I've been using the Panasonic CM1 Smartphone / Camera for a couple of months now. In fact, along with my Nokia Lumia 1020, I carry it everywhere. The notion that it's a 'photographers smartphone' is accurate, since it is by a significant margin the best image quality of any smartphone currently on the market. It is in fact a fixed length 1' sensor compact camera with a phone and an Android operating system included.
But first off it's clear that as a phone and an internet access device it works exactly as it should. The microphone and speaker are especially good and it gives me the clearest connection of any mobile phone I've ever used. So no compromise there. I'm running the latest version of Android and again it works fine, no problems. At least no extra problems other than those of Android itself and some of the variable quality of the apps. So, in terms of a smartphone, excluding what the camera offers, it's a well made, well designed, though somewhat expensive typical 2015 smartphone.
But that extra cost is the camera, the largest sensor yet in a smartphone and that Leica (28mm 'equivalent') lens. So is it worth it? Well my answer would be yes. The images from raw are excellent, however the jpgs. are too noise reduced for me. The level of control over functions, ISO, aperture, white balance etc. are exactly what I would have expected from a premium compact camera.
And here's my usual way of summing up what I like and don't.
THINGS I LIKE
- The design. It really is sleek and classy.
- It works well as a smartphone and internet access point.
- Excellent signal quality for phone calls.
- Access to lots of Android apps. I've just loaded Google Photos (released today) onto it and it's backed up all my images for cross device and internet sharing.
- Excellent Leica lens. Some softness in the corners, but it is an incredibly small lens and that softness is only noticeable because otherwise the images are very sharp.
- Overall excellent image quality.
- The high ISO settings are pretty noisy, but the images are not unattractive (apart from the highest settings) and can be seen as part of the 'smartphone aesthetic' anyway. Plus of course the results are still way better than any other smartphone and a bit of grain won't be noticed for social media snapping.
- It shoots raw files.
- It has 4K video. Only 15 fps but it is remarkably good quality. Though shooting in 4K there is a crop factor. Exactly the same as the Panasonic FZ1000.
- It has the 4K photo facility. Shoot several seconds of video and pick out the 8MP frame I want. It's not the same quality that I can get from the raw files, but very useful none the less.
- One touch on the dedicated toggle switch turns on the camera immediately.
- Touch screen works well.
- Excellent menu options, with lots of options. P/A/S/M amongst them.
- The ring around the lens can be set up to adjust various parameters. It's actually rather nice to set it up as a faux aperture ring.
THINGS I DON'T LIKE
- The screen is poor in sunlight. Nowhere near as good as the one on my Nokia Lumia 1020.
- I'm always pressing buttons I shouldn't. The nature of smartphones I guess, but it does require careful handling.
- The lens has no protection. I carry it around in one of my silk Leica lens bags. (Show off!!) If you plan on sticking it in a pocket - beware of damaging the lens.
- A tripod socket would be nice. My Nokia Lumia 1020 has an add on case with a shutter button, a tripod socket and an extra battery.
- Come back Fuji all is forgiven!! Battery life on the CM1 is appalling. Less than 100 shots per charge.
- The charging slot and the slot which houses the micro SD card are of the pull out with your nail and are still connected by a rubber thread variety. Not my favourite way of opening and closing a slot and one that's bound to either break or get worn in time.
- The CM1 takes ages to turn on from switched off. However from standby it's actually very quick.
So more positives than negatives and of course the big plus is the image quality. I've included a selection of raw and jpg. files for you to download HERE. These are at various aperture and ISO settings.
Now when it's good the CM1 is very good. Below is a 100% blowup at ISO 100 and f/5.6.
As you can see, nice and sharp, great colour and very clean. Very similar to the other 1" Sony Sensored cameras around these day. And remarkable really considering the size of the lens. But as is to be expected, moving up the ISO scale things start to go from bad to worse.
As you can see, the images get progressively more 'smudged' the higher the ISO setting. And the 12,800 setting (why on earth did they include this?) is truly horrible. These are from the jpgs. and it is possible with very careful processing to get better results from raw, but it does require a certain amount of softening to get a viewable image. The good news is that there is a flash unit in the camera.
I really like the panasonic CM1. It's a very useful camera and images taken in good light are perfectly acceptable for my stock photography work and would have no problem being reproduced at A3 and above. And it is better, without flash, in low light than every other smartphone, but that's not saying much. To get the quality that the camera possesses to show it's worth, you will need some decent light. Though a reasonably well lit indoor room should produce decent images. Panasonic obviously have social media in mind with the high ISO settings and reproduced small with a bit of Instagram filtering and you might just get away with it, but for serious photographic use, I personally wouldn't venture beyond ISO 800. But then as indicated above the sample files are there for you to make your own assessment.
So a glimpse of the future. A smartphone with a decent camera. And it doesn't need a crystal ball to realise that this is going to improve as time passes. However, even if things stayed exactly the same, the CM1 is still a very decent fixed lens compact camera, with a few added extras. Phone, Internet access, apps. etc.
Since I don't sell my phones on because of security concerns, I'll probably be using this for a year or two and getting some great pictures with it. And of course some excellent 4K video. It makes a very nice set with my Nokia Lumia 1020. One in each pocket.
I will be following this up with a comparison between the Panasonic and the Lumia and letting you know which one I prefer using, but concluding on the CM1, it is a genuinely useful quality photographic tool as far as I'm concerned. Now where's that Leica version??
All images above shot with a Panasonic CM1
N.B. New group at Google+ - PANASONIC CM1 PHOTOGRAPHERS