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It's just over a year since Panasonic launched the first of it's G Micro system cameras, the Lumix DMC-G1 . The G Micro system is a unique concept, using the Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens mount to produce cameras with all the features and image quality of a full-sized digital SLR, but in a much more compact and lightweight form. Panasonic has recently announced the third model in the G Micro system, the new Lumix DMC-GF1, and has expanded its range of Micro Four Thirds lenses, and sales figures of the existing models are certainly encouraging for the future of the system. Today I'm taking a look at the second model in the system, the Lumix DMC-GH1, launched in March of this year.

There seems to be a notion that's rapidly taken hold of the digital camera market that what everyone really needs is a digital SLR that can also shoot high-definition video. Nikon started it with the D90 late last year, and has followed it up with the D300s, a video-capable version of its popular semi-pro DSLR, which I'll be reviewing next week. Not to be outdone Canon has joined in with its impressive EOS 5D MkII, featuring full 1920 x 1080 HD and stereo sound, and Pentax has added HD video recording to its superb new K-7 digital SLR. Panasonic has also taken the G- Micro system in this direction, in fact I saw a virtually complete mockup of the GH1 at the launch event for the G1 late last year, so it's obviously been planning this for a while.

The GH1 is in most respects exactly the same as the original G1, not too surprising if they were both designed at the same time, so it's probably a good idea to go and read that review, since I'd like to avoid repeating myself. The body is almost identical, distinguished externally only by the addition of a pair of stereo microphones mounted on top of the pop-up flash, and a dedicated button on the back to activate video recording.

It has the same SLR-like styling as the G1, with a small but comfortable handgrip, a comprehensive but sensibly positioned control layout, and a large and extremely sharp fully articulated three-inch 460k widescreen monitor. Like the G1 it lacks the reflex mirror and optical prism viewfinder of a conventional DSLR. Instead it has an ultra-sharp electronic viewfinder, a field-sequential display with a resolution of 1.44 million dots. I will admit that I still prefer a traditional optical viewfinder, but this is without doubt the best electronic viewfinder currently available.

The GH1 is currently only available as a kit with the new 14-140mm f/4.0 - f/5.8 zoom lens. It's a very nice lens, equivalent to a very useful 28-280mm, and has outstanding optical quality. It's specially designed for video shooting, with a direct drive linear motor for quick but silent focusing, and a nice smooth zoom action. Unfortunately this kind of quality doesn't come cheap, and the GH1 kit is currently selling for around £1,300. By comparison a top-of-the-range HD camcorder such as Panasonic's own HDC-HS300 is around £800.

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