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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 - Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

By Cliff Smith



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The key feature of the GH1 is of course its video recording capability, and it's fairly obvious that Panasonic has put a lot of thought into it. While most digital cameras with so-called HD video recording are only capable of 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, the GH1 can shoot at a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels at 25 frames per second, or 1280 x 720 at an ultra-smooth 50fps.

Video files are encoded in either Motion JPEG or AVCHD formats, recording directly onto an SD memory card. Motion JPEG is a good universal standard, ideal for video editing on a home PC, or for sharing via email. The AVCHD format is much better quality when played back on a TV, but requires special software for editing. The GH1 has an HDMI socket for connection to a suitably equipped TV, and has a special Viera Link, so if you have a Panasonic HD TV the camera can be operated via the TV remote control.

The video mode on the GH1 is far more comprehensively implemented than the video functions of most compact cameras. As well as the usual default fully automatic mode it also has a full manual mode, in which both shutter speed and aperture can be adjusted, and spot, centre-weighted or multi-zone light metering modes can be selected. Sound recording is also more sophisticated than usual. The twin built-in microphones has an optional wind-cut feature, which goes some way towards filtering out wind noise on the soundtrack. As well as the built-in microphones the GH1 also has a socket to plug in an external stereo microphone. A purpose-built boom microphone which clips into the flash hotshoe is supposed to be available, although it's hard to find anyone who's selling it.

There's no doubt at all that the GH1 is technically a very capable video camera. At the press launch I was shown a short film made by a professional film maker, shot entirely on the GH1, and the results were very certainly very impressive. However having used it to shoot video myself, I have some comments about this feature. First, I doubt that a professional film maker, or even a keen amateur, is going to choose a GH1 over any of the very capable and significantly cheaper HD camcorders that are widely available.

For anyone else the HD video feature is just going to be an added bonus that might be used occasionally, and for that it's simply not worth the cost. The standard Lumix G1 is currently selling for under £450 including a 14-45mm zoom lens, which is actually pretty good value for money. It's hard to justify spending nearly three times as much for a bonus novelty feature you're not going to use that much.

My second point about hybrid video/stills cameras is that they're never going to work satisfactorily. If you look at the way the ergonomics of the typical video camcorder has evolved, the body is designed to rest on the flat palm of the right hand with the forearm vertical, a grip that is well suited to panning the camera smoothly in the horizontal plane, and all the main shooting controls are accessible with the minimum of hand movement, so that you don't cause camera shake when filming.

By contrast a digital SLR is designed to be held in both hands, gripped tight into the chest for maximum stability when shooting stills. The controls are not designed with stability or shake reduction in mind, because they don't have to be. My point is that the body shape and control layout of a typical DSLR is fundamentally unsuited to hand-held video shooting, and I really don't believe that any sort of successful hybrid is even possible using current camera forms. The GH1 is as close as it's possible to get, and is certainly capable of producing excellent results, but you can get better results for less from a dedicated camcorder.


October 17, 2009, 8:45 pm

I think you've been a little over critical on this camera's video function and whether or not it's going to be used. For the price, such a large sensor and interchangeable lens's aren't anywhere near possible with an dedicated consumer grade video camera.

File size limitations and the form factor might make it a bad idea for longer take, studio type work. But the cinematic effect this camera can achieve is well worth it for film work, which has shorter, but more creative, shots. Vimeo is full of great short films people have done with his camera and the 5DMk2

Here's one beautiful example http://www.vimeo.com/5981422 I'd recommend downloading the file version to watch. The GH1 is seamlessly inter-cut with the Red One and 5Dmk2.

The fact that this camera stands up pretty well with the Red camera and the 5D is amazing. For a small film school that wants to teach students proper lighting opportunities, depth of field effects, lens's and composition, it's unrivalled.

Alex Tighe

October 17, 2009, 10:34 pm

when will you be reviewing the 500d, if at all


October 17, 2009, 11:42 pm

Your comments are interesting; however you seem to have missed a couple of very significant points in comparing GH1 to G1. You state, apparently by assumption, that the still-photo quality is identical and the movie features are the only differences. However, it's well established that the GH1 has a different sensor and produces what most people think are noticeably superior results, especially regarding high-ISO noise. In fact the sensor pattern is also different, with a non-rectangular layout that enables switching of aspect ratio without losing much resolution (i.e. not simply cropping the "native" 4:3 HxV pixel count). The only negative comparison vs. G1/GF1/E-P1 performance are some observations of minor banding in GH1 output. One of the disappointments of the GF1 is that it doesn't use the GH1 sensor.

Also, while I agree that the original G1 is a pretty good value for money (that's the model I have presently), you distilled the GH1/G1 value comparison down to "nearly three times as much for a bonus novelty feature". In fact, the price difference mostly reflects the cost of the 14-140 lens (UK list is 800GBP), which as you noted is very high quality. It is way beyond average kit-zoom performance (in keeping with Panasonic's established tradition of high quality kit lenses), has a huge zoom range and so-far unmatched engineering attention to video-specific requirements in the AF and aperture operation. I'm not trying to advertise or advocate for the GH1, but I think the review doesn't clarify these significant differences in the value comparison. It would help if Panasonic would un-bundle the bodies and lenses (which they do only in some markets if at all). Then the true price difference wouldn't seem so large.


