The GH2 has the same clean, stylish look as the GH1, although the model we looked at swapped the grey for a matte black (it will be available in both finishes. The two cameras are a similar size and shape, and there have been no major changes to the design and layout of the GH2. Which is fine, as the GH1 was an attractive camera with a clean, straightforward look.
The screen of the GH2 is a 3-inch LCD with a resolution of about 461k pixels. That's a lot less than some (the Sony SLT-A55 has a LCD the same size with a 921k pixel resolution), but it seems enough to get a good preview and view of the image, although you will need to zoom in to see fine details. The LCD screen also rotates and tilts, so it can be used for shooting from above or below head height, or for self portraits. We did see some slight tearing in the image as we quickly panned around, but the live view image was mostly sharp and bright. This rotating screen also means that the screen can be rotated flat against the camera body, which protects it from knocks and scratches.
This screen also works as a touch screen, which makes things like picking a focus point somewhat easier. In our brief tests, we found that the touch screen worked well, and was responsive.
Perched atop the body of the GH2 is the viewfinder. This is an electronic viewfinder, with a resolution of around 1.5 million pixels. It certainly looks sharp and bright, although we did see some obvious tearing in the image as we quickly panned around. This wasn't a major issue, though; the viewfinder was clear and bright.
A small pop-up flash is built into the GH2. We weren't able to test the performance of this flash, but the one on the GH1 was pretty good, if a bit underpowered. A more power flash can also be attached to the standard hot shoe, which should work with any standard flash. Panasonic offers their own flash line that offer faster synch speeds and through the lens (TTL) metering.
There are two ports on the camera body: a mini HDMI port for showing photos and videos on a HDTV and a multi-purpose port that provides analog video out and a USB connection. There is an additional power input under a separate rubber panel.
The GH2 gets its juice from a 7.2V, 1200 mAH battery that fits into a cavity on the bottom of the camera. This is a very slightly smaller capacity than the GH1 (1250 mAH), but this is unlikely to affect the battery life of the camera much. Panasonic estimates this at around 320 images when using the LCD and 340 when using the viewfinder.
Images and video are stored on SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards that fit into a small cavity on the right side of the camera body. This should provide plenty of space for images when shooting RAW, as the biggest SDXC card currently available hold 64GB of data, but this new format can, in theory, hold up to 2TB of data.
The G2 is a complex camera, and the number of buttons and controls on it reflect this. This could be intimidating to a new user, but the camera is well designed overall to guide the user through the shooting process. In particular, the camera puts the most commonly used controls on the quick menu, which can be accessed with a press of the Q.Menu button.
In our limited hands-on time with the GH2, we found that it fitted well into the hand, with no major handling issues, although the relatively light weight of the camera means it could get a little unbalanced when teamed with a larger zoom. Even the 14-140mm zoom kit lens option that we show in our photos feels a little front heavy.
Turning the mode dial to iAuto puts the camera into a fully automatic mode, effectively turning your expensive SLR into a point & shoot. But that is fine sometimes, and the iAuto mode takes control of most of the camera settings, leaving only the image size and quality, face recognition and image stabilization settings up to be changed. The iAuto mode works by choosing what the camera believes is the most appropriate scene mode for the subject, and configuring other settings appropriately.
The usual selection of semi-manual modes are also on offer, with Program, Aperture, Shutter and a full Manual mode. We found that the manual mode was pretty easy to use, with the control dial doing double duty to control both aperture and shutter settings.
The GH1 was groundbreaking in being one of the first digital cameras to capture Full HD video, and the GH2 does the same. In fact, there are very few improvements over the GH1: the GH2 captures video at the same maximum resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels at 60 interlaced frames per second. It does not, however, capture the full 60 progressive (60p) frames per second that most HDTVs can display and many dedicated camcorders can capture. Instead, you get the choice of either 60 interlaced frames or 24 full progressive frames a second. This is more of a software limitation than a hardware one, though: the image sensor captures 60 Full HD progressive frames per second, but downsamples them to 24fps because there is no support in the AVCHD format for 60p video. Some camcorders (such as the Panasonic TM700) get around this limitation by saving 60p video in another format (such as MPEG-4 file), but the GH2 does not support this. You can save videos at 720p resolution with the full 60 fps, though.
Although it can't shoot 60fps video, the GH2 does increase the maximum bitrate of the captured video up to 24mbps (up from the 17mbps maximum of the GH1), which should translate into better quality and more detail. That is also the maximum bitrate that the AVCHD format allows for.
The other new features on offer are a new cinema mode and a variable speed feature. The cinema mode tweaks the gamma curve to look more like a film and the variable speed mode allows you to speed up or slow down video by between 300 and 80 per cent. Clips can be recorded up to the capacity of the memory card: there is no time limitation
The usual suspects are on parade to help playback images, with modes for showing 12 or 30 thumbnails at once, for zooming in up to 16x on an image and create basic slideshows and sorting images by date, time or the mode they were shot in.
