Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Review
Look and Feel
The DMC-GH2 is more-or-less identical to its predecessor. Some of the changes on the GH2 include a rubberized grip, a new AF mode dial (the manual/continuous/single AF dial is now a switch), and some fixed buttons are now customizable. The body is still made of high grade plastic (presumably with some metal underpinnings), and the rubberized grip makes it easier to hold than the matte finish on the GH1 (though it's still a bit slippery). While the GH2 is loaded with buttons, switches, and dials, it's not as complex as it may appear at first glance. Most everything performs just one function, and everything is well-labelled. About the only thing I would've liked to have seen on the GH2 is a second control dial, instead of just the one on the back.
|The GH2 is available in black and silver
Images courtesy of Panasonic
One other different between the GH1 and GH2 is that the latter is available in multiple colors. You can pick up the GH2 in black or silver. All kits will be available in black -- I'm not sure about silver.
Now let's see how the GH2 sizes up to the competition in terms of size and weight:
Not surprisingly, the GH2 is the smallest and lightest camera in the group. The fact that it it's a mirrorless camera has a lot to do with that! It's not quite as small as, say, Panasonic's DMC-GF2, but it travels quite well in a small camera bag. Oh, and in case you're wondering why the GH2's dimensions are larger here than in the table at the start of the review: these dimensions are based on the new CIPA standard, while those in the first table used the old standard in order to be comparable to the GH1.
Alright, enough numbers, let's start our tour of the Lumix DMC-GH2 now!
Here's the front of the Lumix DMC-GH2, without a lens attached. As I mentioned earlier, this is a Micro Four Thirds lens mount that also offers backward compatibility with classic Four Thirds lenses via an optional adapter, though not all will support continuous autofocus. I also already told you about the 2X focal length conversion ratio. Here's something that I haven't written yet: the GH2, like all the Panasonic G-series models, does not have built-in image stabilization, instead relying on the lens to provide that feature (both of the kit lenses for the GH2 have IS). To release an attached lens, simply press that silver button located to the right of the mount.
Since Micro Four Thirds cameras don't have mirrors, the sensor is totally exposed when you a remove a lens. Thus, you'll need a capable dust reduction system to keep that Live MOS sensor clean. The DMC-GH2 uses the same Supersonic Wave Filter that was originally developed by Olympus many years ago to prevent dust buildup. When you turn the camera on, ultrasonic waves are sent through the low-pass filter at 50,000 Hz, which literally shakes dust away. I've owned a DMC-GF1 for a while now, and throughout all its travels, I don't recall having a dust problem, so the system seems to work pretty well.
Directly above the lens mount is the camera's built-in flash, which is released manually. This flash, which is released manually, has a guide number of 13.9 meters at ISO 160 (the base ISO on the GH2), which I believe is equivalent to (I believe) GN 10.8 at ISO 100, which is more-or-less the same as on the GH1. If you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.
The only other thing to see on the front of the GH2 is its AF-assist lamp, located at the top-right of the above photo. This lamp is mainly used as a focusing aid in low light, and it's easy to block with your fingers, so be careful! This lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
With the exception of the two Lumix GF models, all of Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras have rotating LCD displays. The 3-inch screen on the GH2 can rotate 270 degrees, from facing your subject all the way around to facing the floor. Rotating LCDs give you a lot of extra flexibility, whether it's shooting over the heads of people in front of you, taking ground-level shots of kids or pets, or just taking photos on a tripod. The screen can also be put in the more traditional position (shown below), or closed entirely.
