Panasonic Lumix GH2 Review

 
Camera Reviews / Panasonic Lumix Cameras / Lumix Compact System Camera i Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
Resolution: 16.05 Megapixels
Sensor size: 4/3
Kit Lens: 10.00x zoom
14-140mm
(28-280mm eq.)
Viewfinder: EVF / LCD
ISO: 160-12800
Shutter: 60-1/4000
Max Aperture: 4.0
Dimensions: 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.0 in.
(124 x 90 x 76 mm)
Weight: 33.2 oz (942 g)
includes batteries, kit lens
MSRP: $1,500
Availability: 12/2010
Manufacturer: Panasonic
Full specs: Panasonic GH2 specifications
16.05
Megapixels
Micro Four Thirds 4/3
size sensor
image of Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
Front side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 digital camera Back side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 digital camera Top side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 digital camera Left side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 digital camera Right side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 digital camera

GH2 Summary

Though it's still a little big for the compact system camera title, the Panasonic GH2 is distinguished by its fast autofocus for both stills and video, and its Full HD video capability; the built-in EVF, articulating LCD and touchscreen are just gravy.

Imaging Resource rating

4.5 out of 5.0

Panasonic GH2 Review

by Dan Havlik, Dave Etchells, Zig Weidelich, and Shawn Barnett
Preview Date: 9/21/2010
Review Posted: 5/31/2011

When the Panasonic GH1 arrived on the scene about two years ago, there was nothing quite like it in the camera world. A relatively small, digital SLR-style camera that wasn't a true DSLR at all -- it used a 12.1-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor which allowed it to ditch the mirror box and pentaprism design to make it more compact -- the GH1 accepted interchangeable lenses and could capture 1080i HD video in the AVCHD format with a sensor output of 24fps. The GH1 also had Continuous Autofocus and a built-in stereo microphone, making it a great portable camera for shooting both stills and HD movies.

So what does Panasonic do for an encore? It launches the LUMIX DMC-GH2, a model that looks almost identical to its predecessor but adds some significant upgrades. For one, the Panasonic GH2 has a new 18.31-megapixel Live MOS sensor with a faster read-out speed, letting it shoot full 1080i HD video with a sensor output of 60p, for smoother movement in high def. (There's also a Cinema Mode in the Panasonic GH2 which shoots 1080p at 24fps, for folks who like a more film-like look.) Since the 18.31-megapixel sensor is used in Panasonic's Multi-aspect strategy, the maximum resolution is about 16 megapixels.

A faster processor in the Panasonic GH2, dubbed the Venus Engine FHD, has also improved overall speed, according to Panasonic. The new processor uses three CPUs to perform a variety of tasks quickly. In terms of video, the GH2 can record at a faster bit rate than its predecessor--24Mbps--which means 24 fps HD video should look stellar.

For still image shooting, the new processor doubles the speed of autofocus from the previous model, according to Panasonic, which is great news, because the Contrast Detection autofocus used in mirrorless cameras can be slow as molasses. Panasonic estimates that the Lumix GH2 can lock focus in 0.099 second. (The GH1 took 0.2 second.)

Panasonic also claims the GH2's ramped up processor will give images a higher dynamic range while reducing image noise at high ISOs. (Again that is a welcome improvement, since the GH1 struggled at High ISOs.) The Panasonic GH2 can shoot at full resolution from ISO 160 all the way to 12,800. Still image burst speed has also improved, with the GH2 able to shoot at up to 5 frames per second at full resolution using the camera's mechanical shutter; and 40fps at 4 megapixels using an electronic shutter.

Like its stablemate the G2, the Panasonic GH2's articulating 3-inch LCD is a touch panel giving you the ability to pull focus in video recording just by touching the screen. There's also touch menu control, touch playback, touch tracking, and touch shutter. Like the GH1, an HDMI mini jack is included on the Panasonic GH2, though unfortunately no HDMI cable is included in the kit.

The Panasonic GH2 sells for $1,500 with a hybrid video/still Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm f4-5.8 Mega O.I.S. zoom lens kit; for $1,000 with a 14-42mm Lumix G VARIO f/3.5-5.6 MEGA OIS lens; and $900, body only. It is available in two colors: black and a two-tone black/grey version. It began shipping just prior to Christmas 2010.

 

Panasonic GH2 User Report

by Dan Havlik and Shawn Barnett

Look and feel. The Panasonic GH2 bears such a striking resemblance to its predecessor it'd be easy to confuse the two if it weren't for the new badging and the two-tone color option. Dimensions, excluding protrusions, are 4.88 x 3.53 x 2.98 inches (124 x 89.6 x 75.8mm) and weight is approximately 21.48 ounces (609g) with the SD card and battery, and a 14-42mm lens attached. The Panasonic GH2 with the 14-140mm lens weighs 33.23 ounces (942g), and 15.98 ounces (453g) body only. Those weight specs are slightly heavier than the GH1, mostly because of the new 3-inch touch-screen LCD and a new lithium-ion battery, which, according to CIPA standards, can capture approximately 330 shots on single charge.

