Can This Tiny Camera Compete With Apple and Samsung?

The groundbreaking micro technology behind the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1.

Everyone knows that the allure of smartphone cameras has very little to do with image quality and a lot to do with portability and convenience. But what if there were a professional-grade camera that was just as small and just as convenient?

Just in time for the holidays, Panasonic is releasing the Lumix DMC-GM1, that is so compact it will take up barely three inches of pocket space and so light that its magnesium-alloy body weighs less than half a pound.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 weighs less than half a pound and comes with filters and apps for sharing.

Panasonic revolutionized camera technology in 2008 with the introduction of the GX1, the world's first mirror-less camera. "We removed the mirror component and replaced the optical viewfinder with an electrical component," says Darin Pepple, senior marketing manager at Panasonic. It utilized pre-existing technology called Micro Four Thirds sensor, which allows users to change lenses the way they did with larger digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras, minus the bulk.

Various companies have followed suit, releasing their own versions of mirror-less cameras. But with the new GM1, Panasonic is determined to show that this same quality can come in a miniature size. "What we found is that there is a category of people who are interested in SLR technology that is more portable," says Pepple. "Yes, you can get a portable pocket camera with built-in lens, but not the same large sensor. We asked ourselves, how can we do this with something that’s not a point-and-shoot?"

For the GM1, Panasonic counters the conventional thinking that small cameras must be equipped with small sensors. Instead, this one has interchangeable lenses and the large, 16-megapixel Digital Live MOS Sensor based on the Micro Four Thirds system, the same as the larger GX7. It is sold with a specially designed kit zoom lens. "It's a more optimal use of technology to reduce the lens length," Pepple explains. "When you're not using the lens, it folds in and gets really flat. Also, by reducing some of the internal components that control metering and the frame, we were able to get the size of a point-and-shoot, but with the quality of digital cameras."

The GM1's creators also wanted to compete with the allure of smartphone photography. "In terms of creativity, people enjoy smartphones because they have apps," says Pepple. "We've addressed that with 22 popular filter effects. Not only that, but we have in-camera editing, meaning you can quite easily do something like erase the powerlines behind someone's head."

The camera can also be used in tandem with a phone if the user switches it to Wi-Fi mode and downloads the Image App from Lumix. That turns the mobile phone into a remote control that can be used to view what the camera is aimed at, and even shoot and facilitate with playback mode. The app also makes it possible to transfer an image from the camera to Instagram, Facebook, or other social media sites with the swipe of a finger. But unlike phones, the GM1 can switch between video and still photography without interruption.

With a hefty $750 price tag, the GM1 isn't for everyone. But because of the technologies poured into this petite powerhouse, it will have a chance to compete with other professional-grade DSLR and DSLM cameras—and photo-loving smartphone addicts.

Editor's Note: A previous version of the story stated that in 2008 Panasonic had released the GX7. We regret the error.

[Images courtesy of Panasonic]

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