Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Overview
by Mike Tomkins, Dave Etchells, Shawn Barnett
and Zig Weidelich
Hands-on Preview: 11/04/2010
Playing to their main strength over their single lens reflex brethren, compact system cameras -- otherwise known as mirrorless interchangeable lens, or single-lens direct view models -- have gotten quite a bit smaller since their debut a couple of years ago. Doing its part, Panasonic intensifies that aggressive drive towards a truly compact design with the Lumix DMC-GF2. Though the push toward smaller cameras was begun by Olympus and Panasonic, Sony's very small NEX series of compact system cameras has forced Panasonic to respond. As a result, the Panasonic GF2 is closer to the size of the LX5 than it is the GF1, and also close to the diminutive size of the Sony NEX-5. It's even smaller than two of the high-end fixed-lens digital cameras that it competes with: the Nikon P7000 and Canon G12.
Discussion of size is important in this market space, because in addition to image quality, this is where the battle lines are drawn. These cameras are designed to deliver the best image quality in the smallest volume. Technically, the Lumix GF2 is similar to its predecessor, with the same 12.1-megapixel sensor, but Panasonic says its Venus Engine FHD processor will improve noise performance across the ISO range, which is important when going up against cameras featuring APS-C sensors.
Size isn't the only component to the story, what's also interesting is what they had to do to achieve this size reduction, which includes moving many of the features that previously had a dial to the new touchscreen. Many of the G2's touchscreen features have been brought to the GF2, and many new ones were created to replace features like the Mode dial. At the same time, Panasonic added higher resolution video to the GF2, up to 1,920 x 1,080 at 60i in AVCHD compression.
The Panasonic GF2 is packed with both trade-offs and benefits, and as such is likely to prove a bit divisive, with some photographers drawn by the advantages of its relatively compact body, and others concerned at the reduction in external controls. There's a lot more to the story, though, as you'll discover in our User Report below.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 is available in three different kit versions, and started shipping in mid-February 2011. Sold without a lens, the Panasonic GF2 body is priced at US$499.95. The DMC-GF2K kit includes a LUMIX G VARIO 14-42 mm / F3.5-5.6 ASPH. zoom lens, and is priced at US$599.95. The DMC-GF2C kit, meanwhile, includes a LUMIX G 14 mm / F2.5 ASPH. prime lens, and is the highest-priced US-market kit, at US$699.95. In certain other markets, there's also a double-lens kit including both of these lenses, but this kit is not available in the US market. The optional DMW-LVF1 external viewfinder is priced at US$199.95. Other Panasonic-branded accessories include a DMW-ZL1 zoom lever, DMW-TA1 tripod adapter, an AC adaptor and DC coupler, and a variety of lens mount adapters, external flash strobes, cameras cases and bags, and shoulder straps.
Look and feel. The Panasonic Lumix GF2 is smaller than the company's previous GF1 model, with an approximate 19% reduction in body volume, accompanied by a 7% drop in body-only weight. The change brings the Panasonic GF2 into much closer contention with Sony's popular NEX-series camera in terms of overall size and weight. Compared to the Sony NEX-3, both cameras have similar body thickness. The Panasonic GF2 is a little less than a quarter inch taller, and the Sony NEX-3 is wider by a similar margin. Compared to the more aggressively styled Sony NEX-5, though, the comparison still falls more clearly in Sony's favor. Both cameras have similar width, and the NEX-5 gives away a little less than a quarter inch in thickness to the Panasonic GF2, but is almost a third of an inch less tall than the Panasonic.
|Panasonic GF1||4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in.||119 x 71 x 36mm|
|Panasonic GF2||4.4 x 2.7 x 1.3 in.||113 x 68 x 33mm|
|Panasonic LX5||4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7 in.||110 x 66 x 43mm|
|Sony NEX-5||4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 in.||111 x 60 x 40mm|
|Sony NEX-3||4.6 x 2.5 x 1.3 in.||117 x 63 x 33mm|
|Olympus E-P2||4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in.||121 x 70 x 35mm|
|Olympus E-PL1||4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 in.||115 x 72 x 42mm|
(including fixed lens)
|4.5 x 3.0 x 1.8 in.||114 x 77 x 45mm|
(including fixed lens)
|4.4 x 3.0 x 1.9 in.||112 x 76 x 48mm|
Excluding protrusions, the Panasonic GF2 measures 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.3 inches (113 x 68 x 33mm), versus 4.6 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches (117 x 63 x 33mm) for the Sony NEX-3. The NEX-5, meanwhile, is 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 inches (111 x 60 x 40mm). An important detail hidden by these numbers is that both Sony cameras have a more deeply sculpted handgrip, where Panasonic's new offering has only a very slight protrusion offering purchase for your fingertips. In other words, its body thickness is similar across most of the camera's width, whereas much of the bulk in the NEX cameras is found in their handgrips. Note also that the GF2 is only one-tenth of an inch larger than the Panasonic LX5 in width and height. (When comparing the camera dimensions shown above right, be sure to consider that the last dimension, thickness, is measured without a lens for the compact system cameras. Also, see our comparison images below.)
