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Performance

From a speed of operation point of view the GH1 cannot quite keep up with current DSLRs, but considering the camera operates in almost the same way as most compact cameras (with the inherent delay of having to supply a video feed to an LCD or EVF to provide a 'through the lens' view) and has to use contrast detect AF (as opposed to phase detect systems on DSLRs), it is surprisingly snappy in use.

Its power on times are good enough not to make you miss any crucial shots, and auto focus speed is at least as good as an entry level digital SLR. The frame rates in continuous shooting mode are not exactly the fastest ones we have seen, but then if you shoot sports or wildlife you'd probably not opt for a GH1 anyway.

Timings & File Sizes

Timing Notes: All times calculated as an average of three operations. Unless otherwise stated all timings were made on a 4128 x 2752 JPEG Fine (approx. 6,000 KB per image).

The media used for these tests was:

  • 8 GB SanDisk Extreme III 30MB/s edition SD card
Action
Details
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk)
Power Off to On *1   1.2
Power Off to Shot   1.3
Shot to shot time (JPEG)   0.6
Shot to shot time (RAW) *2   0.6

*1 This is the time from turning the switch to the 'On' position to the live view image appearing on the LCD monitor (as soon as you would be able to frame a shot).
*2 This is the initial frame rate. After 5 frames the shot to shot time slows down to 2.2 seconds

Continuous Drive mode

To test continuous mode the camera had the following settings: Manual Focus, Manual Exposure (1/640 sec, F5.6), ISO 100. Measurements were taken from audio recordings of the tests. Media used were the same as above.

The tests carried out below measured the following results for JPEG and RAW:

  • Frame rate - Initial frame rate, this was always 3.3 fps (+/- 0.05 fps)
  • Number of frames - Number of frames in a burst (for JPEG there is no limit with a fast card)
  • Buffer full rate - Frame rate if shutter release held down after burst (buffer full)
  • Write complete - How long after the last shot before the write symbol disappears

Burst of JPEG Large/Fine images

Timing
8 GB SanDisk
Frame rate 3.3 fps
Number of frames Unlimited
Write complete ~ 1.0 sec

Burst of RAW images

Timing
8 GB SanDisk
Frame rate 3.3 fps
Number of frames 4
Buffer full rate 0.6 fps
Write complete ~ 6.8 sec

With firmware V1.1 installed the GH1's continuous shooting performance is actually slightly faster than specified. The camera shoots 3.3 frames per second in JPEG mode until the memory card is full. In RAW mode it manages the same speed but only for four frames before the buffer runs full. Then it keeps shooting at approximately 0.6 frames per second.

Unlike many DSLRs (and some compacts), the GH1 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 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.

All in all the GH1's continuous shooting is slightly slower than most of the current generation entry level DSLRs but this is very unlikely to be an issue for any 'typical' users of the camera.

USB transfer speed

To test the GH1's USB speed we transferred approximately 500 MB of images (mixed RAW and JPEG) from a SanDisk Extreme III 30MB/s Edition 8 SD card (the same card used in the other readers). The camera connects to a computer via the USB mass storage device mode which enables it to act as a normal card reader. The GH1's transfer speed is workable but using a simple USB card reader is still a better way to get your images and videos onto a PC.

Method
Transfer rate
Panasonic Lumix GH1 USB 2.0 7.6 MB/sec
Sandisk Extreme III (using built in USB connector) 20.2 MB/sec
SanDisk Extreme III in USB 2.0 reader 11.3 MB/sec

Autofocus speed / accuracy

The Panasonic GH1's Auto Focus is, together with the G1's, certainly the best contrast detect AF we have come across so far. It performs very well in almost any condition and only in the darkest lighting situations will it need the built-in AF illuminator to find a focus-lock. As you would expect the AF slows down a little in dim light but it's still well within acceptable limits and at least on par with most entry level DSLRs.

Focus accuracy was not an issue in any of our several hundred sample shots, the focus indicator works almost 100% reliably.

Battery life

The GH1 comes with the same battery as the G1. It has a 1250mAh, 7.2V battery, meaning it can deliver 9.0Wh, in excess of the power output we've seen from recent entry-level DSLRs with small batteries. However, the GH1 will draw more power than those cameras, unless they're used in their Live view modes. Panasonic quotes battery life as 300 shots (CIPA standard) or 150 minutes of video recording.

This can vary depending on whether you use the electronic viewfinder or the slightly more power-hungry LCD screen but is not far off from our real life experience. In these days of 8GB SD cards it's easy to shoot that many pictures in a day, so a spare battery might be a good idea.

Image Stabilizer

The DMC-GH1's 14-140mm F4-5.8 kit lens features Panasonic's "MEGA OIS" optical image stabilization which is common across their entire range of digital cameras. The GH1, just like the G1 and L10 has three OIS modes; Mode 1 (stabilize all the time), Mode 2 (stabilize only during shutter release) and Mode 3 (panning; vertical stabilization only).

The stabilization test

At a range of shutter speeds we take a total of thirty hand-held shots were taken of a static scene, ten without stabilization, ten using OIS Mode 1, ten using OIS Mode 2. For these tests we used the GH1's kit lens at 140 mm to produce a 280 mm equiv. FOV. The test chart was approximately 5 m away from the camera. We're looking for how much improvement the two modes offer, not an absolute measurement of 'how low you can go' with the shutter speeds.

The resulting images were then inspected and given a blur score from zero to three where zero represented a very blurred image and three a sharp image with no noticeable blur (see crop examples below). Obviously the amount of blur which is acceptable will depend on your personal taste and the final image size (for instance a '2: Soft' will still look fine as a 4x6 print or in a web gallery). Example crops from these four blur scores can be seen below.

0: Very blurred 1: Blurred
2: Soft 3: Sharp

Hand-held, no stabilization (14-140 mm kit lens, 280 mm equiv. FOV)

With the kit lenses 280mm equivalent focal length at the long end we had all sharp and one soft shot at 1/320 sec but the success rate drops pretty quickly as shutter speeds get longer. At 1/40th we still get one 'lucky' sharp shot but also 60% blurry shots. Below that none of the shots are usable.

Hand-held, with OIS Mode 1 (14-140 mm kit lens, 280 mm equiv. FOV)

Mega OIS Mode 1 operates continuously, even during composition. Here we observe an instant and pretty significant improvement. Even at shutter speeds as as low as 1/20 sec we still get 90% soft shots which would certainly be considered good enough for 4x6 prints or web galleries. With OIS enabled your chances of getting a sharp shot increase at all shutter speeds but the system performs particularly impressively at very slow shutter speeds.

Hand-held, with OIS Mode 2 (14-140 mm kit lens, 280 mm equiv. FOV)

As expected OIS Mode 2 (which operates only during the exposure, not during composition) performs very slightly better and even at 1/20 sec gives you 20% sharp shots - more than a 2 stop improvement compared to OIS disabled.

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