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.
Look and Feel
If you've seen the DMC-G1, then you've seen the GH1 -- they look identical, save for the dedicated movie recording button on the back of the latter. That makes the GH1 a compact camera, but not as small as one would've hoped, given the possibilities of the Micro Four Thirds format. Below you can see a comparison of the GH1 next to the Olympus E-620, which is the smallest D-SLR with a rotating LCD:
As you can see, the GH1 is smaller than the E-620, but not significantly so. The most obvious difference can be seen in the top view, where the GH1 lacks the huge, bulging optical viewfinder of the E-620.
The good-sized grip makes the GH1 easy to hold (though can be a bit slippery), and there's a dedicated spot for your thumb to rest. Like on the DMC-G1, some of the controls aren't terribly well-placed. The worst offender is the control dial on the front of the grip. It's too low, and way too easy to bump. I found it pretty easy to bump the drive switch (which sits under the mode dial), as well. And while I'm at it, the four-way controller buttons are too small for my large, clumsy fingers.
In terms of build quality, the GH1 is well put together. The exterior shell of the camera is made of a kind of rubberized plastic, and the chassis is probably a mix of plastic and metal. While the original DMC-G1 was available in black, silver, and red, the GH1 will only be sold in black here in the States. In other countries, it may be available in red and gold, as well.
Alright, now let's see how the DMC-GH1 compares against other interchangeable lens cameras (that includes D-SLRs) in terms of size and weight. As before, I'm only listing cameras with live view support.
Not surprisingly, the GH1 has the same size and weight as the DMC-G1. Those two cameras are the smallest and lightest on the list (by far), though the Olympus E-420/450 (not on the list since it lacks a rotating LCD) isn't much larger.
Okay, let's start our tour of the DMC-GH1 now, beginning with the front view.
Here's the front of the DMC-GH1 with the lens removed. The Micro Four Thirds lens mount you see is smaller than a regular Four Thirds mount, and it has two extra electrical contacts, as well. One thing that hasn't changed is the 2X focal length conversion ratio, so the field-of-view will be twice that of what it says on the lens you attach (regardless of whether it's a MFT lens or a traditional FT lens). You can release an attached lens by pressing the silver button to the right of the mount.
In the center of the lens mount is the GH1's 12.1 effective Megapixel Live MOS sensor, which is different than what came on the DMC-G1. Ever since the G1 came out, I wondered how much of a problem dust would be, since the sensor is closer to the lens mount, and has no mirror to protect it. After using both the G1 and now the GH1, it doesn't seem any worse than any digital SLR. The GH1 does have the "Supersonic Wave Filter" ultrasonic dust reduction system, which shakes dust away when the camera is powered on, which no doubt helps.
Directly above the lens mount is the GH1's pop-up flash, which is released manually. This flash has a guide number of 11 meters at ISO 100, which makes it less powerful than its D-SLR competitors. Should you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a little bit.
To the upper-right of the lens mount is the camera's AF-assist lamp, which is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. I found it pretty easy to accidentally block the lamp with my fingers, so keep that in mind when you're shooting in low light. This lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
Over on the grip you'll find the GH1's sole command dial. As I said earlier, I'm really not a fan of its location -- it needs to be about half an inch higher -- but that's just my opinion.
One of the nicest features on the DMC-GH1 is its flip-out, rotating LCD display. While it may seem gimmicky at first, rotating LCDs are actually quite handy. You can take photos over the heads of people in front of you, or take "ground level" photos of your kids or pets. You can also turn the screen around to take a self-portrait. The LCD can rotate a total of 270 degrees, from facing your subject all the way around to facing the ground. It can be put in the more traditional position (shown below), or closed entirely.
And here is the LCD in the fixed position. The screen is the same one as on the DMC-G1, with 460,000 pixels. As you'd expect, everything is super sharp. Like all of Panasonic's screens, it has superb visibility both outdoors (with Power LCD turned on) and in low light (where the screen brightens automatically).
Above the LCD is what may be the best electronic viewfinder in the world (Panasonic calls it a Live View Finder). Panasonic lists the resolution of the viewfinder at 1.44 million pixels, though that's a bit misleading due to its "field sequential system" design. In reality, the resolution is more like 480,000 pixels -- still twice what you'd usually find. The design of the EVF allows for better color and sharpness, and an ultra-smooth 60 fps refresh rate. You may notice a flickering or rainbow effect on the EVF if you blink or quickly pan the camera around, and that's a side effect of the LCoS technology used. Something else nice about the viewfinder is the size: it's 1.4X magnification (35mm equivalent) is well above what you'll find on a typical digital SLR. The viewfinder has an sensor that knows when your eye is against it, so you can switch between the LCD and EVF without pressing a button. You can adjust the focus of the EVF by using the diopter correction knob on the left side.
