Originally Posted: May 7, 2010
Last Updated: May 8, 2010
The Lumix DMC-G2 ($799) is the latest Micro Four Thirds camera from Panasonic. Panasonic took their DMC-G1 and split it into two new models: the G2 reviewed here, and the stripped-down DMC-G10. The G2 has most of the same features as its predecessor (including a compact body, super-fast AF, Intelligent Auto mode, and lots of manual controls), with the major additions being a new image processor, a touchscreen LCD, and an HD movie mode.
I put together this chart to illustrate the differences between the old DMC-G1 and the new G2 and G10:
So those are the major differences between the three cameras. There a some cosmetic differences as well, mostly related to buttons and dials, that I'll touch on as this review progresses. Speaking of reviews, it's time to get started!
What's in the Box?
The Lumix DMC-G2 will be sold in just one kit in the U.S., at least initially. Here's what you'll find when you open up the box:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-G2 camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm Lumix G lens w/MEGA OIS
- DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger / AC adapter
- Body cap
- Lens hood
- Lens bag
- Shoulder strap
- Stylus pen
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE and PhotoFunStudio 5.0 HD Edition
- 219 page camera manual (printed)
Left to right: the existing 14-45 and the new 14-42 kit lenses
Here in the States, the G2 comes with the brand new F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm Mega OIS lens. This is a lighter -- and yes, cheaper -- version of the 14-45 that came with previous G-series models. The main differences here are the narrower focal range, a plastic mount, and the lack of an IS on/off switch (it's now controlled via the menu system). The build quality of the lens is decent, and the image quality is good by kit lens standards. In a nice gesture, Panasonic includes a lens hood and a carrying bag for the 14 - 42, which is usually optional on other cameras.
If you want to use other lenses, you can select from a small but growing collection of lenses from Panasonic and Olympus. With the appropriate adapter, you can also use "classic" Four Thirds lenses, though not all will support continuous autofocus. Panasonic also makes adapters for classic Leica R and M-mount lenses, and I don't see why you can't use Olympus' OM adapter either.
Whichever lens you end up using, there will be a 2X focal length conversion ratio to keep in mind. In other words, that 14 - 42 mm kit lens has a field of view of 28 - 84 mm.
As with all D-SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras, the DMC-G2 does not have any built-in memory, nor does it come with a memory card. Thus, you'll need to pick up an SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory card right away, unless you happen to have one already. If you'll be taking mostly stills, then a 4GB SDHC card is probably fine. For movie enthusiasts, you'll want to get something like an 8GB or 16GB card instead. It's definitely worth spending the extra dollars on a high speed card (Class 4 or higher).
The DMC-G2 uses the same DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery as its predecessor (as well as other G-series models). This battery packs an impressive 9.0 Wh of energy into its plastic shell. Do note that the G2 checks to make sure that you're using a "genuine" Panasonic battery -- so generics may not function properly. And with that, here's how the battery life compares to other interchangeable lens cameras and compact D-SLRs:
The DMC-G2's battery life sits near the top of the pack of the cameras that I have data for (as you can see, not every manufacturer publishes live view battery life numbers). The G2's battery life depends on what lens you have attached, and whether you're using the LCD or EVF. The EVF will give you longer battery life than the LCD, and zoom lenses tend to drink more power than the smaller pancake lenses that are available.
Except for the Pentax, all of the cameras in the above table use proprietary batteries, and you should know two things about them. First, a spare is expensive -- expect to pay at least $46 for another DMW-BLB13 (and you probably can't use cheaper generics, either). Second, when the DMW-BLB13 runs out of juice, you can't pick up something off the shelf to get you through the rest of the day, as you could on a camera that uses AA batteries. Some D-SLRs let you use AA batteries with their optional battery grips, but since no interchangeable lens camera supports a grip, you're out of luck.
When it's time to charge the DMW-BLB13, just pop it into the included charger. It takes around 155 minutes for a typical charge. Unlike most Panasonic battery chargers, this one doesn't plug right into the wall -- you must use a power cable. The charger can also be used as an AC adapter, though you'll need to buy the DC coupler part first (see below for more on that).
Alright, now it's time to look at the lengthy list of accessories that are available for the Lumix DMC-G2!
