I thought I'd have a look at how the Panasonic CM1 compares to my Nokia Lumia 1020 in terms of sharpness and overall image quality. I shot a couple of comparisons at ISO 100 below using the raw files from each smartphone (Nokia produces .DNG files, Panasonic uses the proprietry RW2 filetype :-
ISO 3200 below. WARNING - those of a nervous disposition might want to look away!!
Dealing with the high ISO examples first it's a competition to see just how bad a file can be produced. Not sure whether anybody would use either camera to shoot at ISO 3200, but if you ever want to, this is what it looks like. Not pleasant and yes the Panasonic is slightly better.
For the ISO 100 comparison, the Nokia has made a pigs ear of the colour of daffodils. It's actually pretty good for colour rendition in good light, but when it's dull, as it was here, it can have a...... let's call it a 'creative' idea of what colour should be. The Panasonic has better dynamic range and is slightly sharper, though not by that much (both sets of images are unsharpened in any way) showing that the extra pixels from the Nokia prove their worth when the images are downsized.
Now I still think the Nokia is a capable camera (seen as just a camera) that can produce very useable files. And I certainly sell enough pictures taken with it to back up that claim. That the Panasonic is better in virtually every way, quality, options etc. is undeniable though and it's pretty obvious to me, from what I've seen, that this is the best camera option in a smartphone currently available.
Someone also asked me about the differences between the two in terms of speed. Start up, time between shots etc. I wish I could tell you that the Panasonic is a lot quicker and much more 'real camera' like, but to be honest it's not. In fact from turned off it takes longer than the Nokia to get going. Between shots it's about the same, the Panasonic being slightly faster (Maybe). It has to be pointed out however that both cameras are turning out raw and jpg. files of a size not normally associated with cell phones that have a camera attached. And the manufacturers do have an obligation on behalf of their customers to keep these devices relatively small and light. Because otherwise I'm sure less people would buy them. I'm sure it's perfectly possible to put a phone function in something the size of a DSLR (In fact I remember those 1980's 'Bricks' only too well) but I can't see anybody trading in their iPhones for one.
So, these devices are what they are. Really useful if you want to travel light and shoot inconspicuously, but full mirrorless camera functionality, speed and quality? Not yet (But getting closer all the time.) And no I'm not about to sell everything off and just use my phones just yet, attractive proposition in terms of the long term prospects for my back that might be. But both devices (lets call them cameras because they deserve it) But both cameras are incredibly useful in many situations when they are exactly the right tool for the job.
When I was out yesterday, shooting mainly with my Sony A7 II, I did take a few shots with the Panasonic. I was sitting on a bench waiting for the clouds to clear and I edited a few images in the snapseed app which I've downloaded to my phone, uploaded the images to a picture library directly from the phone, captioned and keyworded them and they were on sale about 10 minutes after taking them. Pretty remarkable really. Now I'm not in the business of shooting current affairs etc. but for those who do, this is a quick way to get quality images to picture editors and websites in double quick time. The files I uploaded weren't instagrammed or facebooked low res versions, they were the full 20MP jpgs. so you can see how useful this is. At the same time the phone was uploading everything I shot with it to my Amazon cloud storage as well.
Now as mentioned in a previous article, this is all pretty battery intensive. Hopefully a few charges will make the battery last longer but in these early days I'm only getting 100 raw + jpgs on one charge. So it's a good idea that I take the Nokia out with me as well. Particularly if I actually want to make a phone call or two as well.
So is this the future of cameras? Well for an awful lot of people I suspect it is. All those cheap and cheerful (well quite depressing actually!) point and shoot matchbox sized horrors have no way of competing with this, or indeed most high-end smartphones these days. And thank god for that. They always were nasty little things. And so-called 'super-compacts' will have a hard time competing as well. The incredible zoom range some of them offer may well extend their shelf life for a while, but I've never been convinced that's a feature that sells a lot of camera. Unless that is taking shaky, soft pictures of a nudist beach from a mile away has an attraction for you!!
And I can see updated versions of the CM1 and indeed the Nokia making a lot of people who use small mirrorless cameras think seriously about whether to make a switch. And I have to say my aforementioned uploading process and the ability to check my emails and see how Birmingham City are doing (though I could probably guess that already!) on the same device is very seductive. A couple of days ago I left home with a video uploading to YouTube. When I was out I got an email on the CM1 saying it was online. I then checked it out there and then, before going off to shoot some more pictures with it. The fact that I was walking uphill on a path in the Malvern Hills with no-one in sight was not lost on me as was the fact that since I was only carrying a couple of phones with me, the steepness of the path was somewhat less than I remembered.
So there are very genuine attractions from the 'smartphone revolution' and when I look at the quality of image the CM1 produces (not at ISO 3200 of course!!) I can see how and why these hybrid communication / creative devices are sending certain parts of the camera market into freefall. Yes, you can still get better performance and quality from a 'proper' camera, but the CM1 is surely a warning sign to manufacturers not to dismiss smartphone photography out of hand.
Because before they know it, these things will be providing real competition to the lower end of their product range. And if anyone asked me to choose between the CM1 and something like a Canon Rebel with an 18-55mm zoom lens (which does create better quality images) to take out on a stock shooting trip, I'd choose the CM1 every time, for all sorts of reasons. And if as a professional photographer I'm thinking like that, then what chance for the money generating survival of the lower end compact camera and even the budget DSLR market? I suspect I'd get pretty good odds from Paddy Power on the cheap compact point and shooters even surviving the decade, unless they can offer something special. And does it matter? Do I care? I'm afraid to say I don't think it does and no I don't.