Alright, now let's talk about the live view experience on the DMC-GH1. Since there's no optical viewfinder, you'll be using live view 100% of the time. Panasonic has done a stellar job implementing this feature, in so many ways. The LCD and EVF are both sharp, display 100% of the frame, and have excellent refresh rates. You can see your subject just as easily in bright light as you can in low light, though do note that that nice refresh rate will start to disappear in dimly lit rooms. The camera's 23-point autofocus system performs extraordinarily well, but more on that later.
|That histogram can go anywhere in the frame that you want||You can even create your own grid lines|
So what else can you do in live view mode? You can have a live histogram, even choosing where it goes on the screen. You have three choices of grid lines that can be superimposed, one of which is customizable. The icons that are at the top and bottom of the screen are actually menu shortcuts, which you can access by pressing the Quick Menu button on the top of the camera.
Frame enlargement in manual focus mode
If you're manually focusing, the center of the image can be enlarged by 2X or 4X. When you're zoomed in, you can move around the frame by using the four-way controller.
LCD info display
If you're using the EVF, you can choose to have the camera display its current settings on the LCD. Here you can also adjust any of them by pressing the Quick Menu button on the top of the camera. When you press your eye to the viewfinder, the info display disappears automatically.
Alright, back to the tour now. The button to the left of the EVF can be used to switch between it and the main LCD (the eye sensor can be disabled, by the way). Over on the opposite side we have buttons for playback as well as AE/AF lock. Continuing to the right, we find a new addition to the GH1: a dedicated movie recording button. Press it once to start recording, and again to stop. If you're already in movie mode (courtesy of the mode dial), you can use the shutter release button to start and stop your movie recording.
To the right of the LCD are two buttons, plus the four-way controller. The buttons are for Display (toggles what's on the LCD/EVF) and depth-of-field preview + deleting a photo. You can also use the DOF preview button to get a simulation of the current shutter speed. You'll use the four-way controller for menu navigation, reviewing photos that you've taken, and also:
- Up - ISO (Auto, Intelligent ISO, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
- Down - Function (custom) - by default this adjusts metering
- Left - AF mode (Face detection, AF tracking, 23-area, 1-area)
- Right - White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, flash, preset 1/2, color temperature)
- Center - Menu / Set
There are two Auto ISO modes on the GH1. Auto ISO will boost the ISO as needed, up to a maximum of 400. Intelligent ISO, which is the default in the auto shooting modes, analyzes subject motion and adjusts the sensitivity accordingly. You can set the maximum sensitivity that it will use in the menu system.
The Function button is customizable. It can adjust the aspect ratio, image quality, metering mode, Intelligent Exposure mode, guide lines, recording area, and remaining display (more on those last two later).
|Focus point sizes||The camera locked onto all six faces|
There are four focus modes to choose from on the GH1. In 1-area mode, you can select not only the area in the frame on which to focus, but you can select from four focus point sizes, from tiny to huge. Next we have 23-point AF, which is good for everyday shooting. For people pictures, you can select from face detection or AF tracking mode. The face detection feature can find up to 15 faces in the frame, making sure they're properly focused and exposed. The system performed very well -- just like it does on Panasonic's point-and-shoot cameras -- locking onto all six faces in our test scene. The AF tracking option allows you to "lock on" to a subject, and the camera will follow that person as they move around the frame. If you've got "face recognition" turned on, the camera will identify any faces it remembers, and give them focus priority (though it misidentified someone in the screenshot above).
White balance fine-tuning / bracketing screen
The GH1 offers several white balance options, including the usual presets, two custom spots (for which you'll use a white or gray card as a reference), and the ability to set the WB by color temperature (from 2500K to 10000K). If that's still not enough, you can fine-tune white balance in the amber/blue and green/magenta directions, bracket for it, or both!
And that's it for the back of the camera!
Now let's look at the top of the camera, starting on the left side. The first thing to see is the focus mode dial, which has three options: single, continuous, or manual focus. Single AF locks the focus when you halfway-press the shutter release. Continuous AF is always trying to focus, even with your finger off the shutter release. Manual focus lets you use the "fly-by-wire" dial on the lens to set the focus distance yourself. Since there are no focus distance markings on the lens or on the LCD/EVF, you have to use your eyes to figure out what the current focus distance is.