As you can see, Panasonic has just about every accessory covered. The only thing missing is a wireless remote control. A few other accessories are available, including lens filters, shoulder straps, and a tripod adapter (for larger lenses).
PhotoFunStudio 5.0 HD
Panasonic includes version 5.0 of their PhotoFunStudio HD software with the Lumix DMC-G2. This software, for Windows only, is fairly basic, and the various "wizards" it uses add unnecessary steps, in my opinion. PhotoFunStudio can be used to transfer photos and videos from the camera to your PC, and once that's done, you'll end up at the thumbnail screen you see above. Photos can be browsed by folder or in a calender view, and you can filter things down further by things like shooting mode or recognized faces. You can e-mail or print photos, upload them to online sharing sites, or copy photos to a DVD or memory card.
Editing photos in PhotoFunStudio
Above you can see the still photo editing screen. Here you can adjust things like brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. Images can be changed to sepia, black and white, or "negative color", and redeye can be removed with the click of your mouse. There's also an auto enhancement feature, for those who want to keep things simple.
While PhotoFunStudio can view RAW images, it cannot edit them. For that, you'll need to load up SilkyPix.
SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE
SilkyPix Developer Studio SE 3.1 may be familiar to you, as it's used by several camera manufacturers, in one form or another. This product is for Mac OS X and Windows, and while it has a rather clunky interface, it's pretty powerful. You can adjust exposure, white balance, the tone curve, color, sharpness, noise reduction, and lots more.
If you want to use something other than SilkyPix to do your RAW editing, then you'll be pleased to hear that version 5.7 of Adobe's Camera Raw plug-in supports the files created by the DMC-G2. That said, the version of Camera Raw 6 that comes with Photoshop CS5 does not work with these RAW files (yeah, I don't get it either).
So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed image data from the G2's Live MOS sensor. This allows you to change things like exposure, white balance, color, and more, without degrading the quality of the image. The bad news is that you'll need to convert those RAW images to JPEGs for easy sharing, which can be time-consuming. RAW files are also considerably larger than JPEGs, and can slow down camera performance. Despite that, it's a must-have feature on the camera, especially for those looking to squeeze the best image quality out of the DMC-G2.
That brings us to movie editing. The Lumix DMC-G2 records 720p video in two formats: AVCHD Lite and Motion JPEG (M-JPEG). The former looks great when you plug your camera (or the memory card) into your HDTV, but it's a pain to edit on your PC. Heck, just finding the MTS files on your memory card isn't easy (here's a hint: /PRIVATE/AVCHD/BDMV/STREAM/). AVCHD Lite also allows for unlimited recording time (in most countries) and higher frame rates (in theory). Motion JPEG files have limited recording times and huge files, though they're much easier to work with on your computer.
PhotoFunStudio can play the AVCHD files on your PC without any problem. It can remove unwanted footage from a clip (though the interface is confusing), and can save a movie as an MPEG-2 file. Videos can also be burned to a DVD or saved on a memory card.
Other options for video conversions in Windows include Handbrake, CoreAVC, or AVS Video Converter. For editing, Windows users will want to use something like Adobe Premiere, Pinnacle Studio, or Sony Vegas (view the full list here).
Mac users don't get any video viewing/editing software with the camera. If you just want to view the AVCHD Lite movies, try downloading VLC. If you want to convert them to other formats, I've had decent luck with both Handbrake as well as Toast Titanium 10 (which can also burn the movies to DVD or Blu-ray). You can edit the AVCHD Lite videos using iMovie or Final Cut, though do note that your not natively working with the MTS files -- the software converts them to another codec first.
The Lumix DMC-G2 comes with a thick, detailed manual in the box. It's hardly user-friendly, which is typical of manuals from huge consumer electronics companies. You'll definitely find the answer to any question you may have, even if it requires paging through confusing pages and lots of "notes". Documentation for the included software is installed onto your computer.
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.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2
The Lumix DMC-G2 is ready to start taking photos as soon as you hit the power switch, which is impressive given the fact that the camera also runs its dust reduction cycle at startup!
