Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- JPEG output shows impressive detail at base ISO
- Good resolution, even slightly more in RAW
- Good balance between noise reduction and detail retention at higher ISOs
- Good control over high ISO noise reduction
- Smaller dimensions and lighter than comparable DSLRs
- Good build quality and handling
- Intuitive user-interface that combines compact and DSLR features
- Large number of external controls including a very useful 'push-and-turn' dial
- Intuitively structured menu system
- Very useful status panel and quick menu allow direct access to many important settings
- Currently highest resolution swivel-screen
- Excellent electronic viewfinder (bigger than any comparable conventional DSLR)
- Excellent movie mode, AVCHD, 1080p, full manual control, fast AF
- Video-optimized kit lens with stepless aperture control and silent focusing
- External microphone socket, stereo sound
- Fast contrast detect Auto Focus (on par with entry level DSLRs), movable AF area and tracking
- Very usable manual focus magnification
- Very snappy performance throughout (only average continuous shooting though)
- Effective image stabilization on kit lens
- Highly customizable - up to three custom modes and many user-definable options
- Movable live-histogram
- Selectable aspect-ratio (true multi-aspect sensor)
- Shutter-speed simulation
- Comprehensive software package included
Conclusion - Cons
- Comparatively steep tone curve (JPEG) can lead to highlight clipping
- Relatively small amount of RAW headroom
- Fairly low powered flash (but good flash metering)
- Electronic viewfinder difficult to use in low light (noisy image and greatly reduced refresh rate)
- Fairly unreliable auto white balance (in artificial light) and no fluorescent white balance preset
- Battery life worse than most entry-level DSLRs (330 CIPA standard)
- Intelligent exposure very difficult to trigger
- Still fairly limited choice of lenses and accessories
- Kit lens struggles to resolve sensor detail (but no worse than comparable lenses)
- Fairly loud shutter sound for a non-SLR camera
- Exposed sensor requires care when changing lenses
- Image parameters offer only relatively small variation range
When Panasonic launched the first Micro Four Thirds camera, the DMC-G1, in September last year the lack of a video recording capability was a surprise to consumers and reviewers alike. After all this feature is usually available on even the cheapest digital compact cameras and there was no apparent technological reason for its omission on the G1. Therefore it was hardly a surprise to anyone when Panasonic six months later announced the GH1 which (apart from a few fairly minor changes) is pretty much what it says on the tin - a G1 with an added HD video mode.
Consequently the GH1's performance is in almost all areas very similar to its sister model. In most shooting situations the camera produces high image quality out of the box and the camera's user interface manages to combine the ease-of-use of a digital compact camera with the control, flexibility and speed of a DSLR.
So the 'only' really big news on the GH1 is the HD video mode. However, it's fair to say that this is the best implementation of video on a 'non-compact camera' that we've seen so far. Since Panasonic's new G-series has been designed around live view from the beginning the video feature appears much less of an add-on than on the current crop of video-enabled DSLRs and integrates much more seamlessly with the stills photography functions. Most controls work in both modes and there's a video button to start/stop video recording whatever setting the camera is currently in - easy.
The contrast detect auto focus, especially in combination with the new 14-140mm lens, has been optimized for video operation as well. It's much quicker than on DSLRs and actually very usable, which makes the GH1 a much better all round video camera than any of the video DSLRs we have seen so far (their contrast detect AF systems are so slow that they are only really usable with static subjects). The interchangeable lenses (although only the 14-140mm kit lens is currently optimized for video), swivel LCD, manual video controls and the optional external microphone will all be very appealing to serious videographers and amateurs alike, and make the GH1 a true video/stills hybrid.
It's not all sunshine though. Limited lens support is still a bit of a problem for the entire Four Thirds system as there is currently only a very limited number of lenses available for the system, none of which offer really fast apertures; and when using standard four thirds lenses with the adaptor, most don't autofocus and are somehow out of proportion to the GH1's small body.
The GH1's biggest problem though could be its suggested retail price of $1499.95 (including the 14-140mm kit lens) which at first sight makes it look ridiculously overpriced compared to its competitors in the 'upper entry level' DSLR segment such as the Canon EOS 500D/T1i or the Nikon D5000. However, there are three reasons why this is not really true, and Panasonic can only hope consumers are aware of them.
