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.
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.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
The DMC-GH2 is ready to start taking photos as soon as you flip the power switch. And yes, that's with the dust reduction feature turned on.
As I mentioned earlier, the contrast detect AF on the GH2 is insanely fast, assuming that you're using a Micro Four Thirds lens. With one of those attached, you'll achieve focus lock in 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle, and in around twice that at the telephoto end of things. Low light is no problem either, with focusing times staying under a second in nearly all situations. Just make sure you're not blocking the AF-assist lamp with your fingers!
Don't expect that kind of performance with classic Four Thirds lenses, though. Some will be better than others, but the old F2.0, 50 mm macro and the F3.5-5.6, 14 - 54 mm Four Thirds lenses that I tried were "dog slow".
I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
As for shot-to-shot speeds, you'll be able to keep taking pictures as fast as you can compose the next one, at least until you fill up the buffer memory (which takes some work). Adding the flash into the mix increases the wait time to just under three seconds.
There is no way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode to do that.
Now let's take a look at the lengthy list of image size and quality options available on the DMC-GH2. It's so long because the camera supports four different aspect ratios!
Well that's quite the list, courtesy of the GH2's four different aspect ratios. The nice thing about the GH2 is that it maintains the same field-of-view at all of the aspect ratios (except for 1:1, I believe), so if it's 28 mm at 4:3, it's the same at 16:9 and 3:2. The camera can take RAW images, either alone or with a JPEG at the size of your choosing. I explained the benefits of RAW earlier in the review.
The DMC-GH2 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. I should add that this menu can only be operated with the four-way controller or the command dial, and not the touchscreen. The menu is divided into six tabs, which include still, movie, custom, setup, My Menu, and playback menu options. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the complete list:
Motion Picture Menu - showing the unique items only
Adjusting sharpness in one of the Film Modes
Lots to talk about before we can move on to the photo tests! Let's begin with the Film Mode feature. A Film Mode contains a set of various image parameters, which are contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction in the case of the GH2. The camera comes with quite a few presets, each of which can be tweaked (though I wish the camera displayed the different settings for each of those presets, instead of always being set to zero for each). You can also create two of your own Film Modes. If you're not sure which of the Film Modes you wish to use, you can take advantage of the Multi Film feature, which takes up to three shots, each with a different Film Mode setting.
If you've got a lens with image stabilization attached, you'll find three different "modes" to choose from, plus an "off" option (when the lens itself doesn't have a switch). Mode 1 always has the IS system running, which helps you compose a photo without camera shake. Mode 2 only activates the IS system when a photo is taken, which reduces battery drain and supposedly does a better job of reducing blur. Mode 3 only corrects for up and down motion, which you'll want to use if you're panning the camera from side to side. Turning the IS system off entirely is a good idea if you're using a tripod.
A feature new to the GH2 (but not to Panasonic cameras in general) is called Intelligent Resolution. Simply put, this system applies different amounts of sharpening to the various subjects in your photos. It'll sharpen the edges the most, go a bit easier on textures, and leave smooth gradation areas (like the sky) alone. It's off by default, but there are four levels you can choose from, including a new "extended" (super high) option. Here's an example (and be sure to view the full size images!):
|Intelligent Res Off
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res Low
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res Standard
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res High
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res Extended
View Full Size Image
The trees in the corners show the most obvious changes as you increase the amount of Intelligent Resolution, but various parts of the house get noticeably sharper, as well. Even the skyscrapers in the background are sharper when using this feature. I'd say that it doesn't hurt to just leave this setting at low or standard, especially if you're using the somewhat soft 14 - 140 mm kit lens. Do note that the "extended" IR option will slow the burst rate, and it cannot be used in movie mode, either.
Previous Panasonic cameras had a feature called Intelligent Exposure, which was used to brighten up the dark areas of your photos. On the GH2 that feature is now called Intelligent Dynamic, and it's supposed to help with clipped highlights, as well. In Intelligent Auto mode this feature is always on, while in the manual modes it's off by default. There are three levels to choose from, and the comparison below uses our semi-famous Purple Fringing Tunnel of Doom to show you the effects of the Intelligent Dynamic feature:
|Intelligent Dynamic Off
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Dynamic Low
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Dynamic Std
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Dynamic High
View Full Size Image
You may be wondering, why do the Standard and High settings look the same? They're not the same photo! Rather, I believe that when you select a certain Intelligent Dynamic setting, you're choosing the maximum you'll let the camera use, and in this case, it didn't think more enhancement was necessary. The feature definitely does a nice job of brightening up the shadows of the hallway. As for highlight clipping, there's a slight improvement in the columns on the left side, but nothing huge.
The Extended Tele Converter feature is similar to what was called Extended Optical Zoom on previous Panasonic cameras. When you turn on this feature, you can get 2X worth of extra zoom power with minimal loss in image quality. In other words, the 14 - 140 lens now becomes a 28 - 280 (equivalent to 56 - 560 mm) at the push of a button. The catch is that you need to lower the resolution to Medium or Small. Thankfully, the camera has such a high resolution in the first place, doing so is not a big deal.
