Updated Panasonic CM1 review and gallery (final part and conclusion)

cm1-P1020068

So for the past few days I’ve been using the CM1 as my main phone and have forced myself to get used to Android. I have to say that the charms are starting to grow on me, the frustrations from earlier have thawed and I’m starting to have a lot more fun with it. I still don’t think it’s as good a smartphone as the iPhone and the camera isn’t as cleverly implemented in some ways – but let’s revisit the main review and put some more user experiences down on the page.

Raw files in playback mode on the CM1
Raw files in playback mode on the CM1

Specs

  • 20MP 1-inch CMOS sensor
  • F2.8 aperture, 28mm equivalent focal length
  • ISO 100-25,600
  • 4K at 15fps only
  • 1080p at 30p only
  • Raw capture
  • 4.7-inch 1080p display
  • 1.1MP front camera
  • Android 4.4 (KitKat) – no in-camera raw editing support
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon S801 quad-core processor
  • 2GB RAM and 16GB built-in memory
  • microSD cards up to 128GB
  • 2600mAh battery
  • €899 only available in Germany and France

Things to know about the specs

  • The internal memory at 16GB on an €899 phone is on the stingy side. Micro SD memory card is recommended especially if you’re shooting raw.
  • There’s no in-camera raw processing due to the version of Android it’s currently running (KitKat). Newer versions of Android have raw support and some versions better preserve power, which would help the other weak point of the CM1 – the battery life. Hopefully Panasonic will update the firmware and camera app for newer versions of Android in the months to come.
  • Although the Snapdragon S801 processor is the same as found in the HTC One M8, the CM1 doesn’t feel as responsive as a smartphone.
  • The screen doesn’t go as bright or as high contrast as the screen on the Samsung S5.
  • 4K is for stills capture, it’s not really video. Think of it as a continuous shooting mode. The sensor is cropped very heavily in this mode so you can’t get a wide angle shot with it.
  • The front facing camera is extremely noisy indoors.
  • A small UK launch is planned for Christmas 2014.
The camera user interface is generally very solid on the CM1 and responsive
The camera user interface is generally very solid on the CM1 and responsive

**UPDATE**

I’ve been shooting more with the CM1 and have actually made a week long effort to get to use it as a smartphone.

Many of my initial complains about it being unable to match the user experience of an iPhone in terms of sleekness, build quality or soul still stand but much of my unhappiness at the Android OS has fallen by the wayside as I get used to it.

It’s true that in the hand the CM1 feels a bit like a lump of plastic compared to the iPhone 6 Plus and the screen feels a little more crowded but those stepping up from a mid-range Android phone probably won’t find this a concern.

The Android OS needs customising to suit the user and once you do this, the experience gets better. The keyboard becomes easier the more you use it and overall the OS feels responsive. The Google suit of apps is OK but you can replace them with better third party ones from the Play Store. Once you get the right apps on the CM1 it improves immeasurably.

My initial concerns about audio quality have died down too as I played with the settings. The screen settings also have an extensive calibration and colour correction panel. On default auto brightness settings the screen is very dim, so it pays to change that too. The camera app has a instant ‘high brightness’ mode that improves visibility outdoors but saves battery life indoors when you deactivate it.

The styling of the phone I was very unkind about in the original review – “For a phone designed for photographers, the CM1 has a curiously un-photographer like design. If Apple’s phones feel like they are carved by lasers from a block of aluminium and glass, the Panasonic CM1 feels like it has been cut with a hacksaw from the dashboard of a salesman’s company car. It lacks any kind of soul whatsoever.”

In retrospect, this is too harsh. OK it’s no iPhone 6 but the looks are growing from me and it has generated some interest on the street. If they did cut it from a car dashboard, then at least it’s more BMW than Trabant! The bigger problem is the way it feels – I just don’t like that faux leather or the rough feel to the click ring around the lens. This phone would have been SO much nicer in the hand without that big bulky clicking ring on the back and aluminium instead of plastic imitation leather on the back. Given that it costs nearly 900 euros, I’m surprised they didn’t give us carbon fibre!

**UPDATE WITHIN AN UPDATE!!**

Although the Panasonic camera app initially doesn’t let you edit or colour correct raw files on the phone, I’ve had a bit of a discovery…An app on the Play Store called Raw Droid gives the CM1 the ability in-phone to open raw stills in all their 14bit 20MP glory! This then allows you to grade the raw files on the go, by allowing them to be opened in Panasonic’s app which previously only allowed you to edit the JPEGs.

