Panasonic Lumix GH1: The Micro Four Thirds System gains a new member, and with an impressive arsenal of video functions it could just be the best yet

Product Overview

Overall rating:

85%

Panasonic Lumix GH1

Overall score:85%
Features:95%
Value:70%
Performance:85%
Image Quality:85%
Design:90%

Pros:

  • HD movie mode, articulating LCD screen, build quality, supplied lens

Cons:

  • High price tag, white balance issues, slow burst mode, shutter lag

Product:

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Review

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£1299

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When the Panasonic Lumix G1, the first Micro Four Thirds camera, was announced at the end of last year, the company promised a version with video to follow. Today, we are more surprised when a new camera doesn’t feature HD video, so its inclusion in the Panasonic Lumix GH1 may not seem revolutionary. However, this diminutive pseudo-SLR camera offers some of the most advanced video features seen on a still camera to date, and some equally impressive creative functions for still shots, too.

 

The Panasonic GH1 has tackled one of the major problems for SLR-styled video – namely, sound. A new lens gives near-silent focusing, enabling the GH1 to offer continuous autofocus during shooting without picking up lens motor noise. For the more advanced users, it also offers the opportunity to shoot video with full manual control and using external microphones, while Panasonic’s own AVCHD video format claims better compression and smoother action. But the Pansonic GH1 promises to be more than just a G1 with added video and, despite its almost identical appearance, some subtle improvements have been made to improve the still shooting capabilities as well. For more on the GH1’s video see our page of user videos taken on the GH1.

Panasonic GH1

 

 

Panasonic Lumix GH1 review: Features

The GH1 outputs the same 12.1 megapixel image as the G1, but it does this from a 14 megapixel sensor rather than the 13.1 previously. This allows an identical 4000 x 3000 pixels in the 4:3 format, but higher pixel counts in its alternative aspect ratios including 4128 x 2752 in 3:2 and 4352 x 2448 in 16:9.

 

The camera’s ISO offers a respectable range from 100 up to 3200, plus an Auto function. It also offers an Intelligent ISO mode that detects when a subject is moving and ups the ISO speed to capture a sharp subject.

The drive modes include a burst fucntion, which can be set in low-speed mode to give two frames per second, or at a higher rate of three frames per second. There’s also a single shot mode, a self-timer and an auto bracket.

 

The autofocus system uses a contrast detect system from the image sensor. When focusing manually the camera allows a magnified view of the centre area for more accurate control. Within the AF you have a choice of face detection, focus tracking, 23-area and single point focusing from anywhere on the image. Add to this an AF assist lamp and a focus lock and you have a pretty comprehensive selection.

 

Panasonic GH1 small image

Panasonic GH1 full review – click for full size image samples

 

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Metering

The metering uses a 144-zone multi-pattern system and offers a choice of Intelligent Multiple, centre-weighted and spot modes. Exposure compensation is offered up to +/-3EV in one-third steps, while there is also a choice of 25 scene modes.

On top of all this you can select the Intelligent Auto (iA) mode, which automatically selects Mega Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), the Intelligent ISO, scene selection, face detection, AF tracking, and Intelligent Exposure, to leave you free to concentrate on taking the picture.

The film modes allow for twelve different colour settings that mimic 35mm effects such as Nostalgic and Vibrant, and a range of black and white settings.

White Balance can be left to Auto or set via one of five presets. There are also custom settings, and colour temperature adjustment.

           

Panasonic GH1 Page 2: Features Part two

Panasonic GH1 Page 3: Design

Panasonic GH1 Page 4: Performance and value

Panasonic GH1 Page 5: Image quality

Panasonic GH1 Page 6:Specifications

Panasonic GH1 user videos

Link to Panasonic Lumix G1 review

What
are micro system cameras? 

 

 

 

Features (pt2)

Panasonic GH1 product shot

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Dust reduction

To prevent dust build up, the GH1 uses a Supersonic Wave Filter to remove dust from the sensor. Mega O.I.S. also features in the lens, providing optical image stabilisation.

The LCD screen is a 3in TFT with an approximate 460,000 dot resolution, mounted on a two way bracket which allows it to rotate 270º vertically and 180º horizontally.

