Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Review

 
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Panasonic GH1 Exposure Options

The Panasonic GH1 offers all the exposure options you'd expect in an SLR-class camera, plus a few Panasonic-specific options. Available exposure modes include Program AE, Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes with shutter speeds from 1/4,000 to 60 seconds available, as well as a Bulb setting for longer exposures up to four minutes. The x-sync speed for flash photography is 1/160 second. A fully automatic mode called Intelligent Auto (iA) enables Shake Detection, Motion Detection, Scene Detection, Face Detection, Subject Detection and Light Detection to try to deliver optimum results under a wide range of conditions. (In our experience playing with the camera, iA did a surprisingly good job, under a wide range of lighting conditions.) The GH1 also offers a number of Scene modes, a My Color Mode and a Custom setting where up to three sets of shooting modes and settings can be stored and recalled. See the Modes and Menus page for more details.

While in Program AE mode, you can rotate the front control dial to select different combinations of aperture and shutter speed settings than those normally chosen by the autoexposure system. This is often called Program Shift. If the automatic program would have chosen 1/125 second and f/5.6, you could instead direct the camera to use 1/60 at f/8 or 1/30 at f/11, to get greater depth of field. It's a very nice touch that's common on a lot of SLRs these days, and is a handy option for those times when you need some measure of increased control, but still want the camera to do most of the work for you.

Another feature that's also pretty common, but still very welcome is the electronic analog exposure display visible in the viewfinder data readout as well as on the rear-panel shooting display when the camera is in Manual exposure mode. This shows the amount the camera thinks an image will be over- or underexposed, based on the settings you have selected, and helps you find the best exposure for the subject.

Panasonic GH1 Face Recognition
New for the GH1 is Face Recognition. A lot of cameras now offer face detection, but the Panasonic GH1 goes further by trying to recognize individuals. Up to 6 faces can be registered, and the camera will display the person's name when it recognizes the face. In addition to just the name, a birthday can be registered, as well as focus priority. Focus priority allows the camera to optimize focus and exposure for the highest priority face it finds in a scene with multiple faces. Notice in the annimation at right that the exposure is being adjusted to compensate for Sally's face and then Jane's face. The included PHOTOfunSTUDIO software bundle can also be used to search for images containing specific people on your PC.

If you program in a birthday for a person, whenever the camera recognizes that person's face in an image in playback mode, it will display their age as of the date of the photo in an overlay over the image on the camera's screen. The birthday information is also written into the JPEG file's EXIF header, so it will also be accessible in Panasonic's bundled PHOTOfunSTUDIO software. (Sorry, Mac users; available only for Windows PCs.)

In practice, we found the GH1's face recognition to be a little problematic; how well it will work for you will likely depend on how distinctive the various faces are that you want it to recognize. We didn't play with it in our lab, but at a Panasonic demo for their 2009 models earlier this year, Panasonic staff demonstrated how PHOTOfunSTUDIO can be used to improve on the camera's face recognition, by "training" the software on a larger number of images.

Panasonic GH1 ISO Range
ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 3,200, adjustable by pressing the ISO button (up arrow) on the back of the camera and then using the up/down or left/right arrow directions of the Multi-Selector to select values from those shown on the display. The ISO number can be adjusted in one-stop (default) or 1/3-stop increments, depending on the ISO increment setting selected in Record Menu 4.

An Auto ISO mode is available, and you can set the upper limit to ISO 200, 400, 800, or 1,600 in Record Menu 4. (The "Off" setting defaults to a limit of ISO 400.) Intelligent ISO mode detects subject movement, and will boost ISO to increase the shutter speed in an attempt to freeze subject motion. The maximum ISO selected by Intelligent ISO is 800 with the flash off, and 400 with the flash on.

Panasonic GH1 Noise Reduction
The Panasonic GH1 gives you five choices for noise reduction, ranging from -2 to +2, with 0 being the default. While the user manual doesn't say, we can see by examining our Still Life ISO NR series that the noise reduction controlled by this setting is applied at all ISOs, not just higher ones. A separate Long Shutter noise reduction On/Off setting is available for dark frame subtraction for long exposures (Panasonic documentation doesn't say how long exposures need to be before this kicks-in, but in our own testing, it seemed to take effect with shutter speeds of 1 second or longer.)

Panasonic GH1 White Balance Options
White balance modes on the Panasonic GH1 include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, and Flash. No Fluorescent preset is provided. Kelvin temperature settings are also available, ranging from 2,500K to 10,000K in 100K steps, as are two Custom white balance settings, for setting white balance from a white or grey card. The effect of changes in white balance settings is shown in real-time, on the LCD monitor or EVF.

