Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Review

 
Camera Reviews > Panasonic Lumix Cameras > Lumix Compact System Camera i Full Review

Panasonic G2 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good color and hue accuracy over most of the spectrum, with minor oversaturation and shifts in some colors. Some issues with orange through yellows, though.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.
Saturation. The Panasonic G2 pushes reds, dark greens and purples very slightly, blues a fair bit, while slightly undersaturating lighter greens, some cyans and oranges. Bright yellows are undersaturated somewhat more. Default saturation is 108.9% (8.9% oversaturated). That's a bit higher than the GF1 (of 106.9%) and G1 (104.9%), but slightly lower than in the GH1 (110.9%). A fairly typical result. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. Here, the Panasonic G2 did well, producing natural-looking skin tones, though just slightly on the pinkish side. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Panasonic G2 pushed cyan toward blue, red toward orange, and orange toward yellow. In the orange through yellow range, shifts were pronounced enough that colors there are poorly delineated from each other and all have a greenish hue. These shifts were especially apparent in the yellow through orange yarn of our Still Life test image. The camera's average color error wasn't that large, but its concentration in this one part of the spectrum makes it pretty noticeable. (The blue to cyan shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) As noted in the GF1 review though, the orange-yellow problems are significantly mitigated by working with RAW files and using a good-quality third-party RAW converter. Hue is "what color" the color is.

"Film" Modes
The Panasonic G2 offers nine preset "Film" modes. You can adjust contrast, saturation, sharpness and noise reduction for any of the modes, and then save the settings as one of two custom options.

Mouse over the links above to see the effect of the presets on our Still Life target. You can click on a link to load the full resolution image.

Saturation Adjustment
The Panasonic G2 lets you adjust the image saturation, contrast, and sharpness in five steps each. As can be seen below, the saturation adjustment was very subtle. We usually argue in favor of more subtle adjustments for saturation on the cameras we test, but the Panasonic G2 goes a bit too far in that direction; we'd like to see a wider range here (more steps), but still with the fine steps the G2 currently offers.

Saturation Adjustment Examples
-2 -1 0 +1 +2

The table above shows results of all the saturation options on our Outdoor Portrait test shot. Click on any thumbnail above, then click again to see the full-sized image.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Slight warm cast with Auto, very warm with Incandescent, very good color with the Manual and 2,600 Kelvin white balance settings. Average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV
2,600 Kelvin
+0.3 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was just slightly warm with the Auto white balance setting, though the Panasonic G2 did much better than most digital SLRs in this regard. (While slightly warm, results with the Auto setting were quite acceptable, and many users in fact prefer a slightly warm look in situations like this, to better represent the mood of the original lighting.) Results with the Incandescent setting were much warmer; the Incandescent setting looks like it might be adjusted to match professional studio lighting, a little odd for a decidedly consumer camera model. The Manual setting produced the most accurate results, though the 2,600 Kelvin setting wasn't far off the mark either, being just slightly cooler. The Panasonic G2 required +0.3 EV exposure compensation here, which is about average for this shot among the cameras we've tested. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)

Outdoors, daylight
Bright colors overall, though a tendency toward high contrast under harsh lighting. Average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Panasonic G2 performed pretty well, with good color but (very) slight overexposure in the outdoor Far-field house shot. The Panasonic Lumix G2 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation (+0.7 EV) to keep facial tones reasonably bright on the "Sunlit" Portrait test, which led to blown highlights in her shirt and flowers. Default contrast is on the high side, but fortunately, there's a contrast adjustment to help compensate. Overall, good results here, especially when the contrast setting is turned down (see Extremes section below).

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,700 ~ 1,800 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
~1,800 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~1,700 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~1,800 lines horizontal
ACR processed RW2
Strong detail to
~1,700 lines vertical
ACR processed RW2

In camera JPEGs our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,800 lines per picture height horizontally, and about 1,700 lines in the vertical direction. Extinction didn't occur until about 2,700 lines horizontally and vertically. We weren't able to extract much more resolution by processing the Panasonic G2's RW2 files using Adobe Camera Raw 5.7, but ACR did hold definition in the target lines a bit better than the camera's own JPEG conversion did, making the target lines more distinct at higher spacial frequencies. ACR also showed a lot more color moiré than the camera JPEG.

Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Very good sharpness overall, though edge-enhancement artifacts on high-contrast subjects are visible. Moderate noise suppression visible in the shadows.

Good definition of high-contrast
elements with some visible
sharpening artifacts.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The Panasonic G2 captures sharp, detailed images overall, though a few edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the branches in the crop above left. On some high-contrast subjects (like our resolution test target), the G2's sharpening leaves noticeable halo artifacts, but on natural subjects such as those shown above, the oversharpening isn't nearly as evident. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows some moderate noise suppression artifacts in the darkest areas of the model's hair, smudging individual strands together, though quite a few strands are visible in the lighter shadows. Overall detail is better than average, but there are some odd color blotches (particularly visible on the left edge of the crop above), that we believe may be the result of insufficient anti-aliasing filtering, and the de-mosaicing problems that produces. (We also saw these with previous G series cameras, but only in the very fine, reddish detail of the mannequin's hair. This is something that we've seen with a number of other cameras in the past, including several SLRs.) Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

Intelligent Resolution
The Panasonic G2 offers three levels of "Intelligent Resolution", which essentially sharpens fine detail while leaving areas with little or no detail (such as a cloudless sky) untouched to keep visible noise to a minimum. To see how well it works, compare the crops below at each setting.

In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above, and clicking on the link will load the full resolution image.

As you can see, fine detail has progressively stronger sharpening applied as the setting is increased, while the noise in the sky is not affected. The increased sharpening does tend to coarsen fine detail at higher settings, though. The pine needles in the trees behind the house are a good illustration of this effect. Unfortunately, it was a windy day when the above Far-field house shots were taken making comparison a bit difficult, so below is the same series taken of our Resolution target under more controlled conditions:

In the above crops, you can easily see the increased sharpening being applied (larger, more distinct halos) as well as unwanted sharpening artifacts in the resolution target. The extra sharpening seems to affect horizontal and vertical lines the most, as the diagonal lines in the resolution target do not show as many sharpening artifacts.

For critical work, we'd be inclined to leave Intelligent Resolution Off and do selective sharpening in post processing. For folks printing JPEGs straight out of the camera however, Intelligent Resolution should really produce very crisp looking prints without the increased noise that usually results from just cranking up the camera's conventional global sharpening setting. (Click on the links to view the full resolution images.)

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Panasonic G2 produces sharp in-camera JPEGs. As is almost always the case, though, quite a bit more detail can be obtained from carefully processing RAW files than can be seen in the in-camera JPEGs. The Panasonic G2's JPEGs are pretty good straight from the camera, but it's surprising how much more detail is visible after processing in a good RAW converter. Take a look below, to see what we mean:

In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above, and clicking on the link will load the full resolution image.

SilkyPix (the RAW converter Panasonic bundles with their RAW-capable cameras) is pretty sophisticated in the controls it provides for tweaking your photos. In the crop above, we turned the in-application sharpening control down to zero and used only its output unsharp masking, which we set to 350%, a radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0. File output is actually a logical place to apply it, as you'll want to use different sharpening settings for printing at different sizes, but we found it awkward not being able to preview the effect of the unsharp masking on-screen.

Adobe Camera Raw 5.7 was used for the ACR conversion version. The image was then sharpened in Photoshop using unsharp masking at 300% with a radius of 0.3 pixel.

As you can see, both RAW conversions contain more fine detail than the camera JPEG: The Panasonic DMC-G2 rewards RAW shooters with really excellent detail. The bundled SilkyPix RAW converter can give Adobe Photoshop and Camera Raw a good run for the money, when it comes to the detail department, but details in the pine needles above reveal that its de-mosaicing algorithms aren't quite up to those of Photoshop.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise up to ISO 400, moderate to high at higher ISOs.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1600 ISO 3200
ISO 6400

The Panasonic G2's images are quite clean at ISOs 100 and 200. We start to see some noticeable smudging due to noise reduction at ISO 400, but detail is still pretty good,with just a bit of chroma noise creeping into the shadows. The effects of noise reduction are more evident at ISO 800, where there's additional blurring and more obvious luminance noise, but less chroma noise than at ISO 400. At ISO 1,600 we see additional detail loss, much stronger luminance noise, as well as yellow and purple blotches in the shadows and darker midtones. At ISO 3,200 very little fine detail is left, an the yellow and purple blotching is also more widespread. Noise gets pretty ugly at ISO 6,400. There's no fine detail left, and the camera's noise reduction coupled with sharpening artifacts produce a very prominent peppering effect in areas of low contrast.

