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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Review

July 2009 | By Lars Rehm, Andy Westlake



Review based on a production Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 with firmware v1.1

When Panasonic announced the DMC-G1 in September 2008, the industry saw its first real innovation for a long time: an electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens camera with a large (Four Thirds size) imaging sensor. Panasonic had managed to overcome a whole list of technical hurdles to produce the camera and the G1 featured an electronic viewfinder that got pretty close to a good mirror and prism, plus a contrast-detect autofocus that in terms of speed and accuracy could rival 'traditional' phase-detect systems of DSLRs.

However, the G1 was lacking one feature that had been a standard on digital compact cameras for a long time and had just found its way onto digital SLRs as well: video recording. There are no obvious technical barriers to the implementation of a video feature on mirrorless cameras such as the G1 (in fact it should be much easier than on a DSLR) and therefore it did not come as a big surprise to anyone when, only a few months after the G1 launch, in March 2009 Panasonic rectified this 'issue' with the announcement of the DMC GH1. The new model is, despite a new sensor design, essentially a G1 with an added movie mode.

However, the GH1's HD movie mode is more than just another add-on feature. In combination with the newly developed 14-140mm F4.0-5.8 kit lens that has, in terms of aperture control and focusing, been optimized for shooting video, it transforms the GH1 into a true stills/video hybrid that can record HD video while at the same time producing high quality stills images. And whilst doing all that it is still in line with Panasonic's original reasons for introducing the Micro Four Thirds system; to produce smaller cameras that act more like compact DSCs whilst offering the quality and versatility of a DSLR.

It all looks great on paper but can the GH1 keep up in real life with the marketing promises? Read our review to find out.

Please note that because of the operational similarities between the Panasonic DMC-GH1 and G1 a proportion of text and images in this review has been taken over directly from the Panasonic DMC-G1 review.

Compared to G1 - key differences

The list of new features on the GH1 compared to the G1 is not very long. Despite its new sensor design the GH1 is essentially a G1 with an added HD video mode. However, this arguably most important new feature is likely to make the camera appeal to a much larger group of potential buyers. The following list and table give you an overview of all differences between the two models.

  • HD video mode with stereo sound recording
  • New sensor which provides four different aspect ratios with the same angle of view
  • New 14-140mm F4.0-5.8 stabilized kit lens with a design that has been optimized for shooting movies
  • Face recognition

Panasonic GH1 vs. G1 feature and specification differences

 

Panasonic DMC GH1

Panasonic DMC G1
Sensor • 4/3 type MOS ('Live MOS sensor')
• 14.0 million total pixels
• 12.1 million effective pixels
• RGB (Primary) color filter array
• 4/3 type MOS ('Live MOS sensor')
• 13.06 million total pixels
• 12.11 million effective pixels
• RGB (Primary) color filter array
Image sizes • 4000 x 3000 (4:3)
• 2816 x 2112 (4:3)
• 2048 x 1536 (4:3)
• 4128 x 2752 (3:2)
• 2928 x 1952 (3:2)
• 2064 x 1376 (3:2)
• 4352 x 2448 (16:9)
• 3072 x 1728 (16:9)
• 1920 x 1080 (16:9)
• 2992 x 2992 (1:1)
• 2112 x 2112 (1:1)
• 1504 x 1504 (1:1)
• 4000 x 3000 (4:3)
• 2816 x 2112 (4:3)
• 2048 x 1536 (4:3)
• 4000 x 2672 (3:2)
• 2816 x 1880 (3:2)
• 2048 x 1360 (3:2)
• 4000 x 2248 (16:9)
• 2816 x 1584 (16:9)
• 1920 x 1080 (16:9)
Aspect ratio • 4:3
• 3:2
• 16:9
• 1:1
4:3
3:2
16:9
Video mode

• AVCHD :
1920 x 1080
1280 x 720

• Motion JPEG:
1280 x 720, 30fps
848 x 480, 30fps
640 x 480, 30fps
320 x 240, 30fps