The Panasonic GF2 weighs approximately 9.4 ounces (265g) body-only, or 12.9 ounces (365g) with battery, flash card, and the 14mm f/2.5 (28mm eq.) lens shown below. The Sony NEX-5, for comparison, weighs 8.1 ounces (229g) body-only, or 12.9 ounces (365g) when ready to shoot with its 16mm f/2.8 (24mm eq.) lens -- the nearest model to that on the Panasonic. The Sony NEX-3 weighs 8.4 ounces (239g) body-only, or 13.1 ounces loaded and ready with the same 16mm f/2.8 lens.
To achieve the smaller, lighter body versus that of its predecessor, Panasonic has made quite a few changes in the Lumix GF2's layout and user interface. Looking at the front of the Panasonic GF2, a small finger grip lined with a silver trim piece curves away gently towards the top of the camera, providing just enough of a hold to make the otherwise flat camera easy to handle while shooting, although photographers with larger hands may find it to be too close to the edge of the camera to hold comfortably. Compared to the GF1, the AF Assist lamp has jumped to the other side of the lens mount, and now sits directly beneath the GF2 badge. Directly beneath, the silver lens release button appears just right of the lens mount, with a greater gap between the two than in the GF1.
Comparing the top deck of the Panasonic GF2 side-by-side with that of the GF1, the most obvious difference is the removal of the Mode dial, as well as the Drive Mode switch that was located directly beneath. The newly available space is occupied by a repositioned power switch, and a new stereo microphone, which is an upgrade from the GF1's monaural mic. While the change to a two-channel mic might look good on paper, the lack of spacing between the microphone channels -- and the fact that they don't face toward the subject -- conspires to rob the GF2's video of much stereo effect. (Note that this is mic arrangement is similar to that on other G-series cameras that support stereo recording, although in this smaller camera they can't be mounted on the pop-up flash mechanism). To the left, the flash hot shoe sits lower on the GF2's top panel than on the GF1. Along with the removal of the Mode dial and Drive Mode switch, this change gives the GF2 a smoother top deck than in its predecessor.
Just to the right of the stereo microphone ports is the Shutter button, and directly to its right is the Movie Record button; both still and movie modes are available at all times. Directly behind the Shutter and Movie Record buttons is a new Intelligent Auto button, dedicated to activating Panasonic's beginner-friendly shooting mode that can automatically control most camera functions, including automatic recognition of the shooting scene type. The ring encircling the outside of this button glows blue when activated. Just like the GF1, the left and right ends of the Panasonic GF2's top deck feature wide metal camera strap lugs, something we greatly appreciate. The metal D-rings on the E-P1 and several other recent digital SLRs are unsuitable for video, because they can make noise that gets picked up by the camera's microphone.
The bulk of the user interface differences from the GF1 can be found on the Panasonic GF2's rear panel. There are four less physical controls here than on the previous camera, and that's achieved thanks to a switch to a touch-panel LCD display. Panasonic is far from the only company offering touch-panel digital cameras, but it's the only one to provide an interchangeable-lens camera with the feature. The Panasonic GF2's touch interface is similar to that from the Lumix G2, one which we found to be uncommonly mature and useful -- especially when it came to controlling autofocus in video mode. As well as controlling menus and accessing soft keys, the touch panel can be used to indicate the subject on which the camera should focus and set exposure, and to trip the shutter release. It can also be used to intuitively control the playback zoom, and then pan around the zoomed image by dragging a finger across the screen, among other functions. The Panasonic GF2's 3-inch LCD is very sharp, with 460,000 dots of resolution, sufficient to confirm focus with good accuracy, but lags somewhat behind the 921,000 dot resolution of Sony's NEX-series cameras.
