From a design point of view it's less complex to implement a video mode into a 'live view only' camera such as the GH1 than in a DSLR which needs to flip its mirror out of the way before it can start recording. It was therefore a surprise to many when the world's first Micro Four Thirds camera, the Panasonic DMC-G1, did not come with a video recording feature.

However, it was only a question of time before Panasonic would launch a video-enabled model in its new G-Range and, as expected, the GH1 comes with a video specification that does indeed look impressive. The camera's kit lens, the also brand new LUMIX G VARIO HD 14-140mm F4.0-5.8, features a video-optimized design including stepless aperture control (to avoid sudden brightness changes during filming) and extra-silent focusing. On paper the GH1 offers everything you need to shoot your very own blockbuster.

Video specification

In AVCHD mode the GH1 offers true HD video capture at 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p) at 24 frames per second or 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) at 60 frames per second. If you record your videos in Motion JPEG format you can choose from 720p at 30 frames per second and a range of smaller video sizes.

The built-in microphone captures stereo audio and you can connect an optional external microphone (DMW-MS1). There is a small built-in speaker for video playback in-camera.

Sizes • AVCHD :
1920 x 1080, 24fps (24 fps encapsulated in a 60i format)
1280 x 720, 60fps
• Motion JPEG:
1280 x 720, 30fps
848 x 480, 30fps
640 x 480, 30fps
320 x 240, 30fps
Audio Dolby Digital Stereo Creator format, wind-cut feature
Format AVCHD / QuickTime Motion JPEG
File size 2.8 MB/sec (1080p AVCHD), 4.3 MB/sec (720p Motion JPEG)
Max file size per clip 2.0 GB for Motion JPEG, card capacity for AVCHD
Running time Up to 2GB for Motion JPEG, up to capacity of card for AVCHD (Limited to 29 minutes on examples sold in Europe).

Using Movie Mode

The Panasonic GH1 does not come with a dedicated movie mode on the mode dial. Instead, whatever mode the camera is currently set to, you press the dedicated movie button on the back of the camera to start and stop recording a movie. Equally the Motion Picture menu can be accessed at all times by pressing the menu button.

If the mode dial is set to intelligent Auto the GH1 will, pretty much like when shooting still images, set most parameters for you automatically. With the mode dial set to one of the PASM positions the GH1 sets shutter speed and aperture automatically, but you can alter some other parameters such as white balance or metering mode manually. When set to any of the scene modes such as portrait or sports the GH1 will optimize its video settings for these specific scenarios, but you can also get almost total creative control over the GH1's video mode by turning the mode dial into the Creative Motion Picture position. In this mode you can select pretty much all shooting settings including shutter speed, aperture and ISO manually.

During video recording you can focus manually or use the continuous AF which, with the new 14-140mm lens works almost silently and manages to follow the subject pretty reliably. You can change the amount of information shown on the screen during video capture by pressing the Display button. The swivel screen is very useful if you want to shoot from a lower vantage point, and if it's too bright to use the LCD display you can still use the electronic viewfinder.

Like the video-enabled DSLRs that we have tested previously the GH1 does not come with a power-zoom (something you'd find on most serious camcorders) and it's therefore quite difficult to zoom during hand-held video-recording without generating at least some camera-shake (for most serious videographers that's probably not too much of a problem as zoom is something you'd only want to use in minimal doses). It's probably also worth mentioning that, unlike some DSLRs, on the GH1 you can't take a still image while recording video by pressing the shutter button.

All in all the GH1 offers arguably the most usable video mode out of the recently reviewed 'video-cameras' (Canon EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 500D, Nikon D90 and D5000). It lacks many of the features that serious camcorders these days come with such as a swivel EVF, power-zoom, audio-monitoring or manual control over audio recording and therefore is unlikely to be an adequate replacement for a serious videographer's equipment. However, its video capabilities offer more than the occasional 'vacation videographer' would ever need.

The GH1/14-140mm combination's silent and quick contrast detect AF, coupled with ergonomics that have been designed with video in mind, certainly take it beyond the current crop of video-enabled DSLRs which suffer from clunky video controls and largely unusable AF systems. Like those DSLRs though it can shoot video with the shallow depth-of-field that you would only get from significantly more expensive large-sensor camcorders, and for this reason alone it will certainly find its way into the equipment bags of more than one professional videographer - if not as the main, at least as an additional tool.

Movie mode displays

Motion Picture menu You can choose between AVCHD and Motion JPEG recording formats...
...and a range of recording quality levels. When the mode dial is set to Creative Motion Picture you can select from PASM shooting modes in the Quick menu.
In Aperture Priority mode you can set the aperture either in the Quick menu or using the front dial. In the Creative Motion Picture Modes it's also possible to set ISO manually.

Video quality comments

We've produced a large number of video samples with the GH1 while working on this review and looking at the results it's obvious that the camera is capable of producing very high quality HD video footage. If resolution is a priority the 1080p/24fps AVCHD mode produces perfectly usable footage but the 720p/60fps AVCHD mode generates visibly smoother output. When shooting in Motion JPEG format the file sizes are larger and you're limited to 30 frames per second but the image quality in all modes is detailed, clean and free of artifacts - pretty much broadcast quality.

