Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Performance, Timings and Image Quality

September 21, 2009 by Howard Creech Reads (2,140)

For those who love gadgets and the folks looking to buy a video camera that also captures still images, the Panasonic Lumix GH1 was designed for you. If video isn’t your bag then the almost identical (but much cheaper) G1 is probably a better bet.

Shooting Performance
The GH1 comes in right in the middle of the pack in terms of timing – a bit slower across the board than most of its competition. This is due primarily to the lack of phase detection auto focus. Slower contrast detection AF (and the need to supply a video feed to the LCD/EVF to provide a TTL live view) cause the GH1 to behave more like a Point and Shoot than a dSLR. The GH1 is quick enough to capture most action and (in good light) quick enough to capture extreme sports.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon D5000
Pentax K2000 0.04
Panasonic Lumix GH1
Olympus EP-1 0.06
Panasonic Lumix G1 0.10

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon D5000 0.19
Pentax K2000 0.32
Panasonic Lumix GH1 0.37
Panasonic Lumix G1 0.38
Olympus EP-1 1.22

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames* Framerate*
Nikon D5000 30 3.9 fps
Pentax K2000 5 3.4 fps
Panasonic Lumix G1 2.9 fps
Panasonic Lumix GH1 5 2.8 fps
Olympus EP-1 22 2.7 fps

* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera’s fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). “Frames” notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Freezing the roller-blader in the middle of his 360 degree flip was a lucky shot. I saw him skate over and position the girl at the edge of the bowl so I locked focused on her and then tracked him across two bowls at full speed until he started his flip. I tripped the shutter and the physical lag (me), shutter lag, and AF lag added just enough time to the exposure for him to reach the apex of his flip.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

The GH1’s built-in TTL pop up flash has a guide number of 10.5 @ ISO 100 meters (with the 14-140mm zoom) and a maximum range of just shy of 8 feet. The flash is enabled manually and provides a fairly standard selection of external lighting options including: On, Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Slow Synchro w/Red-eye Reduction, and Off. Standard flash synch is 1/160 of a second, but the top flash sync speed is a blazing 1/4000th second. Flash exposure compensation can be adjusted (via the Record menu) over a ±2 EV range in 1/3 EV increments. The GH1 is equipped with a hot shoe for the dedicated Panasonic DMW-FL220 flash.

The GH1 draws its power from a proprietary Panasonic DMW-BLB13PP 1250mAh, 7.2V battery pack. Panasonic claims battery life is approximately 300 exposures or 120 minutes of video. The included battery charger needs about 2.5 hours to fully charge the battery.

The elimination of the reflex mirror makes it impossible to utilize phase detection auto focusing, leaving the GH1 entirely dependent on contrast detection auto focus. The GH1’s 23 AF point/1 AF point contrast detection AF system locks focus accurately and quickly in most lighting conditions, but like all contrast detection AF systems performance deteriorates as light levels decrease.

Lens Mount/Kit Lens
I had the GH1 and two lenses – the 10x f/4.5-5.8/ 14-140mm (28-280mm 35mm equivalent) kit lens was especially designed to complement the GH1’s video capabilities – very low noise zooming and AF while filming and continuous rather than distinct aperture changes for smooth video in changing light. I also had the Lumix G VARIO f/4.0 7-14mm ASPH (14-28mm equivalent) ultra-wide zoom.

I really liked both lenses, but the 7-14mm (not surprisingly) has serious barrel distortion issues and will keystone horribly if it isn’t absolutely even and on plane. There is also an older f/3.5-5.6 14-45mm (28-90mm equivalent), and an f/4-5.6 45-200mm (90-400mm equivalent), and a soon to be released Lumix f/1.7 20mm. Olympus Micro Four Thirds Lenses can also be used and (with an adaptor) Four Thirds format lenses can be mounted.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

The GH1’s kit zoom exhibits moderate barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range and noticeable pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center) at full telephoto. Very minor chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is visible in high contrast color transition areas at the wide end of the zoom, but is essentially undetectable at the telephoto end of the zoom. Corners show some highly typical softness, but are acceptably sharp. There was no visible vignetting (dark corners) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range.

Macro shooters will probably be disappointed with the GH1, since there is no true macro capability with the kit lens. It is possible to shoot decent close-ups at the telephoto end of the kit lens, but depth of field is agonizingly shallow. Panasonic has announced a Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 ASPH Mega O.I.S. lens, so those waiting for a true Macro tool can look forward to the release of that lens.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

Video Quality

Exceptional video capability is the primary reason for choosing the GH1 over its competition – and in the video arena the GH1 is the top dog. It’s the only currently available dSLR featuring HD 1080P/24fps video, Dolby Digital stereo audio, real-time autofocus during filming, focus tracking and face detection (in video mode) and a kit lens designed to facilitate video capture with a smooth stepless iris and ultra-low-noise focus motors.

Image Quality
The GH1 provides users with an impressive selection of white balance options including auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, halogen, flash, custom 1, custom 2 and color temperature (2500 -10000K in100K steps) plus white balance bracketing (3 exposures – +/-1 to +/-3 in either blue/amber or magenta/green axis). The GH1’s auto white balance mode, intelligent multiple metering, and iA auto exposure system work nicely together to produce consistently very good to excellent photos even for beginning photographers. But like most consumer digital cameras, the GH1’s auto white balance setting produces slightly warmer colors than those seen by the naked eye.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light

This shot of a balloon sculpture at the Kentucky State Fair was shot in auto white balance mode under mixed window light and cool fluorescent lighting – the colors are fairly accurate.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

Here’s where the GH1 really differs from its competition – most dSLR color interpolation tends to produce native (default) color that is close to neutral – in other words the colors are pretty close to what you would see in real life. The GH1’s native color interpolation is bright, bold, and slightly over-saturated with harder contrast – like Point and Shoot colors (what veteran photographers call consumer color). Intense reds, bright blues, and snappy greens dominate.

Image quality is dependably very good to excellent (outdoors in good light) and images are sharp. Shadow detail is decent, but there is a slight tendency to clip highlights and some very minor chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is visible in high contrast color transition areas.

The GH1’s auto exposure system is noticeably better than average and the nifty intelligent Auto (iA) mode makes taking very good to excellent images simple, even for absolute beginners.

Image noise levels are above average at all ISO settings. Images shot at ISO 100 show reasonably low noise levels, vibrant color, sharp resolution, acceptable highlight detail, and decent shadow detail. At the ISO 200 setting noise levels begin to rise a bit, but image quality is still very good.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 100
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 200
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 400
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 800
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 1250
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 1250, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 2500
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 2500, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 3200
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
ISO 3200, 100% crop

ISO 400 images are noticeably noisy and some detail is lost, but they are still usable. ISO 800 images are soft, colors are flat, and detail loss is evident. ISO 1600 images are noisy enough to look a little mushy with flat pastel-like colors. I didn’t try the ISO 3200 setting.

Additional Sample Images

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

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