To save real estate and clutter, the Panasonic GF2 combines the Quick Menu and Function controls into a single button, necessitating an either-or proposition, with the button's purpose selected through the menu system, although the Quick Menu is always accessible through the touch panel. The Q.Menu / Function button also serves double duty as a Delete / Return button in Playback mode. The GF2 also drops the Autofocus / Auto Exposure lock, Autofocus / Manual Focus, Display Mode, and Preview / Delete buttons from the rear panel, with their functionality either catered for with the touch screen, or other buttons -- in some cases thanks to the ability to assign functions to the Quick Menu / Function button. Despite the reduction in size, the GF2 manages to find space to retain a single, SLR-style rear dial that can be used both to adjust variables such as aperture or shutter speed by rolling it in either direction, and also to confirm selections by pressing it inward. In the absence of the top-panel Drive Mode dial from the GF1, the down arrow button in the Lumix GF2's four-way controller serves as a Drive Mode button. Most other rear-panel controls are similar in functionality and approximate placement to those of the GF1.
Flash. The Panasonic Lumix GF2 is the smallest and lightest interchangeable-lens camera to include a built-in flash. We shoot available-light whenever possible, but frequently flash is either the only way to go, or makes for a better photo.
Similar to that of the GF1, the Panasonic GF2's OPEN button on the back releases the springloaded flash mechanism, which pops up and forward at the same time. Panasonic told us that the GF2's flash mechanism has been redesigned to make it more simple. While we didn't have a GF1 handy to make a direct comparison, the Panasonic GF2's flash head does appear to pop up a little higher than that on the GF1, and it felt less finicky than we recalled when pressing it back down to its closed position.
The Panasonic GF2's flash has a guide number of 6 meters at ISO 100, the same as that of the GF1, but significantly reduced from the flash in the G1 and GH1 which had an ISO 100 guide number of 11 meters. Flash modes include Auto, Auto w/ Red-eye reduction, Forced, Forced w/ Red-eye reduction, Slow-sync, Slow-sync w/ Red-eye reduction, and Off. X-sync is at 1/160 second. As well as the built-in flash, there's also an intelligent hot shoe, compatible with Panasonic's DMW-FL220, DMW-FL360, and DMW-FL500 flash strobes.
One of the first things we noticed about the Panasonic GF2's flash head was that we could easily tilt it back as shown at right, aiming the flash at the ceiling. In effect, the built-in strobe can be made to operate as a bounce flash, albeit with significant limitations. The flash is itself already rather short on range, and bouncing it off the ceiling significantly increases the effective distance to the subject. Add in the fact that bouncing off a ceiling will only result in a portion of the flash output illuminating your subject, with much of the light wasted, and this makes the technique useful only for relatively nearby subjects where the ceiling is reasonably low. Unfortunately since the GF2 doesn't know that flash is being bounced, it won't adjust the exposure to compensate, so if your subject is too far away, you'll likely get an underexposed shot. In some circumstances, though -- especially macro shots where the camera has a tendency to blow the exposure -- this unintended bounce trick can make for a noticeably better result, sometimes vastly so.
EVF. Just like the GF1 before it, the GF2 includes a small connector beneath its hot shoe, which can be used for Panasonic's optional swiveling, electronic viewfinder accessory: the DMW-LVF1 External Live Viewfinder. This neat little accessory is essentially an electronic viewfinder that you can snap on if you're having trouble viewing the LCD in direct light, or if you just prefer looking through a viewfinder. It's similar in concept to the electronic viewfinder accessory offered by Olympus for the E-P2 and E-PL1 Micro Four Thirds models, and has the same drawback -- attachment of the viewfinder accessory precludes use of an external flash strobe. That's perhaps less of an issue thanks to the inclusion of a built-in flash strobe, but it's still a compromise worth bearing in mind.
With 202,000 dots of resolution, the Panasonic DMW-LVF1 EVF accessory isn't in the same class as the 1,440,000 dot resolution of Olympus' EVF, nor does it match the resolution of the GF2's own rear-panel LCD. On the plus side, though, it has a swift 60 frame per second refresh, and 1.04x magnification. It also comes in a very retro leather pouch with a snap cover, and a loop on the back designed to thread onto the camera strap. There's even a plastic socket inside the pouch into which the DMW-LVF1 can securely dock. List pricing for this accessory is set at $199, and street pricing is in the region of $150, making it a reasonably affordable, worthwhile addition to your camera bag.
