Panasonic GM1 and Olympus XA2
Digital Cameras Point & Shoot Scale Focus

Panasonic GM1 Review: A Digital ILC Alternative to the Olympus XA2? – by Charles Higham

December 29, 2019

The Olympus XA2 has, for decades, been a popular small 35mm film compact you can carry around in your pocket. An excellent piece of design, it’s simple to operate with zone focusing and a respected f/3.5 35mm fixed lens. Having shot many photos with one, I looked for an inexpensive digital equivalent with the same convenient body size and the largest sensor possible. What I found is the Panasonic GM1 with a Micro Four Thirds 16MP sensor. ItΒ was released in late 2013 and is no longer produced.

As far as I am aware, no manufacturer has yet produced a digital full frame camera as small as the XA2. There are fixed lens compacts available with 1″ sensors such as the Sony RX100 series and the Ricoh GR series APS-C sensor cameras, which are pocketable and good, but I was also hoping for the added bonus of being able to fit different lenses. Without a lens mounted the Panasonic GM1 is actually smaller than the XA2. That’s pretty amazing for an MFT interchangeable lens camera. I bought my GM1 used on ebay and didn’t appreciate quite how tiny this thing is until it was delivered and in my hand.

Apparently, Panasonic engineers somehow managed to stuff into it most of the features found on the larger GX7. Being a sophisticated modern digital camera it’s a more versatile performer than the point and shoot Olympus XA2. However, it has a fixed LCD panel and no viewfinder. I should mention Panasonic went on to produce the GM5 (also discontinued) which includes an EVF, but it is a somewhat bigger camera although not by a great deal, but these usually sell for significantly more. The GM1 does have a pop-up flash with a range of a few metres. The XA2 can be fitted with a flash attachment which is probably more powerful.

Panasonic GM1 and Olympus XA2 comparison

The Lens

I bought the optically stabilised 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens for flexibility as it’s had positive reviews. It collapses down to what you could almost call pancake dimensions, given it’s an AF zoom, but it does make the GM1 thicker than an XA2. No problem, there’s a very wide range of compatible Panasonic and Olympus MFT lenses, one of them being the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 (28mm full frame equivalent) which is a small pancake prime, although it has no OIS.

If you don’t mind distortion you could even have some fun with the cheap and cheerful Olympus Fisheye 9mm f/8 body-cap lens which is only 12.8mm thick. Going in the other direction you can fit longer lenses, and illustrated here as an example I’ve mounted an OM system E.Zuiko 135mm using an MFT adaptor. Usefully, focus peaking still works in manual mode with vintage glass like this.

Panasonic GM1 with Olympus OM system E.Zuiko f/3.5 135mm lens

Panasonic GM1 with Olympus OM system E.Zuiko f/3.5 135mm mounted with an adaptor. This effectively becomes a 270mm telephoto.

I might invest in the wide angle 14mm lens for the GM1 to benefit from the larger aperture and shallower profile. Also, this avoids the slightly inconvenient start-up procedure the kit lens requires which is to manually extend the lens before shooting. Another option would be the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake. Both lenses have very fast AF and manual focus if needed. In short, with one of these primes the GM1 takes up hardly more space than an XA2.

Build

The Panasonic GM1 body is robust magnesium alloy, while the Olympus XA2 has a mostly plastic although durable construction. It has no grip, and Panasonic made a metal one for this model you could screw on. I found it easier and cheaper to by a Flipbac FBG3 silicon grip that sticks on with double-sided tape and so far it’s stayed firmly in place.

Features

I won’t go into all the features the Panasonic GM1 has as there are comprehensive reviews online, and as mentioned above it’s based on the larger GX7 so its capabilities are extensive. Suffice to say there are a multitude of settings and tweaks available using the dials, touchscreen and function button. You can of course shoot completely automatically. I usually have one of the custom settings (C1 & C2 on the dial) as monochrome.

