Our review sample came in Raven Black, however the GX1 is also available in a rather fetching Gunmetal Grey. Taking its design cues directly from the older GF1 and GF2 models, the GX1 is more angular than the rounded-off GF3. It’s quite a professional, workmanlike looking camera if truth be told, but we really like that aspect of it – far better to look like a serious tool than just another fancy gadget.
Overall build quality is very high too, with the GX1 benefitting from an all-aluminium outer casing. Unlike the G3, the GX1 also gets metal buttons and a rubberised (as opposed to moulded metal) handgrip. This is a particularly nice touch, quite literally, as it enables you to get a much more secure grip of the camera with. Physical buttons are well spaced and usefully assigned too, enabling you to jump straight to all of the shooting settings most regularly used such as ISO and AF mode. There are two physical Fn buttons located on the camera body (one of which can be used as an AF/AE Lock button), with a further two Fn buttons accessed via the touch-screen.
Should you want or need to enter the in-camera menus you basically have two options: the Q. Menu button opens up a paired-down menu of shooting settings, while the main Menu button located in the middle of the D-pad opens up the full in-camera menu. The main menu layout will look immediately familiar to anyone who’s used a Lumix camera before, with things neatly divided up between Stills, Movie, Custom, General, and Playback settings. It’s all fairly straightforward to get to grips with and the good news for advanced users is that the Custom settings menu is extremely thorough, with seven pages of sub-menu options that allow you to tinker with everything from Fn button assignment to display options.
In terms of overall size, the GX1 is comparable to both the Olympus E-PL3 and Nikon J1. The GX1 is just about small enough to fit inside a coat pocket, especially with a 14mm pancake lens or the 14-42mm ‘X’ powered zoom that our review sample came fitted with. However, should you want to keep a couple of alternative lenses to hand you’ll need to invest in a small carry bag. Even so, you’re still talking substantially less size and weight than you would for a DSLR and a comparable set of lenses.
As with the G3 and GF3, the GX1 gets a 3inch, 460k-dot, 3:2 LCD rear monitor that also offers some touch-screen functionality. It’s a bright, sharp and clear display, although we did find that it has a tendency to make captured images appear slightly darker than they really are when using the camera in Playback mode. This in turn can trick you into over-applying positive EV compensation and losing highlight detail. A better solution is simply to turn the screen brightness up via the menu settings.
The GX1 uses the same super-fast, 23-area, contrast-detect AF system employed by the G3. Working in tandem with the touch-screen the GX1 offers the same the same intuitive Touch AF and Touch Shutter features seen on other Lumix G-series models. For those unfamiliar with either, Touch AF basically allows you to select a point of focus simply by touching it on the LCD screen. Touch Shutter, meanwhile, takes the process one step further by recording an image the instant the focus is found, again simply by touching the point of focus on the screen.
With a claimed AF speed of just 0.09 seconds (marginally faster than the G3), Panasonic claims the GX1 is the fastest focusing compact system model on the market. It’s certainly true that the GX1 is every bit as quick as the G3, locking on instantly in good to moderate light. Even in darker conditions AF speed remains impressive with the GX1 able to find its target with little tendency to focus hunt. When conditions do become too dark a powerful AF Assist light on the front of the camera is able to illuminate subjects several metres away.
The GX1 benefits from both a built-in flash and a proprietary hot-shoe/accessory port that can accommodate a range of accessories including more powerful flash units and the LVF2 tilting electronic viewfinder (EVF). This slots onto the accessory port and offers the equivalent of 1.44million-dots. Better still, it can be tilted up to 90-degrees for extra flexibility. Whereas we’re happy to admit to having serious doubts over the performance of EVFs in the past, it would appear that the technology is getting to a stage where the latest generation of EVF units (the Lumix LVF2 included) are actually quite useable.
Start-up time clocks in at a fraction over two seconds, and while this isn’t quite up to the instant start-up time of most DSLRs it should be perfectly acceptable for the majority of situations. Continuous shooting speed maxes out at 4.2fps, which is marginally faster than the G3 (by 0.2fps no less!). As with the G3, this can be increased to 20fps at 4MP if your priority is all-out speed rather than quality.
The GX1 is offered with a choice of kit zoom lens packages: with the (cheaper) standard 14-42mm zoom, or with the powered ‘X’ 14-42mm zoom that our review sample came fitted with. While we like the way this closes down to something only a little bigger than the 14mm pancake lens it’s considerably slower to use than a manually operated lens, taking around two seconds to move between the extremes of its focal range. We also found the positioning of the zoom control on the lens barrel a little awkward to reach when holding the camera in standard landscape mode.
It’s worth noting that the Lumix ‘X’ powered zoom is a premium lens with a similarly premium price. However, if the £730 asking price for the package puts the GX1 out of your price range then the good news is that the GX1 is also available with a regular (manually operated) Lumix 14-42mm kit zoom for around £200 less. Yes, the standard lens is physically bigger, but you could always invest the savings in a prime lens, or perhaps even the LVF2 electronic viewfinder.