DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Review

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2

Record Mode

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:

Aspect ratio Resolution Quality Approx. File Size # images on 4GB SDHC card (optional)
4:3 Large
4000 x 3000
RAW+Fine 21.7 MB 180
RAW+Standard 18.2 MB 210
RAW 14.8 MB 260
Fine 6.9 MB 570
Standard 3.5 MB 1130

Medium
2816 x 2112

RAW+Fine 19.0 MB 210
RAW+Standard 16.7 MB 230
Fine 3.8 MB 1030
Standard 2.0 MB 2010
Small
2048 x 1536
RAW+Fine 16.7 MB 220
RAW+Standard 16.0 MB 240
Fine 1.6 MB 1620
Standard 800 KB 3170
3:2 Large
4000 x 2672
RAW+Fine 20.0 MB 200
RAW+Standard 16.7 MB 240
RAW 13.3 MB 300
Fine 6.5 MB 620
Standard 3.2 MB 1230
Medium
2816 x 1880
RAW+Fine 17.4 MB 230
RAW+Standard 15.4 MB 260
Fine 3.6 MB 1090
Standard 1.9 MB 2110
Small
2048 x 1360
RAW+Fine 14.8 MB 250
RAW+Standard 14.3 MB 270
Fine 1.5 MB 1670
Standard 800 KB 3170
16:9 Large
4000 x 2248
RAW+Fine 17.4 MB 230
RAW+Standard 14.3 MB 280
RAW 11.1 MB 350
Fine 5.7 MB 700
Standard 2.0 MB 1380
Medium
2816 x 1584
RAW+Fine 13.8 MB 270
RAW+Standard 12.5 MB 300
Fine 2.3 MB 1180
Standard 1.2 MB 2310
Small
1920 x 1080
RAW+Fine 12.5 MB 320
RAW+Standard 11.8 MB 330
Fine 1.1 MB 3540
Standard 600 KB 6700
1:1 Large
2992 x 2992
RAW+Fine 16.7 MB 230
RAW+Standard 14.3 MB 270
RAW 11.8 MB 340
Fine 5.1 MB 760
Standard 2.6 MB 1500
Medium
2112 x 2112
RAW+Fine 13.8 MB 270
RAW+Standard 12.9 MB 300
Fine 2.3 MB 1370
Standard 1.2 MB 2680
Small
1504 x 1504
RAW+Fine 12.9 MB 310
RAW+Standard 12.1 MB 320
Fine 600 KB 3260
Standard 300 KB 6030

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:

Record Menu
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1)
  • Picture size (Large, medium, small)
  • Quality (Fine, standard, RAW+Fine, RAW+Standard, RAW)
  • Face recognition (On, off, memory, set) - described earlier
  • Metering mode (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
  • Stabilizer (Off, mode 1-3) - see below
  • Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, fill flash w/redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync w/redeye reduction)
  • Digital redeye removal (on/off) - removes redeye as a photo is taken
  • Flash synchro (1st, 2nd curtain)
  • Flash adjust (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Intelligent Resolution (Off, low, standard, high) - see below
  • Intelligent Exposure (Off, low, standard, high) - see below
  • ISO limit set (Off, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - how high Auto and Intelligent ISO will go
  • ISO increments (1/3EV, 1EV)
  • Long shutter noise reduction (on/off) - reduce noise in photos with slow shutter speeds
  • Extended optical zoom (on/off) - explained just above this section
  • Digital zoom (Off, 2X, 4X) - this one reduces image quality and is best avoided
  • Burst rate (Low, medium, high)
  • Auto bracket
    • Step (3 shots/0.3EV, 3 shots/0.6EV, 5 shots/0.3EV, 5 shots/0.6EV, 7 shots/0.3EV, 7 shots/0.6EV)
    • Sequence (0/-/+, -0/+)
  • Self-timer (2 or 10 secs, 10 sec w/3 shots)
  • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
  • Audio recording (on/off) - add a 5 second audio clip to photos

