Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Review
How Does it Compare?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 is an impressive interchangeable lens camera that does both still photography and video recording very well. This Micro Four Thirds camera features a solid design (despite being plastic), tons of customizable controls, a rotating touchscreen LCD, ridiculously fast autofocus performance, full manual controls (and then some), Full HD video recording (with continuous AF and manual controls), and much more. There is little to complain about, which is always a good thing. There's some highlight clipping in photos at times, as well as mild redeye. Videos taken at the 1080/60i setting have some artifacts. And the camera could use a lot more buffer memory, as its otherwise fast burst mode ends quickly. If you're after a camera for both still and videos, the Lumix DMC-GH2 is definitely worth your consideration.
The Lumix DMC-GH2 looks a lot like its predecessor, not to mention the DMC-G2, a camera with which it shares a lot in common. The GH2 is fairly compact compared to D-SLRs, though smaller interchangeable lens cameras are available. While the body is made of composite materials (in other words, plastic), it feels pretty solid in your hands, though the grip is a bit small and slippery. As with all of Panasonic's Lumix G-series models, the GH2 uses Micro Four Thirds lenses, with support for legacy Four Thirds, Leica, and Olympus OM lenses via optional adapters. The focal length conversion ratio for all of these lenses is 2X. On the back of the camera you'll find a 3-inch LCD display that can flip to the side and rotate a total of 270 degrees. The screen has 460,000 pixels, so everything is nice and sharp, and outdoor visibility is very good. The LCD also features touch functionality, allowing you to tap the screen to focus, take a picture, operate menus, and playback photos. You can also take photos with the large electronic viewfinder on the GH2, which has a magnification of 1.42X (0.71X equivalent) and 1.53 million effective pixels. The EVF is pretty nice, with a minimal rainbow effect and good sharpness, though it seems a bit washed out to me. The GH2 supports a host of optional extras, including a wired remote and external microphone.
The GH2 is definitely feature packed. I sort of hinted at it in the previous paragraph, but I should state outright that you'll compose all your photos using the LCD or EVF, which is the case with all mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. The GH2 works very well as a point-and-shoot camera, thanks to its Intelligent Auto Mode, which does literally everything for you (scene selection, face detection, shadow brightening, blur reduction, and more). The camera also has quite a few scene modes, three of which are "advanced", offering pseudo-manual controls. If it's full manual controls you're after, the GH2's got'em for exposure, white balance, and focus (complete with frame enlargement on the LCD/EVF). You can bracket for exposure, white balance, Film Mode (which are sets of image parameters), and aspect ratio. Speaking of aspect ratios, the GH2 supports four of them, and will maintain the same field-of-view at three of them (I believe 1:1 is the exception). The GH2 is highly customizable, with three buttons, three spots on the mode dial, and a host of custom functions to play with. Some handy features everyone will appreciate include Intelligent Resolution (which sharpens photos up nicely), Intelligent Dynamic (brightens shadows), and extended tele converter (extra zoom without a loss in image quality).
Now let's talk about the GH2's other big feature: it's movie mode. The camera is capable of recording video at 1920 x 1080 at either 60 interlaced fields per second or 24 frames per second, with bit rates as high as 24 Mbps for the latter. If that resolution is too high, a 720p60 mode is also available. Since the camera uses the AVCHD codec, you can keep recording until your memory card fills up, except in Europe, where you're limited to 30 minutes. If you want to record movies that are easier to edit and share, you can also record shorter clips using the Motion JPEG codec. You can zoom in and out to your heart's content, with the camera able to focus continuously while recording. The GH2 records Dolby Digital stereo sound, and supports an external microphone for higher quality audio. You have full control over the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and mic level, and a wind filter is available, as well. There's also a "variable" movie mode option, which allows you to slow the frame rate by 80%, or speed it up by as much as 300%. About the only negative thing I noticed about the movie mode was some artifacting in the 1080/60i videos, probably due to the interlacing.
