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First Look: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
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First Look: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2

5:38 /

It's speedy, feature-packed, and an excellent ILC for shooting video, but to consistently get really good photos out of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 requires shooting raw.

-Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, Senior Editor for CNET, and this is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2. Overall, I really 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 in most digital SLRs, but it can get pretty weighty when equipped with the 14-140mm kit lens. It's generally comfortable to grip and has a nice shooting design though. One of the biggest complaints about the GH1 was its lack of an HDMI connector and the GH2 rectifies that, so, yippie! The GH2's controls are pretty typical for a Panasonic and the camera is easy to feel and operate. On the back right, there's a 4-way navigation control with 2 programmable function keys, along with another function button on the top. But despite the flexibility that you gain from being able to customize like this, with this type of design, I can never remember how I set them, and it ends up slowing me down rather than streamlining my shooting. Under your thumb lies a jog dial for toggling between exposure compensation and whatever the primary function is. For instance, if you're in shutter priority mode, it toggles between exposure compensation and changing the shutter speed. On the top are more direct access controls. On one side, you can set the focus mode and focus area type. 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 custom settings, plus, drive and bracketing options. Now, one gripe here is that in manual movie mode where you can adjust a lot of parameters, you gotta change it via the mode dial rather than getting access to it more directly. While the GH1 had a flip and twist LCD, the GH2's is a touchscreen that operates much like the DMC-G2s. On one hand, especially given the complexity of the camera, Panasonic makes one of the best touchscreen interfaces I've used. Everything is directly settable and the target touch areas are defined well enough that accidental selections don't happen too often. Plus, the screen is responsive enough that you don't feel like you're continually poking it in frustration. Panasonic incorporates all of the requisite touch-specific features as well. It has touch focus and touch shutter. But I also hate the same thing about the GH2's touchscreen that I did about the G2s. I generally only use the center focus area. But every time I inadvertently hit the touchscreen, it moves the focus area, and there's no way to disable touch focus. It's so annoying that I simply stopped using the screen and used the EVF for everything. The combination of the new 16-megapixel sensor in the GH2 and some improved JPEG processing on Panasonic's part have resulted in some of the best image quality we've seen in the company's cameras to date, and the GH2 rates just okay on color accuracy and automatic white balance; and the JPEGs, because of the noise, can develop and excessively yellow cast in low light. The 14-140mm kit lens is pretty sharp and has nice geometry. There's probably some in-camera correction going on, but I don't see any of the artificial-looking straight lines that the correction usually produces. It's pretty quiet while focusing and zooming during video capture though. There's also a kit that ships with 14-42mm lens. The video looks really good even in moderately low light, but you can see some of the color shifts as in the stills. It's sharp and clean with few artifacts, no rolling shutter or obvious moire. Note that 24p, with its progressive output and higher bit rate, delivers visibly better results than 60i, especially with respect to background detail. And Panasonic's lens and body combination gives very good auto focus performance. It does better at locking and holding focus even in challenging conditions that can stymie some camcorders. One of the more interesting features is its variable frame rate recording. It can do 80, 160, 200, and 300 percent speeds based off 24p frame rates, and the audio quality with the built-in stereo mic is also very nice. It's clear and crisp, if a bit bright. The mic is relatively sensitive and there are 5 reference levels you can set, plus 4 levels of wind filtering, and an on-screen meter. I also got a chance to shoot with Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds 3D Lens. The camera will simultaneously shoot a 2D JPEG using one of the lenses along with a standard 3D MPO file. Frankly, it's nice for a lark. Most of the random stuff I shot and viewed on a Panasonic 3D TV did display depth and novelty value, but you have manual exposure controls when shooting in 3D, and the camera doesn't support movie capture with the lens. I'm sure somebody will hack that though. Well not best overall, the GH2's still shooting performance can certainly compete with class leaders, and it's improved a lot over the GH1s. The camera is certainly fast enough for everyday burst shooting and the EVF is pretty good. 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 already happened for continuous shooting. The GH2 is an excellent choice for a combination still/video shooting device, or as a relatively inexpensive video capture device that supports interchangeable lenses. Keep in mind the caveat that it's harder to get shallow depth of field at short focal lengths with micro four thirds cameras because of the 2X crop factor. But if you're primarily still photo focused, you can probably get better quality from other DSLRs and interchangeable lens cameras. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2.

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