The Panasonic G2 adds 720p HD movie capture and touchscreen LCD capabilities. What Digital Camera's Panasonic Lumix G2 review tests out how good the new kit is...
Panasonic Lumix G2 review – Features
The G2 features the same 12.1MP Live MOS sensor as found in the previous generation Lumix G1. Improvements have been made, with the now second-generation processing engine, the Venus Engine HD II, seeing faster operation, increased sensitivity to ISO 6400 and also incorporates Panasonic’s ‘Intelligent Resolution’ technology. This new feature recognises three main areas within an image – outlines, detailed texture and gradation – in order to apply specific sharpening.
One of the biggest new features the G2 has to offer is its 3in, 460k-dot touchscreen LCD screen, which can be freely rotated through 270° vertically and 180° horizontally. The G2 also has a built-in 1,440k-dot electronic viewfinder (or ‘Live View Finder’) that is activated when nearing the eyecup.
The other big addition to the feature stable is the inclusion of AVCHD Lite 720p HD movie capture at 50 frames per second (sensor outputs at 25fps PAL standard, the NTSC US release differs) for perfectly fluid motion recording, further complemented by a 2.5mm microphone jack for stereo sound capture.
In the stills department, the G2 is capable of capturing images at a burst rate of up to 3.2 frames per second to an unlimited number of images when shooting in JPEG or to a total of seven frames if shooting Raw.
With the ability to change lenses, the G2 has the entire range of Micro Four Thirds lenses at disposal. The standard kit formation features a new 14-42mm Mega OIS (Mega Optical Image Stabilisation) f/3.5-5.6 lens that replaces the former 14-45mm (as bundled with the G1).
Panasonic Lumix G2 review – Design
DSLR-like design comes in abundance, with the G2 adopting the familiar shape of the G1 with only a few slight cosmetic and practical changes. A new one-touch iA (intelligent Auto) button that illuminates blue when pressed is to be found on the camera’s top for quick access to fully automated shooting. Its visual light-up design lets you know the mode is on, so as to avoid any unwanted use. A further one-touch movie button also features.
In terms of layout, all the usual controls feature – shooting modes on the top dial; quick menu, function button, depth of field preview, main menu and a four-way d-pad on the rear; and AF-point selection on a top-dial to the left side with a new switch surrounding this to control AF mode (AF-S, AF-C or Manual). The flash pop-up switch is a bit crammed in against this second dial, though.
Perhaps surprisingly, only quick menus are committed to the touchscreen functionality. Though, realistically, this would perhaps be too fiddly to be of use as the menu system is no different in style and layout from those found in other Lumix G-series cameras. Settings and options are easily locatable and accessible, with enough quick-access buttons to encourage customisable use. If you’re an avid electronic viewfinder user then the rear screen can also be used to display all current settings instead of a live view image.
Panasonic Lumix G2 review – Performance
In use the G2 is generally very similar to its G1 predecessor. The new touchscreen LCD isn’t necessarily immediate and will take a little time to get used to. The likelihood is that you won’t use touch to change all the settings when using full time live view, owing to the immediacy of the buttons available. However, when it comes to manipulating AF focus points or using the subject-tracking AF, then a single finger to the screen really comes into its own. Beyond this, adjusting the display to ‘viewfinder mode’ will display all the common settings on the camera’s LCD screen that can be quick-accessed and adjusted with a simple touch – it’s very quick and effective, almost entirely removing the need to dig into the menu at any point and is perfect if you only use the viewfinder. Compared to other compact cameras with touchscreen functionality it has to be said the G2 has the best offering seen to date. Those a little dubious about its practical use will be pleasantly surprised by its ease, the level of detail (you can reposition the histogram by dragging it around the screen, for example) and, indeed, touch-sensitivity is that extra bit future-proof given that every device from mobile phones through to cashpoints are incorporating such technology. There are one or two minor niggles – a stray finger can easily interrupt the viewfinder sensor and deactivate the LCD briefly, and when viewing images in playback a big visual ‘how to’ example pops up over the first image which becomes unnecessary after the first few uses.
The new movie mode is also a little cracker. The G2 captures HD 720p footage at 50p (sensor outputs at 25fps however, or 60p output at 30fps for the US release) for superbly smooth, ‘cinematic’ footage. The full range of lenses and zoom can be used during recording which has both its advantages and its issues. AF-S, AF-C and manual focus can all be used practically though, as this isn’t a professional camcorder, there can be some delay in the contrast-detect AF finding the subject rapidly. Focus is smooth and, despite manual focus certainly being useful, it’s tricky to rotate the focus ring and hold the camera steady in one hand – a video tripod may help. There’s also a 2.5mm mic jack for an external microphone which records decent quality stereo audio. The G2 can capture using AVCHD Lite (H.264 codec) or Motion-JPEG.
Shooting stills can adopt the 16:9 ratio of the movie mode, but the G2 also offers 3:2, 4:3 or even a 1:1 square format ratio.
Scene Modes feature in abundance, perhaps even slightly too many as some of the particularly good ones can easily get lost among the variety. The Peripheral Defocus mode is one such key example, which operates the point of focus based on a cursor that can be dragged around the LCD screen. As well as Scene modes, My Color modes also add an expressive edge to JPEG output. With a variety of options including Expressive, Silhouette, Retro and others, there are plenty of options to produce fun images without the need for post production. The only downside here is that such options can’t be used in conjunction with the entirety of other modes – it’s not possible to shoot in a Scene mode while using a My Colour setting, for example.
AF speed is fairly good for a contrast-detection AF system and, despite not being as snappy as a DSLR system, the G2 ultimately leads the field against the current competition.
