Sublime ergonomics, superb photo quality and peerless videos - the price may be hard to stomach but it's easy to justify.
17.3x13mm 12.0-megapixel sensor, 10.0x zoom (28-280mm (35mm equivalent) equivalent), 845g
Six months ago we reviewed Panasonic’s G1, a genuinely revolutionary camera.
It uses an SLR-quality sensor and has interchangeable lenses, but does away with the optical viewfinder, making it more compact than true digital SLRs. We really liked it, but concluded that it might be worth holding out for this, the video-capable GH1.
The bundled lens goes a long way towards justifying the GH1’s high price. Its bulky design is at odds with the compact SLR concept, but it has a 10x zoom – huge by SLR standards – and delivered exceptionally sharp focus throughout its range. It’s also capable of continuous autofocus during video capture, and the silent motor won’t ruin the soundtrack. It’s not the brightest of lenses, though, with an f/4 (wide) to f/5.8 (telephoto) maximum aperture. There aren’t many Micro Four Thirds lenses to choose from yet, but an adaptor is available for Olympus and Kodak’s Four Thirds lenses.
Photographic options are comprehensive, and there are dedicated buttons and dials for all the key controls. The 3in, 460,000-dot screen is hinged for viewing at awkward angles, which proved particularly useful for video capture. Experienced SLR users may hate the electronic viewfinder but it’s in a different league to those found on ultra-zoom cameras. Sharp manual focus was easy to achieve, but the screen was a little sluggish in low light and we found its instant reviews off-putting during continuous capture.
There are a few differences to the G1. The sensor is up from 12 to 14 megapixels, and although images are still 12 megapixels, the camera uses different parts of the sensor for different aspect ratios to keep images as detailed as possible. While the G1 simply cropped the top and bottom for 3:2 and 16:9 photos, the GH1 uses the full width of the sensor, and so trims fewer pixels from the top and bottom. It can also remember people’s faces to give them priority in group portraits. Most significantly, it records video at 1080p/25fps or 720p/50fps in AVCHD format. The big sensor gave a classy narrow depth of field and a fantastically clean picture in low light, with far less noise than with even the best domestic camcorders. Manual exposure is well implemented, with direct control over shutter speed, aperture and gain, and sound quality is also excellent.
There are a few frustrations regarding the video mode, though. Autofocus was a little sluggish, even though it was really fast for photos. There’s no manual volume control and the microphone socket is a non-standard size. The shutter speed won’t go slower than 1?30th second, despite the 25fps frame rate. The 30-minute maximum clip length is another odd limitation. Demanding users might not appreciate the relatively low 14Mbit/s bit rate, which produced some compression artefacts in fast-moving scenes. The sheering that occurs on fast-moving subjects and camera pans is another gripe that may put them off. Otherwise, the GH1’s videos were hard to distinguish from professional footage.
Still image quality compares well with that of Canon’s 500D and Nikon’s D90. Bear in mind that adding a 10x zoom lens to these cameras would push them up to similar prices. The GH1 trailed in image noise tests but was usable at its maximum ISO 3200 setting. It excelled at natural colours in tricky lighting, and the autofocus and bundled lens produced very sharp, distortion-free shots. Performance was solid, with a 2.75fps continuous mode, although the 500D and D90 are faster still.
|CCD effective megapixels
|electronic (1,440,000 pixels)
|LCD screen size
|LCD screen resolution
|Zoom 35mm equivalent
|28-280mm (35mm equivalent)
|optical, lens based
|Maximum image resolution
|Maximum movie resolution
|Movie frame rate at max quality
|JPEG, RAW; AVCHD
|7.2V 1,250mAh Li-ion
|Battery Life (tested)
|USB, AV, mini HDMI, remote, mic input
|USB and AV cables, lens hood, neck strap
|program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
|60 to 1/4,000 seconds
|f/4 to f/22 (wide), f/5.8 to f/22 (tele)
|ISO range (at full resolution)
|100 to 3200
|auto, 5 presets, manual
|Additional image controls
|contrast, saturation, sharpness, noise reduction, dynamic range, colour space
|Closest macro focus
|multi, centre, tracking, face detect
|eg: multi, centre-weighted, centre, face detect
|auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, red-eye reduction
|single, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket