exploit the size advantage four-thirds sensor offers by throwing away all the unnecessary parts from the camera, namely the mirror and optical viewfinder. By doing so, lens size could also be reduced. With Olympus Pen E-P1, mirrorless camera system entered the market and caused quite a racket. It was well built. It was gorgeous and stylish. And it was small. Yet, for the size and cost, it was also very capable. Finally, the performance penalty was paying off. Olympus E-P1 was a camera you could take everywhere – to hell with camera bags and heavy equipment for casual shooting!

Several years later, basically all the camera manufacturers entered the market of compact system cameras. Sony and Canon proved that even a larger APS-C sensor could be cramped into a small camera. It didn’t matter that you had to mount a Sony NEX-5 on a lens and not the other way around, because the body was small. That’s what mattered in the eyes of an average consumer. Micro four-thirds was being attacked from both sides – APS-C mirrorless nearing in terms of size with better image quality, compact cameras pushing with image quality and more compact dimensions. The solution was to beat one of the attackers in both respects. First of all, the 16 megapixel sensor came out that we saw in OM-D E-M5 and some Panasonic cameras (a similarly performing unit). We were very impressed by it and found it wasn’t far off APS-C sensors of the same generation. Now, Panasonic took the 16 megapixel sensor and put it in a camera that is small enough to challenge even compact point-and-shoots. For example, it is actually smaller than Sony’s RX100 II yet costs the same with the kit lens!

Panasonic Lumix GF1_Top

What we have in case of GM1 is a tiny camera capable of producing very high quality images. And it is small throughout – Olympus and Panasonic m4/3 lenses are among the smallest on the market and noticeably less bulky than their APS-C counterparts. One system that can match that is Nikon 1, but surprisingly enough the new Panasonic GM1 is smaller than Nikon 1 J3! And it is also rather good-looking with a mild touch of retro about it. Somehow, it’s timeless-looking for a maker who doesn’t have a long photographic history, yet shamelessly modern at the same time. Job well done, Panasonic. Keep it up.

2) Panasonic GM1 Overview and Key Specifications

Inside the small and tough metal body is the proven 16 megapixel four-thirds sensor with crop factor of 2x and ISO range of 200-25600. Naturally, one should not expect GM1 to shine at highest sensitivities. Performance-wise, it is the same sensor found in the bigger GX7 and similar to the sensor found in Olympus OM-D E-M5 which we found very impressive for such size.

Unfortunately, autofocus relies on a regular contrast-based system, but Panasonic has proven it can be very fast. According to Panasonic, the GM1 is big on speed and should be very snappy. We will be able to tell for sure if (or when) we get one for a review, but based on user reviews of older Panasonic cameras, they rarely disappoint. Unless you plan to shoot with subject tracking, the 23-point AF system should not pose any problems. But then, you wouldn’t really shoot moving subjects with it and for different reasons than you may think. You see, Panasonic GM1 has two shutter mechanisms. The electronic shutter which goes all the way up to 1/16000s. Yes, you read that right. Impressive. But then the mechanical shutter is only good up to 1/500 of a second. In most cases, it is not a problem, but for subjects that move quickly electronic shutter may cause jello effect.

Panasonic Lumix GF1_Rear

The back of the camera is dominated by a large and sharp 3″ 1.036 million dot screen and although external controls are limited (not as much as you may think), there is no instantly apparent compromise for the sake of small dimensions. This is a proper interchangeable lens camera.

GM1′s biggest party piece is its diminutive size (pun not intended). Own a 4″ class smartphone? The Panasonic is smaller overall (but thicker, naturally)! To help you understand how tiny it really is, here is an approximate comparison to a competing APS-C mirrorless camera, the Fujifilm X-M1 and a standard-sized full-frame DSLR, Canon 5D Mark III:

Panasonic Lumix GM1 Size

Mind you, this is no a scientifically accurate comparison, but it should give you a decent idea on what advantages a small sensor can offer when a manufacturers sets his mind to purpose. Panasonic is also proud about the styling calling it “the most fashion forward-looking Lumix G camera to date”. I, too, think the GM1 looks great. Some might say looks are not important – this is a tool. I disagree – for me, design is always very important. It is more fun using a camera that you like everything about. Even if looks is not a dominating criteria when choosing a camera, it undeniably carries some weight.

Here is a list of key specifications:

  • New 16 megapixel m4/3 sensor also found in higher-end GX7
  • ISO sensitivity range of 200-25600
  • Silent electronic shutter speed up to 1/16000s, mechanical shutter up to 1/500
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • 3″ 1.036 million dot touchscreen LCD at the back
  • Battery life rated at approximately 230 shots per charge
  • Pop-up flash
  • Metal alloy body
  • Weighs 204g (0.45 lb/7.20 oz) with battery
  • Measures 99 x 55 x 30 mm (3.88 x 2.16 x 1.20″) – tiny!

3) Let’s Not Forget the Lens

Sony proved big lenses can be a problem even if the camera body is small. Along with the GM1, Panasonic has also announced a new kit lens. As you’d expect, the 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 Lumix G Vario is also very, very small despite having 24-64mm equivalent focal length. It comes as a kit with the GM1 and will be available separately for around $350. A great match for the small GM1, but not the only choice you can make in order to keep the package compact. Both Olympus and Panasonic make some very small pancake lenses for the m4/3 system.

Panasonic 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 Lumix G Vario

4) Official Press Release

Here is the official Panasonic GM1 press release:

Stay in Style with an Ultra Compact DSLM (Digital Single Lens Mirrorless) Camera

New Stylish LUMIX GM Series Performance Upgrades its Cool Factor

Panasonic is proud to announce the new fashionable compact line GM series to its LUMIX Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM) cameras. The new DMC-GM1 boasts not just its iconic and stylish compact profile; it boasts high functional performance with large Digital Live MOS Sensor based on the Micro Four Thirds system standard. The Lumix GM1 provides the perfect balance of style and photographic hybrid performance on-the-go with outstanding image quality.

True-to-life detail

Whether you’re searching for that artistic shot that encapsulates your city or looking to express your own personality and style, you demand a camera that captures your vision with absolute clarity and precision. The LUMIX GM1’s 16 megapixel sensor delivers with a modern hybrid approach to image capture with both high quality HD movies and dynamic photos, and all with the simple press of a button.

A fashionable compact for your lifestyle

The LUMIX GM1 represents the most compact and fashion forward looking LUMIX G camera to date. Ground-breaking micro technology design has enabled Panasonic to pack the very latest imaging technology into the camera’s compact metallic alloy frame. Not only does this give the LUMIX GM1 an elegant look and feel, but the camera easily fits into your pocket and can be incorporated into day-to-day activities of any style-conscious enthusiast. Plus with many interchangeable micro lenses to choose from, creative options are nearly limitless.

Reflecting the sophisticated engineering beneath the surface, the LUMIX GM1’s exterior offers a refined, classic style with aluminum dials and brushed metal, so you can be sure that the LUMIX GM1 will complement your style, whatever the occasion.

Share your creations

WiFi connectivity enables the LUMIX GM1 to easily connect with smartphones and tablets. Whether you’re sharing a shot of your friend’s outfit before a night out, or updating your photography portfolio with your new favorite landscape, the LUMIX GM1 allows you to post images and video online as soon as they’ve been taken.

Coupled with the Panasonic Image App, which is available free of charge for Android and iOS operating systems from their respective app stores, wireless connectivity also enables Remote Shooting, allowing you to use your smartphone or tablet to act as a remote control for the LUMIX GM1 – ideal for taking group shots, or in situations where it isn’t practical to shoot directly from your camera.

Total control and limitless creativity

The ideal camera for perfectionists and enthusiast photographers alike, the LUMIX GM1 offers a choice of full manual control, intelligent assistance for easy shooting, and a host of creative features.

A three-inch touch screen makes it easy to frame the perfect shot, set the focus and even trigger the shutter with a single touch. The LUMIX GM1 also features intelligent auto modes, providing point-and-shoot ease-of-use that doesn’t compromise on image quality.

A range of 22 creative filters also allow you to add a personal touch to any image, transforming your favorite pictures into stylistic works of art. You can even create your own Time Lapse Shot or Stop-motion Animation to display your creativity.

When discretion is demanded, the silent shutter feature enables you to make the camera nearly silent and capture images in places such as during concerts or exhibitions where photographs are not allowed to be taken due to distracting ‘clicks’.