And here is the LCD in the position that most people are probably accustomed to. The resolution of the LCD is unchanged since the DMC-GH1, and that's fine with me. The screen has 460,000 pixels, so everything is very sharp. Color reproduction has been improved on the new LCD, by 25%, according to Panasonic. The LCD has excellent outdoor visibility, and the one here in no exception. The camera automatically adjusts the screen brightness based on current lighting conditions using the Intelligent LCD feature.
|The "view" in live view||Zoomed in while manually focusing|
All mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras use live view exclusively, and the DMC-GH2 has a very nice implementation of this feature. The view on the LCD is sharp and fluid, with 100% coverage (as you'd expect). Both outdoor and low light visibility is very good, though the refresh rate drops a bit when the scene is really dark. You can preview exposure, white balance, and depth-of-field in live view, and you also have the ability to "zoom in" on your subject for precise manual focusing. While you're zoomed in, you can use the four-way controller (or your fingers) to move around the frame. While there's a guide showing the relative focus distance displayed on the LCD (see screenshot), it would be a lot more helpful if it had some actual numbers instead.
The autofocus system has been dramatically improved on the GH2, and it's easily the fastest contrast detect AF that you'll find anywhere. In fact, Panasonic engineers claims that the GH2 focuses as fast in live view as a professional digital SLR does with its optical viewfinder. If you've used contrast detect AF on other digital SLRs, you will be blown away by the GH2's performance.
Some of the things you can do with the touch interface on the DMC-GH2
Animations courtesy of Panasonic
The Lumix GH2's LCD is now touch-capable, just like the one on the DMC-G2. Long-time readers of this site may know that I'm not a fan of touchscreens on cameras, as I find that they add very little to the shooting experience (and sometimes detract from it). They're also difficult to operate if you have large fingers, though Panasonic does include a stylus with the camera. The good news is that you can operate all of the GH2's functions using the traditional button method. And with that out of the way, let me tell you what the touchscreen allows you to do on the DMC-GH2:
- Touch Quick Menu: adjust virtually all major camera functions with your finger or stylus
- Touch AF: Just as it sounds, you simply touch the area of the screen on which you wish to focus. This works for movies, too.
- Touch Shutter: Similar to the above, but this time the camera actually takes a picture of the subject you just touched
- Touch Manual Control: You can slide your finger over an on-screen exposure meter to adjust the aperture and shutter speed
- Movable MF Assist: Zoom into a photo with a touch, and the drag your finger to move around the frame
- Movable Grid lines: Create custom grid lines by dragging them into position with your finger
- Touch Playback: Swipe your finger to move from photo-to-photo; double-tap to zoom into a photo and then drag to move around
The two flash movies above should give you a pretty good sense about what you can do with the GH2's touch interface.
You can see this screen when you're using the EVF
If you're using the electronic viewfinder to compose your photos, then you can turn the LCD into a camera settings display (in your choice of colors). The items on this screen can be adjusted via the four-way controller or the touchscreen.
Getting back to the tour now -- let's talk about the newly enhanced electronic viewfinder (EVF) on the GH2. The screen is slightly larger than the one on the GH1, with a magnification of 1.42X, and it has the ability to show all four of the camera's aspect ratios with 100% coverage (just like the main LCD). The EVF shows the same things as the main LCD, including menus. The resolution of the screen has also gone up, from 1.44 million to 1.53 million pixels (though the actual resolution is a third of that, or about 511k pixels). The EVF is very sharp (though nowhere near as clear as a regular viewfinder), and things seems a bit washed out to me. In addition, due to the field sequential color system used by the EVF, you may see a slight "rainbow effect" when you rapidly pan the camera or blink your eyes. Speaking of eyes, there's a sensor that detects when you place your eye to the viewfinder, which activates the EVF. You can adjust how sensitive the eye sensor is, which is a nice touch. You can adjust the focus of the EVF by using the diopter correction knob located on its left side.
Now it's time for talking about buttons and dials. To the left of the EVF is a button for manually switching between it and the main LCD. On the opposite side you'll find the playback and AE/AF lock buttons, followed by the GH2's sole command dial. This dial can be pressed inward as well as rotated, which allows you to switch between various settings that you're adjusting.
