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.
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.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2
Flip the power switch and the GF2 is ready to start taking photos immediately.
Like the other Micro Four Thirds cameras in Panasonic's line-up, the DMC-GF2 focuses very quickly (only the GH2 is faster). With the 14 mm kit lens, the camera locked focus in 0.2 - 0.5 seconds. I didn't get a chance to use the 14 - 42 mm kit lens with the GF2, but based on past experience, I expect AF times starting at 0.2 sec at wide-angle and topping out at around 0.8 sec at telephoto. Low light focus times are under a second in most situations. Do note that legacy Four Thirds lenses will not focus nearly as quickly as a Micro Four Thirds lens.
I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
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 fill up the buffer memory (which takes some work). Adding the flash into the mix increases the delay by a fraction of a second.
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 at the lengthy list of image size and quality options available on the DMC-GF2. It's so long because the camera supports four different aspect ratios!
That's quite a list! And there's one image size I didn't include, which is 2 Megapixel or less, and only used when the optional 3D lens is attached. One nice thing about the GF2 is that the focal length remains the same regardless of the aspect ratio (though I don't think this is true for 1:1). The camera can take a RAW image alone, or with a JPEG of the size of your choosing. I explained the benefits of RAW earlier in this review.
This menu is the gateway to the virtual mode dial or the main menu
The DMC-GF2 has an easy to use menu system that should be familiar to anyone who has used a Panasonic camera in recent years, aside from the "gateway" screen that you can use to change the shooting mode, or jump to a specific menu. Unlike the rest of the operations on the camera, the main menu can only be operated with the four-way controller or the command dial, and not the touchscreen. The menu is divided into five tabs, which include still, movie, custom, setup, and playback options. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the complete list:
Motion Picture Menu - will cover these in the next section; showing the unique items only
I'd like to touch on a few of those options before we continue to the photo tests.
One of the new features on the DMC-GF2 is called Intelligent Resolution. Simply put, this system applies different amounts of sharpening to the various subjects in your photos. It'll sharpen the edges the most, go a bit easier on textures, and leave smooth gradation areas (like the sky) alone. It's off by default, but there are four levels you can choose from, from low to extended (super high). Here's an example (and be sure to view the full size images!):
|Intelligent Res Off
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res Low
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res Standard
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res High
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res Extended
View Full Size Image
As you can see, things get a little bit sharper as you increase the Intelligent Resolution setting. Strangely enough, things get soft again at the "extended" setting, and I verified this in multiple photos. Sounds like a bug, to me. Anyhow, it doesn't hurt to turn this on to the low or standard setting if you want sharper photos, though do note that continuous shooting speeds are reduced.
Previous Panasonic cameras had a feature called Intelligent Exposure, which was used to brighten up the dark areas of your photos. On the GF2 that feature is now called Intelligent Dynamic, and it's supposed to help with clipped highlights, as well. In Intelligent Auto mode this feature is always on, while in the manual modes it's off by default. There are three levels of I.E. to choose from in the manual modes: low, standard, and high. Here's an example of Intelligent Exposure in action:
|Intelligent Dynamic Off
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Dynamic Low
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Dynamic Std
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Dynamic High
View Full Size Image
As you can see, the shadows get brighter as you go from "off" to "low" and then "standard". The standard and high settings look about the same, and I believe that when you select a certain Intelligent Dynamic setting, you're choosing the maximum you'll let the camera use, and in this case, it didn't think more enhancement was necessary. While the feature does bring out shadow detail, it doesn't do much to reduce highlight clipping, an issue which is common on Four Thirds-based cameras.
The Extended Tele Conversion feature is similar to what was called Extended Optical Zoom on previous Panasonic cameras. By lowering the resolution of the camera, you can get extra zoom power, without the loss in quality that is associated with digital zoom. The most you can get is 2X worth, and you'll need to drop down to the small (3 Megapixel) resolution in order to get that. In movie mode (at 720p and lower resolutions) you can get anywhere from 3.1X to 4.2X more zoom power.