Due to the GH1's smaller Four Thirds sensor you can't quite create the same shallow depth-of-field as on a full-frame DSLR such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark II or even an APS-C sensor camera such as the Nikon D90, but you still get a much more cinema-like depth of field than with any digital compact camera or even most semi-pro camcorders. When shooting in low light at higher sensitivities (you can use up to ISO 1600 when recording video) the image gets a little grainy, but on the much smaller video images (compared to the still images) the noise is less intrusive.

While most dedicated camcorders use CCD imaging sensors the GH1, like the current crop of video enabled DSLRs, uses a CMOS sensor. The readout of CMOS sensors means movies are created with a rolling shutter (horizontal lines of the image are scanned, one after another, rather than the whole scene being grabbed in one go) and as a consequence video footage from these cameras can suffer from distortion.

Verticals can be skewed if the camera (or the subject) moves too fast - the top of the image has been recorded earlier than the bottom, so moving vertical lines can be rendered as diagonals. However, on the GH1 this effect is much less pronounced than on the Canon or Nikon DSLRs (check sample video number 10 below) which suggests that the internal circuitry has been designed for optimized read-out speeds. Even when panning very quickly only a slight distortion is visible.

As we've said before we don't review dedicated high-end video cameras, and therefore can't really comment on how well the Panasonic GH1 video quality compares to this type of equipment, but we can say that compared to the video-enabled DSLRs we have reviewed so far the GH1 is up there with the best. Check for yourself on the sample videos below. There are also some additional video samples on the gallery page we posted in May.

Sample video 1

This video was shot in 1080i AVCHD. In this mode the camera records 24 frames per second and then multiplies the frames to create a 60i video. The video is screen-filling but due to the lower frame rate not as smooth as the 720p AVCHD mode and therefore less suitable for fast moving subjects.

The Open Source VLC player will be able to play the .MTS files that are generated by the GH1's AVCHD mode. You can download the application on the VLC website.

1920 x 1080, 24 fps, AVCHD, .MTS file, 8 sec. 21.9 MB

Sample video 2

This video was shot at quite a distance from the stage, handheld at the long end of the 14-140mm LUMIX lens. The results is very impressive indeed. The 60fps in AVCHD mode make the motion very smooth and despite the high ISO the image quality is more than acceptable. The internal microphone is doing a very decent job as well.

The Open Source VLC player will be able to play the .MTS files that are generated by the GH1's AVCHD mode. You can download the application on the VLC website.

1280 x 720, 60 fps, AVCHD, .MTS file, 8 sec. 15.1 MB

Sample video 3

This video was shot in shutter speed priority with the shutter speed set to 1/500 sec. This 'freezes' the motion on each individual frame and fast motion appears much clearer in the video. This is also very useful if you want to 'analyze' a video frame by frame. Of course you need more light for faster shutter speeds, otherwise the GH1 will select a higher sensitivity (ISO 1600 in this case). If even the highest ISO setting is not enough for the light conditions and shutter speed/aperture combination the video will, just like a still image, simply be underexposed. The GH1's live view gives you an exposure preview.

1280 x 720, 30 fps. MOV (Quicktime) file. 7 sec. 113.4 MB Very large file!

Sample video 4

This video with panning and fast moving objects was shot at the long end of the 14-140mm zoom lens. Camera shake is mainly due to the author's inferior panning technique.

1280 x 720, 30 fps, Motion JPEG, .MOV file, 12 sec. 22.0 MB

Sample video 5

This video was shot indoors and shows the GH1's performance in low light. In situations like this the camera's auto video mode will usually choose ISO 1600.

1280 x 720, 30 fps, Motion JPEG, .MOV file, 5 sec. 17.9 MB

Sample video 6 and 7

The following two videos have been shot using the external microphone DMW-MS1 (first clip) and the internal microphone (second clip). While the internal stereo mic is not doing a bad job at all the optional external microphone improves sound quality noticeably. It's also more directional and makes a sensible investment if sound quality is a priority in your videos.

1920 x 1080, 30 fps. MOV (Quicktime) file. 2 sec. 12.7 MB - external microphone
1920 x 1080, 20 fps. MOV (Quicktime) file. 5 sec. 17.4 MB

Sample video 8

This clip was shot with the external DMW-MS1 microphone as well. You can also see how it's possible to isolate the subject when shooting at longer focal lengths and/or large apertures.

1280 x 720, 30 fps, Motion JPEG, .MOV file, 9 sec. 35.6 MB - external microphone

Sample video 9

This video was shot in aperture priority mode and shows the control over depth of field you get with the 14-140 lens. The lens is stopped down to F22 and then opened up all the way to F5.6 again. You can see the change of depth of field and the image getting darker at very small apertures. Please note the slight flickering is due to the fluorescent lamp this scene was lit with.

1280 x 720, 30 fps, Motion JPEG, .MOV file, 9 sec. 32.5 MB

Sample video 10

This video with panning, shows that the rolling shutter, which can be a problem on CMOS sensor cameras recording video, is much less pronounced on the GH1 than on some of the video-enabled DSLRs we reviewed recently. It appears the GH1 sensor has been optimized for accelerated read-out speeds.

1280 x 720, 30 fps, Motion JPEG, .MOV file, 7 sec. 25.6 MB

Sample video 11

This video demonstrates the 14-140mm kit lens' stepless aperture control. The camera starts recording in almost total darkness, then we switch the light on and you can see how the camera modifies gain and aperture for a very smooth exposure adjustement rather than the exposure steps you would get with a conventional lens.

1280 x 720, 30 fps, Motion JPEG, .MOV file, 5 sec. 9.1 MB