Firstly, quite a large proportion of the kit price is spent on the lens, which is much more expensive than the cheapo kit lenses of the DSLR competition. Equip a 500D/T1i with the Canon 18-200mm lens (which would be Canon's equivalent to the Lumix 14-140mm) instead of the 18-55 kit lens, and this will take you much closer to GH1 territory in price. Secondly, as usual, the suggested retail price will certainly pretty quickly drop into more attractive regions once the GH1 hits the shops in significant numbers, and thirdly and most importantly the GH1 is not only a pretty good stills camera but can also, depending on your requirements, be an adequate alternative for a stand-alone camcorder.
The GH1 is smaller than even the smallest DSLRs but, thanks to its good sized grip and reassuring weight, always feels solid and stable in your hand. From a user interface point of view the Panasonic offers the best of two worlds. You can use it with your eye to the viewfinder and control the settings via the various external controls. Despite being built around Live view the GH1 will pretty much behave like a DSLR (with the low light limitations of the electronic viewfinder). However, if you stick it on fully automatic, ignore the wealth of options and pages of menus and use the LCD for framing you can shoot with the GH1 as you would with a compact camera.
No matter if you're coming from a compact or DSLR, the entire user interface including menus has an intuitive and concise design and within a few days of shooting with the GH1 you'll know your way around the camera very well and will probably have developed your individual 'style of operation' using a mixture of external and Quick Menu controls.
Like its sister model G1, the GH1 delivers solid image quality in most situations and there aren't any major image quality issues to report on.
At default settings and at low sensitivities the GH1 produces consistently high quality out-of-cam without a need to alter any of the image parameters. The JPEG output shows natural tones and colors and is free from any kind of processing artifacts. Detail is even slightly better when shooting in RAW.
However, the GH1 is sometimes slightly let down by its 14-140mm kit lens. While it's not any worse than equivalent lenses such as the Canon or Nikon 18-200mm zooms away from the center it struggles to deliver the resolution that the GH1's Live-MOS sensor would theoretically be capable of. A 28-280mm equivalent zoom range is extremely useful and the lens has been optimized for shooting video (stepless aperture, silent focusing). Therefore some loss of detail towards the edges of the frame is a price that many users will be happy to pay for the extra flexibility.
In low light and at higher sensitivities the GH1 is not doing a bad job either. The noise that is produced by the Panasonic Four Thirds sensor is fairly effectively counteracted by the imaging engine's noise reduction algorithms and the GH1 can keep up with the better entry level DSLRs. Its high ISO images show an appealing balance between noise reduction and detail retention. At ISO 1600 noise starts to kick in much more aggressively (especially 'bands' of chroma noise in the shadows) but even the ISO 3200 output is still usable for smaller prints or web albums.
The GH1's metering almost always works in a very reliable manner but the camera's fairly steep default tone curve results in a tendency to clip highlights a little earlier than most APS-C sensor DSLRs. There's no need to worry too much about this but it's useful to be aware of the issue and, where necessary, counteract with a bit of negative exposure compensation.
The final word
The GH1 offers the same ease-of-use and solid image quality as its sister model G1. On top top of that you get the best implementation of a HD video mode that we have yet seen on a large sensor camera. You pay a fairly hefty premium for this feature, but for anyone who is planning to make good use of the camera's motion picture capabilities, the GH1 has to be highly recommended.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Expensive compared to most comparable SLRs, the key to the GH1's appeal is its class-leading HD movie capture. The fact that it has the best sensor of any Micro Four Thirds camera is just the icing on the cake. Somewhat niche? Sure, but it makes most other SLR movie modes look like toys.
