Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Review
Look and Feel
The Lumix DMC-GF2 is a compact interchangeable lens camera with a rangefinder-style design. It has many things in common with the GF1 that came before it, but everything's been reduced in size.
|Comparing the GF1 and GF2|
As you can see, a lot has changed. The GF2 lacks the mode dial of its predecessor, which means that you have to use the touchscreen to change the shooting mode (something I don't care for). Several buttons on the back of the GF1 have disappeared on the GF2, as well. A more positive change is that the GF2 now has stereo microphones, as you would expect from a camera with Full HD video support.
The GF2's build quality is very good, with most of the exterior panels being made of metal. The camera can be held with just one hand, with the right hand grip providing extra security. The important camera controls are all within easy reach of your fingers -- just make sure you don't block the microphones on the top of the camera with your fingers. I also found that there really isn't a great spot for your left hand when the GF2's flash is popped up.
Images courtesy of Panasonic
The DMC-GF2 will be available in four colors: silver, black, red, and white.
The GF2 next to the Olympus E-PL2, also a Micro Four Thirds camera
Now, let's see how the GF2 compares up to other compact interchangeable lens cameras in terms of size and weight:
The DMC-GF2 is the smallest (but not the lightest) interchangeable lens camera in the world. It's not going to fit in your itty-bitty jeans pocket, but it travels in a jacket pocket, a small camera bag, or around your shoulder with ease.
Let's begin our tour of the GF2 now, shall we?
Here's the front of the Lumix DMC-GF2, 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 via an optional adapter, though not all will support continuous autofocus. I also already told you about the 2X focal length conversion ratio. Here's something that I haven't written yet: the GF2, like all the Panasonic G-series models, does not have built-in image stabilization, instead relying on the lens to provide that feature. To release an attached lens, simply press that silver button located to the right of the mount.
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-GF2 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 DMC-GF1 for quite a while now, and have yet to have a dust problem, and I expect similar results here.
To the upper-right of the lens is the GF2's pop-up lens, which is released manually. I noticed that this lens protrudes away from the body, unlike on the GF1 where it pretty much went straight out. The guide number of 6 meters at ISO 100 is the same as it was on the GF1 -- not very powerful, but better than nothing at all. Those of you taking a lot of flash photos may want to invest in an external flash for better coverage. The GF2 does not support wireless flash control.
The only other thing to see on the front of the GF2 is its AF-assist lamp, which is right under the GF2 logo. This lamp is mainly used as a focusing aid in low light, and it's easy to block with your fingers, so be careful! This lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
While the LCD on the DMC-GF2 has the same specs as the one on the GF1, there's one big change: it's now touchscreen (like on most of Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras). The LCD has 460,000 pixels, so everything is nice and sharp. The screen is easy to see outdoors, thanks to its automatic brightness adjustment.
|The "view" in live view||Zoomed-in while using manual focus|
All mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras use live view exclusively, and the DMC-GF2 has a very nice implementation of this feature. The view on the LCD is sharp and fluid, with 100% coverage (as you'd expect). Both outdoor and low light visibility are very good, though the refresh rate drops a bit when the scene is really dark. You can preview exposure, white balance, and depth-of-field in live view, and features like face detection are also available. There's a live histogram available, and you can lay down your own custom grid lines using the touch interface. In manual focus mode you have the ability to "zoom in" on your subject for precise adjustments. While 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 instead.
Some of the things you can do with the touch interface on the DMC-GF2
Animation courtesy of Panasonic
As I mentioned, the GF2's LCD is now touchscreen. In general, I don't feel a huge need for touchscreens on cameras, but apparently enough people like them that many camera manufacturers are adding them to their cameras. So what kind of things can you do with the touch interface on the GF2?
- Touch AF: Just as it sounds, you simply touch the area of the screen on which you wish to focus. This works for movies, too.
- Touch Shutter: Similar to the above, but this time the camera actually takes a picture of the subject you just touched
- Touch mode dial: Since there's no physical mode dial on the camera, here's how you change the shooting mode
- Customizable Quick Menu: Create your own shortcut menu by dragging the items you want to use to the bottom of the screen
- Movable MF Assist: Zoom into a photo you're composing with a touch, and the drag your finger to move around the frame; great for verifying that your subject is in focus
- Movable Grid lines: Create custom grid lines by dragging them into position with your finger
- Touch Defocus: In the auto modes, you can use a slider to adjust the amount of background blur
- Touch Playback: Swipe your finger to move from photo-to-photo; double-tap to zoom into a photo and then drag to move around
The touch AF feature is handy at times, though I've had to turn it off at times, because it's quite easy to accidentally touch the screen and change the focus point. Thankfully, returning the focus point to its default position is easy -- just press a virtual button on the screen. The Touch Shutter feature makes taking photos incredibly easy -- just touch your subject and the camera does the rest.
Virtual mode dial
One big change on the DMC-GF2, and not for the better in this reviewer's opinion, is the removal of a physical mode dial. Instead, you need to use the touchscreen interface to change shooting modes, which is a bit of a chore. Here are the items that you'll find on the virtual mode dial:
If you want a total point-and-shoot experience, then put the camera into Intelligent Auto mode. You don't even have to use the virtual mode dial to do so -- just press the iA button on the top of the camera. The Intelligent Auto mode does literally everything for you. It picks a scene mode, detects faces, reduces blur, tracks moving subjects, improves dynamic range, sharpens the image intelligently, and more. Panasonic's Auto mode continues to be the best in the business. If you want to pick a scene more yourself, there are plenty to choose from, as well.