Moving to the right, we find the GH1's hot shoe. You'll get the best results with one of the lenses I mentioned back in the accessory section of the review, as they'll sync up with the camera's metering system. If you use a third-party flash, you will need to adjust its settings manually. The GH1 can sync as fast as 1/160 second with an external flash.
Above the hot shoe is one of the new additions to the GH1: a stereo microphone. The camera records sound using Dolby Digital Stereo Creator, and there's a wind cut feature as well, for recording audio outdoors. If the built-in mic doesn't do it for you, then you can attach the external microphone (that I mentioned back in the accessory discussion) to the hot shoe.
Next up is the camera's mode dial, which has a ton of options for an SLR-like camera. Here's what you'll find on the dial:
Lots to talk about before we move on. The easiest things to explain are those manual exposure controls: they're all here, as you'd expect, from aperture to shutter speed. The custom spot on the mode dial can hold up to three sets of your most commonly used settings. While you can record movies in any shooting mode, the creative motion picture mode is where you can adjust things like aperture and shutter speed -- a feature that's most uncommon on digital cameras.
If you want a more point-and-shoot experience, then you may want to use Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode. This combines several technologies into one, including face detection, auto subject tracking, automatic scene selection, Intelligent Exposure (which brightens shadows), and Intelligent ISO control. Point the camera at something close, and it switches into close-up mode. If there's a person in the photo, it will switch to portrait mode and lock on to their face. You can even have the camera track the face as the person moves around the frame. It's all very well done, giving you a real "point-and-shoot experience" on an interchangeable lens camera.
|The advanced scene modes give you more control that you'd usually get||The "creative" night portrait option lets you adjust the aperture in a simple manner|
There are plenty of scene modes to choose from, as well. The less-common ones can be found on a single spot on the mode dial, and include the famous "baby" mode, which records the age of up to two children into a photo's EXIF headers. The scene modes that get their own spot on the dial are called "advanced", and they give you more options than your typical scene mode. For example, under night portrait you can select from portrait, scenery, illuminations, or creative. The "creative" option lets you the user adjust the aperture, though you'd never know it by how the camera represents it (see above right).
The "My Color" mode is a point-and-shoot mode which gives the user "sliders" to adjust color, brightness, and saturation -- consider this the "easy" mode on the GH1.
Underneath the mode dial are switches for power and drive, though I found the latter quite easy to accidentally bump. The drive options include single-shot, continuous shooting, bracketing, and self-timer. First, let's talk about the continuous shooting mode on the GH1. There are two speeds to choose from -- low and high -- and here's how the camera performed:
The DMC-G1 won't break any speed records, especially when compared to similarly priced D-SLRs. The LCD does keep up well with the action, with a minimal blackout between each shot.
The bracketing option lets you take 3, 5, or 7 shots in a row, each with a different exposure. If you have a big memory card in the camera, this is a pretty good way to ensure proper exposure every time. You can also bracket for white balance (described earlier) and film mode (described below), as well.
Navigating the Quick Menu
To the right of the mode dial are two buttons. The top one opens up the Quick Menu, which allows you to adjust settings that are displayed on the screen (whether you're using the icon view or the info display) without having to enter the main menu. I'll tell you about all of those options later in the review.
|Adjusting Film Mode properties||Bracketing film modes|
The Film Mode button lets you select from various preset color and contrast settings. The choices include standard, dynamic, nature, smooth, nostalgic, vibrant, and black & white (standard, dynamic, or smooth). For each of these, you can adjust the contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction. If you don't want to mess with the originals, there are two My Film slots that can contain your own custom settings. The camera also allows you to bracket for up to three film modes in a single shot.
The last thing to see on the top of the camera is its shutter release button.
Here's the side of the DMC-GH1, with its 14 - 140 mm kit lens attached. I kind of feel that this giant lens sort of defeats the purpose of the Micro Four Thirds concept -- it's not such a small camera when you're using this large lens. The only thing to mention about the lens (aside from its size) is the switch for turning the Mega OIS (optical image stabilization) system on and off.
On the body itself are the camera's I/O ports, which are protected by rubber covers. Let's peel them back for a closer look:
The ports here include:
- External microphone + remote control (above my finger)
- Mini HDMI
- USB + A/V out
The GH1 can connect to a high definition television via its HDMI port. The necessary cable won't be included, so pick one up from someplace cheap like Monoprice, since Panasonic wants a bundle for theirs.
As you'd expect on a high end camera, the GH1 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC.
On the other side of the GH1 you'll find its memory card slot, which is protected by a reinforced plastic door of average quality.
You can see just how huge the 14 - 140 mm lens is when it's fully extended -- it's a monster!
