Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 adds full HD video to Micro Four Thirds system

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When Panasonic launched its unique, even revolutionary Lumix G1 using the newly developed Micro Four Thirds system last fall, they didn’t try to hide the fact that HD video capture was in the works for a future interchangeable-lens Lumix.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Panasonic’s Ichiro Kitao holds up the new Lumix GH1 at this morning’s press conference.

At a press conference this morning, Panasonic revealed tech specs for its latest Micro Four Thirds camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 – and though it’s hardly surprising, the big news here is undoubtedly the camera’s video capabilities.

Sharing the stage with the G1
For a “new” model, you won’t find a lot that we haven’t seen before on the GH1. That’s because Panasonic’s latest shares its basic platform with the previously launched Lumix G1. As part of Olympus/Panasonic’s jointly developed Micro Four Thirds system, the GH1 – like the G1 before it – saves space by doing away with the mirror box of a traditional DSLR. The result? A compact interchangeable-lens camera that operates in full-time live view mode, just like a point-and-shoot.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

On the exterior, the GH1 looks very much like the G1; presumably the two are built on the same chassis, with a footprint slightly smaller than a conventional SLR.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

The GH1 uses Panasonic’s 12.1 megapixel Live MOS sensor, combined with the company’s Venus Engine HD dual-core image processor. Like the G1, the GH1 sports a high-res, 460,000 dot swivel LCD, and one of the most crisp and fluid electronic viewfinders we’ve seen on a still camera – thanks in no small part to the camera’s very fast 60 fps display refresh rate.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

The GH1 also uses the G1’s contrast-detection auto focus system. The G1’s point-and-shoot style AF was impressive to say the least, capable of speeds that matched other consumer DSLRs using typically faster phase-detection systems. The GH1’s implementation of the system features 23 user-selectable focus areas as well as Panasonic’s point-following AF Tracking function.

Full HD video comes to the Lumix line
Of course, the GH1 isn’t just a still camera. A dedicated button on the back panel provides instant access to the camera’s video capture functions. Four-channel sensor readout allows the GH1 to shoot full HD (1920×1080) video at 24 fps, joining a very exclusive club of interchangeable-lens cameras with this functionality (at the time of this writing, only the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and the GH1 are capable of full HD video).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

The GH1 can also shoot 1280×720 HD video at 60 fps. In both cases, video is captured using the AVCHD format, which produces smaller files than equivalent Motion JPEG video. A top-mounted stereo mic, positioned atop the pop-up flash, provides camcorder-style audio to match the GH1’s impressive video capture, and users can opt for an optional external mic as well for even better audio performance.

Another key component that makes video capture on the GH1 possible is the camera’s newly developed Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8 kit lens. Low-noise drive motors in the new lens provide quick real-time focusing for video capture while minimizing noise that could potentially spoil a video. (Read more about the new lens in our Lumix 14-140mm lens announcement.)

G1 carry-over tech
The rest of the GH1 as presented follows closely in the G1’s footsteps. As before, the GH1’s Micro Four Thirds lens mount provides compatibility (including AE/AF support in some cases) with both the few compact Micro Four Thirds lenses currently on the market, and with the much broader range of full-size Four Thirds glass via an adapter.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

Because of its full-time live view operation, the GH1 is also able to draw on many of the user-friendly “Intelligent” technologies developed for Panasonic’s Lumix point-and-shoots. Most notably, the GH1 is equipped with Panasonic’s iA Intelligent Auto mode. According to the manufacturer, iA offers an integration of several key technologies – including Intelligent ISO, Intelligent Exposure, automatic scene selection, AF tracking, and face detection – designed to improve the auto-exposure shooting experience. And iA isn’t limited to still shooting, either: a Motion iA mode carries over the same advantages to the GH1’s video capture function.

Pricing and availability
Preliminary information about the GH1 didn’t offer clues as to when the GH1 might be available, or for how much. We’ll see if we can uncover more retail details during this morning’s press event.

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