Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Review
Operation and controls
The GF2's simplified control layout signals a camera whose operational ethos is different from any previous G-series model. Crucially, the loss of those external dials and buttons means that the touchscreen now becomes the de facto method for accessing some of the controls - including exposure mode and focus point selection, and the Quick Menu. You can still deactivate most of its functions and rely on the buttons instead, but this slows things down and slightly reduces the amount of control available.
We've seen some pretty awful touchscreen implementations on cameras in the past, but the GF2 illustrates how to do it properly, with an interface that's been thoughtfully designed with large, well-spaced buttons. The touch screen is, like the G2's, resistive (i.e. pressure sensitive) rather then capacitative, so tends to work best when pressed with a fingernail (as opposed to a fingertip, iPhone-style). Once you understand this, and get a feel for how the screen responds, it becomes a fairly fluid and intuitive way to change settings.
The touch screen won't be for everyone, of course. As a control paradigm it rather falls apart if you prefer to shoot using an accessory EVF, but fortunately you can then customize everything to work off the physical controls. But in this regard the GF2's loss of buttons - most notably AEL/AFL - makes it a slightly less capable camera than its predecessor.
Because the touch screen is resistive it still works when you're wearing gloves, unlike capacitative screens. However its effectiveness drops rapidly with glove thickness, and in very cold weather it's difficult to activate and press the on-screen buttons reliably. To be fair, though, conventional button-driven interfaces on this kind of small camera rarely work much better under such conditions.
Top of camera controls
Here we see the GF2's de-cluttered top plate. It plays host to the power switch, shutter button, movie record button (now larger and more prominent), and the G2-style iA button. Pressing this switches the camera into its user-friendly Intelligent Auto mode, with the button lighting up blue in the process.
The familiar thumbwheel that's used to change major exposure settings is on the back of the camera below the iA button, and in typical Panasonic fashion can be clicked in to change the parameter it's controlling (shutter speed, aperture, or exposure compensation in PASM modes, or Peripheral Defocus in iA mode). It's shrunk in size and is now a little small, but still quite useable. The little grille on the back beside the hot shoe conceals the speaker that's used during playback (moved from the front of the hot shoe on the GF1).
Rear of camera controls
The back of the camera is very simple, with a four-way controller surrounding the Menu/Set button that provides direct access to the most commonly-changed functions. Above this is the button to enter playback mode (which we found to be a little too close to the thumbgrip, and rather easy to press accidentally), and below is one which can be configured either as a direct access 'Fn' button, or to bring up the new fully-customizable Quick Menu that lets you access a wide range of other functions of your choice. In playback mode, this also acts as the delete key.
None of the functions that had their own buttons on the GF1 have disappeared completely; they're all either options on the 'Fn' key or in the Quick Menu. However you can of course only assign one function to Fn at any one time, so can set the camera up to access either AF/AE lock or DOF preview, but not both. Also if you choose to use this key as 'Fn', you no longer get button-driven access to the Quick Menu, meaning you have no choice but to access it via the touchscreen control.
It's important to appreciate, however, that pretty well all the controls you're likely to use the most - shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, ISO and white balance - still behave in exactly the same way as on the rest of the G-series. You certainly don't have to use the touch screen all of the time.
Shooting displays (live view) and touchscreen control
The GF2, like the G2 and GH2 before it, gains a touch screen, but the big difference is that with the loss of many of the buttons and dials, it now becomes a much more integral part of the camera's controls. It's the most convenient and streamlined way to set an off center-focus point, change the exposure mode or access the Quick Menu, and indeed provides the only way to change the amount of information displayed on screen (replacing the DISP. button completely).
Thankfully, Panasonic has redesigned the interface to reflect this touchscreen-reliance with large, easy to press buttons appearing on the screen whenever you go into touch selection mode. Once the menu is displayed, you can also navigate the options and and change your settings using the 4-way controller.
|This is the GF2's standard shooting mode display screen. Translucent blue rectangles act as virtual buttons which you can press to change exposure mode, access the Quick Menu, operate the touchscreen shutter or change the display mode.
The Q.Menu and Touch Shutter buttons can be disabled in the menus.
|For a less cluttered view, you can tap the on-screen 'DISP.' button to turn the shooting data display off.
All of the buttons down the right side of the screen disappear on a half-press of the shutter, giving you a cleaner view for composition.
|Pressing the Exposure Mode button at the top left brings up this selection window - simply tap the mode you want to use next.
The GF1's dedicated movie mode has disappeared, and there are now three custom modes rather than four.
Touch screen AF point positioning
The touchscreen can be used to select your preferred subject for focusing, as on the G2 and GH2. This is a great feature, and there are few easier ways to specify an off-center focus point on any camera. You still have the option of positioning the AF point using the 4-way controller if you prefer, in exactly the same way as on other G-series models.
|You can touch the screen to tell the camera whereabouts in the scene you want it to focus.
This may not sound like much, but is in fact rather useful; it's possibly the quickest and most intuitive way of setting an off-center autofocus point on any camera.