Ready when you are

You never want to miss that fleeting moment of inspiration. That’s why the LUMIX GM1 is built for speed and mobility. With the camera’s Light Speed autofocus, it will be ready and waiting to capture that perfect photo opportunity with stunning accuracy. Low-light autofocus will also provide outstanding speed in extreme low-light conditions, so you can continue to express your creativity when you only have the stars and streetlights to rely on.

You can explore the full range of LUMIX G lenses with the new LUMIX G App for iPad, available via the iTunes App Store. The app lets you discover and explore the world of Panasonic LUMIX G Micro System Cameras.

5) Pre-Order Links

Comments

  1. October 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    I don’t know if I can ever have a “serious” camera that doesn’t have a viewfinder, either optical, TTL, or EVF (and when I shoot for fun, e.g. street shooting, I’m always hoping to get a portfolio shot). I’d have to try it, but for now something like the Fujis — X100s/X-Pro/XE would get my vote. This to me would seem like shooting with a fancier version of an iPhone though the quality is obviously much better. The real test for me would be shooting outdoors in bright light, where I find using the LCD on the rear as a viewfinder to be worthless on the phones. Is it better with this? Maybe indoors shooting candids might be interesting though, since there’s an advantage I can see in NOT needing to bring the camera to your eye. Hmmmm.

    • 3
      ) HomoSapiensWannaBe
      October 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm

      Patrick,
      I have not committed to any MILC system. This small camera is appealing. I agree that a viewfinder is a must on any serious camera I buy. For that, we will have to wait for the GM-2 or variant from Panasonic, Olympus or other maker.

      Perhaps the new Sony RX10 with its 24-200/2.8 equivalent and likely excellent viewfinder is the one? It is not tiny like the GM-1, but it does so much more.

      I’m not always feeling energetic enough to haul around a D600 and a few lenses, but the image quality is usually worth it when I do. I rely its large, bright viewfinder except when the sun is in the frame, where I use Live View to avoid harming my eyesight.

      • 6
        ) Patrick Downs (@PatDownsPhotos)
        October 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm

        Yes. For “fun” I haul my D700 or 800 and 24-70 (usually with the 70-300 instead of my 70-200 2.8) all the time, a bare bones version of my working kit. I rarely regret it but something smaller/lighter would be great as long as it doesn’t require significant compromises in IQ and handling/performance. Always trade-offs, dangit!

  2. October 19, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    I’ve had a an Olympus OMD, on trail now since July, once I got over the initial size problem, I’m use to a Nikon D800 and Bronica film cameras, its now become my camera of choice now for street work. Its light even with a few lenses tagging along, so I don’t have to walk around with a back pack that would do Sherpa Tensing justice! Needless to say its part of my normal kit now.

  3. 4
    ) Craig
    October 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Without a viewfinder it’s not a serious camera. Small size is great, and I always carry a point-and-shoot Fujifilm on my belt, because I just can’t carry the big camera around every place I go. I have a Hoodman eye loop in each of my cars, so if I come across a photo op during the daytime I can use my camera at eye level and see everything. The camera manufacturers need to take the blinders off, or in their case acknowledged the problem of shooting blind when outside during the day.

    • 7
      ) Patrick Downs (@PatDownsPhotos)
      October 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      Interesting… never though about using a Hoodman loupe in that way, for stills using a camera lacking a regular VF.

  4. 5
    ) Craig
    October 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I will have to say that I am pleased with a number of new cameras coming onto the market with electronic viewfinders. Although some of them are only a token 200,000 dot finder, which in the case of the new Leica, is a slap, the 2,000,000 dot plus EVF cameras display a serious effort by the manufacturers.

  5. 8
    ) Peter
    October 20, 2013 at 5:30 am

    “…but it should give you a decent idea on what advantages a small sensor can offer when a manufacturers sets his mind to purpose”.

    Miniaturization is not always an advantage – at least not to me. In my eyes the Oly OM-D M1 is the perfect compromise taking size, weight and image quality into account. GM1 / Nikon J123 are too small and I miss the OVF. I also own a Kinotehnik LCDVF Viewfinder but that does not replace a decent OVF at all.

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