Panasonic CM1 review - The Travel Photography must have
 

Panasonic CM1 review – The Travel Photography must have (is it?)

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I have been in Travel Photography for several years and I must say that travelling with all the gear sometime sucks, beside it’s a lot of weight. I always asked myself if there could have been a solution to that. Could I take less stuff with me? When I saw for the first time the Lumix DMC-CM1 I really got excited because I could see a possible solution and that’s why I asked to do a Panasonic CM1 review.

I got this phone for a two weeks review and I felt in love with it, although any love has some compromise to live with.

When I travel I usually take quite a lot of gear with me. You can see the full list in my Travel Photography Gear Guide. Do I really need all of it. In the guide I already organised the list in three classes: essential, suggested and nice to have. If my travel is based mostly in two or three places, it all works fine. The transportation is relatively easy. However if I keep moving every second day, even packing takes time.

I usually use a DSLR, a Nikon D600. I already thought about downscaling in size and move to a mirror less (Sony came out with some impressive ones) but what about having just a small compact one, maybe with phone functionalities included. What a dream!

Panasonic CM1 Review – Camera with a phone or phone with a camera?

Why I wanted to do a Panasoni CM1 reviw? Because of its sensor size, 1 inch. The CM1’s 1-inch 20MP CMOS sensor has the same dimensions as the ones in premium compact cameras such as the Sony’s RX100 or the Nikon’s 1 series, and is around seven times larger than the 1/3″-type sensors which are today commonly implemented in the top range mobile market

But why the sensor size is so important? Because it determines how much light is used to produce the photo. The sensors are made of millions photo sensitive cells that record information through the lens. The bigger the sensor the highest is the gain in information collected which will reflect in better photos. Obviously there are many components when you make a photo, like composition, subject, time of the day etc. The sensor size is an important one as others can be as well.

To make an example of how the sensor size works, go to your bedroom and close the blinds. It will be dark and your eyes can probably see the shapes but not the details of the objects around you. Open slightly the blinds and you start recognising more objects. The more you open the more information and details about the room can be collected. The size of the sensor can be compared to how much you open your blinds. The more the better

I first tried the camera in my last weekend trip to the Dandenong ranges, a set of low mountain ranges just outside Melbourne covered in thick temperate rainforest. A beautiful place. The 1 inch sensor should definitely be able to capture an considerable dynamic range of shadows, that is one of the advantages.

High range of shadows captured by the Lumix CM1

High range of shadows captured with the Lumix CM1

The above photo was made around 11am, not even early in the morning, with the presence of strong shadows, however the Lumix CM1 performed great with all the details there to be enjoyed without blowing the highlights or losing all shadows depth

I used the setting 1/400sec at f/9, ISO 125. This is a popular spot with cyclists. I waited for a rider coming down ready with all the manual settings on top of a small hill.

How much can you control the Lumix CM1?

Panasoni CM1 Review1One of the frustrating things of the mobile phones is that you have a limited number of parameters you can actually control. Yes, it is true, you have new apps coming out that actually helps a lot with that however the Lumix provides all on board, no stress. There is just one switch on the right side to go to camera mode and start shooting, No time lost with finger prints, apps activation etc, just straight to the camera mode in one second ready to shoot the moment.

I like to use a low f-stop when shooting portrait at parties. I prefer to use an high f-stop, even if  have to increase ISO, with landscape photography, unless I have a tripod with me. If I want to freeze an action I just take down the aperture speed to a value I believe is correct for the type of sport.

In the below picture I went to the local skateboard park to take some shots of these amazing skaters. I was surprised myself of how easy is to set this camera to do what I want it to do and avoid using automatic mode, which may work great in most cases but not every time.

I use a camera setting of 1/2000sec at f/2.8 ISO 125 to freese the skater -

I used a camera setting of 1/2000sec at f/2.8 ISO 125 to freeze the skater – Panasonic CM1 review

Taking control of the Lumix CM1 is like taking control of a DSLR, not much different. The menu is very simple and user friendly, based on a single wheel that you can set through the touch screen or the front manual ring

In the picture below I used a setting of f/2.8 to blur the background for this kid portrait (I specifically did not want to show the face, not an artistic decision LOL)

I was astonished by the details captured in the hair - Panasonic CM1 review

I was astonished by the details captured in the hair – Panasonic CM1 review

I tried also some night photography and long exposure photography up to 60 seconds. I was amazed by the details captured by this camera. Even pushing the ISO to high value I could still obtain a good quality photo (again thanks to the big sensor)

One thing I did realise is that I do not have a tripod for the mobile, I never needed one :D. I would definitely buy one for the CM1. I love taking long exposure photos, especially along the coast. I love that silky effect on the sea.

If you do not like to use manual mode, just set the camera to automatic. If you have a desire to go manual in future just start playing with few setting at time. Do a smooth transition, it may be hard at the beginning to remember everything

I am not a big manual reader, in fact I did not even take it out from the box. I was however able to use the CM1 without problems, all very intuitive. Easy

The Panasonic CM1 is also a phone

Yes I should not forget that. It’s a phone, an Android one. The one I had for the review was with Lollipop Android 5.0.2 and it had all of the features you would expect from this Android version. One thing I loved is that it does not come with lots of pre-loaded apps which in most of the cases I would never use anyway.

