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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2

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There's so much to like about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 that the few, unfortunately serious, flaws with the camera seem to loom as even larger detractions. On the upside, it preserves much of the really nice design characteristics of the GF1, incorporating a very well designed touch-screen interface, and 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 touch screen as on the G2 and GH2.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 (black)
7.5

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2

The Good

The <b>Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2</b> delivers excellent performance for its class, in a relatively compact, comfortable design with a streamlined, usable touch-screen interface implementation.

The Bad

Panasonic's JPEG processing remains subpar for this class of camera, and the GF2's inability to lock the focus area from accidental screen presses--a flaw of all the company's touch-screen ILCs--remains a huge point of frustration. It also has a disappointingly banal feature set, including a lack of manual controls during video capture. Also, an EVF costs extra, and the battery doesn't last very long.

The Bottom Line

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.

If you shoot raw, you can get extremely good images as high as ISO 800 and usable ones at ISO 1,600--the dynamic range is such that you end up with some clipping in the shadows, but nothing unacceptable in a camera in this price range. However, I wouldn't recommend shooting JPEGs higher than ISO 100 unless in bright sunlight, and even then get ready for artifacts. The GF2 uses the same Venus FHD processing engine as the LX5, and though the images look better (likely because of the better sensor), the JPEGs suffer from similar yellow splotches and oversharpening crunchiness. Interestingly, the GF1 posts better noise results than the GF2 up to ISO 800. You definitely get better JPEG results on macro shots and zoomed-in closeups than you do in broad wide-angle or landscape shots.

Aside from that, it does well on all the other measures of quality, such as color, exposure, general consistency, and 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 moiré or rolling-shutter wobble. The bigger issue with 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 beats the rest of its class in many respects. It takes about 0.9 second to power on, focus, and shoot. Focusing and shooting in good light runs an excellent 0.4 second, while in dim light it's a not-too-shabby 0.7 second. You typically can shoot two sequential JPEG shots in only 0.7 second, though that increases to 0.9 second for raw, and adding flash recycling time into the JPEG mix bumps it to 1.6 seconds. The burst rate of 2.8fps is just OK, but you really don't want to use any of these cameras for continuous shooting. This isn't dSLR-like speed, but the focus is fast enough to shoot predictably moving subjects; shooting fast or unpredictably moving ones still requires a dSLR with an optical viewfinder. And the dynamic tracking autofocus system is pretty good--better at locking and holding focus than Olympus' for shooting video.

Though 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 equipped with a longer lens.

Among the sparse features atop the camera are a decent stereo microphone, albeit one that lacks separation, a dedicated video record button, and quick-access button for intelligent auto mode. Though I'm a big fan of the dedicated video record buttons, I don't like the feel of this one; it's flush with the top surface and a bit hard to find just by feel.

As with the GH2, I really like the way Panasonic has integrated a set of direct-access controls with the touch screen. Most of the most-important 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 the touch screen, a smart move, since that usually requires a level of precision for which these small displays are unsuited. It helps that the LCD feels quite responsive, bright, and relatively easy to view in direct sunlight.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 16.1-megapixel Live MOS
17.3 x 13.0mm 17.3 x 13.0mm 17.3 x 13.0mm 17.3 x 13.0mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x
Image processor version Venus Engine HD II Venus Engine HD Venus Engine FHD Venus Engine FHD
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 160 - ISO 12,800
Continuous shooting 3.2 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
3fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.2fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
5.0fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Electronic
n/a/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x magnification
Optional electronic
n/a
Optional electronic
n/a
Electronic
1.5 million dots
100% coverage
1.42x/0.71x magnification
Autofocus 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb up to 4 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes 60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 60 secs; bulb up to 2 minutes; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 144 zone 144 zone 144 zone 144 zone
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video AVCHD Lite 720/30p or Motion JPEG MOV 720/30p AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG MOV 1080/60i/50i @ 17, 13 Mbps
720/60p @17, 13 Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
AVCHD 1080/60i/50i/24p (60p sensor output) @ 24, 17, 13Mbps; 720/60p @ 17, 13Mbps
QuickTime MOV Motion JPEG
720/30p
Audio Mono; mic input Mono Stereo Stereo, mic input
LCD size 3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 390 shots 350 shots 300 shots 340 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.9 x 3.3 x 2.9 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.3 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.0
Body operating weight (ounces) 13.1 12.2 11 17.8
Mfr. price $540 (body only) n/a $499.95 (body only, est) $899.95 (body only)
$599.95 (with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 lens) n/a $599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $999.95 (with 14-42mm lens)
$649.90 (with 14mm lens) n/a $699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens) $1,499.95 (with 14-140mm lens)
Ship date May 2010 September 2009 January 2011 December 2010

