DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Review

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

Record Mode

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.

Aspect ratio Resolution Quality Approx. File Size # images on 4GB SD card (optional)
4:3 Large
4000 x 3000
RAW+Fine 22.0 MB 182
RAW+Standard 18.5 MB 216
RAW 15.0 MB 267
Fine 7.0 MB 573
Standard 3.5 MB 1137

Medium
2816 x 2112

RAW+Fine 18.9 MB 212
RAW+Standard 17.0 MB 235
Fine 3.9 MB 1030
Standard 2.0 MB 2010
Small
2048 x 1536
RAW+Fine 16.7 MB 240
RAW+Standard 15.9 MB 252
Fine 1.7 MB 2412
Standard 900 KB 4640
3:2 Large
4128 x 2752
RAW+Fine 20.9 MB 191
RAW+Standard 17.5 MB 228
RAW 14.1 MB 284
Fine 6.7 MB 593
Standard 3.4 MB 1170
Medium
2928 x 1952
RAW+Fine 18.0 MB 222
RAW+Standard 16.1 MB 249
Fine 3.9 MB 1030
Standard 2.0 MB 2010
Small
2064 x 1376
RAW+Fine 15.6 MB 256
RAW+Standard 14.9 MB 269
Fine 1.5 MB 2622
Standard 800 KB 5027
16:9 Large
4352 x 2448
RAW+Fine 19.7 MB 203
RAW+Standard 16.5 MB 242
RAW 13.2 MB 304
Fine 6.5 MB 611
Standard 3.3 MB 1205
Medium
3072 x 1728
RAW+Fine 17.0 MB 235
RAW+Standard 15.1 MB 265
Fine 3.8 MB 1048
Standard 2.0 MB 2044
Small
1920 x 1080
RAW+Fine 14.3 MB 280
RAW+Standard 13.7 MB 291
Fine 1.1 MB 3548
Standard 600 KB 6704
1:1 Large
2992 x 2992

RAW+Fine 16.9 MB 236
RAW+Standard 14.3 MB 279
RAW 11.7 MB 342
Fine 5.2 MB 767
Standard 2.7 MB 1507
Medium
2112 x 2112
RAW+Fine 14.0 MB 285
RAW+Standard 12.9 MB 310
Fine 2.3 MB 1722
Standard 1.2 MB 3351
Small
1504 x 1504
RAW+Fine 12.9 MB 310
RAW+Standard 12.3 MB 324
Fine 1.2 MB 3260
Standard 700 KB 6033

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:

Record Menu
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1) - the last option is new to the GH1
  • Picture size (Large, medium, small)
  • Quality (Fine, standard, RAW+Fine, RAW+Standard, RAW)
  • Face recognition (On, off, memory, set) - see below
  • Metering mode (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
  • Stabilizer (Mode 1, 2, 3) - see below
  • Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, fill flash w/redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync w/redeye reduction)
  • Digital redeye removal (on/off) - digitally removes redeye as a photo is taken
  • Flash synchro (1st, 2nd curtain)
  • Flash adjust (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Intelligent Exposure (Off, low, standard, high) - see below
  • Extended optical zoom (on/off) - explained earlier
  • Digital zoom (Off, 2X, 4X) - it's best to keep this off
  • Burst rate (Low, high speed)
  • Auto bracket
    • Step (3 shots/0.3EV, 3 shots/0.6EV, 5 shots/0.3EV, 5 shots/0.6EV, 7 shots/0.3EV, 7 shots/0.6EV)
    • Sequence (0/-/+, -0/+)
  • Self-timer (2 or 10 secs, 3 shots @ 10 sec)
  • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
  • Long shutter noise reduction (on/off)
  • ISO limit set (Off, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - how high Auto and Intelligent ISO will go
  • ISO increments (1/3EV, 1EV) - the first option allows for fine-tuning of ISO sensitivity
  • Audio recording (on/off) - add a 5 second audio clip to photos

