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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Panasonic GH1

Panasonic Digital Cameras

   

Panasonic GH1 Review

Review Date: June 22, 2009

Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur

Panasonic GH1


Photoxels Editor's Choice Award - Compact DSLR 2009

HANDLING & FEEL

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 retains the compact dimensions of the G1. It comes in three different color options: Black, Red or Gold (replaces Blue). The body design can be said to be, for all practical purposes the same as that of the G1; however, if you put them side by side, you may notice a few subtle differences: the "prism" (viewfinder hump) is a bit higher by a few mm, the Shutter Release Button is surrounded by a bigger rest area, and the shoulder strap eyelets seem to poke out just a bit more. On the back, everything is the same, except for the addition of a dedicated Movie button located to the top right of the thumb rest area. There are still lots of shiny chrome, so if you were hoping for an all-black look, it ain't happening. The new kit lens, on the other hand, is nicely all black with muted silver, gold and red letterings. There are lots of controls on the back of the GH1, which make it very intuitive to use if you are an advanced DSLR user, and can at first be a bit overwhelming if you are coming from the point-and-shoot world.

The first thing you notice when you remove the lens is the image sensor. Remember, the GH1 does not need a mirror, so the sensor is exposed. The GH1 has the Supersonic wave filter that removes dust off the sensor everytime the camera is turned on. The GH1 uses a mechanical shutter, which means that it is not totally quiet, though it is quieter than DSLRs that have a mirror.

The little red circular lamp at top right is the AF Assist Lamp (and Self-timer indicator) with an effective range of about 1m - 3m with the 14-140mm lens attached. You should not use the lens hood if you intend to use the AF Assist Lamp since the lens hood (or large filter) will obscure the lamp. Note that your left hand may also inadvertently obscure the lamp.

The GH1 is, by design, features, and positioning, solidly in the DSLR camp. Panasonic refers to it as a [micro] "system camera." It carries over many of the features that have made its consumer point-and-shoot cameras very popular, such as the Intelligent Auto (iA) mode. However, to obtain the best results from the GH1, it helps to understand what all the features are and how to use them for the best results.

Since the GH1 is designed to work as closely as possible like a traditional DSLR, DSLR users will have absolutely no problem with all the controls and features. They work pretty much as expected.

Startup time is about 1.5 sec. from power on to LCD turning on (and including the dust reduction). This is longer than on the G1 (less than 1 sec.). I don't remember if this was the case on the G1, but the GH1 turns on with a muted "ribbid" sound, probably the dust reduction technology doing its job. Shot to shot time is about 0.8 sec. (I was able to take 12 pics in 10 sec.), and there is no practical shutter lag. Autofocus is fast and precise in both good and low light (though you may need to adjust the AF Frame size to obtain focus lock in low light).

The GH1 uses the Secure Digital (SD) Card (including the large capacity SDHC cards).

Here's how the entry-level DSLRs measure up against one another, without lens attached and without battery and card:

Camera W
(mm)
H
(mm)
D
(mm)
Weight
(g)
Nikon D5000 127 104 80 560
Pentax K200D 133.5 95 74 630
Canon T1i/500D 128.8 97.5 61.9 480
Sony A-230 128 97 67.5 452
Olympus E-620 130 94 60 475
Nikon D60 126 94 64 475
Olympus E-450 129.5 91 53 380
Panasonic GH1 124 89.6 45.2 385
Panasonic FZ28 (Ultra Zoom) 117.6 75.3 88.9
(incl. 18x optical zoom lens)
370

As you can see, the GH1 is just a little smaller in size than the Olympus E-450. Just for fun, we have also thrown in a non-DSLR, the Panasonic FZ28, an 18x optical ultra zoom digital camera, for comparison.

