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General News Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Review
From - Cameralabs

Panasonic's Lumix DMC-GH2 is one of the most successful hybrid cameras we've tested at Camera Labs. It confidently captures both high quality stills and HD video with the minimum of fuss or compromise, while also boasting a number of capabilities that take it beyond most rivals. If you want a single camera which does photos very well and movies even better, the Lumix GH2 should be high on your shortlist.
Panasonic has taken the already capable Lumix GH1, increased its sensor resolution by one third, accelerated the focusing both for stills and movies, added a touch-screen display, widened the electronic viewfinder, sped-up continuous shooting, and enhanced the movie recording options. The upgrades add up to an impressive experience which crucially is more affordable than its predecessor thanks to a new cheaper lens bundle or a body-only option in addition to the original 14-140mm kit. Let's look at each upgrade in turn.

Starting with the sensor, it's inevitable to find Panasonic increasing the resolution on the GH2, although given all previous Micro Four Thirds bodies stuck with 12 Megapixels, the boost to 16 Megapixels in the same surface area (when capturing 4:3 images) understandably gives cause for concern. But the GH2's sensor defies expectations by actually delivering lower noise levels than the 12 Megapixel sensor in the Lumix GF2, while also beating it on resolving power. It's not perfect: in our tests we found it gradually becoming less sensitive at high ISOs than the quoted values suggested, but it's still the best result we've had from a Micro Four Thirds body to date, while also proving the format can successfully scale beyond 12 Megapixels without compromise. Shooting in RAW delivers particularly good results.

Moving onto autofocus, Panasonic is clearly on a very welcome mission to prove contrast-based AF can be as quick or even quicker than the phase-change AF systems on traditional DSLRs. As a body based on the Micro Four Thirds standard, the Lumix GH2 is a mirrorless camera which employs Live View for all composition, and as such relies on contrast-based autofocus. DSLRs which employ contrast-based AF during Live View have typically been fairly leisurely, giving the technology a bad name, but with the earlier Lumix GH1, Panasonic managed not only to beat them on speed, but also match or even surpass their traditionally quicker phase-change systems - at least on budget DSLRs anyway.

Most people would still be happy with the GH1's AF speed, but Panasonic's impressively doubled it on the GH2, making it as quick as the phase-change AF systems on most mid-range or even semi-pro DSLRs. In use it feels incredibly quick, especially with the 14-140mm super-zoom lens, although it's still very swift on the cheaper 14-42mm kit. As importantly though, a contrast-based AF system takes readings from the same sensor which records your photos, so avoids potential front or rear focusing errors which plague separate phase-change sensors. So the GH2 enjoys the best of both worlds: the accuracy of a contrast-based system with the speed of phase-change. It's also refreshing to find the Panasonic lenses focusing in virtual silence, especially the 14-140mm.
Moving onto the movie capabilities, you'd think Panasonic didn't have much room for improvement when the earlier Lumix GH1 already offered Full HD 1080i resolution with continuous autofocus and the choice of manual exposure control, but the GH2 makes a number of very welcome improvements. Most importantly, the continuous autofocus is now faster than before when recording 1080i footage. Previously the GH1's sensor outputted 24fps for NTSC regions or 25fps for PAL regions, then scaled it to 60i or 50i respectively when encoding the video. Now the GH2's sensor outputs 60fps for NTSC and 50fps for PAL regions, which is encoded at 60i or 50i respectively. The faster frame rates outputted by the new sensor allow the camera to make quicker and smoother AF adjustments.

It's born-out in practice too. The GH2's 1080i video mode does a great job at continuous autofocusing, successfully tracking subjects or pulling focus between subjects at different distances. There's a small amount of searching on the latter as it confirms the position, but it's as good as the continuous AF on most camcorders we've tested (and as quiet too with the 14-140mm), which is all many potential buyers will need to know.Â

Other welcome enhancements include a new 1080 24p mode, adjustable audio recording levels (complete with live on-screen meters), a neat tele-converter option which crops an HD frame from the middle of the sensor (rather than binning pixels across the entire frame) to deliver 2.6x or 3.9x magnification in 1080 and 720 modes, and a clean 1080i output from the HDMI port for an external monitor, even while recording video. The new 80-300% variable speed options were less useful in our view, but the rest adds up to one of the best movie experiences on a non-camcorder to date.

Physically the Lumix GH2 very much resembles its predecessor with the only major change being a new touch-screen panel. At first, non-believers will groan at its presence and be relieved Panasonic still includes a full array of physical buttons and dials if preferred, but it really does offer some very useful functions. The most compelling in our opinion is the ability to automatically pull-focus between subjects while filming by simply tapping them on-screen. No need to recompose the shot or manually adjust the focusing ring - you just point at the desired subject and the camera will smoothly refocus on it. Great for scenes with dialogue between two people. Again there's a little searching with each refocus, but it's quick and fairly discreet, thereby opening-up new creative opportunities for amateur film makers who don't want to manually adjust the focusing while filming.

Panasonic has also widened the Live View Finder to deliver a 3:2 aspect ratio which is a better fit for a camera which could find itself shooting 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 material. Those with sensitive eyes may still notice a small amount of rainbow tearing when quickly glancing across the viewfinder image, but it remains superior to most other electronic viewfinders we've tested.

So far a glowing report, but there are of course some downsides to the Lumix GH2. While Panasonic has provided a welcome boost to the continuous shooting speed, which now offers up to 5fps at the full resolution, the Lumix GH2 is not the best camera for capturing action stills. The problem facing it - and most 100% Live View systems - is the inability to show a live image in-between frames, which makes it hard to follow the action.

This is something we take for granted with a DSLR, where for a split second between continuous frames the optical viewfinder lets you see exactly where the action has moved onto, allowing you to follow it at the right speed and keep it in the frame. In contrast, most cameras which rely on Live View for composition only have time to show you a preview of the last photo between frames, which forces you to guess how much to move the camera. This is slightly delayed feedback as opposed to a real-time view, and if your subject is moving quickly or unpredictably, it's easy to lose it.

The Lumix GH2 is sufficiently quick to offer a live image when shooting at 2 or 3fps, but switch it to 5fps, or the new 40fps mode at 4 Megapixels, and you'll be left guessing with only preview images to guide you. In our tests we also found the GH2 slowing to around 2fps when continuous AF was enabled, meaning you might as well just select the 2fps mode in the first place and at least enjoy the benefit of live view between frames.

Sticking on the subject of optical versus electronic composition, there are pros and cons to both approaches. The GH2's Live View finder is one of the best around, delivering a larger image than most DSLR viewfinders, while also supporting super-imposed colour graphics. But like all electronic viewfinders to date it has a limited dynamic range which means bright highlight areas can appear as areas of pure white, while in dim conditions, the image can become noisy and suffer from reduced frame rates. As mentioned earlier and in the main review, there can also be visible rainbow tearing when glancing quickly around the image, and undesirable artefacts when panning across fine lines. Shooting with an optical viewfinder also greatly extends your battery life.

The bottom line is action and low-light shooters will prefer traditional optical viewfinders, and if any of the above sounds like a potential issue for you personally, we'd strongly recommend trying a camera with an electronic viewfinder before buying. To be fair, these criticisms apply to all electronic viewfinders, and while the GH2 has one of the best around, it's still worth knowing.

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