One of the nicest features on the original DMC-G1 was its ultra-fast autofocus speeds, and the same is true here.. Panasonic has done a great job of making the G2's contrast detect AF as fast as phase difference AF is on a regular D-SLR. With the new 14 - 42 mm kit lens, expect wide-angle focus times between 0.1 - 0.3 seconds, with telephoto speeds of roughly 0.5 - 0.8 seconds (except in difficult situations). Low light focusing was pretty good most of the time, with focus times staying at a second or less, though the camera occasionally gave up on me.
Shutter lag was not an issue, even at the lower shutter speed where it sometimes occurs.
As for shot-to-shot speeds, you'll be able to keep taking pictures as fast as you can compose the next one, at least until you hit the buffer limit (which will only happen in RAW+JPEG mode). Expect to wait about two seconds between each shot when you're using the onboard flash.
There is no way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode to do that.
Now let's take a look the the image size and quality options available on the DMC-G2:
Well that's quite the list, courtesy of the G2's four different aspect ratios. The camera can take RAW images, either alone or with a JPEG at the size of your choosing. I explained the benefits of RAW earlier in the review.
Just like Panasonic's point-and-shoot cameras, the DMC-G2 has an "extended optical zoom" feature. By lowering the resolution, the camera uses a smaller area of the sensor to give you you extra zoom power without reducing the image quality. The lower the resolution goes, the more zoom you can use, up to a maximum of 2X. Do note that the entire focal range is increased, and that you have to turn the EZ feature off to return to the normal range.
The DMC-G2 has an easy to use menu system that should be familiar to anyone who has used a Panasonic camera in recent years. It's not the flashiest menu out there, and there aren't any help screens, but it gets the job done. I should add that this menu can only be operated with the four-way controller or the command dial, and not the touchscreen. The menu is divided into six tabs, which include still, movie, custom, setup, My Menu, and playback menu options. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the complete list:
Motion Picture Menu - showing the unique items only
Since I've covered most of those options already (or I will in the next two sections), there are just a few things that I need to touch on here. The first feature is called Intelligent Resolution, which is also found on many of Panasonic's 2010 compact cameras. This is essentially an intelligent sharpening system that improves detail on edges and textures, while keeping gradations smooth. In Intelligent Auto mode, this feature is set to "auto", while in the manual modes, it's off by default. In those modes you can select from low, medium, or strong sharpening. You probably want to see what Intelligent Resolution can do, so here you go:
|Intelligent Res off
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res low
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res med
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res high
View Full Size Image
The results pretty much speak for themselves. The more Intelligent Resolution you use, the sharper your photos. I think the medium setting is more than adequate for most folks.
Intelligent Exposure is another feature that's always on in iAuto mode, and adjustable (and off by default) in the manual shooting modes. This feature is supposed to brighten shadows in your photos, but I've tested it many times, and the difference is so subtle that even a trained eye can't really see the difference. In a few extreme cases you may notice an improvement, but most of the time, you'd be hard-pressed to see any changes.
What are those image stabilization modes all about? Mode 1 has the image stabilizer active at all times in record mode. Mode 2 only activates it when you halfway press the shutter release button, which leads to more effective shake reduction. Mode 3 only stabilizes up and down motion, which makes it useful for when you're panning the camera from side-to-side. Finally, you can turn the whole system off, which is a good idea if you're using the tripod.
The last thing I want to tell you about is the My Menu tab in the menus. This menu isn't customizable as its name implies, but it does save the last five menu options that you've selected.
That's enough about menus -- let's talk photo quality now. For all of these tests I used the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, except for the night shot, where I used the Panasonic F4.0-5.6, 45 - 200 mm OIS lens.
The Lumix DMC-G2 did a lovely job with our macro test subject. The subject has the "smooth" appearance that one is accustomed to seeing on a digital SLR or interchangeable lens camera, yet plenty of detail is still captured. The colors look good, and there's no noise to be found. The only negative I can think of is that I had to use a little more exposure compensation than normal in order to get a proper exposure.
The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you're using. For the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, the minimum focus distance is 30 cm (at the wide end of the lens). Serious macro fans may be interested in the new F2.8, 45 mm Leica macro lens, which has selectable focus distances of 15 and 50 cm.
