Panasonic’s latest creation is a professional camera with a smartphone thrown in, but is it actually worth the high asking price?
OS: Android KitKat 4.4.2 (upgradable to 5.0)
Processor: 2.3 GHZ Snapdragon 801
Resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Storage: 16 GB
Micro SD compatible? Yes, up to 128GB
Rear camera: 20MP
Front camera: 1.1MP
Video: 2160p (15fps only)
Dimensions: 135.4 x 68 x 21.1 mm
[highlight color=#336699 ]Introduction[/highlight]
Panasonic are not the most well-known company when it comes to smartphone manufacturing but it’s easy to forget that they used to be a big player pre-2006. The company made the big decision to cease selling smartphones outside of their native Asia but then backtracked in 2011. The company hasn’t exactly made any blistering handsets since then, so it’s a welcome surprise to see them going against the grain with this one.
Little over half a year old, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 still represents the pinnacle of smartphone photography. Coming in a whopping £799, it’s by no means a cheap handset. Even used, you’re looking at around £600. What you get for the money is something that resembles a half-way point between camera and smartphone. Panasonic calls it a camera with a smartphone bolted on, we call it a concept demonstration that shows just what can be squeezed into a pocket-sized device. The problem is, does it have a purpose within the smartphone ecosystem? Does anybody actually have a need for such a niche device? Let’s find out.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Design[/highlight]
Make no mistake, this is pretty huge for a smartphone. While the lateral dimensions are surprisingly small and pocket-friendly, the thickness is immense. It feels like a brick, with the ginormous camera sensor protruding out of it like some all-seeing eye. It’s about the same thickness as a 9 year old Nokia N95 and that’s without taking into consideration the sensor. People quite often forget just how slim smartphones have gotten in the past 10 years; this device is a prime example of it. Oddly enough, I actually grew quite fond of its slab-like thickness. The device felt incredibly snug in my palm and it was still perfectly easy to navigate the screen single handed. Carrying it around in my pocket was a different matter altogether, with the bulge in my jeans attracting some rather odd looks from passers-by.
From a design point-of-view, Panasonic have employed premium materials in an attempt to make it look more like a classic handheld 35mm camera. With its brushed metal trim and leather rear, you’ll be happily reminiscing back to the days of such classics as the Pentax K1000. The front is incredibly minimal, with barely anything aside from a small front camera sensor and indicator light used for system notifications.
On the right side of the device you’ll find four physical buttons, two of them dedicated to the camera functionality. Aside from the usual power and volume keys, there’s also a dedicated two-phase shutter button for focusing and taking shots, plus an additional sliding unlock key for booting straight into the camera application. The left side contains both sim card and microSD slots, both of which are concealed behind a tab. Along with the hidden USB port on the top, this helps to give it a very sleek appearance.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Camera[/highlight]
Of course, the main talking point of this device is the spectacular camera on the rear. It’s worth noting that the sensor protrudes slightly more than the rest of the device and doesn’t have a protective cover, so you’ll need to be extra careful when lugging it around. At 20 megapixels, it already beats most of the smartphones currently on the market, though it’s the sensor size that makes it most impressive. The Panasonic DMC-CM1 has a 1-inch camera sensor which puts it in the same league as professional compact cameras and bridge cameras such as the Sony RX10. It’s leagues ahead of your traditional compact and can even hold its own against an SLR, as demonstrated in our comparison feature on page 42.
With a wealth of manual controls on board and RAW capture for post processing, it pretty much excels in all areas. ISO was easily usable up to 1600 in testing, producing very good low-light images. Post-processing was fairly unaggressive, with only minor detail lost in extreme cases. Daytime images were exceptional, with the variable aperture controls allowing a much greater control over depth-of-field and focus. When in manual mode, the currently selected parameter can be assigned to the lens ring on the rear of the device, giving physical control over your chosen function. It’s a nice touch that is testament to Panasonics wish to market this as a true professional photography monster. Literally the only criticism of the rear camera is the flash, which turned out to be nothing more than an LED. For a device aimed at professionals, we would really be expecting a Xenon lamp for the price.
Even the front camera was surprisingly impressive, despite being a lowly 1.1 megapixels. Images captured a good amount of detail, though there was some noise in low-light conditions. This camera would be perfectly suitable for 720p video calling and it just goes to show that megapixels don’t necessarily mean everything.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Screen[/highlight]
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 features a 4.7 inch IPS panel with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. This equates to a density of roughly 469 pixels per inch, which is a very good number even by current standards. Although QHD screens are now becoming commonplace on flagships, this panel should be more than enough for most users. Anything over 300 PPI mostly guarantees an image that is free of pixilation and it’s no exception here. There’s plenty of detail to be seen and the screen is bright with excellent viewing angles.
I was able to accurately focus my photographs thanks to the high pixel density and the colour reproduction of the panel translated well to my laptop display. Anyone relying on the front screen for critical information regarding colour and levels should be able to mostly rely on what they are seeing. Should you want to tweak things a little bit, there’s a handy display tool in the settings that includes tint and white point adjustment. The only issue was glare in bright sunlight, which made exposure judgement a little difficult at times.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Performance[/highlight]
Bearing in mind that this device released in late 2014, the Snapdragon 801 had only recently been replaced with the more powerful 808 and 810. As such, it’s still a suitably powerful handset even by today’s standards. Aside from the top-end 8 series Snapdragon chips and their MediaTek/ HiSilicon equivalents, this is still the best out there. 2GB RAM is getting a little on the low side but it’s still more than suitable for moderate multitasking uses.
Playing Asphalt 8: Airborne was a hugely enjoyable experience with a smooth frame-rate even at the highest settings. Equally, browsing the UI and multitasking between applications was speedy and lag-free. After I upgraded to Android 5.0.2 Lollipop, it actually felt even faster to use. This may be a last generation device but it certainly doesn’t feel like it.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Software[/highlight]
Out of the box, the handset runs on Android 4.4.2 KitKat, which is the one just before Lollipop. A free system update entitles users to the latest version of the OS and it’s nice to see Panasonic still supporting the device this long after release. Those who choose to keep 4.4.2 will no doubt be fine with its performance, though version 5.0.2 offers significant enhancements and is worth the jump. You’ll get the benefits of the revamped material UI plus a tasty performance boost.
As far as I could tell, the Lumix DMC-CM1 runs a near stock version of the Android OS, which is an excellent decision and probably helps in part with the overall responsiveness of the phone. It still ships with a couple of third party applications on-board, though these are pleasant additions that help to compliment the photography focused experience. The Lumix camera application is utterly fantastic and has more manual settings than you could ever imagine, while the gallery viewer features a fully-fledged photo editor complete with a full suite of professional tools.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Battery[/highlight]
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 has a good sized battery which is slightly larger than the one found in the Samsung Galaxy S6. While it can’t match the 3,000mAh monsters, it has enough capacity to last a day of moderate usage. Shooting in RAW will drain the battery a bit faster, though this is to be expected. Asphalt 8 only drained it by around 10-15% after roughly 45 minutes of use, which is a pretty good figure.
For most users, it should easily last a day of moderate use. Those who are pretty intense with their multimedia and gaming may see it bring up the warning message slightly before that. The phone doesn’t have a removable battery, which means you’ll need to lug around a powerbar if you want to go on any overnight trips.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Conclusion[/highlight]
I’m still at loggerheads as to whether this is a camera within a smartphone or a smartphone within a camera, such is the power of that massive sensor on the back. While the price will surely make grown men weep, this phone is a thing of beauty. It has premium retro-chic styling and even with the old Snapdragon 801 processor it’s still blisteringly fast. Pair that with the Android 5.0.2 update and it helps to future proof the device for at least another year. If you’re a serious photography enthusiast who doesn’t want to carry around a phone and SLR, there’s definitely some merit to this. To the rest of use mere mortals, it appears to be nothing more than a concept design for just how awesome smartphone photography has become.