Sensor and Processor. The Panasonic GF2's sensor resolution is unchanged from 12.1 megapixels of the GF1, and according to Panasonic, it's the same sensor used in the G1 and GF1. Panasonic says its new three-core Venus Engine FHD processor offers better noise reduction, even at higher ISOs. In our testing, we did note stronger levels of noise reduction, but found that these were at the expense of image detail. Even at the very lowest sensitivity -- ISO 100 equivalent -- the effects of noise reduction were somewhat noticeable. By ISO 1,600 equivalent, stronger noise is visible in images, despite the noise reduction. With that said, unless you're pixel peeping, the GF2 should be good for prints up to 16x20 inches at ISO 400 or perhaps ISO 800, while at ISO 1,600 and beyond, useful results can still be obtained at lower print sizes. Much more detail can be found on the Image Quality tab.
The sensor and processor combination also enable 1,920 x 1,080 videos at 60i or 1280 x 720 at 60p in AVCHD mode. HD Motion JPEG recording is also available at 1,280 x 720, 848 x 480, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240, all at 30fps. (Maximum data rate from the sensor is 30fps, so the 60i in AVCHD mode is basically captured at 30p, then encoded at 60i.)
ISO range. ISO settings range from 100 to 6,400 equivalents There's also both an Auto ISO mode whose upper limit can be defined by the user from 200 to 1,600, and an Intelligent ISO function which takes into account not only the brightness of the scene when determining the sensitivity, but also subject motion.
Dust reduction. The Panasonic GF2 includes a Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction system that vibrates the a filter over the image sensor at around 50,000 cycles per second to remove dust, which is captured on a sticky material beneath the filter.
Autofocus. The Panasonic Lumix GF2 offers a 23-point TTL contrast-detection autofocusing system, and includes an AF-assist lamp to help with focusing in low-light conditions. As well as the multi-point focusing mode, the GF2 can be set to either single AF, tracking AF, or face detection modes.
When a face is detected, the camera can automatically adjust focus and exposure to ensure that your subject's face is correctly rendered. When determining exposure variables, the faces of six specific individuals can be prioritized over others in the scene (and over each other, based on the order they've been sorted when training the camera). The image metadata can also be automatically tagged with up to three individuals' names. Thanks to the GF2's touch screen and iAuto mode, touching a face onscreen automatically switches the GF2 to Portrait mode and sets focus and exposure accordingly.
Face recognition also offers assistance in Playback mode, making it easier to find photos containing a specific individual -- and in the event that a face has been detected incorrectly, the tagging can be changed after the fact. Images that weren't tagged at capture time cannot be tagged manually, however. The Panasonic GF2 can be programmed to recognize up to six specific faces, assigning a name to each, and you can store up to three shots per face to refine its detection capability.
Modes. The Panasonic GF2's Mode selection is brought up by pressing the Mode icon in the upper left of the screen, and includes Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture- and Shutter-priority, and Manual shooting modes, plus Intelligent Auto, My Color, Scene, and Custom.
The Panasonic GF2's Custom mode allows three groups of settings to be saved for later recall. Just press on the C button, then press to select one of the three Custom buttons.
The Scene selection offers 17 modes that help beginners get the results they desire with a minimum of effort.
Modes on offer in the Panasonic GF2 include Portrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Architecture, Sports, Peripheral Defocus, Flower, Food, Objects, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Illuminations, Baby 1 + 2 (so you can keep track of birthdays for two different children, allowing the Panasonic software to display the child's age along with the photo), Pet, Party, and Sunset.
A subset of eleven of these Scene modes are applicable not only to still images, but also to movie capture. The Panasonic GF2's Intelligent Auto mode, activated via a button on the camera's top deck, can automatically detect certain scene types and select the appropriate scene mode from either i-Portrait, i-Scenery, i-Macro, i-Night Portrait, i-Night Scenery, or i-Baby.
Connectivity. The Lumix GF2 uses a miniHDMI Type C connector for output to high-definition displays, and includes VIERA Link compatibility where the camera can be controlled by the remote control of a Panasonic VIERA Link enabled HDTV. Linked operation with HDMI CEC compatible devices made by other companies is not guaranteed. It is also possible to display 3D images taken with Panasonic's 12.5mm f/12 Lumix G 3D lens, when connected to a compatible 3D television. The GF2's proprietary AV/USB connector also supports composite video and stereo audio output to standard definition devices. Data can be transferred via USB 2.0 High-Speed. The USB port has PTP (for PictBridge compatible printers) and Mass Storage modes. The Panasonic GF2 no longer has the remote cable socket found on the GF1.
