The apparently unstoppable transformation of digital SLRs into HD camcorders chalked up another victim yesterday. Panasonic officially announced the launch of the Lumix DMC-GH1, the second model in its innovative G-series of interchangeable lens cameras. It follows the launch late last year of the G1. I first saw a mockup of the GH1 when I reported on the G1 launch just before the Photokina camera show last September.
The GH1 is basically identical to the G1, but adds HD video recording to the specification. It's not the slightly crap HD video you usually get on compact cameras though; this is full 1920 x 1080 24fps HD video, complete with stereo audio recording via two built-in microphones mounted on top of the viewfinder/flash turret, or from the optional DMW-MS1 external stereo microphone which clips into the camera's hot-shoe. It's quite a sophisticated system, and scores over its few rivals by including continuous autofocus while recording, something missing from the Nikon D90 and Canon EOS 5D MkII.
It can also shoot 1280 x 720 resolution at 60fps, for in-camera slow motion recording. I had a brief chance to shoot some video with it at the launch event, and the quality of both picture and sound certainly appears to be excellent, although the Panasonic staff were quick to point out that we were using pre-production samples, and that the production cameras will be even better.
The still shooting specification is the same as the G1. It has a 12-megapixel Four Thirds format Live MOS sensor, an incredibly sharp 1.44 million dot field-sequential electronic viewfinder and a 3.0-inch flip-and-twist LCD monitor with a resolution of 460k. It has a full range of manual options, just as you'd expect to find on a full-size DSLR, and can shoot in Raw mode. It has the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, and can accept any of the expanding range of G-system lenses. Like the G1 it is available in black, red or blue.
The Lumix DMC-GH1 will be in the shops next month and is already available for pre-order from some outlets, but you're not going to like the price; as a kit with the new made-for-video silent 14-140mm lens (see below) it's going on sale at £1,299, which makes it more expensive than the Canon EOS 50D. The optional DMW-MS1 external mic adds another £100 to the price. At launch the GH1 will not be available body only.
As well as the GH1, Panasonic also announced accessories including two new G-system lenses. The 14-140mm kit lens, or to give it its full title the LUMIX G VARIO HD 14-140mm/F4.0-5.8 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S, is a special lens intended specifically for use with the GH1. It has a silent AF motor, so the continuous AF while filming can operate without affecting the soundtrack. It is fitted Panasonic's acclaimed MEGA OIS optical image stabilisation system.
The other new lens is an impressive ultra-wide-angle zoom. The LUMIX G VARIO 7-14mm/F4.0 ASPH has a focal length equivalent to 14-28mm, taking into account the Micro Four Thirds 2:1 conversion factor. This is exceptionally wide view angle of 114 degrees, practically a fish-eye lens at its widest setting. It also features f4.0 aperture across the zoom range, and comes with a lens hood. As far as I know the price for this lens has yet to be confirmed.
As well as these lenses, Panasonic also announced two new optional accessories, the DMW-MA3R and DMW-MA2M lens mount adaptors. These allow the superb Leica R and M series lenses to be used with the Lumix G Micro System cameras, vastly expanding the range of available optics, although not really helping the system's reputation for being very expensive.