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount (inline with the lens), plus the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is sturdy, and has a locking mechanism. You can see the DMW-BLB13 battery over on the right.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Flip the power switch and the Lumix DMC-GH1 is ready to go almost instantly.
In case you missed it: there's a histogram available on the GH1
As with the original DMC-G1, the GH1 focuses extraordinarily quickly. The GH1's live view shooting experience is better than any D-SLR out there, save for maybe the Sony A3xx series. In most cases, the camera focuses as fast in live view as most D-SLRs do with their viewfinders. In the best case scenarios (wide-angle, lots of light), the GH1 and its 14-140 kit lens locked focus in 0.1 - 0.3 seconds. Telephoto focus times were roughly 0.5 - 0.8 seconds, only occasionally approaching the one second mark. Low light focusing was generally good, with focus times staying under a second in most cases. Just be sure that you don't block the AF-assist lamp with your right hand -- it's easy to do.
If you're looking for shutter lag, keep looking -- there isn't any.
Shot-to-shot delays were minimal. I could just keep firing away, even in RAW+JPEG mode. Adding the flash into the mix didn't change things, either.
There is no quick way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode for that.
Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the GH1. Since there are three different aspect ratios available, it's a very lengthy list.
That's quite a list. As you can see, you can take a RAW image alone, or with a JPEG at the size of your choosing. I explained the advantages of the RAW format earlier in the review.
The GH1 maintains the same focal length regardless of what aspect ratio you're using. In other words, the wide end of the kit lens will be 28mm (equivalent) at 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9 (but NOT at 1:1). By the way, that 1:1 option was not available on the original DMC-G1.
Just like Panasonic's point-and-shoot cameras, the DMC-GH1 has an "extended optical zoom" feature. By lowering the resolution, you can use digital zoom without reducing the image quality. The lower the resolution goes, the more zoom you can use. For example, if you select the 3 Megapixel setting, you can get 2X of additional zoom power.
The DMC-GH1 has an easy to use menu system that should be familiar to anyone who has used a Panasonic camera in recent years. It's not the flashiest menu out there, and there aren't any help screens, but it gets the job done. The menu is divided into six tabs, covering still, movie, custom, setup, recent, and playback menu options. Here's the full list for you:
Motion Picture Menu
Shows the last five menu options you selected
|Faces that the camera already knows||You can edit the name, age, and set the priority for a given person|
As I mentioned earlier, face recognition is one of the new features on the DMC-GH1. Simply put, the camera can "learn" who various people are, and when they appear in a photo you're composing, they will be given focus priority. You can manually register a face by pointing the camera at someone at taking a picture, or you can have the camera bring up the face recognition screen after you've taken a few photos of the same person. On this screen you can set the name, age, and "priority" of the person in question. In playback mode, you can see the name and age of the person in the photo, and the same is true if you're viewing the image in PhotoFunStudio.
What are those image stabilization modes all about? Mode 1 has the image stabilizer active at all times in record mode. Mode 2 only activates it when you halfway press the shutter release button, and mode 3 is for horizontal panning (it only stabilizes up and down motion).
The Intelligent Exposure feature is similar to Active D-Lighting on Nikon cameras and D-Range Optimizer on Sony cameras. In a nutshell, it brightens the dark areas of your photos as they are taken. There are three levels of Intelligent Exposure to choose from, and you can turn it off entirely. As with the DMC-G1, you can hardly spot any difference between the various settings. There may be certain circumstances where the difference is more substantial, but I sure haven't seen it.
Enough about menus -- let's talk photo quality. All of these tests were performed with the 14 - 140 mm kit lens.
The Lumix DMC-GH1 performed very well with our macro test subject. The colors are nice and saturated, as you can see. The subject is a bit on the soft side, which seems to be a common occurrence with the 14 - 140 mm lens. I don't see any signs of noise or noise reduction, nor would I expect any.
The minimum focus distance will depend on what lens you're using. For the 14-140, it's a rather lengthy 50 cm. If you want to get closer, you may want to consider a dedicated macro lens, though there isn't one available for the Micro Four Thirds mount yet, so you'll have to use a regular FT lens with the adapter.
The night shot turned out fairly well, though it took is on the soft side. If you look at the same shot taken with the DMC-G1 and the 45 - 200 mm Micro Four Thirds lens, you'll see a noticeable difference in sharpness compared to the GH1 produced with the 14-140 kit lens. The photo here has a bit of a yellowish color cast, though fooling around with the white balance fine-tuning should take care of that. I don't see any noise or purple fringing here, nor was there much in the line of highlight clipping.