Raw Droid is a paid app but at just $4.99 it’s worth it. Shooting raw is the way to go on the CM1 for the most pleasing results. I dislike the standard JPEG colours and Lumix picture profiles on the CM1.

The other advantage of shooting raw is that if you turn off JPEG and Image Review in the camera menus, and just snap away with raw the “Processing” message and 4 second delay after each shot disappears!

It would have been a great selling point to have raw editing support out of the box. I’m a little confused as to why Panasonic left it out.

Shooting experience and gallery

A selection of my shots from the Panasonic CM1 so far (mostly graded from raw)…

Book

Bokeh

Bulb

Beaker

Beak

Bus

Bird

Beauty

Blur

Bang

Bronze

Berk

Burrow

Bad

Bright

Panasonic colour science

A major area for improvement with the CM1 is the standard picture profiles. The default colour is too often lacking in feel. The included JPEG filter styles in editing mode mask problematic shots for uploading quickly to a social network but only by shooting raw can you get more pleasing Fujifilm-like colour in a natural way.

When the scene looks great warm and rosy, the CM1 tends to give it a yellow cast. In Adobe Camera Raw I’ve named my presets ‘colour correction’ for a reason. I’ve adjusted the saturation, hue and luminosity of each colour in these. I don’t see why Panasonic can’t do the same and sort out their picture profiles.

JPEGs seem to do a pretty blotchy job of caucasian skin tones too. All this needs fixing. Hopefully Panasonic can take a look at the X-T1 and see how they can improve their Standard, Portrait and Vivid picture profiles in a firmware update. The LX100 seems ok, so why not the CM1?

JPEG straight out of phone (Standard picture profile, auto-white balance):

cm1-P1020026-default

My colour corrected version from raw in Photoshop:

cm1-P1020026

The warmer cast is how the JPEG should have recognised the scene in the first place.

Concept

Is the CM1 to be approached as a phone or a camera? Which takes priority? We have to assume it’s the camera.

But for it to succeed as a camera it can’t really be a second device, who needs two phones? And who needs to bring two compacts around with them?

Carrying around a single device is the attraction of the CM1 but Panasonic might have a hard time convincing Apple users to switch phone platforms entirely to Android. Android has a learning curve for iPhone users and a very different aesthetic feel to it.

I’ve discussed before with Panasonic about smartphone cameras and gave them my feedback. I’d have done what Sony have half-done with their QX series. Add-on 1″ sensor for any smartphone. My design though would be with a prime lens like the CM1 but very flat and spread like a nice quality case over the back of the phone.

The iPhone has no choice but to trade sensor size for thinness and features like raw and physical controls for simplicity. The best way to compete with the iPhone is to in fact embellish it with a Lumix add-on. Make the integration between Lumix camera and iPhone seamless – avoid the need for users to carry two devices. Perhaps understandably Panasonic did not want to embellish a ‘rival product’ but to compete head-to-head, at least in the ‘niche’ market for a photographer’s phone. But I can’t see many iPhone users making the switch to the CM1 even if they love the idea of better photo quality and more photographic features onboard.

CM1 alongside the iPhone 6 Plus
CM1 alongside the iPhone 6 Plus
The CM1 next to the iPhone 6 Plus
The CM1 next to the iPhone 6 Plus

Initial “feel” as a smartphone experience

My real world CM1 experience began with a very confused checkout girl in Berlin. She said enjoy your camera… I said it was a phone. She said “OH”. It’s chunky for a phone. As I stepped into a crowded Berlin I had my iPhone 6 Plus in one jacket pocket, CM1 in the other. The iPhone 6 Plus is 2014, the CM1 is 2004.

The mere act of using one in public becomes a bit uncomfortable. I’m not a snob, but I do like stylish phones and cameras. The CM1 just isn’t one. Apple are experts on feel and design statements. This isn’t empty air headed stuff, it is a critical part of the user experience. A phone is something you constantly have to feel and look at all day long. The choice of materials on the CM1 is poor. The big silver rim around the lens is metal, but it has fine grooves which collects fuzz from your pocket so it looks constantly dirty. The even bigger click wheel around the lens has rough serrated edges which graft against your hand all day. When holding an iPhone 6 and texting you have smooth surfaces against your hand. With the CM1 you have cheap rough metal and even cheaper faux plastic leather. The aluminium surround is thick and not made to seem less so by being dark, it’s luminous silver. Opening a flap to reveal the sim and memory card, the material reveals it’s true nature – this stuff is cheap and has no place on such an expensive handset…

Cheap plastic on the CM1, a 899 Euro smartphone
Cheap plastic on the CM1, a 899 Euro smartphone

Loud speaker quality on the phone is also way below that of the iPhone 6 Plus.