Original Rating (July 2009): Highly Recommended
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Specifications
- 3 Body & Design
- 4 Body & Design
- 5 Body & Design
- 6 Operation & Controls
- 7 Operation & Controls
- 8 Operation (Live View)
- 9 Displays
- 10 Menus
- 11 Menus
- 12 Performance & IS
- 13 Photographic tests (RAW)
- 14 Photographic tests (Noise)
- 15 Photographic tests (Noise)
- 16 Photographic tests (DR)
- 17 Photographic tests (Kit Lens)
- 18 Photographic tests
- 19 Movie Mode
- 20 Compared to
- 21 Compared to (JPEG)
- 22 Compared to (JPEG)
- 23 Compared to (JPEG)
- 24 Compared to (RAW)
- 25 Compared to (RAW)
- 26 Compared to (RAW)
- 27 Compared to (Higher ISO)
- 28 Compared to (Resolution)
- 29 Compared to (Resolution)
- 30 Conclusion
- 31 Samples
Jul 10, 2009
Mar 3, 2009
Jun 29, 2012
Jun 29, 2012
Sony is the world's leading mirrorless camera brand but remains third for ILCs overall, it's said in a presentation to investors. A focus on high value cameras and lenses should boost operating income, it says. Read more
It's nicknamed the 'Cycloptic Mustard Monster,' and is a 3D printed medium format camera. Read more
The new NanGuang LED lights are battery powered and come with accessories including filters and diffusers.
Have you been telling yourself, "Hey, I really need one of those 8K displays?" A video about Dell's new 8K monitor shows you what to expect. Is it really that much better?
Tamara Lackey, a Nikon ambassador USA and pro shooter, discusses embracing self-consciousness as a means of connecting with subjects.
There's a new Spiderman movie coming out and the poster been generating a lot of online chatter. Mostly about how it looks like the creation of a fevered teenager that just discovered Photoshop.
An honest defense of the system's merits, with photos as proof.
Copyright disputes are no fun at all. 'Binded' is a new startup that aims to simplify the process of registering - and enforcing - copyright for photographers. Read more
Not everyone wants to pay a premium for a long zoom camera. Thankfully, there are many reasonably priced cameras available, though they won't offer the same image quality as enthusiast models. In this updated roundup we look at big zoom cameras with more consumer-friendly price tags. Read more
Think Tank Photo has updated two of its popular bag lines with improvements to functionality. Read more
We’ve all seen Bob Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo, but there's another.
The sample footage looks good.
It will automatically pick the best camera settings depending on shooting conditions. It even promises enhanced functionality for your camera, like exposure and focus stacking. It already supports many cameras from Canon, Fuji, Nikon and Sony. Read more
As if $13,950 wasn’t enough to pay for a special edition lens, the Leica Store in San Francisco is offering a prototype of said lens for $24,995. Read more
Make those old photos disappear without deleting them forever.
Firmware updates enable 10 fps shooting with adapted A-mount lenses, and faster startup times and better compatibility for 20 fps shooting when using native lenses on the a9.
Fujifilm has released firmware updates for its camera models X-T2, X-Pro2, GFX 50s, X-T20, X100F and X-T1 and updates to three of its software products.
A 22 year-old Romanian photographer uses his DJI Phantom 4 drone to capture unique perspectives of the city where he now lives.
What's it like to ride the waves with champion surfer Kelly Slater? This VR video from Teton Gravity Research gives you a taste.
When Nikon released the full-frame D3 in 2007, it changed the professional photography industry. In this week's Throwback Thursday, Barney remembers a legend. Read more
The new stuff should have better red hues, improved sensitivity and finer grain - but don't worry - will still shift blues to green, greens to purple and yellows to pink.
Ricoh has introduced a new rugged compact camera with a 16MP CMOS sensor, 28-140mm lens, 2.7" LCD and built-in LED macro lights. Read more
This compact drone can shoot HD video using a 2-axis stabilized 12MP camera. Read more
The new Prynt Pocket can print a photo directly from their iPhone simply by inserting the phone into the printer, then snapping a photo. Each print will cost about 50 cents. Read more
Updates for Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom CC bring support for the Sony A9 and Panasonic ZS70/TZ90, along with bug fixes.
The Triggertrap remote camera control system is no longer sold due to the company folding, but now users will be able to build their own. Read more
The Magic Format Converter comes with internal optics that expand the image circle of full-frame DSLR lenses for use on the Fuji medium format camera. Read more
The usually Apple-exclusive MacPhun software developer has announced that it will introduce PC versions of two of its most popular applications. Both Aurora HDR and Luminar should be available for the Windows operating system by the autumn of this year. Read more
Sony's newest G Master telephoto zoom, announced alongside the a9, is the first of the company's FE lenses to reach 400mm natively. We had one in California and photographed horses, portraits, and landscapes - check out how it did. Read more
Garmin has entered the 360-camera market with the VIRB, which captures 5.7K video at 30p as well as 15MP stills. Read more