Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 is the best smartphone camera to date

In a very admirable review, concluded the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 is the best smartphone camera to date. In this post you will read a few quotes and see some of the shots they published to prove their point. However, they are quite critical of the device as well.

In fact, they published two reviews: one of the Lumix DMC-CM1 as a smartphone (by Romain Thuret) and one as a compact camera (by Bruno Labarbere). It's originally a French website, but they also have an English edition. In this post I will focus on the camera part, where of course they write about the device and its design as well.

They are quite merciless in that respect: "The manufacturing isn't up to snuff for a high-end mobile in 2014, nor for one of Panasonic's own high-end cameras. The USB cover dangles precariously, the micro-SIM/microSD cover is massive and somewhat shoddily built and you can see the edge of the green circuit board inside. At first glance, the brushed metal and artificial leather give the CM1 a very "premium" look, but only until you inspect it a bit closer... We're used to better work from Panasonic."

Handling and speed
The author has some complaints that you will have to use both hands using this camera, which I guess is true, but something I really never thought of as a problem. Moreover, it's possible although it's not easy and I wouldn't prefer to anyway, so I guess they have a point.

Speed is good: "The AF is speedy in all situations. It's even quicker in low light than the Lumix LX100, Canon G7X and Sony RX100 III. The startup time is also fast. The only complaints we have are that it took three firmware versions for the AF to become reliable, and even now it doesn't always find the subject, even when the lighting's good. That, and RAW files take a long time to shoot and save. Then again, seeing that the CM1's raison d'être is really for posting photos online, people will probably use JPG more often anyway." 

Í don't really agree with the last part - I don't believe you'll be doing a lot of posting online directly from the phone, since its results are quite large (in fact you'll need some kind of image resizer to avoid sharing the around 8MB shots).

Image quality
According to this review, the image quality is better than any smartphone - but it still needs work: "If Panasonic took the effort to cram a 1" BSI CMOS sensor into a phone, we can only assume the point is to revolutionise the smartphone camera. Well, mission accomplished: the Lumix CM1 is officially the best camera phone we've ever seen! The picture quality is better than the lot: Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3, iPhone 6 Plus, Lumia 1020, Sony Xperia Z3,HTC One M8... To see for yourself, just compare our sample photos in the Smartphone Camera Face-Off." (and you should really check the last link, I can only wish to be able to do something remotely close to what you'll find there).

They even took the trouble to compare it with Panasonic's own FZ1000: "So, the Lumix CM1 beats every other smartphone out of the water. But where does it stand compared to an expert compact camera? We can think of three recent examples to compare it with: the Canon G7X, Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 and Sony RX100 III. Let's focus on the FZ1000. It has a different lens, but the image processing should be virtually identical, since it comes from the same engineers, right? Nope. Far from it. And that's where the CM1 starts to lack some of its lustre. We took the pictures below in wide-angle position (25mm for the FZ1000 and 28mm for the CM1) at f/5.6 and 125 ISO.

The comparison comes from this shot:

I copied just a few shots, you'll have to see the original article for (much) more. With these shots, the author has already done what I planned to do myself: compare it with the Panasonic FZ1000. But although the sensor is the same, the lens is very different of course - it's simply a lot larger - apart from the fact it has a very large zoom as well.

The FZ1000 is a very large, DSLR like dedicated compact camera (not "connected" in anyway) and it's anything but "pocketable". So although it's interesting to see the FZ1000 is performing better in quite a few respects, it is indeed a completely different ballgame - in fact they are incomparable, as Panasonic in the Netherlands has warned me already.

The author adds: "Even though the CM1 outperforms the FZ1000 in some regards, overall the pictures look duller and seem to have less microcontrast. And yet, there's plenty of potential here—just look at the RAW files and you'll see. But the CM1's compression process over-smooths the picture and bungles up dark, solidly coloured areas of the frame. It's reminiscent of where Panasonic was at some two years ago. Hopefully, a fix will come in a future firmware update."

I didn't even get around to testing the video capacities of the Lumix DMC-CM1, but they have: "The Full HD picture quality is disappointing. The exposure and colours are fine, but where did all the detail go? Fortunately, you can just shoot in 4K instead, at which point the image becomes much clearer and sharper. The best way to see what a change it makes is on a standard 1920 x 1080-pixel monitor:

When reading about the video capacity, it llooks like I didn't miss a thing not testing it yet: "The difference is remarkable, but there are two problems. The first is the same as all of Panasonic's cameras that film in 4K: the maximum field of vision is narrower than in 1080p. The second is more bothersome: at just 15p, what can you do other than film inanimate objects or take stills? The second the subject moves, it looks so juddery it's barely even watchable, and there's a half-second delay. Also, the zoom (did we mention it's digital?) is choppy, there's no AF tracking and you can't adjust the exposure while filming. Ultimately, the CM1's video function is like writing on luxury scrap paper."

Their overall conclusion: "The Lumix CM1 shines more for its conception than for its execution. It was too hastily built, resulting in a highly perfectible design and unfinished algorithms. The worst part is, we know Panasonic can do better. As a smartphone camera, we'd give it five stars. As an expert compact camera, four stars."

Again: you'll find the complete review here - definitely worth a visit since it's showing much more examples than I showed you here. Their view on the DMC-CM1 as a smartphone is here - worth a read as well, but not as impressive as the camera part.

Do I have anything to add at this moment? Well, one little screen button that will make you double the brightness of your screen when you're in camera mode could have been mentioned - a clever function I actually do use a lot. And I'm surprised I didn't read about the 4K burst mode in the review - nor anything about how the LED flash performs in low light... At this moment all I can say is "adequate" but you won't be able to "freeze" any motion like you're used from Xenon flash.

After this review, I decided not to compare the CM1 to the FZ1000 - I can't do a better job than they did. I will however use the Panasonic GM5 the coming days (weeks?) - not a compact but a system camera, but at least it would fit the inside pocket of my jacket, making it more or less "pocketable".

Being a dedicated camera (not connected, no mobile OS) it's even cheaper than the CM1, but I'm sure it will outperform the CM1 as well - the question is by how much. And as I promised, I will compare the CM1 with the Nokia 808 PureView, which for some reason wasn't included in the Product Face-Off you really need to see if you haven't done so already.