The GH2 can use the Extended Tele Converter in movie mode, as well. At the 1080i setting, you get 2.6X worth of extra zoom, while at 720p that number rises to 3.9. Dropping the resolution to VGA or QVGA increases the tele converter's total power to 4.8X.
Okay, that does it for menus -- let's move onto photo tests now. I took all of these with the 14 - 140 mm kit lens which came with my GH2, except for the night shots. Those were taken with the Panasonic F4.0-5.6, 45 - 200 mm IS lens.
The Lumix GH2 did a very nice job with our standard macro test subject. The colors look good, without the color casts that sometimes appear in our studio. The figurine has the smooth look that is typical of cameras in this class, yet plenty of detail is still captured. I don't see any noise or other artifacting here, nor would I expect to.
The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you're using. For the 14 - 140 mm kit lens, the minimum distance is 50 cm, while the 14 - 42 mm lens gets a bit closer, at 30 cm. Serious macro fans may be interested in the new F2.8, 45 mm Leica macro lens, which has selectable focus distances of 15 and 50 cm.
I switched over to my own Panasonic 45 - 200 mm IS lens for the night shot. The GH2 did a good job here as well, though I see a few areas that could be improved upon. The camera took in a good amount of light, as you'd expect, since you have full control over the shutter speed. If you don't know anything about manual controls, you can put the GH2 into Intelligent Auto mode and get similar results. The photo is sharp across most of the frame, save for the left side, where things soften up a bit. If you're looking for noise, keep looking: you won't find any here. You will find some purple fringing and (mild) highlight clipping in places, though.
Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the GH2 performed at higher sensitivities in low light situations!
The first three photos (taken at ISO 100, 200, and 400) are all very clean. You start to see some detail loss at ISO 800, but it's fairly minor. The ISO 1600 photo has more noticeable detail loss, though it's still usable or small and midsize prints (and larger if you shoot RAW -- but more on that in a moment). The ISO 3200 photo is pretty soft, so I'd avoid this setting unless you're using RAW. The ISO 6400 and especially ISO 12800 images are too soft to be usable, at least as JPEGs.
Alright, I mentioned RAW several times in the preceding paragraph, so let's see if we can't take advantage of the format to get better-looking ISO 3200 and 6400 night shots!
You definitely can see an improvement in the fine details of the ISO 3200 and 6400 photos after they've been processed with Photoshop. Notice that the vertical lines on the building on the far right that were smudged in the JPEG have returned in the RAW conversions. The ISO 6400 still isn't wondrous, but it's certainly more usable than the JPEG was.
We'll see how the DMC-GH2 fared in good lighting in a bit.
There are two ways in which the Lumix DMC-GH2 can reduce redeye in your photos. First, it can fire the flash before the photo is actually taken, which shrinks your subjects pupils and, in theory, reduces the likelihood of this phenomenon. You can also turn on a digital redeye removal system, which detects and removes any redeye after a photo is taken. There is some redeye to be found in our flash test photo, though it's not too horrible. Unfortunately, if redeye does make it into your photos, you'll have to wait until the photos are on your computer to remove it, as there's no such tool in playback mode.
F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm kit lens
F4.0-5.8, 14 - 140 mm kit lens
Both the 14-42 and 14-140 mm kit lenses show fairly low levels of barrel distortion. The reason for the low distortion is because Panasonic is automatically correcting for it when you take a photo. I didn't find vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem with either of the lenses. On the other hand, the 14-140 does exhibit some minor corner blurring at the wide-angle end of its focal range (the 14-42 is better).
Now let's take a look at our studio test scene. Since the lighting is the same every time, you can compare these samples with those from other cameras I've reviewed. Since the GH2 has a very high resolution sensor, the crops below only cover a small portion of the total scene, so be sure to view the full size images, too. And with that, let's begin:
The first three crops (ISO 160 - 400) are as smooth as butter. You start to see a tiny bit of grain-style noise at ISO 800, but it's way too little to concern me. Noise becomes more visible at ISO 1600 but, again, it's still very usable. You first see noise reduction start to eat details at ISO 3200, which means that you'll want to save this setting for small prints, or shoot RAW instead. There's quite a bit of noise at ISO 6400, and a lot more one stop higher.
Can the ISO 6400 and 12800 photos be saved? Here's what I was able to come up with after about a minute or two of post-processing in Photoshop:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
There's a nice improvement for both the ISO 6400 and 12800 photos, with much more detail and more saturated color. At the highest ISO settings, it's definitely worth shooting RAW on the DMC-GH2.
Mother nature wasn't very cooperative when it was time to take the sample photos for the DMC-GH2. Even with the clouds and rain, I was still pretty happy with what the camera produced. Photos were generally well-exposed, with just a slight tendency to underexpose. Like other Four Thirds cameras, the GH2 will clip highlights on occasion, as well. Colors were very pleasing -- no complaints there. I took most of my sample photos with the 14 - 140 mm kit lens, and they're quite soft. You can get better results from the 14-140 by using an aperture of about F8. When it comes to noise, the DMC-GH2 keeps it at bay until you pass ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light. The GH2 isn't the most noise-free camera out there, but it still holds its own quite well -- especially if you shoot RAW and post-process. Purple fringing will depend on your choice of lens, and it was minimal in nearly all of my real world photos.
