I've been looking at the Panasonic CM1 ever since it was released. After my wife's phone broke and she wanted mine, I finaly got it. While this camera is somewhat old news, most of the reviews out there treat it like a phone with a nice camera on it, so there's no serious images made with it, no real talk about it as a camera for photographers. Let's change that shall we? Here's my Panasonic CM1 review.
Introduction: What's so special?
Mobile photography is revolutionary. If you look at where this whole photography thing started, you had plates on top of donkeys, then you had to develop them and then print them. Never in the history of the world have you had a device that you could capture images, edit and publish them without transferring anything.
But call me old school. As much as I understand how great mobile photography is, I can't stand it. Give me a REAL shutter button real you? Give me controls and dials and give me RAW. I've tried mobile photography, I've tried. I believed the solution was iPhone cases but you had bluetooth to sync with. Samsung came out with the Galaxy camera, and for as much as the android part was sleek the camera was a joke, consumer camera. I swore off mobile photography.
Then came the Panasonic CM1, it ticked pretty much all I ever wanted in a camera phone, a nice 1 inch sensor, manual controls with a dial, etc. It is for all intents and purpsoses THE photographer phone I have found, but, as we will see, there is a potentially huge caveat if you shoot RAW.
Panasonic CM1 Review
The CM1 is a beautiful thing, definitely one of the best looking phones I've seen. That statement is of course relative, the thickness really doesn't bother me at all. It makes me feel like something is substantial in my hands. That's both good and quite scary. Scary because I am pretty sure this phone will never survive a drop. Better put a strap over it as I did on the bottom.
The CM1 has a shutter release button, but the overall design and handling of the CM1 is a larger sensor in a phone body rather than a phone in a camera body. What I mean is, when you shoot, you shoot as if you are handling a phone and not a pocket camera.
I think the phone needs a grip, of course Panasonic wanted to make it as phone-y as possible so there's nothing in the front but I think it needs one. The litmus test was not passed with this one, if I didn't have a stap, I would feel it secure in my hands.
I am currently ordering a grip for it, the flipbac G1. Can't wait for it to arrive for I believe it exponentially enhanced my Panasonic LF1 when I had it. You can also get a 3d printed grip but that's up to you as those turn it into a frankencamera:
Another gripping (pun intended) issue is the back of the camera, there is nowhere to grip the camera. Since it's a touchscreen you can't put your thumb muscle anywhere, because you'll probably touch the button to take the shot. But after rooting my phone, and updating the DPI, the camera software got confused and left me with a black area, perfect to rest my thumb area muscles. The interface is glitchy and small but I prefer to have the space in the back instead of worrying to press a button on the touchscreen:
The camera comes with a very nice switch on the side, to load the camera software without having to press the power button and touching the screen. If you do enter the camera without unlocking first, you will not be able to see the gallery without putting your unlock code. It's quite fast!
Overall the phone-camera hybrid looks and feels premium and is sure to always turn heads. This is the first phone I had pretty much everyone who saw it from the camera side asked what it was, and where they could get one.
It's pretty unique… I mean, there IS a pancake lens popping out of the phone. That is a potential issue…..Unlike a normal camera that has a leaf that protects the lens when it is off, or a bigger camera that you will tuck in a pouch, that lens is out in the open, and at the mercy of the elements, from keys to the table.You will HAVE to buy something else for extra protection.
The first is the Cotta ring adapter, it makes a protruding thing around the lens so that you can attach a 28mm filter. That's what I have on mine (see first image). But I have no 28mm filter yet.
The second is like a sheet of hard film you stick in front of the camera lens, but you will have to order it from Japan, so use a service like Tenso to ship it over. (I can't find the link anymore, will link when I find it, if it's not for some reason discontinued).
The last opton is to use a case for the phone. The bad news is, the cheapest usable case is like $100. I say usable because you can use anything as a case but if the camera is inside a case, you have to remove it from it first in order to use it, so it's not real protection if you ask me. The Cotta case I am talking about not only protect the phone, but you can use the camera by simply removing the camera flap.
I din't see myself buying a 100$ case so I went for the Cotta filter adapter, of course, you can screw various adapters to it! It protects the lens from being scratched in my pocket but it can get pretty dusty. What I like with the Cotta is that you have no qualms putting the phone lens down. Because before by instinct I simply put the phone screen down. I don't have a lens to put over the adaptor and you can see the gunk from my pocket:
The CM1 produces very nice files, and even better RAW files. I don't care much about pixel peeping so I am offering a few samples to download, see if that's up to your standards. I will say that the low light capabilities are impressive. Even when I tried editing the low light RAW file, here's ISO1600:
Low light shots, most underexposed so that I would not shake, and added more exposure in Lightroom:
Like pretty much every other single phone out there, battery life will last you a day and extra hours. I never used the camera yet for extensive shoots, but for most of daily life the camera is adequate. For sure you can't pull out your battery to change it when it's done, so you will need a portable USB charger when the battery drains. I am pretty sure that the camera draws a lot of power as within the camera menus there's options to turn off the brightness a bit to save power. Since this is a phone, when your batteries are really drained, it will outright not let you make any shots as it will say the batteries are too low.