Panasonic GM1 rear screen

A comparison

I thought it would be an interesting experiment to carry around both cameras and capture the same scenes. I loaded the XA2 with Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100 for sharpness and lack of grain, and set the Panasonic GM1 on Monochrome. The GM1 also has grainy ‘Rough Monochrome’ and high contrast ‘Dynamic Monochrome’ available, but felt the straight monochrome would be the closest match to the Neopan.

The XA2 has a fixed 35mm lens so replicated this on the 12-32mm zoom by adjusting it to around the 18mm mark (36mm equivalent). Despite the lack of a viewfinder and the relative thickness due to the kit lens I’m currently using, in terms of size, handling and convenience I’ve found the GM1 performs a similar role for me as the XA2 I’ve used as a pocket camera for years. You can almost forget it’s on you until a moment appears worth photographing and whip it out to take a quick shot. Mainly down to inexperience with the GM1, a few times I did accidentally turn the revolving back dial, or touched the screen at the wrong moment which caused a delay to taking the shot while I sorted it out, which isn’t something you experience with the XA2 – a point in favour of the Olympus.

Bibury, Gloucestershire. Olympus XA2, Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100.

Bibury with the Panasonic GM1

Bibury – the same view using the Panasonic GM1 on monochrome setting with kit zoom lens.

Footbridge, Bibury. Olympus XA2, Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100.

Footbridge photo with the Panasonic GM1

Panasonic GM1 on monochrome setting with kit zoom lens.

Ferris wheel, Stratford-upon-Avon. Olympus XA2, Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100.

Ferris wheel with the Panasonic GM1

Panasonic GM1 on monochrome setting with kit zoom lens.

View from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.Β  Olympus XA2, Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100.

1955 Bentley “R type” Continental. British Motor Museum, Gaydon. Olympus XA2, Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100.

1955 Bentley Panasonic GM1

Panasonic GM1 on monochrome setting with kit zoom lens.

Jaguar XK120, British Motor Museum, Gaydon. Olympus XA2, Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100.

Jaguar XK120 with the Panasonic GM1

Panasonic GM1 on monochrome setting with kit zoom lens.

Totnes, South Devon. Olympus XA2, Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100.

Panasonic GM1 on monochrome setting with kit zoom lens.

Norman gateway, Abbey Grounds, Cirencester.Β  Olympus XA2, Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100.

Panasonic GM1 on monochrome setting with kit zoom lens.

I think my Olympus XA2 from the 1980s put up a reasonable performance in comparison to the 2013 Panasonic GM1. It’s fair to say that, at least in this particular exercise, the GM1 produced cleaner and marginally sharper images, with arguably better metering and retained more detail in the highlights. Being still unfamiliar with the Panasonic GM1, I played safe and set an upper limit of 400 ISO which will have enabled faster shutter speeds than the XA2. In retrospect I should have set it on ISO100 to even things up.

Nevertheless, I feel Neopan Acros 100 has a nice look, and the XA2 is a faster camera to shoot with, plus it has a viewfinder. It has to be said though, the Panasonic GM1 has an advantage in sophistication and versatility, and it’s a very nice little camera. Essentially I’m happy to carry either of these cameras around with me. Let’s just say they’re equal but different.

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Graham Coad
    December 29, 2019 at 10:47 am

    Hmmmm, bit of lens flare from the Olympus. Have you checked if there is any dust or fungus in the lens?

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      December 29, 2019 at 10:53 am

      There is some flare, yes. When I got the images back from the lab I thought maybe there had been a slight smear on the lens, but I can’t see one and no fungus visible. I don’t have an explanation for it. Shooting into a bright sky as some of these exposures do will have accentuated the flare effect. The interior shots seem ok.

    • Reply
      Roger B.
      December 30, 2019 at 12:27 am

      I second what Mr. Coad says. I shot perhaps a hundred rolls of b&w and color print film with an XA2, as it was my “work camera” back in the day. The sharpness and contrast of my results, to my eye, are more on a par with the images you’ve posted from your GM1.

