Panasonic Lumix GF2 £599.99
9th Mar 2011 | 15:28
Panasonic has slimmed down its smallest compact system camera even further with the introduction of the 12.2 million pixel Lumix GF2
Pansonic Lumix DMC-GF2: Overview
Digital camera technology moves fast as manufacturers attempt to fill every niche in an incredibly competitive market. Just over two years ago we saw Panasonic and Olympus announce the Micro Four Thirds camera standard, and already we are onto the second and third generations of these dinky little cameras.
The Four Thirds name comes from the old way of classifying video camera tubes, where the diameter of the tube was expressed in fractions of an inch, hence 4/3". The actual sensor size in millimetres is 17.3x13mm, which is substantially larger than sensors found in compact cameras, which should improve dynamic range and low light performance.
As the Micro Four Thirds standard is mirrorless, it allows for a smaller lens mount and lenses, as well as for more compact camera designs making the system appealing to those who wish for SLR quality, without the bulk associated with an SLR camera. By removing the reflex mirror found in SLR cameras, but keeping the same reasonably large image sensor this standard promises to allow for ever smaller camera designs, without compromising on image quality, or the flexibility of interchangeable lenses.
Other manufacturers such as Sony and Samsung have been quick to jump on the bandwagon and release their own mirrorless camera systems too, meaning that Panasonic dare not rest on its laurels.
Around a year ago we saw the Lumix GF1 release, which garnered plenty of interest due to its compact dimensions and range of SLR-like features. The Lumix GF1 has proved popular with enthusiast-level photographers after a pocket sized camera and snap-shooters seeking a better quality smaller sized camera, due to it's comprehensive range of manual and automatic controls, interchangeable lenses and ability to record images in a RAW file format.
With this latest Lumix, the Lumix GF2, Panasonic has attempted to build on its predecessor, whilst making the camera even more desirable to those after a quality compact camera. The Panasonic GF2 is 19% smaller and 7% lighter than its predecessor and in a nod to the latest consumer technology, a touch screen interface has replaced many of the dials and buttons your average SLR user will be accustomed to.
Video is another of the features which seems to create plenty of excitement for many. The Panasonic GF2 includes 1080p resolution high definition video recording, making it a better featured option for motion capture than the recently released Panasonic G2.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2: Build Quality and handling
Although the Panasonic GF2 is smaller and lighter than its predecessor and Panasonic has managed to do this without compromising the quality of build. The contoured body is constructed from metal and high quality plastics, which feel tough enough to take a little abuse in their stride. Design flourishes such as the gun metal finished shutter button, lens release and grip insert help to make it look the part too, adding to the quality feel.
The Panasonic GF2 is quite comfortable to hold, helped by a slimline finger grip on the front, and the lens itself. Even the 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens provides plenty of room to support the camera. A small thumb rest is provided on the rear, surrounding the only dial on the camera. Space is at a premium due to the svelte design, and care needs to be taken not press buttons unintentionally, or to stray onto the touch sensitive screen.
At first the control method may seem fiddly, even frustrating, but time is a great healer and it is well worth spending some getting used to how the camera behaves. Teething issues include the small size of the on-screen touch targets are, especially in the quick menu, (although a handy stylus that attaches to the camera strap is included) and the ease with which the focus point can be changed accidentally.
Once mastered, the touch screen interface is a joy to use. It's responsive and easy to navigate during both shooting and playback. A decent anti-reflective coating has been added, which does a good job of reducing the mirror-like appearance often associated with touch screens. This makes using the display a pleasure, even in bright conditions. An electronic viewfinder can be purchased separately, which connects via the accessory port on the rear.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2: Controls and features
Many controls reside in the quick menu, which can be accessed via an on-screen button, or a dedicated button. In a nice touch, this menu can be customised to suit your individual needs.
For example, If you tend to change metering modes often, you can move that to the top of the menu, making it very easy to access. A disappointment, however, is that features such as flash compensation, second curtain sync and film simulation modes all appeared on the GF1, are all sadly absent from this camera.
In use the GF2 feels responsive, focusing quickly and with little shutter lag. If shooting raw images, you will benefit from a high speed SD card to reduce write times. If the information hasn't finished writing to the card, you simply have to wait before you can review your images, or even switch it off.
For example, when using a Class 10 SDHC card and shooting raw plus JPEG, it takes a shade over four seconds to write the information to the card and with a bog standard Class 2 card, it took almost nine seconds. Support for SDXC cards, which will be available in capacities up to two terabytes, is included although currently are only available in capacities up to 64 gigabytes.
Being able to change focus point by jabbing the screen takes a while to get used to, but in time you'll wonder how you managed shooting in live view mode without it. You can also focus by touching the screen and a neat touch shutter mode is included. There is a little delay between touching the screen and the picture being taken, but it is much less than selecting a focusing area, focusing and taking the shot individually. One drawback is that the camera can be quite difficult to hold steady whilst poking the screen with your finger.
Full HD 1080p video recording at 30 frames per second is possible and movies can be saved in motion JPEG, or AVCHD format. When recording, the refresh rate of the display drops slightly, resulting in a slightly jerky viewing experience.
The same cannot be said about the footage recorded. Videos are clear, sharp and smooth, plus the sound quality recorded by the built-in stereo microphone isn't bad and will suffice for most casual video purposes. Autofocus works quite well during recording, and is activated by lightly pressing the shutter button.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2: Image Quality
We found that the GF2's Multi Metering works well in a range of situtations, but it is easily fooled by contrasty and bright scenes, often resulting in underexposed images.
