Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Review
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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 is a new Micro Four Thirds camera boasting a 3 inch articulated touchscreen LCD that provides touch-based functions like Touch AF/AE and Touch Shutter. Other key features of the G2 include a 12.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor, upgraded Venus Engine HD II processor, sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400, 720p HD video recording in AVCHD Lite format, a port for an optional stereo microphone and an electronic viewfinder. Powered by a proprietary Lithium-ion battery, the Lumix DMC-G2 takes SD, SDHC and SDXC cards and offers both a pop-up flash and a hot shoe for external flashguns. There's also a built-in Optical Image Stabiliser to help combat camera-shake and a Supersonic Wave Filter to remove unwanted dust. Finished in blue, red or black, the Panasonic G2 costs £699 / $799 with the new 14-42mm kit lens.
Ease of Use
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 is outwardly very similar to both the 18-month old DMC-G1 and the new G10 camera that we recently reviewed, so a lot of the comments that we made about those model's handling apply equally to the G2. Measuring 124 x 83.6 x 74mm and weighing 371g without a lens attached, the G2 is exactly the same size but 35g heavier than the G10, largely because of the G2's rotating, free-angle LCD monitor. Despite the Micro moniker, users with average-sized hands can still operate the G2 comfortably - I found that I naturally gripped the camera with the thumb, middle and fourth finger of my right hand, whilst operating the shutter button with my fore-finger and supporting either the lens or camera body with my left hand.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 is a handsome yet understated camera, with the biggest surprise becoming quickly apparent when you first pick it up. The majority of the body is covered in a tactile rubber compound, which adds a hard-wearing, protective coating to the G2 and also makes it easy to grip, even with one hand. Overall the DMC-G2 is extremely well-built, with a high quality metal body, metal lens mount and tripod socket. The main weak-point of the G1, a rather flimsy memory-card slot door, has been rectified on the G2 by moving the memory card to the more sturdy battery compartment.
The G2 ships with a new 14-42mm kit lens (28-84mm equivalent in 35mm), which offers a little less focal range than the previous 14-45mm lens and uses a plastic rather than metal mount. While the body of the G2 is comparable in size and weight to entry-level DSLR cameras, the lenses are where Panasonic have really shrunk the overall system. The new 14-42mm optic is small and now very light, the 20mm pancake lens has to be seen to be believed, and the 45-200mm is also pretty amazing when you consider that it offers an effective focal length of 90-400mm in 35mm terms.
The 14-42mm lens does extend quite a long way when zoomed to its maximum telephoto setting, but that's a small price to pay for such a compact package. The only downsides from a specification point of view are the relatively slow maximum apertures of f/3.5-5.6. Now that Micro Four Thirds is more established as a system, there are a wider range of lenses on offer including an ultra-wide-angle and a macro lens. You can also use regular Four Thirds lenses and even other 3rd-party lenses via optional adapters, but lenses that are not compatible with the G2's Contrast AF function can only be used with manual focusing.
Optical image stabilisation is supplied via the lens, rather than being built-in to the camera body, although the new 14-42mm lens lacks the physical OIS switch of the 14-45mm lens. Instead it can be turned on and off through the DMC-G2's menu system. When enabled, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds when the camera is hand held. There are three different modes, Mode 1 is on all the time including image composition, Mode 2 is only on when you press the shutter button, and there's also an Auto mode. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. Thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on didn't negatively affect the battery-life, with the G2 managing just over 350 shots using the supplied rechargeable Li-ion battery, a 50 shot improvement on the G1.
On the front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 is the small focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, lens release button, lens mount and rubberised hand-grip. On the bottom of the Panasonic DMC-G2 is a metal tripod socket, importantly in-line with the middle of the lens barrel, and the shared battery compartment and SD/SDHC memory card slot. On the left is the MIC / Remote socket for use with the optional remote shutter release and external microphone, and two connection ports, including a HDMI port for connecting the G1 to a HD television or monitor. Unfortunately, Panasonic have decided to cut costs and not include a HDMI cable as standard in the box, which means that you'll have to purchase one separately to take advantage of this camera's HD connectivity.
Found on top of the Panasonic DMC-G2 are the combined Focus mode and Focus Area dial, flash hotshoe and built-in pop-up flash with a small switch to open it, burst mode/bracketing/self-timer switch, on/off switch, and large tactile shutter button. There's also a traditional dial that lets you choose the different exposure modes. The usual selection of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual are available for the more experienced photographers. This dial is a typical feature of SLR cameras, and enables you to quickly change between the various modes. The more beginner-friendly Scene modes are also accessed via this dial. Additionally there is a custom mode, marked CUST, which allows you to configure your favourite settings and quickly access them, and a My Color mode which sets the brightness, saturation and color of the image before you take it.