Compared to the last G-series we tested (GF1), the Panasonic G2's JPEG noise performance at higher ISOs seems to have taken a step back. We're of course pixel-peeping to an extraordinary extent here, since 1:1 images on an LCD screen have little to do with how those same images will appear when printed. See the Print Quality section below for our evaluation of maximum print sizes at each ISO setting.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, but somewhat high default contrast and limited dynamic range. Very good low-light performance.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 struggled a bit with the deliberately harsh lighting of this test, as contrast was a little high at its default setting, and the dynamic range somewhat limited. Although skin tones in the face are a bit dark at +0.7 EV with the default contrast, we preferred it to +1.0 EV exposure overall, because there were fewer clipped highlights. Depending on the photographer, you could lean one way or the other. Pros and advanced users will want to shoot darker, to hold highlight detail. For those Panasonic G2 owners that are going to want to just print an image with little or no tweaking, the +1.0 image would probably produce a better-looking uncorrected. The bottom line though, is that the Panasonic G2 had difficulty with the wide dynamic range of this shot, at least with its default settings.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

Contrast Adjustment
As mentioned previously, the camera's limited contrast adjustment was at least some help in handling the harsh lighting.

Minimum Contrast
Contrast set to lowest,
+0.7 EV
Contrast set to lowest,
Auto Exposure

At its lowest contrast setting, the Panasonic G2 did a slightly better job of preserving highlight detail while maintaining fairly natural-looking skin tones, though it helped more with bringing out the shadows and darker midtones. Overall, the camera's limited dynamic range makes it perform a bit below average in this situation.

Contrast Adjustment Examples
-2 -1 0 +1 +2

The shots above show the results of all available contrast settings. While you can see the extremes, it's pretty hard to evaluate small differences in contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image. That said, unlike the Saturation adjustment, the control for Contrast is not quite as subtle in its effect. It seems to basically leave the strongest highlights alone, and then apply a proportional boost to tones as it moves down the tone curve. To make the most of it in a shot like this, you'd want to drop the exposure to hold the highlights and then apply a good amount of contrast reduction (probably the maximum, the steps are pretty small).

The Panasonic G2's contrast adjustment helps a little with the strong highlights here, but we'd really like to see more steps of this size, covering a slightly greater range. And even with the lowest contrast setting, the dynamic range isn't terribly impressive. Lowering the contrast helps the visual appearance of images such as these, but doesn't result in any significant extension of the tonal scale, in either bright highlights or deep shadows.


Intelligent Exposure Examples
Low at 0 EV Standard at 0 EV High at 0 EV
Off at 0 EV

Panasonic's iExposure
The above shots are examples of Panasonic's Intelligent Exposure (or iExposure) at work, with no exposure compensation. There are three levels of iExposure available: Low, Standard and High, plus Off. All three settings were an improvement over the Off setting, doing a pretty good job of pulling detail up out of the shadows and delivering a better exposure overall, though there is a slight increase in noise as ISO was increased to 125 for the Low setting, and 160 for Standard and High. With the exposure compensation off here, the net result is much better highlight preservation as well. While there's good tonality in the mannequin's face, and good detail in both highlights and shadows, the images looked a bit flat and dull overall. We suspect that shooting with iExposure enabled, but at an exposure compensation of +0.3 EV might brighten things up a bit overall, without blowing the highlights. - But as always, we had to draw the line somewhere on testing, in the interests of getting this review out and then getting on to other cameras in our never-ending backlog. Bottom line, though, iExposure seems to provide a useful extension to the practical dynamic range of the Panasonic G2. (It's not likely increasing the technically defined dynamic range of the sensor any, because you'll see increased noise in the deep shadows proportional to whatever detail you're saving on the highlight end. As you can see above, though, it can make for much more usable/printable images when working under tough lighting conditions.)