I downloaded straight away few of the apps from my favourite list for travel photography. They all performed without problems. Very happy also with the way that Snapseed worked, very smooth (this is my favourite app to post-process the photos on the go).

The Melbourne Star in Docklands in black and white, view from below - Panasonic CM1 review

The Melbourne Star in Docklands in black and white, view from below – Panasonic CM1 review

Is the Panasonic CM1 the perfect camera for Travel Photography?

This Panasonic CM1 review analyses the camera as one single gear to replace all of the equipment you may have on a trip. It probably comes down to what you expect from Travel Photography and your trips in general.

P1000112-Edit_CM1_ Lumix_ Panasonic_ Review_ St.Kilda_ Storm_ Sunset

Panoramic view (Automatic stitching) at ISO 6400

The above photo was done in panoramic mode (automatic stitching). There was not enough light and I did not have a tripod for a Panasonic CM1, therefore the only way to have a photo without movement (and therefore a shutter speed below 60) was to pump up the ISO to 6400. The result is remarkably good. Yes, in the corners you can notice some noise but considering it is a mobile, I would have never expected such a result (try with your Iphone, Samsung or other phone and you will see how the photo will have a noticeable amount of noise)

This camera/phone is probably the best one in the market. It is indeed a communication camera, a machine able to perform the complete photography workflow; you start from shooting, you make post-production on it and you finish with posting it and possibly printing through an on-line outlet. All in one single piece of gear. The prints are pretty good too (the big sensor helps a lot with that).

If you take photo just to post them on Instagram or Facebook, it has to be said that you do not need a great quality and other mobiles do a great job too. I usually like to print my work, maybe up to A3 format. I can do that with the Panasonic CM1 without loosing in details. Moreover you can actually play with this camera to have a bit of fun with long exposure, something which is quite limited in other mobiles, night photography without flash and much more

My thinking is that in some places we travel maybe just once in our life. Why not capturing good quality photos. This mobile, to my eyes, is a great solution. It is small and it allows me to do post-processing on it, straight away, without computer(see my favourite editing apps for travel photography). Moreover I can upload them to the cloud once wifi is available or if you have 3g/4g connectivity (have always a backup of your photos). A perfect workflow.

The video quality on the Panasonic Lumix CM1

This is another field where the big sensor helps a lot, the video. I remember that the bigger the sensor the broader is the range of shadow depth you will capture without blowing the highlights

Moreover, take a video in a dark environment with a mobile and you most probably end up with noise (usually because of high ISO). Having a big sensor helps to capture more light from the already dark place giving a less noisy image.

The above video shows how good is the camera performing when shooting in areas of extreme light and deep shadows.  I am not a real fan of the 4K video at 15fps, almost disturbing, but it’s a personal opinion, you may actually like it.

The camera comes with a Timelapse App specifically done by Panasonic for this phone, another great creative video tool

The CM1 specs

This is a list of the key specifications. For more details I suggest to visit the Panasoni specs page

  • 20MP 1-inch CMOS sensor
  • 3:2 native aspect ratio
  • Leica DC ELMARIT lens, 6 elements in 5 groups
  • F2.8 – F11 aperture
  • 28mm equivalent focal length
  • ISO 100-25,600 (in extended ISO mode)
  • 4K-video at 15fps
  • Raw capture
  • 1.1MP front camera
  • 4.7-inch 1080p display
  • Android 4.4
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon S801 quad-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB built-in memory
  • microSD cards up to 128GB
  • 2600mAh batttery

The compromises of the Panasonic CM1

Any love has few compromises and it is also the case for this camera phone.

The first thing I have noticed is the weight. You can feel it in your pocket. The first time I used a smart phone (that was an Iphone 3) I thought exactly the same, that’s big, I could feel my pocket super full. I somehow got adapted and even if today’s smartphones are bigger (maybe lighter though) I got adapted. Can I adapt to the extra weight of the CM1? I could probably, especially considering the gain in quality 😀

The front lenses is not protected when not is shooting mode. I was so scared to scratch it during my test. Panasonic has used Leica, one of the best, and most expenses, lenses brand on the market. Why not protecting it?

At a starting retail price of at least A$1200 it is not a cheap phone and that’s probably because it is actually a great camera with also a phone. I would compare the price with the one of a smartphone + a good camera (Nikon M1 as an example). Suddenly it is not that expensive

The battery is not replaceable. This may be a problem. One suggestion I can give here is to go in “no-data” mode (or even airplane mode) if you travel to an area with poor signal otherwise the mobile will use a fair percentage of battery looking for 3G/4G coverage

No zoom available. That can be painful in few cases. The only solution is digital zooming which is essentialy cropping. Being the photo 20M pixels there is space to play

My verdict

If I would limit my work to websites and internet only I would probably go for the CM1. I do sell my photos also to magazines and they need the highest quality given by a full sensor camera. However it has to be said that the best camera is the one that is with you and I am now seriously thinking about selling my mobile and buying a CM1 for my personal use.

If you are thinking about buying a better camera to document your travels the Panasonic CM1 may be the solution you are looking for, especially if you need a new smartphone as well. Two in one


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Stefano Ferro
Stefano is a cycling, movie and life style photographer with a big love for landscape & travel photography. When in Melbourne, his hometown, you will see him cycling around at sunset or sunrise looking for the best spot for a photo of this beautiful city. It is quite amazing how much photography gear he can pack on his bike :o

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