The Quick Menu (non-touchscreen version)
Below the dial are buttons for activating the Quick Menu (the non-touchscreen version) and toggling the information shown on the LCD and EVF. I suppose now's a good a time as any to tell you about the items in the Quick Menu. They include:
- Flash setting
- Film mode
- Image stabilizer
- Movie quality
- Still aspect ratio/picture size
- Still quality
- Intelligent Dynamic Range
- Intelligent Resolution
- Metering mode
- Exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- ISO sensitivity
- White balance
- Remaining display (Shots, recording time)
I'll talk about most of those options later in the review. Continuing the tour, the next item of note is the camera's four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, image playback, and also:
- Up - ISO (Auto, Intelligent ISO, 160 - 12800)
- Down - Function 3 - a customizable button which selects the AF area by default. I'll tell you what else it can do later.
- Left - Function 2 - another customizable button, which adjusts the Film Mode setting by default
- Right - White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, flash, preset 1-4, color temperature)
- Center - Menu / Set
Look at that -- two customizable buttons on the four-way controller! That's a change from the DMC-GH1, for those unfamiliar with that camera.
The GH2 allows you to adjust the ISO from 160 all the way to 12800, in 1/3EV steps. There are also two auto modes -- one which boosts the ISO based on lighting conditions, and another "Intelligent" mode which analyzes subject mode before increasing the sensitivity. By default these two auto modes top out at ISO 400 and 800 respectively, though you can increase this limit in the menu if you desire.
|Fine-tuning and bracketing for white balance at the same time||Adjusting the color temperature|
The white balance options include an auto mode plus the usual presets, four custom slots (for use with a white or gray card), and the ability to set the color temperature. Each of those can be fine-tuned as well, in the green/magenta and amber/blue directions, and you can also bracket for white balance. (You can use the touchscreen for all of this, by the way.) For some reason the GH2, like most Panasonic cameras, lacks a fluorescent white balance preset.
The last button on the back of the Lumix DMC-GH2 is for getting a depth-of-field preview, or a simulation of the current shutter speed. In playback mode, this same button is used to delete photos.
The first item of note on the top of the DMC-GH2 is the focus dial / switch combo, located at the far left of the above photo. This is one of the parts of the DMC-GH2 that's changed a bit since the GH1. The options on the focus mode switch are self-explanatory: you've got your manual focus (complete with frame enlargement, as I described earlier), single AF, and continuous AF.
The GH2 locked onto five of the six faces here
The AF modes on the dial include face detection, AF tracking, 23-point, and spot. Let's go through each of those one-by-one. The face detection feature will find up to fifteen faces in the scene, making sure they are properly focused. If you're using the touchscreen, just tap the detected face to which you want to give priority. Speaking of which, the GH2 has the ability to learn who people are, either automatically or manually. You can submit photos of the person in question from various angles, enter their name, and set their "rank". When the camera sees one of these faces in the scene, it will give the face with the highest rank focus priority. The GH2's face detection system works very well, easily locating five or six of the six faces in our test scene.
|The nine possible positions for the 23-point AF mode||Not only can you manually position the spot focus point, you can also choose from four different sizes|
The AF tracking feature allows you to lock focus on a subject, and then let the camera follow them around the scene. You can do this via the touchscreen or using buttons. The 23-point AF option is your standard multi-point auto mode. You can also select areas of five or six focus points yourself (see above). Finally, there's the spot AF option, which you can position anywhere on the screen. You can also select from four focus point sizes in this mode.
Leaving AF modes for now and moving to the center of the photo, you'll find the DMC-GH2's hot shoe. This hot shoe works best with the Panasonic flashes I mentioned back in the accessories section, as they'll sync with the camera's metering system. If you're not using a Panasonic flash, then you'll probably have to manually set the exposure on both the camera and flash. The GH2 can sync as fast as 1/160 sec with an external flash. The GH2 does not support wireless flash control, unfortunately.
Just above the hot shoe is the camera's stereo microphone. Be sure to lower the flash before taking movies, so the microphone isn't facing backwards!
