Panasonic Wins This Round

Panasonic GX-1 Top View

The new Panasonic GX-1 replaces the GF-1 in a way that the GF-2 and GF-3 assuredly did not. (A colleague just bought a GF-1 precisely because until the GX-1 ships in December, it’s pretty much the EVIL* camera body of choice. Naturally my colleague is now drooling over the GX-1.)

Note: * I refuse to use the term “ILC” (interchangeable lens camera) unless it becomes unavoidable, since it’s so vague as to be meaningless. EVIL (“electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens”) is not only funnier, but more accurate, although the term “electronic viewfinder” is a little tenuous given that most of us understand a “viewfinder” to be a peephole rather than a rear-mounted live-view.

The competition for the EVIL segment has been fierce, but for the enthusiast market not so much. What has been fierce is the competition for the EVIL point-and-shoot camera (as exemplified by the Sony NEX cameras, and the Panasonic GF-3). The only camera companies which seem to care about enthusiast EVIL bodies are Panasonic and, to a lesser extent, Samsung (which has included the GF-1 in its list of “things to rip off” when designing NX-series bodies). There’s probably a good reason for this, at least in the US market, since Best Buy is happy to stock quite high-end DSLRs, and point-and-shoot EVIL cameras (like the Sony NEX-series) but conspicuously omits enthusiast compacts including both EVIL cameras like the GF-1 (or even the GF-3) but serious fixed-lens compacts like the Canon S95. So it’s possible that there’s simply not much demand for enthusiast-oriented cameras, especially when low-end DSLRs are so damn good. Or maybe if you spend an hour on dpreview every week then you’re buying your camera online.

What’s shocking to me is that Nikon’s 2.7x crop factor J1 and V1 manage to be nearly as expensive and no more compact than Panasonic’s GX-1 with the newish X-series folding zoom. The whole point of having a small sensor would appear to be to compete on price and lens size. Panasonic apparently understands this in a way that others do not (Olympus, to its credit, has designed a folding zoom for the Pen, but it’s not that small, and it relies on sensor-shift stabilization).

Assuming that the GX-1’s low-light performance is as good or better than last year’s GH-1 (which I believe shares the same sensor) it seems like the slam-dunk winner of this round. No doubt Sony will offer more gimmicky shooting modes, and of course the NEX-7 has 24 MP, while the Nikon 1-series offers its gimmicky video stills and faster continuous shooting (and probably faster autofocus, but the GX-1 seems plenty fast), but in the end, size, handling, and a good choice of lenses wins. (How did Nikon not manage to produce a pancake faster than f2.8? Providing a couple of f1.8, or better yet f1.4 or 1.2 primes for reasonable prices would demonstrate the advantages of a small sensor and allow enthusiasts to shoot fabulous photos of their cappuccinos with gorgeous bokeh.)

I hope we’ll see a nice leather case designed around the GX-1 and 14-42 X-series zoom, one of the huge losses since we all went digital has been the leather case that unsnaps to allow you to shoot without needing to be removed (the GF-1 has several cases along these lines). This let you sling a camera over your shoulder all day and shoot without risking leaving something behind or dropping your camera, and also let you toss a camera into a bag without worrying about it getting snagged on clothing or otherwise damaged. A thoughtfully designed video grip would also be welcome.