Panasonic's G series gets serious

Competition for the step-up snapshooter dollar heats up as Panasonic announces the new interchangeable-lens G10 to match Olympus' "affordable" E-PL1, plus a midrange G2 that makes up for some of the G1's flaws.

Panasonic

Panasonic may have been first company to market with its interchangeable-lens camera, but its early models made some missteps. The relatively reasonably priced Lumix DMC-G1 lacked video capture capability, and the video-capable GH1 came with an optimized lens that made it a pretty expensive package. The GF1 didn't really address the same market segment; instead it went after enthusiast users, a small group, as Olympus' E-P1 did.

With its two latest Micro Four Thirds camera announcements, Panasonic seems to be finding its footing at last. The new Lumix DMC-G10 ostensibly targets one of the major groups these cameras were initially intended for: diverting potential entry-level dSLR buyers seeking to upgrade from their point and shoots. Price is key here, and until Olympus announced its E-PL1 kit at $600, these cameras had been significantly more expensive than their dSLR alternatives. I say "ostensibly" targets because Panasonic has not released pricing information, but it did indicate that it will probably be the least expensive model in the line, which puts it somewhere between the E-PL1 and the Samsung NX10.

At the same time, Panasonic introduced its replacement for the G1, the Lumix DMC-G2; this time, it can capture video. In a feature twist, Panasonic endowed the G2 with a touch screen, the first in any consumer interchangeable-lens camera, including dSLRs (medium format digital cameras have had them for a while). Although I haven't seen the implementation, based on the product photos it seems like it'll be relatively intelligent.

The touch screen enables capabilities like touch focus and metering, which have been available in point-and-shoots for a few generations; however, it looks as if there are still plenty of direct-access buttons and navigation controls so that you're not stuck using touch when it's not the optimal interface. There's also a dedicated Intelligent Auto button to provide a one-touch override, which makes more sense to me than putting it on the mode dial. It also has a movie record button, which Panasonic didn't put on the G10, instead sticking with a specific capture mode. (A tentative thumbs-down on that decision.) Like the G10, Panasonic won't provide pricing and availability information until about 30 days before they cameras ship. I expect the G2's price to be pretty close to the G1's.

The new 14-42mm lens drops the OIS hardware switch. Panasonic

Also part of this announcement, Panasonic introduced a new kit lens. It has a slightly shorter range of 14-42mm (28-84mm equivalent) compared with the older model's 14-45mm range, but it retains most of the same optical characteristics: 12 lens elements in 9 groups with a single aspherical element, f3.5-5.6 maximum aperture, 7-blade aperture, 52mm filter, and closest focus distance of about a foot. It's a hair longer physically--2.39 inches compared with 2.36 for the older 14-42mm, but about an ounce lighter.

Notably different, though, the 14-42mm lens uses an internal focus (the lens doesn't extend as you zoom, instead shifting the lens elements within the barrel). An internal focus system can be quieter than a standard focus system, which is important when shooting video; however, this lens isn't as quiet as the video-optimized and expensive 14-140mm lens that ships on the GH1. Panasonic also dropped the stabilizer switch on the barrel of the lens.

Here's Panasonic's current lineup, including the outgoing G1:

Comparison: Panasonic Micro Four Thirds lineupPanasonic Lumix DMC-G10Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Sensor (effective resolution)12.1-megapixel Live MOS12.1-megapixel Live MOS12.1-megapixel Live MOS12.1-megapixel Live MOS12.1-megapixel Live MOS
17.3mm x 13mm17.3mm x 13mm17.3mm x 13mm17.3mm x 13mm17.3mm x 13mm
Processing engine versionVenus Engine HD IIVenus Engine HDVenus Engine HDVenus Engine HD IIVenus Engine HD
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 6,400ISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 6,400ISO 100 - ISO 3,200
Focal-length multiplier2x2x2x2x2x
Continuous shooting3.2 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.2 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
ViewfinderElectronicOptional ElectronicElectronicElectronicElectronic
Autofocus23-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF
Metering144 zone144 zone144 zone144 zone144 zone
Shutter60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes
FlashYesYesYesYesYes
LCD3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch articulated
460,000 dots
3-inch articulated touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch articulated
460,000 dots
Image stabilizationOpticalOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
Video (max resolution)720p Motion JPEG MOV720p AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG MOVNone720p AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG MOV1080p at 24fps; 720p AVCHD Lite
AudioNoneNoneNoneMic, headphoneMic, headphone
Battery life (CIPA rating)380 shots350 shots300 shots370 shots300 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)4.9x3.3x2.94.7x2.8x1.44.9x3.3x1.84.9x3.3x2.94.9x3.3x1.8
Weight (ounces)11.9 (est)12.215.113.1 (est)15.2
Mfr. Pricetbdn/an/a
tbd
n/a
tbd (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)$899.95 (with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $799.95 (with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 lens) tbd (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$1,499.95 (with 14-140mm f4.0-5.8 lens)
tbd$899.95 (with 20mm f1.7 lens)n/atbdn/a