The DMC-G2 features the clever Intelligent Auto mode, now accessed via a small dedicated button on top of the camera. Panasonic have tried to make things as easy as possible for the complete beginner by providing this shooting mode, which allows you to point and shoot the camera without having to worry about choosing the right scene mode or settings. Intelligent Auto Mode automatically determines a number of key criteria when taking a picture, including selecting the most appropriate scene mode (from 5 commonly used presets) and ISO speed, and turning face detection (up to 15 faces), image stabilization and quick auto-focus on. The Intelligent Auto Mode also includes Intelligent Exposure, which increases exposure only in the under-exposed areas of the image, Digital Red-eye, which automatically detects and removes red-eye, and AF Tracking, which continually tracks a moving subject and keeps it in focus, without you having to hold the shutter button halfway down as on most other cameras. Intelligent Exposure and Digital Red-eye can also be turned on in the other shooting modes.
In practice the Intelligent Auto Mode system works very well, with the G2 seamlessly choosing the most appropriate combination of settings for the current situation. The 5 available scene modes are Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait and Night Scenery, so obviously not all situations are covered by Intelligent Auto Mode, but it does work for the majority of the time. It makes it possible for the less experienced photographer to easily take well-exposed, sharp pictures of people, scenery and close-ups by simply pointing and shooting the camera. Also catering for the beginner are a total of 11 different scene modes, including the new Peripheral Defocus mode, which despite sounding rather complicated makes it easy for beginners to achieve a blurred background / sharp subject effect without having to understand what apertures are.
One of the main reasons for choosing the G2 rather than the older G1 or the cheaper G10 is the former's ability to record 720p HD 1280 x 720 movies at 30fps, either in the AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG formats. AVCHD Lite almost doubles the recording time in HD quality compared with Motion JPEG, but software support is still a bit thin on the ground. Panasonic describe it as the best mode for playing back on a HD TV direct from the camera, and Motion JPEG best for email and playing on a computer. In addition it can also record Motion JPEG movies at 320 x 240 at 30fps, 640 x 480 at 30fps, and 848 x 480 at 30fps. Stereo sound is recorded during video capture and you can also fit an optional external stereo microphone either, both significant improvements compared to the G10. There's also a useful wind cut function which blocks out most of the noise from background wind. The new dedicated movie button makes it much easier to start record video footage at whatever quality level is currently selected. The HDMI port allows you to connect the G2 to a high-def TV set, but only if you purchase the optional HDMI mini-cable.
The Panasonic G2's Intelligent Auto mode also works in movies as well as for still photos. Simply select the Movie icon on the mode dial and press the iA button. The Intelligent Scene Selector automatically determines the most suitable Scene mode from five options - Portrait, Scenery, Low Light and Close-up or Normal modes. Face Detection automatically detects a face in the frame and adjusts the focus, exposure, contrast, and skin complexion. Intelligent Exposure continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting as conditions change to prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows. The Optical Image Stabilizer helps prevent blurring from hand-shake when using a compatible lens.
You can obviously use any zoom lens during recording with focusing set as for still images. On the negative side, you'll find that if you choose continuous auto-focus, areas of the video will be blurred before becoming sharp again as the camera tries to refocus. On a more positive note, the the G2 is quite fast at re-focusing, and having this system is much better than not being able to auto-focus at all, as with most current DSLR cameras that offer video recording. Hand-holding the G2 during movie recording inevitably leads to obvious shake, despite the optical image stabilizer on compatible lenses, so for best results you'll need a dedicated video tripod.
|Touchscreen||Swivelling LCD Screen|
The rear of the Lumix DMC-G2 is dominated by the large 3 inch LCD screen. The rotating, free-angle LCD monitor, which is hinged on the left side of the camera (looking from the rear), can be flipped out and twisted through 270 degrees. You can use the screen as a waist-level viewfinder, holding the camera overhead, and even for turning the G2 on yourself for arm-length self-portraits. There's also the added benefit of folding the screen away against the camera body to protect it when stored in a camera bag, preventing it from becoming marked or scratched.
The 460K pixel high-resolution screen coped admirably with the majority of lighting conditions. This screen is a great improvement on cameras with the usual 230K dot resolution, even being nice to use in low-light. The Auto Power LCD function automatically detects the current lighting conditions and boosts the LCD backlighting by up to 40% when shooting outdoors in bright sunshine, helping to keep the screen visible. The high-res, free-angle LCD screen is much more than just a novelty - it's a lot more versatile than the usual combination of optical viewfinder and fixed LCD, providing new angles of view and enhancing your overall creativity. Above all, it's a fun way of composing your images.
