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Operation and controls

Putting aside the new touch screen controls for a moment, the physical controls and overall operation of the G2 are very similar to the G1 and GH1. This is no bad thing, as those cameras (and this one) offer excellent handling that isn't harmed at all by the slightly smaller form factor (unlike the GF1 and Olympus Pen models, which arguably sacrifice handling for size). The extensive external controls are complemented by an easy to master on-screen interface that might not look great, but does a decent job of providing logical access to the comprehensive feature set.

The on-body controls have moved around a little but are similar enough that anyone upgrading from a G1 will soon feel at home. Unlike many entry-level DSLRs the G2's compact body is covered in buttons and dials that offer a surprisingly traditional approach to picture-taking. But don't worry too much about messing things up by playing with the many functions: the excellent iA (Intelligent Auto) mode is always just a click away, thanks to the prominent new button near the main mode dial.

A summary of the physical control changes over the last generation is listed below:

  • Film Mode moved from top plate to left arrow key
  • Focus pattern moved from 4-way controller to new lever on top plate
  • Q. Menu button moved from top plate to rear
  • Focus area selector moved to top dial (left side)
  • iA mode moved from mode dial to button on top plate
  • New Movie button on top plate

Rear of camera controls

The G2's crowded rear panel is similar to the G1/GH1, with one extra button (Q.Menu, moved from the top panel) and the newly positioned 'click & turn' control dial (used to change exposure settings and navigate menus).

Top left is the EVF/LCD button to toggle between framing with the viewfinder and the LCD screen (only really used if you turn off the eye-detecting auto switch function). To the right of the viewfinder we have the AE/AF lock and play mode buttons, and the control dial. Below the thumb grips sit the Q.MENU and DISPLAY (for changing the amount and type of information overlaid on the live view and playback displays) buttons.

Below this is the ubiquitous four-way controller. Each of the directional keys has a dedicated function in record mode, giving direct access to ISO speed, film mode and white balance, plus a customizable function button (Fn). Bottom right of the back is the depth-of-field preview button (which doubles up as a Delete button in playback mode).

In most cases the functionality of the external buttons is replicated in the quick menu (invoked by pressing the Q.Menu button or touching the icon on the touchscreen).

Top of camera controls

Anyone who hates menu-driven control systems will love the G2. Like its predecessor the top plate is densely-packed with knobs and dials that further enhance the 'traditional camera' impression created by the styling of the body itself. The big changes here are the inclusion of a movie clip button (for capturing quick movies when in one of the stills photography modes) and an illuminated iA button that instantly overrides any manual settings and puts the camera into its (remarkably reliable) 'idiot proof' Intelligent Auto mode.

On the left shoulder the focus mode dial from the G1 now doubles as a focus area selector. The main mode dial has lost its iA mode position (replaced by the Motion Picture mode) but is otherwise identical to the G1. The G2 offers a wide range of shooting modes from the fully manual to the fully automatic.

  • Program Auto (with Shift)
  • Aperture Priority Auto
  • Shutter Priority Auto
  • Manual
  • Custom (3 memories)
  • Movie-P
  • SCN (Sunset, Party, Baby 1, Baby 2, Pet, Peripheral Defocus)
  • Night portrait (with four options)
  • Close up (4 options)
  • Sports (4 options)
  • Scenery (4 options)
  • Portrait (5 options)
  • MyColor mode (custom control over color, saturation and contrast)

On-screen controls and menus

Aside from the new touch screen features, the G2's interface and menu system is very similar to the G1, GF1 and GH1. The menus have been jigged around a little, but for anyone already using a Panasonic moving between the G2 and any of its predecessors will be an almost entirely seamless process. Those who haven't will probably find the sheer wealth of options (and the fact there are often several ways to do the same thing) a little overwhelming at first, but if you like a lot of control at your fingertips (with a decent amount of customizability thrown in for good measure), the G2 won't disappoint.

For a more in-depth look at the various record mode functions (including the clever shutter speed preview feature) check out the displays section of the Panasonic G1 review.

Record mode display options

The G2 offers three display options in record mode. The first shows only the most basic shooting information (mode, exposure settings, AE compensation, flash mode) - and then only when you half-press the shutter. The second shows full shooting information along the top and bottom edge of the frame. Most of the icons correspond to functions accessible via the Quick Menu (see below).
The third option is a status panel. Press the Q.Menu button and use the front dial (or arrow keys) to select the setting you want to change. Press the dial to change the setting. It's a fast and efficient way to use the camera. Note that the EVF continues to show the live view when you're using the Status Panel display mode on the main screen, so you can use the camera much as you would a conventional SLR. This screen can also be controlled by touch (see below). As in previous G cameras you can choose between two different display styles for the electronic viewfinder and screen independently. The second option, 'Finder Mode' adds a black border, making the information at the bottom a little easier to see.
 
The display in the viewfinder in this mode is a little different, being designed to mimic a conventional SLR. The icons are all green (unless selected). Note that the screen is 3:2 and the viewfinder is 4:3, and you won't seen the black bar across the top in the viewfinder when the image is shot in 4:3 mode (or in 4:3 or 3:2 on the rear screen).  

