Panasonic’s flagship camera – the Lumix GH2 – features the highest resolution of any Micro FourThirds camera, but in what areas does it differ from the GH1 and G2? We find out…
Before we dive right into the technicalities and performance of the GH2, let’s recap how we got to Panasonic’s fourth member in the Lumix G System in less than as many years...
The G-Series journey began with the 12.1Mp Micro FourThirds G, which offered the practicality of an interchangeable lens system in a compact body resembling a typically-shaped D-SLR. Five months later the GH1 arrived with a 14Mp sensor offering a maximum 12.1Mp output. This was targeted at consumers keen on recording video as well as stills, and offered a maximum video resolution of 1280x720@30fps or 1920x1080@25fps. Of significant note was the way it supported active autofocus in video mode, a relatively new conception at the time. Then along came the G2, a development on the Lumix G1 with touchscreen technology and a refined button arrangement, but it didn’t outclass the GH1’s video capabilities and only supported 720p recording.
Panasonic’s latest G model is now the GH2. Designed to deliver the best still and video quality of any Lumix camera to date, let’s check out the camera’s key features and build quality.
Features & Build
Rather than inheriting a 12Mp sensor from a previous G-series model, the GH2 features an all-new 18Mp sensor that offers a 16Mp effective pixel output. The combination of the new sensor and an all-new Venus Engine FHD processor enables the GH2 to process larger volumes of data more quickly and allows it to record HD video at a maximum resolution of 1920x1080. Movies can be saved in either the AVCHD or Motion JPEG format, but with the latter you’re restricted to shooting at 1280x720@30fps.
As a stills camera, the GH2 looks almost identical to the G2 on first glance but under closer inspection it’s marginally taller and features a rubberised grip that gives it a more secure feel in the hand compared with previous Lumix models. The addition of the new sensor not only increases the megapixel count, it has also broadened the ISO range, with the new processor improving the GH2’s frames-per -second burst rate.
ISO spans from 160-12800 compared to 100-3200 on the GH1. It’s also capable of shooting continuously at 5fps at full resolution, or up to 40fps in 4Mp recording mode. The Vari-angle screen at the rear supports LiveView and retains the 3in size and 460k-dot resolution from its Lumix predecessors. The main screen improvement is the touchscreen technology lifted from the G2 that allows you to control Q.Menu variables if you don’t fancy using the D-Pad buttons, and you can choose the area of focus or the size of your focus point by simply tapping or touching the screen. There’s even the option of firing the shutter using the screen alone!
A stereo microphone is fitted to the top of the pop-up flash, in front of the hotshoe, and a 2.5mm mini stereo jack is found to the side, but you may need a 2.5mm–3.5mm socket adapter if you want to use it with an external microphone.
The supplied 14-140mm lens is available in kit form and supports the continuous AF/AE function of the GH2’s contrast-detect AF system. It produces a versatile 28-280mm focal length in 35mm film terms and is specially made for HD video with a direct-drive linear motor that’s designed to offer a smooth and silent operation throughout its focal range. The GH2, like the GH1, won’t accept standard FourThirds lenses so if you’re planning on using it with other FourThirds optics you’ll need the optional DMW-MA1PP adapter.
Still images are captured in the native 4:3 FourThirds aspect and there’s the option of shooting at 3:2, 16:9 or in a square format. Like the G1, GH1 and G2, JPEG and RAW formats are featured, with the latter captured in the Panasonic RW2 format.
Performance & Handling
The GH2 is a comfortable camera to hold, but has a fractionally smaller grip than most entry-level D-SLRs. Button arrangement is very similar to the G2, with a large mode dial offering M,S,A,P shooting modes and iA Intelligent Auto mode. Next to the mode dial there are two switches within easy reach of the thumb and index finger to control On/Off operation, Continuous Shooting, Exposure Compensation and Self-timer. Like the GF2 it has a superb command dial at the rear to make rapid exposure changes in Manual mode but we preferred the movie-record button on the GH1; it used to be in easy reach of the thumb, whereas the GH2’s is on top of the top-plate, which doesn’t feel comfortable or as well-positioned.
