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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

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The Good Full manual control in movie mode. Great quality HD recording. The 14-140mm lens is great.

The Bad The price. Gulp.. Image quality not as good as G1. Relatively poor battery life when using video.

The Bottom Line The Lumix DMC-GH1 proves that there's fight and fury in the Micro Four Thirds format, with brilliant HD video quality and great still images.

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8.2 Overall

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Being the first mover with any new technology is a risky game — you risk buying into a system that's possibly not going to stand the test of time (cue Betamax tape) or you risk buying a product that will quickly be superseded with a successor that has all the bits that were missing from the first iteration. That's the case with the GH1, Panasonic's second Micro Four Thirds camera, behind the G1.

We've come to test this camera quite late in the process — it was announced in March 2009 — and has since been followed up with a smaller version of sorts, the GF1. The GH1 shares a lot of features with both cameras but adds a touch of professional movie maker to the mix.

Design and features

There are no prizes for spot the difference between Panasonic's G1 and GH1. Sharing exactly the same body, both cameras fit snugly in the palm of one's hand whilst still providing enough bulk to provide a comparable digital SLR shooting experience. In fact the only real additions to the GH1, at least on the outside, is the inclusion of the one-touch record button on the thumb rest, the corresponding movie mode option on the top dial, and the stereo microphone that sits above the hotshoe.

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The new addition of the movie mode option on the top dial. Taken with the G1, how's that for post-modern. (Credit: CBSi)

The GH1 is covered in the same nice plastic as the G1 and is rather solid to hold, with reassuringly good build quality. It's shaped like a miniature digital SLR with the same faux-prism hump over the lens, a pop-up flash, hotshoe and the same sort of mode dial that's found on any consumer SLR. At the back is the flip out, rotating 3-inch LCD screen (again the same as the G1) which we enjoyed using. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is also unchanged, with the same 1.4-million-dot resolution. Shooting options include Panasonic's intelligent auto, the standard PASM and scene modes, and the aforementioned movie mode. The menu system hasn't changed either, with the same intuitive interface that was originally so pleasing to use on the older camera.

Provided with the GH1 is the brand new 14-140mm HD lens which has been designed for use with the GH1, with quiet autofocusing. It's a much heavier combination than the G1 and its kit 14-45mm lens. With the help of additional adapters, existing four thirds lenses can be mounted on the camera body. There are also third-party adapters that let you mount non-four thirds lenses on the GH1.

Inside the camera things begin to change more: the main differences being the sensor (a 14-megapixel Live MOS sensor that resolves images of all aspect ratios to the same 12-megapixel resolution) and as mentioned, HD recording at full 1080p at 24 frames per second or at 720p at 60 frames per second, both in AVCHD. The GH1 can also autofocus whilst filming. Aspect ratios include the standard 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and the square 1:1 format.

On the side, AV and HDMI out are provided, and like the G1 it uses SD/SDHC cards. Power needs are taken care of with a Lithium-ion battery that's rated at 330 shots. Using the video functionality eats away at the battery fairly quickly so keep that charger close by, or use the included cable that plugs into the battery socket and connects to mains power.

Performance

The GH1 is slower overall than the G1 and similar digital SLRs, but still faster than most compact cameras. It starts up and takes its first shot in 1.9 seconds, a lot slower than the G1 which manages to do it in 0.8 second. Individual RAW images take approximately two seconds to process, but the camera is still responsive and functional in this time. Shutter lag measures just over 0.1 second with pre-focusing — the rest of the performance results are below.

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)
Nikon D5000
0.2 
0.5 
0.5 
0.7 
0.3 
Canon EOS 50D
0.2 
0.3 
0.3 
0.9 
0.4 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1
0.8 
0.9 
0.9 
0.6 
0.4 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
1.9 
0.9 
0.9 
0.6 
0.4 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
1.9 
1.9 
1.9 
1.1 
0.6 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
2.1 

 

Image quality

Exposures are generally brighter than the G1 from our side-by-side tests, with the GH1 choosing wider apertures. However, the overall image quality (in terms of image saturation, colour rendition and sharpness) is much better on the G1 when comparing them both side by side. Take a look at the image of the tree below — the G1's image is the top and the GH1 is the bottom. Colours are much more accurate on the G1's shot and even though the sun is mostly blown out there's no flaring or fringing.

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The G1 (top) and GH1 (bottom). (Credit: CBSi)

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