Image Quality & Value
Panasonic Lumix G2 review – Image Quality
Panasonic G2 review: ISO / image noise
Images at the lower ISO settings are of good quality, with image noise maintaining a regular grain-like quality up until around ISO 800. ISO 1600 is usable, though image noise begins to limit sharpness and detail, with ISO 3200 showing amplified colour noise in shadow areas and a significantly more coarse image noise. The new top-end sensitivity of ISO 6400 showed considerable image noise when previewing on the 3in LCD screen – at full size on screen it presented dull colours, a lack of detail and considerable noise that would significantly limit its potential use. Stick to the lower end of the ISO spectrum and results are generally very good, especially with an appropriate lens on the front.
Panasonic G2 review: Tone & Exposure
Exposure can err towards the side of slight underexposure, but this helps to maintain highlights and Raw files can be processed accordingly.
Tonally images can appear a little flat, though subtle processing will lift them, and a number of shooting days were overcast during testing of this camera, which meant that achieving vibrant images in those conditions was difficult.
Panasonic G2 review: Colour & White Balance
Colour is bright and punchy though the higher ISO settings will ‘mute’ this palette the higher the sensitivity, owing to image noise reduction processing. Sprucing up images using the in-camera My Color modes can add a different slant of creative colour.
Auto White Balance is consistent from frame to frame (there’s some discrepancy between varying ISO settings of the same scene, however). There is also, though, some disparity between the results on the G2’s LCD screen and the actual results on a balanced monitor or in print – LCD images appear to be cooler.
Panasonic G2 review: Sharpness & Detail
Sharpness tapers off as the ISO sensitivity increases due to noise reduction, making ISO 100 the most effective for apparent resolution. The 14-42mm kit lens does show signs of light fall-off towards the edges that also encounter slight softness. For real ‘prime’ results one of the more premium G-type lenses can be purchased – a strength that the G2 offers for those looking to build upon the system. Even Leica M and R lenses can be attached and used in manual focus with the purchase of a relevant adaptor – a brownie point as this isn’t something that any current DSLR system can boast.
Also Panasonic’s new Intelligent Resolution system – which can be set to off, low, standard or high – can provide good results. It’s hard to see a huge difference if you’re not looking for it, but side by side images compared to the old G1 benefit from this smart sharpening algorithm.
Panasonic G2 review: RAW/JPEG
Silkypix version 3.1 is provided in the box for Raw file conversion, with anticipated Adobe/Apple/other updates to follow shortly to allow conversion of the G2’s SRW files.
The Raw files are very similar to the JPEG versions, though at default settings the JPEGs are ever so slightly flatter, with less shadow contrast yet push the mid range to process some extra apparent detail. At higher ISO settings the Raw files retain greater sharpness at the expense of increased image noise compared to the JPEG counterpart.
All in all, both file types offer excellent potential solutions, and the option to shoot Raw + JPEG simultaneously is a winner.
Panasonic Lumix G2 review – Value
The Micro System camera market is rapidly becoming a more densely populated area, and companies are ensuring competitive pricing too. Whereas the Olympus E-P2 will set you back around £900, Samsung’s NX10 comes in and undercuts most other prices at just under the £500 mark. The G2 will set you back around £600 with the 14-42mm kit lens.
Considering that Micro Four Thirds cameras also offer more prospective lenses than any other current system in this category, there’s potential additional value for money – plus Leica M and R-type adaptors mean that uber-quality optics aren’t out of reach either
A Word On Micro Four Thirds
Micro Four Thirds (MFT) is a standard that is neither a DSLR or compact equivalent, yet takes advantage of a large sensor to produce DSLR-like high-quality images while retaining the smaller body size of a creative compact or bridge camera. However, Micro Four Thirds is not to be confused with Four Thirds – a different, yet similar, standard that uses the same size of sensor but has a different lens mount size and lens-to-sensor ratio – which is used in current Olympus DSLR cameras.
The MFT standard was devised by Olympus and Panasonic and is an open standard, meaning that any MFT lenses are cross-compatible, irrelevant of brand. However, a number of manufacturers have released similar systems that are based on a different standard: the main competition is the new Samsung NX10 that has a larger APS-C sized sensor while retaining the small body size. Sony is also in production of a new NEX range. Of course with solo ventures comes solo fittings, meaning neither Samsung nor Sony lenses will be compatible with MFT cameras. As an overall category, What Digital Camera terms this camera group as the ‘Micro System Cameras’ category, though many alternative names such as ‘Mirrorless Interchangeable Compact’ or ‘Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens (EVIL)’ are commonplace.
Despite providing interchangeable lenses, Micro Four Thirds (and, indeed, all Micro System) cameras function fundamentally differently from DSLRs and, as such, shouldn’t be considered as the same. The removal of the mirror box from the concept means no optical viewfinder is possible, but it also takes much of the bulk out of the system. In place there’s a constant live view system, with many models incorporating an electronic viewfinder. So for those wanting the control and lens choices provided by DSLRs but without the large size, Micro Four Thirds is one of the best alternative options out there.
At first glance the Panasonic G2 may seem like a G1 with an HD Movie mode latched on – but it’s oh so much more of a success than that. After getting to grips with the new touchscreen LCD it becomes apparent that both first-time and more advanced users can garner a lot from this system. The variety of lenses available to expand on the system puts current competitors in the shade, Panasonic’s contrast-detect AF system is class-leading and the new Movie mode is highly functional. At just under £600 it’s not the cheapest Micro System camera on the market, and the highest ISO settings do suffer from excess image noise. These small issues brushed aside, though, and if you’re willing to work with an Electronic Viewfinder, the G2 is a standout Micro Four Thirds camera.