Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Review
How Does it Compare?
I won't soon forget the meeting in which I was introduced to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, the first Micro Four Thirds camera to hit the market. I was wowed not so much by its size (it really isn't that small), but by how closely it resembled Panasonic's point-and-shoot cameras, whether it was autofocus performance or features like Intelligent Auto mode. Panasonic has taken the G1 and split it into two new models -- the DMC-G2 reviewed here, and a stripped down model known as the DMC-G10. The G2 takes all of the things that made the G1 great and added touchscreen functionality to the LCD (which I personally found little use for), a new image processor, HD video recording, and several more "Intelligent" features first seen on Panasonic's compact cameras. The DMC-G2 does have its share of issues, though, namely a tendency to underexpose and clip highlights, redeye, and an unremarkable burst mode. Despite a few flaws, the DMC-G2 offers one of the best shooting experiences of any interchangeable lens camera out there -- it's a camera I genuinely enjoy using.
From most angles, the Lumix DMC-G2 nearly identical to the G1 that came before it. While it's compact for an interchangeable lens camera, there are "regular" D-SLRs that are smaller, and then there's the DMC-GF1 and Olympus E-PL1, that can fit in your pocket. The camera body is composite (plastic), yet it feels well put together. The body has a smooth, rubberized finish, though the grip feels a little slippery in your hand. The camera has more than its share of dials and buttons, but they're well labeled and usually serve just one function. The G2 has a Micro Four Thirds lens mount, which supports a growing collection of lenses from Olympus, Panasonic, and Leica. It also supports "classic" Four Thirds lenses, and very classic Olympus OM and Leica M/R-mount lenses via optional adapters. Whichever lens you attach, there will be a 2X focal length conversion ratio. Unlike its Olympus counterparts, the DMC-G2 does not have image stabilization built in, relying instead on the lens to provide that feature.
The DMC-G2's flip-out, rotating LCD display may look like the one on the G1, but this is no ordinary LCD. Panasonic has added touchscreen capability, allowing you to "touch focus", "touch shutter", navigate an on-screen menu, or swipe your way through photos you've taken. I already admitted that I'm not a huge fan of touchscreen cameras, and frankly, I don't think that it adds a lot to the shooting experience on the G2. The only time I ever found myself using it was to review photos that I've taken. Still, Panasonic has one of the better implementations of this feature, though the touch focus feature is too easy to accidentally activate. The LCD's general specs are impressive, though, with 460,000 pixels and excellent outdoor and low light visibility. Other things you'll find on the G2's body include a high resolution electronic viewfinder, a hot shoe, and stereo mic input / wired remote control and HDMI ports.
The Lumix DMC-G2 is one of very few interchangeable lens or digital SLR cameras that someone coming from a point-and-shoot can just pick up and use. The experience is so similar that there's a very short learning curve. The G2 is a live view only camera, with a bright, fluid view of the scene, super-fast autofocus, and the ability to preview exposure, white balance, depth-of-field, and focus. Panasonic has also brought over all of the "Intelligent" features from their compact cameras, including face detection and recognition, auto scene selection, auto ISO boost, and the new Intelligent Resolution feature. Intelligent Resolution is essentially a smart sharpening feature, and I found that it works quite well on the G2. A feature that didn't impress me very much is Intelligent Exposure, which is supposed to brighten shadows, but in reality does very little. The G2 has a decent set of scene modes, five of which are "advanced", with cleverly disguised manual controls. Speaking of which, the DMC-G2 offers a full set of manual controls, covering exposure, white balance (including fine-tuning and bracketing), and focus. It also supports the RAW image format, and Panasonic includes a capable (but somewhat clunky) editor in the box. The camera's playback mode has the basics down, though don't expect any of the more gimmicky features found on some other cameras these days.
While the original DMC-G1 lacked a movie mode, the G2 can record videos at 1280 x 720 (720p) with your choice of two codecs. The default is AVCHD Lite, which is HDTV friendly and can record for a long time (until you fill up your memory card, assuming you don't live in Europe). However, this format is difficult to edit on your computer. The other codec is Motion JPEG, which is editing-friendly, but limited by a 2GB file size limit which you reach in a little over 8 minutes at the highest quality setting. The G2 doesn't have a stereo mic built-in, but you can add one via the (proprietary) port on the side of the camera. You can use your zoom lens while you're recording, and camera continuously focuses very well. You don't really get any manual controls in movie mode, save for control over the aperture.
Like its predecessor, the DMC-G2 is a robust performer. Startup times are near instant, with the dust reduction system adding almost no delay. Focusing speeds remain top-notch for an interchangeable lens camera, with wide-angle times of 0.1 - 0.3 seconds, and telephoto delays about twice as long. The camera generally focused quickly and accurately in low light situations. Shutter lag was not an issue, and shot-to-shot delays are minimal, even if you're using the flash. Battery life was above average for a live view interchangeable lens camera. One area in which the G2 did not impress was its continuous shooting mode, where its small buffer fills quickly, and the maximum burst rate is 3.3 frames/second.
Photo quality is quite good in most respects. The camera's only real weaknesses are in the exposure department. The G2 tends to underexpose by about 1/3 to 1/2 stop, which is easy enough to compensate for (pun intended). Like other Four Thirds cameras, it does tend to clip highlights fairly easily. I found colors to be pleasing in most situations, save for the night test scene, which had a noticeable brownish cast to it. Images aren't super sharp at default settings (though I wouldn't call them soft), and you can use the Intelligent Resolution feature to easily sharpen things up. The DMC-G2 has low noise levels through ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light, and you'll get even better results if you shoot RAW and post-process. While its high ISO performance is better than on the G1, other cameras (such as the Olympus E-PL1) perform better than the DMC-G2 at high sensitivities. Purple fringing levels were low in most situations, but I did find redeye to be a problem (and the digital removal feature to be ineffective, but it may not like my test setup).
All-in-all, I like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2, and its touchscreen feature has very little to do with it (though I'm sure some people will have the opposite feeling). I like the design, the shooting experience, the photo quality, and the ability to record HD movies at the push of a button (literally). If you want a compact interchangeable lens camera, then I can definitely recommend checking out the G2, as well as its cheaper sibling, the DMC-G10.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
- Compact, well designed body with interchangeable lenses; comes in three colors
- Flip-out, rotating 3-inch touchscreen LCD display with high resolution, great outdoor / low light visibility
- Generally well-implemented touch features for focus, photo-taking, menu navigation, and image playback
- Large, high resolution electronic viewfinder
- First-rate live view experience: super-fast AF, live histogram, DOF preview, custom grid lines, and more
- Full manual controls; RAW format supported, with capable (but clunky) editor included
- Intelligent Auto mode features auto scene selection, face detection, auto ISO boost, and AF tracking, to name but a few things
- Camera can bracket for exposure, white balance, and Film Mode
- Intelligent Resolution does a nice job of improving image sharpness
- Well-implemented face detection/recognition system
- HD movie mode with choice of codecs, use of continuous AF and image stabilization, control over aperture
- Above average battery life
- Optional stereo microphone (though it's proprietary) and wired remote control
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Camera tends to slightly underexpose and clip highlights
- Redeye a problem; digital correction feature did not help, at least for me
- Touch features don't add a lot to the shooting experience; too easy to accidentally change focus area
- Unremarkable continuous shooting mode
- Movies created with AVCHD Lite codec are difficult to share and edit; frame rate isn't true 60 fps; Motion JPEG movies have huge file sizes, limited recording time
- Grip is a bit slippery; body isn't really any smaller than a D-SLR
- Can't access memory card while camera is on a tripod
- Manual leaves much to be desired
Some other compact cameras with interchangeable lenses and live view include the Canon EOS Rebel T2i, Nikon D5000, Olympus E-PL1, Pentax K-x, Samsung NX10, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A380. And don't forget about the G2's little brother, the Lumix DMC-G10!
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Lumix DMC-G2 and its competitors before you buy!
See how the DMC-G2's photos look in our gallery!