Adjusting saturation in the color Picture Mode set
The Film Mode feature found on other Lumix G-series cameras has been dumbed down on the DMC-GF2. Instead of having multiple Film Modes to choose from (including custom options), the GF2 features just two "Picture Adjust" sets -- one for color, and another for black & white. For both of these you can adjust the contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction levels.
Now let's move on to our photo tests. I took these with a variety of lenses, so look under each photo to see which one I used.
The DMC-GF2's photo of our standard macro subject turned out beautifully. The colors are nice and saturated, the subject is very sharp, and there's no sign of any noise. Some cameras have trouble with the white balance in our studio, but not the GF2.
The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you're using. For the 14 mm kit lens, the minimum distance is 18 cm, while the 14 - 42 mm lens is a bit further away, at 30 cm. Serious macro shooters 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 test shot, taken with my personal Panasonic 45 - 200 mm lens, turned out fairly well. Unlike the macro shot, things are a bit more yellow than I would've liked. While the camera brought in plenty of light, there's a fair amount of highlight clipping to be found. The buildings are fairly sharp (though there's a bit of a drop-off around the edges), and noise was not visible. There is some mild purple fringing around the lights along the waterfront, which is a bit odd, as the camera is supposed to remove it automatically (I guess nothing's perfect). By the way, you don't have to use manual controls to take photos like this -- the camera's Intelligent Auto mode will use the proper settings for a long exposure, and it even knows if you're using a tripod!
Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the GF2 performed at higher sensitivities in low light situations.
Everything is very clean through ISO 400. When you get to ISO 800, you start to see some detail loss, though you still should be able to make a midsize print at this setting. Things really start to go downhill one stop higher (at ISO 1600), so you should definitely be thinking about shooting RAW at this point. The two highest sensitivities are not usable in their JPEG form -- especially ISO 6400.
Let's see if we can't make those ISO 1600 and 3200 photos look better by shooting in RAW and doing some basic post-processing!
The ISO 1600 photos definitely gets a nice improvement when you shoot RAW. Sure, the images are grainier, but it's better than smudged details, right? The ISO 3200 photo looks better than the JPEG when post-processed, though I'm not sure if it's usable for much. As you might imagine, the ISO 6400 photo was beyond repair.
We'll see how the DMC-GF2 performed in normal lighting in a moment.
While the DMC-GF1 didn't have redeye problems, the GF2 is the complete opposite -- it's really bad. I can't help but wonder if the positioning of the flash on the GF2 (which puts it closer to the lens) has something to do with this. In theory, the camera's dual redeye reduction system (pre-flash and digital) should take care of it, but it didn't work in any of my test photos (though your mileage may vary). If you do end up with redeye like this, you'll have to fix it on your computer, as there's no removal tool available in playback mode.
F2.5, 14 mm kit lens
F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm kit lens (from the DMC-G2 review)
Both of the GF2's available kit lenses produce mild-to-moderate amounts of barrel distortion. The camera automatically corrects for this distortion, so if you're using a third party RAW editor, things may look a lot worse. The 14 mm pancake lens has some blurring around the edges of the frame, but its real problem is strong vignetting (which doesn't show in the test chart, for some reason). I was surprised to see this much vignetting -- I always assumed that the camera was correcting for that, as well. The 14 - 42 mm kit lens should perform a lot better -- I didn't have issues with corner blurring or vignetting back when I tested it on the DMC-G2.
Now let's take a look at our studio test scene. Since the lighting is the same every time, you can compare these samples with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to how much noise is present at each ISO setting, viewing the full size images is strongly recommended. And with that, let's begin!
Everything is buttery smooth through ISO 400. Noise levels stay low at ISO 800, but I did notice a slight drop in color saturation. Noise starts to become more visible at ISO 1600, and colors get a bit more dull, but you can still making midsize or large prints at this sensitivity. Details start disappearing at ISO 3200, so this is a good point at which to stop, or switch to RAW for better results. The ISO 6400 image has substantial detail loss, and I don't recommend using it that setting, as least when shooting JPEGs.
Can the ISO 6400 and 12800 photos be saved? Here's what I was able to come up with after about a minute or two of post-processing in Photoshop:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
No doubt about it -- shooting RAW and doing 30 seconds of post-processing definitely yields better results at the highest sensitivities on the DMC-GF2. If you're shooting at ISO 3200 or above (or ISO 1600 in low light), it's definitely worth the extra effort to use RAW.