Overall, the newer models add a stop of sensitivity over their siblings, as well having a marginally faster continuous-shooting speed. They also incorporate the latest version of Panasonic's processing engine, which adds some updated edge-detection algorithms to provide, theoretically, a sharper, crisper image. Although Panasonic is playing up how light the G10 is, the extra few ounces don't really matter when it has the same bulk as the G2. And oddly, they're both almost 3 inches thick--1.2 inches larger the previous bodies.

Compared with its interchangeable-lens competitors:

 Olympus E-PL1Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10Samsung NX10Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2Olympus E-P1Olympus E-P2
Sensor (effective resolution)12.3- megapixel Live MOS12.1- megapixel Live MOS14.6- megapixel CMOS12.1- megapixel Live MOS12.3- megapixel Live MOS12.1- megapixel Live MOS
17.3mm x 13mm17.3mm x 13mm23.4mm x 15.5mm (est)17.3mm x 13mm17.3mm x 13mm17.3mm x 13mm
Color depthn/an/an/an/a12 bits12 bits
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 6,400ISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 6,400ISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 3,200
Focal-length multiplier2x2x1.5x2x2x2x
Continuous shooting3.0 fps
n/a
3.2 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
3.0 fps
10 JPEG/ 3 raw
3.2 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
3.0 fps
n/a JPEG/ 10 raw
3.0 fps
12 JPEG/ 10 raw
ViewfinderOptional plug-in articulating EVFElectronicEVFEVFNoneOptional plug-in articulating EVF
Autofocus11-area contrast AF23-area contrast AF15-point contrast AF23-area contrast AF11-area contrast AF11-area contrast AF
Metering324 area144 zone247 segment144 zone324 area324 area
Shutter60-1/2,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes30-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 8 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes
FlashYesYesYesYesNoNo
LCD2.7-inch fixed
230,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed AMOLED
614,000 dots
3-inch articulated touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
230,000 dots
3-inch fixed
230,000 dots
Image stabilizationSensor shiftOpticalOpticalOpticalSensor shiftSensor shift
Video (max resolution at 30fps)720p Motion JPEG AVI720p Motion JPEG MOV720p H.264 MPEG-4720p AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG MOV720p Motion JPEG AVI720p Motion JPEG AVI
Audio I/OMicNonen/aMic, headphoneNoneMic
Battery life (CIPA rating)290 shots380 shots400 shots370 shots300 shots300 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)4.5x2.8x1.64.9x3.3x2.94.8x3.4x1.6 4.9x3.3x2.94.7x2.8x1.44.7x2.8x1.4
Weight (ounces)12.4 (without EVF)11.9 (est)14 (est)13.1 (est)13.9 13.8; 14.9 (with EVF)
Mfr. Pricen/atbdn/atbd
est. $599.95 (body only)
n/a
$599.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) tbd (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)est. $699.99 (with 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens) tbd (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$799.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)$1,099.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
n/atbdn/atbd$899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens and optical viewfinder)
$1,099.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens)

Of course, the G10's competitive position relies heavily on its price. I think it will likely cost less than $700. At that price, it looks like a pretty strong competitor against the E-PL1. It's bigger, but has a built-in viewfinder and the E-PL1's costs up to $280 more. Granted, it doesn't support a mic input, but it's unlikely to suffer from the performance issues that have been plaguing the E-P series models. The NX10 is still a wildcard; even with a built-in EVF, it's still more compact--albeit heavier--and it incorporates a larger APS-C-size sensor.

As for the G2, as long as Panasonic hasn't broken anything--the G1 was fast with great photo quality--and there's no reason to think it has, it too has the potential to be pretty strong. While the G series lacks the elegance of the Olympus PEN designs, never underestimate the importance of fast focus.

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