Ergonomics

Android takes some getting used to for an Apple user. Initially I hated it. Then I got used to it. It still feels less elegant, more clunky somehow – as if it has rougher edges, just like the phone does physically compared to the iPhone. It feels more soulless and functional. It nags about Google accounts and sending your data from a thousand parts of the operating system.

However once you begin to delve deeper and deeper into the apps and customising it to your tastes, things do improve. (See UPDATE at top of the page).

Camera and image quality

Click to download the original 20MP file. Same sensor as the Sony RX100 M3 and Panasonic FZ1000. Image processed from raw.
Click to download the original 20MP file. Same sensor as the Sony RX100 M3 and Panasonic FZ1000. Image processed from raw.
cm1-P1000013
Nice bokeh and a separation of background / subject is possible but only for close-ups
Camera - Panasonic CM1 vs iPhone 6 Plus
Click for a closer look
CM1 100% crop
CM1 100% crop
iPhone 6 Plus 100% crop
iPhone 6 Plus 100% crop

See this article for the full details of image quality on the CM1

The Leica 10mm F2.8 lens (28mm equivalent wide angle) is pretty good. Sharp, low distortion and bokeh is pleasingly smooth – surprising given the type of lens.

Unfortunately the CM1’s seemingly lacks any kind of stabilisation (no option is present in the menus anyway). Whereas the iPhone can take a sharp shot at ISO 80 in low light due to 1/5, the CM1 has to use 1/30 or often 1/60, bumping ISO to 1600. Although the sensor at 1″ is bigger than the one in the latest iPhone, you don’t always notice – a shallow depth of field can rarely be achieved unless your subject happens to be extremely close or at macro. 10mm is too wide to really isolate the subject from the background if they are more than half a meter away.

AF is very fast on the most part and rarely misses. Macro focus is a strong point, it does go very close.

In terms of stealth, unfortunately the CM1 isn’t discrete at all. The massive shiny silver disc on the back around the lens is unnecessary and as a click wheel it fails in terms of usability. Bare in mind that people commented negatively when the iPhone 6 Plus lens stuck out by 1mm, this is how sensitive the smartphone market is towards thinness!

The Leica 10mm F2.8 lens on the CM1
The Leica 10mm F2.8 lens on the CM1

The camera app is generally solid and Lumix-like but it does have a few problems of its own. If raw is selected you can’t take another shot until the camera has finished saving the raw file. Why can’t it write it in the background from the buffer?

4K mode is not actually video… it’s a stills mode shooting at a rate of 15fps with a VERY hefty crop to MP4 files. I can appreciate why such a small device might not be able to do 4K at 24p but for Panasonic to call 15fps “video” is not really right. Another poor choice of frame rate is 30fps for all the other options. This is especially baffling given the Europe-only launch, where the standard is 25p. Unfortunately 30p gives flicker under most 50hz  European lights.

The lens extends when in use so when you lay the phone down after taking a picture, the extended lens is the first thing that hits the table. If it extends when the phone is against a flat surface or being held with your hand over the lens, the motorised mechanism simply runs the risk of being damaged. Very often I’d get a “lens error” message. How long will it last?

There’s no 240fps slow-mo either. The iPhone 6 has this.

The screen is a strong point of the CM1 (iPhone 6 Plus on the right)
No 25p or 50p for a Europe only release of the CM1 is a glaring omission
No 25p or 50p for a Europe only release of the CM1 is a glaring omission
The Leica lens on the CM1 extends when in use
The Leica lens on the CM1 extends when in use
The CM1 has extensive camera settings for a phone
The CM1 has extensive camera settings for a phone

Updated conclusion

The Panasonic CM1 is “getting warmer”. It’s “close but no cigar”. One day there will exist a truly great hybrid of smartphone and camera. Panasonic may well be the one to advance to that point first. When they do, they’ll reap the rewards. Until then, be prepared for some first generational problems. JPEG colour often has issues with ‘feel’ and white balance. Scene modes aren’t as well implemented as they are on standalone Lumix cameras. Battery life is down at 200 shots compared to over 300 for the LX100 and you can’t carry a spare. It lacks any kind of stabilisation and it doesn’t have a very new build of Android. No in-camera raw processing is a disappointment considering the kind of device this is – it would be nice to apply filter effects to raw files instead of JPEGs before processing and sending to Facebook. The LX100 has this capability when paired with a smartphone alas the version of Android used for the CM1 doesn’t support raw editing.