From the front you can see the new textured grip surface and stippled paint job, quite different from the smooth surface of the original GH1. The front control dial has also moved to the rear of the camera, as already happened on the G2.

Controls. The major changes in controls on the Panasonic GH2 are subtle. Starting on the left side, the AF-mode dial now appears as a switch beneath the AF pattern dial. There are still 14 positions on the Mode dial, but two of the Scene modes have been dropped into the SCN mode to make room for two more Custom settings positions, which can be very convenient. The Q.Menu and Film buttons have been replaced with the red Record button and the Fn1 button.

There's also the familiar switch on top to choose among Single shot, Continuous, Bracketing, and Self-timer. A small switch also turns the camera on and off.

The back of the Panasonic GH2 has a few changes, including the new Rear control dial, and the Q.Menu button that was on the top deck on the GH1 is now on the back next to the Display button. Below that is a cluster of four buttons for ISO, White Balance, and Function 2 and 3, surrounding a central Menu/Set button. Most of the left rear of the Panasonic GH2 is taken up by the articulating 3-inch LCD screen, but there is one button on top for switching between the Live View Finder (electronic viewfinder) and the LCD.

LCD and EVF. Speaking of the LCD and the EVF on the Panasonic GH2, they're both significantly upgraded from the previous model. The 3-inch touch-screen panel is the same as the one in Panasonic's G2, and has a 3:2 aspect ratio and 460,000 dots of resolution. Field of view on the screen is approximately 100% and there are seven steps of adjustment for both brightness and color. Both the LCD and the EVF offer a real-time histogram function, and three choices of onscreen guidelines.

The touch capabilities of the LCD, as mentioned previously, extend to some of the menus and some functionality. The "rockstar" touch feature on the Panasonic GH2 is the ability to pull focus just by touching the screen. This, Panasonic says, will let a budding photographer blur out the background of a scene to draw attention to a subject or switch the point of focus just by touching a point on the screen. Also cool is the ability to track a person or object just by touching it on the screen. This is great for either still capture or video when you want your subject looking sharp but don't want to worry about tracking them on your own.

Though many pros have scoffed at swiveling LCD screens in the past, the tilting/twisting displays are slowly making their way up the camera food chain. The LCD on the Panasonic GH2 has the best kind of swivel, which swings out and pivots to face most directions, even forward for self-portraits. You can choose to turn it inward to protect the LCD as well. If you don't have it in LVF/LCD AUTO mode, though, you have to manually activate the EVF with the LVF/LCD button.

Though I generally dislike electronic viewfinders, the Panasonic GH2's multi-aspect Live View Finder is pretty crisp, with guidelines in three patterns so you can make sure your photos and footage aren't crooked.

Multi-aspect Sensor. Panasonic uses a neat trick in some of their pocket long-zoom digital cameras that leads to better optical quality than would otherwise be the case, and they've included it in the Panasonic GH2. The essence of the "trick" is to deliberately give up a bit of the sensor area in exchange for better image quality and the ability to maintain a constant angle of view when changing aspect ratios.

In the Panasonic GH2 they're using a 18.31-megapixel Live MOS sensor, and cropping the raw sensor image to select just those portions of the frame that give the best corner quality and highest resolution for each aspect ratio. The illustration at left shows how the camera's three aspect ratios are arranged on a nominally 4:3 aspect ratio sensor. While the Panasonic GH2's 4:3 ratio frame yields a ~16-megapixel image that's 4,608 x 3,456; 3:2 yields a ~15-megapixel image that measures 4,752 x 3,168; and 16:9 yields a ~14-megapixel image that measures 4,976 x 2,800; and 1:1 yields a smaller 3,456 x 3,456. As the width increases, the height decreases, so the distance from the center of the sensor to the corner of the frame remains the same. When using a 4:3 sensor, most companies use the full width of the sensor for maximum resolution at 4:3, then just chop off the top and bottom of the image to get the other two sizes. (The illustration above assumes a 4:3 aspect ratio for the sensor itself, but the concept remains the same, regardless of sensor shape.)


Shooting with the Panasonic GH2

by Dan Havlik

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH2 occupies that increasingly crowded space between a point-and-shoot camera and a digital SLR. It's a category we might have referred to as a Mid-size digital camera in the past, but because the Panasonic GH2 uses a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor, ditches the mirror box, and accepts interchangeable lenses, it's a whole new breed altogether. We've settled on calling them compact system cameras (CSC) because it just about sums it all up. For me, though, the CSC category breaks down even further into Rangefinder-style CSCs and DSLR-style CSCs. The GH2 is clearly in the DSLR-style subgenre.

Like its nearly identical predecessor, the GH1, the Panasonic GH2 takes its design cues from DSLRs with its jutting, textured handgrip, its bevy of exterior control dials, and, when attached, its impressive-looking Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm f4-5.8 Mega O.I.S. zoom kit lens. For people who like entry-level DSLRs, the Panasonic GH2 will be a comfy fit.

