Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2
Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Conclusion - Pros
- Compact body with relatively large imaging sensor
- Excellent build quality and handling
- Easy-to-use interface that allows excellent level of camera control even to novices
- Still one of the best-handling cameras in its class for enthusiasts
- Well-implemented touch-screen controls, including touch focus point selection
- Intelligent Auto mode includes both exposure compensation and background blur control (with live preview)
- Superb fully-customisable quick menu
- Fast and responsive operation
- Excellent raw image quality at ISOs up to 800
- 1080i video capability with built-in stereo microphone
- Useful level of control in movie mode - including background defocus and touch pull-focus
Conclusion - Cons
- Uninspiring JPEGs mean Raw conversion needed to get best results
- Auto White Balance can be too blue
- Sensor is starting to show its age (in terms of noise/dynamic range)
- Lack of flash exposure compensation means having to hope the camera gets it right
- Using iAuto button as a Function button would be a huge benefit
- No true manual movie control and no external microphone option
The GF2's biggest problem is its name, because it succeeds a highly-regarded enthusiast's camera while using a substantially simplified design. However it's important to appreciate that the GF2 really isn't intended as a GF1-owner's upgrade option - its much lower list price (almost $300 lower at introduction, compared to the GF1 kit) should underline this. Instead being aimed squarely at the compact camera owner looking for the better image quality, control and flexibility that a large-sensor interchangeable lens camera can bring. And it does this very well - it's an enjoyable and rewarding camera to use, whether you're happy to let it do all work or you want to learn to get more involved. Even the Intelligent Auto mode gives you the option to take creative control, and the camera's behavior is sufficiently consistent across modes that there's no substantial re-learning to be done when you decide you want to take more responsibility for shooting settings.
Despite this, the GF2 will still cause some dismay amongst diehard G-series fans, in part because it's the successor to such a highly-regarded camera, but mainly because it is so conceptually different in target and operation. We're sure many will bemoan the loss of the buttons and dials and look aghast on the way they've been replaced by - the horror! - a touchscreen. Others, though, will look at the more compact body, enhanced video mode and considerably reduced list price, and add the GF2 to their wishlists.
Although we really liked the GF1 and enjoy the immediacy of control that its dials and switches offered, we believe the GF2's touchscreen control system shouldn't be dismissed - indeed it's pretty good, once you've adapted to it. The reason external controls are desirable is because they're fast and intuitive, and the way Panasonic has implemented their on-screen replacements means they work almost as seamlessly. If well-implemented touch interfaces can transform the humble telephone, why can't they work on cameras?
The GF2's Raw image quality is very good. It's not got the freshest sensor on the market so will tend to produce more noise and less dynamic range than the very best of its peers, but it's not so far behind them that you'd dismiss it out of hand on that basis. There's plenty of detail being captured and, once you've worked out your favored presets as a starting point for processing, it's a camera that will readily produce great images.
The story isn't quite such a happy one in JPEG mode - fine (particularly low-contrast) detail isn't well rendered, so the output images don't convey much of what the camera is capturing. Auto white balance also seems to produce overly cool results (using too low a color temperature and making the pictures too blue), which can make images look much less attractive than they could be. Noise at high ISO settings is also a problem, with detail smearing and blotchy chroma noise creeping in. Which is not to say the results are terrible - in many situations they're very good, but it's a camera with a report card that makes regular use of the phrase 'could do better.' Perhaps most tellingly, the Olympus E-PL2 produces consistently more attractive JPEGs using essentially the same sensor.
We rather enjoyed using the GF2, despite its move away from being the type of camera we usually prefer. We have traditionally been a little wary of touch-screen controls on cameras (not least because many of them have been implemented so poorly in the past), but, to an even greater extent than the G2, the GF2's touch screen almost always seems like a positive addition, rather than coming at the expense of losing something else. The camera gains an excellent method of focus selection and a genuinely quick and clever on-screen quick menu.
So despite it being a simpler camera than its high-button-count predecessor, we aren't overly disappointed by this new direction. And, having concluded the changes don't have too much of an adverse impact for enthusiast shooters most of the time, we must recognize that it's a very good system for P&S upgraders looking to gain more camera control. These people are, of course, the key target for the GF2 and we believe they'll be very well served indeed - there's a little learning to be done, compared with a pure point-and-shoot, but the GF2 very quickly gives simple access to full control over as much of the camera as you want to take charge of.
The small size of the GF2 is an undoubted bonus, but while the camera will slip into a coat or jacket pocket when fitted with a small prime lens, this is no longer true when you use even the relatively small kit zoom (here Olympus and Samsung's collapsing lenses have a real advantage). We're also far from convinced by the decision to offer the GF2 with the 14mm F2.5 pancake rather than the 20mm F1.7, which we think is much more versatile if all you're carrying is a single small lens.
The Final Word
The GF2 is a very different camera to its predecessor, which can confuse the fact that it's a camera very well suited to its target market. It offers both beginners and experienced photographers a simple but powerful control method (we'd say it trumps both the Olympus E-PL2 and the Sony NEX-3 and -5 in this respect), albeit one that requires a leap-of-faith to embrace the touchscreen control. Sadly, however, the underlying camera technology is starting to show its age. So, while it's quick and easy to use, the images - particularly in JPEG mode - are rather less spectacular. In Raw, there's plenty to be played with and the outcomes are not radically different from the best cameras in this class.
However, likeable and convenient though we found the GF2, it's up against the Olympus E-PL2 which produces consistently better JPEG images from essentially the same sensor and the Sony NEX cameras, which have a substantially more advanced sensor. So, while it's a fun camera that offers a great step up from compact cameras and one that will hold your hand if you want to take more photographic control, the need to process from Raw to get consistently great results is enough to dampen our enthusiasm.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The GF2 sees Panasonic packing a lot of approachable creative control into a compact package, with one of the best-implemented touchscreens we've ever seen on a camera. It's fast and responsive with excellent raw image quality, but the JPEG output is disappointing.
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