Storage and battery. The Panasonic GF2 uses SD cards for storage, with support for the newer SDHC and SDXC types. Panasonic recommends using a Class 4 or faster card for AVCHD video recording, and Class 6 or faster for Motion JPEG videos. Power is supplied by a proprietary Panasonic 7.2v, 1,010mAh battery, with an expected battery life of 300 shots with the 14-42mm kit lens, or 320 shots with the 14mm kit lens. The GF2 includes the company's ID-Security technology, which prevents use of third-party batteries. This battery is smaller in mAh capacity when compared to the GF1's 1,250 mAh battery.
Panasonic GF2 Comparisons
One of the main advantages of compact system cameras over their SLR siblings is that -- with no need to accommodate a bulky reflex mirror mechanism -- they can be made significantly smaller and lighter. As Sony has proven with its NEX series, that can be a very desirable selling point. With the Panasonic GF2, the company shows that it's stood up and taken notice of the desire for smaller interchangeable lens cameras. With that in mind, we thought comparisons against some of the Panasonic GF2 competitors were appropriate. The Sony NEX-5 marks the current best-in-breed in terms of what's possible with compact system camera miniaturization, while the Olympus PEN E-P2 and Samsung NX100 represent something closer to the norm in terms of form factor. Finally, the Nikon P7000 represents a fixed-lens camera designed with the enthusiast photographer in mind. Read on to see how each compares with the Panasonic GF2.
Panasonic GF2 vs Sony NEX-5
Panasonic GF2 vs Olympus E-P2
Panasonic GF2 vs Samsung NX100
Panasonic GF2 vs. Nikon P7000
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Shooter's Report
by Shawn Barnett
I'm pretty enthusiastic about this new category of digital camera, so I was keen to check out Panasonic's latest entry. Panasonic made many changes to their small mirrorless model, shrinking it by a few millimeters in the process. The result is what you'd expect to see if you reduced the size of the outer body of the GF1 in a computer aided design program, then noted and removed the components that no longer fit inside the new skin without completely redesigning the other internal components. As a result, the Mode and Drive mode dials are supplanted by the stereo microphones, which had to move from under the hot shoe in order to reduce the overall height of the GF2. The power switch also moved to a better position to make room for the iA (Intelligent Auto) button.
Build. The Panasonic GF2's body is solid and hefty, with no creaks or twisting. A hard, plastic door attached to the camera body via rubber tethers conceals the ports on the right side, and a plastic, springloaded door covers the battery and memory card on the bottom right. The grip is more comfortable than the one on the GF1, allowing my fingers to curve around it and still get good purchase on the rear thumbgrip and find easy placement on the shutter button. Photographers with larger hands may find the grip is still uncomfortably close to the edge of the camera, though. I found it easy to shoot one-handed with the 14mm lens, but longer lenses will likely require two hands; naturally zooms are mechanical, so you'll need that second hand anyway. Note the red model at right, and a white model is also available.
Pop-up Flash. The simplified pop-up flash is very similar to the design in the Olympus E-PL1. I'm glad they simplified it compared to the GF1, because that one, while elegant, was very finicky about how you moved it to press it back down. The GF2's flash releases mechanically by pressing an adjacent button on the camera's rear panel. Due to the mechanical release, it won't automatically pop up, even in the iAuto and scene modes.
As for power, this tiny flash has very little, barely lighting objects just six feet away. It's also not equal to the 14mm (28mm equivalent) lens that shipped with the GF2, only lighting up the center of the frame, leaving most of the left and right dark.
I slipped the Olympus FL-14 flash into the hot shoe to good effect. It worked just fine, overexposing a bit for my taste, but I was able to adjust it to my satisfaction. It's so close to the lens that I had a little problem with red-eye. Panasonic makes several flashes that will work with the G-series, including the smallest FL220, which should have less of a problem with red-eye, though it is larger.
LCD. The vibrant LCD is a pleasure to use, with 460,000 pixels and a fast refresh rate. We didn't have the optional EVF, called the DMW-LVF1, but that optional accessory attaches to the Lumix GF2, slipping into the hot shoe and accessory port just like it does on the GF1 and LX5. I prefer to keep the camera smaller, so I wouldn't have used this $199 accessory anyway. The higher-resolution LCD is great for framing and focusing manually, offering better discrimination than is available on Olympus PENs, and the touch interface offers a fast way to pick a focus point--and even fire the shutter--with a simple touch on the screen.
