Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Review
Originally Posted: June 2, 2009
Last Updated: December 11, 2010
The Lumix DMC-GH1 ($1499) is Panasonic's second Micro Four Thirds camera, and the first to support HD movie recording. I'm not going to go into the detail about the Micro Four Thirds format here -- for the full lowdown, check out my review of the Lumix DMC-G1.
The DMC-GH1 is essentially the same camera as the G1, with one big difference: it records movies in high definition, with its new 14 - 140 mm kit lens allowing for continuous autofocus while you're doing so. For those of you who have tried taking video on a digital SLR, you know how big of an advancement this is. While both the G1 and GH1 have 12.1 effective Megapixel Live MOS sensors, the one on the GH1 is newer, and supports shooting in multiple aspect ratios without affecting the angle-of-view. The GH1 also has a few other minor changes that I'll tough on throughout this review.
Some things that haven't changed: the GH1 supports Micro Four Thirds lenses (of which there are now four), plus legacy Four Thirds lenses via an optional adapter. Since it doesn't have a mirror, the GH1 is live view only -- and it really shines in that regard. You can compose your photos on a flip-out, rotating, high resolution LCD, or a very nice electronic viewfinder. As you'd expect from a camera with this price, the GH1 has full manual controls, and it has a surprising amount of point-and-shoot features, as well. And, as I mentioned, it records movies in full HD (with stereo sound) using the AVCHD codec. You can zoom in and out to your heart's content, and the camera will refocus appropriately.
Sound interesting? Then keep on reading -- our review of the DMC-GH1 starts right now!
Since the cameras are so similar, large portions of my DMC-G1 review will be reused here.
What's in the Box?
The Lumix DMC-GH1 is sold in one kit only, which includes the 14 - 140 mm lens designed for movie recording. Here's what you'll find in the box:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-GH1 camera body
- F4.0-5.8, 14 - 140 mm Lumix G Vario HD lens with Mega OIS
- DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger / AC adapter
- DC coupler
- Body cap
- Lens hood
- Lens bag
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring SilkyPix Developer Studio and PhotoFunStudio HD Edition
- 199 page camera manual (printed)
The DMC-GH1 comes with the brand new F4.0-5.8, 14 - 140 mm "HD" lens, which has been specially designed for video recording. What that means is that the lens is capable of continuous, quiet autofocus while you're recording a video clip. As you can see from the maximum aperture range, this lens is quite slow, which will certainly affect how it performs in low light -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. Panasonic includes both a lens hood and a carrying bag for the kit lens.
The GH1 is also compatible with the three other Micro Four Thirds lenses currently on the market: the F3.5-5.6, 14 - 45 IS, F4.0-5.6, 45 - 200 IS, and the new F4.0 7 - 14 mm. If you have some "old" Four Thirds lenses laying around, you can use those too, but you'll need to pick up the adapter listed in the accessory section below. Regardless of whether your Four Thirds lens is "micro", there will be a 2X focal length conversion ratio to keep in mind. Thus, the 14 - 140 kit lens has a field-of-view of 28 - 280 mm.
The DMC-G1 didn't come with a memory card, so you wouldn't expect to find one in the box for the DMC-GH1, either. The GH1 supports SD and SDHC cards, and I'd recommend a 4GB card to start with, and perhaps an 8GB or 16GB card if you're serious about video recording. The faster the card, the better, so you'll want at least a Class 4 card if you're sticking to still photos, and a Class 6 or better for movies.
The DMC-GH1 uses the same DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery as the G1. This battery packs an impressive 9.0 Wh of energy into its boxy shell. Here's how that translates into battery life:
The DMC-GH1's battery life numbers are about 10% lower than the G1's, though I'm not sure why. It's hard to draw much of a conclusion as to how the GH1 compares to D-SLRs with live view, since manufacturers rarely publish battery life numbers for anything but viewfinder shooting. For the two cameras for which I have numbers, the GH1 wins fairly easily.
I should point out a few things about the proprietary batteries used by the GH1 and every other camera on the above list. For one, they're expensive -- you'll spend at least $64 for a spare battery. Also, should your rechargeable battery run out of juice, you can't use something off-the-shelf to get you through the day.
Panasonic does not offer a battery grip for the DMC-GH1.
When it's time to charge the DMW-BLB13, just pop it into the included charger. It takes around 155 minutes for a typical charge. Unlike most Panasonic battery chargers, this one doesn't plug right into the wall -- you must use a power cable.
