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LCD Monitor

Like the G1, the GH1 has a 3.0" wide screen display built onto a hinge that allows it to swivel and tilt. The LCD is made up of 460,000 dots, making it one of the higher-resolution examples available. While in resolution terms it's not quite on a par with the VGA screens that have almost become standard on DSLRs its 60fps refresh rate produces a much smoother live view image than on most DSLRs the GH1 would be competing with. The screen can be turned around completely ('face in') to protect it when not in use. The images below show the swivel screen of the G1 which works in exactly the same way as the GH1's.

Electronic Viewfinder

Possibly the biggest barrier to acceptance of the idea of a non-reflex 'SLR' has been the lack of an electronic eye-level display that can come close to offering the clarity of a traditional mirror, focusing screen and pentaprism/mirror system. The GH1's electronic viewfinder uses single-panel LED-illuminated Direct-view LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) technology, and is based on Panasonic's professional high-end system video cameras.

According to Panasonic LCOS technology can produce much higher resolution images than liquid crystal display or plasma display technologies. Compared to conventional LCDs in which the back light is projected through RGB filters and into the eye, in LCOS, liquid crystals are applied directly to the surface of a silicon chip coated with a highly reflective aluminized layer. RGB light is then reflected off this surface and into the eye, therefore minimizing overall color loss often associated with the low quality of color filters in conventional LCDs. This allows the GH1's Live Viewfinder to achieve over 90% of the NTSC color gamut (this, apparently, is unusually high).

The GH1's single panel display chip shows the red, green and blue components in succession (field sequential display) - your brain does the combining to produce the full color image. This means you can't see the individual pixels - there's no gap between them (there's no mesh surrounding the color filters such as in conventional LCD displays). The viewfinder is able to refresh the three RGB colors at a rate of 60Hz, therefore achieving the 60fps Full-Time Live View.

We've certainly been impressed by the unit. There's still the slight color 'tearing' if you move your eye too quickly (something common to all field sequential viewfinders we've tried), but the sharpness, resolution, refresh rate, brightness and color are excellent. The real revelation is when you try it next to the Olympus E-450 (using our tried and tested method of putting a camera up to each eye); the GH1's viewfinder image looks huge, and a lot brighter with a standard zoom attached. There's no doubt that electronic viewfinders aren't going to replace optical reflex finders for all applications in the near future (the display gets quite noisy and the refresh rate drops to a rather 'jerky' level in very low light, and it will inevitably impact on shutter lag), but this is a real move in the right direction - it's perfectly possible to check critical focus using the EVF, and there seems to be very little video lag.

Next to the eyepiece there's a sensor that automatically switches between the main screen and the EVF when you put your eye to the viewfinder (there's a slight delay - but we're only talking a fraction of a second).

Viewfinder view

In keeping with the GH1's aim of behaving exactly like a DSLR, the EVF very closely mimics the appearance of a DSLR. And, unlike DSLRs with Live view, the layout of the information is consistent between the viewfinder and the rear LCD (unless you're using the Status Panel mode on the rear screen). The result is no hunting around for settings - they're always shown in the same place. And, unlike a DSLR, the GH1's viewfinder can show you the options for each setting, rather than just reflecting the current settings. The diagram below shows the detailed view.

1 Flash setting 11 AF mode
2 Film mode 12 Metering mode
3 Optical Image Stabilization mode 13 Recording mode
4 Drive mode (blank in single frame mode) 14 Aperture
5 Movie record quality 15 Shutter speed
6 Picture size/ aspect ratio 16 Exposure indicator
7 Quality setting 17 Sensitivity setting
8 Power LCD mode 18 White Balance
9 Intelligent exposure 19 Frames remaining
10 Battery status 20 Focus confirmation

Viewfinder size

One figure hidden away in every SLR's spec is the size of the viewfinder (often in a format that makes comparison between competing models impossible). The size of the viewfinder is a key factor in the usability of an SLR - the bigger it is, the easier it is to frame and focus your shots, and the more enjoyable and involving process it is.

Because of the way viewfinders are measured (using a fixed lens, rather than a lens of equivalent magnification), you also need to take the sensor size into account, so the numbers in the diagram below are the manufacturer's specified magnifications divided by the respective 'crop factors'. Of course the GH1 does not feature an optical viewfinder but comes with an electronic variant instead. However, the same rules apply. Hence the GH1's quoted figure of 1.4x magnification ends up as 0.7x when compared to a full-frame, 24x36mm sensor camera.

The diagram below shows the relative size of the viewfinders of the GH1, E-620 and Canon EOS 500D, alongside, for reference, the EOS-1Ds Mark III (currently the biggest viewfinder on the DSLR market).

Thanks to its impressive 1.4x magnification the GH1's electronic viewfinder produces a view that gets in terms of dimensions pretty close to a full-frame DSLR and is significantly larger than what you get on a APS-C or Four Thirds DSLR.

The GH1 also shows 100% of the frame while most DSLRs crop a few percent off the edges of the frame.

Camera settings display

There are three different types of display that can be brought up while shooting images with the GH1. "LCD monitor" mode looks most like a compact camera display, with icons overlaid on the image. "Finder mode" is very similar but places a black bar across the bottom of the screen, to make it more familiar to DSLR users used to using an optical viewfinder with a status bar along the bottom. Finally, there's a status panel of the type that has become common on entry-level DSLRs.

The 'Finder' style view retains a black strip along the bottom of the screen to mimic the behavior of an optical viewfinder. Unlike an optical finder, however, it can re-size the view to match the aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2 or 16:9) Status panel mode behaves just like the other modes, with the Q.Menu button being used to access the different settings.

Battery Compartment / Battery

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 (though, of course, it's reasonable to assume the GH1 will draw more power than those cameras, unless they're used in their Live view modes).

Battery life is around 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 - this is similar to most digital SLRs used in live view mode (though of course here you don't have the option of an optical finder to extend battery life). 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.

Battery Charger

The GH1 uses Panasonic's DMW-BLB13PP battery. The DE-A49C charger also offers a 9.3V DC output that the optional DC cable/dummy battery (DMW-DCC3) can be plugged into.

Secure Digital Compartment

Like most of cameras at this end of the market, the GH1 accepts the popular SD format of memory card (including the larger capacity SDHC variety). The card slot sits under a sturdy slide-out spring-bound door (there's no lock but the door is stiff enough to avoid accidental opening).

Connections

On the left hand side of the camera is a combined USB/video out connector and a HDMI port for connection to your HDTV. No HDMI cable is included with the camera, however, so that's something you may need to invest it. There is also an external microphone socket.

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