Overall, I was satisfied with how the Panasonic GH2 handled, and the size -- 4.88 x 3.53 x 2.98 inches (124 x 89.6 x 75.8mm) -- and the weight -- approximately 21.48 ounces (609g) with the SD card, battery and 14-42mm lens attached -- were just about right. As pictured above, with the 14-140mm lens, it's quite a bit heavier, weighing 33.2 ounces (about 2 pounds, or 942g). For those photographers who want a lightweight but substantial alternative to a consumer DSLR, the Panasonic GH2 fits the bill.

At the same time, the Panasonic GH2 is really not a compact camera, even though we've labeled it a CSC. You probably won't be able to fit it in your pocket, I don't care what kind of coat you're wearing; and it's liable to draw some attention if you're using it with the honking 14-140mm, 10x zoom lens. If you have fantasies of being the next Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Frank and capturing inconspicuous images of people and places, you may want to go for a more discreet Rangefinder-style CSC like the Panasonic GF2 or Olympus E-PL2. This is not a knock against the Panasonic GH2, it's just that it's a slightly different (read: bigger) animal than the majority of CSCs out there. The main reasons are its larger grip, and the extra hump needed to house the electronic viewfinder (EVF).

Video. The first thing you might notice about the Panasonic GH2 when you pick it up is the snazzy stereo microphone on top of the camera and the tempting red video button right below the traditional shutter button on the top plate. Peruse the specs and you'll likely be impressed with what the Panasonic can do in the HD video realm. For one, the Panasonic GH2's Live MOS sensor has a faster readout speed than the previous model, letting it capture 1080i HD video at 60p. That should make movement look smoother in high definition. Meanwhile, the Panasonic GH2's Cinema Mode shoots 1080p at 24 fps for a more film-like look.

So while the Panasonic GH2 may not be as svelte as some of the competition, it is highly portable and packed with impressive imaging features for shooting both stills and video. Here are my thoughts after working with this feature-laden CSC out in the field.

Ready to Go. The biggest difference we noticed right out of the box was how much speedier the Panasonic GH2 performed overall. The camera is powered by the awkwardly named Venus Engine FHD processor, which despite the silly title, really did the trick. The processor employs three CPUs that make start-up and shut down faster, and helps wheel through menus and settings without breaking a sweat. The camera was also fast while making the one-touch switch from stills to HD video and while scrolling through saved images and videos.

Fast Autofocus. The Panasonic GH2 achieved autofocus lock in a split second which helped us snap this photo of a player laying the ball in for a basket.

More importantly, the processor helped boost the speed of the GH2's Contrast Detection-based AF system. We used the Panasonic GH2 to shoot both stills and HD video of an outdoor basketball game and were impressed with how fleet of foot it was. The camera achieved autofocus lock in a split second -- our lab timed AF lock for the GH2 at 0.241 second at full telephoto -- allowing us to get sharp images of a player dunking a basketball. Those are SLR speeds. In comparison, the older Panasonic GH1 performed noticeably slower when I tested it in early 2010, clocking in at 0.321 second.

Quick hello. The GH2's 5fps shooting speed helped us capture some slobbery shots of a pair of dogs getting to know each other.

In burst shooting mode, the Panasonic GH2 would hold its own against most entry-level and even some prosumer digital SLRs. The GH2 can record up to five frames per second, which helped us capture some slobbery shots of a friendly pitbull and a bulldog getting to know each other on the streets of New York City. The payoff shot was the pitbull giving the bulldog a wet kiss/lick on the cheek. Aww.

Along with being able to shoot at up to 5 frames per second (fps) at full resolution using a mechanical shutter, the Panasonic GH2 can go into overdrive using its electronic shutter and record 40fps at 4 megapixels. Though they're at a reduced resolution, these ultra-high-burst images are perfectly usable for emailing or Facebook purposes.

HD movie. The GH2's processor did a good job of powering the Continuous Autofocus feature during HD capture, enabling us to capture sharp movies of sports. Note: this is only 720p, while the GH2 is also capable of capturing 1080i. See our Video page for a more in-depth treatment of the GH2's video mode.

The other benefit of the new processor is improved HD video capture. Along with being a faster feature to use, the Panasonic GH2 can record at a faster bit rate than its predecessor -- up to 24Mbps -- and HD video at 24p looks stellar.

The processor does a good job of powering the Continuous Autofocus feature during HD capture. Though other cameras that shoot HD have tried adding Continuous Autofocus to their movie modes, the Panasonic GH2's was the best I've tried: quiet, quick, and sharp. I also liked the built-in stereo microphone, which produced excellent sound quality. And here's a note to manufacturers everywhere: if you have an HD video feature in your camera you should have a function to lower wind noise in the audio. The Panasonic GH2 has a very helpful Wind Cut feature that reduced that breezy roar when we shot HD outdoors.

Though routine, the Panasonic GH2 and its 14-140mm f4-5.8 lens helped give this shot a professional look.

Lens Love. The Panasonic GH2's 14-140mm f/4-5.8 Mega O.I.S. Lumix G Vario HD zoom kit lens converts to a 28-280mm (35mm equivalent) on Micro Four Thirds cameras. We got great results at 14mm, with only minor corner softness and fairly strong detail throughout the frame. Coma distortion was low to moderate and chromatic aberration very low. Images looked crisp.