Panasonic GH1 product shot

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Viewfinder

The viewfinder is an electronic one, though despite its size it offers a high resolution display equivalent to 1,440,000 dots, as well as dioptre adjustment.
Perhaps the most significant feature of the GH1 is its movie capability. It can record in motion JPEG to a maximum of 1280 x 720 pixels (HD 720p) at 30 frames per second, or in Panasonic’s own AVCHD format at 1920 x 1080 pixels (HD 1080p) and output at 25 frames per second (24 fps in NTSC).

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Video

The GH1 is the first to offer full manual control for video – though this has been since followed by a firmware update to the Canon EOS 5D Mk II – providing full adjustment of the shutter, aperture and ISO for creative video work, and notably offers continuous autofocus thanks to the silent motors in the lens. In fact, sound has been taken very seriously for video, with a stereo microphone mounted on top.

The built-in flash has a guide number of 11m (at ISO 100) and a sync speed of up to 1/160th sec. This can be set for red-eye reduction and slow sync, and can be fired in front and rear curtain for creative effect. The hotshoe also provides TTL sync with certain flash guns, as well as supporting hotshoe-mounted extrernal microphones should you be using one. These plug into the 2.5mm mic port around the camera’s side, where a mini HDMI port and a USB 2.0 connection are also located.

Panasonic GH1 product shot

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Lens

The standard GH1 package comes with the all-purpose 14-140mm f/4-5.8 G Vario lens. This is equivalent to a 28-280mm superzoom in 35mm terms, and so certainly covers all bases. At around 460g the lens weighs more than the camera itself but it does contain the Mega O.I.S motors and, impressively, offers near silent operation.

 

Panasonic GH1 Page 1: Features Part one

Panasonic GH1 Page 3: Design

Panasonic GH1 Page 4: Performance and value

Panasonic GH1 Page 5: Image quality

Panasonic GH1 Page 6: Specifications

Panasonic GH1 user videos

Design

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Weight

Compared with a traditional DSLR, the G-series cameras beat the smallest of the pack – the Olympus E-420 – by up to 9mm. But by creative compact or superzoom standards it’s still fairly substantial. At just 385g the camera body itself may be light, but once combined with the mammoth lens it as heavy as some mid-range SLR models.

Panasonic GH1 small image

 

The soft rubberised finish helps the feel of the camera and the solid build quality is evident in every part of the GH1, down to the mode dial and even the port covers.

Buttons are plentiful across the back and top panels – though fairly small, they remain large enough to press but some can be accidentally pressed from an overzealous grip, most notably the quick video button that sits underneath your thumb. That said, the mode dial click positively into position and the four-way menu pad configuration works well for quick functions and menu navigation. A second dial on the left of the top plate does feel a little wasted with the three AF modes – perhaps this would have been put to better use with the ISO or exposure compensation values.

Panasonic Lumix GH1: LCD screen

The rear LCD screen is a good size. It’s bright and of high enough quality to use even in bright daylight and, as it can be easily tilted, it doesn’t particularly matter that its viewing angle isn’t exceptional. The electronic viewfinder may have its sceptics but, together with the G1’s, it’s the best EVF to feature on a digital camera, and its fast refresh rate makes it very useable. The rubber eyepiece is set back to allow you to press your eye flush against it, while the light sensors automatically turn off the main screen.

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Menu

The menu system is split into six main sections, which are colour coded according to their purpose. This is fairly easy to navigate, though the array of quick menus, accessed by function buttons, may be less obvious to some.

 

Panasonic GH1 Page 1: Features Part one

Panasonic GH1 Page 2: Features Part two

Panasonic GH1 Page 4: Performance and value

Panasonic GH1 Page 5: Image quality

Panasonic GH1 Page 6: Specifications

Panasonic GH1 user videos

Performance and value

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Performance

Overall, the Panasonic Lumix GH1 offers above and beyond what users upgrading from digital compacts would expect. Though the buttons may be a little packed in, operation is generally clear.

Panasonic GH1 small image

 

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Autofocus

The autofocus system is much quicker than those used by live view systems in most DSLRs. However, it is still not as quick as some dedicated AF systems. There also appears to be a slight shutter lag, particularly with AF tracking that requires some getting used to.

