Smartphone cameras have been steadily improving, and while many are good enough for taking casual pictures in good lighting, their small sensors and depth-constrained optics keep photo quality well below what's achievable with a dedicated point-and-shoot camera.
Samsung tried to solve this discrepancy by putting a smartphone inside a camera with its Galaxy Camera series. It was an interesting idea, but Samsung's Galaxy Camera and Galaxy Camera 2 both failed in one crucial area: Their cameras just weren't very good. Using small (1/2.3'') image sensors produced mediocre pictures that couldn't match the image quality of point-and-shoot cameras in the same price range.
Panasonic's new LUMIX Smart Camera CM1 looks to finally bridge the gap by combining up-to-date, powerful Android hardware with a camera using a 1-inch image sensor, the largest ever seen on a smartphone. While the CM1 has been out in a few select European markets since December, at CES this year it was announced that it will be coming to North America.
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AB)|
|CPU||Qualcomm Krait 400 (4 Core) @ 2.26 GHz|
|GPU||Qualcomm Adreno 330 @ 578 MHz|
|Memory||2 GB LPDDR3|
|Display||4.7-inch IPS LCD @ 1920 x 1080 (469 ppi) with Gorilla Glass|
|Storage||16 GB, microSD (up to 128 GB)|
|Battery||2,600 mAh (non-removable)|
|Cameras||Front: 1.1 MPRear: 20.1 MP 1-inch CMOS sensor with f/2.8 28mm LEICA lens|
|Expansion Ports||microUSB 2.0, microSD|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, NFCCat 4 LTE Bands 1/3/4/5/7/8/20|
|Dimensions||135.4 x 68.0 x 21.1* mm|
|Operating System||Android 4.4 (KitKat)|
* with camera -- phone body alone is 15.2 mm
As a phone, the Panasonic CM1 has decent specifications, with a Snapdragon 801 SoC, 4.7-inch 1080p display, 2,600 mAh battery, and Cat 4 LTE connectivity. As a premium-level product, it's constructed mostly from metal, and its build-quality is top-notch. However, it certainly looks and feels more like a camera than a phone, with that boxy retro look that so many cameras are using today.
Still, for what it is, this phone/camera combo is reasonably compact and can be used as a phone fairly comfortably, which can't be said of Samsung's Galaxy Cameras. What the CM1 isn't is a smartphone that just happens to have a decent camera, like the Lumia 1020 or the upcoming Asus ZenFone Zoom.
The camera uses a 1-inch Sony 20.1 MP sensor, the same one found in cameras such as the Sony RX100 or Panasonic FZ1000 (which is the camera I used for the stills and video in this article). This sensor is approximately seven times larger than the average sensor found in other smartphones and is capable of producing substantially better-looking images.
Panasonic has combined this sensor with an f/2.8 Leica lens with a 28 mm focal length. However, despite the fact that the lens extends (as can be seen in the picture above) when you use the camera, the CM1 does NOT have any optical zoom. Even so, the large sensor and high MP count should still allow you to use a limited amount of digital zoom without impacting the image quality severely. The CM1 also does not have optical image stabilization (OIS).
Along with the class-leading camera hardware, the CM1 also has the most advanced camera software we've seen on a phone. The ridged ring around the camera on the front of the phone is a dial that can be used to manually adjust everything, including focus, aperture, shutter speed and white balance. The options menu allows you to adjust every aspect of the camera, just as you can on a fully-featured high-end point-and-shoot camera. However, the CM1 still has a full automatic mode and a selection of scene settings to choose from, providing a more smartphone-like experience if desired. The CM1 can also shoot in RAW mode.
We didn't get to take any pictures with the CM1 at CES, but the sample images shown to us were phenomenal and by far the best we've seen produced by a phone. We did get to play around with the CM1 for a few minutes, which you can watch in the video below:
While we can't really pass a verdict on the Panasonic CM1 after our limited amount of time with it, there are a couple of issues that we do think are worth mentioning. First, there doesn't seem to be a lens cover, so you'll want to keep it in a case when not in use to prevent scratching. Second, the lack of OIS and any optical zoom are omissions that we think Panasonic should incorporate in the CM1's successor, even if it means a thicker device.
Another issue is that the CM1 cannot shoot proper 4K video. It is limited to a 15 fps mode that is designed so users can pull 4K stills. The fact that it can't shoot 4K 30 fps video when other Snapdragon 801-powered smartphones can is odd. Perhaps it's using a different ISP than what's provided in the Snapdragon SoC.
The Panasonic LUMIX Smart Camera CM1 is already available in Germany and France for €899 Euros and the UK for £799. That translates to approximately $1,050 USD, but we're not sure if this is the price it will sell for when it's released in North America later this year.
You can learn more about the CM1 on Panasonic's UK site.