Touch screen 'Defocus Control' (iAuto mode)
The touchscreen is also used to operate the GF2's new 'Defocus Control' function. This is a results-orientated depth of field slider that's integrated into iAuto (and the 'My Color' modes) in a fashion decidedly reminiscent of the Sony NEXs' 'Bkgrnd Defocus'. Panasonic has sensibly limited the minimum aperture available in this mode to F11, which should reduce the risk of getting blurred images due to diffraction / camera shake / high ISO noise. Our only quibble is that the camera doesn't make clear that it's achieving the desired result by changing the aperture, which could be a helpful teaching tool; it would be nice if it could simply highlight the value in yellow while it's being changed.
You can also combine exposure compensation with Defocus Control, and the effect on image brightness is previewed live on screen. This makes the GF2 one of the best entry-level cameras for learning quickly what these controls actually do - kudos to Panasonic. Unfortunately though, the camera changes its behavior in the PASM modes, and no longer stops the aperture down by default - instead you have to set the Fn button to depth of field preview.
| In iAuto, tapping the second button from the top on the right activates 'Defocus control'. A simple slider acts as a results-orientated aperture control, with the effect previewed live on the LCD.
This control can also be operated using the thumbwheel, at which point it behaves very much like 'proper' aperture priority.
Customizable, touch-screen optimized quick menu
The redesigned Quick Menu is crucial to making the new interface work well for more advanced users. The name may have stayed the same, but the GF2's version' is radically different - and improved - from that on any previous G series camera. Instead of having to cycle through all the options Panasonic has chosen to show on the screen, regardless of whether you're likely to change them or not, you now get a shortlist of frequently-changed settings to choose from.
By default the Q Menu displays aspect ratio, size and quality options for both stills and movies, plus metering pattern and focus mode. However you can build your own personalized version containing up to 10 items from a choice of no fewer than 23 functions, and order them any way you like so that your most-used choices are shown first. What's more, you can set up entirely different Q Menu selections for each Custom exposure mode. So if you use the EVF frequently, for example, you can configure a C mode with the controls specifically set up for eye-level shooting.
This level of customizability and flexibility is pretty well unique, and means that the GF2 can stake a genuine claim to having the best-implemented Quick Menu of any current camera.
|Press the Q Menu button and you get a screen like this. The currently available functions are displayed in a row towards the bottom, and a box above displays the options you can select from. You can either tap to choose the one you want, or navigate to it using the 4-way controller and press 'SET'.|
|Pressing the 'Spanner' button at the lower left of the screen allows you to customize the Q Menu to suit your personal needs. First you get this 'explanatory' screen...|
|...then you can drag and drop up to 10 items from the top window (from a choice of 23, see below) onto the Q menu bar below. These can be set in any order you like.
The Q menu can also be set up using the 4-way controller if you prefer, but it's quicker and easier to do it by touch.
You can access the Quick Menu in one of two ways - either by an on-screen touch button, or using the Q. Menu/Fn button on the rear of the camera. The disadvantage of the latter is that you then miss out on the ability to set it up as a Fn button, for quick access to a function you use frequently (AEL for example). A full list of the options that can be used in the Q Menu or assigned to the Fn button is given in the table below:
Q. Menu options
(Up to 10 may be selected)
Fn. button options
| • Flash mode
• Motion Pic. Settings
• Picture size / aspect ratio
• Burst Rate
• Auto Bracket
• Self Timer
• I. Dynamic
• I. Resolution
• Guide lines
• Histogram on/off
| • AF mode
• Focus Mode
• Metering mode
• Aperture Value
• Shutter Speed
• Exposure Comp.
• ISO sensitivity
• White balance
• Remaining Disp
• Ex. Tele Conv.
• Drive Mode
| • AF / AE Lock
• Depth of Field Preview
• Aspect Ratio
• Focus Mode
• Metering Mode
• I. Resolution
• I. Dynamic
• Ex Tele Conv
• Picture Adjust
• Guide Line
• Movie/stills Rec Area
New features /controls
The GF2 offers a number of extra controls compared to the GF1, mostly related to the touchscreen and the camera's enhanced movie capabilities.
|Borrowed from the GH2, you can adjust the sensitivity level of the microphone in four steps, with a sound level meter to help you judge the best setting.||There's also a Flicker Reduction setting for shooting under fluorescent light, that allows you to tell the camera the expected flicker frequency.|
|The 'Picture Adjust' control is a slightly simplified version of what Panasonic previously called 'Film Mode', allowing control over contrast, saturation and noise reduction. The biggest difference is that the array of colour options previously available has been replaced by, simply, 'Color' and 'B/W', which correspond to the GF1's 'Standard' and 'B&W standard'.||In the custom menu you can choose which of the touchscreen control options you want to enable or turn off. We'd disable Touch Shutter (as it's a recipe for camera shake) and, after learning how the camera works, Touch Guide (which repeatedly displays explanations of how to use the screen, and therefore slows down operation).|
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