Flick the on/off switch that encircles the shooting mode wheel, along with a second switch allowing for the swapping of its drive modes, and the GH2 powers up more or less instantaneously. And as mentioned earlier, autofocus is exceptionally fast, while shutter lag is non-existent, and switching to continuous mode gets you 5fps. In singe short mode, full resolution JPEGs are committed to memory in a second, with Raw files barely slower, the bleep to indicate focus and exposure has been determined shrill but reassuringly audible, whilst sound of the shutter release firing is just loud enough to indicate the camera has done its job. In terms of performance this really is a rival to a decent DSLR.
We enjoyed the almost head spinning array of My Color and Film mode options, each of which effects a change to the look and feel of the image. Thankfully, whilst some cameras can over do these effects, the GH2 always seems to result in usable photos.
Video can be captured at up to Full HD (1,920×1,080 pixels) with stereo audio and files stores in the AVCHD format. Alternatively, a slightly lower 1,280×720 pixel option is available in more widely compatible Motion JPEG format. This matches the GF2 as does the inclusion of a wind cut function for shooting outdoors. Plus, as we’ve noted, 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. Thanks to the specially designed lens, adjust your framing whilst filming, and focus will automatically and silently adjust with it.
As we’ve found with all Panasonic cameras, colours are naturalistic with a tendency to veer toward the warm side of the spectrum on default settings, which makes the GH2 especially suited to the most popular subjects, such as portraits and landscapes. We got great results with both the 14-140mm and 100-300mm lenses supplied, with the latter our particular favourite for sharpness, clarity and subject definition, though of course the lack of wide angle means it’s not best as your only choice.
In terms of low light performance, at the lower settings this was pretty much on a par with the GF2, so noise/grain doesn’t really start to become prominent until ISO1600, and even then we’d argue this setting is still usable. However, despite offering an ISO range further expanded up to the rarefied heights of ISO12800, we didn’t find ourselves straying in that direction as image quality becomes noticeably affected. Again, nice to have at a push, but no match for the same settings on Canon and Nikon DSLRs. If it’s competent low light performance you want, the D3100 and D7000 still knock spots off the GH2. It’s as a multi-faceted, general purpose photographic tool then that this Panasonic really comes into its own, and of course there’s always the integral pop up flash and vacant hotshoe at your disposal if extra illumination is required.
The GH2 is an incredibly versatile camera, offering image quality that comes close to a DSLR but in a body that’s lighter and more compact. What’s more, the flip out touchscreen, mass of manual controls, and instant-on video capabilities make it not just a jack but nearly a master of all. However, there is one whopper of a stumbling block, and that’s price. At around £700 for just the body and £1,000 with the versatile 14-140mm lens, it’s put in competition with some very capable DSLRs, such as the Canon 550D that do outstrip it on image quality, performance and lens options. Ultimately, it comes down to which you prioritise; all-in-one ease of use, or a more powerful photographic tool.