Performance at 25mm (50mm eq.) was very good, with just a hint of softness across the frame. Our results were a touch softer zoomed in all the way at the 140mm setting, but that's to be expected. It was at full zoom where I had the most fun with the Panasonic GH2 because of the amount of compression the lens would produce at 140mm.

Though the Panasonic GH2 can also shoot 3D images with the help of a special 3D lens, I did not get a chance to test this feature out for this review. For our take on the Panasonic 3D lens on a GF2, see the section below.

B&W. The Panasonic GH2 really shined for spur-of-the-moment long range shots. Even though we weren't crazy about the Monochrome effect, it helped give this photo of person jogging along train tracks a classic, moody look. 

Some fairly routine shots, such as when I captured oncoming traffic while shooting from the bottom of a nearby hill, had a dreamy, professional look to them. I was very jazzed when I spotted someone jogging on train tracks next to the Hudson River and was able to get a moody shot from a safe distance on a nearby trestle. For good measure, I switched to the Monochrome setting in the My Colors mode and snapped off some black-and-white shots. The result was a nice, artistic shot out of a random moment in time. Gotta love that.

Dynamic Art pumped up the saturation in this shot at the expense of detail.

My Colors. A quick word about My Colors since I'm on the subject. More and more cameras are adding artistic effects or art filters, and My Colors is Panasonic's stab at the feature. I have to say I preferred art effects on Olympus and Samsung latest cameras to the My Colors feature on the Panasonic GH2. Though Monochrome looked kind of cool, it didn't feel like a true black-and-white effect; there was too much yellow in the white areas, making my image look like old newsprint.

I also wasn't crazy with Dynamic Art which pumped up saturation at the expense of detail. Retro was supposed to produce the nostalgic effect of an old, weathered photo but it just looked bland to me. I'm so used to having similar effects with much more punch in the photos apps on my iPhone that My Colors felt like a letdown by comparison. The same goes for the Panasonic GH2's nine preset "Film" modes. They include options such as Nature, Nostalgic, Smooth, Vibrant and several variations on B&W, which are interesting but not anything I'd use more than once. These effects are something I'd like to see Panasonic further tweak and improve, though, because art filters can be a lot of fun.

Image Skills. In regular shooting modes, the camera produced very good color with fairly accurate saturation. Some "consumer" cameras tend to oversaturate and I was happy to see the Panasonic GH2, which is aimed at more advanced photographers, did not fall into this trap. Skin tones were also natural looking, though Caucasian tones were a little on the pinkish side.

Macro. The Panasonic GH2's 14-140mm f4-5.8 Mega O.I.S. zoom kit lens produced nice macro images, doing a good job blurring the background in this closeup.

The Panasonic GH2 captured sharp, detailed images overall, with only minor edge distortions in high-contrast subjects, such as the branches on a tree against the sky. Detail, overall, was good and the camera was not heavy handed with its noise suppression algorithms at low to mid ISO levels. At above ISO 400, though, things started to get a little messy. At ISO 1,600 we started to see much stronger luminance noise, as well as some yellow blotches in the shadows and darker midtones. Images at ISO 3,200 were still passable -- and sometimes looked quite good -- but detail started to get washed out when you zoomed in. Noise at ISO 6,400 looked downright ugly and ISO 12,800 was not for the faint of heart.

Without any effects on, the Panasonic GH2 rendered bold color that popped but still looked natural.

Noise levels were better across the board compared to the GH1 -- which was quite a noisy camera for both stills and HD video -- and the Panasonic GH2 was a surprisingly good low light camera. Part of the reason is likely the ramped up processor, which improved dynamic range while, for the most part, controlling noise without smearing detail.

Touch Control. If there's one new option I wasn't too keen on with the Panasonic GH2, it's the added touchscreen control. This is (somewhat) a matter of taste and there are likely many out there who don't mind the touch control on Panasonic's recent models but I'm not one of them. It all seems to be more trouble than it's worth including the distracting Touch Guide function, and the interesting but seemingly unnecessary Touch Shutter. I kept inadvertently taking picture of the street or walls with Touch Shutter on and ended turning all this functionality off. I guess the one positive note is that you can turn it off.

On the other hand, touch tracking, which makes the Panasonic GH2 lock in on whatever subject you touch on the LCD screen was pretty awesome. Getting the focal point back to the center of the screen after engaging touch tracking was irritating though. In video shooting, I loved that the touch-tracking feature allows you to "pull" or "rack focus" on the subject of your choice. The resulting footage keeps the subject sharp while the rest of the scene blurs for a professional look you'll find in most movies and TV shows.

My one other major complaint about the Panasonic GH2 is that it's an overly complicated camera whose interface feels cluttered. If you're interested in the GH2, be prepared to spend a lot of time deciphering the somewhat difficult manual and figuring out all the controls and icons on the body and screen. Still, as you've probably gathered by now, the Panasonic GH2 is a camera worth spending some time with if you're interested in producing high-quality still photos and high def video.

