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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Review

How Does it Compare?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 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 liked so much while reviewing it that I bought one for myself. The GF2 is a shrunken-down GF1, with features tailored a bit more to the point-and-shoot crowd than the original model. It offers very good photo quality, snappy performance, a touchscreen LCD with a customizable interface, the best Auto mode on the planet, and Full HD video recording. The bad news is that it has issues with redeye, underexposure, and highlight clipping, and one of the available kit lenses isn't great, either. What's perhaps most frustrating is that several important features from the GF1 were not brought over to the GF2. They include a physical mode dial, a bulb mode, flash exposure compensation, Film Modes, and support for a wired remote control. All things considered, the DMC-GF2 is a very nice interchangeable lens camera that I can definitely recommend. That said, I'm going to hang onto my GF1 until Panasonic brings back some of the features that they removed on the GF2.

The DMC-GF2 looks a lot like its predecessor, except that it went through a few too many hot water cycles in the washing machine. It doesn't feel as small as Sony's two NEX cameras, but it's still very compact and portable. Build quality is very good (the outer shell is mostly metal), and the rangefinder design is still eye-catching. The GF2 sports a Micro Four Thirds lens mount (with a 2X crop factor), and it also supports classic Four Thirds lenses (among others) via an optional adapter. Unlike Olympus' Micro Four Thirds cameras, there's no image stabilization built into the camera body -- Panasonic puts it into (most of) their lenses, instead. On the back of the camera you'll find a new 3-inch, 460,000 pixel touchscreen LCD display. I'm no fan of touchscreens on cameras, but Panasonic has done a very good job with the one on the GF2. The buttons are large, it's not too cluttered, and you can choose which items are in the Quick Menu. I did find myself accidentally touching the screen and changing something (usually the focus point), so you need to watch where you put your fingers. One side effect of downsizing the body was the removal of a physical mode dial, which a lot of folks (myself included) aren't too happy about. Something else that got axed was an input for an optional wired remote control. And speaking of optional, the GF2 has an available electronic viewfinder, which can tilt up to 90 degrees. The camera still has a built-in flash, though with a guide number of 6, it doesn't compare to the built-in flashes on larger cameras (but I'll take what I can get). You can add a stronger flash via the hot shoe on the top of the camera.

The Lumix DMC-GF2 is a full-featured camera, though it's definitely taken a step away from the enthusiast market and toward the point-and-shoot crowd. The touch interface is a big part of it, whether it's the touch AF / shutter / background defocus features in record mode, or the iPhone-like finger gestures in playback mode. Other notable point-and-shoot features include Intelligent Auto mode, which literally thinks of everything for you (including whether or not you're using a tripod), plenty of scene modes, a well-implemented face detection and recognition system, and a dedicated movie recording button. The GF2 has plenty of manual controls, too, though not as many as on its predecessor. You will get the usual control over shutter speed and aperture, plus white balance fine-tuning and AE bracketing. Naturally, the GF2 supports the RAW image format, as well. What you will no longer find on the GF2 include bulb mode, Film Modes (there's a stripped-down version here), and flash exposure compensation. One of the big new features on the GF2 is its Full HD movie mode, which records video at 1920 x 1080 @ 60i (though the sensor is only outputting 30p) with digital stereo sound and continuous autofocus. Since you're using the AVCHD codec, you can keep recording until your memory card fills up, unless you're in Europe. Aside from letting you adjust the mic level or turn on a wind filter, the GF2's movie mode is totally automatic.

Camera performance is very good in nearly all respects. The GF2 starts up as soon as you flip the power switch, focuses very quickly with all of the lenses I tested, and has minimal shutter lag or shot-to-shot delays. The camera can shoot continuously at three different speeds ranging from 2.0 to 3.3 frames/second, though the buffer fills quickly when you're using the RAW format. The GF2's battery life is not as good as it was on the GF1, and it now falls into the "below average" category in the compact interchangeable lens group.

Photo quality is very good, though I was not impressed with the new F2.5, 14 mm pancake lens, aside from its compact design. That lens had strong vignetting, and wasn't very sharp around the edges of the frame. If you're using a better lens, then you'll be pretty happy with what the GF2 is capable of. The only real camera-specific problems I had were related to exposure and redeye. The camera tends to underexpose by about 1/3 stop, so bracketing your shots is a smart idea. Like all Four Thirds cameras, the GF2 will clip highlights at times, more so than competitors that use larger APS-C sensors. I found colors to be quite pleasing, and sharpness was just how I like it. The GF2 keeps noise under control until ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in normal lighting. Above that, you'll get the best results by shooting RAW and doing some easy post-processing. As I mentioned, redeye was a big problem on the GF2, despite the two countermeasures Panasonic uses to stop it. Since there's no removal tool in playback mode, you'll have to fix it on your computer. Purple fringing was not a major issue.

I've pretty much hit on all the pros and cons of the DMC-GF2 in the preceding paragraphs, but there are two more things that I wish to mention. First, you cannot access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod. And second, while the GF2 comes with a basic printed manual in the box, the full manual is only available in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The manuals should answer all of your questions, but they're not what I'd call user-friendly.

In conclusion, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 is a good choice for those looking for an interchangeable lens camera (though I'd pass on the 14 mm lens). It offers very good photo quality, an easy-to-use interface, Full HD movie recording -- all in a body that fits in the palm of your hand. If you're a current GF1 owner (like me) thinking of upgrading, I'd probably hold out for the next model, which will hopefully bring back some of what Panasonic took away on the DMC-GF2.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Compact and well-built rangefinder-style body
  • 3-inch touchscreen LCD with 460,000 pixels, good outdoor visibility
    • Well-implemented touch features include touch AF / touch shutter / customizable menus / image playback
  • Very good live view system with fast autofocus, live histogram, custom grid lines, face detection/recognition
  • Full manual controls; RAW format supported, with capable (but clunky) editor included
  • Snappy performance in most areas
  • Intelligent Auto mode does it all for you, including scene selection, face detection, blur reduction, shadow brightening, and smart sharpening
  • Records movies at 1080/60i (30p sensor output) with stereo sound and continuous autofocus using AVCHD codec
    • Mic level can be adjusted; wind cut filter also available
    • Extended tele converter boosts zoom power by 3.1X or 4.2X (at lower resolutions)
    • Motion JPEG codec also available, for easier editing and sharing
  • Optional electronic viewfinder
  • HDMI output

What I didn't care for:

  • Tends to underexpose a little; highlight clipping can be an issue
  • Redeye a problem; no removal tool in playback mode
  • Strong vignetting and some corner blurring on F2.5, 14 mm kit lens
  • Lots of features removed from GF1, including a physical mode dial, bulb mode, flash exposure compensation, Film Modes, and support for a wired remote control
  • No manual controls in movie mode
  • Buffer fills quickly in continuous shooting mode
  • Fairly weak flash (but better than not having one at all)
  • Below average battery life
  • Can't access memory card slot while camera is on tripod
  • Full manual on CD-ROM; not very user-friendly, either

Some other compact interchangeable lens cameras worth looking at include the Olympus E-PL2, Samsung NX100, and Sony Alpha NEX-5. You may also want to consider these compact (relatively speaking) digital SLRs: Canon EOS Rebel T2i, Nikon D3100, and Pentax K-r.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Lumix DMC-GF2 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the DMC-GF2's photos look in our photo gallery!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.