Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 (part 1)

This is the first part of my review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 with some comparison shots with the Nokia Lumia 1020 (and 1520). What you will see here is mostly limited to daylight photography. I will touch on low light photography, using the flash, burst video and video in future reviews. This review is long enough as it is and moreover it takes time to master the camera and get the results I think are worth sharing since they do the device justice.

Introduction
Essentially, all smartphone cameras up til now have been smartphone first and camera second. Apart from a "Japan only" camera phone by the company J Phone in 2000, it all started with the Nokia 7650 in 2001. Smartcams evolved quickly. Nokia took the lead, but companies like Sony Ericsson, Samsung and LG did compete. The megapixel race was more or less over with Nokia's N8 - everybody seemed to agree 12MP and Carl Zeiss optics was about the best you could squeeze into a smartphone. 

The results of the Nokia N8 were unbeatable but by Nokia, with the Nokia 808 PureView and its astonishing 41.5MP sensor. It took years before a similar sensor found its way to Windows Phone with the Nokia Lumia 1020. In the meantime however, the competition was approaching: bringing up to 20MP sensors - and much improved algorithms - to often thinner devices. Smartphone imaging still is one of the important keys to the customers' desire.

Current smartphones have very good cameras on every platform - "good for a smartphone" as they say. Sometimes they might resemble a compact camera more than a smartphone, like Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom and K Zoom. But essentially, they are smartphone first, and camera second. The camera's software is based on the mobile OS, and usually other applications will allow you to work with the same sensor - in Apple's case you're even better off with third party applications, but I'm sure that will change some day.

Nokia Camera - now Lumia Camera - is somewhere in between the smartphone and more "dedicated" camera software, with much more versatile settings. And I shouldn't forget to add the camera software on the Galaxy K Zoom offers a surprising amount of possibilities as well, allowing very long shutter times for instance (and even some adjustments in aperture). But no-one would blame any of these devices to be a compact camera with some smartphone capacities. And that's exactly what people sometimes blame Panasonic for - like if they're cheating.

Panasonic
Panasonic hasn't been extremely active in the mobile industry - it's not even listed in the brands on the front page of GSMArena. If we look at the " all brands" section there, you'll see it produced 60 different models. The G-series was famous around 2000 but even the ambitious clamshell GD87 didn't bring the company what it hoped for. The only serious attempt to reach a wider audience was the (waterproof) Eluga on Android, which only made it to some markets. Where I live, Panasonic has been non-existent for about twelve years: an eternity in this industry.

In fact it still is where I live, since the new Lumix DMC-CM1 isn't available in the Netherlands - only in Germany, France and England. And it's the first time we see Panasonic's Lumix camera brand on a smartphone, that also proudly shows its collaboration with Leica. Not just those brands, also its design, the lens (!) and last but not least the interface screams it's a compact camera first - and a smartphone second. It doesn't even seem to care it runs on Android 4.4 - it's camera first anyway, and the camera software appears to be exactly the same as you'll find on other Lumix cameras.

If you come where I come from - being a mobile photographer since the Nokia N95 and used to many other smartcams later on - at first the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 is nothing less but intimidating. Nokia made me familiar with some of the basics of photography and made it even quite easy for me to fool around with different settings. But I'm far from a professional photographer and the new Panasonic just laughs at my knowledge. And it's not like being used to play Flight Simulator and suddenly having to fly a real airliner. Smartcams never "simulated" real camera software, they are usually just effective, versatile and of course: smart. Even the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 are extremely easy to handle. 

And although the Lumix DMC-CM1 has quite a few more or less "idiot proof" pre-defined settings (see my recent post about the Panasonic Camera UI) , the Venus Engine offers so much more. So if you 
- are a more aspiring photographer, or even a professional, and you want to be sure you'll have the best gear with you if you decide to leave your DSLR at home;
- feel the Nokia 808 PureView has become a bit too old for you by now;
- have been working with the Lumia 1020 long enough and you're really looking forward to make the next step:
is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 actually worth the investment? Although many people just pay it for a device like the iPhone 6 Plus 64GB, no less than €899 still is a huge amount of money (I'm still crowdfunding!), so I'm sure you'll want to know.

And here's where my review starts. Part 1 that is, since I'm still learning to work with it and I didn't get to test it in all situations yet.

