Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Review
Look and Feel
The Lumix DMC-G2's basic design hasn't changed very much since the original G1 was introduced. This interchangeable lens camera is compact, but not as tiny as the Panasonic GF1 or Olympus E-PL1 due to its SLR-like styling. The body is composite (read: plastic), but despite that, it feels very solid in your hands. The body has a smooth, rubberized feel to it, which is a bit more slippery than I would've liked.
The G2 is very easy to hold, thanks to a good-sized right hand grip. It definitely has an overabundance of buttons, dials, and switches, but the most important things are easy to reach. Some functions be operated by the touchscreen interface in addition to the buttons and dials, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
|The tops of the Lumix
(left) and DMC-G2
Images courtesy of Panasonic
The biggest differences between the G1 and G2 can be found on the top of the cameras. The G2 has a new focus mode switch, as well as dedicated buttons for movie recording and entering Intelligent Auto mode. While it's hard to see here, Panasonic also relocated the command dial from the front of the grip to the back of the camera -- a smart move, in my opinion.
I'll touch more on the design differences between the old G1 and the new G2 as the review goes on. But for now, let's take a look at how the DMC-G2 compares to other interchangeable lens cameras as well as compact D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:
Back when the original DMC-G1 was introduced, there weren't many options for folks who wanted a small interchangeable lens camera. That's changed a lot, with cameras like the Olympus E-PL1, Samsung NX10, and the Panasonic DMC-GF1 taking up a lot less space in your bag. Of course, those don't have the traditional SLR styling and handling of the DMC-G2.
|The DMC-G2 and the new Samsung NX10 interchangeable lens camera|
Ready to start our tour of the Lumix DMC-G2? I know I am, so let's begin!
Here's the front of the Lumix DMC-G2, without a lens attached. As I mentioned earlier, this is a Micro Four Thirds lens mount that also offers backward compatibility with classic Four Thirds lenses (among others) via an optional adapter. I also already told you about the 2X focal length conversion ratio. Here's something that I haven't written yet: the G2, like all the Panasonic G-series models, does not have built-in image stabilization, relying on the lens to provide that feature. The Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, on the other hand, have sensor-shift image stabilization built into the body.
Since Micro Four Thirds cameras don't have mirrors, the sensor is totally exposed when you a remove a lens. Thus, you'll need a capable dust reduction system to keep that Live MOS sensor clean. The DMC-G2 uses the same Supersonic Wave Filter that was originally developed by Olympus many years ago to prevent dust buildup. When you turn the camera on, ultrasonic waves are sent through the low-pass filter at 50,000 Hz, which literally shakes dust away. I've owned a Micro Four Thirds camera for about six months now and have not once had an issue with dust.
Directly above the lens mount is the G2's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The flash appears to be the same one that was on the DMC-G1, with a guide number of 11 meters at ISO 100. That's slightly weaker than on some D-SLRs, but way better than what you'll find on the DMC-GF1 or Olympus E-PL1. If you want more flash power and flexibility, then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment. The DMC-G2 does not support wireless flashes like some of its competitors.
The only other items of note on the front of the camera are the lens release button, which is directly to the right of the lens mount, and the AF-assist lamp, located just above it. This lamp isn't just used for focusing in low light situation -- it also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
One significant feature that's been carried over (and improved upon, depending on your point-of-view) from the DMC-G1 is the G2's flip-out, rotating LCD display. This 3-inch screen can rotate 270 degrees, from facing your subject all the way around to facing the floor. Rotating LCDs give you a lot of extra flexibility, whether it's shooting over the heads of people in front of you, taking ground-level shots of kids or pets, or just taking photos on a tripod. The screen can also be put in the more traditional position (shown below), or closed entirely.
