The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 updates the highly acclaimed if rather pricey GH1 Micro Four Thirds system camera, released about 18 months ago. As such the GH2's styling is closer to that of a baby DSLR than its sibling's, the GF2 compact camera form. While stylistically similar, its size is roughly a third of the size of Olympus' Four Thirds E-5 DSLR, and closer in fact to that of a bridge camera. Except unlike a bridge camera, the Panasonic's added appeal is the ability to swap the lens in use. Therefore it's fair to say that for those who like the feel of a DSLR but not the attendant bulk, the GH2 is potentially a very attractive proposition. It's in effect a DSLR 'lite'.
Like the rest of Panasonic's G series, the GH2 goes up against not just actual DSLRs from Canon, Nikon, Pentax and the rest, but also compact system cameras such as Olympus' new E-PL2, the Sony NEX-3, NEX-5 and its translucent mirrored SLT-A55 and A33 models, plus the Samsung NX100, NX10 and NX11. All are viable alternatives, so what makes Panasonic's GH2 particularly appealing?
Well, for starters there's the highest resolution currently offered by a Micro Four Thirds camera, here a whopping 16.05 (effective) megapixels from a newly developed 18.31 megapixel Live Mos sensor, even if it is physically smaller than the APS-C sized chips favoured by most digital SLRs. This, in terms of the numbers at least, places the GH2 up there with 'proper' DSLRs, while being much smaller, lighter and easier to handle. Like the latest crop of SLRs, the Panasonic aims to ensnare the amateur 'movie' maker here via Full HD movie capture with stereo sound plus its newly added 'Cinema' Film mode promising richer tonal gradation. HDMI output lets you hook up straight to a TV while a dedicated top plate record button provides one-touch access to video, no matter which alternative mode has been selected on the top plate shooting dial. Furthermore, manually selectable light sensitivity settings are expansive, reaching from ISO160 all the way up to ISO12800 equivalent for (theoretically at least) shooting without flash in the near dark, thanks in part says Panasonic to the inclusion of a latest generation Venus Engine FHD processor.
Panasonic supplied our review unit as the kit which includes a 14-140mm f/4-5.8 zoom, the extremely versatile equivalent of a 28-280mm lens in 35mm film terms. The suggested manufacturer's list price for this combo is a sizeable £1299.99, putting it on a par with semi-pro DSLRs such as the 60D and D7000. More affordable but obviously less creatively flexible is the alternative kit comprising camera and 14-42mm standard zoom at £899.99, or there's a body-only option at £799.99. The best deal we could find online at the time of writing was £760 with the 14-42mm lens, which is a good starter option.
Additionally, and as with the equally new DMC-GF2, if you choose to attach Panasonic's new H-FT012 lens costing around £250, 3D MPO files can also be generated, though only viewed with the aid of a suitably enabled TV. Like shooting Raw and JPEG, MPO and JPEG can handily be shot in tandem if a more readily viewable back up is required. Any extended writing time is hardly noticeable due to the JPEGs being fairly low res.
Whilst this might not in itself tip your purchase decision one way or the other, it's a nice option to have, especially if looking to generate self-made 3D content and wanting a good quality camera and lens with which to do it. Further new optics introduced alongside the GH2 include the image stabilised 100-300mm telephoto zoom - a mouth watering option which Panasonic also furnished us with for our test shots - retailing at a penny shy of £600, plus, for anyone searching for the most compact Micro Four Thirds set up, the company's compatible 14mm pancake lens for around £349. With five camera bodies and 11 Lumix lenses in play at the time of writing, there are growing options to extend creativity, budget allowing. The impression given is that here is a camera system on the up, that has a whole lot more potential ahead. So what of the design, layout, handling and performance of the camera itself? Read on to find out...