Smartphone
I'll keep this very concise: it runs on Android 4.4 and the interface reminds me a lot of what I've seen on the new Moto X 2nd Gen. So it doesn't have much that sets the interface apart, except for the fact it looks "close to stock Android", which is an advantage for many users anyway. Startup time is fast. It supports 4G LTE, has 16GB of internal memory which of course is expandable with a micro-SD (up to 128GB). It does everything you are used to from an Android phone by now, although it doesn't support stereo sound, it's not waterproof and the back cover is not removable so you can't change the battery - something many photographers are used to when they're out shooting.

It has a 2600mAh battery, which on Android 4.4. is comparable to the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One M8 or Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (see  here) and how long that will last of course depends on how you use it. Will you make a lot of phonecalls with it, do you use data or not, will you constantly "ping" your social networks for updates - that will use more energy than just being able to make a phonecall (so data switched off).

Since the focus of my attention is on the camera of course, I kept the device in flight mode most of the time. So in fact I've been using it as a pocket camera. My calculated guess is that if you combine its full smartphone functionality when making many shots (including the flash), you'll probably need to charge it before the end of the day.

First shots
Finally. The first shots - although that's not entirely true since I already shared some shots in a dedicated album on Flickr, titled  Learning the CM1. You'll see some shots captured in different settings, a few nightshots and some close-ups, from which I would like to add a few here right away first - all shots in this post are straight from the camera, no post-processing whatsoever.

Dried roses in lamp light

My grumpy friend

Some food


Christmas close-ups



Caged bearded dragon

Curious cows

Now not all these examples came out as razor sharp, but I can't resist from sharing a few crops from these below.





Now you probably wonder how these shots compare to the exact same scenes captured with some of Nokia's PureView devices. I can't tell you: I was just leaning the CM1 and I not ready for any comparisons yet. But I did in the next shots, taken outside on a (finally) sunny Saturday...

Now we are talking very different resolutions here. 5MP for the Nokia Lumia 1020 (and 1520). 16.8MP for the Panasonic (in 16:9), similar with the Lumia 1520 (which I only used in two shots). 34MP for the Nokia Lumia 1020 in high-res. I have most shots in RAW from the Panasonic, only a few from the Lumia's. So how do I compare these? Not sure, really - I've been resizing them to "one size fits all" in earlier comparisons, but people have been pointing out you might loose some very important details, so I'm not going that road anymore. 

So I'll be sharing a few crops from the original shots in this post. Let's start with the two shots I got from all three devices. First the shot from a scene you've seen a few times before already, the Old Harbour in Hilversum. This is the resized shot coming from the Panasonic Lumic DMC-CM1 (16.8MP, resized to 640 x 360 pixels)

And a few old houses in the center of town

These are the shots I captured in RAW with all three devices, so here I can only crop the 5MP versions of both Lumia's, followed by the crop coming from Panasonic.
Nokia Lumia 1020

Nokia Lumia 1520

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

That might be a bit too limited in this case - let's have a look at another crop from the Panasonic:

Nokia Lumia 1020
 
Nokia Lumia 1520

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

So far, personally I didn't really notice any major, mind-blowing differences. Sure, you'll see more detail in a shot with the more than three times higher resolution. In the next crops, I'll compare both resolutions (5MP and 34MP) coming from the Nokia Lumia 1020 with the 16.8MP shot I got from the Panasonic. First the resized versions.
Nokia Lumia 1020

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

As far as setings are concerned, the Lumia 1020 was on ISO 100 and white balance on sunny. The Panasonic was set to manual, and if you look at the picture on the device, by pushing the "i", you'll find information like this:

You can easily swipe through all shots in this "information" menu, so you can check the settings you used very fast. Now let's have a look at the crops I got from this shot.
Nokia Lumia 1020 (5MP)

Panasonic Lumia DMC-CM1 (16.8MP)


Of course, these resolutions are extremely different and therefore quite hard to compare. The 5MP shot seems to show more detail than the 34MP result from the Lumia 1020, due to the PureView oversampling technology no doubt. Looks like Panasonic shows even more detail in its JPG output, but I'm sure some will argue there is some oversharpening as well. You'll notice the same in the next shots from a beautiful tree:
Nokia Lumia 1020

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

Nokia Lumia 1020 (5MP)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

Amazing detail isn't it? The Lumia 1020 can't really show that kind of detail in 34MP (keep in mind this is without PureView oversampling)
Nokia Lumia 1020 (34MP)

I made far too many shots with all devices to share the crops here. You will find all shots I have on Flickr and on OneDrive (links below).I'd just like to share a few more, like a close-up of a drop so small it seemed impossible to capture - a challenge so to say. Here's as close as I could get zooming in with the Nokia Lumia 1020 (so this is resized from 5MP).

