Panasonic embraced video on its second Micro Four Thirds model (the GH1) and has never looked back. The mirrorless design of the G series makes it particularly suited to movie shooting since it always uses its main sensor for both metering and autofocus, unlike DSLR designs on which these features have been added simply for movie and live view purposes. Panasonic keeps upping the video specifications of its cameras, to the point that the GF2 is nearly as capable a movie camera as the video-focused GH2.

Video specification

The GF2 improves on its predecessor and on the G2 by offering Full HD video, albeit in the 1080i, interlaced form. As we've seen before, this is derived from the sensor capturing footage at either 25 or 30 fps. This output format is chosen for its compatibility with TVs and Blu-Ray disks, but with the right software the footage can be treated as if it were 25p or 30p material (the available frame rate depends on whether the unit you buy is a PAL or NTSC-compatible one - you can't switch).

Sadly, unlike the G2, there's no option to connect an external microphone, so you're limited to the internal mic and the risk of picking up lens and operator noise. But unlike the G2, at least the internal mic records stereo sound, and includes both an input volume control and wind-cut filter.

Sizes • AVCHD
1920 x 1080i 50 PAL / 60 NTSC (from 25/30 fps sensor output)
FSH 17Mbps
FH 13Mbps
1280 x 720p 50 PAL /60 NTSC (from 25/30 fps sensor output)
SH 17Mbps
H 13Mbps
• Motion JPEG:
1280 x 720, 30fps
848 x 480, 30fps
640 x 480, 30fps
320 x 240, 30fps
Audio • Dolby Digital Creator format (mono), wind-cut feature
• Stereo audio capture via optional external mic.
Format AVCHD / QuickTime Motion JPEG
File size 1.25 MB/sec (720p AVCHD), 3.4 MB/sec (720p Motion JPEG)
Max file size per clip 2.0 GB for Motion JPEG, card capacity for AVCHD
Recordable time Approx 100 minutes

Using Movie Mode

The GF2 has no dedicated movie mode (unlike the GF1), so recording is started by pressing the red button next to the shutter release on the camera's top right-hand corner. This also means that there's no way of composing HD movies using a 16:9 preview display, aside from setting the stills image size to match.

Although the GF2 has a good movie specification, it offers relatively little in the way of manual control. Unlike the GH2 there's no option for directly specifying the shooting settings, such as aperture, when recording video. You can set an exposure compensation level before you start shooting, but once you press the record button it can't be adjusted.

In the iAuto and 'My Color' modes you can use the 'Defocus Control' slider to influence the background blur of your videos, and can even adjust it continuously while you're shooting. However the camera will override this control if it decides the light is too low for it to close down the aperture any further and still maintain the correct exposure.

In all of the other exposure modes, the camera will take control over all exposure settings once you press the record button, meaning that (bizarrely) you have less creative control over video in the PASM modes than in iAuto. Even if you swap the Q.Menu button to act as Fn, and then dedicate it as AEL/AFL, the exposure still won't lock while shooting movies.

The GF2 does have a unique trick up its sleeve though, in the shape of a well-implemented 'pull-focus' system that allows you to use the touchscreen to dictate where the camera should refocus as you're shooting. We found this works best with the 23-area focus mode, as AF tracking will not always accept the point you've selected (if it doesn't recognize a subject in the area selected), and the single-point mode requires a confirmation step after you've specified an area.

The GF2 also has a clever-sounding 'Extra Tele Converter' function that records video using just the central region of the sensor. Unfortunately this doesn't do anything in Full HD mode, but in HD it gives an effective teleconversion factor of 3.1x, and in the VGA and QVGA modes this extends to 4.1x. There are problems with the implementation though, because it's also available when shooting stills, and you can't set it independantly for stills and movies. This means you can't engage it if you're recording stills in raw format, and you can't even preview its effect prior to recording unless you reduce your image size to medium. This means it's nowhere near as useful as it could be.

Movie mode displays

The GF2 offers a choice of two screens during recording, one simple and one with more detailed information. Somewhat cryptically the icon in the top left changes to indicate your recording mode - in the PASM modes you get a little movie camera icon when shooting AVCHD, and a filmstrip icon when recording MOV files. In iAuto the camera eschews this, and tells you the scene mode it's chosen instead.

If you activate the defocus control in iAuto prior to starting recording, you'll also see the slider on your screen and can adjust it as you go along.

This is the basic movie record screen, with the camera in iAuto mode (which, oddly, offers the most control for video). The gridlines are optional. Tap the disp button and you get this more detailed view, including a live histogram and sound level meter, plus time remaining and any exposure compensation you've set.

Video quality comments

The GF2's video is pretty good - bright, vibrant and as smooth as its specifications would suggest. The pull-focus system works well, allowing gentle transitions in focus point without adding jarring jumps or fluctuation. Indeed autofocus, whether instructed where to travel or left to follow its own instincts does a pretty good job - it rarely feels the need to drift or oscillate to reconfirm focus, which is a significant advantage over many of its peers.

Sound is generally very good and, despite its internal mics being very closely sited, there's a good degree of channel separation. Sadly, there's no external mic option so it's easy to introduce operator noise if you change your grip on the camera.

The lack of internal image stabilization begins to show unless you use one of Panasonic's OIS lenses, such as the 14-42mm kit zoom or the video-optimized 14-140mm. When working with other lenses a tripod becomes all-but-essential for video shooting if you want to avoid shakey movies. And, of course, the ease with which you can nudge the camera when trying to use the touch pull-focus system means a tripod is useful here too.

Sample videos - MJPEG

The GF2 can shoot 720p movies in both the Motion-JPEG or AVCHD format. This sample is a 720p Motion-JPEG MOV file shot hand-held (apologies for the slight shakiness).

Sample movie: 1240 x 720 pixels @ 30p
File size: 39.8 MB, 10 secs

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: very large file)

The sample below is a short VGA movie to illustrate the effectiveness of the touch-pull-focus control (Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-45mm F3.5-5.9 OIS lens, shot using a tripod).

Sample movie: 640 x 480 pixels @ 30p
File size: 6.3 MB, 4 secs

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: very large file)

The next sample shows the effect of using the Defocus Control slider while recording a movie. Watch how the initially-blurred background is gradually brought into focus. With this particular lens (again the 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS) there's a noticeable brief flicker each time the camera stops the aperture down and increases the gain to compensate.

Sample movie: 640 x 480 pixels @ 30p
File size: 19.4 MB, 13 secs

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: very large file)

Sample videos - AVCHD

In AVCHD mode, the camera can shoot in either 720p or 1080i modes. In both instances the footage is recorded at 25 or 30 frames per second (depending on whether your unit is from a PAL or NTSC TV region), then played back at double that rate. The 720 HD video is shown in progressive form (complete frames), while the 1080 Full HD video is shown in the interlaced form (alternating sets of alternate lines).

The Open Source VLC player will be able to play the .MTS files that are generated by the GF2's AVCHD mode. You can download the application on the VLC website.

Sample movie: 1240 x 720 pixels @ 60p (captured as 30p)
File size: 12.2 MB, 8 secs

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: very large file)
Sample movie: 1920 x 1080 pixels @ 60i (captured as 30p)
File size: 30.1 MB, 8 secs

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: very large file)