STYLE
- Colors: black, red or gold
- Looks: attractive and professional
   
FEEL
- Good non-slip handgrip, but not high enough for one-handed hold; shutter release button is nicely angled forward
- Controls on the top are nice, those on the back are almost all on the right side, tiny, crowded and a bit difficult to differentiate by touch
   
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT
- Carry using shoulder/neck strap
- Dimensions: 124 x 89.6 x 45.2 mm /
4.88 x 3.53 x 1.78 in.
- Weight: 385 g / 0.85 lbs (Body)
- Takes 1 rechargeable Li-ion battery DMW-BLB13PP 7.2V 1250mAh 9.0Wh (300 shots/charge)
   
SPEED OF OPERATION
- Startup and LCD turning on in about 1.5 sec.
- Shot to shot time approx. 0.8 sec.
- No practical shutter lag
   

Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion battery that can take about 300 shots with LCD on (CIPA standard) on a fresh charge and a Battery Charger DE-A49 that will recharge a new battery in approx. 150 min.

Controls

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Top View
Mouseover for closeup view

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Top View (with optional 7-14mm lens)

The top of the camera has, on the right side: the Shutter Release Button, the Front Dial just under the Shutter release button, the Q.MENU (Quick Menu) button, Film Mode button, Mode Dial, Drive mode lever, and Power ON/OFF switch (the last two at the base of the Mode Dial); on the left side are the Flash open lever and the Focus mode dial. New is the stereo mic on top of the "pentaprism" (oops, no more optical viewfinder, so what do we call this "bulge" now, "viewfinder hump"?), just in front of the hot shoe.

The Image Stabilization is optical, i.e. lens based. Since the GH1 accepts interchangeable lenses, the optical image stabilization feature is found on the lens itself. The MEGA O.I.S. switch is on the left side of the lens. To use the optical Image Stabilizer, go into the MENU to select one of 3 possible modes: set it to MODE1, if you want to see the effect of image stabilization at all times; MODE2, for the most effective stabilization, which takes place just before the image is taken; and MODE3, for panning horizontally. Then switch image stabilization ON or OFF right on the lens itself.

Just like on a DSLR, the Front Dial is rotated using your index finger and allows you to change the aperture in Aperture-Priority mode, the shutter speed in Shutter-Priority mode, and both in Manual mode (press the Front Dial in to toggle between shutter speed and aperture). In P mode, it serves two purposes: Program Shift and Exposure Compensation (press the Front Dial in to toggle between the two). It's all very intuitive, convenient and fast.

On the G1, the Front Dial was too easily pressed in inadvertently, but it is harder to press on the GH1, and that's good.

There is a Quick Menu (Q.MENU) button right behind the Shutter release button. Press it and the Quick Menu is activated with the currently selected setting highlighted in yellow. Use the Front Dial to select the setting you want to change. In Normal Display mode, Q.MENU does not display a row of settings, but conveniently use the settings as they are arranged on screen. The setting turns yellow to indicate you selected it and a "drop down" submenu displays either below or above the setting. Use the Cursor Keys to make a choice, then press MENU/SET -- or just click the Front Dial -- to set your choice. It's quicker and easier than it reads, and very intuitive. You can also select to use the LVF/LCD as an INFO screen and use the Q.MENU and Front Dial to quickly chage settings.

In CUSTOM MENU, you can actually select the LVF/LCD Display Style: you can select the normal LCD monitor style where settings are superimposed on the image at top and bottom of the screen; or Viewfinder style, where the bottom settings are displayed on a solid black background (and you can turn the top settings off). For example, to simulate the traditional DSLR viewfinder and LCD displays, you can select the LVF to display only the bottom exposure settings on a black background and the LCD to display superimposed settings at top and bottom of the screen.

The Film Mode button gives you 12 predefined "film" modes:

  1. Standard
  2. Dynamic (higher saturation and contrast)
  3. Nature (bright red, green and blue)
  4. Smooth (lower contrast)
  5. Nostalgic (lower saturation and contrast)
  6. Vibrant (even higher saturation and contrast than Dynamic)
  7. Standard B&W
  8. Dynamic B&W (higher contrast)
  9. Smooth B&W (smooth gradation and rich skin texture)
  10. My Film 1 (original film)
  11. My Film 2 (original film B&W)
  12. Multi Film (on a single press of shutter button, 3 images are recorded with max. 3 film modes set in advance)

You can further refine the modes as to Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation (not available for the B&W modes) and Noise Reduction. Press DISPLAY to get a short description of what each of the film mode does.