 

The Lumix GH2 supports Panasonic's new 12.5mm 3D lens, so we've included our impression of that lens on the GF2 here:

Panasonic 12.5mm 3D lens on the GF2

by Shawn Barnett

Reviewing a 3D lens naturally requires the hardware--TV and glasses--to view the effect, as the back of the current Panasonic cameras do not serve to show you 3D. So along with the new 12.5mm lens, Panasonic sent us a rather large plasma display, the TC-P50GT25 50-inch TV. They also sent a couple pair of TY-EW3D10U battery-operated 3D glasses. Working together, the TV and glasses deliver an alternating 60 frames per second to each eye, which means that the TV puts out 120 frames per second total. Called Active Shutter, the technology is universal to current 3D televisions, but it seems the brand of glasses needs to be matched to the television.

We shot a number of images of different subjects, including trees, dogs, kids, buildings, and cars. That gave us a pretty good feel for what the Lumix 12.5mm 3D lens could do. Though the active shutter technology built into the TV is optimized to deliver smooth video, according to marketing materials, the Panasonic GF2 does not produce videos with the 12.5mm 3D lens, only stills. The lens is also only compatible with the G2, GH2, and GF2 Micro Four Thirds cameras; currently no Olympus Pen Micro Four Thirds models support the lens. The camera can be set to record just the 3D image in MPO (Multi-Picture Object) format, or else the MPO plus JPEG in fine or compressed formats. Note that the resolution of the JPEG captured is 1.4 megapixels (1,600 x 904), because the lens is just laying down two images side by side on the camera's sensor. The MPO is essentially the same times two, so don't be expecting lush 12 or 16-megapixel images; the 3D images from this lens are intended primarily for electronic viewing.

ISO-Standard Dog. Charlotte the dog sat for the rare static photo, but only when she heard it was 3D. She fairly leaps from the screen in this sharp shot. Download MPO file to play on a 3D television.

While using the lens was fun, we were quickly disappointed with a few aspects. One is that the very small, and fixed aperture of f/12 limits your shooting to bright daylight. The lens is hyperfocal, meaning that you don't need to focus. Objects from 1.97 feet (60 cm) to infinity should be in focus in all shots; that's really what you want for 3D, so no foul there. And though it's a 12.5mm focal length, the angle of view is actually quite a bit narrower than a 12.5mm lens would be with any other MFT lens, again because it's projecting two images side by side on the sensor (it should be a 25mm equivalent). Panasonic calls it 65mm equivalent at 16:9, and we'd have to agree. That kept us backing up quite a bit to frame images, sometimes quite a distance. So not just bright daylight, but preferably flat, open spaces are necessary to take advantage of this 3D lens.

What's noteworthy is that Panasonic was able to deliver 3D imaging in such a small lens. 3D as we're used to seeing it, however, is made with eyes that are separated by about 60-70mm (depending on the person), compared to this lens's 10mm separation. This almost probably explains lack of depth that we often perceived on the television.

Vehicles. To my eye, the vehicles are mostly 3D, but without the proper depth. The trees in the background are mostly flat. Download MPO file to play on a 3D television.

I happened upon a nice day in mid-Winter, and took a few shots of the kids outside, then piled them in the van for a trip to the office where we could see the pictures in 3D. I'm blessed with a yard that is big enough to zoom with my feet, and I found myself having to back off as much as 20 or 30 feet to frame images the way I'd normally do with a zoom, just to get two small kids in the frame. I also crouched down much of the time to allow for plenty of background in the pictures. I had the sense that I could see some of the 3D effect on the Panasonic GF2's screen after capture, almost certainly an illusion, but it wasn't until we got to the big 50-inch television that the images really popped.

Children. Most shots of the kids were well-defined from the background, but that background tended to curve up rapidly behind them to my perception. Download MPO file to play on a 3D television.

Some of them, anyway. Whether an image popped really depended on the lighting and the distance between me, the subject, and the background. In fact, it seems that objects about halfway between the camera and the background stood out the most, an observation made by my oldest daughter. All three kids seemed to enjoy seeing themselves at first, and they fought for the two sets of glasses, with me fighting right along with them so I could have a glimpse too. After about 10 minutes, though, the interest faded, and the younger boys wandered off to explore the office, while my daughter took the glasses off altogether, only putting them back on to see what I was talking about as I continued to rifle through the images. She was getting nauseated, and the glasses hurt her eyes. To be fair, she said she was nauseated before we got there, and it turned out she had a stomach flu after all. But the boys also said the glasses bothered their eyes after a few minutes of viewing, and when their sister freed up her glasses, they were not interested in coming back to see more (my youngest son refuses to watch 3D movies at the theater, so it's impressive that this Panasonic TV held him as long as it did).

Publisher Dave (who's notoriously sensitive to motion sickness) also reported some queasiness when viewing 3-D images. He thinks it's caused by the way the scene position appears to shift when you move your head. If you don't easily become seasick or just don't move your head much while viewing, this may not be a problem for you.

Depth. This shot of the small truck should show what I mean with the lack of depth going back when viewed in 3D. Download MPO file to play on a 3D television.