The night shot, which I took with the Panasonic 45 - 200 mm Micro Four Thirds lens, turned out pretty well. The main issue here is a brownish/reddish color cast in the photo, which is a white balance issue (usually the tungsten setting gets rid of the cast -- not here). The photo is well exposed, with highlight clipping kept to a relative minimum. A lot of detail is captured, though the buildings on the left are a little soft, though I'm not sure if it's due to noise reduction or the lens. I was surprised to see purple fringing here, as the camera's Venus Engine HD II is supposed to remove it automatically. If you're looking for noise, you won't find any -- at least at this sensitivity.
And speaking of sensitivity, let's use that same night scene to see how the DMC-G2 performs at higher ISO settings.
There are very small increases in noise as you go from ISO 100 to ISO 400. All three are very clean, and usable for large prints. Things start to soften up at ISO 800, with some details getting smudged. This is a good time to start considering shooting RAW, or just making smaller prints. At ISO 1600 we have both detail loss and more traditional grain-style noise, and I'd save this for desperation only (and use RAW if you can). The ISO 3200 and 6400 settings are best left untouched, at least in low light.
I just mentioned that there's a benefit to shooting RAW. Here's the evidence:
I think everyone will agree that the post-processed images look a lot better than the JPEGs that come straight out of the camera. All I did was open the RAW files in Photoshop, reduce noise with NeatImage, and then add in a little unsharp mask to sharpen things up. Shooting RAW also gives you the ability to try to get rid of the brownish color cast that is present in these images.
I'll have a second ISO test for you in a moment.
There are two ways in which the Lumix DMC-G2 can reduce redeye in your photos. First, it can fire the flash before the photo is actually taken, which shrinks your subjects pupils and, in theory, reduces the likelihood of this phenomenon. You can also turn on a digital redeye removal system, which detects and removes any redeye after a photo is taken. I had the same problem on the G2 as I did on the Lumix DMC-ZS7 -- the digital redeye removal tool didn't do the job. I think one possible reason is that face detection needs to be active when you take the picture, which is impossible with my test setup. Anyhow, your results may vary, and I should add that, unlike on the ZS7, there's no redeye removal tool in the DMC-G2's playback mode.
There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the new 14 - 42 mm kit lens, That's because the camera automatically corrects for it, though only for JPEGs! I did not find vignetting (dark corners) or blurry corners to be a problem with this lens, which is always good news.
Okay, now let's take a look at our studio ISO test. Since this is taken under the same lighting in each review, you can compare and contrast these test photos with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. With the usual reminded to look at the full size images (and not just the crops), let's see how the G2 performed throughout its sensitivity range in good lighting!
The first three crops are super clean. At ISO 800 you start to see some noise creeping in, though there's not nearly enough to keep you from making a large print at that sensitivity. You can see more grain-style noise at ISO 1600 as well a drop in color saturation, but details remain relatively intact. Thus, you can still make midsize prints at this setting, and probably larger if you post-process. The test scene starts to soften up at ISO 3200, which is the highest that I'd go on the DMC-G2. The ISO 6400 setting is really there to look good in the press release, and should be avoided.
Let's see if we can't clean up those ISO 1600 and 3200 photos with some post-processing, shall we?
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
The first thing that we get back by shooting RAW is the saturation that was lost once the ISO got to 800. After the easy post-processing that I described earlier, you'll be able to make higher quality (and larger) prints at both of these settings, as you can see.
The DMC-G2 performs a little bit better than its predecessor at higher ISO settings, probably due to improvements in noise reduction. That said, I think the Olympus E-PL1 produces nicer looking JPEGs that either of the Panasonic models.
Overall, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 produced very good photos, with just a few issues to mention. The issues I'm raising both related to exposure. First, the camera tended to underexpose by about 1/3 to 1/2 stop. That's pretty easy to take care of with exposure compensate. Another issue, common to Four Thirds cameras, is highlight clipping, which you're kind of stuck with. Aside from that, I was happy with the color saturation, and found the sharpness to be acceptable (though you may want to turn on Intelligent Resolution if you want things a bit sharper). While not best-in-class, noise levels are quite low until you get to ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light. While we saw some purple fringing in the night photos, generally it was not a significant problem.
As always, I invite you now to take a look at our DMC-G2 photo gallery. View the full size images, maybe print a few if you would like, and then you should be able to decide if the G2's photo quality meets your needs!
