BUILD AND DESIGN
The Lumix GH2, more so than its GF1 and GF2 counterparts, is built on the form factor of a traditional DSLR. The lack of a mirror box and everything that makes Micro Four Thirds so micro means that it’s substantially smaller than any currently available DSLR. You won’t forget that you’re not shooting with a DSLR though. The user must compose his or her shot using the 3.0-inch vari-angle display or an incredibly bright and sharp electronic viewfinder. This is where the GH2 will feel more like an oversized point-and-shoot.
New to the GH2 is a 16.05 megapixel Live MOS sensor. The ISO range stretches up to 12800, and the new sensor offers a faster readout speed bumping up full-resolution burst shooting to 5 frames per second. The rest of the system is not terribly different from previous generations, and the exterior has changed very little since the last iteration.
Ergonomics and Controls
The buttons, levers and dials on the top and back of the GH2 may intimidate a first-time user, but once you start shooting the layout, is easy to adapt to. The mode dial on top rotates through a full 360 degrees with various scene modes, Panasonic’s iA Intelligent Auto mode, program mode and manual exposure options at the shooters disposal. There are three custom setting modes in addition to basic shooting modes.
The top deck is almost identical to the layout we saw on the Panasonic G2. The iA dedicated button has been changed to a user-assigned Fn1 function button, and the mode dial has no less than three custom setting modes. Aside from that, the switches for drive and focus modes are unchanged. A dial on the left side determines focus area, and a dedicated movie record button is positioned just behind the shutter release.
The only change on the back control panel is on the four way controller. The “west” position is no longer a shortcut to processing mode, rather it’s now the second Fn2 customizable button, with the third at the south position.
The GH2’s touchscreen is one of its primary differentiating features from the GH1. The touchscreen offers touch shutter and touch AF functions. You’ll either like these options and use them or ignore them completely, and that’s just fine with Panasonic. More than enough physical controls are provided, making the touchscreen a take-it-or-leave it feature.
Our review unit arrived with a 14-140mm f/4-5.8 kit lens, smaller than a traditional piece of glass with comparable coverage, but still hefty for the size of the camera. The weight of the camera body itself, just under 14 oz, balances out the lens fairly well. A substantial handgrip with a small indent for the middle finger offers some additional balance and sturdiness.
Menus and Modes
The Lumix GH2 offers enough customizable function buttons, dials, levers, submenus and pages of menus to make a beginning photographer dizzy. The basic structure is straightforward and intuitive, though a new user might need some time to adjust to it.
A button on the back panel calls up a quick menu, bringing up a number of shortcuts to commonly used settings like white balance and metering. The number of controls you’ll have access to depends on which mode you’re using. You’ll have fewer options in iA intelligent Auto mode, as you’d expect.
Here are the shooting modes available to GH2 users:
- Intelligent Auto: Panasonic’s automatic scene mode now incorporates auto backlight correction with Intelligent D-Range control, claiming that it will help prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows. iA mode also uses Intelligent Resolution, a function that will apply some advanced sharpening to images. iA can be used in movie recording mode as well.
- Program: The camera uses a 144-zone metering system to determine aperture and shutter speed. ISO, white balance, metering mode, AF mode and many more options are available to the user.
- Aperture Priority: Similar to Program mode, except that the user determines aperture and the camera automatically adjusts shutter speed.
- Shutter Priority: The shooter determines shutter speed and the camera selects aperture.
- Manual: User selects shutter and aperture.
- C1, C2 and C3: Custom memory modes that allow the user to save settings for white balance, ISO, metering mode, and other automatic exposure parameters. Settings must be saved via the Custom tab in the camera menu.
- Creative Movie Mode: The GH2 offers a dedicated movie start/stop button, making it possible to instantly begin movie recording in other exposure modes. Choosing the movie mode on the mode dial will offer a variety of inputs, including white balance, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and film mode. Movies are recorded in AVCHD at 1080 24p or 60i. Video can be recorded at 720 in either AVCHD or Motion JPEG formats.
- Scene: This mode offers peripheral defocus, night portrait, night scenery, sunset, party, sports, baby and pet settings. User inputs are quite limited in each setting.
- Close-up: Options include flower, food, objects and creative.
- Scenery: Select from normal, nature, architecture and creative. User inputs are also considerably limited.
- Portrait: Options are normal, soft skin, outdoor, indoor and creative.
- My Color: This mode is identified by a palette icon and allows the user to select from a variety of creative processing modes such as “elegant” and “retro.” There’s a custom option for manual control over saturation, contrast and color.
Full manual mode offers the most flexibility. Changes to shutter and aperture are made via the command dial on the back panel thumb rest, and depressing the dial will toggle between shutter and aperture.
Adjustments to settings can also be made through the touchscreen. A small “Q Menu” icon is docked to the side of the live view shooting screen. Touching that icon will bring up the same quick menu of options with larger text icons. The quick menu option can be turned off entirely, as can the touch shutter, if you’re not interested in these functions.
I found it easier to forget about the touch quick menu in most cases and just use the physical controls. The icons are small, and anyone with large fingers will find it frustrating. Thankfully, Panasonic recognizes that not every GH2 user will want touch controls and makes it possible to leave them turned off.
Pressing the menu button at the center of the four-way controller will bring up many, many pages of camera settings. They’re sorted into tabs such as record, playback, setup and custom. Again, the exposure mode that you’re using will impact the number of settings you’ll have access to in each tab. In iA mode, the record tab has just one page of options. Manual mode will offer five pages of settings.
Lots of pages means that you’ll need to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the menu system before you start shooting. The quick menu puts most-often accessed options at your fingertips, but anything beyond that could be hiding under five other pages of menu options. Somewhat addressing the problem is a menu tab called “My Menu.” The controls you accessed most recently are stored there.
The Lumix GH2 is equipped with a 3.0-inch tilting/swiveling LCD with 460k-dots. The screen is bright and fluid with a fast refresh rate. The flexibility of the LCD came in handy on more than one occasion, and it’s certainly a help for framing stills and video in awkward positions. The LCD can be flipped closed when it’s not in use, which is a good feature for keeping the screen from getting bumped and scratched. There’s a small indent in the frame of the outer corners of the swiveling panel, and I had a little bit of trouble with it slipping under my fingers each time I tried to release it and pull it out.
The EVF is a bit wider than that of its predecessors, with a 1.533 million dot resolution. It’s very bright and sharp for both composition and reviewing images. Exposure information is displayed through the EVF, and a sensor next to it will automatically switch into viewfinder mode when you bring the camera up to your eye.
Both the screen and the viewfinder suffer in low light conditions. In good light, the image is fluid when panning across a scene. Low light will cause the image to become jerky, an effect that is more noticeable through the viewfinder.
The monitor is usable outdoors, but bright sunlight will wash it out and make it almost impossible to judge exposure and detail accurately. We measured the LCD panel’s peak brightness at 315 nits, a number that typically signals poor performance in bright sunlight. Thankfully, the EVF performs beautifully under these conditions. The GH2 is bulkier than its GF2 and Olympus Pen companions, but the EVF is worth its weight in gold when you’re shooting outdoors on a bright day. We found an overall contrast ratio of 525:1 for the LCD.