Now, let's use that same scene to see how the DMC-GH1 performed at various sensitivities in low light:
There's hardly any difference between the ISO 100 and 200 shots. You can spot some mild noise at ISO 400, but there's not enough to prevent you from making a midsize or large print. Things are a little worse at ISO 800, and I can see the slightest hint of banding, but overall, it's not bad. Things start to go downhill at ISO 1600, with more noise and banding visible. I'd be shooting RAW at this point, and even if you do so, I wouldn't plan on making large prints at this sensitivity. At ISO 3200, the corners of the buildings start to disappear into the background, so I'd pass on this setting if I were you.
I want to show you the advantage of shooting RAW at the higher ISO settings in low light. The crops below show the original JPEG, the RAW conversion (using Camera Raw 5.4), and a RAW conversion that's been cleaned up and sharpened. Have a look:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW->JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW->JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
You can see that, by shooting RAW, you're trading away detail loss for grainy noise. It's generally a good trade-off, since you get a little bit of detail back. Not so much at ISO 1600, but definitely at ISO 800. I also found the color a bit more pleasing when shooting RAW.
I'm going to do this same type of comparison for the studio test scene, so stay tuned for that.
There's a bit of redeye in our flash test photo, but it's not too bad. The GH1 uses both a preflash and, if you want, a digital redeye removal system to get rid of this annoyance. As always, your mileage may vary.
There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 14 - 140 mm kit lens. While the lens isn't terribly sharp in general, I didn't see that things got any worse in the corners. Vignetting (dark corners) was not a problem, either.
Now it's time for our normal lighting ISO test, which is taken in our studio. Thus, it can be compared to other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the amount of noise at each ISO sensitivity, viewing the full size images is always a good idea. And with that, here we go:
As expected, there's very little difference between the first three crops. Only at ISO 800 do you start to see some noise creep in, but it shouldn't keep you from making large prints. Image quality starts to degrade at ISO 1600, so this is for small or midsize prints only (and perhaps larger if you are using RAW). There's a drop in color saturation and even more detail loss (and maybe some banding, too?) at ISO 3200, so I'd pass on that setting unless you're really desperate.
Okay, time for two more comparisons. First, let's see if there's an advantage to shooting RAW (you can probably guess the outcome already):
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW->JPEG conversion (ACR)
RAW->JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
Pretty obvious difference here at ISO 1600 -- the RAW image, especially the retouched one, is much better in terms of color, sharpness, and detail. If you're shooting at high ISOs, then it may be worth the trouble of post-processing your photos.
Next, is the new sensor on the GH1 better than the one before it in terms of noise? These two crops (straight out of the camera, with levels adjusted so they match) answer the question:
I'd say that the GH1 is a little bit cleaner than the G1, wouldn't you?
Overall, the DMC-GH1 produced photos of very good quality. Exposure was generally good, with just an occasional tendency to underexpose. The camera does clip highlights at times, and you will spot "jaggies" here and there. Colors were pleasing: they're accurate and vivid. In my DMC-G1 review, I thought that the images could be a bit sharper. The same is true here, and I think the new kit lens actually makes things a bit worse. If you agree, you might want to use the film mode feature to increase the in-camera sharpening, or just shoot RAW. While I didn't take many high ISO photos (most of them are on this page), I found the GH1 to be competitive with other D-SLRs in terms of noise, except at the highest sensitivities. The camera's Venus Engine HD image processor does some fancy tricks to digitally remove purple fringing, so that wasn't an issue here.
Don't just take my word for all this. Have a look at our photo gallery, perhaps printing a few photos if you can, and then decide if the DMC-GH1's photo quality meets your needs!
The most notable addition to the Lumix DMC-GH1 is its ability to record Full HD video. While a few other D-SLRs can record HD video, none of them support continuous autofocus while you're recording. On those cameras, you have to attempt to manually focus the lens as your subject moves closer or further from you, or if you zoom in or out. That's not an issue on the GH1, as the specially designed 14 - 140 mm lens does it for you. Focusing is super quiet too, so its unlikely to be picked up by the GH1's stereo microphone. And, as you'd expect, the lens' optical image stabilizer is active while you're taking a movie.
While that makes life a lot easier, recording movies on a digital SLR is still no picnic. Unlike on a compact digital camera or camcorder, you have to manually zoom in and out, which isn't terribly "smooth". In other words, while the GH1's movie mode is currently the best out there (for a D-SLR, at least), shooting video isn't nearly as seamless as it is on an HD camcorder.
