Design and features
At first glance, it's hard to see any visual differences between the GH2 and its predecessor, the Lumix DMC-GH1. Panasonic has essentially kept the same compact design, but with a couple of additions. The adjustment dial and the quick menu button have been moved to the back of the camera, and the video record button has been promoted to its rightful place next to the shutter release. However, while the GH2 looks and feels comfortable overall, when shooting quickly, the clutter of buttons and dials can sometimes be a tad overwhelming.
The main developments over the previous model include the new sensor; while it's still the Four Thirds size, its resolution has been upped to 16.1-megapixels. This camera also features a 3-inch free-angle touchscreen, and overall the body is shaped like a miniature digital SLR with the same faux-prism hump over the lens, a pop-up flash, hotshoe and a mode dial that's similar to that found on any consumer SLR.
|Panasonic Lumix GH1||Panasonic Lumix GH2||Canon EOS 600D|
|12-megapixel 4/3 type Live MOS||16-megapixel 4/3 type Live MOS||18-megapixel APS-C CMOS|
|3.0-inch, 4,60K-dot articulating LCD screen||3.0-inch, 4,60K-dot articulating LCD touchscreen||3.0-inch, 1,04K-dot articulating LCD screen|
|Full AVCHD video (1080p, 24fps) (1080i, 50fps) (720p, 50fps)||Full AVCHD video (1080p, 24fps) (1080i, 50fps) (720p, 50fps)||Full HD video (1080p, 24/25/30fps)|
|Stereo internal mic||Stereo internal mic||Mono internal mic|
Sitting in the same price range, the Canon 600D is a sizeable opponent to the GH2. The GH2 is smaller, lighter and has the advantage of an in-video autofocus system, but the 600D has a larger sensor and is compatible with an enormous library of lenses.
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Panasonic GH126.96.36.199.3
- Canon 600D0.20.40.70.1
- Panasonic GH188.8.131.52.4
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Panasonic GH25
- Canon 600D3.7
- Panasonic GH12.1
The GH2 generates stunningly sharp images with colours that can pack a punch. RAW photographs are filled to the brim with an impressive amount of detail. They contain enough information to create a reasonable pseudo-HDR image from just one RAW file.
An HDR image created from just one RAW file from the GH2. (Credit: CBSi)
The GH2 continues to shine by producing excellent JPEG images. The camera manages to compress each photo down to a reasonable file size without dramatically crushing the shadows or blowing out the highlights. JPEG images have a slightly warmer colour temperature when directly compared to RAW, although it is quite tough to spot the differences when compared side-by-side.
The GH2 that we tested had a 14-42mm Micro Four Thirds lens; however, there is a second kit option available with a 14-140mm lens. These lenses suffer from the same disappointing drawbacks that are found with most SLR kit lenses. When photographing outside where there's plenty of light, they take sharp vibrant images, but when used inside or in a dim light situation, they force you to ramp up your ISO or add a harsh flash. Another pesky little problem for manual shooters is that these lenses have a variable aperture limit. This means that, as you zoom in, the lens stops down the light and the images will become darker — and no one wants to take gloomy-looking photographs.
These drawbacks, from using such slow lenses, are compensated for by the GH2's high ISO performance. At a 100 per cent crop, destructive grain can be glimpsed at ISO 3200 but fortunately isn't really noticeable until you get up to around ISO 6400. As expected, if you push the ISO further up to 12,800, the grain invades the entire photograph, turning the blacks into an insipid grey-ish colour, and rendering most of the images completely useless.
One of the most interesting features of the GH1 was its exceptional ability to record extremely high-quality HD video. It is no surprise, then, that the GH2 has inherited this same feature that makes independent film-makers foam at the mouth.
The video quality is superb and matches that of almost every SLR available at the time of this review. The GH2 does, however, bring a few different features to the table that will fill the frustrating void that some videographers experience between traditional camcorders and SLRs. Most importantly, it offers a continuous auto-focus system that can seamlessly shift focus mid-video.
Panasonic really nailed this feature, and although Nikon tried to match it with the D3100, the GH2 has, by far, the best continuous auto-focus system that exists in a hybrid camera to date.
Another feature that sets the GH2 a step above most dSLRs is its inbuilt stereo microphone. The video below compares the sound quality of the GH2 to that of a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
The GH2 has two channels and covers a wider range of bass frequencies. The Canon's microphone, however, is mono and therefore cannot add direction to any audio it picks up. The one downfall of the GH2's seemingly flawless video is that it records in AVCHD format, and for many film-makers this will be a major pain. The majority of mainstream editing software is not compatible with AVCHD, and this forces film-makers to re-encode their raw footage.
Click each image for a full-sized sample from the GH2.
Exposure: 1/200, f/5, ISO 160
Exposure: 1/60, f/5.2, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/250, f/6.3, ISO 160
Exposure: 1/320, f/8, ISO 160
The Lumix GH2 is a jack-of-all-trades, and master of none. If you need a quality stills camera, there are better SLRs. If you need a video camera, there are better camcorders. That said, if you're going to buy the GH2 to avoid breaking the bank, it's a superb way of meeting all of your needs in one camera.
The GH2 is available for AU$1699 with the 14-42mm lens, with the body in black or silver, and AU$2299 with the 14-140mm lens with the black body only.