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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Review

February 2011 | By Andy Westlake, Richard Butler


Review based on a production GF2 with Firmware 1.0

Panasonic unveiled its first compact-body 'rangefinder-like' Micro Four Thirds camera in September 2009, in the shape of the DMC-GF1. This quickly gained a following as arguably the best 'enthusiast' camera of its type, with its solid feature set, fast reactions and body bristling with external controls. But since then the market has moved on and new contenders have appeared on the scene, with Sony's NEX cameras in particular making a splash due to their impressive miniaturization and excellent image quality. Under this new-found pressure of competition, the GF has slimmed-down and emerged with a new, sleeker look.

The DMC-GF2 is essentially a smaller, externally-simpler version of the GF1 that's acquired many of the feature upgrades we first saw on the G2 (most notably the touch-sensitive screen) plus Full HD video. Its body is smaller in every dimension than its predecessor's, making it very nearly as petite as the Sony NEX-5. In the process, though, it's shed a significant number of those external controls that until now have been the hallmark of the G series - most obviously the exposure mode dial, but also the drive-mode lever that sat beneath it, along with several of the buttons on the back. This places rather greater reliance on the touchscreen for quick operation compared to the G2, and Panasonic has redesigned the interface (and the Quick Menu in particular) to facilitate this.

These changes all signal a clear repositioning of the GF series in the market. Whereas the GF1 was unashamedly a camera for enthusiast photographers, the GF2 is now aimed much more at compact camera owners looking for an upgrade. According to Panasonic the design emphasis has been on offering creative controls as opposed to just providing a simple, unintimidating camera which happens to contain a larger sensor.

Despite this, there's still a smattering of clear updates and improvements over the previous model, and while they're generally more evolutionary than revolutionary, this mainly reflects the maturity of the GF1 design. Most notably, the GF2 gains Full HD movie recording capability (1080i at 60fps from 30p capture) that is supported by a stereo microphone on the top plate. In spec terms, at least, this makes for the most capable interchangeable lens camera movie capability aside from the GH2 (which offers 1080i at 60fps from 60p capture). On the photographic side the GF2 inherits the G2's ability to shoot at 2.6 fps while maintaining live view, along with its ISO 6400 maximum sensitivity, improved Auto ISO program and a dedicated iAuto button on the top plate. Meanwhile 3D fans will undoubtedly be delighted by its support for the H-FT012 lens.

Much of the key spec, though, remains unchanged, including the stalwart (i.e. ageing) 12Mp Four Thirds sensor and the 460k dot 3" 3:2 aspect ratio LCD. The hot shoe and associated EVF port is still present and correct, alongside the little pop-up flash, and thankfully Panasonic hasn't been tempted to discard the clickable thumbwheel that operates the primary exposure controls. However the pared-down body design inevitably means the camera is powered by a new, slightly smaller battery.

One slightly unexpected marketing change is that the GF2 isn't available bundled with the excellent 20mm F1.7 pancake lens, but instead comes with a choice of either the latest 14-42mm zoom, the diminutive 14mm F2.5 pancake, or in a twin lens kit with both. We're a bit disappointed by this decision, to be honest - yes the 14mm gives the smallest possible package, which has undoubted marketing value, but as far as we're concerned the stop-faster 20mm is a much more useful all-rounder. The GF2 comes in a choice of colors depending on market (out of black, red, silver, white and pink), and for buyers of the red and black versions the 14mm lens sports a black (as opposed to steel grey) barrel.

Compared to the Sony NEX-5 and Samsung NX-100

The trimming-down exercise Panasonic has applied to the GF2 means that it's now one of the smallest cameras in its class. Here it is with the 14mm F2.5 lens sitting between two of its direct competitors each kitted out with their respective wideangle pancakes, the Sony NEX-5 + 16mm F2.8 and Samsung NX100 + 20mm F2.8.

The GF2 is now one of the smallest cameras of its type, although it's still not as tiny as the NEX-5 despite having a smaller sensor than the Sony's APS-C chip. The key difference is in the body height, though, which reflects the GF2's hot shoe and built-in flash: features which are missing from the NEX. The NX100 doesn't have a flash either.
Viewed from the top, the GF2 / 14mm F2.5 combo becomes, by a whisker, the slimmest of the three.

Compared to the Olympus E-PL2

Perhaps the GF2's most direct rival is the Olympus Pen E-PL2, which also belongs to the Micro Four Thirds system and therefore can use all the same lenses. The GF2 is smaller than the E-PL2 in every dimension, but not by all that much.