So what happens when you're using a lens other than the 14-140? Well, if you're using one of Panasonic's three other models, you will be able to focus continuously at all resolutions except for Full HD. If you are using continuous autofocus, it won't be as fast as it would with the 14-140, and noise from the aperture may be picked up by the microphone. Regular Four Thirds lenses that support contrast detect AF should work too, just not as well.
Enough about compatibility, let's get into the details now. The GH1 records movies at 1920 x 1080 at 24 frames/second (packaged into a 60 fps interlaced file) using the AVCHD codec. One of the nice things about AVCHD is that you can keep recording until your memory card fills up (unless you're in Europe, where silly laws have limited recording time to under 30 minutes). If you've got an 8GB SDHC card in the camera, you can fit an hour of continuous video recording onto it. Panasonic recommends a Class 6 memory card for optimal performance. The main "not nice thing" about AVCHD is the difficulties you'll encounter in viewing and editing the videos on your Mac or PC.
Several lower resolutions are available, as well. You can record at 720p (1280 x 720) at 60 frames/second using AVCHD, and there are three quality settings to choose from. Again, you can record until your memory card fills up (except in Europe), which give you recording times ranging from 60 to 114 minutes on an 8GB SDHC card, depending on the quality setting.
If you don't want to deal with AVCHD (which may not be a bad idea), you can use Motion JPEG instead. File sizes are a lot larger, and there's a 2GB file size limit, but working with the movies is a heck of a lot easier. At the 1280 x 720 (30 fps) setting, you'll hit the 2GB file size limit in a little over 8 minutes. You can also record at 848 x 480, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240, all at 30 frames/second.
|You have full access to all the exposure modes in movie mode||A much-needed wind cut feature is also here|
The GH1 is someone unique in that it lets you use all of the camera's manual controls in movie mode. Want to adjust the aperture or shutter speed? No problem -- just set the mode dial to creative motion picture mode. If you've got a scene mode selected, the camera will use those settings, too. A wind filter is available for outdoor shooting, with three settings to choose from (in addition to "off").
How does the Full HD video look? I took the memory card out of the GH1 and put it into my PS3, and played back some clips on my Samsung HDTV. The results were spectacular. You can see that the camera does struggle with autofocus at times, but the picture looks great.
I've got several options for those of you who want to view a sample movie. Below is a compilation of clips that were taken in Full HD using AVCHD. Both have been run through Final Cut Express, deinterlaced, and saved as H.264 files -- therefore, there may be a drop in quality. And sorry about the jerkiness during the cable car portion -- the camera was on a tripod and panning around wasn't as smooth as I'd hoped! Be warned that these are LARGE files!
View 720p version (1280 x 720, 24 fps, 74 MB, H.264 codec)
View 1080p version (1920 x 1080, 24 fps, 162 MB, H.264 codec)
Can view the movies? Make sure you have the latest version of QuickTime.
Here's a rather unexciting sample movie taken at 1280 x 720 using the M-JPEG codec:
Click to view movie (1280 x 720, 30 fps, 41.5 MB, QuickTime format)
Can view the movies? Make sure you have the latest version of QuickTime.
The DMC-GH1 has a fairly standard playback mode for an SLR-like camera. The basic playback features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (in many sizes), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the image by as much as 16X (in 2X increments), and then move around the enlarged area. There doesn't seem to be a way to move from image to image while retaining the same position and zoom setting, unlike on some other cameras.
Like Panasonic's consumer cameras, the GH1 offers a calendar view of your photos, so you can quickly navigate to photos you took on a specific date.
Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. If you want to change the aspect ratio, you can do that too. There are no -- I repeat, no -- video editing functions on the camera. You can't even trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of your clips. Grrr...
The GH1 has a very robust "text stamp" feature. As the menu above shows, you can print the date and/or time on your photo, plus the age of any children or pets, the date you took the photo, and even a custom title. If you squint really hard at the screenshot on the right, you can see the date and "RocketBoat" printed at the lower-right of the photo. Do note that the camera downsizes the images to "small" if you do this, which shouldn't matter if you're making a small print (the original image is left intact).
|The various playback info screens||If the camera recognizes a face, it'll display the name and age of the subject|
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 person is recognized, their name and age will be displayed, as well.
The Lumix DMC-GH1 moves through photos instantly.
