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Panasonic DMC-GH1 Digital Camera Review

Panasonic DMC-GH1 Digital Camera Review - Panasonic visited ePHOTOzine with the new DMC-GH1. Matt Grayson was on hand to stick his mitts all over it.

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Category : Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera
Product : Panasonic Lumix GH1
Price : £1,300
Rating :
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As long term manufacturers of camcorders, Panasonic have poured all their know-how into the G-series.

Skip to Verdict

Panasonic DMC-GH1Panasonic DMC-GH1: Specification
  • Resolution: 12.1Mp
  • Sensor size: 17.3x13mm (FourThirds system)
  • Sensor type: LiveMOS
  • Image size: 4000x3000
  • Aspect ratio: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1
  • Focus system: Contrast AF
  • Focus points: 23 area
  • Crop factor: 2x
  • Lens mount: Micro FourThirds
  • File type: RAW, JPEG
  • Sensitivity: ISO100-3200
  • Storage: SD, SDHC
  • Focus types: Face detection, AF tracking, 23 area focusing, 1 area-focusing
  • Metering system: 144 zone multi pattern sensing system
  • Metering types: Intelligent multiple, centre weighted, spot
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 3EV in 1/3 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 60sec-1/4000sec
  • Frames per second: 3fps (frames per second) max.
  • Flash: Built-in, hotshoe
  • Flash sync speed: 1/160sec
  • Image stabilisation: No, lens based Mega O.I.S.
  • Integrated cleaning: Supersonic wave filter
  • Live view: Yes
  • Viewfinder: Electronic, 1.4 million dots
  • Monitor: 3in low temperature polycrystalline TFT LCD
  • Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI
  • Power: ID-security Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 124x89.6x45.2mm
  • Weight: 385g

Panasonic DMC-GH1: Features
Before Olympus have a chance to unpack a concept model, Panasonic have released their second camera in the Micro FourThirds system. The GH1 offers a few new features such as HD video, multi aspect ratios and a good noise reduction facility.
 
Panasonic DMC-GH1
Panasonic DMC-GH1
Of course the latter improvement suggests that the previous noise reduction on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 wasn't up to scratch and looking at the ISO800 image from the review, I'm inclined to disagree as the noise performance doesn't seem that bad although there are blobs of colour invading the grey area. However if this means that the noise performance is better on the GH1, we may be in for a treat.
 
A new sensor has been developed for the GH1 which is still 12.1 million effective pixels but now has a total pixel count of 14 million. The reason behind this is because the GH1 is multi aspect ratio so it's not just stuck on 4:3 but you can now bask in the multi sized glory of 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 without losing any resolution. The dimensions are the same which means it's still a FourThirds sensor.
 
Panasonic have also upgraded the processor which works in the same way as a dual core processor found in computers by having two CPUs. This means that it can split its tasks and in the long run perform faster as well as helping with the noise reduction, providing long time film recording and allowing the camera to have a HDMI output.
 
Face detection can recognise up to 15 faces in one frame and face recognition allows you to input those closest to you so that the camera prioritises them in the frame. As an added bonus, it also lists the persons name under the face detection box and with children you can add their age so that when a picture is taken of them, it burns the data in the bottom corner of the image allowing you to keep track of them growing up. During playback you can use this technology to sort all images on the card only using names or faces.
 
The layout of the GH1 is very similar to the G1 and only the larger differences are noticeable such as the dedicated video button on the back, the addition of a stereo microphone in front of the hotshoe and some rearranged functions on the command dial. Essential items such as the focus dial on the left shoulder and drive switch under the main dial remain in place.
 
Panasonic DMC-GH1
Everything is laid out the same apart from additional features on the command dial and the video button seen here.
On the back the LVF/LCD button is still in the top left next to the 1.4 million dot electronic viewfinder which still has the cut out sensors for dropping the menu on the articulated 3in screen so that the glare doesn't get in your eyes.
 
The dedicated video button sits in the top right corner with the thumb rest wrapping around it. A display button is located just above the navigation pad and this scrolls through the different ways you can have the screen display your information.
 
An interesting option is to have no image on the screen and it brings up a great display with the mode you're in, the aperture and/or shutter speed (depending on the mode you're in) a selection of modes for quick adjustment such as white balance, sensitivity, focusing, flash, drive and quality. To the right is a large circle with the exposure compensation displayed easily to see.
 
It is, in fact, the Q-menu on permanent display and pressing the button on the top plate changes the screen greeny blue and it allows you to navigate around the options.

The menu is a black font on white background design with six main tabs that are colour-coded for easy navigation once you've memorised them. The camera tab is for your recording options such as aspect ratio, resolution, metering and enough other options to fill five pages.