The CM1 doesn’t compete against the iPhone in terms of fit and finish, materials and construction let alone thinness but then it does have a charm of its own and it’s rarity value makes it more enjoyable to own as a phone than “the norm”. But the really important things are –

A) Panasonic have innovated and started a new kind of product, something which they can continue to develop and improve in the future. CM2 with thinner design, OIS and higher build quality could be great.

B) It’s a very practical device with the best stills quality of any smartphone on the market.

Right now though, depending on what smartphone you currently use the CM1 may involve a degree of sacrifice. Even the most avid photographer would be hard pressed to part with an iPhone they also love equally as much. A Samsung S5 or HTC One M8 owner might think twice about forgoing the sleek thinness, responsiveness, latest Android builds and superb screens those phones offer for half the price of the CM1. And low availability might make it hard to get one in the first place, let alone on a contract.

However the CM1 is not without charm and if you can really work the 1″ 20MP sensor and Leica lens to your advantage photographically, it is hard to go back to a lesser quality small sensor in an iPhone.

Just be aware of the limitations before jumping in!

The CM1 is a thick phone but a thin camera
The CM1 is a thick phone but a thin camera

Pros

  • Best camera sensor in any smartphone
  • Android works well once you get used to it and customise it
  • Shoots raw
  • Huge camera feature-set
  • Manual exposure like a proper camera
  • Good video quality in 1080p relative to other smartphones
  • Responsive camera touch screen interface
  • Very large screen (4.7″) by usual compact camera or DSLR standards (3″)
  • Full 1080p IPS screen as per other leading smartphones
  • High ISO performance very good for a smartphone (usable ISO 1600 and 3200)
  • High continuous burst rates
  • Very fast AF

Cons

  • Not as sleek as many other high end smartphones and double the price
  • No stabilisation of any sort (a phone really needs this)
  • Software seems a bit unfinished – raw editing ability has to be added with Raw Droid, a paid third party app
  • No slow-mo or even 60p
  • No 25p for Europe – but Europe only release. Go figure!
  • 4K only 15fps
  • 4K crops the sensor heavily
  • Lack of stabilisation makes for very shaky 1080p
  • Build quality and materials choice could be better (not a fan of the faux leather)
  • Somewhat soulless to look at
  • Old implementation of Android (KitKat)
  • Only 16GB internal storage at €899? Really Panasonic…
  • No dock / stand USB port on the bottom of the phone
  • Too easy to accidentally keep the shutter button depressed when holding in portrait orientation like a phone
  • Lens extends in use
  • If image review is on, or JPEG + Raw is active, there’s a 4-5 second “Processing…” wait after each shot
  • Battery life on the weak side
  • Very limited availability
  • Lack of accessories at launch
  • No case for your €899 – you have to order it from a leaflet in the box
  • No printed manual (at least not in mine, retail boxed in first German batch)

Further pictures…

The headphone jack offers uninspired audio quality compared to the latest iPhones
Top panel – headphone jack and USB port
Nothing on the bottom side panel at all
Nothing on the bottom side panel at all apart from tiny loud speaker cut out
Awkwardly, all the buttons are on the right side panel - but the shutter button has a nice feel
Awkwardly all the buttons are on the right side panel – but the shutter button has a decent feel to it
The extending lens is easily blocked and this happens
The extending lens is easily blocked and this happens
Android options on the CM1
Android version is KitKat
The iPhone 6 Plus is ultra thin by comparison
The iPhone 6 Plus is ultra thin by comparison, but the CM1 is extremely thin for a camera
The CM1 sports an incredibly soulless and bland design
The CM1’s design grows on you… but it’s no iPhone 6
Size comparison, CM1 vs iPhone 6 Plus
Size comparison (CM1 vs iPhone 6 Plus)