Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Conclusion - Pros
- Reliably good image quality up to ISO 800, usable up to ISO 3200
- Accurate metering and focus
- Good JPEG resolution (though stick to raw for best results)
- Fast and responsive in use
- Good ergonomics all around, excellent build quality, nice handling
- Touch screen adds a couple of very useful features, doesn't replace extensive external controls
- Very useful status panel and quick menu allow direct access to many important settings
- Intuitively structured menu system
- Highly customizable - up to three custom modes and many user-definable options
- Decent screen (articulated) and excellent, large electronic viewfinder
- Very flexible AF-system with movable AF-area and very effective AF tracking / face detection
- Fastest contrast detect AF to date (with kit lenses), on par with entry-level DSLRs
- Very usable manual focus mode (including new distance scale)
- Small, but welcome, improvements to on-body controls and functionality
- Lots of cool features - and the video mode missing from the G1
Conclusion - Cons
- Out-of-camera JPEG color not as appealing as best competitors
- New kit lens not as good as predecessor
- ISO 6400 verging on the unusable
- High ISO default noise reduction a bit too high
- Dynamic range still not as good as best APS-C competitors
- User interface looking a bit dated (and possibly a bit daunting to the first time user)
- Some touch-screen menus a bit fiddly
It might well be a case of evolution, not revolution, but the G2 is a solid upgrade to an already accomplished camera that addresses the single biggest criticism aimed at its predecessor (the lack of video capture) and throws in some neat new features to boot. The most obvious is, of course, the adoption of touch screen technology - a first in this type of camera - which revolutionizes focus point selection and provides an alternative way to controlling many of the G2's functions, but there are other, less headline-grabbing refinements (such as moving the control wheel to the back of the camera) that improve the already excellent handling.
Everything we liked about the G1 (the excellent viewfinder and articulated screen, high resolution output, fast, reliable focus system, solid metering, comprehensive control set) applies equally to its successor, though this applies to many of the demerits too; another year down the line and the G2's sensor (as found in virtually all Micro Four Thirds cameras) is beginning to show its age, specifically in high ISO and dynamic range terms.
Unless you regularly shoot at ISO 1600 or higher the G2 is, like the other Lumix system cameras, capable of superb results in a wide range of shooting conditions. Technically, there's not a lot to say; the G2 produces sharp, high resolution output, decent noise control in the middle of the range (with a range of NR options), generally pleasing 'out of camera' color and tonality. Photographically the G2 simply cannot be faulted; the metering is incredibly hard to fool, the focus fast and accurate and the iA (intelligent auto) mode - complete with dedicated button - can be relied on to produce well optimized 'point and shoot' results even in novice hands.
For beginners we value this kind of 'set and forget' reliability more highly than fancy menus and built-in guides, and this is why we'd still recommend the G2 over some competitor products more obviously aimed at the 'first time user' market. To tell the truth the G2's user interface isn't that pretty, and I'd imagine the novice user might well find it way too complex to dive into, but at least the options for more advanced users are there, and are relatively logically arranged.
The downsides are those associated with this sensor; the high ISO performance (over ISO 800) simply can't match the best APS-C SLRs (or the Sony NEX), and the rather tight dynamic range means that highlight clipping is sometimes unavoidable (though this is partly mitigated by the excellent metering). We're not convinced the new noise reduction system is an improvement over the last Lumix generation: you certainly get less noise, but you also lose more pixel-level detail. And, for all its user-friendliness, this is still a camera that will only deliver its full potential if you shoot raw.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that the new cheaper kit lens is a step backwards compared to its predecessor. Stopped down it's as least as good as any kit lens on the market, but wide open it just isn't very impressive at all. At normal print sizes you're unlikely to be troubled by the change - and of course there are plenty of excellent MFT lenses available (not least the lovely 20mm pancake) - but its a real disappointment to see corner cutting like this having a negative impact on image quality.
This is one area where the G2 scores points over the smaller Micro Four Thirds cameras (such as the GF1 or Olympus E-P1) and the Sony NEX. The faux-SLR styling gives you something solid to hold onto and provides enough space on the body for a selection of direct controls that would put most entry-level SLRs to shame. And yet, with the 20mm pancake lens attached, the G2 really is small enough to carry around all day without getting in your way. It's fun to use too, and I found myself shooting even more than normal during the couple of months I spent with the G2.
How much difference the touch-screen interface makes will, I suspect, vary widely from user to user. The ability to manipulate the focus area directly is incredibly useful (especially when shooting on a tripod) and, in conjunction with the excellent focus tracking, is surprisingly good at keeping up with fast-moving subjects (such as sugar-fueled toddlers). It's also a natural fit with the 'control panel' display, but for (almost) everything else I found it simply doesn't add anything to the user experience (and in fact I didn't use it for menus at all).
This is partly because the G2 is so well equipped with buttons and switches (and the touch-screen doesn't replace any of them), partly because the user interface itself doesn't really seem to be designed for use with a touch screen. The best touch computing platforms (such as the iPhone) are designed from first principles to be controlled using a fingertip, whereas the G2's has small icons that are so close together that you start to appreciate why Panasonic included a mini-stylus in the box... at which point most sane people would give up and go back to using buttons. Ultimately - focus point selection aside - we can't help concluding that the touch-screen interface feels more than a little 'bolted on'.
The final word
Despite the limitations of its sensor at higher ISO settings mentioned earlier, as an alternative to an entry-level (or mid-range) DSLR the G2 delivers with a dose of panache. It's an easy camera to like and represents an evolutionary - but significant - upgrade to the ground-breaking G1 (the first of its kind). Since the G1 ushered in the era of the mirrorless system camera the Panasonic GF1, Olympus PEN and Sony NEX have taken the concept in ever more compact direction, and Samsung has launched a direct competitor (the NX10), but the G1 (and now G2) still has a lot to offer. With excellent handling, a comprehensive feature set and excellent performance it feels and acts like a 'real' camera, but it also works surprisingly well as a superior 'point and shoot' for the novice user too.
In conclusion then, the G2 is very much the camera we'd hoped the G1 would be. The touch-screen is a nice (if often redundant) bonus, and if the sensor and kit lens was just a little better we'd be giving it our very highest award. As it is, I'd have no qualms about recommending it to a friend, and whilst it lacks the glamorous design or ultra compact dimensions of some mirrorless system cameras, it is a far better all-rounder and has the real, unarguable advantage of an excellent viewfinder that you'll be thankful for when the sun shines brightly. My only final comment would be that if you can live without the video mode, right now the G1 is an absolute bargain by comparison, so don't write it off just yet.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The G2 is very much the camera the G1 should have been. The addition of a decent HD movie mode, some cool touchscreen features and minor enhancements throughout turn an already good camera into a great one. Image quality is excellent (especially at lower ISOs and when shooting raw), handling superb, and responsiveness impressive. A fun, functional, and friendly alternative to a traditional SLR, the G2 packs a powerful photographic punch too.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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