Motion Picture Menu

  • REC mode (AVCHD, Motion JPEG) - I'll explain all of these things later
  • Rec quality
    • In AVCHD mode (1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720 / 17 Mbps, 1280 x 720 / 13 Mbps, 1280 x 720 / 9 Mbps)
    • In Motion JPEG mode (1280 x 720, 848 x 480, 640 x 480, 320 x 240)
  • Exposure mode (P, A, S, M) - lets you select the shooting mode when in the creative motion picture mode
  • Wind cut (Off, low, standard, high) - useful for shooting outdoors
Custom Menu
  • Custom setting memory (1 - 3) - you can store up to three sets of custom settings
  • EVF display style (Viewfinder, LCD style) - how the display in the EVF looks
  • LCD display style (Viewfinder, LCD style) - same thing, but for the main LCD
  • LCD info display (Off, brown, red, black) - whether the LCD info display is on, and what color it is
  • EVF/LCD auto (on/off) - whether the EVF turns on when you put your eye to it
  • Histogram (on/off)
  • Guide line (Off, 3x3, cross, custom) - I showed you the custom guide lines earlier
  • AF/AE lock (AE, AF, AF/AE) - what happens when you press this button
  • AF/AE lock hold (on/off) - whether you need to keep your finger on the button
  • Preview hold (on/off) - whether you need to hold the DOF preview button down
  • Pre-AF (Off, Quick AF, continuous AF) - quick AF starts focusing when camera shake is minimal; continuous AF is always focusing; both reduce AF times, at the expense of battery life
  • Direct AF area (on/off) - whether you can move the focus point in single-point mode
  • Focus priority (on/off) - whether a photo can be taken without focus lock
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • AF+MF (on/off) - whether you can manually focus after autofocus is done
  • MF assist (on/off) - center-frame enlargement in manual focus mode
  • Exposure settings (Front dial press, front dial rotating + EVF/LCD button) - what you need to press in order to adjust manual exposure settings
  • Rec area (Picture, motion picture) - whether LCD/EVF display are framed for still or movie shooting
  • Remaining display (Shots, time) - whether the LCD/EVF show the number of photos remaining, or the remaining video recording time
  • Movie recording button (on/off) - you can disable the dedicated movie recording button here
  • Dial guide (on/off)
  • Menu resume (on/off) - whether the camera returns to the last place you were in the menu
  • Pixel refresh - I believe this is to get rid of dead pixels
  • Sensor cleaning - runs the supersonic wave filter process manually
  • Shoot w/o lens - whether you can take a photo without a lens attached

 

Setup Menu
  • Clock set
  • World time (Destination, home)
  • Function button set (Aspect ratio, quality, metering mode, Intelligent Exposure, guide line, rec area, remaining disp) - what pressing "down" on the four-way controller does
  • Economy
    • Power save (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins) - auto power off
    • Auto LCD off (Off, 15, 30 secs)
  • Auto review
    • Review (Off, 1, 3, 5 secs, hold) - post-shot review
    • Zoom (Off, 1, 3, 5 secs) - and whether the frame is enlarged
  • Highlight (on/off) - whether overexposed areas of a photo are highlighted
  • Monitor/viewfinder - adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation for each of these
  • LCD mode (Off, auto power LCD, power LCD) - brighten the LCD, either manually or automatically
  • Scene menu (Auto, off) - whether the scene menu is shown when you switch to SCN mode
  • Beep (Muted, low, high)
  • Volume (0-6)
  • File no. reset
  • Reset - back to defaults
  • USB mode (Select on connection, PC, PictBridge/PTP)
  • TV aspect (16:9, 4:3)
  • HDMI mode (Auto, 1080i, 720p, 480p)
  • Viera Link (on/off) - whether the camera can be controlled from certain Panasonic TVs
  • Version display
  • Language
  • Format memory card

My Menu

Shows the last five menu options you selected

Playback Menu
  • Slideshow
    • Show (All, picture only, movie only, favorites, face recognition)
    • Effect (Natural, swing, urban, off) - transitions
    • Duration (1, 2, 3, 5 secs)
    • Repeat (on/off)
    • Music (on/off)
    • Audio (on/off) - plays audio clips that you've recorded along with a photo, but only if music option is off
  • Playback mode (Normal play, picture play, AVCHD play, Motion JPEG play, face recognition play, favorite play) - a quick way to filter the photos you're viewing
  • Favorite - tag photos
  • Title edit - type in a comment for a photo
  • Text stamp - stamp the date/time, age (of child/pet), travel date, or title onto a photo; photos will be downsized to "small" size
  • Resize
  • Trimming
  • - also known as cropping
  • Aspect ratio conversion (3:2, 4:3, 1:1)
  • Rotate
  • Rotate display - whether portraits are automatically rotated
  • Print set (Single, multiple) - tag a photo for printing to a DPOF-compatible photo printer
  • Protect (Single, multiple)
  • Audio dub - add a 10 second audio clip to a photo you've taken
  • Face recognition delete - removes a name tagged to a photo

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:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

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:

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW->JPEG (ACR)

RAW->JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW->JPEG (ACR)

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:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

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):

ISO 1600

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:

ISO 1600

DMC-G1

DMC-GH1 (JPEG)

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!

Movie Mode

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.

If you want to download some of the raw MTS files (and you know what to do with them), then here are a few: Golden Gate bridge, waves crashing on rocks, cars on Lombard St., and sea lions barking.

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.

Playback Mode

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.

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