Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

The Lumix DMC-GH1 proves that there's fight and fury in the Micro Four Thirds format, with brilliant HD video quality and great still images.


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Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


Being the first mover with any new technology is a risky game — you risk buying into a system that's possibly not going to stand the test of time (cue Betamax tape) or you risk buying a product that will quickly be superseded with a successor that has all the bits that were missing from the first iteration. That's the case with the GH1, Panasonic's second Micro Four Thirds camera, behind the G1.

We've come to test this camera quite late in the process — it was announced in March 2009 — and has since been followed up with a smaller version of sorts, the GF1. The GH1 shares a lot of features with both cameras but adds a touch of professional movie maker to the mix.

Design and features

There are no prizes for spot the difference between Panasonic's G1 and GH1. Sharing exactly the same body, both cameras fit snugly in the palm of one's hand whilst still providing enough bulk to provide a comparable digital SLR shooting experience. In fact the only real additions to the GH1, at least on the outside, is the inclusion of the one-touch record button on the thumb rest, the corresponding movie mode option on the top dial, and the stereo microphone that sits above the hotshoe.

The new addition of the movie mode option on the top dial. Taken with the G1, how's that for post-modern. (Credit: CBSi)

The GH1 is covered in the same nice plastic as the G1 and is rather solid to hold, with reassuringly good build quality. It's shaped like a miniature digital SLR with the same faux-prism hump over the lens, a pop-up flash, hotshoe and the same sort of mode dial that's found on any consumer SLR. At the back is the flip out, rotating 3-inch LCD screen (again the same as the G1) which we enjoyed using. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is also unchanged, with the same 1.4-million-dot resolution. Shooting options include Panasonic's intelligent auto, the standard PASM and scene modes, and the aforementioned movie mode. The menu system hasn't changed either, with the same intuitive interface that was originally so pleasing to use on the older camera.

Provided with the GH1 is the brand new 14-140mm HD lens which has been designed for use with the GH1, with quiet autofocusing. It's a much heavier combination than the G1 and its kit 14-45mm lens. With the help of additional adapters, existing four thirds lenses can be mounted on the camera body. There are also third-party adapters that let you mount non-four thirds lenses on the GH1.

Inside the camera things begin to change more: the main differences being the sensor (a 14-megapixel Live MOS sensor that resolves images of all aspect ratios to the same 12-megapixel resolution) and as mentioned, HD recording at full 1080p at 24 frames per second or at 720p at 60 frames per second, both in AVCHD. The GH1 can also autofocus whilst filming. Aspect ratios include the standard 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and the square 1:1 format.

On the side, AV and HDMI out are provided, and like the G1 it uses SD/SDHC cards. Power needs are taken care of with a Lithium-ion battery that's rated at 330 shots. Using the video functionality eats away at the battery fairly quickly so keep that charger close by, or use the included cable that plugs into the battery socket and connects to mains power.

Performance

The GH1 is slower overall than the G1 and similar digital SLRs, but still faster than most compact cameras. It starts up and takes its first shot in 1.9 seconds, a lot slower than the G1 which manages to do it in 0.8 second. Individual RAW images take approximately two seconds to process, but the camera is still responsive and functional in this time. Shutter lag measures just over 0.1 second with pre-focusing — the rest of the performance results are below.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot Raw shot-to-shot time Typical shot-to-shot time Shutter lag (dim) Shutter lag (typical)
Nikon D5000
0.2
0.5
0.5
0.7
0.3
Canon EOS 50D
0.2
0.3
0.3
0.9
0.4
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1
0.8
0.9
0.9
0.6
0.4
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
1.9
0.9
0.9
0.6
0.4
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
1.9
1.9
1.9
1.1
0.6

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Image quality

Exposures are generally brighter than the G1 from our side-by-side tests, with the GH1 choosing wider apertures. However, the overall image quality (in terms of image saturation, colour rendition and sharpness) is much better on the G1 when comparing them both side by side. Take a look at the image of the tree below — the G1's image is the top and the GH1 is the bottom. Colours are much more accurate on the G1's shot and even though the sun is mostly blown out there's no flaring or fringing.

The G1 (top) and GH1 (bottom). (Credit: CBSi)

As for the lens, we were incredibly impressed by the level of detail it was able to resolve. With this tricky foliage shot, observe how the light is captured and the sharpness that's around the leaf itself.

(Credit: CBSi)

At its full extension (140mm) some details weren't as sharp as at the wider end, like this shot which was taken at 1/400 at f/5.8, ISO 100. The shutter speed was fast enough to eliminate most of the potential hand shake, and the image stabilisation on the lens was also activated.

Click image for a larger version, straight from the camera. (Credit: CBSi)

Thanks to the new sensor, the noise profile of the GH1 has also changed, making it slightly more susceptible to noise than the older camera. However, even at high sensitivities like ISO 1600 and 3200, the GH1 coped very well with only limited coloured noise across the image.