No video capability
Metering modes • Intelligent Multiple
• Center-Weighted
• Spot
• Multiple-Weighted
• Center-Weighted
• Spot
AE Bracketing • 3,5,7 frames
• 1/3 or 2/3 , +/-2.0 EV steps*
• 3 frames
• 1/3 to 2.0 EV steps
Connectors

• USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed)
• Video output (PAL/ NTSC)
• HDMI Type C
• external microphone
• Wired remote control DMW-RSL1 (optional)

• USB 2.0 (High Speed)
• Video output (PAL / NTSC)
• HDMI

• Wired remote control DMW-RSL1 (optional)
Dimensions 124 mm x 90mm x 45 mm 124 mm x 84 mm x 45 mm
Weight (body only) Approx. 385g / 13.58 oz Approx. 380 g / 13.40 oz

Micro Four Thirds

The GH1 is, like the G1 and the recently announced Olympus E-P1, a Micro Four Thirds camera. Olympus and Panasonic announced the new, mirrorless format / lens mount based on (and compatible with) Four Thirds in August 2008. The Micro Four Thirds system uses the same sensor size (18 x 13.5 mm) but allows slimmer cameras by removing the mirror box and optical viewfinder. The new format has three key technical differences: (1) roughly half the flange back distance (distance from mount to the sensor), (2) a smaller diameter lens mount (6 mm smaller) and (3) two additional contact points for lens-to-body communication (now 11 points). Removing the mirror mechanism allows this shorter flange back distance, meaning lenses for the new mount can be considerably smaller than current Four Thirds designs. The format will require framing to be carried out using Live View on either the LCD monitor or an EVF. Existing Four Thirds lenses can be used on Micro Four Thirds cameras using an adapter.

Lens compatibility

Micro Four Thirds is an extension of the Four Thirds standard that Olympus, Leica and Panasonic have used for their recent DSLRs. An adaptor ring is available, allowing existing Four Thirds lenses to be mounted. Auto Focus only functions on lenses compatible with contrast-detect AF, which limits choice. Click here for an up-to-date list of compatible lenses on the Panasonic website.

The DMW-MA1APP adapter allows existing Four Thirds lenses to be used with the Micro Four Thirds mount. The adapter is not designed to work with other accessories, such as tele-converters and extension tubes.
Using the adaptor, the G1/GH1 can mount the full range of legacy Four Thirds lenses. However, the camera's smaller size can result in combinations that are less well balanced than would be the case with Four Thirds DSLRs.

Lens Roadmap

Panasonic originally released this lens roadmap for Micro Four Thirds when the G1 was announced. By now (July 2009) all the lenses on the map apart from the 20mm F1.7 have been launched. Additionally Olympus has announced two Micro Four Thirds lenses with the E-P1- a 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 and a 17mm F2.8.

Multi-aspect ratio

Like the Panasonic LX3 compact camera the GH1 now uses a multi-aspect ratio sensor. At any aspect ratio (even at 4:3) it only uses a crop from the total available sensor surface which is slightly larger than a standard Four Thirds sensor in order to accomodate the different aspect ratios. At first sight this may seem strange but the result is that the lens offers the same diagonal angle of view regardless of selected aspect ratio, making it much easier to get a feel for the behaviour of the lens. It also means you make the most of the sensor area, getting similar pixel counts in all modes.


The image on the left shows the result of shooting the same scene at the same zoom setting using different aspect ratios. As you can see all three shots end up with the same angle of view.

Foreword / notes

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read some of our Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / recommendation / ratings are based on the opinion of the author, we recommend that you read the entire review before making any decision. Images which can be viewed at a larger size have a small magnifying glass icon in the bottom right corner of them, click to display a larger image in a new window.

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Dpreview use calibrated monitors at the PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the grayscale blocks below. We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally also A, B and C.

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