21 Dec 2013

GM1 & Me: Review of how we met each other

Since the first time I heard about it, I felt curious. I already had a partner, and I was very happy with it; it was not a question of unfaithfulness or betrayal, it just caught my attention at first glance because I had been unconsciously waiting for something of that sort for a while. It's the kind of feeling that you have when you think that you don't need something but, once it is presented to you, immediately you realize that's exactly what you needed all along. And you have no other choice but to stretch out your arm, and grab it. So that's what I did: I preordered it and when, 3 days before the scheduled launch day, I received a call from the store saying that it was already with them, I took a bus and went there in no time, ready to pick it up. It was Friday afternoon and I had a long weekend ahead with nothing to do but to go out, and shoot as much as I could.

Confrontation, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm 
Spinning heads, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The fact that obviously grabbed my attention at first sight was its diminutive size; not that my regular camera is big, since GH3 is still smaller than most DSLR's and it is really comfortable to hold and to carry over extended periods of time without issues, but after being shooting exclusively with it for almost a year, I had realized that the bulk was still larger than what I would like in some instances; those moments when you don't want to carry with you a dedicated camera bag (as small as that might be, and I use a lowepro flipside 200) but you would still love to have your full camera at hand and not compromise image quality (I'm not a fan of smartphone photography).

Locomotion, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Gardener's tools, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Yes, a camera to carry along with me anywhere I go, unnoticed inside my small handbag along the tablet, the wallet and the customary foldable umbrella; a camera that will always be within reach for those unexpected occasions that pop up when you are off guard: on the way to work, dozy in an early taxi; coming back from the supermarket, hands packed with plastic bags; or even while you enjoy a coffee, reading a book, in your favorite café. I had lost countless stills during the course of the last months for not having a camera at hand, and this was the main reason why this tiny beauty ended up in my possession as soon as it landed in stores. No more wasted opportunities, I told myself. From now on, you can blame none else but your own laziness if this happens again, Gonzalo!

Geometry & color, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The branch that caught the light, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
That same afternoon, as soon as I reached back home and unpacked the camera, I felt the unstoppable urge of going out and simply shoot. The battery was naturally half depleted, and considering its size, I knew it would not last very long, but I didn't want to waste the last couple of hours of sunlight while it charged, so I grabbed it without any strap or grip, and left my room. I would just stroll around my condominium grounds, testing my new little mate in an environment that I know too well but that, ironically, I had never photographed properly before.

A hollow with views, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The camera with the kit zoom lens is so small that you don't really need any grip to hold it because the position I found more natural to hold it is with two hands, as you handle a smartphone when you are taking a picture in landscape orientation. However, a strap is helpful; I found the one provided in the package too big for such a small camera (it's actually a neck strap) so I decided to buy a small wrist strap, and that's how I have been carrying the GM1 ever since, hanging from one hand. Don't worry about the swing, it's small and light enough not to swing too much. You will most of the times forget it's there! So on Saturday, with the battery fully charged and the wrist strap ready, I went out again, ready to shoot more and to get to know the handling and responsiveness of the camera better.

Waiting line I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Waiting line II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Somehow I ended up in a vast bus repair garage that I had no idea it was there; I entered the spacious and empty terrace and walked amongst the old, damaged buses, taking my time to explore the area, taking pictures along the way. The fact that the camera has no viewfinder (nor hot shoe to attach an external unit) bothered me much less than I had previously anticipated; when I shoot with the GH3, 90% of the time the screen is closed and I shoot exclusively through the EVF; but the GM1 is so different in terms of appearance and handling that I never had any issues at all shooting through the fixed screen; the same way that I naturally handle the camera with 2 hands, very differently to how I handle the bigger GH3, looking through the screen quickly became natural and I can say I have never missed having an EVF in this camera since day one.

Afternoon doze, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm 
Greetings, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
It's like wearing contact lenses or glasses: both aim and achieve the same goal, though they do so following two completely different paths, and the experience of wearing one or another is completely different, specially at the beginning. We all know one thing for sure, however: after a few minutes, who is aware of what he or she is wearing anymore? In my opinion, the mistake, as I have read in many reviews/forums online, is trying to use the camera the way it's not naturally fitted to do, forcing the gear to work in a way that it's not designed to do; we are all different, but isn't is wiser to play to one's strengths rather than trying to use a tool in ways that are uncomfortable for it? 

Remains, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Maybe that's the reason why GM1 and me have connected so well since the beginning: it came to fill a gap that I had in my shooting habits, not to replace or collide with my other camera; it allowed me to expand my photographic reach, offering me opportunities that I didn't have before for not carrying my camera around with me at all times; it has broaden my experience and has taught me some tricks I didn't know before, simply by staying always by my side, concealed in my handbag. My advice is clear: embrace the difference and adapt to it, shape your shooting conditions to the tool you have at hand. If it doesn't work for you, chances are you were expecting something that it never was meant to deliver. I discovered this pretty quickly, and it helped me avoid misconceptions or frustrations. I just preferred spending my time going out the next few days, and shooting some more.

The edge of the realm, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The castle, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
After the first week of intensive walking and shooting, my idea of what GM1 was became much clearer, and the way I wanted to operate it and work with it took shape: everybody praises the responsiveness of the touch screen, yet for me it was an inconvenience more than a helpful tool; changing the focus point indadvertedly with the right thumb, due to the tiny chasis of the camera and the small frame around the screen, was far too frequent; in the same vein, pressing accidentally the video button that sits exactly in the middle of the grip area for the right thumb was annoying. Faults of the camera design? I would rather consider them sacrifices due to the diminutive size of the camera, and that advantage alone is worth all these small quirks. Solution? I completely disabled both of them.

Portable store, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Converging lines, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
I don't need the touch screen at all (as I said, I never use it in my GH3 either); the kit zoom lens has no focus ring, and the on-screen focusing system is cumbersome at best, so I trust the very fast and accurate autofocus when I shoot with this lens and, believe me, using the proper autofocus settings and aids, it's hard to miss a shot. When I mount another lens with a dedicated focus ring (such as the Olympus M Zuiko 45mm f1.8, which fits this camera like a glove), I switch to manual focus and I work directly with the focus ring in the lens which, in combination with the camera's peaking and other focus helps, works like a charm. The camera has enough physical buttons to assign functions to (and, despite their small size, I don't find them difficult to work with), so I don't need the extra fn buttons of the touch screen, either; and concerning the video button, I don't shoot video spontaneously, and for the planned video shootings, well, I have the GH3.

Mourning for the deceased umbrella, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
In search of assistance, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
All in all, it's been 3 weeks since I got the GM1 and, during these days, it has come with me anywhere I have been to. Taking a few days to get familiar with the camera helped me figure out how to better shoot with it and, once I customized and arranged the different buttons to do what I wanted, it's been a breeze. Obviously, it has some issues that I would like to see improved or corrected, the most notorious for me being a slight shutter delay that I haven't seen mentioned in any review that I have read so far. Since you half press the shutter to lock the autofocus until you press fully and the shutter is released, capturing the picture, there is a small delay; it's not consistent and, when it occurs, is quite small, yet it's noticeable and, during these three weeks, it has cost me a few shots. Nothing too serious, but it's there.

The tongue does not feel what the fingers are touching I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The tongue does not feel what the fingers are touching II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
And, finally, something that I have deliberately ignored up until now: what about image quality? I have mostly used the camera in conjunction with the tiny kit zoom lens (Lumix G Vario 12-32mm) because, as I have already mentioned, that's the purpose I bought the camera for, in the first place: to have a small, portable yet capable system with me at all times. Has it fulfilled its promise? You bet!  I will let the images speak for themselves, but I can confidently say that not only is this combo fast and reliable, but the images produced by it are surprisingly sharp and punchy. I always shoot raw and process in lightroom, and my first impressions comparing this combo to the equivalent one, GH3 + Lumix G X vario 12-35mm f2.8, it's obvious that you loose speed, sure, but the sharpness is almost the same, and both are optically stabilized. The images out of the GM1 seem to me a bit more contrasty and saturated, as well.

Sunrise, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Office view, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Having 2 cameras from the same system, each of them focused on a different goal, has definitely let me achieve things that were out of my reach before. At the same time, both cameras can overlap and work concurrently if needed, as well, and both being small, carrying the 2 of them at the same time doesn't feel like a torture at all. You hardly notice the second one, after all! What I can recommend to conclude this self-evaluation is, above all, to get to know your camera inside out, play to its strengths, and minimize its weaknesses. If you get familiar with it, it will become second nature very quickly, all the mechanical part of the process will disappear and all that will remain in the end will be, simply, the pure joy of making photographs.

Falling branches, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm


  1. Those are lovely pictures. Are they taken as jpeg or raw? I like the B&W photos, what settings do you use for that?

    1. Thank you very much Alexander! I always shoot raw and then process in Lightroom 5, so those B&W pictures are converted from the raw file and adjusted lightly (contrast, sharpness, clarity and not much more). Glad that you like them!

  2. Great review Gonzalo!

    I share your criticism regarding the touch screen, and have also excused it because I knew what I was getting with this camera... a tiny, fully capable machine which would have some size based drawbacks.

    The dynamic range from the RAW files seems wonderful as evidenced by both the sunset shot and the shot from your office. I've been shooting mostly in JPEG so far, but plan to pit the GM1 vs the GX7 RAW files against each other to see if there is in fact a difference as stated by DXO.

    Great read man and keep it up, can't wait to see and read more!


    1. Thank you very much Tyson!

      I haven't used GX7 before, so I can't comment on that, but considering all pros and cons, definitely the GM1 is one hell of a camera! If exposed properly, there is plenty of DR in the raw files, even though I prefer keeping the shadows dark to give a better idea of the high contrast of those scenes. But much more was recoverable there in the darkness if needed!

      And I agree completely on your comment about knowing what you are getting in advance; one should research and read carefully before buying anything; we are so lucky to have access to so much information beforehand, that not doing it is irresponsible on our side. So I knew what and why I was buying it, and I'm very glad I did!

      More on the way! ;)