Monday, 8 February 2010

Panasonic Lumix GH1

When the Panasonic Lumix G1 was launched in the autumn 2008, it was the first camera in the Micro Four Thirds system. While it was an innovative camera, it had one feature missing: Video recording. The lack of video was seen as very strange, as the sensor was obviously capable of sending live video feed to the display.

It was not surprising that when the second Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera was launched in the spring 2009, it did indeed feature video recording. One year on, it is still the only consumer video capable camera with exchangeable lenses, that also feature continuous autofocus during filming, and a tiltable display, features that I would say are essential.


During most of the camera life time, it was only sold as a kit with the superzoom lens Lumix G HD 14-140mm.

Improvement potential

There are a number of good GH1 reviews out there, and there is not much point in making another one. Let me mention a few features that I would have liked to see on this camera, though. While it is a very good camera, there are also some areas where it could have been further improved.

I think that the focus selector is awkwardly placed, on the top left side. This selector is usually placed on the front, next to the lens mount, where it is easier to operate with the left hand.

Generally, I prefer a thumb click wheel to a finger wheel. Having both is of course the best, but having to choose one, I would choose the thumb wheel. The GF1 has got a thumb click wheel.

The video recording is well integrated into the picture taking functions. However, there are some inconsistencies. For example, leaving the camera in AF Single mode will make it do continuous autofocus during filming. There is no mode that will autofocus when initiating filming, but not during filming. Also, the P, A, S, M-modes do not apply when filming. Rather, you need to select a special "Creative movie mode", and then go into a deep menu to choose from the P, A, S and M alternatives. Wouldn't it be easier to just use the mode dial for this selection for video recording as well? A final drawback is that it is not possible to take still images while filming.

Some image processing features could have been added. For example in-camera RAW conversion, and the ability to delete only the RAW image, or alternatively, only the JPEG image. As the camera works now, you can choose to delete a picture all together, but not only one version of it.

The hood will block the built in flash in most cases, with the exception of extreme tele. Even without the hood, the kit lens will block the flash in a wide range of wide angle to normal focal lengths.

There is no supplied software that does video editing with the AVCHD format. For a premium video camera kit, this is rather disappointing.

The camera is not weather protected, as one would expect from a camera in this price range.

It does not feature any infra red receivers, and hence, there are no simple remote controls available. Some third party remotes can be used.

When focusing manually, an enlarged view comes up, to make precise focusing possible. To go back to the full view, you can tap the shutter release button. However, it would be good to have a dedicated button to bring up the enlarged view. This would be useful if you want to check the focus without turning the focusing ring. Or when using a legacy lens on an adapter. On the other hand, the enlarged view is available through pressing two buttons in a sequence, so this is not a big issue.

Most lenses for this camera do not have a focus scale. The exceptions are some Four Thirds lenses that can be attached through an adapter. Furthermore, there is no focus distance indication on the camera. You will see that premium Panasonic compact cameras, for example the LX3, do feature focus distance information in the LCD display. The fact that Micro Four Thirds cameras all lack this feature leads me to think that the focus distance information is probably never communicated from the lens to the camera at all.

When using autofocus, the lack of a focus distance indicator is no big deal. However, there are some times when you want to prefocus at a certain distance, and shoot quickly in manual focus mode for speed and/or stealth. In these cases, it is a bit awkward to know at what distance the lens is focused.

While the Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras can autofocus with Four Thirds DSLR lenses on an adapter, the Panasonic cameras can only do this with a select few. One example is the Olympus 50mm f/2 macro lens. One could guess that this is not due to technical limitations of the Panasonic equipment, but rather due to an agreement between Panasonic and Olympus. Also, when using manual focus, there is no focus confirmation in the viewfinder. This would have been useful, especially for legacy lenses used on adapters.

When using the front wheel to change aperture, turning the click wheel one way yields different outcomes in P and M mode, respectively. This inconsistency of the aperture input is annoying and unnecessary.

In P mode, you can not adjust the aperture using the index finger wheel until the camera has achieved focus. So to adjust the aperture, you first need to half press the shutter to get focus, and then operate the click wheel.

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