Click image for a larger version. (Credit: CBSi)

Dynamic range is also excellent in a wide variety of situations compared to similar digital SLRs, particularly in areas of high contrast where the GH1 didn't clip too many highlights despite some tricky lighting. White balance is a little off though, making some interesting colour casts when left on auto white balance — just look at the whites in the ISO chart above.

Video quality

From the very beginning, video capability on digital SLRs has never been a gimmick — Nikon's initial implementation on the D90 was a little rough around the edges but still very good, Canon's EOS 5D Mark II took that a step further with full HD and (eventually) manual control, and the GH1 is just as exciting for film-makers and keen photographers alike. Video quality is incredibly good, particularly with the supplied 14-140mm lens that can resolve so much detail and has a smooth autofocus motion. Even though you probably won't want to zoom in and out during filming, it's still possible and a lot easier than having to refocus manually like on other cameras. Manual control is provided in movie mode via the mode dial (rather than the dedicated record button on the back of the camera).

Audio quality from the in-built speaker was very impressive too, with good, clear sound appearing on the recording, picking up nuances in the background without magnifying it too much. There's a fair amount of wind noise in blustery situations, which perhaps could be offset by the optional external microphone that mounts on top of the hotshoe. It's a more directional unit but we can't comment on its sound quality compared to the in-built microphone as we didn't receive a unit to test.

In low light situations the GH1 coped very well without too much noise over the image surface. In areas of fast movement, like when filming moving cars or running people, the GH1's video did suffer from slight artefacts and "jaggedness". Rolling shutter, a phenomenon that affects many digital SLRs, wasn't pronounced on the video.

Conclusion

If you want to shoot video on your digital camera and also want to be able to take some great quality images, the GH1 is a superb Micro Four Thirds camera. The GF1 has followed so quickly on its heels, and in a more compact form factor, so if you're looking for an entry point into the Micro Four Thirds world, don't buy the GH1. That said, if you're interested in dabbling in some professional video footage and also want some great still images to boot, the GH1 is a great investment. Just watch out for that incredibly expensive swing tag.

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danijell
8
Rating
 

danijell posted a review   

The Good:IQ (both stills and movie), multipurposeness

The Bad:worst NR control implementation ever

I went from D90 to GH1 and I'm very happy for that. I like IQ (RAW), but there is no excuse for NR implementation, meaning:

1. there is no system-wide control panel for NR; you have to adjust it for every "film" mode separately
2. If you want "clean" RAW file (i.e. those that are not infected by NR) you HAVE TO use NR+2 setting, which means that you have most NR-ed JPEG, and least NR-ed RAW at the same time?!

All-in-all, if you are JPEG shooter, you have to put an effort in WB and other settings, and if you shoot RAW, you have to use NR+2 to get clean RAW files. And thare is no word about it enywhere in manual...

 

Jack$on posted a comment   

This looks promising , with a skilled operator very good HD images should be gathered. More video-centric features than a 5D a third the cost. This is a sweet toy
Plus 720 P manual control video
Minus busted arse 3/4 form factor , gotta get yerselves some adaptors :P

 

RoundAndSquare posted a comment   

The Good:Size, Choice of Body Colors, video, good kit lens

The Bad:kit lens too big, hi-res HD jerky sometimes

I got a Lumix GH1 at a beginning of June and I was quite pleased with it. I looked at several cameras, like Canon G10 and Canon CX1 etc, but I went for Panasonic's GH1 because its small size and large sensor. Any manufacturer can do all sorts of tricks with firmware, optics, electronics etc. but simply there is no replacement for a shear size of the sensor, when it comes to the quality of the image. And sensor on the Panasonic's Lumix GH1 is 4 times, yes four times, bigger than G10's sensor.

Here we are. I've been to Dusseldorf, Germany, recently and I took some photos with Lumix GH1. I would say that colors and sharpness are quite good.

gonno
8
Rating
 

gonno posted a review   

i think its getting ridiculous the way companies bring out new models so soon after the previous model.they often add something new to it or just change the way it looks.its that age old question again; when to buy? i seriously dont know the answer to that anymore.i mean,for example,you buy something which you probably spent a lot of money on and then straight away something comes along better and you wish then you hadnt bought it.with the way the economy is now,i think these companies should stick to a particular model a lot longer.it would be better for everyone




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User Reviews / Comments  Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

  • danijell

    danijell

    Rating8

    "I went from D90 to GH1 and I'm very happy for that. I like IQ (RAW), but there is no excuse for NR implementation, meaning:

    1. there is no system-wide control panel for NR; you have ..."

  • Jack$on

    Jack$on

    "This looks promising , with a skilled operator very good HD images should be gathered. More video-centric features than a 5D a third the cost. This is a sweet toy
    Plus 720 P manual control v..."

  • RoundAndSquare

    RoundAndSquare

    "I got a Lumix GH1 at a beginning of June and I was quite pleased with it. I looked at several cameras, like Canon G10 and Canon CX1 etc, but I went for Panasonic's GH1 because its small size and la..."

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