  • Reply
    Chris Pattison
    December 29, 2019 at 11:34 am

    Hi Charles. I used to have a GM1 and thoroughly enjoyed using it. I made some exhibition prints using it with the 12-32mm lens. Unfortunately it all went pear shaped when I dropped it from waste height while it was in a Lowepro bag. I hear a ‘snick’ as it hit the pavement. I took the camera out of the bag to see a shattered screen and some compromised software functionality; not a particularly good advert for camera or bag!
    Never mind. It was fun while it lasted. My XA is still alive thankfully.

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      December 29, 2019 at 11:48 am

      Thanks for your comment Chris. That’s unfortunate about your GM1. The 12-32mm kit lens is very good so I’m not surprised you could produce exhibition prints. I bought my GM1 used on ebay earlier this year for under Β£200 and so far it’s performed well.

  • Reply
    Steve Wales
    December 29, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Charles, I have the GM5 that’s almost the same as the GM1, apart from the Evf as you mentioned. Once purchased and the outlay put aside, the running costs are effectively zero, making it a compelling argument to use as a general P&S.
    BTW I read a review on the Holga 1:8 f25 for the MFT and picked up a copy to try it out. In true spirit of the Holga principles it’s an unpretentious plastic lens with fairly crude focusing symbols, ie head, group of people, distant hills etc, and being plastic the fit to the camera is a bit sloppy. For anyone wanting to ‘knock the hard edges’ off the clinical digital output, this could be the lens for them (that’s if you can find one, as my experience would suggest they’re a bit like hen’s teeth – I imported mine from Germany via the Bay).

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      December 29, 2019 at 12:52 pm

      Steve, I was tempted to spend more and wait for a GM5 to come up for auction because that EVF must be very useful, but in the end decided on the cheaper GM1. Thanks for the mention of the Holga 25 f/8 – Lomotastic! Actually, some of the shots I’ve looked at online are sharper than I expected, but some very atmospheric effects can be produced. As you suggest, images can look more like film. There are some unusual MFT lenses that can be mounted on the GM1/GM5 which is part of the fun. I have considered the SLR Magic 8mm F4 which is ultra-wide and quite a bit pricier than the Holga.

  • Reply
    Rob B
    December 29, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    Excellent photos and a great side-by-side comparison. Graham makes a good point about the condition of the lens on the Oly, but then again a lot of film-era lenses are very prone to flare when shot into the light. My Olympus 50mm f1.4 flares massively, for example. Not that this is all bad, I’ve used this to creative effect on a few occasions.

    Overall, I’d have to say that the overall difference in the photos isn’t unexpected, at least to me. Not knowing how you had the Panasonic set up for this, I’d assume that the ISO would be auto-set and that the matrix metering of the Panasonic versus the center-weighting of the Olympus and the fixed ISO of the Acros no doubt had a large impact on the difference in the photos.

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      December 29, 2019 at 4:32 pm

      Thanks Rob. Yes Graham’s point about the flare is valid and I’m wondering if perhaps there was a mark on the lens that I wiped off without remembering. But it could be just a tendency of the lens on my particular XA2. I had the Panasonic GM1 set with an ISO limit of 400 and exif shows it chose ISO 200 for most shots. The matrix metering on the GM1 is significantly more sophisticated than the XA2 which as you suggest gives it a definite advantage. I’ve been very pleased with what the GM1 is capable of.

      • Reply
        Rob B
        December 30, 2019 at 11:47 pm

        I have a Panasonic ZS60 and its Monochrome mode is one of my favorites. The Leica Vario-Elmar glass doesn’t hurt either πŸ˜‰

        I just recently picked up a XA for $100 and finished replacing light seals yesterday evening. After seeing your shots, I’m excited to get it out and taking pictures!

  • Reply
    Khaled IM
    December 29, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Instructive scene by scene comparison, very well done.
    Features on digital cameras trounce their analogue counterparts in every conceivable respect save one – the final product. Analogue images breathe and interact with the eye in a way that digital versions cannot.
    When comparing great digital images to great analogue ones, film invariably wins, for me at least. It’s a terrible disadvantage because the inconvenience of using film today is almost off-putting. Almost, but not quite.

