A sophisticated matt black finish and a fairly busy control layout with plenty to twist prod and push disguises the amount of plastic in the build, which manages the trick of feeling at once lightweight yet substantial. With 14-140mm lens attached and chunky rechargeable battery inserted, the camera tips the scales at just over 900g, which is substantial but not a patch on the weight and size of an equivalent DSLR setup. However, while the GH2’s handgrip is just wide enough to squeeze three fingers around, it’s definitely a little cramped and those used to DSLRs might feel constricted.
Despite its diminutive dimensions, there are a wealth of manual dials and switches on offer starting with the busy knurled shooting mode dial, which has a stiff feel that means it clunks firmly into place in each of its 14 settings. These include the creative regulars of program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual exposure modes, along with no fewer than three user-definable settings, portrait, landscape, macro and scene and subject recognising intelligent Auto functionality – the latter for those who really do want to just point and shoot on occasion. The GH2 also offers up the creative ‘My Colour’ mode which offers seven preset effects: Expressive, Retro, Pure, Elegant, Monochrome, Dynamic Art and Silhouette joining Custom mode, the latter letting users set colour, brightness and saturation levels. Best of all these can be previewed before application, with further versatility offered via Panasonic’s regular Film modes, here joined by Cinema mode for the first time as previously indicated.
As on the Canon 60D, we also get a vari-angle LCD screen with 100% field of view – here 3-inches and with a resolution of 460k dots – to allow composition from otherwise awkward angles. The Panasonic’s screen can be angled up and down through 270°, allowing the LCD to be stored facing inwards, or flipped outwards from the body and held alongside it at 180°. With the accent very much on ease of use, this camera ups the ante further by affording a degree of touch screen control too, as first introduced on the Lumix DMC-G2. Scrolling through captured images and settings with a swipe of the finger quickly becomes intuitive. That said, and typically of Panasonic, there are plenty of actual physical controls alongside the screen, including a D-padsolute for if you do find some of the on-screen icons presented to be a little too small and fiddly – as they occasionally are.
The alternative to using the LCD for shot composition is, of course, using the large and bright electronic viewfinder (EVF) above. This has an impressively high resolution equivalent to 1,530,000 dots. is impressive, and its certainly one of the best EVFs we’ve yet used, but we still do prefer those of the optical variety. Still, at least it provides an easy way to block out the world around you and concentrate on your shot, glare free, unlike most more compact equivalents. As on previous G-series models, an adjacent button lets users swap between LCD and EVF in an instant, whilst there’s a built-in eye sensor as well, which does likewise. This furthers the user friendly feel, putting as few barriers between the photographer and the ability to frame up and take a picture as possible.
As on the GF2, thanks to the camera’s touch panel LCD, users of the GH2 have the ability to fire the shutter or bias focus by simply tapping an intended subject on screen, whilst a touch can also specify a subject for the AF to lock onto and track. Furthermore, touching a face on screen prompts the camera to switch to portrait mode, or to switch to scenery mode if a landscape image is tapped. In effect then, the touch facility is acting as a shortcut rather than a direct replacement for physical controls and dials, which we certainly approve of. As well as dedicated buttons at the rear for adjusting white balance and ISO on the quick, over at the other side of the hump for the built-in flash is a small, barely halfpenny-sized mode wheel for swapping auto focus modes between face detection, AF tracking, the reliable 23-area focusing or 1-area focusing for those who want to get creative. This is encircled by a focus mode lever, offering manual focus, continuous auto focus for taking pictures of moving subjects or single shot AF.
The other selling points here for the GH2 are an auto focus mechanism promised to respond within 0.1 seconds with the 14-140mm lens attached, which Panasonic has grandly termed ‘Light Speed AF’. It’s difficult to put a stop watch to this claim but it’s certainly blink-and-miss it swift, and puts the Live View focus speed of many DSLRs to shame. There’s also the ability to shoot at 5fps at full 16.05 megapixel resolution via High Speed mode – we were able to capture the wing movements of a swan in flight. You can also take a 14 megapixel picture in 16:9 aspect ratio whilst a video clip is being recorded or save a frame as a photo whilst in playback. This camera really is the epitome of versatile.