How Does it Compare?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 is a compact, interchangeable lens camera that does double-duty: it takes photos and high definition video. Unlike most "hybrid" devices, the GH1 pulls both off quite well, though it's not without its issues. The GH1 takes good quality photos, offers a second-to-none live view experience, and has a host of automatic and manual controls. On the video side, you can record at resolutions as high as 1920 x 1080, with continuous autofocus, image stabilization, and all the zooming you can eat, courtesy of the new 14 - 140 mm kit lens. The main downside of the movie mode (at least at the highest resolutions) is that the AVCHD codec is a real pain in the you-know-what to work with (good old Motion JPEG is available for 720p and below, thankfully). Another big issue about the GH1 is its price: at $1500, it costs nearly twice that of the original DMC-G1. In other words, you're going to need to be pretty hardcore about video to spend the money on the DMC-GH1. If you choose to do so, I think you'll be pleased with all that the camera has to offer.
Like the DMC-G1 that came before it, the Lumix DMC-GH1 is a compact interchangeable lens camera that uses the Micro Four Thirds standard. While it's small compared to a digital SLR, it's not something you can put into your pocket -- especially with the kit lens attached. Speaking of which, the new F4.0 - F5.8, 14 - 140 mm kit lens is what makes the GH1 stand out from the crowd. It offers a 10X, 28 - 280 mm (equivalent) focal range, optical image stabilization, and the ability to quietly focus continuously while you're recording a movie. Unfortunately, this lens is on the soft side, and its maximum aperture range makes it less than desirable for shooting in low light situations. The GH1 works with other Micro Four Thirds lenses and with legacy Four Thirds lenses as well, both having a 2X focal length conversion ratio. While some of these lenses support continuous AF in movie mode, they won't be as quick or as quiet as the kit lens. The GH1 uses a newly designed 12.1 Megapixel Live MOS sensor, which seems to have less noise than the one on the DMC-G1. Since the sensor is a lot more exposed to the elements than one on a D-SLR, a dust reduction system is a necessity, and the GH1 uses the same Supersonic Wave Filter that has been around for several years now.
The GH1 is generally well put together, though ergonomics are a mixed bag. The camera has a nice sized grip (which is a big reason why the G1/GH1 aren't as small as some would've liked), though it's a bit slippery. Panasonic put a lot of buttons, switches, and dials on the camera, and some are too small, while others are too easy to bump accidentally. I'm not really a fan of the placement of the camera's front control dial, either. The GH1 is a live view only camera, and Panasonic didn't skimp on the LCD or the electronic viewfinder. The LCD can flip to the side and rotate 270 degrees, and it features a superb 460,000 pixel resolution. The large electronic viewfinder has roughly 480,000 pixels, and it's easily one of the best you'll find. Both the LCD and EVF offer very good visibility in bright outdoor light and in dimly lit rooms. The live view experience on the GH1 is truly amazing, with super-fast autofocus, face detection (now with a face recognition feature), and all the bells and whistles a point-and-shoot user is familiar with. If you've been disappointed with live view on a D-SLR, you'll feel quite different here. The GH1 also features a stereo microphone and the requisite hot shoe, which can also take an external microphone, for the serious movie-shooters out there.
As I mentioned, the DMC-GH1 really feels like a point-and-shoot camera, but don't worry, it has more than its share of manual controls. If you want the simplest shooting experience, just throw the camera into Intelligent Auto mode, and the GH1 will do the rest. That includes picking a scene mode, detecting faces, brightening shadows, and boosting the ISO based on subject motion. The face detection system works very well, and you can even "register" a face, so if they crop up again, the camera will give them priority, and store their name and age in the photo's metadata. If you'd rather pick a scene mode yourself, there are several to choose from, including some "advanced" modes that give you a bit more manual control. If you want real manual controls, the GH1 offers them, whether its for shutter speed, aperture, white balance, or focus. The white balance can be adjusted to your heart's content, with two custom settings, color temperature adjustment, fine-tuning, and bracketing. Like its D-SLR counterparts, the GH1 also offers "film modes" which let you have various sets of image parameters.
That brings us (back) to the GH1's movie mode, which is its standout feature. You can attach any lens to the camera and record a movie (which allows for lots of creativity), you'll probably want to use the 14 - 140 mm kit lens for best results. Again, this lens allows for continuous autofocus during filming, which you'll need if you zoom in or out, or if your subject is moving closer or further from you. While all this is nice, I much prefer using a powered zoom, like you'd find on a compact camera or camcorder, as it's difficult to smoothly operate the zoom on the kit lens. Want to adjust the shutter speed or aperture in movie mode? You won't need a firmware upgrade -- the GH1 can do it straight out of the box.
