Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2

The camera is certainly fast enough for everyday burst shooting, and the EVF is pretty good--in low light the refresh does get a bit sluggish, though. But it's still an EVF, so keep in mind you'll have the accompanying framing issues--you can't visually tell what's happening, only what's happened--for continuous shooting. It does come in handy for shooting video, though, if like me you prefer the stability of eye-level shooting (sans rig).

Overall I like the GH2's design and operation, although there are a few potential major irritations. It's smaller and lighter than most of its competitors--and most digital SLRs--but it can get pretty weighty when paired with the 14-140mm kit lens. But it's generally comfortable to grip, with a nice shooting design. Although the grip is relatively featureless, it's deep, rubberized, and just high enough to work comfortably. I also like that Panasonic put the SD card slot on the side rather than in the bottom battery compartment.

  Canon EOS Rebel T2i Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Sony Alpha SLT-A55
Sensor (effective resolution) 18-megapixel CMOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 16.1-megapixel Live MOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
22.3x14.9mm 17.3x13.0mm 17.3x13.0mm 17.3x13.0mm 23.5x15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 160 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 1,600/12,800 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3.7fps
34 JPEG/ 6 raw
3.2fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
3.0fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
5.0fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
6fps (10fps with auto exposure)
35 JPEG/20 raw
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Optical
n/a
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
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
Autofocus 9-point phase-detection AF center cross-type 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 15-pt phase-detection AF
3 cross-type
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb up to 4 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb up to 4 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 60 secs; bulb up to 2 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63 zone 144 zone 144 zone 144 zone 1200 zone
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/25p/24p @ 45Mbps (est); 720/60p/50p @n/a Mbps AVCHD Lite 720/30p/25p or Motion JPEG MOV AVCHD 1080/60i/50i @ 17Mbps; 720/60p/50p @ 17, 13, 9 Mbps AVCHD 1080/60i/50i @ 17, 13Mbps; 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbsp; 720/60p/50p @ 17, 13Mbps
QuickTime MOV, Motion JPEG
720/30p
AVCHD 1080/60i/50i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps
Rated estimated max HD video length 4GB
(12m)
n/a 29m59s 29m59s 2GB or 29m, whichever comes first
Audio Mono; mic jack Mono; mic jack Stereo, mic jack Stereo, mic jack Stereo; mic jack
LCD size 3 inches fixed
1.04 million dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Wireless flash No No No No Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 470 shots 390 shots 320 shots 340 shots 330 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.1x3.8x3.0 4.9x3.3x2.9 4.9x3.3x3.0 4.9x3.5x3.0 4.9x3.6x3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 18.6 13.1 15.2 15.7 17.8
Mfr. Price n/a n/a n/a $899.95 (body only) $749.99 (body only)
$899.99 (with 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $720.00 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) n/a $999.95 (with 14-42mm lens) $849.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
n/a n/a $1,499.95 (with 14-140mm lens) $1,499.95 (with 14-140mm lens) n/a
Ship date March 2010 May 2010 June 2009 December 2010 September 2010

The GH2's controls are pretty typical for Panasonic, and easy to feel and operate. On the back right there's a four-way navigation control (which double as ISO sensitivity, white balance, and two programmable Fn controls) plus menu buttons, quick menu, display, and preview buttons. You can set the Fn buttons for functions like intelligent auto, film mode, focus area, aspect ratio, quality, single-shot raw override, metering mode, single-shot spot-meter override, flash, flash adjustment, ISO limit set, digital zoom, burst rate, auto bracket, and so on. Plus, there's an additional programmable button on the top. But despite the flexibility gained from being able to customize like this, with these types of designs I can never remember how I set them, and it ends up slowing me down rather than streamlining my shooting--and can get even more complicated since the assignments get saved when you save to the three custom settings slots. You really need LED text to label the current settings.

Under your thumb lies a jog dial for toggling between exposure compensation and whatever the primary dial function is; for instance, if you're in shutter-priority mode the primary dial function is changing shutter speed. As long as you're not prone to accidentally pressing it, it's a pretty efficient control mechanism. My twitchy thumb is prone to accidentally pressing it.

On the top are more direct-access controls. On one side you can set focus mode and focus area/type (face detection, tracking, multiarea, and spot). On the other you've got a somewhat crowded mode dial with the typical PASM, auto, and scene modes , as well as advanced movie capture and three custom-settings slots, plus drive and bracketing options. My one gripe here is that manual movie mode, where you can adjust a lot of parameters, is on the mode dial rather than available more directly.

While the GH1 had a flip-and-twist LCD, the GH2's is a touch screen that operates much like the DMC-G2's. On one hand, especially given the complexity of the camera, Panasonic makes one of the best touch-screen interfaces I've used. Everything is directly settable--for instance, you can just choose the desired ISO sensitivity from a matrix of values rather than having to scroll--the target touch areas are defined well enough that accidental selections don't happen too often, and the screen is responsive enough that you don't feel like you're continually poking it in frustration. Panasonic incorporates all the requisite touch-specific features as well, such as touch focus and touch shutter.

But I also hate the same thing about the GH2's touch screen that I did about the G2's: I generally only use the center focus area, but every time I inadvertently hit the touch screen the focus area moves. There's no way to disable touch focus, which is ridiculous since you can disable touch shutter and Quick Menu touch operation. It's so annoying that I simply stopped using the screen and used the EVF for everything (the alternative is flipping the screen to face inward, but that's more of a pain).

There are some nuanced features as well. The camera can bracket up to 7 frames in one-third stops, and it supports plus or minus five stops of exposure compensation in still mode (plus or minus three stops for movies). In the multiarea focus mode, you can select four area clusters, and the camera can save four custom white-balance settings. It also handles travel dates in a clever way: you define a date range in advance. That way you don't have to remember to toggle it off when your trip's over. And Panasonic remains the only manufacturer to offer face recognition (for six prerecorded faces) in addition to the ubiquitous face detection. For whatever that's worth. (For a full account of the GH2's features and operation, you can download the manual for the European version of the camera. Note that frame rates will be different for the U.S.)

To my mind, the Sony SLT-A55 poses the biggest competition to the GH2. For video pros and rabid hobbyists, Sony pretty much surrendered the field by not including 1080 progressive recording and maximum AVCHD bit-rate options, and the GH2's relative wealth of choices looks mighty attractive. Consumers who plan to use autofocus during movie capture should also 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. Despite the A55's phase-detection-based autofocus system, it doesn't seem to deliver a clear performance advantage over the GH2. But all the ILC manufacturers need to improve the generally lame battery life of cameras like these.

The GH2 is an excellent choice for a combination still/video shooting device, or as a relatively inexpensive video-capture device with interchangeable lenses (with the caveat that it's harder to get shallow depth of field at short focal lengths with Micro Four Thirds cameras). But if you're primarily still-photo focused, you can get better quality from other dSLRs and ILCs.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(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)  
Canon EOS Rebel T2i
0.3 
0.6 
0.5 
0.5 
0.3 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
1.3 
0.8 
0.6 
0.6 
0.3 
Sony Alpha SLT-A55V
0.5 
0.7 
0.6 
0.7 
0.3 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
1.8 
0.9 
0.9 
0.6 
0.4 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2
0.9 
0.8 
0.7 
0.6 
0.5 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

MSRP: $999.95

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Dec. 15, 2010
  • Optical Zoom 3 x
  • Optical Sensor Type Live MOS
  • Sensor Resolution 16.05 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical (MEGA O.I.S.)
  • Lens 28 - 84mm F/3.5
  • Optical Sensor Size 13.0 x 17.3mm