Quick Menu

The G2 has the same Quick Menu you'll find on all Panasonic G cameras (and many of its compacts). It allows you to cycle through the various on-screen icons and change their settings directly. The menus displayed are slightly different depending on the display mode chosen, and if you're using the touch screen, but the mode of operation is always the same. You can read more about the Quick Menu (and all other aspects of control and operation) in the G1, GH1 and GF1 reviews.

Direct access buttons

Buttons such as white balance and ISO display a dedicated mini menu on the LCD monitor/EVF which allow you to see all the options available, at which point you use the command dial or arrow keys to change the setting. New in the G2 is the ability to simply touch the screen to change settings once you've brought up the menu with the button on the body.

Setting ISO after pressing the ISO button. Note that you can use the touch screen or the more conventional arrows/dial method to select the setting required. Changing film mode also allows you to quickly adjust image parameters (contrast, sharpness, saturation, noise reduction).

Touch screen

The biggest new feature of the G2 is undoubtedly its touch-sensitive screen. The underlying screen is still the same high-resolution 460,000 dot LCD on a tilt and swivel mount that appeared in the G1 but it now has a pressure-sensitive layer added. As mentioned earlier in this preview, all the original hard-button functionality of the G1 is still there and can be used without the touch-screen interfering.

Everything the touch-screen brings is an addition and many of them prove to be rather welcome additions, based on our everyday use during this review. Users of manual focus lenses are likely to appreciate the ability to just press the area of the screen they want magnified, for instance. Overall, though, we didn't find ourselves using the touchscreen anywhere near as much as we had expected. This is partly down to personal preference (after decades doing it 'the old way' a touchscreen on a camera like this just doesn't feel right), but mostly because the G2 has such excellent physical controls that it's almost completely superfluous. We found that accessing menus (such as the Q.Menu) was a little hit and miss (the screen is too small and the icons too close together), but the ability to pick a focus point just by pointing (especially with moving subjects, on a tripod or when shooting movies) is a very useful feature.

Ultimately, the touch screen provides some cool tricks and is certainly fun to play with, but literally the only thing we ever used it for was AF point selection (when shooting a fast-moving toddler or when working on a tripod). It adds little - or nothing - to the handling or ergonomics in most shooting situations (in fact we found trying to use it often got in the way of actually taking pictures), but the ability to effectively point to something on the screen and have the camera focus on it and take a picture (or track it as it moves around the screen) is incredibly useful.

And of course a lot of this is personal opinion - if you've never used an SLR but are a big user of a touch screen phone then I'm sure you'll feel right at home with the the G2 (it's not iPhone responsive, but it's a lot better than most we've tried). There doesn't appear to be much of a premium charged for it, and it doesn't replace any of the existing controls, so on balance, has to be considered a good thing.

Touch the screen anywhere to focus. Sliding your finger up or down the scale that then appears on the right changes the size of the focus area. The same actions can be performed via the four-way controller and control dial if you prefer. Two icons that usually appear on the right of the screen give access to a touch-sensitive version of the Q.Menu or engage touch-shutter mode that focuses and takes a picture when you press the screen. Both options can be switched off if you prefer.
The touch-sensitive Q.Menu allows you to press any of the icons along the top or bottom of the screen. Touch-sensitive regions are clearly marked out in dark gray. A description of the selected setting appears for just over three seconds, obscuring half the icons. The options include a well-implemented exposure compensation scale, though it's rather easier to make large adjustments than it is to make the 0.3EV corrections you're most likely to make. (The control wheel can still be used, though).
Another display option is the interactive display panel as seen in other G series cameras. Only on the G2, pressing on any of the options allows you to change it. Each option gets its own screen with options arranged on a plain background, except for White Balance, which appears over the preview so you can see its effect.
The exposure 'dial' doesn't work so well. You have to press on the center to activate it (even if exp. comp. is already selected via the control dial), then slide your finger around the circle to change the amount. However, the design is directly adapted from older G series cameras, where it wasn't a problem that touching the edge of the circle means your finger completely obscures the display of how much exposure comp you've applied. In playback mode you can scroll through the images by swiping your finger across the screen (right-to-left to see the previous image, which seems like the wrong way round, somehow). Alternatively, pressing the screen in a single place zooms into the image, allowing you to roam around the image by moving your finger.

Record review & play displays

The G2 provides four different display modes in playback, press the DISPLAY button to cycle through them. You can have blinking highlights (this in an option you have to turn on in the setup menu) and RGB histograms and the usual array of shooting information.

1. Full screen image with no information 2. Full screen image with information overlaid. Press the down arrow to mark an image as a 'Favorite'.
3: Small image, full shooting information 4. Small image, basic shooting information and R,G,B and Luminance histograms
Playback zoom (up to 16x) can be activated by turning the control dial to the right or simply by touching the screen (you can also scroll around the magnified image by simply sliding your finger across the screen). Turning the dial to the left allows you to choose from 12 (4x3) or 30 (6x4) thumbnails or use a calendar view to find images shot on a specific date.
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