Camera performance is very good in nearly all respects. The DMC-GH2 is ready to start taking photos as soon as you flip the power switch. Panasonic has claimed that the GH2 can focus a lot quicker than previous models, and they're not kidding -- its AF speeds in live view rival those of $5000 digital SLRs using their viewfinders. Even in low light situations, the camera locks focus quickly and accurately -- just make sure you're not blocking the AF-assist lamp with your fingers. Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot delays are brief without the flash, and just under three seconds with it. The GH2's continuous shooting mode can fire off photos at frame rates as high as 5 fps, but the buffer fills up quickly (usually in 7 shots or so). The camera can take 40 shots in one second, though only at the "small" resolution. Battery life on the GH2 is about average for an interchangeable lens camera, which means that picking up a spare battery isn't a bad idea.
Photo quality on the GH2 is very good. Exposure was generally accurate, though the camera occasionally underexposed or clipped highlights. Colors were pleasing and accurate, even under our studio lamps. Photos taken with the 14 - 140 mm kit lens are on the soft side, and I recommend using the Intelligent Resolution feature or closing down the aperture a bit in order to deal with that (the 14-42 is a bit better). While the GH2 isn't class-leading when it comes to high sensitivity performance, noise won't become a problem until you reach ISO 1600 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light. If you want to use higher sensitivities, I strongly recommend using the RAW format and doing some easy post-processing, which will give you much more detailed photos than you'd get taking JPEGs. While it wasn't too bad, I did see some redeye in the GH2's flash photos -- and there's no tool in playback mode to remove it.
I want to mention a few other things before I wrap up this review. First, while it has a nice focal range and impressive movie recording abilities, the 14 - 140 mm kit lens is pretty slow in terms of maximum aperture. The other two things are on my wishlist for the GH3. It would be nice if Panasonic's flagship ILC supported wireless flash control and a fluorescent white balance preset.
In conclusion, the Lumix DMC-GH2 is a most impressive hybrid camera. Beginners looking for a camera that can take stills or movies with point-and-shoot ease will find that the GH2 can do that without hesitation. If you're an enthusiast who wants control over everything, the GH2 certainly won't disappoint, either. Whoever you are, I think that you'll really enjoy the Lumix DMC-GH2, which is why it earns my recommendation.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
- Compact, generally solid body (despite being plastic); comes in two colors
- Flip-out, rotating 3-inch touchscreen LCD display with high resolution, great outdoor / low light visibility
- Touch features for focusing, taking photos, operating menus, and image playback
- Very large and sharp electronic viewfinder
- Excellent live view implementation: insanely fast autofocus, live histogram, custom grid lines, face detection/recognition
- Full manual controls; RAW format supported, with capable (but clunky) editor included
- Lots of customizable buttons, spots on mode dial, and camera settings
- Camera can bracket for exposure, white balance, aspect ratio, and Film Mode
- Intelligent Auto mode does it all for you, including scene selection, face detection, blur reduction, shadow brightening, and smart sharpening
- Intelligent Resolution does a nice job of improving image sharpness
- Four aspect ratios to choose from, three of which maintain the same field-of-view
- Records movies at 1080/60i, 1080/24p, and 720/60p, with full manual controls, continuous autofocus, manual controls, and stereo sound using AVCHD codec
- Variable mode allows you to slow down frame rate by 80%, or speed it up by 300%
- Extended tele converter boosts zoom power by 2.6X - 4.8X (depending on resolution)
- Motion JPEG codec also available, for easier editing and sharing
- Optional stereo microphone and wired remote control
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Occasional underexposure and highlight clipping
- Redeye somewhat of a problem; no removal tool in playback mode
- Some artifacting at 1080/60i movie resolution
- Buffer fills too quickly in continuous shooting mode
- 14 - 140 mm kit lens produces soft photos and is slow in terms of maximum aperture
- Touch features don't add a lot to the shooting experience
- Wishlist: Wireless flash support and a fluorescent white balance preset
- Manual could be a lot more user-friendly
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Lumix DMC-GH2 and its competitors before you buy!
See how the DMC-GH2's photos look in our gallery!