Next up is the mode dial, which has both the power and drive mode switches beneath it. Let's start with the items on the dial:
If you want to let the camera do all the work, just set the mode dial to the iA (Intelligent Auto) position. The camera will select a scene mode, detect any faces that are present (and remove redeye if there is any), intelligently sharpen edges, improve contrast, reduce blur, and more. It really is the best auto mode out there.
An "advanced" scene mode
If you want to select a scene mode yourself, there are three "advanced" and eight regular scene modes. Advanced scene modes give you more choices than what you might be used to. For example, the advanced landscape mode has a "standard" option, plus one for nature, another for architecture, and fourth choice that lets you freeze or blur water flow (what you're really doing is adjusting the shutter speed, of course). Some of the notable scene modes include peripheral defocus (easy background blurring) and baby mode, which allows you to enter the name and age of your child, and that info is saved in the metadata of a photo in which they appear (the pet mode is similar).
Color is one of the things you can adjust in the My Color custom mode
The My Color mode has something resembling Olympus' art filters, plus an easy way to adjust color, brightness, and saturation. The art filters include expressive (pop art), retro, pure (bright and slightly blue), elegant (dark and amberish), monochrome, dynamic art, and silhouette. The custom options is where you can adjust color/brightness/saturation, using sliders on the LCD.
And how could I forget manual controls? The GH2 has a full set of exposure controls, plus a bulb mode for exposures as long as 2 minutes (yeah, kind of short). I'll tell you about the manual controls in movie mode (which you access via the creative motion picture option on the mode dial) later in the review.
Now let's talk about the drive options that are located on the switch under the mode dial. They include single-shot, continuous shooting, exposure bracketing, and self-timer.
There are four continuous shooting speeds to choose from on the GH2, ranging from "low" to "super high speed". First, a quick note about the super high speed mode: the resolution is set to small, and RAW is not available. And with that, let's see what kind of performance you can get out of the GH2 in burst mode:
While the GH2 has decent burst rates, its buffer fills up very quickly, so you're limited to how many photos you can take before you have to pause and wait for the camera to catch up. If you're taking any bursts with RAW images in them, expect to wait for a little over 10 seconds for the camera to clear out the buffer memory. In the low and medium speed modes, the live view keeps up with the action very well. There's a more significant lag in the high speed modes.
The other drive options include exposure bracketing, which can take three, five, or seven shots in a row, each with a different exposure. The interval between each exposure can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, or ±1EV. The GH2 has three other bracketing options (for white balance, Film Mode, and aspect ratio), as well. The self-timer options on the GH2 include 2 or 10 second delays, plus a third option that takes three photos after a 10 second delay.
You can customize the three Function buttons in the custom setting menu
To the right of the mode dial is the button you've probably been wondering about: Function 1. This is the third customizable button on the camera, and it turns Intelligent Auto mode on and off by default. Above that is the dedicated movie recording button. The last thing to see on the top of the camera is the shutter release button, which needs no explanation.
The first thing I want to point out here is the on/off switch for Panasonic's "MEGA OIS" image stabilization system on the 14 - 140 mm kit lens. The 14 - 42 mm kit lens does not have such a switch, instead requiring you to take a trip to the Quick Menu to shut it off, which you might do when you're using a tripod.
To the right of all that, under plastic covers, are the GH2's I/O ports. They include:
- External mic + remote control input
- USB + A/V output
While these ports are unchanged, I should point out that the camera can output the live view over HDMI -- something the GH1 could not do.
On the opposite side of the camera is the SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of decent quality. There's also a little plastic door through which you'll pass the power cable of the optional AC adapter.
The 14 - 140 mm kit lens is at full telephoto in this photo.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the Lumix DMC-GH2. Here you can see a metal tripod mount, as well as the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is a bit flimsy, though it does include a locking mechanism.
The new DMW-BLC12 lithium-ion battery can be seen on the right.