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Panasonic's Lumix DMC-CM1 'communication camera' is chic but not cheap

Point-and-shoot 'communication camera' is sleek and handles beautifully

There have been many attempts to put a real camera into a smartphone. But either the image quality was not up to par or the end-product became too bulky.

Panasonic decided to give it another shot, and the Lumix DMC-CM1 is the result.

On paper, the CM1 looks mouthwatering with a 20.1-megapixel 1-inch CMOS image sensor. This size of image sensor is found only in high-end compact cameras such as the Panasonic LX100 and Sony Cyber-shot RX100 series.

The CM1 is armed with a fixed wide-angle Leica 28mm f/2.8 lens. While this is not a zoom lens, it allows the CM1 to be the world's slimmest communication camera at only 21.1mm, according to Panasonic.

Notice how Panasonic uses the term "communication camera" instead of "smartphone". And this review looks at CM1 more as a camera than a smartphone.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $1,399

    IMAGE SENSOR: 20.1-megapixel 1-inch CMOS

    LENS: 28mmf/2.8 (35mm equivalent in 3:2)

    SCREEN: 4.7-inch 1,920 x 1,080-pixel touchscreen LCD

    SENSITIVITY: ISO 100 to 25,600

    CONNECTIVITY: 3G/4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Near Field Communication

    PROCESSOR: 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 4.4 (upgradeable to Android 5.0)

    WEIGHT: 204g (with battery and memory card)

  • RATINGS

  • FEATURES 1 2 3 4 5

    DESIGN 1 2 3 4 5

    PERFORMANCE 1 2 3 4 5

    VALUE FORMONEY 1 2 3 4 5

    BATTERY LIFE 1 2 3 4 5

    OVERALL 1 2 3 4 5

DESIGN

The CM1 is sleek and chic, with the front mostly swathed in black faux leather, while the top and bottom have a silvery finish.

On top sit a volume rocker, power button, camera switch and dedicated shutter-release button. At the base is a hidden compartment that houses the micro-SIM card slot and the microSD card slot.

On the front, a physical control ring around the lens provides quick and direct access to such controls as shutter speed, aperture, ISO and manual focus.

A 4.7-inch full high-definition (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) touchscreen LCD dominates the back. There are no physical buttons on the back. On the left side, a micro-USB charging port sits hidden.

I like the minimalist design of CM1 and its thinness. Except for the lens, which protrudes from the body, the CM1 is just 15.6mm thick.

When you activate the camera, the lens projects out to make the thickness 21.1mm.

HANDLING

With its well-placed physical buttons, CM1 handles beautifully. Push the camera switch and it takes you to the Lumix camera app. Press the power button and you get the Android home screen.

There isn't a pronounced grip or rear thumb rest, but you will naturally grip the camera so your right index finger will rest on the shutter release. Your left hand will support the camera, with your left index finger and thumb holding the physical ring.

The Lumix camera app provides plenty of shooting options readily accessible by your right thumb.

I like the fact that the app has a short cut to the control ring. Just tap to choose what options you want to change.

I use the control ring primarily to change ISO settings.

Even in manual mode, you can use the control ring to change shutter speed and aperture with a virtual on-screen button to toggle between the two settings.

You can also use the volume rocker on the top left to adjust exposure compensation.

OPERATION

Because of the Android OS, powering up takes a slow 63sec, while shutdown takes 10sec.

But once the CM1 is powered on, activating the camera takes a mere one second.

Using a microSD card with a writing speed of 10MB per second, the CM1 managed four RAW images in 0.5sec before the shooting speed slowed to a crawl.

CM1's autofocusing (AF) is quite fast for a compact camera. Getting a sharp focus under bright light is almost instant.

In dim conditions, it takes about 2sec with the aid of AF assist light. Many smartphone cameras might have given up under similar circumstances.

IMAGE QUALITY

Image quality is excellent, when compared with results from flagship smartphones.

The images are sharp, refined and full of details. Macro shots are possible from as close as 3cm, while the bokeh soft out-of-focus effect can be easily executed at f/2.8 aperture.

On the downside, the images tend to have soft corners, and chromatic aberration is clearly visible in high-contrast conditions.

Image noise performance is good, with noise artefacts visible only at ISO 1,600.

At ISO 3,200, the noise artefacts are more obvious, with slight detail loss and colour desaturation, but, even at ISO 6,400, images are good enough for small prints and Web usage.

Nothing faster is recommended.

Video quality is equally good and sharp, but the video does pick up a fair bit of wind and ambient audio. You can shoot 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) videos with CM1, but the frame rate is only 15 frames per second.

COMMUNICATION

The best thing about Android-powered cameras such as the CM1 is that you can shoot and upload photos to social media immediately.

The CM1 comes with Android 4.4 (KitKat) but an upgrade to Android 5.0 (Lollipop) is available. This review was done with CM1 upgraded to Android 5.0.

Browsing websites and checking social-media updates on the 4G LTE network were effortless. Facebook and Instagram started up immediately and there was no lag when I used photo-editing apps such as Photoshop Express.

BATTERY

The battery life is average for a compact camera, at around 300 still images on a full charge. But your mileage will depend on how often you post pictures on Instagram or check your e-mail.

I found that if I used CM1 extensively just to check Facebook or Instagram without taking any pictures, the battery would sink to 50 per cent by mid-afternoon.

As the battery is not removable, you should carry a power bank with you if you are using this as your primary camera.

•Verdict: The only real weakness of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 is its hefty price tag. However, you are getting an excellent point-and-shoot camera that allows you to post your beautiful photos on social media while checking your e-mail.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2015, with the headline 'Lumix DMC-CM1 - chic but not cheap'. Print Edition | Subscribe