Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Review
Originally Posted: December 21, 2010
Last Updated: September 23, 2012
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 (priced from $899) is a hybrid camera/camcorder that uses the Micro Four Thirds standards. It's the follow-up to the DMC-GH1, and it offers a host of new features, including a higher resolution sensor, faster autofocus and continuous shooting, a touchscreen support for Panasonic's 3D lens, and an improved Full HD movie mode.
I've put together this chart to help you compare the old DMC-GH1 and the new GH1:
What hasn't changed? The GH2 retains the same 3-inch, rotating LCD display (though the GH2 now has touchscreen functionality), full manual controls, Intelligent Auto mode, and customizable buttons/dial of its predecessor. And, of course, it supports the same Micro Four Thirds lenses as the GH1, plus classic Four Thirds lenses via an optional adapter.
Is the DMC-GH2 the interchangeable lens camera of choice for those who want great stills and Full HD movies? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
Where the original DMC-GH1 came in just one kit, the new GH2 will be available in three. You can buy the body only ($899), the body with a 14 - 42 mm lens ($999), or the body with the same 14 - 140 mm lens ($1499) that came with the GH1. Here's what you'll find inside the box:
- The 16.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-GH2 camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm Lumix G lens w/MEGA OIS [DMC-GH2K kit only]
- F4.0-5.8, 14 - 140 mm Lumix G HD lens w/MEGA OIS [DMC-GH2H kit only]
- DMW-BLC12 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Front/rear lens caps [lens bundles only]
- Lens hood [lens bundles only]
- Lens bag [lens bundles only]
- Shoulder strap
- Stylus pen
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring PhotoFunStudio 6.0 BD Edition, SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE, and Super LoiloScope trial
- 207 page camera manual (printed)
The original DMC-GH1 came with a lens specifically designed for it. Now, since Panasonic figures some GH1 owners might be upgrading and don't need to buy the lens a second time, they're offering the camera in a body only configuration, or with a 14 - 42 mm lens. Don't worry, though -- the 14 - 140 mm, designed for movie recording 14 - 140 mm lens is still available in one of the kits. This lens won't win any awards for its maximum aperture range, but it does offer very fast autofocus (which works continuously in movie mode), silent operation, and a useful focal range. It is a bit on the soft side, though. The 14 - 42 mm kit lens is a cheaper version of the 14-45 that came on earlier G-series models. It has a plastic lens mount and does not feature an on/off switch for the image stabilizer. It produces good quality photos, though.
The GH2 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 want to use other lenses, you can select from a growing collection of lenses from Panasonic and Olympus. With the DMW-MA1 adapter, you can also use "classic" Four Thirds lenses, 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 - 140 mm lens has a field of view of 28 - 280 mm.
As with all D-SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras, the DMC-GH2 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 or 16GB 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-GH2 uses a brand new battery, known as the DMW-BLC12. This battery packs a pretty impressive 8.6 Wh of energy into its plastic shell. Do note that the GH2 checks to make sure that you're using a "genuine" Panasonic battery, and it may throw up a warning message (or worse) if you're use a generic. Now let's see how the GH2's battery life compares to the competition:
The group of cameras I selected as competition for the GH2 include three D-SLRs as well as a unique translucent mirror design camera from Sony. All of these cameras can record Full HD video. Unfortunately I do not have live view battery life numbers for the Nikon and Pentax cameras, so it's hard to come up with a group average. I would probably pick up an extra battery for the GH2, though.
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 $45 for another DMW-BLC12. 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. Some cameras let you use AA batteries with their optional battery grips, but since no interchangeable lens camera supports a grip, you're out of luck here.
When it's time to charge the DMW-BLC12, just pop it into the included charger. It takes around 140 minutes for a typical charge. This charger plugs directly into the wall (at least for U.S. models), which is just how I like it.
The GH2 with its optional stereo microphone
Photo courtesy of Panasonic
Alright, now it's time to look at the lengthy list of accessories that are available for the Lumix DMC-GH2!
As you can see, Panasonic has just about every accessory covered. The only thing missing is a wireless remote control. A few other accessories are available, including lens filters, shoulder straps, and even more camera cases.
PhotoFunStudio 6.0 BD Edition
Panasonic includes version 6.0 of their PhotoFunStudio BD Edition software with the Lumix DMC-GH2. 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, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs.
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 be 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 GH2'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-GH2. 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 a pain 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 GH2. 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-GH2 comes with a thick and detailed manual. Like all Panasonic manuals, it's not what I'd call user-friendly, as there are way too many confusing notes on each page. That said, it should answer any question you have about the camera. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your Mac or PC.