And here is just about the best I got from the Panasonic Lumic DMC-CM1 - keep in mind you're not looking at a crop but the zoomed in original! This is with 2x "intelligent Auto" zoom. 

And here is what you may achieve with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 with maximum zoom: 2x in "intelligent Auto", 2x digital

It took me a while, but I think this is quite mind-blowing indeed. By the way: I'm not quite sure what Panasonic means with "intelligent Auto zoom", as opposed to "digital zoom" (if you do, please enlighten us below).

More shots to share? Well.. of course! :-) What about a few very early shots with some morning dew in the rising sun? Here's a shot I only captured on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 - just love the view too much not to share it here. 

Another morning scene I tried to capture with both the Lumia 1020 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 (all settings on automatic on both devices)
Nokia Lumia 1020

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

More morning dew from both devices...
Nokia Lumia 1020

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

Can't help but share a crop from this last shot... I'm not sure, but I suspect that if you would know these people you might actually recognize them...

Let's not forget however, the crop from the 34MP shot coming from the Lumia 1020 (captured a bit earlier as you can see) shows some amazing detail as well...

Please scroll up to see where these crops come from in fact - if that isn't mind-blowing, I don't know what is... 

One more? Why not. Even a few more. It's so hard to stop sharing these :-)
Nokia Lumia 1020

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

Alright, let's crop this one as well:
Nokia Lumia 1020 (5MP)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

Nokia Lumia 1020 (34MP)


No doubt which one I would prefer in this case. And to conclude my selection of shots:
Nokia Lumia 1020

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

Quite a difficult shot with the sun only covered by the tree. I made several shots and picked the best from both devices. In the end, I think I prefer the result coming from the Panasonic since it shows more of the morning dew that was so characteristic for this scene. Still, both are doing fine, no doubt about that.

Conclusion so far
For those of you who - like me - are not really familiar with Panasonic's "Venus Engine" on its compact camera's, it might be worth writing about my first experience with it. What it means to be able to manually change the aperture in detail. To really fine-tune what you are capturing. I really admire Lumia Camera for its simpicity and versitality, but working with elaborate camera software like on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 is quite a new ballgame - I'm learning it and loving it already. I think I will even miss it on Lumia Camera after a while. But the learning curve is pretty steep for an amateur like myself.

Oh and there's the "ring" around the camera, that will help you doing the fine-tuning. So far though, I haven't really gotten used to it since you can easily do exactly the same while touching the screen. Of course, it's easier to see what you're doing if your finger is not in the way, but I didn't find it very practicle to use the "ring", considering the relatively "thin" design of the DMC-CM1. Some appear to think the ring is there to replace the lens - but it's not.

With more experience, I'm sure you will recognize the light in the situation you are in and you'll become faster choosing the right settings. No matter how experienced you are, it will take more time than just choosing "intelligent Auto" - but the results you'll get from working with the manual settings will be better if you know what you're doing and give it enough time.

Buying the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 just for your daily snapshots is like going grocery shopping with a Lamborghini Aventador - spending way too much money on something that's not very practical. But if you want a very impressive compact camera in your smartphone, if you're willing to learn how to handle it (and if you can afford it), I'm already quite sure you can't be disappointed.

Many people are worried about how effective the LED flash will be - I hope to be able check that soon. Others wonder if it's possible to do any low light shooting without OIS. Same thing: I didn't get to that yet. But already you have been reading over 2.500 words and I hope you've enjoyed the shots and crops so far.

You'll want to see the originals too. All the RAW files are here on OneDrive. I still have to learn how to work with RAW as well, but I'm not too fond of sharing post-processed shots myself since you can't judge what came from the camera and what from advanced computer software. So I just share the RAW files themselves and let you decide. You'll find all the JPG's from this post I captured with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 in a dedicated album on Flickr, just like the shots from the Nokia Lumia 1020.

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