Panasonic woos prosumer videographers with the GH2

A nice set of video format options plus an articulated touch screen should prove attractive to the current crop of dSLR-video experimenters, and potentially faster autofocus coupled with presumably better noise reduction may pique the interest of traditional still shooters.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
Panasonic

Owners of the video-optimized Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 have been hacking away at it for months, trying to get higher bit rates out of the poor thing--the latest hack claims 86 megabits per second. (To recap, the higher the data bit rate is at a given resolution and frame rate, the better the video quality; it's a measure of compression.) Now they get to start all over again for the GH2, which doesn't offer astronomical bit rates, a limitation of its AVCHD format, but does offer video and still shooters a few other sought-after enhancements.

Most important, the GH2 incorporates a new sensor, which drives at a higher frame rate--it can natively output 60p vs. 24p. That, and a bump to the AVCHD maximum bit rate of 24 megabits per second, are almost guaranteed to deliver improved results over the GH1; that's equivalent to current AVCHD-based prosumer camcorders. While the GH1 had a flip-and-twist LCD, the GH2's is a touch screen, which has the potential to make rack focus doable for the nonvideographer, and theoretically offers improved color rendering, especially in the reds and blues. The camera now provides a microphone levels meter and a much-demanded HDMI connector. Panasonic also claims to have improved wobble suppression during full-time autofocus, and added the capability to record specifically for slower or faster playback. And for the consumer, Intelligent Auto mode now works in video capture.

For still shooters, Panasonic claims it has the best image quality of the G series; it uses the new noise reduction algorithms as the LX5. The company has also worked on speed, saying its autofocus is twice as fast as its predecessor, beating out some of the fast phase-detection systems in some popular dSLRs (it uses three image processors compared to 2 in the GH1). The EVF is slightly higher resolution, but the image-processing engine performs some aberration correction in the viewfinder; because of the faster sensor, the viewfinder should refresh faster as well.

Here's the current field:

  Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Sony Alpha SLT-A33 Sony Alpha SLT-A55
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 16.1-megapixel Live MOS 14.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
17.3 x 13.0mm 17.3 x 13.0mm 17.3 x 13.0mm 23.5 mm x 15.6mm 23.5 mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 3200 ISO 160 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 1600/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 1600/ 12,800 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3.2 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
5.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
6 fps (7fps without AF)
20 raw/35 JPEG
6 fps (10fps without AF)
20 raw/35 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Electronic
n/a/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x magnification
Electronic
n/a/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x magnification
Electronic
n/a/1.5 million dots
100% coverage
1.42x/0.71x magnification
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.2 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.2 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Autofocus 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 15-pt phase-detection AF
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection AF
3 cross-type
Shutter speed 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb up to 4 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb up to 4 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 60 secs; bulb up to 2 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/100 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/100 x-sync
Metering 144 zone 144 zone 144 zone 1200 zone 1200 zone
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
Video AVCHD Lite 720/30p or Motion JPEG MOV AVCHD 1080/60i (24p sensor output) @ 17Mbps; 720/60p/50p @ 17, 13, 9 Mbps AVCHD 1080/60i/50i/24p (60p sensor output) @ 24, 17, 13Mbps; 720/60p @ 17, 13Mbps
QuickTime MOV Motion JPEG
720/30p
AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Mono; mic input Stereo, mic input Stereo, mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Wireless flash No No No No No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 390 shots 320 shots 340 shots 330 shots 330 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.9 x 3.3 x 2.9 4.9 x 3.3 x 3.0 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.0 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 13.1 15.2 15.2 (est) 17.4 (est) 17.4 (est)
Mfr. price n/a n/a $899.95 (body only) $649.99 (body only) $749.99 (body only)
$720.00 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $1499.95(with 14-140mm lens) $999.95 (with 14-42mm lens) $749.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $849.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
n/a n/a $1499.95 (with 14-140mm lens) n/a n/a
Ship date May 2010 June 2009 December 2010 August 2010 September 2010

To my mind, the Sony SLT-55 poses the biggest competition to the GH2. For video pros and rabid hobbyists, Sony pretty much surrendered the field by not including a 1080 progressive recording and maximum AVCHD bit rate options, and the GH2's relative wealth of choices will look mighty attractive. (Last I spoke with a company spokesperson they were still trying to decide whether to keep the GH1 on the market in a body-only version.) Consumers who plan to use autofocus should note that Panasonic has been developing quieter lenses specifically for movie recording with its Micro Four Thirds cameras, while Sony has been concentrating that work on the NEX E-mount models rather than the standard Alpha (A) mount used by the SLT series. However the in-body image stabilization used by Sony is a good perk, and though the sensors are the same resolution, Sony's is a larger APS-C model. And I can't wait to match their autofocus systems against each other. But all the ILC manufacturers need to improve the generally lame battery life of all these cameras.

Because it's Panasonic, there's also the requisite related 3D announcement as well. In this case, it's a $250 MFT-compatible 3D lens with a 65mm (equivalent) focal length and fixed f12 aperture (you need very sharp depth-of-field to shoot 3D). On the bright side, when using it the camera will create a JPEG as well as 3D image, so you're not totally locked in, and it's relatively inexpensive. Panasonic will be releasing a firmware upgrade for the G2 to support the lens; the G2 is the only older G series camera that will.

 

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