Motion Picture Menu - showing the unique items only

  • REC mode (AVCHD Lite, Motion JPEG)
  • Rec quality
    • In AVCHD Lite mode (Super high, high, low)
    • In Motion JPEG mode (HD, WVGA, VGA, QVGA)
  • Continuous AF (on/off)
  • Wind cut (Off, low, standard, high) - useful for shooting outdoors
Custom Menu
  • Custom setting memory (C1, C2, C3)- save three different sets of camera settings to the "C" spot on the mode dial
  • Function button set (Focus area, aspect ratio, quality, metering mode, Intelligent Exposure, guide line, rec area/remaining display) - define what the "down" button on the four-way controller does
  • Histogram (on/off) - when you turn it on, you get to place it wherever you want
  • Guide line (Off, 3 x 3, cross, custom) - the last option lets you create your own guide lines
  • Highlight (on/off) - whether overexposed areas of a photo "blink" in post-shot review
  • AF/AE lock (AE, AF, AF/AE) - what happens when you press this button
  • AF/AE lock hold (on/off) - whether you need to keep your finger on the button
  • Pre-AF (Off, Quick AF, continuous AF) - quick AF starts focusing when camera shake is minimal; continuous AF is always focusing; both reduce AF times, at the expense of battery life
  • Direct AF area (on/off) - allows you to move and resize the focus point(s)
  • Focus priority (on/off) - whether a photo can be taken without focus lock
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • AF+MF (on/off) - whether you can manually focus after autofocus is complete
  • MF assist (on/off) - frame enlargement in manual focus mode
  • MF guide (on/off) - whether that semi-useful focus distance gauge is shown
  • Preview hold (on /off) - whether the DOF preview button needs to be held down
  • Exposure meter (on/off) - whether a visual guide showing the shutter speed and aperture (and their relationship) is shown on the LCD/EVF
  • Exposure settings (Rear dial press, LVF/LCD button) - how you switch between program shift and exposure compensation, aperture and shutter speed, etc.
  • LVF display style (Viewfinder style, LCD monitor style) - display style of the EVF
  • LCD display style (Viewfinder style, LCD monitor style) - same thing, but for the LCD
  • LCD info display (Off, blue, red, black) - color of that shooting info screen I showed you earlier
  • LVF/LCD auto (on/off) - whether the eye sensor switches between the EVF and LCD automatically
  • iAuto button (Short, long) - how long you need to hold this button down for in order to switch to Intelligent Auto mode
  • Movie button (on/off) - enable or disable the dedicated movie recording button
  • Rec area (Picture, movie) - set the angle of view on the LCD/EVF for stills or movies
  • Remaining display (Shots, time) - whether you see remaining shots or movie recording time on the LCD/EVF
  • Touch shutter (on/off) - whether you can turn on this feature, which I mentioned earlier
  • Touch quick menu (on/off) - whether the touch Quick Menu is available
  • Touch guide (on/off) - whether descriptions of the touch features are shown on the LCD
  • Dial guide (on/off) - tells you what the command dial does in P/A/S/M mode
  • Menu resume (on/off) - whether camera goes back to where you left off in the menu system
  • Calibration - use this if the touchscreen is acting up
  • Pixel refresh - removes dead pixels from the sensor
  • Sensor cleaning - manually run the dust reduction cycle
  • Shoot without lens (on/off) - whether you can take a photo without a lens attached; used with the two Leica adapters

 

Setup Menu

  • Clock set
  • World time (Destination, home)
  • Travel date - the day and location of your trip get stored in the photo metadata
    • Travel setup (Off, set) - set the departure and return dates for your trip
    • Location (Off, set) - store your destination name
  • Beep (Off, low, high)
  • Volume (0-6)
  • Monitor/viewfinder - adjust the brightness, color, and tint of both of these separately
  • LCD mode (Off, auto power LCD, power LCD) - brighten the LCD, either manually or automatically
  • Economy
    • Sleep mode (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins) - auto power off
    • Auto LCD off (Off, 15, 30 secs)
  • Auto review (Off, 1, 3, 5 sec, hold) - post-shot review
  • USB mode (Select on connection, PictBridge/PTP, PC)
  • TV aspect (16:9, 4:3)
  • HDMI mode (Auto, 1080i, 720p, 480p)
  • Viera Link (on/off) - whether the camera can be operated from the remote control of certain Panasonic TVs (and probably others, too)
  • Scene menu (Off, auto) - whether the scene menu opens automatically when you turn the mode dial to SCN
  • Language
  • Version display
  • File number reset
  • Reset - return the recording and setup/custom settings to defaults
  • Format memory card

My Menu

  • Shows the last five menu options you've used
Playback Menu
  • Slideshow
    • Show (All, picture only, movie only, category selection, favorites)
    • Effect (Natural, slow, swing, urban, off, auto) - transitions and effects
    • Duration (1, 2, 3, 5 secs)
    • Repeat (on/off)
    • Sound (Off, auto, music, audio) - choose whether background music, voice captions, and movie audio is played
  • Playback mode (Normal play, picture play, AVCHD Lite play, Motion JPEG play, category play, favorite play) - a quick way to filter the photos and videos you're viewing
  • Title edit - type in a comment for a photo
  • Text stamp - stamp the date/time, name, location, travel date, or title onto a photo; photos will be downsized to "small" size
  • Video divide - chop a movie in half; good for removing unwanted footage
  • Resize
  • Cropping
  • Aspect ratio conversion (3:2, 4:3, 1:1)
  • Rotate
  • Rotate display - whether portraits are automatically rotated
  • Favorite (Off, on, cancel) - tag a photo as a favorite
  • Print set (Single, multiple) - tag a photo for printing to a DPOF-compatible photo printer
  • Protect (Single, multiple)
  • Face recognition edit (Replace, delete) - update or remove data for a recognized face

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.


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

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:

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 5.7)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 5.7)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

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!


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

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?

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera


RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR 5.7)


RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera


RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR 5.7)


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!

Movie Mode

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.


View converted movie (9.2 MB, 1280 x 720, 60 fps, QuickTime/H.264)
Download original MTS file (19.9 MB)


View converted movie (7.2 MB, 1280 x 720, 60 fps, QuickTime/H.264)
Download original MTS file (17.1 MB)

Playback Mode

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.

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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.

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