My eyes were slightly bothered by viewing the images at first, but I think I could get used to the glasses and TV. I was surprised that you could still see 3D fairly well as much as 45 degrees off-axis, unlike the passive 3D glasses I've used in the past. Each of the lab viewers experienced more or less 3D effect depending on the person. People with a very dominant eye might see no effect at all. I tended to see more than most, but I noticed a limitation: backgrounds often seemed to wrap back up toward the camera, rather than continuing cleanly back as I knew they should. As a result, you get the effect of paper cutouts against a steeply sloping background, rather than full depth. The 3D experts around me say it's likely the small 10-millimeter separation between the lenses that causes the perceived compression, not so much the 65mm-equivalent lens. Another flaw in the viewing experience was that dark objects against a light background tended to show ghost images overlaying the dark portions, especially noticeable in people and tree trunks. This is likely the result of the glasses not completely blocking light when in the "off" state: Some of the other eye's image leaks through, making the ghost images appear where a dark foreground object is next to a light one or vice versa.

The images were realistic enough that I found myself shifting my head to see if I could see more of a scene by moving to peek around a real opening into 3D space. When you do that, though, the 3D background just appears to float, unmoving, behind the foreground objects, an odd, somewhat unsettling phenomenon that caused a couple of viewer's queasiness.

Lab shot. Here's a tighter-than-usual shot of the INB indoor test target that should also show some depth. Download MPO file to play on a 3D television.

Since we had the big, beautiful Panasonic 3D TV in-house, we also viewed a few images from the Sony NEX-3 made with the 3D Sweep Panorama function, as these are also MPO files. Results were good, with perhaps a bit more depth. But because the images are stitched from multiple images, it was really obvious where the stitching errors were made, because things like bunches of trees, which are considerably more difficult to stitch, would stand out as not conforming to the 3D world; one tree even popped out from the background to appear to be in front of the trees it was most certainly behind.

While I enjoyed looking at the 3D images for the novelty, I don't think it's something I'd do very often. Given how little time the kids looked at it, I'm sure I won't be an early adopter of the technology, even though the television Panasonic sent us currently sells for about as much as a 2D 50-inch TV cost last year: around US$1,050 at current street prices. (And the TC-P50GT25 is a very, very good 2D TV as well, with great color, excellent dynamic range, and very fast refresh.) The glasses are about US$100 per pair. Those already invested in 3D, be it for gaming or movie viewing, will likely find the US$250 lens an inexpensive way to enjoy the hardware they already have, provided they also already have a Panasonic G2, GF2, or GH2. (Those same users might also see it as additional reason to buy into the whole Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera lineup as a whole.)

Still, I'm glad I have some photos of the kids playing in 3D, because someday the technology may be as ubiquitous as the once-futuristic flat panels are today. Indeed, some of what we saw at CES 2011, especially glasses-free 3D, made even the most skeptical 3D doubters among us start to wonder. Perhaps instead of continued confinement to the iconic reels of the 72-year-old Viewmaster stereoscopic viewer, 3D might finally stick around, what with electronic capture and electronic display technology finally becoming the mainstream method of image creation and consumption. Meanwhile, if you want to start capturing 3D now, the Panasonic 3D lens is available for current or future G2, GF2, or GH2 shooters at a reasonable price.

 

Panasonic GH2 Image Quality Comparison

Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce a reasonable ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do at ISO 1,600, at their default noise reduction settings. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. I also choose 1,600 because I like to be able to shoot at or above this level when indoors and at night. We also explore ISO 3,200, and look at the high-contrast detail of ISO 100 vs 3,200 and 6,400. Be sure to check our Thumbnails and Gallery pages for more image quality samples, and don't miss our more in-depth analysis on the various tabs, especially the Video, Exposure and Optics pages.

Panasonic GH2 versus GF2 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GH2 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF2 at ISO 1,600

The 16-megapixel GH2 has one obvious advantage over its 12-megapixel brother, the GF2: Resolution; hence the larger size and greater detail. Color is more distinct and rich at ISO 1,600, but it's not hard to see that they're from the same manufacturer. The GH2 is a step up in image quality.


Panasonic GH2 versus Canon T3i at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GH2 at ISO 1,600
Canon T3i at ISO 1,600

Here's the first glimpse of a problem that plagues the GH2's JPEGs, and nearly all Panasonic's higher-end cameras: a green shift and muting of color that worsens as ISO rises. While the Canon T3i does have more resolution with its 18-megapixel sensor, it also renders crisper detail overall; all except for the red leaf swatch, where the GH2 does better with the detail, while muting the red. And that olive oil bottle is about that golden, and the lighter band around the mosaic is closer to the Canon rendition than the GH2's mossy interpretation. It's valid also to note that the Micro Four Thirds sensor in the GH2 is smaller than the Canon's APS-C sensor, and the camera and its lenses are a lot smaller, too, so that's one of the tradeoffs these crops reveal.


Panasonic GH2 versus Nikon D5100 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GH2 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D5100 at ISO 1,600

Of all the cameras we compare, Nikons tend to render these three elements the most evenly. Good color, good detail, with nothing standing out as sharper or better rendered than any other element, as we saw in the Canon T3i. Again, the GH2 is edged out here in JPEGs, but shooting in RAW brings back a lot of detail. The Nikon D5100's sensor is an even larger APS-C sensor than Canon uses.