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      December 29, 2019 at 5:29 pm

      Thanks very much, and I sympathise with your feelings about film photography being inconvenient. In many ways it is indeed so obsolete compared to digital and I sometimes question myself about the point of continuing with it. But I like the gear and I like the look and the thought required, and the experimentation within limitations. Just love it really.

  • Reply
    CharlesMorgan
    December 29, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Quite to my surprise I preferred the images from the Panasonic so completely that I checked I’d got them the right way round! There are times when I really do wonder if film is the right medium, but I mostly enjoy the process and use different formats. I must say though that I’ve shot that Bentley at Continental and the result from a Rolleiflex 2.8F beats both hands down. It’s not that much bigger, honest…

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      December 29, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      Thanks for your comment Charles. If I’m being ruthlessly honest with myself I would agree and say that, technically, the Panasonic GM1 produced better images in this exercise. Having said that I like the look of the Neopan Acros even if it can’t match the Panasonic’s output. Like you I enjoy the film photography process. Funnily enough, I’ve been looking at TLRs on ebay as a venture into medium format which I havent tried yet.

  • Reply
    Nigel Cliff
    December 29, 2019 at 8:42 pm

    I have a phobia about cameras with no viewfinder so the GM1 would never be for me,however I note your comments about the innards being very similar to the GX7 which I have and although larger than the GM1 is when fitted with the tiny 14mm f2.5 my in the jacket pocket digital camera

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      December 29, 2019 at 8:59 pm

      If you’re happy with the GX7 then I suggest stick to that, as I’m sure you know it’s widely regarded as a good camera. If you decide to look for something smaller then the Panasonic GM5 is only slightly bigger than the GM1 but has a viewfinder.

  • Reply
    Mani
    December 29, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    Wow there’s WAY more life in those film images.
    I guess if what you’re looking for in photography is sharpness and detail in the highlights, then the digital is β€˜better’.
    I’m sure when Michelangelo was hard at work on the Sistine chapel ceiling there were blokes standing under and criticizing the sharpness and lack of shadow detail…

    • Reply
      Kodachromeguy
      December 31, 2019 at 2:33 am

      I agree, there is more life in the Acros frames. That is a good way to describe it. And I do not mind the flare in these examples. Interesting comparison!!

  • Reply
    F.Schneider
    December 30, 2019 at 8:38 am

    The lunix is not a full frame camera…

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      December 30, 2019 at 8:45 am

      Correct. As stated in the post this GM1 has a 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor.

  • Reply
    Penarthur.
    December 31, 2019 at 9:04 am

    Never heard of Fujifilm? Hard to take this article seriously as they have a huge range of compact ILC APS C devices.

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      December 31, 2019 at 9:48 am

      Read the beginning of the post. The aim was to find an inexpensive digital equivalent of the Olympus XA2 with a small body size and the largest sensor possible. I’m sure the Fujifilm compact APSC sensor cameras are good but they are distinctly bigger than the Panasonic GM1. Also the GM1 is inexpensive. They stopped making it some time ago and I found mine used on ebay for under Β£200.

      • Reply
        Rob B
        December 31, 2019 at 8:28 pm

        Yes, Fuji does have a huge range of APS-C devices, none of them inexpensive. While you can get an older Fuji body The smallest Fuji lens (27mm f2.8) is over $400 by itself. Fuji’s smallest body (X-A3) is still bigger and more expensive than the GM-1, even on the used market.

        Nothing beats Micro Four Thirds for Performance/Price/Size ratio, period. I used to shoot an Olympus E-PM2 with the Oly 17mm f2.8 and it was barely bigger than my XA.

  • Reply
    Jim Chung
    May 10, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    I wonder if testing the XA would have been more appropriate since it has the better 6 element lens (vs 4 element XA2) and accurate rangefinder focusing (vs zone focusing XA2) with the digital GM1.

  • Reply
    Charles Higham
    May 11, 2020 at 9:56 am

    XA could have been chosen as an alternative comaprison but I don’t have one. I think the XA is a bit more fiddly to use than the XA2 which arguably is more of a point and shoot camera.

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