In most of the white balance modes, you can fine-tune the color by pressing the down arrow. You're then presented with a x/y axis graph with which you can adjust between Amber and Blue levels and Green and Magenta levels by using the four arrow buttons.

In Kelvin white balance mode, the up/down directions on the Multi Selector or rotating the front dial adjusts the Kelvin temperature with numerical readout, while a scale shows the color temperature relative to existing presets.

Custom white balance is set by selecting one of the two Custom White Balance settings, pointing the camera at a neutral white or grey card under the lighting you'll be shooting in, filling a frame in the center of the display with the reference target, and then pressing the Menu/Set button.

You can also bracket white balance exposures. The bracket setting is performed using the fine-tuning adjustment values, and three images are taken when the shutter button is pressed once. An Amber to Blue axis sequence can be selected, or a Green to Magenta axis sequence.

Panasonic GH1 Metering Options
The Panasonic GH1 offers three metering modes, selected via the Metering Mode option in the Quick Menu or Record Menu 1: Multi-pattern, Center-Weighted, and Spot. The default Multi-segment metering mode takes readings throughout the image to determine exposure, using an array of 144 zones covering the bulk of the frame. Center-Weighted gives precedence to the center of the image while reading the whole frame. Spot metering, useful for high-contrast subjects, bases the exposure reading on the very center of the image, letting you set the exposure based on a small portion of your subject. You can lock an exposure reading by pressing the AF/AE Lock button on the back panel. Halfway pressing the Shutter button also locks exposure (and focus in AFS mode).

Panasonic GH1 Exposure Compensation & Bracketing
The Panasonic GH1's Exposure Compensation adjustment increases or reduces the overall exposure from -3 to +3 exposure values (EV) in one-third stop increments, and like White Balance, the effect of Exposure Compensation is simulated on the preview. An Auto Bracketing feature captures multiple shots with different exposures. See the Drive Mode section on Auto Bracketing below for more details.

Panasonic GH1 iExposure
The Panasonic GH1 offers three levels of what the company calls "iExposure" or Intelligent Exposure: Low, Standard and High, as well as an Off setting. iExposure attempts to automatically adjust contrast and exposure to improve apparent dynamic range in difficult lighting situations. It may raise ISO to achieve this. To see it's effectiveness with our high-contrast Outdoor Portrait scene, see the Imaging Quality page. (Overall, we felt that iExposure worked quite well.)

Panasonic GH1 Drive Modes
The Panasonic GH1 offers a variety of shooting modes via the Drive Mode lever under the Mode Dial on of the camera's top panel. Drive options include Single Shot, Burst, Auto Bracket and Self-timer. The Burst Mode has rate options for "H" (3 frames-per-second) or "L" (2 frames-per-second). Auto Bracket lets you take a sequence of 3, 5, or 7 shots with either 1/3 EV or 2/3 EV exposure variation steps. The sequence can be selected from "0/-/+" (default/underexposed/overexposed) or" -/0/+" (underexposed/default/overexposed). The Self-timer mode offers 10 seconds, 10 seconds with 3 pictures taken at 2 second intervals, or 2 seconds. All Drive Mode options are set in Record Menus 3 and 4.

Panasonic GH1 Film Modes

Pressing the Film Mode button lets you choose from nine preset "Film Modes," which have different characteristics such as contrast, saturation, sharpness, and noise reduction. You can also define two of your own.

Here's how Panasonic describes the available Film Modes (the descriptive verbiage below is theirs):

Film Mode
Effect
Standard (Color)
This is the standard setting
Dynamic (Color)
The saturation and contrast of the stored colors are increased
Nature (Color)
Brighter red, green, and blue. Enhanced beauty of nature
Smooth (Color)
The contrast is lowered for smoother and clearer color
Nostalgic (Color)
Lower saturation and contrast. Reflecting passage of time
Vibrant (Color)
Higher saturation and contrast than dynamic
Standard (B&W)
This is the standard setting
Dynamic (B&W)
The contrast is increased
Smooth (B&W)
Smooths the picture without losing the skin texture
My Film 1 /
My Film 2
The saved setting is used. (You can start with any of the preset modes, and adjust each parameters in 5 steps.)
Multi Film
It will take pictures changing the type of film in accordance with the setting every time the shutter button is pressed. (Up to 3 pictures.)

You can see the effect of the various preset Film Modes on our Still Life target, on the Panasonic GH1's Test Images page.

Multi Film is like a Film Mode bracketing feature, that lets you define up to 3 types of Film Modes to be used in a bracketing sequence.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

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Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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