Saturation is one of the things you can adjust in the My Color custom mode
The My Color mode has something resembling Olympus' 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 amber-ish), monochrome, dynamic art, and silhouette. The custom options is where you can adjust color/brightness/saturation/contrast, using sliders on the touchscreen LCD.
Naturally, the GF2 also has a nearly complete set of manual exposure controls. There are two things missing, though. Where the original GF1 had a bulb mode and flash exposure compensation, the DMC-GF2 has neither.
The Quick Menu works differently on the GF2 than on Panasonic's previous touchscreen models (including the recently introduced DMC-GH2). Instead of surrounding the screen with little icons, you instead get five larger icons on the bottom of the screen, and scroll bars to move to an additional sets of five buttons. Each of these buttons can be customized by simply dragging and dropping icons where you want them. You can access the Quick Menu using your fingers (or stylus) or the four-way controller. I found this new menu system to be a lot easier to work with than the one on previous Panasonic touchscreen cameras.
Getting back to the tour, you'll find the release for the camera's pop-up flash above-left of the LCD. Right above the LCD is the camera's accessory port, which is normally protected by a plastic cover which slides into the hot shoe. The accessory port is what the optional electronic viewfinder plugs into. This viewfinder has 202,000 pixels (not great), a magnification of 1.04X, and 100% coverage. Oh, and it can tilt upwards by as much as 90 degrees.
Immediately to the right of the accessory port is the camera's speaker. Continuing to the right we find the command dial, which you'll use to adjust manual settings, navigate menus, and zoom into photos you've taken.
Moving downward, we find the playback mode button as well as the four-way controller. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:
- Up - ISO (Auto, Intelligent ISO, 100 - 6400)
- Down - Drive - (Single shot, burst, auto bracket, self-timer)
- Left - AF mode (Face detection, AF tracking, 23-area, 1-area)
- Right - White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, flash, white set 1/2, color temperature)
- Center - Menu / Set
Why are there two Auto ISO features on the GF2? The regular one boosts the ISO based on lighting conditions, while the "Intelligent" mode which analyzes subject mode before increasing the sensitivity. By default these two auto modes top out at ISO 400 and 800 respectively, though you can increase this limit in the menu if you desire.
The drive menu has a number of options. The self-timer choices include 2 or 10 seconds, plus a third mode that takes three photos after a 10 second delay. That brings us to the GF2's burst mode. There are three speeds to choose from: low, middle, and high speed. Here's what kind of performance you can expect from the camera in burst mode:
The DMC-GF2 shoots a bit faster than its predecessor -- the medium speed option is about the same high speed was on the GF1. The new high speed option shoots at 3.3 frames/second, but the LCD shows photos after you've taken, rather than before. The buffer fills up pretty quickly when shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG images, as well, which is typical of Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras.
The other drive options include exposure bracketing, which can take three or five shots in a row, each with a different exposure. The interval between each exposure can be ±1/3EV or ±2/3EV. I found myself bracketing quite a bit on the GF2, as it underexposed frequently.
The GF2 located five of the faces in our test scene
What are those AF modes about? The face detection mode will locate up to fifteen faces in the frame, making sure they're properly focused and exposed. The camera can also learn to recognize faces, either automatically or after you take a few "mugshots". Recognized faces (which have name and birthday attached) will always get AF priority in a photo in which the appear. The GF2's face detection system works very well, with the camera locating five or all six of the faces in our test scene. The AF tracking option lets you select a subject -- either by touching them on the LCD or pressing a button -- and the camera will follow them around the scene. There's also a 23-point mode which can be automatic or manual (see screenshot above), and a single-point mode which lets you select the area in the frame on which you wish to focus. In the single-point mode you can select from four focus point sizes, as well.
|Fine-tuning and bracketing for white balance at the same time||Adjusting the color temperature|
The white balance options include an auto mode, the usual presets, two custom slots (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), bracket, or both. For some reason the GF2, like most Panasonic cameras, lacks a fluorescent white balance preset.
The thing to see on the back of the is the Quick Menu/Function button. This button normally opens up the Quick Menu that I showed you earlier, but you can also use it as a custom button that lets you quickly access your favorite camera setting. In playback mode this button will delete a photo for you. It can also be used for backing out of menus.
The first thing to see on the top of the DMC-GF2 is its 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 GF2 can sync as fast as 1/160 sec with an external flash. As I mentioned earlier, you cannot use wireless flashes with the DMC-GF2.
To the right of the hot shoe is the power switch, with the stereo microphones above it. Be sure not to block them with your fingers!
Next to the microphones we have the shutter release, movie recording, and Intelligent Auto buttons. If you're in a manual shooting mode and give the camera to someone else to take a picture, just press the iA button and it'll be fully automatic.
There's nothing to see on this side of the DMC-GF2. You can see how far out the pop-up flash protrudes, though.
On the other side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, which are under a plastic cover. The ports here include mini-HDMI and USB+A/V output.
In case you're wondering, that's the 14 mm pancake kit lens in all of these photos.
Our tour sadly comes to an end with a look at the bottom of the DMC-GF2. Down here you'll find a metal tripod mount and the battery/memory card compartment. The reinforced plastic door that covers this compartment is of average quality, and includes a locking mechanism. As you can see, you won't be able to get at the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod.
The included DMW-BLD10 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.