I’m not very good when it comes to making decisions, so when I wanted to upgrade my ageing Panasonic GH1, those who know me had to put up with my usual cycle of conversation, investigation, over-analysis and justification as I wrestled with the fact that I am ridiculously picky, and my pockets are usually shallower than my aspirations. However, having sold some unloved bits and bobs via a certain auction site, I thankfully had cured shallow-pocket-syndrome for this purchase, and just had to decide which camera to buy! Easy, right?
Actually, yes it was. I had a fixed amount of money I could spend, and knew not only what I wanted to gain over my existing GH1, but what I was prepared to lose.
First and foremost, I was looking for improved high-ISO performance. I never shot above ISO1600 with my GH1, primarily because I found there were some issues with noise banding at ISO3200 (the maximum setting), but because the standard 14-140mm HD kit lens was a bit on the ‘slow’ side aperture wise, I frequently found myself having to shoot at ISO1600 and really needing a boost so I could increase the shutter speed.
Whilst the Lumix G3 and GX1 have similar RAW performance, the GX1 with newer software has a maximum ISO of 12800 and from all I had studied online, looked like it would have usable ISO6400. Subjectively it also appeared to have better out-of-camera high-ISO JPEG performance of the two Panasonic options I was considering.
Given that I only used the EVF on my GH1 once or twice in several thousand shots, I wasn’t bothered if the replacement body had one or not, and as for the articulated LCD, well I decided that was the one thing I was prepared to lose, and ordered myself a GX1 body.
Despite only having had it for a few days, I know I’ve made a good decision (thanks for everyone’s patience). I’m extremely impressed with the performance, build quality and all round feel of this little gem, and whilst I can’t directly compare it with a G3, I can say that it exceeds my expectations both photographically and aesthetically.
I anticipated that the GX1 would be a lot more responsive than the GH1, but I wasn’t expecting it to feel quite so much quicker – focusing with my existing 14-140mm lens happens instantaneously, there’s no discernible shutter lag, and shot-to-shot times are very impressive. Not only does the GX1 feel very nippy indeed, it also feels incredibly solid, well made, and for want of a better word, ‘right’.
The ergonomics are pretty much spot on, with all the manual control you could possibly need at your finger (and thumb) tips. There is of course a touch screen too, and whilst you can choose not to use it at all, I personally think the combination of the updated on-screen menus, GUI and touch screen implementation add to the user experience. The customisable Q.Menu is brilliant – much better than the GH1 in my humble opinion.
There are many other neat little touches to be found in the GX1 too, both in its’ software and hardware – the illuminating iA button for instance, which goes off when you release the shutter so it’s not reflected in the photograph; the function buttons are customisable to your own preference, and you can get instant access to favourite stored shooting setups via 2 custom positions on the mode dial; and until now I’ve had to manually rotate portrait-format pictures taken with my 20mm f/1.7 lens due to the lack of a built-in orientation sensor, but it’s nice to see these images properly oriented in the GX1. Thoughtful.
Perhaps my favourite hidden gem with the GX1 though, is the fact that the pop-up flash can be bounced off the ceiling. It’s not a documented feature as such, but I refuse to believe that Panasonic’s engineers didn’t deliberately build the clever popup mechanism in such a way that you could tilt it so it pointed up, then press it gently towards the back of the camera housing so that it stayed there.
Okay so there’s no documentation on this ‘feature’, and nothing to actually positively click the flash into place that might suggest the flash is in fact like this ‘by design’. Every blog or forum post I have read on the matter is also at pains to point out that you should attempt the bounce flash trick at your own risk, but I gave it a whirl – tentatively at first – and guess what, I’ve not broken the flash, and it works a treat! Oh, if you’re going to try this with your own flash, do so at your own risk.
I love the rangefinder styling of the GX1, and mated with the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, it’s an extremely compact yet highly capable combo that delivers superb results – smaller than I expected it to be, and smaller than the GH1 by a considerable margin. The versatile 14-140mm f/4-5.8 lens is still a bit on the slow side as it always has been, but it’s not as cumbersome a partner for the GX1 as you might think, and with the much improved high-ISO performance and lightning fast focusing I can live without those pricey f/2.8 zooms for a wee while yet.