Side-by-side it's apparent that the GF2 is smaller than the E-PL2 in terms of both height and width. In compensation, though, the Olympus incorporates in-body image stabilization that works with all lenses.
Viewed from the top with the same lens attached, the GF2 is also fractionally slimmer than the E-PL2, which means it will slip in a pocket just that little bit more easily.

Compared to the Panasonic DMC-GF1

The GF2 is, unusually for Panasonic's recent releases, substantially different in design from its predecessor. Here it is sporting the 14mm F2.5 pancake alongside the GF1 wearing the 20mm F1.7. The sleeker, simplified design is immediately apparent.

From the front, what's most obvious is the reduced size of the GF2 - indeed it's not so much bigger than the LX5 (click here for a comparison). The loss of the mode dial (replaced by a stereo microphone on the top plate),the remolded grip and the closer integration of the hot shoe into the overall design all adds up to a cleaner, less boxy look. The GF2's 'Full HD' label signals the presence of its 1080i video mode.
Top-down, we can see that the GF2 is also somewhat slimmer the the GF1; Panasonic has succeeded in trimming about 4mm from the body depth.
It's at the rear, though, that the biggest changes lie. The wealth of buttons that adorned the GF1's back has been simplified right down, and the restyled four-way controller gives a more 'compact-like' appearance. The blue tinge to the GF2's LCD screen signifies a small, but welcome change - the addition of an anti-reflective coating to aid shooting in bright sunlight.

GF2 vs GF1 - major changes

Here's a brief summary of the major changes between the GF2 and GF1:

  • Smaller and lighter body
  • LCD screen now touch-sensitive, with added anti-reflective coating
  • Fewer external controls (mode dial, drive mode lever, AEL and DOF preview buttons removed)
  • Completely revamped, fully-customizable Quick Menu designed for touchscreen operation
  • Built-in stereo microphone
  • 1080i 60fps full HD video (from 25p sensor output)
  • Continuous shooting at 2.6fps with Live View
  • Increased maximum sensitivity (ISO 6400)
  • iAuto button on top plate
  • Variable 'Defocus Control' in iAuto and 'My Color' modes, with live preview
  • Full support for F-FT012 3D lens
  • No remote release socket
  • 2nd curtain sync and flash exposure compensation no longer available
  • New smaller DMW-BLD10 battery with slightly lower capacity (7.3Wh vs 9 Wh)

Specifications compared

 

Panasonic GF2

Panasonic GF1
Sensor • 4/3 type MOS ('Live MOS sensor')
• 13.06 million total pixels
• 12.1 million effective pixels
• RGB (Primary) color filter array
• 4/3 type MOS ('Live MOS sensor')
• 13.06 million total pixels
• 12.1 million effective pixels
• RGB (Primary) color filter array
Sensitivity ISO 100-6400 in 1/3EV steps ISO 100-3200 in 1/3 EV steps
Movie mode • AVCHD :
1920 x 1080i 60fps (Approx 17 or 13 Mbps)
1280 x 720p 60fps (Approx 17 or 13 Mbps)

• Motion JPEG:
1280 x 720, 30fps
848 x 480, 30fps
640 x 480, 30fps
320 x 240, 30fps

• Stereo sound (with adjustable rec volume)
• AVCHD Lite:
1280 x 720p 60 fps
(Approx 17 or 9 Mbps)



• Motion JPEG:
1280 x 720, 30fps
848 x 480, 30fps
640 x 480, 30fps
320 x 240, 30fps

• Mono sound
LCD monitor • 3.0" TFT LCD monitor
• Touch sensitive
• 460,000 dots
• Approx 100% frame coverage
• 3.0" TFT LCD monitor
• 460,000 dots
• Approx 100% frame coverage
Microphone • Built-in stereo • Built-in mono
Remote release • none • Wired remote control DMW-RSL1 (optional)
Dimensions 113 x 68 x 33 mm
(4.4 x 2.7 x 1.3 in)
119 x 71 x 36 mm
(4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in)
Weight
(body only, no card/battery)
265 g (9.4 oz.) 285 g (10 oz.)


If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / Recommendation / Ratings are based on the opinion of the reviewer, you should read the ENTIRE review before coming to your own conclusions.

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This article is Copyright 2011 and may NOT in part or in whole be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author.

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