By Josh Fate
This compact and solidly-built camera is smaller than a dSLR, but still gives you the same feel and control. The large, rubberized grip on the right side is very comfortable and allows for great control over the camera. It's simple layout and easy-to-find controls make it a pleasure to use. Framing and viewing your images is accomplished on either the camera's Electronic View Finder (EVF) or its LCD screen. Shooting with the EVF gives you an identical feel to a dSLR, with the advantage of seeing all of the information that is normally shown on a LCD screen. The EVF is a tiny screen with an equivalent of over 1,500,000 dots and has a full 100% field of view coverage. If the LCD is more your style or you're in a tough situation and need to use the 3.0-inch Free-angle Touch LCD screen, you will not be disappointed. With 460k dots and a 100% coverage, you see a crystal clear image all the time. With 3 levels of brightness and an auto mode, you will always be able to see it in any tough lighting condition.
The GH2's performance is incredibly fast, allowing you to use it for just about anything with no problems. It is able to capture its first image in just 1.5 seconds. Shutter lag is not noticeable when the camera is pre-focused, firing in less than 1/10 of a second. At approx. 3/10 of a second for auto focus, it is slightly slower than a dSLR but still very quick. This allows the camera to capture images in single capture mode at 2fps without the flash but a bit slower with it.
If you are looking for burst shooting, there are four burst modes to choose from. Slow, medium and high modes all capture their images at the full 16-Megapixel resolution while the Super High mode drops it to 4-Megapixels. Our tests show that the camera was able to capture 4.75fps at high, 3.33fps at medium and 2.22fps at slow, which all come close but sit just under the specs given by Panasonic. When shooting at the full Super High speed, the camera was able to capture 40 images in just one second (40fps). A sample of the speed and clarity of the 40fps burst at the bottom of our samples page. All of our tests were completed using a PNY Professional 8GB, class 10 (20MB/S) SDHC memory card, Program mode, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults.
For our outdoor image samples, we shot using Panasonic's iAuto (Intelligent Auto) shooting mode. This produced outstanding image quality, providing a well exposed and tack sharp image from edge to edge. We also see rich colors that accurately represent the actual scene. With the GH2, we also used the Lumix 14-140mm Micro Four-Thirds lens. One the wide end of this lens we can see some barrel distortion as well as some slight chromatic aberrations throughout the zoom range in the high contrast areas of the images (power lines on the light blue sky). Other than that, this body and lens combination is incredibly versatile and will not disappoint.
Our indoor sample images were taken using Aperture priority mode, keeping the aperture at 11 for a sharp image throughout. In these samples we can see the same sharpness and color accuracy that we saw in the outdoor images. Image noise at the lower levels is outstanding, allowing you to comfortably shoot between ISO 160 and ISO 1600. At ISO 1600 you will start to see some image noise and a loss of some of the finer details, but you will still have a printable image. After ISO 1600 the noise increases quickly and soon becomes unacceptable. The Panasonic's pop-up flash is small but powerful enough to light a small to mid-sized room with ease. This TTL flash combined with Panasonic's iAuto and Face Detection produces excellent exposures in any shooting situation, always producing the best possible exposure for your subjects.
When shooting in Portrait mode or iAuto which selects portrait mode when a face is detected, the camera will automatically adjust all exposure settings and focus to create the perfect, tack sharp portrait image. The camera quickly detected any faces within the frame and followed them with ease, even when the face was turned to the side. Our sample portrait images are great, showing excellent exposures and great skin tones to perfectly capture your subject. With the red-eye flash enabled, we did not see any redness in the eyes of any of our portrait shots. Panasonic has also included Face Recognition software that allows the camera to detect up to three stored faces at a time. When face recognition is on, you will see the names of the faces recognized on the screen, while the camera automatically adjusts the focus and exposure to take preference on these faces over all others.
Movie mode is something that Panasonic has put a little extra into in their G series cameras. They present a huge advantage over many dSLR cameras with the ability to record video with continuous autofocus. This combined with the full 1080p HD video recording makes this an excellent, and affordable, high quality HD video recording solution. With the addition of the new 3D lens available, this is also a fantastic way to capture your home videos for your 3DTV. The playback of these videos on a HDTV is amazing. Via the mini HDMI port, these videos run very smoothly and show very little noise. In addition the camera's stereo microphones collect descent audio with great wind noise reduction. You can also add an external mic to the camera for more versatility and increased quality. Along with your HD movies, your 40fps burst groups can also be played back frame-by-frame this way. With the camera hooked up to the TV, the navigation of the playback menu was a little more difficult, but with time you will get the hang of it.
Powering the GH2 is a powerful 7.2V, 1200mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery. During our tests, we were able to capture approx. 200 images and several short videos, all using the LCD screen. While this did not run out the battery, we needed to recharge before going out to test the camera on some sports images; just to be safe since we didn't have a sapre pack handy. Panasonic's claims of approx. 320 images on a single charge are possible if the camera is not used to view too many images or left on without shooting. The camera also comes with a portable quick charger, which allows you to keep your battery and a spare, which we highly recommend, charged and ready at all times.
Bottom Line - Panasonic's Lumix GH2 is a compact and powerful alternative to an entry-level or even some lower end mid-range dSLR cameras. Its outstanding image quality, powerful image processor, wonderfully easy automatic shooting modes and some of the best HD video recording on a digicam make this a powerful and versatile tool. Ranging from portraits to fast action, the camera's operation is simple enough for a first time shooter but with enough versatility and controls to keep the most knowledgeable photographer entertained. With a MSRP of US $899.95 body only or $1,500 for the kit with the 14-140mm lens that we tested, the GH2 is in the price range of many dSLRs. However, we feel this is an option to be considered, even if you are in the market for a dSLR. It is also a great option for those looking at an affordable, high quality HD video solution.
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