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Metering

The metering performs well under most conditions. In high contrast, however, highlights can be lost in an attempt to balance the exposure. This is often preferable for new users, and experienced snappers can correct with exposure compensation or shoot in Raw. White balance performs well outdoors, but the Auto mode struggles under tungsten light, and needs manual intervention to get accurate results. For those shooting in Raw this is not a problem as it can be adjusted in processing.

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Drive modes

The burst mode is a little disappointing with a maximum of 3fps. Using Panasonic’s own 4GB Class 4 SDHC card, it writes a JPEG in 1.5secs and a Raw in 3secs, and shoots a maximum of five JPEGs or four Raws at high burst mode before filling the buffer. While in low speed burst mode, it extends its JPEG capability up to between 30 and 50 shots. Again, these figures are hardly groundbreaking and look fairly pedestrian in DSLR terms.

Panasonic GH1 small image

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Video

The quality of the video this camera produces is jaw dropping, with both crisp detail and smooth motion. The manual controls allow you to take your video to the same extremities as your still work and create some truly individual results. Or alternatively, switch it to auto for quick and easy shooting. And, thanks to the sound options in the stereo mic and external input, you can produce high quality audio, too. See user videos taken on the GH1

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Value

For still images the Lumix GH1 does have some benefits over the G1, but certainly not enough to justify the extra cost on its own – especially as you can now buy the G1 with lens for less than £500, compared with the £1300 for the GH1. But this camera has made no excuses for being about high-definition video, and with its specification there is very little to match it.

 

Panasonic GH1 Page 1: Features Part one

Panasonic GH1 Page 2: Features Part two

Panasonic GH1 Page 3: Design

Panasonic GH1 Page 5: Image quality

Panasonic GH1 Page 6: Specifications

Panasonic GH1 user videos

Image quality

Panasonic GH1 small image

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Tone and Exposure

The 144-zone metering system does a great job to ensure an even tone distribution and accurate exposure. In high-contrast scenes in does tend to bleach out some extreme highlights to maintain detail in the rest of the image, which for most is preferable. Users can easily use the exposure compensation or shoot in Raw to bring the highlights back in or provide a winder tonal range.

Panasonic GH1 small image

Panasonic Lumix GH1: White Balance and Colour

In daylight the GH1 produces a bright punchy image with a very accurate Auto White Balance

control. However, for indoor lighting, particularly in low light, both the auto and preset modes can struggle to produce an accurate colour balance. This does not effect those shooting in Raw, however, and with a quick adjustment the shots look great again.

ISO 100 ISO 3200

Panasonic GH1 full review – click for full size image samples 

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Noise

Noise becomes visible above ISO 400 and is prevalent at ISO 1600 and 3200. Even at the maximum ISO setting of 3200, due to some heavy noise reduction in the JPEG file, the noise is well suppressed and monochrome in its appearance. This means it doesn’t greatly degrade the colour of the image, only really removing the finer detail, much like a good high-speed film would. On the Raw file, the noise is far more obvious.

Panasonic GH1 small image

 

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Raw/JPEG

Both Raw and JPEG images appear bright and crisp, with enough processing on the JPEG to happily use straight from the camera, while not overdoing it. Raw files on closer inspection are slightly crisper and carry fractionally more detail. But the main benefits come from the white balance control and the pre-process adjustment options for using this file type.

Raw image cropJPEG image crop

Panasonic GH1 full review – click for full size image samples 

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Sharpness and Detail

Though the lens is not particularly fast in aperture once you get to the long end of the zoom, it still gives an impressively sharp image. Results are generally well detailed at lower ISO values, and though purple fringing is evident in extreme conditions, it is not excessive.

 

Raw image crop JPEG image crop

Raw file (ISO 3200)                           JPEG file (ISO 3200)

Panasonic GH1 full review – click for full size image samples

Panasonic Lumix GH1: ISO comparision

The ISO range produces useable images at all levels, though the range itself does seem a little limited among its peers, with most at least offering an ISO 6400, if not higher. It does offer a huge range of values throughout the range though – something that presumably benefits the Intelligent ISO and Auto ISO systems. Noise appears quite early in the range but results at ISO 800 and even 1600 are still very usable. The highest setting of ISO 3200 does have very obvious noise throughout, but, especially in the JPEG, this doesn’t degrade image colouring, and can still be used for effect or necessity.

