Despite the retro look, I am pleased to say that it does operate quite nicely. It is fairly easy to handle, although I find the rear wheel/four way controller combo to be a bit awkward to use, and would have preferred to have a thumb dial like most other cameras.
However, it really needs a better grip. And Panasonic is producing just that, the Panasonic DMW-HGR1S grip:
So what is it like?
Most of the grip is made of aluminium, and it is quite light. The screw is made of steel. On the inside, there are some plastic insets, which are designed to avoid having the metal from the grip rub against the camera body. I think this is a nice touch:
The metal surfaces are very nicely machined and finished. Here is the grip, which has a regular, extruded pattern:
The smooth surfaces appear to have a bead blasted finish, which is very smooth and nice:
And herein lies the problem: The grip is just too smooth, with no features:
From the underside, we see that there is no extra tripod attachment point, unlike many other grips you might find for other cameras. So you cannot put the camera on a tripod, if you use the grip.
Further, the grip completely blocks the battery and SD card compartment. So to replace or recharge the battery, you must first remove the grip. This is quite awkward.
Here is the grip mounted to the camera:
Without the grip, you must squeeze the camera between the thumb and the fingers. As seen from the top:
Not having any grip surface on the front, the finger has nothing to hold on to, giving a not very confident grip:
With the grip mounted, the finger has the ribbed aluminium surface to hold on to, and I feel that I can handle the camera in a much better and solid way:
On the rear side, there is a small grip surface under the thumb:
I think the optional grip allows me to handle the camera in a more confident way. Without the grip, I feel like I might easily lose the camera out of my hand.
The Panasonic DMW-HGR1S is very nicely finished, and feels very solid. Given the high quality of the finish, I don't think the price is overly high. Now, whether or not you actually need this level of finish is another question. I certainly don't need this from a grip.
The major downside is that the grip makes the camera less functional. You can no longer mount the camera to a tripod. And you must remove the grip to recharge the battery or access the SD card.
There are some alternative products available. For example, the wood grip from J.B. Camera Design, which supports mounting on a tripod, and changing the battery and SD card.