This is the camera I’ve been waiting for all my photographic life.
I’ve used and owned a number of point-and-shoot camera and SLRs, analogue and digital, over the years, with mixed feelings of various kinds.
My first couple of SLRs were borrowed. There was a lovely Canon AE-1 my sister had, with a couple of lenses including a very sharp 35mm; and my brother-in-law’s Pentax body with a really fast (f1.4?) 50mm lens. My first SLR purchase was another Canon, a cheapish one, with a kit lens. I was never happy with this camera. On “Auto” settings, it struggled to get the correct exposure, especially with backlighting, and it was so low-end that the manual settings were limited.
So I got rid of that. A few years later, I bought a Pentax SLR (there’s a pattern here), which was a nice camera. I took some good photos with it, including this one, I think:
But the thing about SLR cameras, the thing that always stopped me from using them as much as I might have, was the sheer bulk and weight. Going out with a bag with spare lenses, carrying a tripod, wearing it on a strap around your neck all day long: I just couldn’t stand it. Apart from the weight, the rubbing on your neck/shoulder, there was the issue of looking too much like a tourist.
So I tended to leave them at home, more often than not.
My first digital camera was a reaction against all that: the Minolta Dimage F300 was a compact point and shoot digital with 5 megapixels and a 3x zoom. In many ways, I still consider this a technological peak. It was small enough to fit in a pocket; its 5 megapixels was plenty enough for a decent 6×4 print and yet there weren’t so many pixels squeezed into the small sensor to cause noise problems; and its lens was excellent. I really enjoyed this camera, and took some great pictures with it, until I dropped it and the zoom stopped working.
So happy with my Minolta was I that I immediately went out and bought another: the A200. Now we were up to 8 megapixels, I never felt the images were as good as on the F300. On the other hand, the optics were still good, and the zoom on this one was 7x with image stabilisation. As I hate using flash and love taking pictures in low light, I really got on with this. Over the years, I’ve developed a steady pair of hands and I can take un-blurred low-light pictures with just about any camera at very low shutter speeds.
But the A200 was a heavy beast. I bought a wider, softer strap, but still found it a pain to carry around.
Since owning an iPhone, I’ve tended to use that, though I’ve also owned a couple of Panasonic Lumux point-and-shoots, including my most recent, the TZ18, with its 16x zoom.
I love a super-zoom, but the ever-increasing pixel count on tiny sensors has meant that I’ve never really seen an improvement over the Minolta F300 I owned in the early 2000s.
I’ve been watching the development of the Compact System Camera with interest. The bodies were getting smaller, the operations more simple. Essentially, what I want is a compact point-and-shoot with a big sensor. Some of these have started to appear, but it was when I saw the announcement of the GM1 that I decided it was for me.
It has a micro-four-thirds sensor in a tiny body. The body is about the same size as my TZ18, though the kit lens is a bit more prominent and it weighs a little bit more. I may or may not get another lens or two with it. Most important to me is the image quality from the bigger sensor and the fact that I can carry it in a pocket.
The GM1 is available in black-on-black, silver-on-black, or… orange. As soon as I saw the orange, I knew I was going to get that one. But then it appeared as if disaster had struck: the orange was to be available only in airports. I figured that situation wouldn’t last long, and so it proved.
Amazon had it at the full list price of £630, John Lewis didn’t have orange at all, but I found a couple of on-line retailers who appeared to be offering it.
A trip to London meant I could go and have a look. I found what I was after in Park Cameras. I could have bought from them online, but I was happier getting it in the shop – and I was really glad I did because the first one I bought had a fault, so I was able to take it straight back.
The standard kit includes a 12-32 mm lens, crappy strap, charger, battery and another USB cable for your collection. To activate the lens, you have to manually twist it from the closed position round to the 12 mm wide angle setting. At the moment, it’s the only lens available that’s small enough for this camera body. Others will fit, but will be larger than the height of the body, making handling awkward, unless you add the optional aluminium grip accessory. I didn’t get this because I didn’t want to add to the weight/bulk.
I paid £599, and they threw in a free 32GB memory card. John Lewis have a better offer in the free proprietary leather case, but they haven’t got the orange camera.
There was enough charge in the battery to fire it up for a few test shots. I was immediately puzzled because the camera didn’t know its lens was open until you turned it to the 14mm setting. In other words, the 12 mm setting appeared not to work. Furthermore, I couldn’t get the thing to focus until it was zoomed even further, beyond the 18 mm setting. At first I thought I was being a duffer, but in the end just took it back to the shop. Park Cameras were happy to swap it out, and the replacement worked perfectly
I will write part 2 of this review when I’m more familiar with the operation and can get more out of the camera. A lot of the features are buried in touch screen menu. For now, I’m using it in “intelligent auto” mode.
I’ve taken a few shots and I’m happy with the detail and clarity of the images. I do have a gripe or two based on initial impressions, though.
I’m disappointed with the WiFi features. First of all, I can’t get the direct link from my iPhone 5 using the Panasonic Image App to work reliably. I can see the camera’s own WiFi network, apparently connect to it, but then the app just spins and spins trying to make a connection. I did manage – once – to take a few photos by remote control, but even that session worked only intermittently. Secondly, I wanted to see if I could upload directly to my MacBook, but I couldn’t get this working, either. It’s a horrible rigamarole. First you have to penetrate the obtuse menu system. The language of the menu is obfuscating. For example, instead of an option called Join a WiFi Network, you have to fight your way through multiple screens and options, like this:
- Push Fn1 button (which defaults to WiFi function)
- Enter numerical password (you have to set this up first)
- Choose “new connection”
- Choose “send images stored on camera” (or upload as you take them)
- Choose PC (even if it’s a Mac)
- Choose ‘via network’ or direct
- Choose manual connection (because my time capsule doesn’t have a WPS button)
- Choose the name of your WiFi network
- enter password (using old fashioned alphanumeric touch buttons)
- Wait while the camera connects (takes ages)
(If you get further than this, it might ask for a user name and password for your computer, and at this point will fail again, reporting that you’ve entered them incorrectly, even when you haven’t).
So essentially, the WiFi feature is unusable, which just makes me wish they’d left it off and saved the price/weight of the WiFi radio.
The other gripe is aesthetic, to do with the accessories you get with the orange camera. The lens cap is black and looks rubbish in situ, like this doesn’t belong. Same goes for the strap, which is also black. I’ve ordered an orange one made from vintage VW camper vinyl from Couch Guitar Straps. Hopefully, this will look better. (I only ordered this indulgence because I had enough money sitting in my PayPal account based on fees I’ve got from Referral Candy).