 

Panasonic GH1 small image

Panasonic GH1 full review – click for full size image samples

 

 

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Skin tone

The ISO range produces useable images at all levels, though the range itself does seem a little limited among its peers, with most at least offering an ISO 6400, if not higher. It does offer a huge range of values throughout the range though – something that presumably benefits the Intelligent ISO and Auto ISO systems. Noise appears quite early in the range but results at ISO 800 and even 1600 are still very usable. The highest setting of ISO 3200 does have very obvious noise throughout, but, especially in the JPEG, this doesn’t degrade image colouring, and can still be used for effect or necessity.

Panasonic GH1 small image

Panasonic GH1 full review – click for full size image samples

 

Panasonic Lumix GH1: Colour

The GH1 produces bright, punchy colours straight from the camera in JPEG mode, as you can see from this indoor shot of coloured cotton reels. This makes it easy to send images straight to print from the memory card, or even plug the camera straight in to a photo printer if you want instant results.

 

Panasonic GH1 Page 1: Features Part one

Panasonic GH1 Page 2: Features Part two

Panasonic GH1 Page 3: Design

Panasonic GH1 Page 4: Performance and value

Panasonic GH1 Page 6: Specifications

Panasonic GH1 user videos

Verdict

The GH1 is an exceptional camera, but more than anything it is an exceptional video camera. In terms of still imaging it has some improvements on the previous G1 model, though these are not significant enough on their own to justify the huge price difference.

The GH1 does come with an impressive lens, which does come some way to explain the price increase, and this is a great addition for both still and for video use.

As this review was going to press, Panasonic announced an update to the GH1 and the 14-140mm lens, which is expected to give improvements to the camera’s burst rate, video stabilising and other performance issues.

If this is the case it may answer the minor gripes we have – all apart from the price – making this an even better proposition.

See user videos of the Panasonic GH1

Verdict

The GH1 is an exceptional camera, but more than anything it is an exceptional video camera. In terms of still imaging it has some improvements on the previous G1 model, though these are not significant enough on their own to justify the huge price difference. The GH1 does come with an impressive lens, which does come some way to explain the price increase, and this is a great addition for both still and for video use. As this review was going to press, Panasonic announced an update to the GH1 and the 14-140mm lens, which is expected to give improvements to the camera's burst rate, video stabilising and other performance issues. If this is the case it may answer the minor gripes we have – all apart from the price – making this an even better proposition.

Full Specification

AF Points:
23-area, contrast AF
PC Socket:
No

Built-in Flash:
Yes, GN11
DoF Prview:
Live

Colour Temp Control:
Yes
White Balance Bracket:
3 exposures

Colour Space:
sRGB, Adobe RGB
Shutter Type:
Focal plane shutter

Exposure Comp:
+-3EV
Focusing Modes:
AFs, AFc, MF, Face detection. AF tracking

Dust Reduction:
Yes
Built-in Image Stabilisation:
Yes – lens based

Weight:
385
Dimensions:
124 x 89.5 x 45.2 mm

Live Mode:
Yes
Power:
ID-security Li-ion

White Balance:
Auto, 5 presets, 2 custom
Viewfinder Type:
EVF

Field of View:
100%
Memory Card:
SD, SDHC

Connectivity:
USB2.0, MiniHDMI, 2.5mm stereo mini jack
Drive Mode:
Single, Burst High (3fps), Low (2fps), Self timer (2sec, 10sec)

Metering System:
144-zone multi-pattern
ISO:
100-3200

Compression:
3-stage JPEG, 1-stage Raw
Exposure Modes:
M, A, S, P, Ai, Scene modes

File Format:
JPEG, Raw, AVCHD, Motion JPEG
Shutter Speeds:
1/4000-60sec

Lens Mount:
Micro Four Thirds
Output Size:
4000×3000 (4:3)

LCD:
3in 460K dots
Focal Length Mag:
2x

Sensor:
12.1MP LiveMOS

  1. 1. Panasonic Lumix GH1 review: Features
  2. 2. Features (pt2)
  3. 3. Design
  4. 4. Performance and value
  5. 5. Image quality
  6. 6. Verdict
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