PMA 2009: We've been lucky enough to get a brief look at Panasonic's new HD video-capable DMC-GH1 Micro Four Thirds camera, and have put together a short hands-on report detailing the changes from the DMC-G1, and specifically how the camera's new video functionality is supported.

Panasonic DMC-GH1 brief hands-on

The imminent arrival of the DMC-GH1 had been widely expected in the run-up to PMA 2009 (though its name hadn't - many were expecting a 'G1-HD'). Now that the camera has finally shown up it does, as expected, resemble little more than a DMC-G1 with various extra bits and pieces added on, all in support of its hotly-anticipated HD video functionality. But unlike recent DSLRs that have offered video capability, the GH1 is capable of continuous autofocus in movie mode using its purpose-designed contrast-detect AF system, and Panasonic has supported this with the all-new, specially optimized Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm F4.0-5.8 lens; this should make it a far more usable option for users looking for a fully functional stills/video hybrid.

Seen from the front, the camera body is almost identical to the G1, with the 'HD' and 'AVCHD' badges the main giveaway that this camera offers just that little bit more than anything we've seen before from an interchangeable-lens digital stills camera (according to Panasonic, the AVCHD format can record almost twice the footage in HD quality than the conventional Motion JPEG, using the same SD card). However look a little bit closer at the camera from almost any other angle, and you soon find that the various requirements for HD video recording have been cleverly squeezed into the existing G1 body design. The view below shows the most obvious additions - the new video record button and the built-in stereo microphone.

Dedicated video recording button

A feature we've seen before on certain zoom compacts, the DMC-GH1 sports a dedicated video recording button, which is conveniently placed on the top corner of the camera for operation by the right thumb. This means the user can seamlessly switch between stills and video, without ever missing a shot through having to change the camera's mode.

From the top - built-in stereo microphone, and video on the mode dial

Two new features have been added to the top of the camera. Most obviously, a microphone is now positioned on top of the housing for the pop-up flash, allowing the camera to record sound in stereo during movie capture. The mode dial also has a new video position, which gives more direct manual control over the movie capture settings.

Connectivity - external microphone and HDMI sockets.

Two new connection sockets have been added to the camera body; the first is a standard mini-HDMI (type C) connector, which allows connection to a compatible TV for the playback of video clips. We were also impressed by the provision of the external mic socket, which allows sound to be recorded nearer the source and using a good quality microphone. This should help reduce wind noise and any background camera operation sounds, that can spoil the soundtracks on some videos.

In hand

Here's how the camera looks in your hand; the movie record button falls just beneath the right thumb.

All-new sensor design

The other big news about the GH1 is its new sensor, which is not the same as that seen in the G1. With 14Mp total resolution, the camera can shoot at four different aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1) with a similar pixel count and angle of view, by using different portions of the sensor in a system similar to that first seen on the DMC-LX3.