Now, I invite you now to take a look at our DMC-GH2 photo gallery. View the full size images, print a few if you can, and then decide if the GH2's photo quality meets your expectations!
The biggest feature on the Lumix DMC-GH2 is its Full HD movie mode. While the GH1 could also record at 1920 x 1080, the sensor output was 24p. On the GH2, Panasonic has more than doubled the sensor output to 60p, allowing it to record videos at 1920 x 1080 at 60 interlaced frames/second. This leads to much smoother videos than before, which is great for fast action. The AVCHD format allows you to keep recording until your memory card fills up, except in Europe, where recording will stop just before the timer hits 30 minutes. You have two bit rates to choose from at the 1080/60i setting: 17 or 13 Mbps. Sound is recorded in Dolby Digital Stereo, and you can add an external microphone for higher quality audio, too. An 8GB SDHC card holds an hour's worth of Full HD video (and be sure to use a high speed model!).
But wait, there's more. In addition to the 1080/60i mode, the GH2 can also record cinema-like video at 1080/24p, with a whopping 24 MBps bit rate (a 17 Mbps mode is available, too). The camera can also record AVCHD video at 1280 x 720 (60p), for those aren't making feature films. If you don't want to deal with AVCHD, you can also use the Motion JPEG codec, which offers four resolutions: 1280 x 720, 848 x 480, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240 (all at 30 fps). Do note that recording stops after the file size reaches 2GB when using the M-JPEG codec, which does not take long.
Variable movie mode
An additional movie mode is called "Variable", which lets you record at a slower frame rate (80% of normal) or speed things up by as much as 300%. The camera records at the 1080/24p setting for this mode. You will have to enter Creative Motion Picture mode to use this and several of the other features described in this section, by the way.
|You have full manual exposure controls at your disposal in movie mode||The mic level viewing and adjustment screen|
The DMC-GH2 can focus continuously while you're recording (assuming that you're using a Micro Four Thirds lens), so you can zoom in and out, or follow moving subjects without issue. The touchscreen LCD can be used in movie mode, allow you to touch the area of the frame that you wish to focus on. Perhaps the best part of all this is that the GH2 offers full manual controls in movie mode. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. and of course white balance. You can also adjust the mic level, and activate a wind cut filter for filming outdoors. And don't forget about that Extra Tele Converter feature I mentioned in the previous section, which gives you up to 4.8X of lossless digital zoom.
The last thing to mention is that the GH2 can take still photos while you're recording a video. You can't do this in Creative Motion Picture mode (since the shutter release button is used for movie recording), but in the other modes (where you use the dedicated movie recording button) you can take up to eight 14 Megapixel JPEGs with only a brief interruption in the video clip. If you don't want to interrupt the video, make sure that the Picture Mode option in the movie settings menu is set to "motion picture priority", and the camera will save a 2 Megapixel JPEG instead.
I have a trio of sample movies for you, in addition to the variable mode mini-clip above. The first one was taken at 1080/60i (and shows some interlacing artifacts), while the second was recorded at 1080/24p (it's a big dark, but it does include pigeons). The third movie was recorded at the 720p60 setting, and shows how starved for material I was! All three videos were converted to QuickTime/H.264 files using Final Cut Pro. I've provided the original MTS files so you can view and convert them on your own, if you'd like.
The DMC-GH2 has a pretty standard playback mode, with the touchscreen features really setting it apart from the competition. Basic playback features include slideshows (complete with transitions and music), image protection, favorite tagging, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (in various sizes), and playback zoom. When you're zoomed in with that last feature, you can press the command dial inward and then use the four-way controller to move from photo to photo, keeping the zoom and location intact.
The touchscreen is perhaps the most useful in playback mode, at least in my opinion. To move between photos, just swipe with your finger. If you want to use the playback zoom feature, just tap once on the photo, and it's enlarged by 2X (you can zoom in further by tapping the screen again). Once you're zoomed in, you just drag your finger around to pan around the image.
|Calendar view of photos||You can select what you're viewing in playback mode using this screen|
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. You can also filter photos by file type (still, AVCHD, M-JPEG, 3D), category (which is assigned according to the scene mode used), and whether an image has been tagged as a favorite.
Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can print the date, time, location, travel date, custom text, and even the age of your kids or pets onto your photos, which is far beyond what most cameras can do (though note that the images will be downsized). There's also a feature which allows you to change the aspect ratio of a photo. Sadly, there's no redeye removal tool, which is always handy to have around.
There are two video editing features on the DMC-GH2. The first is called video divide, which lets you select a spot in a video, press a button, and the movie will be cut into two at that spot. You can also grab a frame from the video and save it as a still image.
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 registered face, baby, or pet are in the photo, information about them will be shown, as well.
The DMC-GH2 moves through photos instantly.
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!