Panasonic GH2 versus Pentax K-5 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GH2 at ISO 1,600
Pentax K-5 at ISO 1,600

The Pentax K-5 uses the same sensor design as the Nikon D5100, so though its interpretation of the images is different, it still resolves more detail.


Panasonic GH2 versus Sony A580 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GH2 at ISO 1,600
Sony A580 at ISO 1,600

Sony's A580 takes a more aggressive approach to both noise suppression and sharpening, so some areas of its JPEGs look very soft, even out of focus, while higher-contrast areas look super sharp. Still, the Sony does a better job rendering the overall effect of the red leaf swatch, and gets the color closer to reality.



Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.

Panasonic GH2 versus GF2 at ISO 3,200

Panasonic GH2 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GF2 at ISO 3,200

Panasonic's GH2 handles color in high ISO much better than its smaller counterpart, the GF2, which drops most subtle color in an attempt to maintain some detail. That's a battle it loses in the red leaf swatch, too, while some impression of the leaves remains in the GH2's image.


Panasonic GH2 versus Canon T3i at ISO 3,200

Panasonic GH2 at ISO 3,200
Canon T3i at ISO 3,200

The Canon T3i's chief advantage here is in hue accuracy, even though it's a bit artificially pumped. Nose suppression is ramped up sufficiently that if the GH2 had better color, they'd appear much closer. The T3i fairly mungs the red leaf swatch in a sea of suppression.


Panasonic GH2 versus Nikon D5100 at ISO 3,200

Panasonic GH2 at ISO 3,200
Nikon D5100 at ISO 3,200

Nikon's larger sensor and more balanced approach to noise suppression wins out again at this setting. There's a little more chroma noise left behind in the shadows as a result, but overall I'd take this result over the softer image of the GH2.


Panasonic GH2 versus Pentax K-5 at ISO 3,200

Panasonic GH2 at ISO 3,200
Pentax K-5 at ISO 3,200

Likewise, the Pentax does very well at ISO 3,200, all except for the red leaf swatch, which loses almost all sense of the red leaf pattern.


Panasonic GH2 versus Sony A580 at ISO 3,200

Panasonic GH2 at ISO 3,200
Sony A580 at ISO 3,200

Again, Sony's aggressive noise suppression brings the A580's image elements closer to the GH2, but better color management makes a better image, and the larger sensor brings out more detail.




Detail: Panasonic GH2 vs. GF2, Canon T3i, Nikon D5100, Pentax K-5, and Sony A580

Panasonic
GH2
ISO 160
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Panasonic
GF2
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
T3i
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
D5100
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Pentax
K-5
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
A580
ISO 160
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. High-contrast details are often sharper as ISO rises, so they're worth a look as well. All of these cameras do pretty well in this series, though the blacks in the GH2 are a little lighter than the others, which doesn't help in this high-contrast contest. All considered, the Panasonic GH2 does surprisingly well with high-contrast detail, maintaining more of the Pure Brewed lines at ISO 6,400 than most of the others. Its 4:3 aspect ratio is part of the advantage, which is why the image appears larger than the others, which have 3:2 aspect ratios, but we're still impressed, especially given the lower contrast. The finest bit of detail--the small A under the L in Lager, looks best in the Pentax and Sony SLRs. Though there's some hint of sharpening halo in the GH2's rendering of the letters, the GF2, T3i, and A580 have significantly more dramatic halos. The Panasonic GH2 does very well with high-contrast detail.

 

Panasonic GH2 Print Quality

ISO 160 shots are a bit soft at 24 x 36, but look quite good at 20 x 30 inches, with good detail but slightly muted color. That's unfortunately the way JPEGs look from most Panasonic cameras, and the GH2 is no exception.

ISO 200 shots are slightly softer than the 160 shots, but still very good at 16 x 20 inches.

ISO 400 images also look very good at 16 x 20 inches.

ISO 800 shots start to soften a little more at 16 x 20, and colors darken a bit. Results look better printed at 13 x 19 inches.

ISO 1,600 prints are good, if a little soft, at 8 x 10 inches. Colors are a bit darker still, and reds start to lose detail.

ISO 3,200 shots look better at 5 x 7 inches, though the shadows and mids do appear somewhat dark.

ISOs 6,400/12,800 do not yield usable 4 x 6s and are best avoided if possible. 

In terms of resolution, the Panasonic GH2 does quite well, with good detail at very large print sizes from ISO 160 to 800. When shooting in low light, however, we recommend capturing a RAW image as well, as color muting and inaccuracy intensifies as ISO rises.