The charger can also be used as an AC adapter, and Panasonic includes the necessary accessories with the GH1. Put the DC coupler into the camera, plug it into the battery charger, and you're set.
The GH1 shown with a "regular" Four Thirds lens via the optional DMW-MA1 adapter
The DMC-GH1 has a host of accessories available, despite being a relatively new camera design. Here's the most notable options:
That's a pretty good selection! It's hard to find pricing on some of those items, since the GH1 is so new.
PhotoFunStudio in Windows
Panasonic includes a pair of software products with the Lumix DMC-GH1. First up is PhotoFunStudio 3.1 HD, which is for Windows only. After you've imported photos from the camera or a memory card, you'll end up with the standard thumbnail view you can see above. From here you can view a slideshow, e-mail or print a photo, and upload videos to YouTube. You can also use a new "face recognition" feature that lets you identify people in your photos, which allows for easy searches later on. Speaking of searches, PhotoFunStudio lets you search through photos by all kinds of things, whether it's by camera model, scene mode, baby name, date, and more.
Editing photos in PhotoFunStudio
Choose the "retouch" option from the toolbar and you'll get the editing window you see above. 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.
While PhotoFunStudio can view RAW files, it cannot edit them, or convert them to JPEGs. For that, you'll need to use the SilkyPix software that I'll describe in a moment.
"Editing" AVCHD videos via PhotoFunStudio
That brings us to the somewhat complicated subject of video editing. On most digital cameras, you can just double-click on the AVI or MOV file and it would open up in Windows Media or QuickTime Player. That's not the case on the GH1, at least if you're using the AVCHD codec (which is required for Full HD recording). The camera creates a fairly complex file structure on your memory card, and even if you do find the video file, you'll need some capable editing software to actually do anything with it.
The included PhotoFunStudio HD software can view these movies, trim unwanted footage from them, and burn the result to a DVD, Blu-ray disc, or memory card. You cannot use it to convert a movie to a more common format. If want to do some actual editing, or just convert the videos to another format, then you'll have to use something else. Popular Windows video editors such as Adobe Premiere (Pro or Elements), Vegas, and NeroVision can also work with the files (see here for a good listing).
Importing AVCHD video with iMovie '09
On the Mac side of things, it's a bit more complex. While iMovie 09 and Final Cut Express can import AVCHD videos, they aren't working with the native 24p frame rate (they're also converted to a different codec). The videos are also interlaced, which adds "scan lines" that you normally wouldn't see. I had to use JES Deinterlacer to get rid of the lines and bring the frame rate back down to 24 fps. Apparently Final Cut Studio can deal with 24p video just fine, though I'm yet to try it.
You can also use Roxio's Toast Titanium 10 to convert AVCHD video into other formats, or burn them onto a DVD or Blu-ray disc. If you just wants to view the movies (without dealing with an editor), try VLC, which is free.
After spending two straight days trying to edit the sample videos for this review, I recommend sticking with Motion JPEG unless you absolutely need 1080p, or are just going to be watching the videos on an HDTV (using a Blu-ray player, PS3, etc).
SilkyPix in Mac OS X
For editing RAW images, Panasonic supplies you with SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 SE. While its interface is better than earlier versions, SilkyPix is still fairly clunky and hard to use. That doesn't mean that the software isn't capable -- quite the opposite, in fact. SilkyPix is a powerful RAW editor, allowing you to adjust everything from exposure to white balance (with fine-tuning) to the tone curve. You can also adjust noise reduction, lens distortion, chromatic aberration, and much, much more.
If you've got Photoshop CS4, you can also use the Camera Raw plug-in (5.4 or newer) to work with the GH1's RAW files.
So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed data from the GH1's image sensor. In order to do anything with this information, you must first process it on your Mac or PC, as shown above. When you do that, you can adjust white balance, exposure, and more, without reducing the quality of the image. It's as if you get to take the photo again. Do note that RAW files are larger than JPEGs, taking up more space on your memory card, and they can also reduce camera performance in certain situations (like shooting in burst mode).
Panasonic includes a lengthy, detailed manual in the box with the DMC-GH1. It's hardly user-friendly -- it's as compelling of a read as the manual that came with your DVD player. It will answer any question you may have about the camera, just be prepared to wade through a lot of "notes" and other fine print. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your computer.