The G2's main innovation is its touchscreen interface, the world’s first in an interchangeable lens system camera. Panasonic have wisely restricted the amount of things that you can do by interacting with the screen, and indeed you can still operate everything on the camera without having to push and prod the LCD at all. But you would be missing out on a lot of genuinely useful functionality that really improves the shooting experience.
The most immediately noticeable function is the ability to use the 1-area AF mode to focus on your main subject simply by touching it on the LCD. If the subject then moves, the G2 cleverly follows it around the screen using the the AF tracking function. If the subject exits the frame entirely, simply recompose and tap it again to start focusing. Impressive stuff that makes focusing on off-center subjects fast and intuitive. It is a little too easy to accidentally press the screen and set the focus point to the wrong area for the current subject, but a simple tap in the middle of the LCD will center the AF point (or you can turn this feature off altogether).
The size of the AF point itself can also be changed via an interactive onscreen slider. If Face Detection is enabled, the 1-area AF point can be manually set to a persons eye to help ensure that the most important part of a portrait is in focus. If Multi-area AF rather than 1-area AF is enabled, then you can select a group of 4, 5 or 6 AF points from 9 different areas, again providing some manual control over what is traditionally a rather hit and miss affair.
When Intelligent Auto is switched on, the G2 changes the scene mode used when you touch the subject, for example selecting portrait mode if you touch a face and macro mode if you touch a close-up flower. If you prefer to manually focus rather than use the snappy AF, you can magnify any part of the subject by 1x, 5x or 10x by simply dragging the image around the screen. The final touchscreen ability from an image composition point of view is the ability to release the shutter, with a small icon on the right hand screen enabling this functionality, and then a single on-screen tap all that's required to take the picture.
Most of the menu options can be changed via the touchscreen interface, notably the Quick Menu and the Info Display menu - the main exception to this rule is the Main Menu, which is still controlled via the navigation buttons. You can also control image playback by touching the screen, with the ability to tap a thumbnail to see the full-size version, scroll through your images by dragging them from side to side, and magnifying them up to 16x.
Instead of the bulky optical viewfinder of a conventional DSLR, the Panasonic G2 has a smaller electronic viewfinder. The mere mention of an EVF is usually enough to elicit loud groans from any serious photographer, as they have traditionally been poorly implemented in the past, with low-res, grainy displays that were only really suitable for still subjects. Thankfully the electronic viewfinder on the G2 is identical to the G1's excellent EVF, which is far better than any previous system. It has a large 1.4x (0.7x on 35mm equiv.) magnification, 100% field of view, and a 1,440,000 dot equivalent resolution, resulting in a very usable display that won't leave you cursing. The EVF (and also the main LCD screen) operates at 60fps, twice the usual speed, which helps make it relatively flicker-free (although it is still noticeable).
As the EVF is reading the same signal from the image sensor as the rear LCD screen, it can also display similar information - for example, you can view and operate the G2's Quick Menu, giving quick access to all the key camera settings while it's held up to your eye. The various icons used to represent the camera settings are clear and legible. The icing on the viewing cake is the clever built-in eye sensor, which automatically switches on the viewfinder when you look into it, then switches it off and turns on the LCD monitor when you look away. There's also an LVF/LCD button for manually switching between the two viewing methods (useful if you turn the eye sensor off).
The main downside of the G2's EVF system occurs indoors in low light, as it has to "gain-up" to produce a usable picture, resulting in a noticeably grainier picture. In all other situations, however, the electronic viewfinder on the G2 is the equal of and in many areas better than a DSLR's optical viewfinder, particularly those found on entry-level models which are typically dim and offer limited scene coverage. The truest testament to the G2 is that I mostly used it by holding it up to eye-level, something that I wouldn't do unless the EVF was of sufficient quality.
Positioned to the right of the EVF are a Playback button, conveniently located AF/AE Lock button, and a thumb-operated control dial. This is used for, amongst other things, changing the aperture and shutter speed by turning from left to right and back again. This is a common feature found on DSLR cameras, so you'll be right at home if you've used any DSLR before - compact camera users will need to get used to using this dial, although it is possible (but rather long-winded) to set the aperture/shutter speed via the LCD screen. The control dial can also be pressed in to switch to setting the exposure compensation. Below this is the Q.Menu button which provides quick access to most of the principal controls, including ISO speed, image size, image quality and white balance (there are 14 settings in total). You can still access all of these options from the main menu system too.