The combination of direct-access buttons and big virtual buttons, so that you can use each where appropriate, makes Panasonic's touch-screen interface one of my favorites. It works most seamlessly if you use two hands, though--operating the buttons with your right thumb and navigating the screens with your left thumb, almost as if you're texting. You can also program the Q.Menu/Fn button to go directly to any other specific setting that's in the Q.Menu--and the Q.Menu is fully customizable.

That said, my main frustration with the interface remains: you can't lock the AF area to prevent it from moving when you accidentally touch the center of the screen. I had to readjust it back to center between almost every shot because of this, an immensely frustrating exercise. At least with the G2 and GH2 you can flip the display around and use the EVF. The EVF is an extra-cost option for the GF2, so you're stuck. I didn't ding the Design rating for this drawback since it might be less aggravating for others than it is for me--I primarily shoot in center-area AF mode--but I might if I see it again in the next rev of the camera.

Olympus E-PL2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Samsung NX100 Sony Alpha NEX-5
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 14.6-megapixel CMOS 14.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS
17.3mm x 13mm 17.3 x 13.0mm 23.4mm x 15.6mm 23.4mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 200 - ISO 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 12,800
Continuous shooting 3.0fps
n/a
3.2fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.0fps
10 JPEG/ 3 raw
2.3fps
unlimited JPEG/8 raw
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Optional plug-in articulating EVF
1,440,000 dots
0.58x
Optional electronic
n/a
Optional plug-in EVF
201,000 dots
0.55x
(98 percent coverage)
None
Autofocus 11-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 15-point contrast AF 25-point contrast AF
Shutter speed 60-1/2,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync
Metering 324 area 144 zone 247 segment 40 segment
Flash Yes Yes No Included optional
Image stabilization Sensor shift Optical Optical Optical
Video 720p Motion JPEG AVI 1080/60i/50i @ 17, 13 Mbps
720/60p @17, 13 Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 1080/60i AVCHD
Audio Mono; mic input Stereo Mono Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed AMOLED
921,000 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 280 shots 300 shots 420 shots 330 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.3 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6
Body operating weight (ounces) 12.7 11 12.2 10.2 (without flash); 10.9 (with flash)
Mfr. price n/a $499.95 (body only, est) n/a n/a
$599.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 msc lens) $599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $499.99 (est, with 20-50mm f3.5-5.6 i-Function lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens)
$799.00 (est, with 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses) $699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens) $599.00 (with 50-200mm lens) $649.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens)
Ship date January 2011 January 2011 October 2010 July 2010

As for features, the GF2 offers a solid set of manual, semimanual, and automatic shooting options, but nothing really exceptional. Because of the touch screen, it supports touch focus and touch shutter, which is practical, and there are three custom settings slots; they're easier to access than on the E-PL2 but not as easy to define. Though it's kind of nice to have, Panasonic's My Color mode isn't nearly as fun or flexible as Olympus' Art Filters. It does work with video capture, however. There's five-shot bracketing, but it can't do full stops. It provides the same six-face recognition system as other Panasonic cameras, and the useful Travel Date range as the GH2. (For a full account of the GF2's features and operation, you can download the PDF manual.)

Conclusion
Its predecessor earned an Editors' Choice, and much of what I liked about the GF1 remains in the GF2. But I can't help but feel the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 has taken a step backward in photo quality in some ways, especially in light of the impressive quality of competitors like the E-PL2 and NEX-5. For folks who shoot raw and don't mind the aforementioned issues with the touch interface, then the GF2 will likely provide a great shooting experience. For others, not so much.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)


0.9
0.9
0.7
0.7
0.4

Olympus PEN E-PL2
0.8
1.4
1.3
0.7
0.4

Sony Alpha NEX-5
0.4
0.9
0.9
0.8
0.4

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
0.8
0.9
0.7
0.6
0.5

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

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 (black)
7.5

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Image quality 7