Panasonic tour takes Lumix G2 on the road

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Panasonic is currently traveling to major U.S. cities with its “Touch the Future Tour,” an event that gives consumers hands-on time with new products unveiled at CES and PMA. swung by the tour’s Boston stop at Copley Place to check out Panasonic’s latest Lumix digital cameras, including the G2, one of the Micro Four Thirds cameras Panasonic announced earlier this month.

Panasonic G2

The G2 is the successor to the Lumix G1, Panasonic’s first Micro Four Thirds camera released in late 2008. We gave the G1 a positive review, saying it offered “the best of both worlds” in regard to point-and-shoot size and DSLR photo quality. That might bode well for the G2, which is not only lighter than the G1, but also retains many of the same features while adding some major functionality: the ability to shoot 720/30p HD video. Panasonic’s Matthew Chandler gave us the rundown.

Great video requires great audio, and the G2 has that covered with an on-board mic and external mic jack, an input some HD camcorders lack. In fact, Panasonic is so confident in Micro Four Thirds video, they were broadcasting impressive footage shot with the GH1 on big screens across the “Touch the Future” display space.

There are a few other differences between the G1 and G2, Chandler noted. “It does come with a different lens,” he said. “What we have here (on the G2) is a 14-42 versus the 14-45 that came with the G1. But [the G2] is the next series up, still using the 12 megapixel MOS sensor.”

Facial recognition
The G2 will also include Panasonic’s facial recognition technology, the same feature found on its high-end HD camcorders and Lumix GF1. As Chandler added, with facial recognition, the camera never forgets a face.

At PMA earlier this year, we tested facial recognition on Panasonic’s 700 series camcorders, and it definitely worked as advertised, picking up and focusing on preprogrammed faces without missing a beat. It will be interesting to see how well the technology translates to taking stills.

Another element added to the G2 is Intelligent Resolution, a feature Panasonic has introduced in their 2010 Lumix cameras and claims will improve the look of textures, gradations, and outline areas through in-camera processing. We also tested it on the 700 series camcorders and were impressed by how well it enhanced picture quality in digital zoom, making it almost indiscernible from optical zoom.

Another new feature is autofocus tracking, which Chandler detailed in the video below:

From our time with the G2, we found the autofocus tracking worked well with the new touch-friendly LCD monitor. To initialize autofocus tracking, users tap the subject they want tracked on the 3.0-inch screen. Chandler showed us the simple operation.

SDXC compatible
So where’s the G2 going to store those large HD video files? Chandler said the G2 is the only Micro Four Thirds camera from Panasonic that is SDXC compatible.

With SDXC, 2TB cards could be available as early as next year, and 64GB SD cards are already on the market. But they aren’t cheap, costing around $500 each.

Who wants a Micro Four Thirds Camera?
Though critics have lauded Micro Four Thirds cameras as offering near DSLR-quality photos in a relatively less bulky device, the cameras and lenses aren’t cheap. The Panasonic G1 can cost anywhere from $600 to $700, and some lens prices approach $1,000. Considering that several entry-level DSLRs are less expensive, what type of consumer is Panasonic courting with the G2? Chandler gave us an answer.

We also asked Chandler how Panasonic intends to shed the stigma that Micro Four Thirds cameras are transitional devices, readying rookie shutterbugs for their inevitable jump up to DSLRs.

Thoughts on Sony concept
Finally, we asked Chandler for his take on Sony’s concept announcement at PMA of a compact camera line with interchangeable lenses similar to Micro Four Thirds.

G2, A Better G1?
With the G2, it seems Panasonic kept everything right about the G1, added video, and tossed in some new Panasonic tech to improve overall performance and functionality. We’ll see how well it fits together during our full-scale review. Until then, we are intrigued by the G2’s potential.

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