Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 review
Yet another compromise from Panasonic!
The G1 does a pretty good job in combining the size / ease of use of a compact camera with the features of an SLR; the GH1 adds another dimension in the form of video. Essentially, it is the very same camera with all the other advantages and shortcomings of the G1. Unfortunately, Panasonic have not implemented any improvements other than using a larger sensor to make better use of the image circle, which is very welcome and something I missed on the G1. I also like the new 1:1 aspect ratio. The only other useful addition is the video, which alas has not been implemented very well. The positioning of the video button is such that it is impossible to start / end video capture without jagging the camera, making it hard to take clean video sequences unless you mount the unit on a tripod or resort to a lot of editing. Ergonomically, the camera is designed as a still camera and works very well that way. Video functionality is not as good, panning is difficult, smooth zooming during exposure virtually impossible (in addition to the autofocus lagging behind). Ergonomically, it cannot replace a mid level video camera even though the video quality itself is quite good (which does not necessarily apply to the sound quality; the built in microphone picks up everything except the sound you want...).
A major advantage over the G1 is the 10x zoom lens, which on paper looks great and would make it THE ideal all-round camera with an amazing zoom range and little need to change lenses (an issue with the unprotected sensor). Unfortunately, I find the optical quality of the 14-140mm lens very disappointing and you cannot get sharp images, especially at the longer end beyond 50 mm. Both the 14-45mm and 45-200mm on the G1 (themselves not stellar!), will provide better image quality. Compared to my TZ-3 which has the same zoom range, image quality of the GH1 zoom is definitely superior in the lower and middle range but the TZ-3 lens is actually as good (and even better at the edge of the frame) at the tele end… Compared to my Olympus 4/3rd Zuiko lenses, the quality of the Panasonic zoom is poor. You simply cannot get professional quality images with any of the Lumix lenses. Even the 20mm f1.7 Panasonic lens does not produce much sharper images than the 14-150mm; a real surprise after all the hype about the GF1 and its pancake lens. Whereas a mega zoom will always involve some loss of quality in exchange for a more versatile zoom range, I did expect the 20mm fixed focal length to outperform the zoom big time. The only advantage I see is the extra three stops and better quality from f4 - f11 (the 14-140mm has its sweet spot at around f 7.1. Stop up or down half a stop from there and you begin losing more image quality right away).
Have recently (Jan 2010) acquired the 7-14mm wide-angle zoom and love the exceptional perspective with that lens, which from my first few images looks more convincing albeit very overpriced.
The Micro 4/3rd system has much going for it but neither Panasonic or Olympus are offering the glass which would make it worthwhile to switch. The benefits of Micro 4/3rd system over compact cameras are a much larger sensor and the use of interchangeable higher quality lenses. The sensor quality of the G1 and GH1 is definitely very good (although it cannot achieve the quality of a good APS sensor or larger), however the benefits of the larger sensor are lost with the lack of quality lenses. As long as there are no better Micro 4/3rd System lenses out there, a switch simply does not make sense. In addition to questionable optical quality I have also experienced issues with sealing (dust in lens - even though I am very careful), lousy precision of the lens mounts which allow the lenses to wiggle when attached, creating error messages that force you to turn camera off and on again and the inability to focus a subject that is close, if the background is relatively busy (e.g. a bird in a bush)...
The other major beef I have with the GH1 is the unacceptably slow buffer, which is worse than any entry level SLR. For the cost of this camera, I would have expected a lot better.
Other observations in my original G1 review remain virtually unchanged, as Panasonic have not done much to improve on the G1's shortcomings. If they had improved on some useful features such as allowing a combination of self-timer and bracketing, easier access to custom modes and a user selectable quick menu, I would have no problem giving it a half point more on both features and ease of use. Also, if the optical quality of the lens would match that of, say the 50-200mm Zuiko lens, I would consider the price tag quite acceptable. As is, it is clearly overpriced.
If you are contemplating the move to either the G1 or GH1, unless you are desperate for video mode, go for the G1 two lens kit. It is far less money, better optical quality and a longer focal length range, albeit with two lenses.
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