There's one particularly interesting area of the main menu system called my menu. It's one of the six available down the left side. My menu allows minor cosmetic changes to be made to the camera's appearance such as removing the border where the information is shown in the viewfinder to give you a wider field of view. You can also choose a histogram to be shown as well as a rule of thirds grid. However you can also choose to adjust settings such as manual focus assistance, AF/AE lock, focus priority or choose to clean the sensor.
 
Despite the camera's relatively high specification, the iA system has been fitted so that a complete novice can start out on the camera. Intelligent Auto was invented by Panasonic and is the auto feature that all compacts are now installing where the camera can see the type of photograph you're taking and adjust the mode to suit it.
 
Panasonic DMC-GH1Panasonic DMC-GH1: Lens
A new lens has been developed as the kit model to be released with the GH1. With a focal length of 14-140mm it's a 10x optical zoom and after the 2x crop is taken into consideration gives you 28-280mm. In 13 groups, there are 17 elements of which four are aspherical and two are ED (extra low dispersion).

It has seven blades and Panasonic's MegaO.I.S system for cutting out any blur from camera shake at the top end of the zoom. There are two interesting points in the construction of the lens. One is the isolation technology which muffles the autofocus motors meaning that they aren't picked up during filming. The other is the metal mount which is practically unheard of in kit lenses these days.
 
Panasonic DMC-GH1: Video
Panasonic join the ranks that Canon and Nikon opened up by introducing a camera with interchangeable lenses that also has HD video capability. I'm not keen to say DSLR simply because of the design of the camera. It's not strictly a DSLR because it lacks the reflex mirror, pentaprism and shutter curtain. This could mean that it puts the GH1 slightly outside the DSLR with video ranks and, indeed, Panasonic are careful not to list the G series as a DSLR giving them their own separate area on the website away from the L10.
 
Steve Lucas, Product Specialist for Panasonic UK said that the GH1 runs at full 1080p HD quality video and will give results slightly below that of a camcorder but much higher than a compact. It has the same advantages as the Nikon D90/D5000 and Canon EOS 5D MkII/500D with increased depth of field thanks to using DSLR technology.
 
Where the GH1 comes up trumps is in the extra areas such as being able to record sound in stereo, a working autofocus system thanks to the noise dampening technology in the lens and a dedicated record button that will start the video going whenever you want. The GH1 also has a Creative Movie mode which allows you to control areas such as the aperture and shutter while filming.
 
This camera should appeal to advanced amateurs such as frequent travellers due to the smaller dimensions and integrated video capability or the internet blogger that needs video & still imaging and fast uploads.
 
Professionals also might find a use for this camera such as video and photo journalists, wedding photographers and advertising agencies. There is the worry that with the extended film capability, compact design and silent mode could be like a beacon for those who take video equipment into cinemas to pirate new releases.
 
Panasonic DMC-GH1: Build and handling
Dimensions of the camera are roughly the same as the G1 with only 6mm extra height so not anything that you'd notice unless they were put side by side. I'm happy to still see the amazing Live Viewfinder that was introduced on the G1. It really is bright and the 1.4 million dots make all the difference. To put it in context, the amount of dots on the viewfinder is greater than the screen or, indeed, the number of dots on the screen of a Nikon D3x.

I'd like to see a secondary dial near the thumb plate for altering shutter speeds when in the maunal mode. Other cameras aimed at the same target audience have them so it shows that the consumer will use it.
 
It's heavy for its size which can be attributed to the build quality. The battery is the same as the G1 which is great if you've already bought into the G series and you're either thinking of an extra body or upgrading.
 
The SD slot is sat on the right side of the camera and can take SDHC cards. Panasonic develop a 32Gb card which is compatible with the GH1 and when I asked Steve Lucas about SDXC, he seemed confident that Panasonic would be at the forefront of the technology as they're part of the SD Association.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1: Performance
Panasonic invited ePHOTOzine to Windsor to view and use a “just before final production” version of the GH1. I have permission to post the images I took but Panasonic want you to know that the final models could differ slightly in responsiveness and image quality.

This may not be necessary though as the images I got were pleasing to look at although I do think I got the best results when I under exposed by a third of a stop.

Before we left Sir Christopher Wrens House Hotel where we'd met, I took a picture of the lovely fireplace in the lounge area and because it was dark I used the flash. I had the new 7-14mm lens fitted to get the whole hearth in as it was huge.
For the landscape shot, I took a wide image of the statue of Queen Victoria. The detail at the base of the statue is superb and this continues on through to the background. I'll perform a proper standard ePHOTOzine landscape shot when I get hold of a finalised model but until then I think this is a nice picture. The blue of the sky is punchy and there's detail in the dark areas of the statue. I also like the amount of detail in the brickwork of the castle.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Good depth of field and nice colour reproduction on this landscape shot.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Loads of fine detail can be seen in this street candid of a bus and it's driver.
I thought the red of the tour bus would be a good demonstration of the colour rendition of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 but I think it's unfair that it's been taken in the shade. Still, I like the colour and sharpness for a hand held shot as you can read the word “passport” on the books in the front window.

