The Panasonic G1X is a great little camera. I got to use it for a short trip to Dinosaur Provincial Park a few weeks ago. I used it with the Olympus 12mm f2.0 prime, the old Panasonic 14-42mm kit lens, and Panasonic’s 100-300 telephoto lens. Carrying this kit was a welcome change from carrying around a Canon 5d with 4 fairly heavy lenses. I found the Panasonic very comfortable to use, and all the controls were well thought out. Not quite perfect, but no camera is. I was very curious to see if the image quality of this 4/3 sensor could get anywhere close to the 5d (a 7 year old full-frame digital slr).
Remarkably, to me, it was close (it should be noted that I only shot raw photos, not JPGs). There is definitely a different characteristic look between a full-frame and a 4/3rds sensor, but that is not necessarily bad, just different. You get greater depth of field with the Panasonic, which I think accounts for much of this look. Dynamic range was surprisingly good from this little sensor — it didn’t seem to blow out highlights any quicker than my 5d. High iso pictures also looked better than I expected, and the grain, when it did show up, had a fairly pleasing quality to it.
Autofocus was a mixed bag. It is very fast, and I really enjoyed the touch screen to select autofocus points. The problem was that the autofocus areas are actually quite large, and you can’t tell what the camera is focusing on in that square. I did try the pinpoint autofocus mode, but it didn’t work that well for me. It could be that with further investigation and custom settings I could get this to work better.
Color was one of my biggest problems. Part of it is just getting used to the color response of a new camera — every camera is different, and this means that you have to process the colors differently. But the G1X didn’t seem to have the color depth I am used to from my 5d. It was actually quite similar to the Rebel XSi I had for a few months — I had trouble getting the color and color transitions to look the way I want. This meant desaturating some photos to get the colors to look good to my eye. I’m sure I could get more comfortable with this over time, but I’m also sure the colors are not quite as good as I’m used to. And I didn’t even get to try it with greens. Greens are my biggest problem color – trying to get greens to look natural to me can take many tries, even with the best cameras I’ve tried.
My other complaint — and this really is the big one — is with the 100-300 lens. It is a sharp lens. It is a beautiful lens. The problem is stability with this long of a lens. WHY COULDN’T THEY PUT A COLLAR AND TRIPOD MOUNT ON IT???? This would fix everything. Putting a quick release plate on this camera works pretty well, but it is a small camera. The plate only has a small surface area that touches the camera, and this introduces some degree of instability. Add a relatively large lens like the 100-300 on the front and the tripod is now doing almost nothing. So this lens works fine for shooting at fast shutter speeds with bright light, but otherwise is useless. All because of the omission of a tripod mount.
Small cameras have always been tempting to me. I don’t like carrying a lot of weight while I’m out hiking around, but image quality is most important to me, and at this point my old 5d is still a bit better. And new full-frame cameras (with even better quality sensors) are likely where I’ll be going once I can afford something new. But I do really like the trend towards small, light, fairly high-end cameras. I’m very curious to try out the Sony NEX-7, as this should be significantly better image quality and has an intriguing control layout.
So, is the G1X a good camera? Definitely. Is it a great camera? Possibly. Can it replace a full-frame camera for professional use? Not really, although I suppose that is obvious. Micro 4/3 is the most mature compact system at this point, with lots of good lens selection. But Sony’s NEX system has great cameras just waiting for lenses. And Fuji’s X-Pro1 looks fascinating. Things are changing fast.