Panasonic Lumix Smart Camera CM1 Review - Part 1 - First Impressions

Panasonic Lumix Smart Camera 

SPECIFICATION Highlights

  • £899 in the UK currently. (If you can find it)
  • 20MP 1-inch CMOS Sensor (Presumably the same as the Sony unit in the FZ1000)
  • LEICA DC Elmarit Prime Lens f/2.8 - f/11 - f = 10.2mm (31mm in 35mm equiv. in 4:3) (28mm in 35mm equiv. in 3:2) (30mm in 35mm equiv. in 16:9) (36mm in 35mm equiv. in 1:1) (43mm in 35mm equiv. in 4K video recording
  • Manual Function Ring - Can be assigned in the menu.
  • Mechanical Shutter + Electronic Shutter.
  • Raw files - 4K video
  • 16GB of in camera storage plus slot for removable micro SD card  
  • Unlocked - so can accept SIM cards including pay as you go. No need for long-term expensive contracts. Very accessible slot for SIM card and easy to insert and remove.
  • Weight - 204g
  • Android™ 4.4 (KitKat)
  • Stereo microphone and headphone sockets.
  • Wi-Fi
  • Built in GPS
  • Very bright view screen. OLED?
  • 4K burst capture for stills

Its small, light, sleek, very thin and very minimal in terms of controls. Personally, I think it's very stylish and as you can see from the specs. above it's pretty impressively set up. 

I particularly like the controls on the top of the camera and the slots for the SIM card and micro SD card. The camera is unlocked so you don't have to go through the rip-off phone company contract nonsense. I just removed the SIM card from one of my other phones and inserted it into the CM1. Took a few minutes and it was working instantly. You can use a pay as you go card of course and the camera works fine withhout a SIM card. You can also access the internet using wi-fi. I put in the password for my home modem and away it went. I also inserted a 32GB micro SD card I have to store the pictures and video I shoot. I have a micro SD > SD card adapter which I then insert into my Mac to get the pictures onto my laptop.  

As soon as you turn the camera on using the rocker switch you immediately see that this is no ordinary smartphone. This has the functionality and options of a mirrorless camera. Lot's of flexibility including raw files, manual focus, PASM and pretty much everything you would expect from a 'proper' camera. 

And then of course there is the whole Android app. thing. I've added my social media accounts, access to my Amazon cloud storage and apps. for uploading directly to the picture libraries who market my work. The new Android 'kitkat' interface is much better than before and as pretty much an Android skeptic I'm now much happier about using it. 

So I have internet access via wi-fi at home and the 4G phone network when I'm out and about. Posting to social media is important to me as a blogger / reviewer and is also useful for publicising my stock photography activities, so this comes in very useful indeed. This is to replace my Blackberry essentially and I will be taking this plus my Nokia 1020 smartphone everywhere I go. They are in fact the first things I pack before I go out the door. This in addition to any other camera / lens combinations I might be taking with me.

IMAGE QUALITY

If you know what images from a Sony RX100, RX10, Panasonic FZ1000 or Canon GX7 camera look like, then that is what you get from the CM1. The 1" sensor produces images not that different from m4/3, apart from slightly poorer performance at high ISO's. In normal smartphone terms however, you will appreciate that this is a significant improvement on ant smartphone out there. It produces sharper and less noisy images than my Nokia Lumia 1020 and makes the iPhone's unimpressive output look even poorer. No need for Instagram or Snapseed filtering to hide the poor technical of the files here. This is the real deal.

I must also heap praise on the LEICA DC Elmarit Prime f/2.8 Lens. A lot of the problems of smartphone output are because of the lens size that has to be used. This lens on the CM1 is also very small, but you'd be hard-pressed to see any compromise to optical quality. There is a tiny bit of vignetting and the corners are not quite as sharp as the centre, but overall it's an amazingly good lens. Handy when you have one of the worlds great lens makers as a collaborator. And I have to say that Leica are proving themselves to be just as good at designing and engineering lenses for the needs of modern day compact, smartphone and mirrorless cameras as they are for rangefinders, SLR's and medium-format. I guess you don't loose it when you scale down.

So the camera has this 28mm f/2.8 (35mm 'equivalent') lens and produces some excellent images. I've used it in both urban and landscape settings and it produces some impressive files. 

The last two images of walkers were shot using the 4K burst mode. The camera uses the 4k video function to record a series of frames from which you can pick the one you think works best. Similar to the function in the current Panasonic m4/3 and FZ1000 cameras. It's good, but not quite as good as in those stand alone cameras, simply because the 4K footage isn't as good. However it's still useful for shooting moving subjects and I've used it here to get the people walking 'looking right' since it can often be difficult to get a shot of people moving that isn't particularly flattering to them and therefore has limited sale potential. 

I've just this camera (because that's what it is) exclusively for the last three days and I love it. As you are well aware I'm convinced by the smartphone aesthetic and the art of point and shoot anyway. And with the CM1 I don't have to compromise at all on image quality. Since I never sell my phones because of security issues, I will have this with me for the foreseeable future. At least until the CM2 arrives!! And with my Nokia Lumia 1020, that's both my backup camera(s) taken care of, or when I feel like my primary camera as well. 

If you are serious about smartphone photography and / or want a camera phone that prioritises the camera element over the phone functions then this is for you. I'm sure other phone users will tell me how superior other models are for this and that, but it works as a phone (it makes and receives calls, so what else would I want?) and it does everything I want an internet browser to do, so if there is any fancy stuff missing, I'm pretty sure I have no need for it. It's pricy and at the moment the battery life is awful (I'm hoping a few charges improves that, it normally does) but this is a serious photographic tool and you do get an awful lot for your money.

The Panasonic Lumix Smart Camera CM1 isn't going to turn the smartphone market on it's head, but it's without doubt going to impact on photographers who use their smartphones seriously or want a very small, very light, high quality backup compact camera. And why on earth Panasonic aren't getting this into shops and advertising it on television I don't know. This is a little wonder. And I just wonder in the future how often I'll be out shooting with this and leaving all my standalone cameras sitting on the shelf wondering what on earth they have done to offend me. Because it's great to use (though it does take ages to start up) and produces excellent quality images. For what I shoot and the pictures I produce, it's a pocket rocket and I'm sure a sign of things to come. And if it doesn't win a pile of awards later this year I'll be very surprised. 

It's not perfect (nothing is) but it's close. And I know I seem to be writing that a lot lately, but for me digital is starting to came of age finally. And I have to say once again, as with the Leica T it's a pleasure to use something that looks modern and stylish but isn't a copy of some old film camera. Because this is 2015 after all and it's about time camera design reflected the time frame it exists in. Now when's the Leica version coming out?