Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 review
I tend to keep things for a long time, but finally decided that my venerable and
much-loved Canon Powershot G3 was really past it, despite still taking good photos.
More recently, I have also bought a Panasonic TZ3 as a cheap, small, carry-
everywhere camera with a wide-angle lens and good zoom. But like most compacts
the TZ3. But for my main camera I was waiting for something that stuck out from
the mainstream of cheap-ish compacts and big DSLRs. The Sony R1 was interesting,
with a big sensor and an excellent lens, but it was also big, heavy, and awkward to
use; an improved successor never appeared.
After long deliberation I recently bought a Panasonic GH1. Yes, it was expensive
(though I paid much less than elsewhere in the UK) - but as dpreview and others
have pointed out, the 14-140mm kit lens is on a very different level from the short-
zoom inexpensive kit lenses that usually come with entry-level DSLRs, and the video
capabilities seem to be as good or better than any other "still" camera. Concerned
about buying it via the web without actually handling it, I visited the shop offering
the low price and got a nice surprise - Panasonic UK was offering a shop-only free
3-year warranty (offer expires end-January 2010). I had also considered the Canon
G11 and the Panasonic FZ-38 but now I am adjusting to a camera that's bigger and
heavier than a compact, but smaller and lighter than a DSLR with a similar 10x
zoom lens. The other thing I have to get used to is the relatively slow f4 14-140mm
lens, especially after the G3's unusually fast f2 lens.
First impressions were of a solidly built and comprehensive package. Reading the
manual and dpreview's very detailed review (which is often clearer in explaining the
controls and menus!), I kept discovering nice touches that I hadn't known about.
The controls are sensible. The LCD screen and electronic viewfinder are excellent. As
everyone says, the viewfinder refreshes slowly in low light, but for me the
viewfinder is mainly to use in bright sunlight when the LCD is hard to see. The
"reward" for having the electronic viewfinder instead of an optical one is the nice
way it shows all the same information as the LCD screen.
It does take a bit of adjustment to the sheer number and range of options, and the
buttons are a bit on the small side. But the overall impression is of a thorough,
logical, and well-developed user interface giving good access to the most important
adjustments. Having used the TZ3 helped in finding my way around, but there's so
much more on offer here. Like the TZ3 the GH1 offers a choice of aspect ratios,
adding 1:1 to the list, and that is really useful. The handling is also fine - it's so
nice to go back to a camera where the zoom is by twisting the lens rather than
pushing a switch that zooms in discrete steps. Other really nice things include the
depth-of-field preview and the way the screen magnifies the image when focusing
The list of features certainly outshines even such highly rated entry-level DSLRs as
Nikon's D40, D60 or D3000. Live view, depth-of-field preview, the articulated high-
resolution LCD, and so many others seem very generous compared to entry-level
DSLRs which, however excellent, are designed down to a low price. Again, when
you consider that the GH1 doesn't seem overpriced.
I did wonder why an HDMI lead wasn't included, and it's annoying that the USB
connector is different not only from most other digital cameras but also from other
Panasonic models. But those are quibbles.
As for the pictures, it's still early days but they are detailed and clear, no big
disappointments there. Everything seems nice and sharp, and it all just seems to
work. I've taken photos in a variety of conditions and find the quality fine - I've
avoided very high ISO settings so noise has not been a problem at all. Videos are
also good (I need to try more of them), but until I find a better way to convert
AVCHD 1920x1080 to something easier to view and edit on my computer I'll stick
with the M-JPEG 1280x720 (which anyway offers a higher frame-rate, but consumes
storage at an alarming rate).
In response to Alan Ernst's comments that his TZ3's images are sharper at the edges
than the GH1's at the telephoto end of the range, I tried the same comparison and
don't agree. There isn't a huge difference, but the GH1 seemed sharper to me. I do
wonder about differences in exposure, ISO setting, etc.
One small problem seems to be that the pop-up flash isn't quite high enough up - at
the extreme wide-angle setting a shadow from the lens appears at the bottom of the
picture in all aspect ratios except 16:9.