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Review Panasonic GH2

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The Panasonic GH2 was introduced at the end of 2010 as the successor of the successful Panasonic GH1. Currently, the Panasonic GH2 is the latest member of the GH series. This series of Panasonic's most expensive micro-43 camera's, differentiates itself from other Panasonic micro-43 camera's through its typical SLR-like design and its video features. Everyone is hoping for a Panasonic GH3 in the near future, but it will probably last a year before the Panasonic GH3 can be bought in the Netherlands. Panasonic has had large periods between the announcement of a camera and the actual introduction.

Panasonic GH2 test, test Panasonic GH2, Panasonic GH3

 

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Panasonic GH2, Olympus M 75-300 @300 mm, f/8, 1/800 sec, 160 ISO

The targeted customers for the Panasonic GH2 will be serious videographers who like to use interchangeable lenses. But it's also an interesting offer for photographers. In this review we limit ourselves to the photographic performance of the Panasonic GH2.
Despite its small size, this camera handles remarkably well. The camera grip is less slippery than the camera grip of the Panasonic GH1, which is an improvement. The design of the camera body is like the design of a traditional SLR, only smaller and lighter in weight. Yet there is no mirror in this camera; it uses an electronic viewfinder (EVF) in stead. The camera is solid and well built. Nevertheless you can not compare it with tank like built camera's such as the Canon 5D MK2 or the Nikon D700.
the Panasonic GH2's sensor is different in size. The multi-aspect Live MOS sensor is round in stead of rectangular. This enables you to vary the image ratio of 4:3, 2:3, 1:1 en 16:9, without the loss of megapixels.

Imatest has been used for the measurements. The results can be viewed in our Panasonic GH2 test report. For the test method and explanation of terms, see the FAQ section.

Panasonic GH2 versus Panasonic GH1

  • The Panasonic GH2 has a multi-aspect Live MOS sensor with 16 actually used megapixels, the Panasonic GH1 has a 12 megapixel 4:3 Live MOS sensor
  • The Panasonic GH2 has a larger ISO range: 160 - 12.800 vs 100-3.200 for the Panasonic GH1
  • The sensor read-out of the Panasonic GH2 is faster, which improves the speed and quality of the AF and the EVF
  • The Panasonic GH2 features 1080p video at 50 frames per second, in stead of 25 fps
  • The Panasonic GH2 has a Touch sensitive 3.0" TFT LCD monitor
  • The lay-out and functionality of the buttons has been changed at several details with respect to the Panasonic GH1. This will only be noticed by someone who switches from a Panasonic GH1 to a Panasonic GH2.

Panasonic GH2 versus Canon 60D, Nikon 7000, Sony NEX 7

  • The Panasonic GH2 has a smaller sensor than its 3 competitors, who all use an aps-C sized sensor
  • The Panasonic GH2 offers better video quality, especially if you use the GH2 hack by Vitaliy Kiselev
  • The Sony NEX-7 has 24 megapixels and is built more ruggedly in comparison with the Panasonic GH2
 

Viewfinder, LCD screen and menu

The electronic viewfinder of the Panasonic GH2 was the best available at the market at the time of the introduction of the camera. Now the EVF has better rivals like the EVF's of the Sony NEX7 and Nikon V1. An electronic viewfinder has several advantages over a traditional viewfinder. You don't have to change the viewfinder's groundglass in order to see a grid in the viewfinder. If you wish to overexpose or underexpose, you can see the effect directly in your viewfinder. But the dynamic range of an EVF is limited, which gives you blown out higlights and black in stead of dark tones. If you move your camera fast, the EVF image might adjust too slow ('smearing').

The viewfinder magnification of the Panasonic GH2 is 70%, which equals the viewfinder magnification of full frame sensor camera's like the Canon 5D MK2 and Nikon D3. The LCD screen is a tilt-shivel screen. The camera menu is well structured and easy to use. The control buttons on the camera are placed well and offer you all the features you'll need for routine use.

Sharpness: resolution

The Panasonic GH2 offers, combined with the Panasonic 14-140 mm kitlens, a jpg file with a resolution of 1800 LW/PH, which is a good score. The jpg files of the Panasonic GH2 show a higher resolution than the jpg files of full frame sensor cameras like the Canon 5D MK2! A RAW file, after a standard development applied in Lightroom, delivers a higher perceived sharpness and an average resolution of 2000 LW/PH. For a RAW file this is an average score, lower than the resolution of full frame camera's. It's no surprise thta RAW images of the Panasonic GH2 don't realize the same resolution as the Nikon D700 (2300 LW/PH) or Canon 5D MK2 (2800 LW/PH). These two camera's have in comparison with the Panasonic GH2 such low noise images, that RAW conversion yields more gain in quality if you develop the RAW files in Lightroom.

Click on this image to get an impression of a 200 ISO jpg Panasonic GH2 file.