One of the new features on the DMC-G2 is the ability to record HD movies. The camera can record 720p video (1280 x 720) with monaural sound, with your choice of two codecs: AVCHD Lite and Motion JPEG. To repeat what I discussed at the start of the review, each of these codecs has their own advantages and disadvantages. AVCHD Lite allows for unlimited recording time (outside of Europe), easy viewing on an HDTV, and smaller file sizes. The downside is that they're a pain in the behind to edit on your computer. Motion JPEG movies are easy to open and edit, but the file sizes are huge and recording time limited.
When shooting AVCHD Lite movies, you have three bit rates to choose from: 17 Mbps (super high quality), 13 Mbps (high quality), and 9 Mbps (low quality). The resolution and frame rate is always 1280 x 720, at 60 frames/second, regardless of the bit rate. Before you get too excited about that frame rate, let me explain: while the video file does indeed contain 60 frames of video per second, the camera's sensor only outputs 30 frames per second. Thus, each frame is recorded twice, giving you the 60 fps number (which I believe is the AVCHD standard). This disparity makes editing an already difficult format even more fun. There's no recording time limit for AVCHD movies (a 4GB memory card holds 30 minutes of SHQ video), unless you live in Europe, where recording stops after 29 minutes and 59 seconds.
If you want to avoid AVCHD and use Motion JPEG instead, then here's what you need to know. The camera can record at 1280 x 720, 848 x 480, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240, all at 30 frames/second. The camera can keep recording until you hit the 2GB file size limit, which takes a little over 8 minutes at the 720p setting.
You can use this slider to adjust the depth-of-field while recording movies
There are several different ways to record a movie. In any shooting mode, simply press the red button on the top of the camera to start filming. If you're in Intelligent Auto mode, the camera will select a video scene mode for you, detect faces, improve sharpness, and more. There's also a dedicated "Motion Picture P mode", where you can use the shutter release button to start and stop recording. In that mode you'll find the G2's limited manual controls for movie recording. You can set the aperture using a scene mode style slider (see above), and you can also adjust the exposure compensation, as you'd expect. There's also a somewhat-hidden flicker reduction feature, which may be useful when filming under artificial light.
If you've got a zoom lens attached then you can zoom in and out to your heart's content. The camera is capable of continuous autofocus, though the noise from the lens may be picked up by the microphone. If your lens has an image stabilizer, it can be used as well. For the ultimate movie recording experience on the G2, you'll want to pick up the 14 - 140 mm HD lens which Panasonic designed specifically for recording video.
Here are two sample movies, both of which were taken in AVCHD Lite format and converted using Toast Titanium. You can see that I did a little zooming in both of them, which isn't exactly smooth with the kit lens. If you want to view the original MTS files, they are available as well.
The DMC-G2 has a pretty standard playback mode, with the touchscreen features really setting it apart from the rest of the pack. Basic playback features include slideshows (complete with transitions and music), image protection, favorite tagging, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (in various sizes), and zoom and scroll (AKA playback zoom). When you're zoomed in with that last feature, you can press the command dial inward and then use the four-way controller to move from photo to photo, keeping the zoom and location intact.
Touchscreen functions in playback mode
Animation courtesy of Panasonic
The touchscreen is perhaps the most useful in playback mode, at least in my opinion. If you want to use the playback zoom feature, just tap once on the photo, and it's enlarged by 2X (you can zoom in further by tapping the screen again). Once you're zoomed in, you just drag your finger around to pan around the image. Moving through photos requires nothing more than the swipe of your finger.
|Calendar view of photos||One way to filter photos you've taken|
Like Panasonic's consumer cameras, the GH1 offers a calendar view of your photos, so you can quickly navigate to photos you took on a specific date. You can also filter photos by file type (still, M-JPEG, AVCHD Lite), category (which is assigned according to the scene mode used), and whether an image has been tagged as a favorite.
Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can print the date, time, location, travel date, custom text, and even the age of your kids or pets onto your photos, which is far beyond what most cameras can do (though note that the images will be downsized). There's also a feature which allows you to change the aspect ratio of a photo.
There's just one video editing feature on the DMC-G2, and it's called video divide. Pick a point in a video, press a button, and the movie will be cut into two at that spot.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see more info, including an RGB histogram. If a registered face is in the photo, it'll be shown as well.
The DMC-G2 moves through photos instantly.
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!