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First Look: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2

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First Look: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2

4:58 /

Though we still really like Panasonic's GF series, there are several trade-offs to take into account before you buy the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2. Its raw-format images look extremely good, but JPEG shooters looking for best-possible photo quality may get frustrated by image artifacts. And while lots of photographers will appreciate its relatively compact but functional design and zippy performance--though still not for action shooting--there's nothing special about its feature set, including underpowered video capture.

Hi. I'm Lori Grunin, senior editor for CNET and this is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2. There's so much to like about this camera that the few, albeit serious, flaws seem to loom even larger as detractions. On the upside, it preserves much of the really nice design characteristics of the GF1, incorporates very nicely designed touchscreen interface, and it improves on that camera's already zippy performance, and if you shoot RAW, the camera can produce some very nice images, but it also suffers from two serious flaws. The same poor JPEG processing engine that plagues the LX5 and the same tantrum-inducing inability to lock the focus area on the touchscreen that I found on the G2 and the GH2. Though it's not as small as Sony's NEX 5, the GF2 is a comfortable compact size for those of us who like a little more heft to our cameras. It also feels a little more balanced when you're shooting with a longer lens. Among the sparse features atop the camera are a decent microphone, stereo but it lacks separation, a dedicated video record button and a quick access button for intelligent auto mode. While I'm a big fan of the dedicated video record buttons, I don't like the feel of this one. It's kind of flush with the top surface and it's a bit hard to find just by feel. As with the GH2, I really liked the way Panasonic has integrated a set of direct access controls with the touchscreen. Most of the important shooting settings can be accessed directly via buttons--ISO sensitivity, focus area mode, white balance, and drive mode. Panasonic doesn't make you scroll through the menus via a touchscreen. It helps that the LCD feels quite responsive. It's bright and relatively easy to view in direct sunlight. This combination of direct access buttons and big virtual buttons allows you to use each where it's appropriate and that's what makes Panasonic's touchscreen interface one of my favorites. It works almost seamlessly if you choose two hands though. Operating the buttons with your right thumb and navigating the screens with your left thumb, like you're texting. You can also program the quick menu button to go directly to any specific setting that's in the quick menu, and the quick menu is fully customizable. That said, my main frustration with the interface remains. You can't lock the autofocus area to prevent it from moving when you accidentally touch the center of the screen. I had to readjust it back to the center between almost every shot because of this, which, as you might guess, was an immensely frustrating exercise. At least with the G2 and the GH2, you can flip the articulated display around and use the EVF, but for this model, the EVF is an extra cost option so you're stuck. As for features, the GF2 offers a solid set of manual, semi-manual, and automatic shooting options, but there's nothing really exceptional. Because of the touchscreen, it supports touch focus and touch shutter which is really practical. There are also three custom setting slots. Though it's kinda nice to have, Panasonic's My Color mode isn't nearly as fun or as flexible as Olympus' Art Filters. If you shoot RAW, you can get extremely good images as high as ISO 800 and usable ones at ISO 1600. The dynamic range is such that you'll get clipping the shadows but nothing really unacceptable in a camera in this price class. The GF2 uses the same Venus FHD processing engine as the LX5 and though the images look better, likely because it uses a better sensor, the JPEG suffer from similar yellow splotches and oversharpening crunchiness. Aside from that, it does well on all other measures of quality. It's got good color, good exposure, general consistency when it comes to sharpness across lenses, but that's a pretty big aside. It also delivers solid video quality. Moderately sharp with some typical edge aliasing, surprisingly good exposures even when backlit, and very little moray or rolling shutter wobble. The biggest issue with the video is the dearth of adjustment controls. With the exception of defocus, it's all automatic. The GF2 performs roughly the same as the GF1 and it beats the rest of its class in many respects. It doesn't really have DSLR-like speed but the focus is fast enough to shoot predictably moving subjects, and the dynamic tracking autofocus system is pretty good. It's better at locking and holding focus than Olympus is for shooting video. The GF2's predecessor earned an Editor's Choice and much of what I liked about the GF1 remains in this camera, but I can't help but feel that it's taken a step backwards when it comes to photo quality, especially in light of the impressive quality of competitors like the EPL2 and NEX 5. If you shoot RAW and don't mind the aforementioned issues with the touch interface, then the GF2 will like provided a great shooting experience. For other folks, not so much. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2.

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