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Dynamic Range

The total dynamic range of the Panasonic GH2 is less than the total dynamic range of camera's with 14 bit sensors, like the Canon 60D or the Nikon D5100. This is an image of a few small houses in strong backlight. The Panasonic GH2 shows clipping of both shadows and highlights. No matter which exposure setting you choose, there will always be some information taht will be lost.
The RAW files of Panasonic GH2 are less suitable for restoring overexposed highlights in comparison with RAW files of Canon or Nikon SLR's. Whenever you fear overexposed highlights, you better under-expose 2/3 stops.
The testresults for the dynamic range are shown in the Panasonic GH2 test report.
hdr3200a

More important than the total dynamic range, is the usable dynamic range, where the signal to noise ratio is taken into account. Here you see the same image of houses already shown above, albeit this time heavily edited to lighten up the shadows. Because of this treatment, a lot of noise emerges. The same scene, pictured with camera with a large usable dynamic range, like the D700, pictured under the same conditions, looks much better.

Move your mouse over this image to compare this heavily edited Panasonic GH2 image with a Nikon D700 RAW file that received the same traetment.

hdrgh2

Noise

 

Here you see a sample of a 1600 ISO jpg image, made at the Groninger museum. Shown at 100% on your screen, some noise will be visible. But even witout using further moise reduction, you can make a good print out of it.
The test results for noise can be viewed in the Panasonic GH2 test report.

Click on the image in order to get an impression of the noise in a 1600 ISO jpg file.

panasonic-gh2-1600isomini

Some camera's have good high ISO performance, as long as there is a lot of light. In low light, noise will detoriate the high iso image. Using the Panasonic GH2 in low light, you still don't have to bother about noise in 1600 ISO files. Noise reduction is well done. Here you see a picture of a moving lighted installation in the Groninger museum.

Click on the image in order to get an impression of the noise in a 1600 ISO jpg file.

panasonic-gh2-1600isodarkmini

Color accuracy

The Panasonic GH2 RAW files show an average color accuray at daylight (Delta E 94 = 9,5). The same accounts for the color accuracy of jpg files (Delta E94) van 8. Manual correction of white balance greatly improves the color accuracy.

In tungsten light, the auto white balance of the Panasonic GH2 wasn't perfect either, as is shown in our Panasonic GH2 test report. Both the color accuracy of jpg files (mean Delta E94 = 12,8) and RAW files (Delta E 94 = 11,4) yielded images with a strong orange cast, as you can clearly see in the image of a white lamb.

 

panasonicgh2-sheep

Move your mouse over the image, made under tungsten light, in order to see how the color accuarcy improves after manual white balance correction.

Taking your images in RAW and correcting the whitebalance afterwards, enhances the color accuracy very much (Delta E 94 =4).

Built in flash

The Panasonic GH2 has a built-in pop-up flash, but we haven't tested it.

Autofocus speed

The Panasonic GH2 focusses very fast. Even in combination with telephoto lenses like the Panasonic 100-300 and the Olympus M 75-300 @300 mm. The autofocus of the Panasonic GH2 is equally fast as the AF of SLR's, if you aim at static subjects. Bij het fotograferen van bewegende onderwerpen verliest de GH2 het nog (zie autofocus tracking). De Panasonic GH2 autofocus is tijdens het maken van video de snelste in zijn soort.

Autofocus accuracy

 

The autofocus of the Panasonic GH2 is not only fast, but also accurate. The Panasonic GH2 focusses using the sensor signal directly, so this is not surprising. SLR's use a AF sensor which is located at another location than the sensor, which not only can result in back focus or front focus, but also in higher variations in the AF accuracy.

Autofocus tracking

Autofocus tracking is not the strongest feature of camera's with contrast autofocus. Traditional SLR AF systems are able to see whether a subject comes closer or goes uarther away. The AF tracking of the Panasonic GH2 was too slow to make sharp images of a slow moving (1 km/hr) model train.

Conclusion

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Amateur
Year:2010
Overall score:6.3
Resolution:6.5
Dynamic Range:5.9
Noise:7.5
Color:6.8
Whitebalance:8.5
Megapixels:16
Sensor:M43
Sensor magn.:0.71
fps:5
Weight (gram):444
MSRP NL (Euro):900

See our list of tested cameras to compare the performance of this camera with other cameras.

Pros

Cons

  • High resolution and low noise
  • Fast autofocus for static subjects
  • Variable image ratio (1:1, $:3, 2:3, 16:9) without losing megapixels
  • Video kwaliteit en instelmogelijkheden
  • Color rendition / auto white balance
  • Limited Dynamic Range
  • Autofocus tracking of limited use

The Panasonic GH2 performs well if you evaluate ease of use and image quality. For someone who switches the image ratio, this camera seems a good choice. The number of megapixels remains constant, no matter which ratio (1:1, $:3, 2:3, 16:9) you choose. The resolution of jpg files and the signal to noise ratio are strong image quality features. The automatic white balance seems lees accurate, but after a correction of the white balance the color rendition proved very accurate. The dynamic range of the sensor is, as expected, the achilles heel of this camera. In situations whre the risk of bleached out highlights exists, it is better to underexpose 2/3 stops in stead of trying to recover the highlights afterwards.
In this review we didn't examine the video qualities if the Panasonic GH2, which proves this camera short. Read the reviews in the list above! Someone who waits a little longer, when the Panasonic GH3 will be announced, will be able to buy the Panasonic GH2 at a very low price if you consider its qualities.

The measurement results can be viewed in our Panasonic GH2 test report.

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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