And here is the LCD in the position that most people are probably accustomed to. The resolution of the LCD is unchanged since the DMC-G1, and that's fine with me. The screen has 460,000 pixels, so everything is very sharp. Panasonic's LCDs have excellent outdoor visibility, and the one here in no exception. The camera automatically adjusts the screen brightness based on current lighting conditions.
|The "view" in live view||Zoomed in while manually focusing|
I need to talk about two big LCD-related items before the tour can be continued. I'll start with the live view feature, which is essentially unchanged since the DMC-G1. The G2 provides you with a sharp and fluid view of the scene, with 100% coverage. Low light visibility is very good, with the scene brightening up nicely (though the refresh rate will drop). You can preview exposure, white balance, and depth-of-field in live view, and you also have the ability to "zoom in" to the image on the screen for precise manual focusing. When you're zoomed in, you can use the four-way controller (or your fingers) to move around the frame. While there's a guide showing the relative focus distance displayed on the LCD (see screenshot), it would be a lot more helpful if it had some actual numbers.
One of the best parts of the live view experience on the DMC-G2 is the autofocus performance. The G2 focuses as quickly in live view mode as most digital SLRs do when using their viewfinder. There are several focus modes to choose from, including 23-point, face detection, and AF tracking. I'll tell you more about those lately.
Probably the biggest new feature on the Lumix DMC-G2 is the fact that the LCD is now touch-enabled. Let me say right up front that I'm not a fan of touchscreens on cameras, and really don't see the need for one on a camera like this. The good news is that you can operate all of the camera functions using the traditional button method (save for those that require a touchscreen). And with that out of the way, let me tell you what the touchscreen allows you to do on the DMC-G2.
Touch focus and touch shutter features
Animation courtesy of Panasonic
In record mode, the touch focus and touch shutter features do just as they sound. Touch focus allows you to touch the area of the frame on which you wish to focus (see screenshots). In face detection mode, you can touch the face to which you want to give priority. When using AF tracking, things work the same way: touch what you want the camera to track, and it will follow the subject as it moves around the frame. You do need to be careful, though, as it's very easy to accidentally touch another area of the screen, especially when you're trying to press one of the other on-screen buttons. The touch shutter feature lets you simply tap the screen, and the camera focuses and take a photo.
Creating custom guide lines and using the Quick Menu with the touchscreen
Animation courtesy of Panasonic
You can also use the touchscreen to navigate the Quick Menu and adjust commonly used camera settings. I did find the menu a bit difficult to navigate through with my large fingers. You can also adjust exposure, shutter speed, and aperture using "sliders" at the bottom of the LCD. You can also use the touchscreen to place guidelines on the LCD, and to set the position of the live histogram. Again, all of these things can still be done with the G2's "regular" controls.
You can see this screen when you're using the EVF
If you're using the electronic viewfinder to compose your photos, then you can turn the LCD into a camera settings display. The items on this screen can be adjusted via the four-way controller or the touchscreen.
I'll tell you about the touch-enabled features in the DMC-G2's playback mode later.
Alright, let's get back to the tour now! Above the LCD is the camera's electronic viewfinder, which Panasonic calls a Live View Finder. This viewfinder, the same one that was on the DMC-G1, is one of the best that you'll find on a digital camera. It has a total of 1.44 million pixels, though since it uses a field sequential system, you're really only seeing 480,000 pixels at any one time. Regardless, the viewfinder is very sharp, and the refresh rate superb. Some folks may notice a "rainbow effect" when they blink or pan the camera around quickly -- this is due to the design of the EVF. The viewfinder can display the same things as the LCD, and you can customize its appearance to your liking. The camera detects when you put your eye to the EVF, courtesy of a sensor just to its left (which can be turned off, if you'd like). You can adjust the focus of the EVF by using the diopter correction knob on its left side. I should add that the EVF protrudes from the back of the camera enough so your nose won't leave smudges on the LCD.
Now let's talk about the Lumix DMC-G2's various buttons and dials. Just to the right of the EVF is a button for switching between it and the main LCD. On the opposite side are the playback and AF/AE lock buttons. To the right of that is the camera's sole control dial, which was found on the front of the DMC-G1, but is now in a much nicer location on the G2. You'll use this for adjusting exposure settings, navigating through menus, and reviewing photos that you've taken.
