Overall handling and operation
With one very obvious difference, the handling of the G2 is very similar to the G1 and GH1, and we would encourage you to check out those reviews here and here if you haven't already. The difference, of course is the touchscreen, which we investigated in detail in the 'operation and controls' section of this review.
Putting the touchscreen aside for a moment, the G2's overall handling experience is excellent. Although unashamedly a DSLR-inspired design, in our opinion the G2 is a much more pleasant camera to use than similarly styled 'bridge' designs like Panasonic's own DMC-FZ35. Its speed is a major factor, but also the EVF matches midrange DSLRs for size and brightness, and the refresh rate is high enough that, after a short period of time, it is easy to forget that it is an electronic rather than optical finder. Like the G1 and GH1, the G2 does live view 'right'.
In the majority of DSLRs, live view still appears a little bit bolted-on, with relatively limited functionality (e.g. autofocus) and no clear idea of its purpose. Even the more integrated systems have come at the expense of traditional DSLR capabilities, such as the viewfinder. By contrast, the G2 behaves exactly like a DSLR despite being built around live view.
Specific handling issues
The G2's headline feature is of course its touch-sensitive LCD screen. In general, we're equivocal on touchscreen technology in cameras, because there are all too many examples out there of poorly integrated screens with too little thought given to how people will actually use them. Too many of the touchscreens that we've seen on digital cameras appear to have been added to enhance their marketability, but not their functionality.
As we've discussed earlier in this review, in our opinion the G2's touchscreen is great for focus point selection but is otherwise largely superfluous in normal use (of course you have the option of completely ignoring it if you'd prefer to get to grips with physical buttons instead). We hope that Panasonic continues to develop touchscreen technology in future G-series models, but we'd be surprised if we see another implementation as conservative as this one.
The G2 is a fast and responsive camera, and in this respect it is exactly what we've come to expect from Panasonic's G-series mirrorless interchangeable lens models. The G1 was the first camera of this type that we tested, and it represented an impressive debut, but the G2 is a worthy successor. Although not notably quicker than its predecessors, the addition of a touchscreen to the G2 changes the ergonomics enough that in some situations (especially when manipulating the single and multipoint AF systems) the G2 is a faster camera to use than the G1 and GF1.
Considering that the G2 operates, in essence, like a compact digital camera, it is impressively fast in general use, and feels very snappy compared to some of its mirrorless competitors. Startup time is all but instantaneous, and from being switched off to capturing an image (including AF acquisition) takes a mere 2 seconds (approx). In single frame advance shooting, shot to shot time is less than a second. Shutter lag is unnoticeable at 0.1 seconds (approx), image review is all but instant after a picture is taken, and zooming into a captured image using the rear control dial is fast and easy. Things are rather more laggy when the touchscreen is used to zoom into captured images, but even then, we don't feel like the G2 is keeping us waiting.
In our review of the original G-series model, the G1, last year, we wrote that we'd used DSLRs that didn't feel as quick as the G1, and that holds true in the latest model as well. Everything, from initiating focus to reviewing a captured image, just feels fast.
Continuous Shooting and buffering
The G2 can manage a maximum frame rate of 3.3 fps in continuous shooting mode, matching the GH1 and fractionally faster than the G1. In raw mode, the G2 sustains approximately the same 3.3 fps maximum frame rate, but can only manage 5 images in a sequence before slowing to allow the buffer to clear. In JPEG mode, burst depths decrease slightly when slower SD cards are used.
Unlike many DSLRs (and some compacts), the G2 does not give any indication of the amount of buffer available during continuous shooting, instead once the buffer is full (using a fast card this pretty much only occurs when shooting RAW) the camera simply slows down its continuous rate. A gauge or 'water tank' type display indicating how much buffer space is available would be useful. The following figures are taken from performance with a Sandisk Extreme III SD card, at ISO 100, in manual mode (iExposure and NR turned off).
- JPEG (Fine): around 3.3 fps for 42 frames
- RAW: around 3.3 fps for 5 frames, then around 0.6 fps
- RAW + JPEG: around 2.5 fps for 4 frames, then about 0.4 fps
- Recovery time: around 4-6 seconds
Where the G2 adds a trick over its predecessors, though, is in maintaining live view at slightly slower burst rates. This works when the burst rate is set to M or L in menu; we found these options to match Panasonic's specified 2.6 fps and 2 fps rates almost exactly.
Autofocus speed / accuracy
One of the reasons that the G2 feels so snappy is that its AF speed is very impressive indeed. In normal use, the G2's AF feels almost as responsive as a typical midrange DSLR with a kit lens attached. In most shooting conditions, AF acquisition is very speedy, and almost infallibly accurate. Like all contrast-detection AF systems we've used, the G2 does display a momentary 'hunting' when AF is first initiated, but with the 20mm f1.7 pancake lens fitted it takes a mere 0.5 seconds (approx) to alter focus from its nearest focusing distance to a distant object, close to infinity. With the new 14-42mm kit lens, AF is even faster, with the result that to any practical extent, the G2 offers equal or superior AF speed with static subjects to most entry-level DSLRs.
One of the things that differentiates the G2 from its DSLR cousins, of course, is that it can offer full-speed face-detection AF. Whereas in a DSLR, face detection (if it is available at all) must be used in Live View mode, with (typically) slow AF, in the G2, it is just another AF mode, as fast as the rest. Face detection is quick to acquire faces, and as we'd expect from a contrast detection AF system, focusing is highly accurate, too.
The G2's touchscreen can be used to move the AF point/s around the screen. This takes a little getting used to, but greatly increases the versatility of the system in some situations. In single-point AF mode it is also possible to increase and decrease the size of the AF point, using an on screen slider. This is one area (one of the few, in fact) where using the G2's touch-sensitive screen is truly intuitive.
In continuous AF mode, the G2 obviously can't match the likes of the Nikon D300s or Canon EOS 7D for accuracy, but for a contrast-detection AF system, it's about as good as it gets on the market at the moment, and certainly superior to competitors like the Olympus EP-2 and Sony NEX-5, which feel twitchy by comparison.