The dedicated AF mode dial on the left-hand side of the top-plate is brilliant for making quick changes, but when you use the GH2’s touchscreen to select the AF point in 1-area AF or Face Detection mode you’re restricted to moving it within more or less the central area of the frame.
AF tracking performed exceptionally well in our tests; it tracked moving subjects with relative ease and the continuous AF system offered an impressive lock-on speed that showed minimal signs of hunting and proved to be particularly helpful when recording HD videos. The three metering modes – Multi, Centre-Weighted and Spot – can be accessed from the menu system or alternatively at the bottom left of the touchscreen when the Q.Menu is employed. The one thing about changing the settings with the touchscreen is that it’s rather fiddly because of the small size of the icons. Those with larger fingers will prefer to set up the GH2 using the D-Pad buttons, but even these are fairly small and this is partly due to the 3in screen taking up the majority of space at the rear. Flipping out the screen and rotating it by 270 degrees is very handy for low- and high-angled shooting and although the screen resolution is the same as the G1, GH1 and G2, it offers clear viewing in Live View and playback modes.
Raising the GH2 to the eye turns off the screen and deploys the electronic viewfinder, which offers a 100% field of view and a mighty 1.5million K-dot resolution.
Previously, we said the EVF on the GH1 was the best we’ve seen, but the GH2’s is even better! It’s very sharp and the clarity is second to none, but it’s still no substitute for an optical viewfinder.
Loading the GH2 with a SanDisk Extreme 32GB SDHC card and setting the burst rate to the H setting gave us a chance to test how good the GH2 was at shooting consecutive frames. Faster than the GH1’s 3fps and G2’s 3.2fps rate, we were keen to know how many JPEG and RAW files we could shoot at 5fps. With the image size set to Maximum quality and the JPEG quality set to Fine we rattled off 8 shots at 5fps before the buffer kicked in and slowed the shooting process. Keeping the image quality set to its maximum but switching the shooting format to RAW we managed to fire off 7 frames before the buffer kicked in and prevented us taking any more. Setting the burst to the SH setting allowed us to rattle out 40 frames at 40fps, albeit at a lower 4Mp resolution. It took 20 secs to write this data to our SDHC card. Testing the write speed of the camera with the same media, we discovered it took 1sec to write a Fine sized JPEG and 1.5secs to write a RAW file. These results make it a full second faster than the GH1’s write speed times that were recorded two years back.
The GH2 shoots video very well; there’s a 24p Cinema mode to explore and a variable mode to try out for slow or fast motion effects. If you’re keen to see some of the footage we recorded, visit: www.photoanswers.co.uk/GH2 where we’ve uploaded a video.
Value & Verdict
Panasonic’s GH2 is available in two kit forms, either with the 14-140mm f/4-5.8 lens for £1019 or with a more conservative 14-42mm lens, which brings the price down to a more respectable £759. The full HD offering on the GH2 will appeal to users who want a practical video/stills camera, but don’t fancy the step up to a D-SLR. The 14-140mm kit is still expensive though, especially when you compare it to D-SLRs like Nikon’s D7000, which also features 1920x1080 HD video and a practical 18-105mm zoom lens for £999 – a saving of £19 on the most costly GH2 bundle.
If you do bite the bullet and go for the GH2, you’ll get a great camera, no question. It’s superbly constructed, performs well and looks classy, too. Being smaller than an entry-level D-SLR, it’ll appeal to those conscious of size and weight but don’t want to compromise on build quality or an impressive set of features.
If you want the best of a camera in a slender body though, you’ll need to start saving as it doesn’t come cheap.
AT A GLANCE
Street price (with 14-140mm kit lens): £1019
Lens mount: Micro FourThirds
Focal length multiplication: 2x
Focusing: Contrast AF
Write times: 1.5secs (RAW),
ISO range: 160-12800
Burst rate: 5fps
Shutter range: 60secs-1/4000sec
Monitor: 3.0in, 460k dots
Live View: Yes
HD video: Yes: Full HD 1920x1080 AVCHD format
Weight (body only): 392g