What Digital Camera tests out the Panasonic Lumix GH2 Micro Four Thirds camera. Watch our video review...

Panasonic GH2 review
– transcript of video

This new Micro Four Thirds camera takes over from the GH1 but there are some significant differences on the inside. There’s a new multi aspect ratio 16 MP sensor that now has three CPU cores for much faster processing. Also the sensor outputs at 120 fields per second, which is twice the rate compared to the previous sensor, so now you get a light speed autofocus as well.

In addition, the touchscreen on the rear of the Panasonic GH2 is now touchfocus so when shooting in the updated 1080p movie mode it’s possible to have focus transitions by moving your finger around the screen.

Design wise, the Panasonic GH2 is pretty much an amalgamation of the GH1’s original design with the updates that came in the G2, which was the first Micro Four Thirds camera to have a touch screen LCD.

The tilt angle screen on the Panasonic GH2 is able to rotate through a number of angles. It can come out a full 180 degrees and it can spin 270 degrees around for positioning in almost any possible angle that you care to shoot from. It’s 3″ in size and it has a 16:9 wide angle, which is good for movie shooting as well as stills. The resolution is 460k-dot, which is the same as the GH1 before it. It’s perhaps a bit of a shame this doesn’t have a higher resolution but it’s still perfectly good and resolute when reviewing your images.

Above the screen, there’s a viewfinder which has changed from the GH1 and has a slightly higher 1.53 million dot resolution, although this actually only equates to an 852 x 600 pixel resolution in real terms. The reason it has a slightly higher resolution is because of the multi aspect ratio sensor, which is physically wider than other Live MOS sensors have been in the past and therefore the wider array needs to translate into the viewfinder as well. Also, the improvement in the sensor by outputting 120 fields per second means you get twice the refresh rate over the GH1 and this means that visible lag is reduced by half.

Although the focusing is very fast, the 23 area focal point array is particularly centralized across the screen and the sensor, so edge to edge focusing is particularly difficult to attain. However, when using the focusing system it’s very useful to actually have the touchscreen ability as you’re able to literally just press on the screen on what you want to focus on and the transition between one and the next is very smooth and elegant. The GH2’s 144 segment metering does a good of outputting images that are well exposed. There aren’t usually blown out highlights and the mid tones are well held.

The Panasonic GH2 can shoot JPEG files as well as the RW2 Raw format. The Raw files are certainly flatter than their JPEG counterparts as the latter clearly receive a push of colour contrast and have added sharpness to produce a more appealing final image straight out of the camera. However it’s with the Raw files that a lot more detail is available and above ISO 800 this is a good source to get the most out of your images. Colour is punchy in the right circumstances but not to the point of being unrealistic. There are also multiple modes, including five Film Modes, in order to change the colour (including a black and white option). Other options include vibrant and nostalgic. As well as the ability to stack up to three of these Film Modes together, it’s also possible to use them whilst shooting in movie mode.

The Panasonic GH2’s images are incredibly impressive and from ISO 160 to 800 it easily matches that of a competitor DSLR at a similar price point. Above this, ISO 1600 does fairly well, although on very close inspection reveals that more softness is present due to image noise reduction. However, all things considered, even ISO 3200 produces more than usable images that are very clean and devoid of too much image noise, although this is at the expense of sharpness. The top end ISO: 6400 to 12,800 does feel a little bit like it’s been tagged on at the end because it’s considerably noisy, soft, and devoid of any punchy colour.

Overall, the performance by the new sensor is mightily impressive, far exceeding previous generation (Micro Four Thirds) models and sets a new standard for Compact System Cameras.

Another major update to the Panasonic GH2 is its ability to shoot movies at 1080p. Although the GH1 before was able to do this, this new sensor allows for 1080p capture at 24 frames per second, which is the cinematic mode. As well as this there’s a 1080p 50i setting. There’s also a variable movie mode which allows for an 80%, 200% or 300% slow down or speed up capture as well. In addition, there’s now fully manual controls so you’re able to use the aperture or shutter priority or manual options to fix a permanent exposure as you please.

The Panasonic GH2 can be found for around £1150 at the moment, (NB. Since this video was produced, prices will have changed) although this can range as high as £1350 with the 14-140 mm lens. Thankfully, Panasonic has also released a body only and a 14-42mm option, which keeps the price down. Overall the camera is fairly expensive, considering that the Canon 60D or Nikon D7000 can be purchased potentially for less money, however there are some very good points to the camera: it’s got the best contrast detection autofocus system of any camera on the market at the moment (this won’t be the case when the G3 is released). Also the 1080p 24 frames per second movie mode is highly impressive and is definitely up there with the best available in a stills camera.

On the downside, the build feels a little bit plasticy and the 2.5 mm audio jack is certainly a nuisance if you want to use external microphones, but other than that there’s very little to complain about indeed. The image quality is massively impressive and is a big step forwards.

Overall we gave the Panasonic GH2 89% and our recommended award.