Autofocus. But before I get into using the touch screen, I should mention the main aspect that made the Panasonic GF2 such fun to use: its autofocus is very responsive. I detected very little delay from when I half-pressed the shutter button to hearing and seeing focus confirmation with the 14mm f/2.5 lens. Almost none. According to the lab, the full-autofocus shutter lag is 0.38 to 0.41 second. That includes the shutter mechanism delay, which on mirrorless cameras is fairly long, because the shutter has to first close before opening for the exposure. That's about as fast as the GF1 was with the 20mm f/1.7 lens, so it's not a noticeable net gain over its predecessor, it's just fast for the category.
Fast autofocus means not only getting closer to the moment you want, but also quicker followup shots so you can capture multiple moments without thinking about it. I took a fun sequence of my boys being silly and I didn't have to think about the camera at all, just the changing expressions and poses.
I also attached the Olympus 14-150mm f/4-5.6 lens -- one of Olympus's better lenses, with a more advanced autofocus motor -- for some of the focus tracking shots, since focusing a 28mm-equivalent lens isn't quite as challenging as focusing a longer zoom. I had trouble getting the Panasonic GF2's tracking AF point to stay on a panning subject, but got much better luck when that subject (a child on a bike) was coming straight toward me. It only lost focus lock as the subject got within 10 feet or so. Not bad. It's worth noting that Panasonic specifically tunes their Micro Four Thirds lenses for their cameras' AF systems, making them generally more responsive than those from third parties, so it's possible that one of their lenses would've performed even better. Unfortunately I didn't receive any other lenses with the GF2 body, beyond the aforementioned 14mm f/2.5, and so couldn't test that theory in the real world.
Touch. Much of the control simplification comes thanks to the addition of a touchscreen on the GF2, which we've detailed in the table above. Though it's not quite the same as the touchscreen implementation on the Panasonic G2, I find that I generally like it, despite my distaste for touchscreen digital cameras in general. There's no question that it speeds some operations, like autofocus point selection, but it's made switching modes more cumbersome.
First, picking an AF point can be as easy as touching the screen where you want the camera to focus. That's especially good if you're shooting on a tripod, but also useful handheld. One thing I always find difficult, though, is re-centering the AF point after shooting, but the GF2 has a solution for that too, if you set the Quick Menu/Function button to re-centering (there's an onscreen button for the Quick Menu, so the physical button is better assigned to another function).
The Panasonic GF2 will also focus and fire with one touch on the screen if you have the Touch-shutter feature enabled. A few translucent touch icons appear left and right of the screen for quickly activating or deactivating these features. The icons tend to clutter the screen, unfortunately, and they also limit the area you can select for autofocus. An optional histogram can be moved around the screen with a touch, but unfortunately it's not translucent, so it blocks a good percentage of the view when enabled. Unlike in the prototype, enabling or disabling the histogram involves a visit to the camera's main or quick menu systems, rather than there being an extra on-screen button for this purpose. That frees up a little real estate on screen when the histogram's disabled, but it also means it takes longer to switch it on or off.
Another feature of the GF2 that I like is the ability to change the size of the autofocus point using either the rear command dial or a scroll bar on the touchscreen itself.
After training me to use the touch controls instead of the four-way navigator, the Panasonic GF2 insists I return to the navigator once I've pressed the last screen control telling it which kind of menu I want, as the main menu system doesn't support touch control. From there it's the usual tabs and line items that you move through with the navigator. I'm okay with it, because I don't think there's anything wrong with using the four-way navigator most of the time, and thankfully, you can navigate the touch-based menu items with the four-way as well. I'm sure there are some who would wish for the ability to turn off the touchscreen altogether, but alas, that would require a mode dial.
The Quick menu is a useful tool, but now that it's designed for touch, it's not quite as compact and versatile as the old pull-down Quick menu. As such there are many items that require you to scroll left and right to see all the available options, which can be a pain. You can at least change the order of the icons, and the precise selection of icons that appear, although from the 23 icons available for addition to the Quick menu, only ten can be added at any one time.
