Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Review
Originally Posted: January 28, 2011
Last Updated: June 8, 2011
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 (priced from $499) is a compact interchangeable lens camera that uses the Micro Four Thirds standard. It's the follow-up to the popular DMC-GF1 (a camera I own myself), offering a smaller body, touchscreen LCD, faster performance, Full HD movie recording, support for Panasonic's 3D lens, and more. That's on top of its 12 Megapixel Live MOS sensor, beautiful 3-inch LCD with a well-implemented live view feature, a do-everything Intelligent Auto mode, and plethora of optional extras.
I've put together this chart to help you compare the old DMC-GF2 and the new GF2:
The changes on the GF2 are both good and bad. While the new features are nice, enthusiasts many not appreciate the loss of the physical mode dial, several useful controls, and a drop in battery life, among other things.
Is the DMC-GF2 a top choice for those looking for a portable interchangeable lens camera? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Lumix DMC-GF2 will be available in three kits: body only ($499), with an F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm IS lens ($599), or with the relatively new F2.5, 14 mm pancake lens ($699). You will be able to buy each of them in four colors: silver, black, white, and red. Here's what you'll find in the box for all of those:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-GF2 camera body
- F2.5, 14 mm Lumix G lens [DMC-GF2C kit only]
- F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm Lumix G lens w/MEGA OIS [DMC-GF2K kit only]
- DMW-BLD10 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Front/rear lens caps [lens kits only]
- Lens hood [DMC-GF2K kit only]
- Shoulder strap
- Stylus pen
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring PhotoFunStudio 6.0 HD Edition, SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE, and Super LoiloScope trial
- 55 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
You've got a choice of two lenses when you buy the DMC-GF2. You can choose from the relatively new F2.5, 14 mm pancake lens (which keeps the footprint of the camera as small as possible), or the F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm IS lens that was introduced with the DMC-G2/G10. I wasn't terribly impressed with the pancake lens -- it has strong vignetting, and some corner blurring too. The 14 - 42 mm is a pretty good starter lens, though I'm not a fan of the plastic lens mount or the lack of an IS on/off switch.
There are quite a few other Micro Four Thirds lenses to choose from, from both Panasonic and Olympus, from fisheye to telephoto. The GF2 is also compatible with Panasonic's new 3D lens. This $250 lens -- actually two lenses in one -- simulates the left and right eyes, and saves the results into an MPO file (the standard for 3D stills). You can then view these photos on a 3D-capable HDTV or computer.
If you've got a collection of old Four Thirds lenses sitting around, you can use those too, via the DMW-MA1 adapter -- 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 lens has a field of view of 28 - 84 mm.
As with all D-SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras, the DMC-GF2 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 (as I figure most folks do). 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 card instead. It's definitely worth spending the extra dollars on a high speed card (Class 6 or higher) -- especially for movie recording.
The Lumix DMC-GF2 uses a different, less powerful battery than its predecessor. This new battery (known as the DMW-BLD10) packs 7.3 Wh of energy, which is down from 9.0 Wh on the GF1. The chart at the beginning of the review reflects this change: the GF2's battery life numbers are about 15% lower than the GF1.
Let's see how the GF2 compares to other cameras in its class when it comes to battery life:
The GF2 finds itself below average when it comes to battery life when compared to this small group of interchangeable lens cameras. The old GF1 would've been average in this group, but I guess Panasonic had to use a smaller battery to shrink the camera size down.
All of the cameras in the above table use proprietary lithium-ion batteries, and you should know two things about them. First, a spare is expensive -- expect to pay around $50 for another DMW-BLD10 (and Panasonic cameras don't usually get along with generic batteries). Second, when your battery 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. That said, you won't find a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera that supports AAs.
When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger. It takes around two hours for a full charge. This charger plugs directly into the wall (at least for U.S. models), which is just how I like it.
The GF2 with its optional electronic viewfinder
Photo courtesy of Panasonic
As with its predecessor, the DMC-GF2 has a lengthy list of accessories:
That's pretty good selection of accessories if you ask me. One item that is no longer compatible with the GF2 is a remote shutter release cable, as the camera lacks that port.
PhotoFunStudio 6.0 HD Edition
Panasonic includes version 6.0 of their PhotoFunStudio HD Edition software with the Lumix DMC-GF2. This Windows-only software handles basic tasks fairly well, though the whole "wizard" system gets old quickly. On the main screen you'll see the usual thumbnail view, and you can view photos in certain folders, or filter by things as specific as scene mode. The software can learn to recognize faces (much like the camera itself), which offers you another way to browse through your pictures. Other options on the main screen include slideshows, creating "short movies" (basically video slideshows), printing, e-mailing, or uploading to YouTube or Facebook. You can also copy photos and movies to SD cards or DVDs.
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.
Movie editing features include the ability to trim unwanted footage from a clip, grab a frame, or convert a video to MPEG-2 format.
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 look 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 Photoshop CS5 to edit your RAW files, just make sure that you have version 6.3 or above of the Camera Raw plug-in.
So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed image data from the GF2'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 every RAW image must be processed on your computer in order to get them into more common formats, like JPEG. RAW files are also considerably larger than JPEGs, and can slow down camera performance. Still, it's an incredible useful feature that's a must-have on higher-end digital cameras.
I want to briefly discuss how to work with the videos produced by the DMC-GF2. The camera records video in two formats: AVCHD and Motion-JPEG. The former allows for unlimited recording time (outside of Europe) and looks great when you plug your camera (or the memory card) into your HDTV, but it can be difficult to edit on your computer. Even finding the video files themselves is difficult -- try looking for MTS files in the /PRIVATE/AVCHD/BDMV/STREAM directory on your memory card. The other option (Motion JPEG) has much lower recording times and large file sizes, though they're much easier to work with on your computer. You're also limited to 720p when using M-JPEG, where AVCHD allows for Full HD recording.
I already told you that PhotoFunStudio can play and edit the videos produced by the GF2. 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 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 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 DMC-GF2, unfortunately, comes with just a basic printed manual in the box. It'll get you up and running, but if you want more details, you'll have to load up the full manual, which can be found on an included CD-ROM disc in PDF format. Between the two manuals you should be able to get an answer to any question you may have, but you'll have to wade through a lot of "notes" and other fine print to get at it. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your PC.