Below the dial are buttons for activating the Quick Menu (the non-touchscreen version) and toggling the information shown on the LCD and EVF.
|Adjusting image size with the touchscreen Quick Menu...||... and the "regular" Quick Menu, which uses the four-way controller|
I suppose now's a good a time as any to tell you about the items in the Quick Menu. They include:
- Flash setting
- Film mode
- Image stabilizer
- Movie quality
- Aspect ratio/picture size
- Still quality
- Intelligent Exposure
- Intelligent Resolution
- Metering mode
- Exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- ISO sensitivity
- White balance
- Remaining display (Shots, recording time)
I'll cover most of those options as the review progresses. Let's continue the tour with a look at the DMC-G2's four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and also:
- Up - ISO (Auto, Intelligent ISO, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400)
- Down - Function - a customizable button which, by default, sets the focus area; I'll tell you what else it can do later
- Left - Film mode (Standard, dynamic, smooth, nature, nostalgic, vibrant, standard B&W, dynamic B&W, smooth B&W, My Film 1/2, Multi Film)
- Right - White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, flash, preset 1/2, color temperature)
- Center - Menu / Set
Lots to talk about before we can move on. Most of those ISO options are self-explanatory, but what's the difference between Auto and Intelligent ISO? Auto ISO just boosts the sensitivity to whatever is needed for a sharp photo. Intelligent ISO analyses the scene and looks for subject movement. If there's something moving, it will use a higher sensitivity (to freeze the subject) than if it was a still-life photo.
Adjusting sharpness in the standard Film Mode
The Film Mode feature should be familiar to anyone who has used a digital SLR or interchangeable lens camera in the last few years. A Film Mode contains sets of image parameters, including contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction. There are several presets, for both color and black and white shooting, each of which can be customized. You can also create your own custom Film Mode, saving it to one of two spots in the camera's internal memory. The DMC-G2 also lets you bracket for Film Mode, using a feature known as Multi Film. The camera takes one exposure and saves three different images, each with a different Film Mode. Something I don't like about the Film Mode feature is that all of the presets show "0" as their defaults, even when they say they have "higher saturation and contrast" than the standard mode.
|Fine-tuning and bracketing for white balance at the same time||Adjusting the color temperature|
The white balance options include an auto mode plus the usual presets, a custom option (for use with a white or gray card), and the ability to set the color temperature. Each of those can be fine-tuned as well, in the green/magenta and amber/blue directions (you can even use the touchscreen), and you can also bracket for white balance (more on that feature later).
The last button on the back of the Lumix DMC-G2 is for getting a depth-of-field preview, or a simulation of the current shutter speed. In playback mode, this same button is used to delete photos.
The first item of note on the top of the DMC-G2 is the focus dial and switch combo, located at the far left of the above photo. This is one of the parts of the DMC-G2 that's changed a bit since the G1. On the G1, the dial itself selected the focus mode (AF-S, AF-C, MF) -- that function has been delegated to a switch below the dial on the G2. Those options are fairly self-explanatory. You've got your manual focus (complete with frame enlargement, as I described earlier), single AF, and continuous AF. Right above all this is the camera's monaural microphone.
|The face detection system found all six faces||The face recognition feature has learned to identify my niece|
The available AF modes include face detection, AF tracking, multi-point, and spot. Let me go through each of those one-by-one for you. The face detection feature will find up to fifteen faces in the scene, making sure they are properly focused. If you're using the touchscreen, just tap the detected face that you want to give priority to. Speaking of which, the G2 has the ability to learn who people are, either automatically or manually. You can submit photos of the person in question from various angles, enter their name, and set their "rank". When the camera sees one of these faces in the scene, it will give the face with the highest rank focus priority. The face detection system works exceptionally well, as it does on all of Panasonic's cameras, with the camera easily finding all six faces in our test scene.
|The nine possible positions for the 23-point AF mode||Not only can you manually position the spot focus point, you can also choose from four different sizes|
The AF tracking feature allows you to lock focus on a subject, and then let the camera follow them around the scene. The 23-point AF option lets the camera pick up to that many areas in the frame on which to focus. You can also select areas of five or six focus points yourself (see above). Finally, there's the spot AF option, which can be positioned anywhere on the screen that you'd like. You can also select from four focus point sizes in this mode.
