BUILD AND DESIGN
As already mentioned, the GF2 is slightly downsized from the GF1, but you've still got a hand-sized, slightly rounded rectangular body that will strain a shirt pocket but tuck fairly decently into a jacket, at least with the 14mm wide angle lens. The 14mm adds about an inch of depth to the camera body, which is aluminum and looks and feels well-built.
Ergonomics and Controls
While the rectangular body closely resembles the GF1, the GF2's raised handgrip at the right front of the body extends only about 3/4 of the way to the top, curving to the edge to provide a fairly comfortable rest for the middle finger. The thumb rest at the rear is small but raised just enough to provide a grip.
The composite material of the thumb rest is smooth and slick, like the paint on the rest of the body, but the grips and the gently rounded edges of the GF2 still provide a fairly secure-feeling one hand hold. Attaching the camera strap and having it around your neck or arm is good insurance against a drop.
On the GF1 the AF assist lamp was located on the upper right front of the body, making it a candidate to be covered by fingers of the right hand. Panasonic has moved it to the left front on the GF2, making it a candidate to be covered by fingers of the left hand in two-handed shooting.
Gone from the back of the GF2 are the AF/MF and display buttons of the GF1 - focus choices are now set via internal menu and "display" is a touch screen function in the new interface. The AF/AE lock button is also missing, and the net loss of three buttons results in a simpler, cleaner camera back with only playback and quick menu/function buttons in addition to the cursor and menu/set buttons incorporated into a single control.
With the touch screen/new interface being arguably the most significant change from the GF1 we'll spend a bit more time than usual going over this aspect of the GF2's personality. With the camera powered on we get the basic shooting screen (in this case with the camera set for aperture priority and with the histogram enabled via internal menu) displaying a range of camera settings.
Touching the "display" icon on the screen clears off the shooting info for a clearer view for both image composition and the designated focus point.
Touching the focus point presents a size adjustment scale - you can either touch the scale at the size point you'd like or touch-and-drag it to the point. You can also reposition the focus point within the frame for more precise focus on important features of the scene. Focus point size is set by touch; position may be via touch or scrolling with the cursor buttons.
The shutter may be released by touch if you enable this feature via the icon found on the shooting screen just above the display icon. Enabling turns the icon yellow and removes the small "x" that designates the feature as disabled.
Touching the screen at any point now shifts the focus point to the spot you touch and the camera trips the shutter once focus is acquired. Here are shots captured by touch with the focus point established on the car grill and shrubs across the street, respectively.
From the original shooting screen, touching the "A" aperture priority shooting icon displays the "REC MODE" menu with the rest of the shooting options. Another option may be selected by touch or scrolling.
Touching "SCN" brings up the scene sub-menu, which in this case is set for "scenery." Individual scenes may be selected by touch or scrolling.
The same holds true for the color palette or custom setting sub-menus. Pushing the "menu/set" button in the controller on the camera back brings up the menu options, which may be selected by touch or scrolling.
We already found that some items in the "REC MODE" menu may be selected by touch or scrolling, but such is not the case for the five other menus. Once you get into any of these all subsequent selections are via scrolling. Here are the first pages of the "REC" and "CUSTOM" menus.
I was pleasantly surprised at the operation of the touch screen to trip the shutter - the touch required to initiate the process is light and I found it could be done without causing an undue amount of camera shake. It's not my method of choice - I'd still rather lock focus with a half push in single servo AF, recompose the shot and fire the shutter normally (with a two-hand grip to steady the camera) - but as a viable option the touch shutter was quite functional.
Menus and Modes
Having spent considerable time dealing with menu access via the touch screen interface already, I'll go on just a bit further and mention that the quick menu offers 5 shortcuts to various camera functions, and may be customized by the user to change all or some of the functions from a list of fifteen choices. Menus are quite intuitive, but can be lengthy when shooting in the manual exposure modes versus automatic: the "REC" menu for intelligent Auto is barely two pages long; for aperture priority it swells to five pages.
There are nine primary shooting modes:
The GF2's 3.0-inch LCD monitor has approximately 460,000 dot composition, 7 levels of adjustment for brightness and 100% coverage. Unfortunately, there are times in bright outdoor light when the monitor can be difficult to see, even with the range of adjustments available. There is an optional electronic view finder available from Panasonic that offers 100% coverage and 202,000 dot composition, with a diopter adjustment to fit a range of eyesight. MSRP for the finder, which mounts on the flash hot shoe, is about $200 USD.
The monitor measured a peak brightness of 438 nits and contrast ratio of 433:1. Both figures are a bit on the low side: peak brightness above 500 and a contrast ratio in the 500-800:1 range are desirable levels, but not necessarily the whole story. The Nikon D7000 I recently reviewed came in at a low 334 peak brightness, but had a high (1012:1) contrast ratio and was relatively usable in bright outdoor conditions. The GF2 monitor was harder to use outside than the Nikon, and makes that optional electronic viewfinder start to look like a wise investment.
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