The Mode Dial freely rotates 360° clockwise and anti-clockwise. It has 13 shooting modes on it: besides the PASM modes, there is Creative Movie, CUSTom mode, My Color mode (adjust color, brightness, saturation), SCN (scene modes: Sunset, Party, Baby1, Baby2, Pet), four Advanced (Night) Scene modes (Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Illuminations, Creative), Close-Up (Flower, Food, Objects, Creative), Sports (Normal, Outdoor, Indoor, Creative), Scenery (Normal, Nature, Architecture, Creative), Portrait (Soft Skin, Outdoor, Indoor, Creative), My Color (Color, Brightness, Saturation), and Panasonic's Intelligent AUTO (iA) mode.

There is a Drive Mode Lever around the base of the Mode Dial. Burst Mode is rated 3fps in High Speed mode and 2fps in Low Speed (though we measured slower 2.4fps and 1.4fps rates). It allows you to take up to 7 RAW (we obtained max. 4) or an unlimited number of JPEG images (depending on the space available on your memory card and with the burst speed slowing down as more images are captured). Besides Single and Burst, there is also Auto Bracket and Self-timer. The inclusion of Self-timer here means that it is conveniently possible to leave the camera on self-timer mode for a number of consecutive pictures. Beats having to set the self-timer mode for each picture.

The other lever around the base of the Mode Dial is the ON/OFF switch. Flick it ON with your thumb, flick it OFF with your index finger.

On the top left side of the camera, there is a Focus Mode Dial with 3 options: AFS (Auto Focus Single), AFC (Auto Focus Continuous) and MF (Manual Focus). Focus tracking on the GH1 is intuitively implemented. Whether in AFS or AFC, all you have to do is point to the subject you want to track and half-press the shutter-release button to engage focus tracking. From then on, whether you move the camera or your subject moves, the camera keeps focus squarely locked on your subject. To disengage focus tracking, press the MENU/SET button and then you can select another subject to focus track.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 with built-in flash opened

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 with built-in flash opened

The pop-up flash is manually opened and will not automatically pop up when needed. Advanced photographers will welcome this implementation; beginners must remember to lift up the flash if they want to use it.

Optional external flash units DMW-FL220, DMW-FL360, DMW-FL500

Panasonic DMW-FL220, DMW-FL360, DMW-FL500

You can attach an optional external speedlight in the hot shoe. Currently there are three optional external speedlights: DMW-FL500, DMW-FL360 and DMW-FL220.

Other optional accessories include:

  • Stereo Microphone DMW-MS1
  • Leica M Mount Adaptor DMW-MA2M
  • Leica R Mount Adaptor DMW-MA3R
  • ND Filter DMW-LND62
  • Circular Polarizing Filter DMW-LPL62
  • cabled Remote Shutter DMW-RSL1

Interestingly, the mounts allow you to use Leica M and R lenses in manual focus mode with MF Assist. Compatible Leica lenses are listed here.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Left View

On the left side, the hinged plastic Terminal door is rubber and gives access to the HDMI and Digital/V. OUT (USB) sockets.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Back View

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Back View

FUNCTIONS ACCESSIBLE BY CONTROL BUTTONS (clockwise starting from the LVF/LCD button)
- LVF/LCD button toggles between the LVF and LCD monitor.
- Diopter adjustment dial on left side of LVF.
- Eye sensor on right side of the LVF. Automatically switches the Live View between the LVF and the LCD when you bring your eye to the viewfinder or away from the viewfinder.
- Playback button. Use RIGHT and LEFT to scroll thru the pictures. Use Front Dial to enlarge by 2x, 4x, 8x and 16x.
- The AF/AE LOCK button can be customized in CUSTOM MENU to either lock AF only, lock AE only or lock both AF and AE when it is pressed, as well as whether you need to continually hold down the button or press to toggle.
- DISPLAY button. In Recording mode, press repeatedly to cycle thru Normal, No Display, LCD INFO, Off (this cycle depends on the LVF/LCD Display Style you've selected). In Playback, press repeatedly to cycle thru Normal, Detailed Info, Histograms, No Display.
-

CURSOR buttons: UP (ISO), RIGHT (WB), DOWN (Fn), LEFT (AF mode).