Drive modes. There are now three Continuous drive modes, and two of them address a problem that all mirrorless cameras have had since their inception: You can't follow a subject once you've started shooting. That's because most mirrorless cameras only have the time to capture the image and show you the last one captured, rather than returning you to Live view. SLRs don't have this problem when you're looking through the optical viewfinder, because the mirror goes down between each shot, giving you a real-time view so you can follow your subject. The Panasonic GF2's fastest mode still behaves like other mirrorless designs, but Medium and Low speed modes return you to a live view between each shot so you can better track your subject. There's some electronic delay, I'm sure, but I found it considerably easier to track my kids on their bike in these modes than in the fastest mode, where I just had to point and pray.
Intelligent Auto seems to be designed as a quick way to go fully automatic if you find yourself in the wrong mode, and you want to just take a picture, letting the camera decide what Intelligent Scene mode to apply. Those who would leave it on all the time might be annoyed by the button's bright blue glow when activated, but thankfully, you don't have to reactivate iAuto every time you turn the camera on, as the GF2 will remember that it was in use even after a change of battery.
Customization. You can do many things to make the Panasonic GF2 your own, like turning off a few of the touch icons, and adding that moveable histogram, and there are quite a few Scene modes to explore if that's your thing. But having the three Custom modes is important to me, where I can create something like a black and white, a vivid and a mode meant more for Movies than for stills. Why would I want that? Well, there's a menu item called Record area, that lets you select between the aspect ratio you've set for your movies--which would usually be 16:9--and the aspect ratio I'd usually want for stills, either 3:2 or 4:3. This little setting is fairly stubborn, in that it completely blackens the undesired area, rather than just masking it out as we've seen on other cameras. So though you can start recording a movie while shooting stills in 4:3, you won't know precisely where it'll cut off when recording starts in 16:9 ratio. (And likewise, if you set the camera to default to a 16:9 aspect to match the movie aspect, you won't know precisely where a 4:3 image will be cut off when you press the shutter release button.) The Custom modes at least allow you a way around that. In fairness, while I found this either/or aspect ratio display annoying, it does allow the camera to make maximum use of its LCD area for each image format. It would be nice, though, if there were a custom settings option that would display the full viewfinder image for both modes, and indicate the video area with an outline or ghosting of appropriate parts of the overall display.
Panasonic GF2 Image Quality
Most digital SLRs will produce a reasonable ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do at ISO 1,600. 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 least at this level when indoors and at night.
Panasonic GF2 versus GF1 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF2 versus Olympus E-PL2 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF2 versus Samsung NX100 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF2 at ISO 1,600
The Samsung NX100 leaves quite a bit more noise in the file, but also retains more detail and color in most cases than the Panasonic GF2 manages.
Panasonic GF2 versus Sony NEX-5 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF2 at ISO 1,600
The Sony NEX-5 both out-resolves the GF2 and manages better color at ISO 1,600.
Panasonic GF2 versus Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF2 at ISO 1,600
The 12-megapixel Nikon D5000 has better color and detail, especially noticeable in the red leaf swatch. There's a little more chrominance noise in the shadows from the Nikon D5000, however.
Detail: Panasonic GF2 versus GF1, Olympus E-PL2, Samsung NX100, Sony NEX-5, Nikon D5000
Overall, the Panasonic GF2 really didn't do that well in our ISO 1,600 JPEG comparisons, nor at the ISO 3,200 detail comparisons. We recommend sticking to ISO 800 and lower when shooting JPEGs, and sticking to RAW capture when shooting at ISO 1,600 and above. A program like Adobe Lightroom makes shooting and processing your RAW images quite a bit easier.
ISO 100 shots are a little soft at 20x30 inches, which is not a surprise for a 12-megapixel camera. Prints look much better at 16x20 inches, with good detail and color.
ISO 200 images look almost the same at 16x20 inches.
ISO 400 images have about the same level of detail as ISO 200, but colors and shadows are a little darker.
ISO 800 images are softer at 16x20, thanks to a noticeable jump in noise and noise suppression efforts. Reducing image size to 13x19 brings quality back up sufficiently for a good print.
ISO 1,600 files are where quality drops off more dramatically, with lower saturation, darker shadows, and considerably softer detail, especially in reds. 13x19-inch prints are not acceptable, but 11x14-inch prints bring detail back in terms of sharpness, while reds still suffer a lack of detail.
ISO 3,200 shots are a bit rough at 11x14 inches, with mottled shadows, and darker reds. Printing at 8x10 brings back detail, but those reds are still troublesome and darker than we're used to seeing (blur is not uncommon, but a darkening of the red is unusual).
ISO 6,400 images are usable at 5x7, but really look better at 4x6. Reds are still darker, but we think that prints from low-light photos at these sizes will look just fine.
