(lens section by Andy Westlake, additional content by Richard Butler and Barnaby Britton).
Panasonic's G1 was not only the first product of the Micro Four Thirds standard, it was also the world's first interchangeable lens camera to turn its back on traditional optical viewfinder designs and take a more compact-camera-like live view approach. The outward appearance may have been pure DSLR, but the G1 is likely to be remembered as the camera that marked the beginning of the end for the half-century-long dominance of the single lens reflex design in interchangeable lens cameras.
Whilst the G1 was praised for its feature set, handling and overall responsiveness, the lack of video recording capability seemed odd at a time when movie modes were starting to appear on conventional SLRs. The irony that conventional SLR designers wanting to add a movie mode have considerably bigger hurdles to jump than Panasonic with the all-digital, mirrorless G1 was compounded by the arrival of the GH1 and GF1 models a little later - both sporting movie modes.
But that was then, and this is now, and in March Panasonic announced not one, but two successor models (both with movie mode) to the G1, splitting the line into a budget version (the G10, to be reviewed later) and the model featured here, the G2. The thinking behind the decision is simple - cutting back on the expensive stuff like a super-high resolution viewfinder allows Panasonic to compete with the cut-price DLSRs that dominate the big box retailers' shelves. The G10 adds little to the G1 beyond a (MJPEG) movie mode, but loses several of the G1's defining features (big, high res EVF, swivel screen), so for us the G2 is by far the more interesting model. In both cases the physical design and the sensor inside are essentially unchanged in this upgrade.
The G2 is an evolutionary - but nonetheless solid - upgrade to the G1, that answers some of the criticisms of the original model, adding the aforementioned video mode (720p AVCHD lite or MJPEG) and tidying up and expanding the external controls. The other big news is that the G2 gets touch screen technology (seen on several Panasonic compact DSCs) - not exactly high on our list of ways in which the G1 could be improved, but in the era of the iPhone something that undoubtedly looks good on the marketing materials, if nothing else.
Touch screen cameras aren't a particularly new idea (it could be argued that they started appearing before the touch-sensitive technology or user interfaces were really ready), but this is the first interchangeable lens camera we've seen to add the feature. Crucially, the G2's touch-screen options are in addition to, rather than a replacement for, traditional controls.
Key features at a glance
- 12.1 million (effective) pixel 4/3 LiveMOS sensor
- Venus Engine HD II with intelligent auto and Intelligent Resolution
- Movie capture (720p) in AVCHD Lite or M-JPEG formats
- 3.0" multi-angle 460,000 dot touchscreen display
- 1.4 million dot Color Electronic Viewfinder
- External mic connection
The G2 features a touch-sensitive screen that can be used to select focus point, adjust camera settings and even fire the shutter. However, no conventional controls have been removed, so it can still be operated almost exactly like a G1. An oddly-shaped stylus is provided but we found the pressure-sensitive screen responsive enough to not need it.
The G2 uses the eye sensor to the right of the electronic viewfinder (inherited from the G1), to detect when your face is close to the viewfinder and disables the touchscreen, to prevent unintended nose operation.
A new kit lens
Along with the G2 and G10, Panasonic has announced a new kit lens - a lighter, larger, less rangy 14-42mm F3.5-5.6. It loses its O.I.S image stabilization switch, passing control to the camera body. Despite the lens body being 5mm longer, a plastic mount and other materials changes have helped the 14-42mm shed 30g compared to the 14-45mm's 192g.
The optical design has changed, but the basic specification of 12 elements (1 of them aspherical), in 9 groups is retained. Panasonic says the performance should be to the same standard as its predecessor; we'll look at this later in the review.