MENU SET button in the middle calls up the Menu; use CURSOR buttons to navigate the Menu screens; press MENU SET again to accepts a screen choice.

-

DELETE button. In Playback mode. I've always loved the way the Delete function is implemented on Panasonic digital cameras. Press to invoke Delete Single / Delete Multi / Delete All on one convenient screen. No need to hunt into the MENU.

-

PREVIEW button. In Recording mode. Press this button to go into DOF Preview mode. To have an idea of the shutter speed effect, press the DISPLAY button while in Preview mode.

Also doubles as the Delete button in Playback mode.

   
EXPOSURE COMPENSATION
- Exposure compensation is accessed by clicking the Front Dial and rotating it to dial in a value.
- Once set, the Exposure Compensation Indicator conveniently stays displayed on screen until it is reset to "0"
- Range: -3 EV to +3 EV (18 steps in 1/3 EV increments)
- The screen brightness will increase or decrease to reflect the value you use
- Note: the exposure compensation value selected is retained even when the camera is turned off. When you turn it back on, exposure compensation is still set but does not display until you touch the Shutter Button to take a picture. It's easy not to notice it's on, so remember to reset to "0" after using it or the next time you turn the camera on, your shots may be over- or under-exposed.
   
SHUTTER SPEED RANGE
- PASM: 60 - 1/4,000 sec.
M: B (approx. 4 min.)
   

The LCD on the GH1 is fully articulated and you have pretty much total freedom of movement, allowing you to shoot from almost any angle you like. For those who like to take self-portraits, you'll be happy to know that the LCD can even face forward. You can also turn the LCD to face inward and protect it when you are carrying it.

Because the LCD is hinged to the left, there is no room for the traditional buttons placement down the left side. This means that the control buttons are almost all on the right side of the camera and are on the small side.

Preview is possible by pressing the Preview button. Once you have pressed Preview, you can then adjust shutter speed and/or aperture to have continuous DOF Preview. While in Preview mode, you can also press the DISPLAY button to have an idea of how the shutter speed you have chosen will affect the final picture (for example, how a moving subject will be recorded -- great for visualizing moving water).

The LCD has a high 460,000 dots resolution, not as high as the 920,000 dots we have started to see on some DSLRs, but it is very clear and the fast refresh rate (60fps) means a smooth display. In low light, the LCD gains up very well to allow you to compose.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 with articulated LCD

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 with articulated LCD

The high resolution electronic LVF (Live View Finder) is easily the best electronic viewfinder you"ll ever find and it rivals the optical viewfinder found on many entry-level DSLRs. An eye sensor allows you to switch seamlessly between the LVF and LCD.

If you like to use the viewfinder, then you can set the LCD to LCD INFO DISPLAY. Press the Q.MENU and use the Front Dial or Cursor Buttons to select a setting. The LCD INFO DISPLAY conveniently turns off when you bring the camera to your eye.

The LCD is beautiful with high resolution (460,000 dots) and fast refresh rate for a smooth Live View. Because the GH1 uses an electronic viewfinder (technically, it has 800 x 600 = 480,000 dots but each dot reflects a red, green and blue signal very quickly in succession, so Panasonic claims it as having 1,440,000 dots equivalent), it is possible to display a Live Histogram on both the LCD and the LVF, which is not possible on a DSLR using an optical viewfinder. You can even move the histogram to anywhere on the screen; for me, bottom left seems to be a good spot. The LVF/LCD gains up very well in low-light situations.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Bottom View

There is a very nice Battery/Card door and the battery has a latch to keep it from accidentally falling. You may be able to change battery when the camera is on a tripod. Last, but not least, the tripod socket is metal and inline with the lens.

For those tired of lugging heavy DSLRs, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 is an attractive compact and light alternative that delivers DSLR image quality and features in a relatively compact body.

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