The Display button cycles through the various LCD views. In shooting mode, the Display button alternates between turning the display off, the main camera settings as icons, no settings at all, and a useful Info Display which shows the current key settings in a clear graphical format. Underneath is a traditional 4-way navigation pad system with a Menu/Set button in the centre. Pressing left, up, right and down on the D-Pad buttons selects AF Mode, ISO, White Balance and Function options respectively. The Function button can be configured to activate one of five key settings - I chose metering mode. The Delete button intriguingly has a second function - it doubles up as the Preview button. This very cleverly toggles between showing a live preview of the effects of the current aperture (effectively a digital version of Depth of Field Preview) and the current shutter speed. The latter will prove especially useful for beginners, providing a visible way of checking how different shutter speeds will affect the capture of different subjects - running water is a good example.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The main menu system on the DMC-G2 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu/Set button in the middle of the navigation D-Pad. There are five main menus, Record, Custom, Setup, My Menu and Playback. Most of the camera's main options, such as white balance, image quality, auto-focus mode and ISO speed, are accessed here, so the Record menu has 23 options spread over 5 screens, and the Setup menu has 20 options over 4 screens. As an indication of how configurable the G2 is, the Custom menu has 25 different options, allowing you fine-tune this camera to suit your way of working. As mentioned previously, the Q.Menu button on the rear of the camera speeds up access to some of the more commonly used options. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Thankfully Panasonic have chosen to supply it in printed format, rather than as a PDF on a CD, so you can also carry it with you.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2's new Intelligent Resolution makes a standard image look like a higher resolution one by processing the contour areas, texture areas and smooth areas individually. There are three available strengths - low, standard and high. Despite all the clever behind-the-scenes processing, it's fairly easy to tell which image was taken with Intelligent Resolution turned on and which one with it turned off due to unwanted artifacts appearing, particularly if viewing onscreen at 100% magnification. While the difference isn't quite so apparent on a print up to A3 in size, I'm not convinced enough to recommend regularly using it.
Face Recognition is a fun and genuinely useful feature which "remembers" up to 6 registered faces and then always prioritizes the focus and exposure for that person in future pictures. Very useful for group shots where you want your loved ones to be the centre of attention. You can specify the age of the registered subject, stamp the age of the subject onto your photos, change the focus icon for a particular person, and playback only the photos that contain a certain face. The camera will even automatically switch to Baby mode if someone registered as less than 3 years old appears in the frame!
Unlike a conventional DSLR camera which uses a phase detection auto-focus system, the DMC-G2 employs the same Contrast AF that is commonly used by compact cameras. As with the EVF, experienced photographers will now be tutting loudly at the thought of having to use a traditionally slower system. I'm happy to be able to report that this decision hasn't resulted in a slow and unpredictable AF - quite the contrary in fact. Panasonic have published marketing data which suggests that the G01's AF is as fast, if not faster, than a typical DSLR camera's, and in practice I noticed very little difference in speed between the G2 and a DSLR. Even more surprisingly, there were also very few occasions when the G01 failed to lock onto the subject, especially when using the centre AF point. There are a wide range of AF modes on offer, including multiple-area AF with up to 23 focus areas, 1-area AF with a selectable focus area, Face Detection, and AF Tracking. The G2 also has a useful Quick AF function that begins focusing as soon as you point the camera.
The start-up time from turning the Lumix DMC-G2 on to being ready to take a photo is very impressive at less than 0.5 seconds. The Contrast Auto-Focusing system is quick in good light and the camera achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations, helped by the AF assist lamp - the G2 doesn't have any notable problems locking onto the subject in low-light situations. The visibility and refresh rate of the 3 inch LCD screen are very good, and the pixel count of 460,000 is excellent, with virtually no visible grain. It takes about 1 second to store a JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is a barely perceptible LCD blackout between each image. Storing a single RAW image takes around 4 seconds, but thankfully it doesn't lock up the camera in any way - you can use the menu system or shoot another image while the first file is being written to memory. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 has a pretty standard Burst mode which enables you to take 3.2 frames per second for an unlimited number of JPEG images at the highest image quality, or 7 RAW images.
Once you have captured a photo, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 has an average range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (up to 30 onscreen at the same time and in a Calendar view), zoom in and out up to 16x magnification, view slideshows, delete, protect, trim, resize, copy and rotate an image. You can also select favourite images, change an image's aspect ratio, and set the print order. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small brightness histogram available during shooting and RGBY histogram during playback.