Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 with 14-140mm lens review
Photo quality fails to live up to the high price, but for videos, the smooth autofocus, extensive options and sublime quality are a winning combination.
Review Date: 23 Jan 2011
Price when reviewed: £1,050
Reviewed By: Ben Pitt
The GH2 is the successor to the GH1, the first large-sensor camera with a video mode that’s up to the demands of serious use.
It’s not an SLR, with an electronic rather than optical viewfinder, but it’s much closer to an SLR than a compact in use. The viewfinder is just as detailed as those on entry-level SLRs and the camera is extremely responsive, thanks in part to a superb contrast-detect autofocus system that rivals SLRs’ phase-detect autofocus. The only slip-up is that the 5fps continuous mode lasted for just seven JPEGs before slowing to 1.4fps.
The high price is partly down to its superior lens – the GH2 with a 14-42mm lens sells for around £750. The pricier lens is worth having though, with a versatile 10x zoom range and a focus motor that’s designed for video, with a smooth, silent action. Videos exhibited remarkably low image noise, even compared to SLRs, with noise-reduction processing that’s better tailored for moving images. The GH2’s status as the leading camera for video is cemented by a full complement of exposure controls and a microphone input.
All of these features were included on the GH1 too, but the GH2 addresses a couple of complaints we had about the GH1. One is the ability to set the soundtrack volume manually and show a level meter on the screen. Another is that the bit rate has increased to 23Mbit/s, minimising compression artefacts, although only for the new 24fps mode. The 25fps mode now records interlaced video, with each frame made up of two subframes running at 50Hz. This produces smoother motion but it makes clips resemble TV footage rather than film, which some people may not like. Having 1080p 24, 1080i 50 and 720p 50 should keep everyone happy, though.
In most respects the GH2 performs well as a stills camera. There are dials for drive mode, focus mode and focus area, while various buttons bring ISO speed, white balance and other options up on the command dial. The 3in touchscreen mostly duplicates these controls but it comes into its own for defining the spot focus area.
The sharp lens, 16-megapixel sensor, plus digital distortion and chromatic-aberration correction captured crisp details, only marginally behind the Canon EOS 550D. However, it’s disappointing that Panasonic has chosen to raise the resolution compared to the GH1 rather than lower noise levels. Fine details began to be lost to noise reduction at ISO 400, and quality had deteriorated badly by ISO 3200. It’s much better than any conventional compact but can’t match today’s SLRs. We also noticed slight desaturated colour banding in both photos and videos, particularly in fair skin tones. It’s so subtle that it almost went unnoticed, but it became increasingly visible one we started looking out for it.
The competition is catching up, but as with the GH1 before it, the GH2 is unbeatable for video. Photo quality is disappointing for the price, but take it as a welcome extra to its video capabilities and the GH2 adds up to an attractive package.
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