HandlingThe GX1 is a direct descendant of the GF1. That's obvious from the moment you pick the camera up, as it has the same high-end metal build, the same plain, boxy design, the same PSAM mode dial, the same clickable settings thumb-wheel etc. One major new addition is the rubber grip handle. This is deeply set for improved grip (your middle finger is nice and stable), and means you can easily use the camera with one hand.
A less immediately visible, but just as welcome, new feature is the customisable interface. The Quick menu is entirely customisable (with up to 12 settings over three pages!), and the two Fn buttons plus two zones on the right of the touchscreen can be assigned the functions of your choice. Here, the GX1 boasts the same flexibility as Panasonic's G3, as you can set it up in line with your preferences and keep your most frequently used settings to hand. The touchscreen is handy for selecting the subject of your shots, but can also be used to take a photo without using the autofocus control or shutter-release button.
Otherwise, the GX1 handles like a Panasonic—the controls and GUI are effective, generally practical and clear, and our only minor compliant is that the menus can sometimes be a bit dense (and the touchscreen doesn't work in the menus either). Note that like all Lumix cameras, the GX1 has an iA mode, which means that a good 90% of the time you won't even have to bother using the manual settings. Although that's not really the point of this camera, it can still be handy, especially if you lend your camera to a less-experienced user.
The GX1 has the same LCD as the GF3, as the test results from our lab came back virtually identical. Contrast is therefore a little excessive, but only slightly, and blue is still the dominant shade. Colour fidelity isn't spot on, but while you'd certainly see the difference between this LCD and a correctly calibrated monitor, in real terms, it's not that bad. In fact, the screen is perfectly pleasant to use, even if the OLED display in the Olympus E-P3 and the LCD displays in Sony's NEX cameras are sharper and more detailed.
In the past, Panasonic G-series cameras have always come off pretty well in this field, and the GX1 is no exception. Performances are good, with the autofocus taking around 1/4 of a second at all focal lengths (1/2 of a second in low light). Photo-to-photo turnaround takes under a second and the continuous shooting mode snaps at 4.5 frames per second.
But is the GX1 slowed down by the new 14-42 mm X-series lens—the first 'pancake zoom' to hit the market? We were pleasantly surprised actually, as deploying this ultra-compact zoom doesn't seem to slow down the camera's start-up time—the GX1 can still take a photo 1.3 seconds after you switch it on.
The Panasonic GX1 has almost identical internal electronics to the G3. In fact, the principal differences between this camera and the GX1 are its design, its fixed LCD and its lack of viewfinder.
Both cameras therefore handle sensitivity in very similar ways. At 100% size, like the test shots above, there are a few differences in the way this camera goes about preserving detail, and the map contour lines and the '100' printed on one of the circuit board components appear slightly more smoothed at high ISO settings. However, in real-life situations like 8" x 10" prints (20 x 27 cm) and onscreen viewing, the difference in quality is negligible. Picture quality is perfectly fine up to 1600 ISO, and 3200 ISO can still be used so long as you don't go looking at your prints under a magnifying glass. However, at 6400 ISO noise becomes too much of a problem.
We're certainly very keen to see what Panasonic's new 14-42 mm X lens (see inset) is made of. For a lens that's so compact, and with elements that are clearly going to have to move quite a lot when you power up, can this pancake zoom really match the quality of standard 14-42 mm zoom lenses (like Panasonic's non-X models)? Let's take a look.
At wide-angle settings, 100% size shots show that the standard lens does a slightly better job—contour lines and welding on the circuit board come out better with the G3 (which has an identical sensor to the GX1). However, the X-series lens still holds its own, as this slight difference in quality is hardly even visible on standard sized prints. What's more, the new lens is very consistent, and in the corners of the frame, the X-series lens does a marginally better job—again though, this difference is minute, and completely invisible on an 8" x 10" print.
At telephoto settings, the new lens lags behind the old one, and this time the difference in quality is visible in the corners of 8" x 10" photos ... but only if you look very closely! On the whole, the 14-42 mm X-series lens is actually a pretty nice surprise, and is good enough to silence critics who were sceptical about its size. Quality is never very far behind that of the bulkier equivalent and the compact design is clearly a plus. Obviously, photographers who are used to lugging around equipment in a rucksack will still prefer the manual model, but this lens makes a great alternative for anyone who's space conscious.
Note that some users have complained that the stabilisation system doesn't always work properly in certain conditions (1/160 sec. at 42 mm) but we didn't notice any such problems in the model we were sent to test.
VideoThe GX1 has the same video modes as the GF3 and G3, filming Full HD at 25 frames per second with a sharp image that's quite highly contrasted but pleasant to watch. Noise levels are kept in check too. The autofocus works well, although we did notice some slight pumping, and the zoom motor is slowed down for smooth transitions.
Sound is captured with relative accuracy in day-to-day conditions and the stereo effect is well rendered. However, in very quiet scenes a slight hiss can be heard and a slight buzzing noise is picked up from the zoom. Note that, like the G3, the GX1 only has a remote control socket, so you can't hook up an external microphone like you can with the GH2.