How does the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-CM1 compare to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II? - Is this a 'photographers smartphone?'

There are many ways that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 smartphone / camera phone can be seen as a fixed lens compact camera with extras! Certainly with the 1'' sensor the expectation is that image quality will be closer to m4/3 cameras than other smartphones. And that is indeed the case. (See comparison with Nokia Lumia 1020 HERE) But just how close is that?

ISO 100

ISO 3200

As you can see the CM1 turns in a decent performance at ISO 100, but clearly is noisier than the files from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II. Even allowing for the fact that I shot the CM1 images at ISO 100 and ISO 200 for the E-M5 II. At ISO 3200 the differences are more marked still. Now these are OOC jpgs. and by shooting raw and applying some noise reduction, I could get the CM1 files better, but then I could do exactly the same for the E-M5 II files, so that advantage will always be there. 

This doesn't make the CM1 a 'bad' camera, in fact it's the reverse. But the improvements that Olympus have been making to their top of the range m4/3 cameras show their worth here. However, I like 1'' sensors and what they allow me to do and the quality of the CM1 files, at low ISO's is very good. Plus with some post-processing work higher ISO performance can be acceptable as well. 

A couple of days ago when I was shooting in Stratford-upon-Avon with my Fuji X-T1, I took a few CM1 pictures too. I had managed to set the ISO to 3200 by mistake and was somewhat dismayed when I discovered that when I got home. However, after a bit of Photoshop work, I got some decent files. Nothing great certainly and I won't (deliberately) be doing that again, but useable nonetheless. And by downsizing them they were actually quite acceptable. 

But in terms of how I would use the CM1 camera, anything over ISO 800 is emergency use only. 

Overall, the CM1 produces excellent images for a smartphone, because of the low expectations we currently have for them and pretty good images for a compact point and shoot camera. But if it's regarded as being any kind of competitor for 'proper' cameras then sterner tests need to be applied. To a large extent the CM1 passes those tests. It's certainly right up there with cameras like the Sony RX100 series and the RX10 and the Panasonic FZ1000. Though all those cameras have zoom lenses and are therefore more flexible. So does it deserve to be labelled as a 'photographers smartphone?'

This obviously depends on what a photographer uses a smartphone for and whether that use involves taking pictures. Many I know use iPhones for all kinds of personal work and there are instances of both war zone and street photographers achieving commercial success with iPhone images. And the CM1 is certainly better than the Apple phone in terms of image quality and available options. Add in the 4K video option and it can obviously be seen as a carry anywhere, always available useful photographic tool. I certainly will have it with me pretty much all the time, as indeed I will also have my Nokia Lumia 1020.

And certainly at the moment I'm very happy with both and see myself having them for some time. Particularly as I don't change phones that often. I've had a good two years worth out of my Blackberry, which may be passing to my wife Ann whose ageing Nokia is on it's last legs, but I've had good value out of it, including as the creator of some photographs which have proved quite lucrative. Now it may obviously seem a bit strange to carry two phones around all the time, but I am somewhat neurotic about having backups for everything. Plus with some of the more remote places I visit, it's handy to have two networks to try and get a signal. 

As I've written about many times before, shooting on smartphones works for me when I need to be inconspicuous. And for 'street photographers' wishing to be 'invisible' it has obvious attractions. And it would work very nicely as a documentary camera for many photographers. It's becoming commonplace for professionals on assignment to shoot a lot of background images for websites, blogs and social media accounts and the CM1 is obviously very useful for that. So yes, 'photographers smartphone' would seem a good description.

The mystery is however, is that it's actually been very difficult to get hold of in the UK, though that is improving somewhat, but it's still not widely available. It is pricy admittedly, but it's of a somewhat higher standard than most smartphones. Largest smartphone sensor plus a Leica lens adds a fair bit to the price. I will accept that for many casual, mainly social media users who take photographs, the camera is over specified and I can see the demand for it as being for people who want to take serious photographs with it that will be viewed at significantly larger than Instagram size. So maybe the market for it isn't that huge.

However, I am very impressed with it overall and for me, what I do and what I shoot it will be VERY useful. I have no doubt that it will pay for itself in time with sales of the pictures I take with it. And of course it will make phone calls and let me access the internet from wherever I am as well. It remains to be seen whether it starts a trend or remains a one-off. Certainly there hasn't been a rush of copycat versions of the Nokia Lumia 1020 and maybe high-end cameras on smartphones have a fairly limited appeal. But both the smartphones I'm currently using are very much what I would want from such devices as someone who makes a full-time living from photography. Whether significant numbers of other people feel the same remains to seen.