October 18, 2009, 12:28 am

@JMHCC: The value of the lens is no longer a justifiable reason for the price of this camera, as the Canon 500D can be bought with the EF-S 18-200mm for £900 all in now. Sadly, even if the GH-1 is worth spending the extra on, people will always buy a Canon or Nikon if they have the opportunity, call it brainwashing or just good marketing if you will.

The only way in which Panasonic can counter this is to undercut the big two's prices, something they have inexplicably never been able to work out yet. The mega flop L1 and L10 digital SLR's are perfect examples of this, where asking for far too much in an ultra competitive industry results in complete failure..


October 18, 2009, 12:08 pm

@Noodles: I do think what JMHCC says is right on. If Panasonic were to un-bundle the GH1 camera, I think people will see the true value of the each of its components. Canon 500D ships with an average kit lens that's not regarded very well by reviewers. Panasonic's 14-140 is a stellar lens, reviewed highly by all...AND it has silent operation, which is necessary for video, unlike all the other DSLRs available now with video capabilities.


October 18, 2009, 3:37 pm

I agree with jopey, the kind of video you can shoot with this camera is very different from that of a dedicated camcorder. Camcorders shoot video that looks like video. But with a DSLR you get a real movie look. Sure, camcorders are still better for hand held shooting of a wedding and a family trip, but people who might buy this GH1 for its video capabilities are not going to shoot those kind of videos and are not going to shoot hand held anyway. They will use special handlers, tripod, steadicam,... So it's a very different animal from a camcorder, appealing to different people with different needs.


October 18, 2009, 9:32 pm

@pmobuvis: Quality of components does not sell cameras. Pentax and Olympus bundle with their DSLRs lenses of excellent quality, but it doesn't stop the hordes of people buying a Canon instead, with it's not too great 18-55mm lens..

It's all a marketing and price game, one that Panasonic hasn't seemed to have worked out how to play yet. After being asked by clients all the time why I don't shoot on Canon/Nikon, I have realised that public perception of what is "pro" and "the best" seems to be is heavily weighted towards "the big two" brands. For many, Canon/Nikon means expensive camera, like a Hoover vacuum cleaner or Aga cooker etc..

Until Panasonic can break this perception with something that can undercut in price (the big one), or provide truly superior results then it's Canon/Nikon competitors, then it will always be an also ran, along with Pentax/Oly/Sony etc..


October 19, 2009, 2:32 am

It sure looks tacky it has the "Ann Summers" feel.


October 19, 2009, 9:23 am

@Noodles: without the 14-140mm lens, the GH1 is useless for video, as the rest of the micro 4/3 lineup (including the excellent 20mm f1.7) are too noisy for video recording, unless you resort to manual focusing (and without manual focus detents on the barrel, it's not going to be easy) or pre-focus, which limits them to a very specific role.

Cliff misses the point of movie mode on DSLRs. Unlike HD camcorders, it is possible to obtain a very film-like feel with the DSLRs (including the GH1) because of their large sensors and big-aperture lenses. Meaning they're competing (at least nominally) with professional HD camcorders that cost an order of magnitude more, are bulkier, and less versatile. It's still not something you could or would shoot Lord of the Rings on, but they are a compelling option for film students, indie shorts and commercials (except in Europe where they are often crippled with ridiculous 30-minute limitations by overzealous bureaucrats).

If there is a major shortcoming on the GH1, it's that it's missing in-body IS, which would have made it a killer video app with manual OM and M mount lenses.

Oh, and Chris, the GH1 has a new multi-aspect sensor compared to the G1, which is worth mentioning.


October 19, 2009, 12:13 pm

@Noodles: Unfortunately, re: your comment about how people perceive Canon/Nikon brand over others...yes, it's true -- most people are brand-whores. I really wish Olympus/Panasonic/m43/(even Sony) can put more pressure on Canon/Nikon juggernaut. At the end of it all, good competition is good for us.


April 27, 2010, 3:46 pm

I tried out a GH1 and in many respects it's a great machine, compact, well put together with exceptional image quality. However, its weight means that it needs a good grip and a) the handgrip is too narrow for a comfortable hold, and b) there's too little space between grip and lens for my fingers, and I really don't have large hands. Simple ergonomics have lost out here, which is a shame because that aside I would have been happy to buy it.

Mike B

June 6, 2010, 6:41 pm

Given you can now get the GH1 for £825 (£900 less Panasonic's £75 cash back) it does make this a tempting 'super zoom' camera.

Anyone looking at say a Nikon D5000 (or D90) and the 18-200mm VR lens may be better off with the GH1 as it is smaller, lighter and has a much better HD move mode. Recent firmware updates seem to have improved the OIS and focus from the review sample.

Now all I need to do is find £825!

Mike B

November 6, 2010, 3:41 pm

@ R0b1n: This camera with 14-140mm lens weighs less than 900g so is hardly heavy! In fact there are few, if any, interchangeable lens cameras out there that can beat this with a similar 10X zoom lens fitted.

Now the last of these can be obtained for £730 it is a bit of a bargain! Grab one while you can!


January 23, 2011, 1:33 am

I just bought the GH1 for £499 from John Lewis on sale because of the GH2. Do you reckon I got a bargain ?


February 25, 2014, 7:01 pm

please tell me how would you be able to upload videos to the computer from a panasonic lumix GH1 digital camera??

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