Overall, the Panasonic GF2 performs admirably in terms of printed results. Its image quality tracks pretty similarly to the GF1, producing a good 13x19-inch print at ISO 800, but does a little better at 3,200 and 6,400 (the GF1 did not offer ISO 6,400).
In the Box
The Panasonic GF2 ships with the following items in the box:
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 body
- LUMIX G VARIO 14-42 mm / F3.5-5.6 ASPH. and/or LUMIX G 14 mm / F2.5 ASPH. lens (if purchased as a kit)
- Lens hood (if purchased in a kit with the 14-42mm lens)
- Lens caps and bags (if purchased as a kit)
- Body cap
- Lithium-ion battery DMW-BLD10
- Battery charger DE-A93
- Battery cap
- Hot shoe cover
- Touch-screen stylus pen
- A/V cable
- USB cable
- Shoulder strap
- Software CD-ROM (includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO 6.0 HD Edition, SILKYPIX® Developer Studio 3.1 SE, Super Loilo Scope trial version, and USB driver)
- Manual CD-ROM (includes Operating Instructions for Advanced Features, PDF format, 218 pages)
- Basic Operating Instructions (printed manual, 55 pages)
- Warranty card
Panasonic GF2 Conclusion
Overall, I had a great time with the little Panasonic GF2. Although it doesn't quite catch up to that of Sony's aggressively styled NEX-5, the Panasonic GF2's new body is noticeably more compact than that of the GF1. It's extremely nimble and compact -- still a little too large to slip into a pair of slacks without looking like you have a camera in your pocket (I did get looks), but the design has never been more sportcoat or jacket-friendly. With the 14mm f/2.5 prime lens mounted, it's about the same profile as the Sony NEX-5 in a pocket, just a slightly different shape. With the 14-42mm lens, all that changes, but it's still amazing what a few millimeters can do to make a camera more portable.
Key to achieving the trimmer body was the GF's new touchscreen user interface, something that we've found to prove rather divisive among photographers. In some respects, the GF2's touch panel is great, making for a really smooth experience. In particular, the ability to simply tap on a subject to focus and set exposure is extremely intuitive. Unfortunately there are definite drawbacks to the touch interface as well, most notably the fact that you can't completely remove overlays during capture or playback -- there's always at least one soft button obscuring your view. There are also respects where the GF2's interface seems to lack cohesion, most notably in that the menu system isn't touch-capable, requiring you to switch mindset between using the touch screen and physical controls.
Performance is also somewhat of a mixed bag. Panasonic promises improved noise reduction across the board, and the GF2 does indeed improve chroma noise in shadows, but this comes at the expense of subtle image detail. The effects of noise reduction can be seen as smudging in images shot at all ISO sensitivities, although you're not likely to notice this at the base sensitivity without pixel peeping. Image quality starts to degrade noticeably by ISO 800, and at ISO 1,600 and beyond, it suffers quite a bit. We also noted some fairly pronounced hue shifts, and a greater degree of oversaturation than in the GF1. For the best results, you'll really want to shoot raw and -- since the bundled Silkypix software didn't seem to do much better than the camera's own JPEG engine in terms of detail -- process with third party software. Unfortunately despite the relatively sedate burst shooting speed of the GF2, raw burst depth feels pretty limited. JPEG shooters can breathe much easier, with a pretty generous burst depth available, but when shooting above ISO 100 you'll find that the GF2's burst rate falls still further.
There's still plenty to recommend the GF2, however. Put Panasonic's 14mm prime -- a great walk-around lens -- on the mount, and the package is arguably still smaller than competing fixed-lens cameras. Keep a zoom in your camera bag for when you need a little telephoto reach, and you get the benefit of a much larger image sensor. Autofocus speeds are very good for a compact system camera, and since autofocus is possible during Full HD video capture, you can safely leave your camcorder at home. Throw in the novelty value of the available 3D lens -- albeit with its limited resolution and 3D "depth" -- and Panasonic has put forth a pretty unique package for potential buyers to consider. For many, the purchase decision will likely hinge on the touch screen interface, and whether body size or the quantity of external controls are of greater importance.
Although I'm a traditionalist at heart, the advantages of Panasonic's touch screen implementation were such that I mostly didn't find myself missing the extra controls. Factoring in the more compact body and swift autofocus, I found the Panasonic GF2 a very enjoyable camera to shoot with, and one to which we're happy to award a Dave's Pick.