We’ve already covered the arrival of the Panasonic CM1 in the UK in the camera reviews and news on the Techradar Camera Channel home page, but now we’ve had the chance to try one out.
We haven’t put the Panasonic CM1 through our full suite of lab tests yet, but we have had time to take some pictures and try out its handling, controls and features.
Any old smartphone can take pictures, but the built-in cameras are mainly point-and-shoot quality with point-and-shoot controls – but the CM1 isn’t any old smartphone. Instead, Panasonic wants you to see it the other way round; this is a proper camera that you can slip in your pocket which also has smartphone functions.
The Panasonic CM1 powers up as an Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone, but when you slide a spring-loaded switch on the top it becomes a proper camera.
It’s based around a 20-megapixel 1-inch sensor 7x larger than the average smartphone’s and good enough to go into the mighty Panasonic FZ1000 bridge camera, so Panasonic really has put quality first. It’s paired up with a fixed focal length 28mm equivalent f/2.8 lens – ideal for street and ‘social’ photography.
You don’t get a zoom lens, but if you did the CM1 wouldn’t have the slimline shape that makes it so pocketable. This is a camera you can slip into the inside pocket of a jacket, and while it’s no lightweight in smartphone terms, it’s amazingly thin for a camera.
This does have an effect on the handling. At first, it’s tempting to hold it like a smartphone, gripping it by its edges – not the most secure hold! But after a while you realise there’s no risk of putting your finger on the lens, and that you can wrap the fingers of your right hand around the front. If Panasonic were to put a small raised grip just 3-4m thick on the front, this would make a big difference.
The other issue is that there’s nowhere to rest your right thumb on the back without triggering one of the touch-sensitive buttons on the display. It’s a huge screen to have on a camera – 4.7 inches – but it does take up almost the entire rear surface.
What’s really impressive, though, is the way Panasonic has provided proper, hands-on manual features on a camera with almost no space for external controls. It’s made possible by the clever touch-screen controls, a multi-function control ring round the lens and the way they work together.
For example, to shoot in fully manual mode, you turn a ‘virtual’ mode dial on the rear display then rotate the control ring to change the shutter speed. To set the lens aperture, you tap an icon on the screen to swap the ring to aperture control.
There’s a Q.Menu icon in the bottom right corner of the screen for other camera settings and a regular Menu button, bottom left, for the camera setup options. The CM1 can also display a live histogram and a two-axis electronic level which checks fore-and-aft tilt as well as sideways tilt.
We haven’t put the Panasonic CM1 through our full suite of lab tests yet, but the sample shots look good and on a par with the quality provided by the FZ1000. It’s not quite up to D-SLR or CSC standards because the 1-inch sensor is smaller than the APS-C or Micro Four Thirds formats, but the pictures are well beyond smartphone and point-and-shoot compact camera territory – aided by the fact that you can shoot raw files too. The CM1 is supported by the latest versions of Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom, which gives you the chance to recover more highlight and shadow detail than you get from the in-camera JPEGs and to change the white balance post-shoot.
All this comes at a price, however. The CM1 is going on sale for £800 in the UK. You can see the argument – it’s a premium quality high-end camera with Android and 4G built in – but it’s still a lot to pay.
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