In addition to the iAuto and PASM modes, there are three scene modes available from the mode dial (Portrait, Landscape and macro), and an additional 9 on offer from the on-screen menu when you set the mode dial to SCN. These scene modes include Peripheral Defocus, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Sunset, Party, Sports, Baby 1, Baby 2 and Pet. The only one that requires explanation is the first one, which is sort of an aperture priority in reverse: it sets the aperture as wide as possible to get the smallest depth of field to throw the background out of focus.
In addition, there are three custom modes available on the mode dial, labelled C1, C2 and C3. Each of these can hold a complete set of settings, so you can create settings for shooting situations that are not covered by the modes on offer.
The GH2 is not a speedy camera: at the highest resolution, it captures a relatively slow 2 frames a second when running in the live view mode. This can be jacked up somewhat by putting the camera into the normal mode, which allows for a 5fps burst. It can also be increased by lowering the resolution: at 4 megapixel resolution, that rises to 40 frames a second.
As well as all the auto modes described on the page before, the GH2 offers a full selection of manual modes, including shutter and aperture priority modes and a full manual mode. When in full manual mode, the control dial on the back top right corner of the camera body works for both aperture and shutter control; you switch between them by pressing it in. This is a little less convenient than having two separate control dials, but it is quite convenient for shooting with the viewfinder: with a little practice, it is easy to control both aperture and shutter with the thumb without looking away from the viewfinder.
The GH1 was a very quick focusing camera, and the GH2 looks to better that: in our limited time with the camera at Photokina, we found the focus to be extremely quick and responsive. This is probably partly due to Panasonic changing the way it grabs the images it uses to test the focus: it can grab 120 images a second, double the 60 of the GH1. We'll have to wait to get a review unit in to draw any final conclusions, but it looks like a definite improvement on what was already a quick camera.
Three focus modes are on offer: AFC, AFS and MF. AFC continuously focuses the camera while shooting images, while AFS focuses the camera only once when you press the shutter halfway down. MF provides manual focus, where you focus the camera by rotating the front element of the lens.
The GH2 offers an impressive ISO range of 100 up to 12800, while the GH1 maxed out at 3200. It remains to be seen how much noise there is at the higher ISO levels: we found the GH1 to be somewhat noisy above 800.
There are no big surprises (both good or bad) for the white balance settings of this camera, with 5 presets, a full auto mode and the ability to directly enter a color temperature in degrees kelvin. There are also 4 custom memory locations, which is very useful if you often shoot in locations with mixed lighting that might confuse the auto or presets.
The GH2 offers three metering modes: Intelligent Multiple, Center Weighted and Spot. Intelligent manual is Panasonics name for the evaluative mode, which meters 144 zones of the image and decides which spots to use, compensating for backlight, etc. Up to 3 stops of exposure compensation can applied to the image, in 1/3 of a stop steps.
The fastest shutter speed of this camera is a zippy 1/4000 of a second, with the range stretching out to a maximum of 60 seconds.
The aperture range of the camera depends on the lens that is used, but there are two options to buy as a kit: a 14-42mm lens with an aperture range of f/3.5-5.6, or a 14-140mm zoom with a range of f/4.0-5.8.
The GH2 includes Panasonics own MEGA optical image stabilization, which moves an element of the lens in response to camera shake. This approach means that the stabilization system has to be built into the lens, but controlled by the camera, which means it won't work with lenses from other manufacturers.
The GH2 offers a range of image sizes, ranging from the maximum of 4608 by 3456 down to a minimum size of 1792 by 1792. Aspect ratio fans will note something interesting there: the GH2 has an option to shoot 1:1 aspect ratio images as well as the more common 4:3 and 16:9. This will definitely appeal to those who have fond memories of their old medium format cameras.
A handful of special effect modes are on offer on the GH2: you can apply a smoothing effect, make images look more vibrant or more contrasty and even apply one of three black and white effects.
The Lumix GH2 adds a number of new features to the Micro Four Thirds mix, including upping the still resolution and the maximum video bitrate and adding a touch screen. But it is missing a few things that we would have liked to have seen, such as a proper 1080p 60fps mode and the ability to capture 3D video as well as still images.
As such, the GH2 is more about evolution than revolution. The expanded movie features and improved touch-screen control are useful, and the 3D image capture will appeal to those who have bought a 3D HDTV and don't know what to do with it, but most of the other features are the same as the GH1. As such, we can't recommend it as a must-have update from the GH1.
However, the GH2 is standing on the shoulders of giants: we were very impressed with the image and video quality of the GH1 in our review, and signs are that the GH2 should push that even further by adding a few new and useful features. So, we look forward to reviewing the GH2 and finding out if it does what we think it will: remain the king of the Micro Four Thirds hill.
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Richard Baguley is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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