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Panasonic GH1 Review
Date: June 22, 2009
Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur
Friday, June 5, 2009 - Here's what I receive
in the box:
- Panasonic GH1 with Body Cap
- Kit lens Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm/F4.0-5.8 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S. Ø62mm with Lens cap, Lens Rear Cap, Lens Storage Bag and Lens Hood
- No memory card included
- Shoulder Strap
- Interface Cables: A/V, USB
- Rechargeable Li-ion Battery DMW-BLB13PP 7.2V 1250mAh 9.0Wh
- Battery Charger DE-A49 and Power Cord / AC Adapter
- English, French and Spanish Operating Instructions Manuals
- Software CD: Digital Camera (PHOTOfunSTUDIO 3.1 HD Edition, SILKYPIX Developer Studio 3.0 SE, USB Driver 1.0)
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 adds HD Movie with continuous focus. Unlike on all other DSLRs with movie capability where you have to prefocus, the GH1 allows continuous focus during movie recording so that you can move from a far away subject to a close subject, and the camera will refocus appropriately.
Note that this continuous focus is not instant. For example, if the camera is focused on a subject at infinity and you pan the camera to point to subjects in the near foreground, the camera will not refocus until you stop long enough on a subject for it to do so.
More: optical Image Stabilization is active, sound is recorded in stereo (with wind filter), and you can zoom to your heart's content. Also, you can vary shutter speed and aperture, which means that you can now select an aperture to get the depth-of-field you want in your movies.
A note of caution here: when you record HD movie on the GH1 using AVCHD, it saves 4 files: 1) a .cont, 2) a .iis file, 3) a .m2ts file, and 4) a .tmb file. Be forewarned that deleting any one of these files will invalidate your movie. PHOTOfunSTUDIO allows you to view the HD movie, delete unwanted portions, and save the result to memory card, CD, DVD or upload it to YouTube (processing can take quite a while since even a 10 sec. movie clip can be about 15MB).
A dedicated Movie button at the back of the GH1 makes switching to movie mode a one button press affair. However, you may want to half-press the shutter release button first to get your subject in focus before starting your movie recording. Otherwise just delete the out of focus start frames in PHOTOfunSTUDIO.
You can view a short 10 sec. Panasonic GH1 movie sample here that I uploaded to YouTube.
Note that the GH1 cannot output via its HDMI port while shooting, i.e. you cannot link it to an external monitor while capturing video.
The Contrast-Detect AF on other DSLRs is so slow that Live View is relegated to "tripod mode" where your subject does not move and you can take your time to lock focus.
On the GH1, Live View works exactly as you are used to having it work on your compact digicam. You don't have to turn Live View ON because it is Full-Time -- always ON.
With the mirror gone, the GH1 features a high resolution electronic viewfinder that has nothing to be ashamed of compared with the traditional optical viewfinder on DSLRs. You'd be hard pressed to differentiate the two, especially when comparing it against the small viewfinders on entry-level DSLRs.
A new Contrast-Detect AF makes using Live View (either on the electronic viewfinder or on the LCD) practical and usable, just like on a compact digicam. Bring the camera to your eye and the Live View is automatically transferred to the high resolution electronic viewfinder.
Note that because there is no Phase-detection AF on the GH1, it needs special lenses that can autofocus using Contrast-Detect AF. There are currently four (4) such lenses: the LUMIX G VARIO 7-14mm/F4.0 ASPH, LUMIX G VARIO 14-45mm/F3.5-5.6 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S., LUMIX G VARIO HD 14-140mm/F4.0-5.8 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S., and LUMIX G VARIO 45-200mm/F4.0-5.6/MEGA O.I.S.
However, with the use of special mount adaptors, the GH1 can use many other lenses in manual focus mode: from the FourThirds system (DMW-MA1 mount adaptor) as well as Leica M (DMW-MA2M mount adaptor) and Leica R (DMW-MA3R mount adaptor) lenses. The focal length of the leica lenses are doubled. Here is a list of compatible Leica M and R lenses.
The 14-140mm kit lens (and two of the other lenses) has a maximum aperture of only F4.0 and that's quite slow, requiring the use of a slower shutter speed and thus negating any stop gain that the excellent optical image stabilization provides.
I found the zoom smooth though a little bit stiff but without the dreaded creep.
Though the GH1 is very much similar to the G1 in dimensions and weight, I do feel the heavier weight of the 14-140mm kit lens vis-à-vis the 14-45mm lens (460g vs. 195g) or even compared to the GH1 body (460g vs. 385g). I also notice that the shoulder strap eyelets seem to poke out just slightly more and I can feel it digging into my index finger (recessed shoulder strap rings anyone?).
The MF mode is the one improvement suggestion I had for the G1 (it did not perform too well in low light) and I'm glad to report that it is much improved on the GH1.
On the Lumix lens, the MF ring is not mechanically actuated as you would expect on a DSLR-level camera lens. Instead, it is fly-by-wire. If you have turned MF ASSIST ON in CUSTOM MENU, the screen is magnified 5x as soon as you start rotating the MF ring. If this level of magnification is not enough, you can rotate the Front Dial clockwise to increase the screen magnification up to 10x. (Rotate the Front Dial counter clockwise to return the magnification back to 5x.) The enlarged area is movable so if you have your camera fixed on a tripod and you have composed the scene, you do not need to move the camera, just the focusing area. Though I much prefer a mechanically actuated AF, I am glad to report that the fly-by-wire manual focus on the GH1 works very well, even in low light.
A new 1:1 Aspect Ratio allows you to take square-shaped photos, much loved by 6x6 in. film photographers.
The PHOTOfunSTUDIO HD is a much improved application and allows you to transfer,
view and print, plus perform basic functions such
as resize, rotate, email, create a wallpaper,
and convert format. You can now also easily upload your movie to YouTube. SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 SE allows you to process RAW images.
The user's manual (Operating Instructions) has a nice index and is fairly comprehensive. Take the time to read it from cover to cover and you'll quickly discover all the many features of the GH1.
With the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1, photographers now have a professional alternative to the traditional DSLR. Not only does the GH1 provide the only Live View experience on a DSLR that is practical and usable, but Live View provides the photographer an even more accurate representation of what will actually be captured on the image sensor. Add the new HD Movie with continuous focus capability and the GH1 becomes a full-featured tool for budding and advanced amateur photographers alike.