It doesn't take much to cause this, any typical daylight scene with a bright area, such as an overcast sky or white paintwork will result in underexposure. It pays to keep one eye on the histogram whilst shooting and applying exposure compensation where necessary. Centre weighted and spot metering modes are also included.
The tiny pop up flash folds out to around an inch above the camera, which should reduce any incidence of red-eye in images. It isn't very powerful, only having a guide number of 6m at ISO100, but is useful for fill-in at close quarters.
Unfortunately, care needs to be taken when using this flash with wide angle lenses, as the spread of light isn't adequate to cover the 14mm f/2.5 lens supplied as a kit, leading to a hotspot of flash in the centre of images.
As there is a hotshoe an optional Panasonic flash can be mounted on camera, providing more power and flexibility.
Panasonic's Auto White Balance strikes a good balance between correcting colour casts and leaving a little of the ambience in images. For those times that you need absolute colour accuracy, the custom preset setting works well, so long as you can find a neutral surface to take the reading from.
Images straight from the camera are generally sharp and packed with detail. Panasonic's Venus Engine FHD processing chip does a grand job of producing decent JPEGs. There is little to choose between them in terms of detail when the raw files are processed using the supplied Silkypix software.
As there are no film modes on the GF2, it does pay to shoot raw images, even if it is just to fine tune the contrast, or change the colour saturation. Colours straight from the camera can often be quite subdued - unlike some earlier Panasonic cameras.
Sensitivity settings up to ISO 6400 are available and as the ISO is increased, so does the level of noise. Although the GF2 isn't a bad performer compared to larger sensor cameras of a couple of years ago, it can't really hold its own against the latest competition at higher ISO settings. Noise becomes significant above ISO 800, with speckles of coloured noise visible, especially in shadow areas.
In fact noise is quite prevalent throughout the sensitivity range, which can reduce the headroom available for editing raw files. Luckily images have good dynamic range straight from the camera. The roll off into blown highlights is very pleasant, giving images a wonderful print film look.
Finally, as part of our Panasonic GF2 review we've implemented a new testing procedure. To test the Panasonic GF2 image quality, we shot our resolution chart, each with the Panasonic LUMIX G 14mm f/2.5 ASPH lens.
If you download the images and view the central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, at ISO 100 the GF2 is capable of resolving up to 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in it's highest quality JPEG files. Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
IS0 100 - 24 (Click here to view full-res version)
ISO 200 - 22 (Click here to view full-res version)
ISO 400 - 22 (Click here to view full-res version)
ISO 800 - 22 (Click here to view full-res version)
ISO 1600 - 22 (Click here to view full-res version)
ISO 3200 - 22 (Click here to view full-res version)
ISO 6400 - 22 (Click here to view full-res version)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2: GF2 vs its rivals
Here is a quick look at some of the Panasonic GF2's main rivals and how it stacks up.
Olympus Pen EP-2
This 12.1 megapixel Micro Four Thirds camera has classic styling and exceptional build quality, but at a price.
Our score: Awaiting testing
Includes a 14.6 megapixel CMOS sensor, a built in electronic viewfinder and a three inch AMOLED display.
Our score: 4/5
Sony's 14.2 megapixel NEX-5 is currently the most compact interchangeable lens camera to house an APS-C sensor.
Our score: 4/5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2: Sample Photos
30secs at f/8, ISO 100 (Click here to view full-res version)
0.5sec at f/4, ISO 100 (Click here to view full-res version)
1/8sec at f/8, ISO 100 (Click here to view full-res version)
1/200sec at f/4.5, ISO 100 (Click here to view full-res version)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2: Verdict
This camera's strong points are the small size and excellent build quality, which make this camera a joy to use when travelling. The 14mm pancake lens kit slips easily into a jacket pocket ready for use as and when you require it.
When the GF2 is used within its comfort zone, it can yield images with excellent clarity and tonal range, making this an ideal travel landscape camera. Images taken at higher ISOs aren't terrible, but noise levels are higher than its DSLR competition, which may put off those looking for a camera for activities such as street photography in low light.
Those who use touch screen devices such as the iPhone should feel right at home (though the GF2's screen isn't quite as responsive), whereas users of more traditional cameras and devices may find it a little frustrating at first. Still I think the compromise is worth it for the slimmer, sleeker design. It's just a shame features that will suit the enthusiast more, such as film modes and flash compensation have been cut too.
With the Panasonic GF2 price at £600 for the 14-42mm lens kit, and GF2 price of £630 with the 14mm pancake lens, the camera may seem a little expensive. Prices at the launch do tend to be artificially high, as the GF2 price is around £100 dearer than the competition from Sony, for example. If the price drops in time, it could make a decent value choice for those who enjoy the simple design and touch screen interface.
The excellent build, sleek, compact design and touch screen interface are very appealing. Images are great at low sensitivities, unfortunately the performance at higher ISOs doesn't equal the latest competition. If the Panasonic GF2's image quality was assessed soley on the basis of the camera's output in good light and at low sensitivity settings, it would garner a significantly higher score.
However, the real world isn't like the perfectly illuminated photographic studio and we must look at how the camera performs in the range of conditions in which an enthusiast or novice may wish to use it. Those who want a camera to record well lit landscapes encountered on holiday or when enjoying a bike ride will be pleased with the results.
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