The GH1 records video at 1920 x 1080 (1080p), with a "cinematic" frame rate of 24 fps using the AVCHD codec until your memory card fills up (except in Europe). You can also record at 720p (1280 x 720) at 60 frames/second, with three quality settings to choose from. If you're hooking up the camera directly to an HDTV, creating a Blu-ray disc, or just putting your SD card into your Playstation 3, then the results will be stunning. If you plan on editing movies on your computer, prepare for some headaches -- AVCHD is already not the most editor-friendly codec out there, and the fact that the GH1 wraps its 24 fps movies in an interlaced 60 fps file makes things even more difficult. The good news is that you can use the more traditional Motion JPEG codec, though you'll have to drop the resolution to 1280 x 720 (at 30 fps), and deal with a 2GB file size limit. Naturally, you can also record movies at lower resolutions, as well.
Camera performance is very good. The GH1 is ready to start taking photos almost as soon as your finger has left the power switch. Like its predecessor, the GH1 focuses exceptionally quickly, with speeds rivaling that of traditional D-SLRs with their dedicated focus sensors. Even in situations where the camera struggles to focus a bit, it still completes the job in one second or less. You wouldn't expect any shutter lag on a camera like this, and there isn't any. Shot-to-shot speeds are minimal, regardless of the image quality setting or whether you're using the flash. The camera's continuous shooting performance isn't as impressive as other cameras in the GH1's price range. You can take up to four RAW and an unlimited number of JPEGs at just under 3 frames/second. While the DMC-GH1's battery life is nearly as good as what you'd get using the viewfinder on a traditional D-SLR, by live view standards, it's pretty good (though I'd recommend picking up a spare battery).
The GH1's photo quality was very good. Photos were generally well-exposed, though it did underexpose by a third of a stop on more than a few occasions. Colors were vivid -- no complaints there. The original DMC-G1 was a little soft, and the GH1 seems a bit worse, though I think the kit lens has something to do with that. If you agree, it may be worth turning up the in-camera sharpening a notch or two. While it's not quite as good as the best D-SLRs in terms of noise, the DMC-GH1 is competitive, and a bit better than the G1. You can safely shoot through ISO 400 in low light and ISO 800 in good light -- and shooting RAW will let you go a little higher. Panasonic cameras automatically remove purple fringing, so that wasn't an issue. I did spot some highlight clipping here and there, but it wasn't major. Redeye levels were mild.
If you're looking for a compact, interchangeable lens camera that can record movies in Full HD, then then Panasonic DMC-GH1 is the only game in town (yes, the Canon EOS-5D Mark II can do it too, but it's not in the same class). The GH1 is both a very capable digital still camera, and its video recording abilities are impressive, as well. The AVCHD video format is not for the faint-hearted, and you may need to purchase some pricey software in order to actually edit it, so keep that in mind. At least Panasonic gives the user the option of using M-JPEG, at least for 720p and below. The bottom line here is that the GH1 is a solid pick if you're after a camera/camcorder hybrid -- if you like the camera but don't need the video capabilities, then the much cheaper DMC-G1 is worth a look as well.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality
- Compact body by D-SLR standards (though not so much with the kit lens attached)
- Excellent live view shooting experience
- High resolution, 3-inch rotating LCD display
- Ultra sharp and very large electronic viewfinder
- Fast refresh rate on both screens; very good outdoor/low light visibility
- Super-fast contrast detect autofocus
- Records movies in Full HD with continuous autofocus, image stabilization, and manual controls available
- Stunning quality when connected to an HDTV
- Unlimited recording time (unless you're in Europe)
- 14 - 140 mm kit lens gets closer to the camcorder experience than any D-SLR
- Choice of AVCHD or M-JPEG codecs
- Adjustable wind cut filter available
- Dust reduction system
- Full manual controls, including numerous white balance controls
- RAW image format supported, powerful (but clunky) editing software included
- Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene for you, detects faces, tracks a moving subject, and brightens shadows, all automatically
- Robust face detection feature, now with a "memory" option
- Custom spot on mode dial, customizable function button, make-your-own grid lines
- Optional external microphone
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Images on the soft side, possibly due to the kit lens
- Not quite as clean as the competition at highest ISOs
- Slow kit lens; bulk takes away from the compactness of the GH1
- AVCHD movies are a pain to edit, may require additional software purchases; bundled software can only trim movies
- Design annoyances: poorly-placed front command dial and drive switch; small four-way controller buttons; AF-assist lamp easy to block
- Burst mode could be faster
- No focus distance shown on lens, or on LCD/EVF in manual focus mode
- Limited lens selection at this point (though old Four Thirds lenses work with an optional adapter)
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Lumix DMC-GH1 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out the GH1's image quality in our extra-large photo gallery!