Face Detection
Off at 0 EV On at 0 EV

Face Detection
Like most Point & Shoot cameras these days (and most DSLRs in Live View mode), the Panasonic G2 has the ability to detect faces, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. The G2 does it automatically in Intelligent Auto (iAuto) mode, when a Portrait scene mode is selected, or when Face Detection AF mode is selected. As you can see from the examples above, it works fairly well, as the image with face detection enabled is better exposed for the face. We'd prefer a slightly brighter exposure as the mannequin's face is still a little dark, but if combined with Panasonic's Intelligent Exposure (see the example above), we believe it would deliver very nice exposures, even under very difficult lighting such as this.

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
100
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1.6 sec
f2.8
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3.2 sec
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200
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400
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800
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1/5 sec
f2.8
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0.4 sec
f2.8
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1600
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ISO
3200
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1/20 sec
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ISO
6400
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1/40 sec
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f2.8

Low Light. The Panasonic DMC-G2 performed well in our low light test, capturing bright images down to the lowest light level we test at, at all ISO settings. This darkest level equates to about 1/16 the brightness of average city street lighting at night, so the Panasonic G2 should be able to take well-exposed photos in almost any environment in which you can see well enough to walk around in. Automatic color balance was pretty good (just slightly cool), something that's not a given at such low light levels. Using the default noise reduction setting, noise was low to moderate up to ISO 800. At ISOs 1,600, 3,200 and especially 6,400, noise was high compared to most DSLRs these days, but with hardly any of horizontal banding we saw from the Panasonic GH1 at the same light levels.

The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted with the kit lens, which is excellent for a camera using contrast-detect autofocus. The Panasonic G2 does have a focus-assist light option which allows it to autofocus in total darkness, as long as the subject is within range and has sufficient contrast.

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their phase-detect AF systems, digital SLRs tend to do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. The G2 uses contrast-detect autofocus, as is found in most point & shoot cameras, so its low-light focusing ability is less than that of some SLRs with phase-detect systems. That said, though, the larger, more sensitive pixels of the G2's sensor do better under dim lighting than do the tiny pixels of most point & shoots, (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

Output Quality

Print Quality

Very good print quality, with sharp, detailed prints up to 16x20 inches at ISO 100.

Printing JPEG images from the Panasonic G2 gives a different perspective from just looking at the images onscreen. Enlargement to 20x30 was a little much even for the ISO 100 shots, but that's about the limit for a 12-megapixel image. Shots at this size would be fine for wall display, and would sharpen up nicely in a photo editing program.

ISO 100 images look very sharp at 16x20 inches, though the problem with the greenish yellows continues. Detail is very good, though.

ISO 200 shots also look good at 16x20, very little difference is detectable.

ISO 400 shots also look great at 16x20, very good noise suppression up to this point, with only the slightest luminance noise appearing in the shadows for those who really want to get in and pick nits. They'll also detect the slightest softening of detail, but this sharpens right up with a switch to 13x19 inches.

ISO 800 images look about the same at 13x19, with a little more luminance noise in the shadows, but still strong detail.

ISO 1,600 is where quality and contrast starts to degrade, and noise starts to bug. Still, you'd get a decent 11x14 out of ISO 1,600, and an excellent letter size print (8.5x11 inches).

ISO 3,200 gets a little worse. You can get an okay 8x10 out of it, but dark areas start to get pock-marked by large blobs of luminance noise, and color starts to fade pretty noticeably. Everything but the color comes back when printed at 5x7, though.

ISO 6,400 looks more like a bad painting at 5x7, but enters the realm of the "usable" at 4x6, though color is faded and noise muddies some colors.

Overall, the Panasonic G2's images print well up to ISO 800, but start to fall apart at ISO 1,600. This is a good performance, but doesn't rise to excellent when compared to some of the competition. It seems like a two-year-old sensor in this new camera when you see the recent leaps other companies have made.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)

 

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