Overall, the photo quality on the DMC-GF2 was very good, though I was disappointed with the 14 mm kit lens, which produces photos with soft corners and strong vignetting. Photos taken with my own 14 - 45 mm lens (which, again, is different that the 14 - 42 mm lens being bundled with the camera) were much better. The two biggest camera-specific photo quality issues relate to exposure. The camera had a tendency to underexpose by about 1/3 stop, so either bracket or keep a close eye on the photos you've taken. Like other Four Thirds-based cameras, the GF2 does tend to clip highlights, and there's not a whole lot you can do about that. The camera produced photos with vibrant colors, and generally handled artificial lighting well. With a decent lens attached, image sharpness was average for a camera in this class (not too sharp, not too soft). Noise levels are low through ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in normal light, as the tests above illustrated. I didn't find purple fringing to be an issue, save for some minor aberrations in the night shot.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Browse through our DMC-GF2 photo gallery, maybe printing a few of them if you can, and then decide of the GF2's photo quality meets your expectations!
The movie mode on the Lumix DMC-GF2 has improved significantly since the GF1. You can now record videos at 1920 x 1080 at 60i (though sensor output is 30p) with Dolby Digital stereo sound. The AVCHD codec allows for continuous recording until your memory card fills up, though note that cameras sold in Europe will stop recording just before the elapsed time hits 30 minutes. There are two bit rates to choose from at the Full HD resolution: 17 Mbps and 13 Mbps. At the highest quality setting, an hour of video will take up about 8GB, so make sure you have a large memory card (and a fast one, too). You can also record at 720p60, though again the sensor is only outputting 30 frames/second. The same bit rates are available at this lower resolution.
If you don't want to deal with the AVCHD codec, which can be difficult to edit and share, you can switch over to Motion JPEG instead. There are four resolutions to choose from: 1280 x 720, 848 x 480, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240, all at 30 frames/second. There's a file size limit of 2GB when using M-JPEG, so your videos will end after approximately 8 minutes at the 720p resolution.
The DMC-GF2 can focus continuously while you're recording (assuming that you're using a Micro Four Thirds lens), so you can zoom in and out, or follow moving subjects without issue. If your lens has an image stabilizer, it can be used as well. You can boost the total zoom power by 3.1X or 4.2X in movie mode (at 720p or below) using the Extra Tele Conversion function I told you about earlier.
The GF2 does not offer any manual controls in movie mode -- it's a fully automatic experience. You can force a shutter speed of 1/50, 1/60, 1/100, or 1/120 by using the flicker reduction feature, though. The GF2 does let you adjust the microphone level manually, and there's a wind cut filter, as well.
I've got three sample movies for you. The first two were taken at the 1080/60i setting, with the wind filter set to "standard". You can still hear the wind noise, but hey, it was a windy day. Sample number three was taken at the 720p60 setting on a sunny and wind-free day. All three were converted with Toast Titanium 10, and I've linked up the original MTS files so you can convert them yourself, if you wish.
The DMC-GF2 has a pretty standard playback mode, with the touchscreen features really setting it apart from the competition. Basic playback features include slideshows (complete with transitions and music), image protection, favorite tagging, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (in various sizes), and 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 (or your finger) to move from photo to photo, keeping the zoom and location intact.
Touch features in playback mode
Animation courtesy of Panasonic
The touchscreen is perhaps the most useful in playback mode, at least in my opinion. To move between photos, just swipe with your finger. 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. You can also scroll through thumbnails by dragging your finger up or down.
Like Panasonic's consumer cameras, the GF2 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, AVCHD, M-JPEG, 3D), 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. Sadly, there's no redeye removal tool, which sure would come in handy on the GF2.
The DMC-GF2 has the ability to edit movies, known as video divide. This lets you trim unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip.
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, baby, or pet are in the photo, information about them will be shown, as well.
The DMC-GF2 moves through photos instantly when using the four-way controller. With the touchscreen, it'll show up as quickly as you can swipe your finger from side-to-side.
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!
See how the DMC-GF2's photos look in our photo gallery!