I mentioned earlier that I think the camera gives better results when it's set to a 1/3 stop under exposure and the picture of the castle is a perfect example with the rich sky, depth in the clouds while still giving a good result on the brickwork of the wall. Exposing it to what the camera says is the right setting takes the detail out of the cloud.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
It's my opinion that the camera gives nicer colours when under exposed by a third of a stop.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Shooting in to the Sun has still managed to retain detail in normal areas with only a small amount of lens flare.
One of the earlier shots I took was straight into the sun and the metering has coped well with it while the lens has kept flare to a minimum. There's still loads of detail in the shadow areas which shows a good dynamic range.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1: Noise test
I took some noise test shots while out and about so you can see the quality of the noise reduction software. This isn't comparable to the G1 as that was in controlled lighting so I'll update the test when I get a final production model.
 
I really like the ISO100 result though, it's smooth and detailed. this trend continues and it's not until ISO800 that I can really see noise starting to creep in. It's not at all aggressive as it slowly slides over the detailed areas and starts to block them out.

I have to admit that ISO3200 isn't the best result I've seen as the sign and door to the left are starting to lose resolution and clarity.

This is a tricky result to give as the situation isn't identical to the G1 but Panasonic have said that the noise reduction facility is improved on the GH1. I need to see the finalised model before I can judge.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
The ISO100 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
The ISO200 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
The ISO400 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
The ISO800 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
The ISO1600 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
The ISO3200 test.

DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Panasonic DMC-GH1.

Panasonic DMC-GH1: Verdict
I really liked the G1 when it came out and the GH1 hasn't failed to impress me either. The advance in video technolgy has made me consider whether to use this type of thing more often. I think if I had the GH1 I would do and I certainly think this is an exciting turn of events.

Not to mention that it beats any other video system on a DSLR today. I'm really impressed with the lens on the kit to the point where I've awarded it cutting edge for the noise dampening and the camera for the video advancements.

Of course this will all depend on the final product and as the camera I had was pre-production so certain qualities may change. What I can say is that the focusing is smooth, it works in video and the camera has plenty other things to offer.
 
New lenses have been released and Olympus need to release a MicroFourThirds camera soon if they want to stay in the game which also means more lenses and cameras. If that happens then this could be a nifty system to invest in.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1: Plus points
Good build quality

Small system
AF in video mode
Good noise performance
Stereo microphone
Articulated screen

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1: Minus points
High price

Intelligent Auto system on a camera aimed at enthusiasts and professionals.

FEATURES

HANDLING

PERFORMANCE

OVERALL



The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 costs around £1299.99 for the body and 14-140mm kit lens and isn't available body only.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

 

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Comments


3 May 2009 10:39AM
Fab colour!
jas

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Henners88 5 204 United Kingdom
5 May 2009 9:31AM
I'm not that impressed with its colour and if I had 1100 to spend I'd probably look at either Canon or Nikon. Having a camcorder facility on a DSLR is not paramount for me. The bridge camera's Lumix make are very impressive however but I feel this one is over priced.Smile

Henry
5 May 2009 10:39PM

Quote:I'm not that impressed with its colour


As this was apparently a non-functional pre-production model - as I understood it - one can only comment on its appearance.
jas
The color is awesome, I would do anything to get a camera with a amazing red like that.

James
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
1 Jun 2009 9:15AM
You could always buy one? Wink
willbrealey 10 248
4 Jun 2009 5:31PM
It's rather noisy/smeared at ISO 800+ - almost compact-camera like. I wonder if this is because of a slightly smaller sensor? I love the size and design of this camera, but I wouldn't want to forego a real viewfinder and buy into a specialist lens system when non-four thirds DSLRS are also becoming quite tiny.
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
12 Jun 2009 9:22AM
I though the ISO test was pretty good. the smaller sensor will have problems but it's not much smaller than APS-C and is much bigger than a compact sensor. The live viewfinder has a higher resolution than the screen on the back and while I share the same doubts about an electronic viewfinder, if I had to use one it would be the panasonic version. Smile
dennypoos 5 6 1 United Kingdom
10 Jul 2009 8:44PM
That is a phenomenal amount of money for a Leica look-alike. While the Leitz tie up reaps certain rewards and kudos, I can only see this as a bit of niche marketing.

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