Moving to the center of the photo, you'll find the DMC-G2's hot shoe. This hot shoe works best with the Panasonic flashes I mentioned back in the accessories section, as they'll sync with the camera's metering system. The two higher end flashes (the FL360 and FL500) also support high speed flash sync, which allows you to use any shutter speed on the camera. If you're not using a Panasonic flash, then you'll probably have to manually set the exposure on both the camera and flash. The G2 can sync as fast as 1/160 sec with an external flash. The G2 does not support wireless flash control.
Next up is the mode dial, which has both the power and drive mode switches beneath it. Let's start with the items on the dial:
You might be wondering, "where's the Intelligent Auto mode?", but don't worry, it's still available as a dedicated button just to the right of the mode dial. Press this and the camera will do virtually everything for you, including selecting a scene mode, reducing image blur, detecting and recognize faces, brightening shadows, tracking moving subjects, and intelligently sharpening an image. This feature makes operating the DMC-G2 very easy.
An "advanced" scene mode
There are several other scene modes as well, including baby (which records the age of your child in the metadata of a photo), peripheral defocus (easy background blurring), and five "advanced" scene modes. These scene modes give you more options than on other cameras, even introducing some manual controls. For example, the night portrait scene has a standard option, as well as night scenery, illuminations, and "creative", which allows you to adjust the aperture (without knowing what that is).
The My Color mode has "art filters", plus an easy way to adjust color, brightness, and saturation. The art filters include expressive (pop art), retro, pure (bright and slightly blue), elegant (dark and amberish), dynamic art (fake HDR), silhouette, and custom (where you adjust the settings I just mentioned).
As for manual exposure controls, the DMC-G2 has a full set. You can adjust the aperture, shutter speed, or both, and you can also save up to three sets of camera settings to that custom spot on your mode dial. A bulb mode is also available, though the longest exposure permitted is a relatively short 4 minutes.
I'll tell you about the "Motion Picture P mode" later in the review.
Now let's talk about the drive options that are located on the switch under the mode dial. They include single-shot, continuous shooting, exposure bracketing, and self-timer. The exposure bracketing feature takes three, five, or seven shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each shot can be ±1/3EV or ±2/3EV.
There are three continuous shooting speeds to choose from on the DMC-G2, not surprisingly named low, medium, and high.
All-in-all, the DMC-G2 turned in an average performance in terms of both burst rate and the number of shots that can be taken in a sequence. The camera doesn't just stop when it hits those limits, it just slows down considerably. Tracking a moving subject is super-easy at the medium and low speed settings, and pretty good at high speed.
Next to the mode dial is the aforementioned Intelligent Auto button. Regardless of whatever shooting mode you're in, you can press this button (which lights up) to instantly switch to Intelligent Auto mode.
Above that is the dedicated movie recording button, which allows you to take movies in any shooting mode. Press it once to start recording, and again to stop. The final thing on the top of the camera is the shutter release button, which needs no explanation.
On this side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, which are kept under plastic covers. The top port is for the optional wireless remote control and external microphone, while the bottom ports are for HDMI and USB + composite video output.
The kit lens is at the wide-angle position here.
The only thing to point out here is the little door through which you'll pass the power cable of the optional AC adapter.
The lens is at full telephoto in this shot.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the Lumix DMC-G2. Here you can see a metal tripod mount as well as the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is of average quality, and includes a locking mechanism. Do note that you won't be able to get at the contents of this compartment while the camera is on a tripod.
The DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery can be seen on the right.