Though using both physical and virtual buttons in tandem appears initially confusing, we managed to get up to speed fairly quickly. And in doing so we discovered that having the option to swipe a finger across the screen rather than press a button on occasion simply acted as a time saver rather than the obstruction a lesser gimmick might.
An example of how both work well together is that with a press of the back plate located Q.Menu (Quick Menu) button, that will be familiar to Lumix snapshot users making the step up, a toolbar of essentials including image quality and metering options is presented along the bottom of the screen. Each option can be selected with a finger tap, or, if preferred, a tap of the multi-directional cross keys control pad to the right of the screen. Any change is effected with a subsequent finger tap or alternatively a press of the menu/set button at the centre of the pad.
By way of further friendly tools the GF2 offers a top mounted intelligent Auto (iA) button, as also found on Lumix compacts. A press of this immediately throws the user into said scene and subject recognising mode, enabling point and shoot operation with consistently reliable results. One-touch video recording again features, here enabling the capture of Full HD 1,920 x 1080 pixels clips in stereo audio and in AVCHD file format, or a slightly lower 1,280 x 720 pixels in more widely compatible Motion JPEG format. Panasonic has again thoughtfully included a wind cut function for shooting outdoors, and both modes are a good fall back when you might not actually have a camcorder to hand. Plus, one press of the provided red button and the user is immediately recording video, black bands cropping the screen top and bottom, no matter which mode might have been previously in play.
General handling quickly becomes intuitive therefore, saving on time wasted fiddling around when you could be lining up the shot required instead. In terms of performance we didn't notice a marked difference in quality over the GF1, and neither should there be as the sensor is identical and the available optics similar. In terms of image noise, though, disappointingly we noticed some grain creeping into shadow areas as low as ISO400, though not really reaching problematic levels until ISO1600. The top setting of ISO6400 then should only be approached as a last resort - as a means of getting a shot that might not otherwise have been attempted. There is of course the option to shoot using the pop up flash, and, if the white balance setting for the flash is manually selected when shooting under tungsten, one can achieve reasonable results free from obvious colour casts. On the whole though, white balance is pretty accurate, though there is a tendency for daylight images to look a little cool if shot under a mix of artifical and natural light.
In general use we achieved exposures that, fittingly given our wintry test climate, were deep, crisp and even - particularly when using the 14mm kit lens. As we've found with Panasonics in the past, colours are naturalistic with a tendency to veer toward the warm, which makes the GF2 a flattering tool when it comes to portraits.
In summing up, the GF2's appearance and performance shouldn't prompt wailing and gnashing of teeth from existing GF1 owners; we'd argue the 'improvements' here don't warrant the expense of you upgrading.
What's perhaps just as exciting as a new camera itself is that, coinciding with the arrival of the GF2, we now have the ability to shoot still images in 3D at the consumer level; the other option in the Panasonic range being to spend £1,500 on its top-end stereoscopic lens equipped HDC-SDT750 camcorder.
While the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 is a worthy successor to the existing and soon to be phased out GF1, it's not the most direct, like-for-like replacement. This means that existing owners may well want to hang on to the camera they've already got - especially if they value the tactile nature of a chunky physical shooting mode dial over a virtual screen-based equivalent. While it is being touted as a direct replacement, we feel the two cameras could have happily existed in tandem for a while.
Though the aim here with the GF2 was to fashion a compact system camera that was both easier to use and swifter than its predecessor, that aim has only been partly realised. The use of controls both physical and touch screen based does make for faster access to key functions once you've got to grips with how the two entities work together, but requires a bit of inquisitive button pressing in the short term.
In the final analysis, while the GF2 is an excellent camera in its own right, it doesn't feel as revolutionary as Panasonic's first attempt in the GF1. But if it draws a wider audience to Micro Four Thirds and its inherent benefits - smaller bodies and smaller lenses, yet results comparable (if not an exact match for) the DSLR 'big boys', then we're all for it.