 

In the Box

The Panasonic GH2 ships with the following items in the box:

  • Panasonic GH2 body
  • 14-42mm or 14-140mm lens (if purchased as a kit)
  • Body cap
  • Lens caps
  • Stylus
  • Lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • USB cable
  • Shoulder strap
  • CD-ROM
  • Quick Start manual
  • Warranty card

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Panasonic GH2 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Digital SLR-style body will appeal to DSLR fans
  • Loads of exterior controls for adjusting still and video functionality
  • Full 1,920 x 1,080i HD video in AVCHD mode
  • High-quality "Cinema" mode gives 1080p video, at 24 fps
  • Higher-bandwidth recording than many models (maximum of 24 Mbps vs 17 Mbps for many others)
  • Choice of AVCHD or Motion JPEG recording formats
  • Dedicated movie start/stop button
  • Very fast operational speed overall thanks to new Venus Engine FHD processor
  • Can record movies from any still capture mode (but movie exposure is auto-only when done that way)
  • Live autofocus during movie recording is available at all lens aperture settings
  • Excellent live AF tracking during movie recording with 14-140mm kit lens
  • 14-140mm lens operation has virtually no impact on movie audio tracks
  • Good video image quality in both AVCHD and Motion JPEG modes
  • Full exposure control in movie mode, including shutter speed, aperture and ISO
  • Touch-autofocus is very handy for shifting AF point during video recording
  • Blazing fast autofocus lock; big improvement over previous model
  • Very fast prefocused shutter lag
  • Impressive amount of imaging features in a consumer/prosumer camera
  • Excellent zoom kit lens produced sharp photos and lovely compression when zoomed for stills
  • 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor produced improved still image quality from previous model with better low light performance
  • Movie recording possible after dark at typical city lighting levels
  • Excellent low light focusing
  • Manual audio level control
  • Capture up to 30 2-megapixel still images during movie recording, without interrupting recording
  • Slow-motion and fast-motion movie modes available
  • Superior stereo sound from built-in mic with helpful Wind Cut feature
  • Stereo mic jack supports external microphones
  • Very high resolution
  • Very good Auto White Balance performance in Incandescent lighting
  • Overly complicated and confusing camera takes a long time to figure out
  • Movie recording cuts off nearly a second *before* the start/stop button was pressed (easy to work around, but a nuisance nonetheless)
  • Differences between still and video frame sizes can trip you up when initiating recording from still-capture modes
  • Some movie features only available in dedicated movie mode, but awkward to take still snapshots in movie mode
  • Most of the touchscreen functionality seemed more trouble than it was worth
  • Myriad of icons clutter up the 3-inch, vari-angle LCD screen
  • After-dark videos have more image noise than the best SLRs we've tested, with slight banding in some scenes (banding is more noticeable in MJPEG files than AVCHD)
  • The My Colors art effects were not on par to similar filters from Olympus and Samsung
  • External mic jack is non-standard 2.5mm, requires 3.5mm adapter for most microphones
  • ISO above 3,200 gets noisy; ISO 12,800 images are usable at 5x7, but can have an odd color cast
  • With 14-140mm zoom kit lens, the camera becomes quite big and bulky
  • Demosaicing errors visible in fine detail, like hair
  • Contrast adjustment very subtle
  • Muted yellows and oranges in JPEGs, taking on a green or brown cast
  • Continuous mode slows above base ISO
  • Shallow buffers in continuous mode
  • No wireless flash support from built-in flash

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It's almost as unfair to call the 16-megapixel Panasonic GH2 an SLR-style camera as it is to call it a Compact System Camera (CSC). The Panasonic GH2 is actually a true photo/movie hybrid, straddling the ground between a still camera and a camcorder. And it's a segment that Panasonic pioneered with the GH2's predecessor, the GH1, which burst onto the scene at the PMA show in 2009.

Panasonic hasn't significantly tweaked the design or features of the original, but it has made some across-the-board improvements. Most noticeable for still photography is the blazing-fast Contrast-Detection autofocus system and the Panasonic GH2's faster operational speed overall. Much of this improvement must be credited to the camera's new Venus Engine FHD processor, which keeps everything humming along at a good clip. We also noticed improvements in the Panasonic GH2's image quality even at higher ISOs in low light. This is pleasantly surprising considering the bump up in megapixels on the Micro Four Thirds sensor from the previous model.

As a video camera, the Panasonic GH2 also showed improvements in HD image quality; 1080i HD was quite good, and 24p, cinematic-style video looked great thanks to the faster 24Mbps recording rate. Meanwhile, stereo sound from the built-in mic was crisp and the Wind Cut feature helped reduce that breezy whoosh during outdoor shooting. We're also fond of the Panasonic GH2's Continuous Autofocus feature for HD capture, which our tests show is among the best in the business.

But for all its improvements, the Panasonic GH2 is not without a few quirks. We weren't crazy about the touch control features on the 3-inch vari-angle screen, finding them distracting and unnecessary (note that we thought using touch-tracking to pull focus was an ideal use of touch technology). There was slight banding and noise in low-light scenes compressed via Motion JPEG, but those went away in the AVCHD files. We also found the Panasonic GH2 to be an overcomplicated and confusing camera to use, and had to continually consult the manual to figure out some of its features.

But if discovering all the GH2's features might take a little extra work, we think it's worth it if you're looking for a very small still/video hybrid camera. Considering its more technically inclined target market, its overall still and video image quality, and its smooth and rapid autofocus earn the Panasonic GH2 a bona fide Dave's Pick.

 

Panasonic GH2

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