The GH1 offers plenty of manual and semimanual features to please amateurs and enthusiasts, but you can run on full or semiautomatic if all the buttons and dials scare you. Several features stand out from the crowd, though. The 3-inch, 460,000-pixel flip-and-twist LCD is a big attraction, for one. It's a good LCD, but keep in mind that because it's a wide-aspect LCD, it pillar-boxes (crops with vertical black bands) standard-aspect photos so they don't display as large as on typical 3-inch LCDs. In other words, for displaying 4:3 or 3:2 photos it's equivalent to a 2.5-inch LCD.
There's also a mode that you can preview changes to settings such as aperture and shutter speed, to gauge the effects in advance. Though it's somewhat hard to see depth-of-field changes, and you can only get a general sense of the shutter speed affect because of the LCD refresh, the capability to preview exposure may be invaluable for some. Unfortunately, this only works in Program mode, rather than modes where you have independent control over those parameters. You can also save three sets of custom settings. While I'd rather be able to access them directly from the mode dial instead of just the single Cust slot with menu flipping to select one, this is much better than nothing. In addition to traditional exposure and white-balance bracketing, you can bracket three different film modes.
As far as EVFs go, the GH1's is pretty good; 1.4 million pixels with 100 percent scene coverage, bright and easy to see, with a relatively speedy refresh in bright light. In dim light, like all EVFs, the refresh rate slows dramatically. On the upside, with an EVF you can shoot video while holding the camera up to your eye, unlike the SLR experience. But for some reason Panasonic doesn't let you disable auto review while burst shooting, which means you're stuck watching what happened rather than tracking what's going to happen, making it very frustrating to shoot action photos.
While it's a little slower than typical good dSLRs, including less expensive models like the Canon EOS Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000, the GH1 nevertheless performs quite well. The autofocus system operates quickly, especially compared with the Live Mode AF of digital SLRs; unlike those models, it supports continuous AF during movie capture and is pretty responsive. It powers up and shoots more slowly than the G1, but that 1.8 seconds is still sufficiently fast. In bright light, the camera snaps a photo in 0.4 second; in low-contrast light, it takes 0.6 second. It typically takes about 0.9 second to shoot two consecutive images, with barely a second added for flash recycling time; these are high for a camera in this price range, but not really noticeably slow in practice except for action shots. Given its price, however, its 2 frames per second continuous-shooting rate disappoints, and the camera simply doesn't work fast enough to keep up with kids and pets--for still photos, that is. Panasonic CIPA rates the battery at about 300 shots, which is a bit low, but it seemed to last a lot longer, and the rating of 150 minutes of video shooting is comparable to most camcorders.
The GH1 uses a different sensor than the G1; it's a 14-megapixel model that lets the camera produce 12-megapixel photos regardless of aspect ratio. While overall the GH1 renders high-quality photos, the G1's strike me as just a bit better, with fewer noise artifacts at high ISOs and slightly better tonal reproduction. However, as with the G1, the lenses we tested with it produce sharp images across almost the entire frame, with absolutely zero fringing or bleed. With its latest revision of the Venus Engine, Panasonic seems to have tweaked the exposure and metering, delivering much better results out of the box. Like its sibling, it doesn't render exactly accurate colors. But they're within the bounds of acceptability and certainly pleasing if you like them vivid. Its weakest aspect is the noise profile. The camera is pretty good up to and including ISO 400, but above that streaks in the blue channel produce unwanted yellow streaks in the photos. This may be fixable with a patch at some point--we tested a production unit with final firmware.
The 30fps 720p 17Mbps video is quite good in both bright and dim light--comparable with any of the decent $600 HD camcorders--but as usual the 24fps 1080p quality is more of a novelty than a decent general-purpose shooting mode. The low light video doesn't exhibit much noise, instead displaying some color contouring. The stereo mic delivers pretty good sound, but the position on top of the camera in front of the hot shoe the seems to make it especially susceptible to wind noise. The GH1's wind filter helps, but doesn't completely eradicate it.
So what does this all add up to? The video shooting experience is better than that of any current dSLR, but while it has moments of excellence, the still photo quality and shooting experience doesn't consistently match that of cheaper models. It's a new technology and a new product line, so inevitably the price is high--but that combination also means it's not for a lot of people. If you need to be on the cutting edge, and are willing to pay a premium for it, then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 certainly confers the cred. As long as you don't shoot sports or in dark venues, you'll likely be very happy with the purchase. If you're simply attracted by the not-to-be-underestimated flexibility of interchangeable lenses with autofocus and depth-of-field control for video, I'd suggest waiting a few months to see if the price falls, or perhaps to see what Olympus has planned.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)