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Photographic Tests

Flash

The GH2's built-in flash is small and underpowered compared to an external unit, but with a GN of 15.6 at ISO 200, it is more powerful than some built-in units. It is also very versatile. The GH2 features a good range of flash modes, including slow sync, forced on and redeye reduction (and combinations thereof).

Considering its power limitations, the GH2's flash actually does a very good job. For close range portraits and 'fill in' purposes it is very capable. This shot is correctly exposed, and ambient/flash light is well balanced.

Like the G2 and GF2, the GH2 comes equipped with various functions to enhance its abilities as a stills camera, including Panasonic's iResolution and iDynamic modes which are designed to increase the appearance of fine detail, and expand useable dynamic range respectively. These functions in the GH2 work in precisely the same way as they do in the GF2, which is to say that in our opinion neither of them are exactly essential tools. However, the GH2's film modes are definitely worth experimenting with.

Film modes

Like previous G-series cameras (but unlike the GF2, which is limited to a handful of fully-automated 'my colors' modes), the GH2 offers a range of different film modes, which apply different color/contrast profiles to the camera's JPEG output. Each film mode is customizable, and for each one it is possible to tweak (and consequently save) contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction parameters to taste. If you're feeling particularly adventurous you can also formulate and save your own film modes using the two 'my film' presets. New compared to the GH1 is the 'Cinema' mode, which we'd guess may be aimed at movie shooting.

Standard Dynamic Smooth Nature Nostalgic
Vibrant Standard B&W Dynamic B&W Smooth B&W Cinema

This comparison shows the effect of the GH2's various film modes on our standard scene. As you can see, the 'Standard' film mode is somewhere between the very muted 'Cinema' and the more technicolor 'Dynamic'. As well as saturation and color response, it is obvious that some of the GH2's film modes also have an effect on brightness. Midtone areas are noticeably darker when the 'Cinema' film mode is used compared to 'Smooth', for instance. This is not an exposure adjustment in terms of shutter speed and aperture - these images were shot using manual exposure - each film mode simply applies a different tone curve to the images, which effectively results in different ISOs.

However, when shooting in any of the PAS modes, certain of the GH2's film modes do bias the exposure slightly to compensate for their different tone curves. Compared to the 'Standard' film mode, 'Smooth' gives 1/3EV less exposure, whereas Vibrant and B+W Smooth give a 1/3EV and 2/3EV more exposure, respectively. As a result, most of the film modes end up rendering middle grey at the same brightness
10:28 There are exceptions though - 'Nostalgic' gives images which are brighter than 'Standard', whereas 'B+W smooth' and 'Cinema' modes give results which are darker.

JPEG Processing

Something that we have come to expect from Panasonic's G-series Micro Four Thirds cameras is slightly underwhelming JPEG image quality at default settings. Typically, the cameras perform well in direct sunlight, and give reasonably good performance in bright artificial light, but all too often in low-contrast conditions, JPEGs come out of the camera looking murky and uninspiring, and lacking in detail when viewed at 100%

In terms of critical detail resolution, the GH2 is impressive, and JPEG files are sharp and detailed. But sadly it seems that like its predecessors, the GH2's metering system is set up to avoid blown highlights at all costs. This is sensible as far as it goes - the GH2's dynamic range is a little restricted compared to cameras with larger sensors, and the rolloff is quite steep at the highlight end. Unfortunately this protectiveness comes at the expense of attractive results 'out of the camera'. Typically, when shooting outdoors on a dull day, or away from direct sunlight, the GH2 delivers flat, underexposed images which really benefit from some post-capture 'boosting'. A little levels and curves adjustment in Photoshop can do wonders, but this can accentuate the appearance of chroma noise, even at base ISO (see 100% crops, below).

JPEG from Camera
(ISO 160, AWB)
After Adjustment in Photoshop
(Levels and Curves)
100% crop 100% crop

JPEG Color

Most of the time, the GH2's color rendition is just fine, but it really struggles with fleshtones, specifically pale, caucasian fleshtones. All too often, portraits have an unattractive, yellow-ish cast which is hard to remove from JPEG files, and not easy to correct for in RAW, either. To get this portrait looking natural I had to work on the simultaneously captured RAW file, and tweak white balance, color saturation (to remove some of the yellow and give reds a bit of a boost) and brightness.

JPEG from Camera
(ISO 160, AWB)
After Adjustment in Photoshop
(Color, WB and brightness)
100% crop 100% crop

 

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