Using the camera
If you are like me, you can't stand phone cameras, not because they are somehow incapable, but because you can't control them well. Besides the shutter release button, the CM1 has the front ring that turns and also has the volume buttons you can use for changing functions.
Ideally a camera has 3 dials or levers, one for ISO, another for SS, the last for Aperture. I'm a manual shooter, I don't do any other modes, but I found myself perfectly content with Aperture priority on the CM1.
Fully manual is simply not practical. Manual controls were too hard on the CM1, I had to tap two things in order to have a setting changed. Plus due to the handling being more on the phone side, as I changed the settings the images were usually gone. One issue is, certain things like ISO is slower to change, sometimes I rotate the dial and immediately press the shutter release only to find out the ISO didn't change yet. Stuff like A and SS are fine.
So long story short, I went to Aperture priority and quite frankly it is a much much better camera that way. My settings: The main dial changes aperture (or ISO by tapping in two different places) but more importantly the volume buttons now changed my exposure value.
There's some pretty hardcore features to the camera, one of note for Street Photographers is manual focus and focus peaking. There are no distance markings but the focus peaking is good enough is you ask me.
Now as much as I love the CM1, there's a few issues. First, occasionally the app freezes, but as I used it more and more, it didn't freeze. Don't know if both are related.
The second issue is dealing with RAW files. And let's be fair, in a sense this has NOTHING to do with the Panasonic CM1 personally, but the lack of RAW support on Android. The biggest problem you will run into as a RAW shooter is that you need to have a step in between exposure and post processing the files. The one and best app that can edit RAW directly is Polarr, but shoot, it's not compatible with the CM1, sideloading the APK will not work, apparently it has to do with the graphics card. The CM1 can only load Polarr 1, and as good as it is, there is no RAW support as this feature starts with version 2.
Lightroom Mobile does work with the CM1 but it's better on paper than in actual usage. Understandably the RAWs are like 20megs each and there is some serious lag when editing the files. Plus there's that import system that I believe should only be reserved for the desktop. Long story short, I uninstalled it.
One of the best options is PhotoMate R3, a really good viewer and editor, but I could never actually edit any raw file, upon going in the edit menu, it crashes.
So one of the best solutions is to use an app that the Photomate developper made, Raw decoder, and simply browse the file you want to edit, and share that file with your editing program like Polarr or Snapseed.
If you shoot RAW, so far that middle RAW to JPG middle step is necessary. You could always use RAW plus JPG, but (at least with my card) the few seconds of wait is intolerable.
Lastly, one issue I have with the phone part, is the lack of USB OTG support, so no usb sticks for us!
To my surprise I ended up using the Panasonic CM1 far more than anticipated. The CM1 truly helps the path of least resistance, nothing is easier than pulling your phone out, pull the switch and shooting. When I reviewed the Panasonic LF1, I compared it to a multitool, but at the end of the day it is only a camera, the CM1 is truly a multi-tool allowing you do do everything.
My favorite camera ever is the Ricoh GRD IV, it officially has a rival in the form of the CM1. They are not meant to replace each other but I have found that the practicality of the CM1 trumps everything. Let me give you an example:
I hike up a hill at 6 in the morning everyday. I put on my headphones and listen to books, while listening I see a shot, I pull the little trigger on the side and boom, done.
I'm jogging by the beach and I see a nice spot for a timelapse, it's as easy as pointing and shotting a video.
I go back home, take a bus, same thing. Books in my head and I can make images. While out I can answer emails, do customer service, edit a few images and upload them.
I could go on and on. Fact is, you never know you needed a camera until you need one, and this is probably the one camera I'll never forget to take.
A word on the phone
I never understand the fascination people have the latest and greatest, one of the issues of certain reviewers was that the phone would be outdated. Well my friends this is a perfectly enjoyable phone, capable of much. And the screen is pweeety!
Here you have it, I love my Panasonic CM1, and hope to see Panasonic innovating even more in this area. It is THE photographer's phone to beat, and it's quite awesome. My biggest gripe is that it falls short of being able to edit RAW on the phone, but that is more a developer issue rather than a camera issue. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.
Snapseed Android now supports the RAW files from the Panasonic CM1. So now, when you want to edit, simply press the share button and select Snapseed and it will open the file as a RAW file and allow you do do some preliminary stuff like change exposure. My drawbacks related to software are now pretty much invalid 🙂
Update 2: How I broke it
This is important. So darn important I'm putting it red so that you do NOT miss it. Do NOT put any nano-micro sim adapters in this, IT WILL BREAK. My sim pins are all over and I've pretty much resigned myself to use it as an android device and not phone anymore.