First to turn the concept of an interchangeable lens camera without an optical viewfinder system into a reality, Panasonic has seen a few competitors arrive since it showed off the Lumix G1 at the 2008 Photokina.
Still looking very much like a D-SLR even though it wasn’t, and also quite a bit more expensive than the entry-level D-SLRs, the Micro Four Thirds format G1 certainly had more appeal for enthusiasts than converts from point-andshoot cameras. Consequently, Panasonic has replaced it with two models – the G10 which addresses the pricing issue and the G2 which is now deliberately targeted at the higher-level user and featured accordingly. Both still have the same D-SLR lookalike styling as the G1 and are pretty well the same size overall – in the Micro Four Thirds format it’s the lenses that make the difference – but Panasonic has been fine-tuning its designs to take on the competition from Olympus, Samsung and Sony. And the latter two have set the ‘APS-C’ cat among the MFT pigeons in terms of pricing (Samsung) and design (Sony).
However, with its pricing now much more realistically set and its feature suite significantly enhanced, the Lumix G2 is a more formidable competitor in its own right. In the same manner as the Samsung NX10, it’s also a very appealing looking camera for anybody who wants the ‘street cred’ of the D-SLR shape, but with nicely petite proportions. Despite its compactness, the G2 still looks like a serious camera and, in terms of the external layout, it basically follows the D-SLR recipe so it all looks very familiar and any current reflex user will have no problem acclimatising. Panasonic has reduced the size of the handgrip to help slim down the G2 a little further, but it’s still quite comfortable to hold. Of course, there’s still an eyelevel finder – but electronic rather than optical – for those who find holding a camera at arm’s length for viewfinding a bit alien. The eye-level EVF is the same LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) type display as the G1 and Panasonic calls it a “Live View Finder” It has a resolution of 1.44 megapixels (i.e. 480,000 pixels per RGB colour) and provides a 100 percent field-of-view. The live view feed is at 60 fps which makes for smoother continuous imaging to reduce the lag which made the earlier-generation EVFs so annoying. Move the camera really quickly and EVF image will get a bit jerky (with a big catch-up at the end), but the overall quality is very good indeed, particularly in terms of sharpness and detailing. The dynamic range is also pretty good although, as was the case with the G1, the shadow areas do block up quite a bit.
Proximity sensors on the eyepiece allow for automatic switching between the displays, but there’s also an ‘LVF/LCD’ button for doing this manually. The main monitor is a 7.62 cm TFT-type LCD screen that folds out to be adjustable for tilt and swing. This allows it to be folded back into the camera with the screen facing inwards so it’s fully protected when the camera is being carried or stored.
Touch And Go
An important new feature is touch control which varies in its functionality according to the camera’s shooting mode. First, touch screen operation has to be activated via the custom menu and there are separate settings for ‘Touch Quick Menu’, ‘Touch Shutter’, ‘Touch Guide’ and ‘Touch Scroll’ so the system can be configured as desired (or switched off entirely). To elaborate, ‘Touch Quick Menu’ switches the Quick Menu
to touch control operation which is very neat indeed, making a whole range of adjustments much more accessible than when navigating around the display in the conventional manner. It’s even possible to set exposure compensation by simply sweeping a finger around the graphic (see illustration) and, equally cleverly, apply white balance corrections by moving the cursor around the colour square via finger tip (with, of course, the live view image providing the preview). The latter requires quite precise control, but it’s very easy just to use the navigational buttons for the last little adjustment if necessary. Furthermore, both apertures and/or shutter speeds can be adjusted via a sweep of the displayed setting scale. And autofocusing is achieved by just tapping the area of the image that’s the main subject. In the single-point AF mode the measuring zone is moved around by dragging the finger and its size adjusted via a touch-controller slider. Given this high level of control, it doesn’t take long to become addicted to driving the G2 via the touch screen. But wait, there’s more.
The ‘Touch Shutter’ turns the entire monitor screen into the shutter release, with an on/off icon so adjustments can still be made. The ‘Touch Guide’ operates in the playback mode and shows what touch operations are possible while the ‘Touch Scroll’ adjustment determines how quickly images can be swiped from one to another iPhone-style. In playback mode, image enlargement and scrolling can also be controlled by finger tip, but unfortunately there isn’t the nifty squeeze/expand functionality of an Apple touch screen. Nevertheless, the G2’s touch screen operation is excellent, extensive and, once fully mastered, significantly enhances efficiency. So much so that, in fact, even dyed-in-the-wool button pushers and dial twirlers are going to be convinced. Trust us, it works.
The second major new feature on the G2 – compared to the model it replaces – is high-definition video recording. However, the video-enabled GH1 continues because it still offers a higher level of functionality, including recording at the Full HD 1080i resolution and the incorporation of a stereo microphone.
The G2 records HDV footage at 1280x720 pixels (with progressive scanning) and the builtin microphone is monaural with the option of plugging in an external stereo pick-up. There’s a choice of the AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG recording formats, the latter delivering bigger files, but generally being easier to work with in post-production terms. AVCHD Lite movies are recorded at 50 fps (in the PAL standard) which achieved by doubling the sensor’s 25 fps output, and there’s a choice of three quality settings equating to 17 Mbps, 12 Mbps and 9.0 Mbps. In the Motion JPEG mode, the recording speed is 25 fps with the option of recording at 848x480 pixels and the VGA and QVGA 4:3 aspect ratio resolutions. Autofocusing operation is possible during recording and with tracking although the speed here is dictated by the speed of the lens which is one reason the G2 has a new standard zoom (more about this shortly), although the HD-series 14-140mm zoom is the only Lumix G lens fully optimised for AF tracking with video recording. In terms of exposure control, all adjustments are performed automatically even though any mode can be set on the camera. However, the exposure settings can be tailored to a particular subject by setting the appropriate subject or scene mode. Additionally, there is a ‘Motion Picture P’ mode which has a ‘Peripheral Defocus’ function which allows for adjustment of the aperture in order to regulate the depth-of-field (while automatically correcting the exposure). This adjustment is done via the main input wheel – moved to the rear of the handgrip on the G2 where it’s easier to use – which is pressed in to switch between ‘Peripheral Defocus’ and exposure compensation. Furthermore, in the ‘Intelligent Auto’ mode, the G2 will automatically select from Portrait, Scenery, Low Light or Macro modes for video shooting, and a ‘My Colour’ mode can also be applied which gives quite a bit of scope for varying the look of the footage.
Obviously the ‘My Colour’ settings are available for still photography and shouldn’t be confused with the camera’s ‘Film Modes’. The ‘My Colour’ presets comprise saturation, contrast and brightness while those for the ‘Film Modes’ are for contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction, and are adjustable.
There are seven ‘My Colour’ presets labelled Expressive, Retro, Pure, Elegant, Monochrome, Dynamic Art and Silhouette plus the option of creating a Custom preset which is the only time that the processing parameters can be adjusted. These are set via the main mode dial – so they’re modes in themselves – and exposure control is fully automatic.
The ‘Film Modes’ can be applied to any exposure mode and there’s a choice of six colour and three B&W presets plus two ‘My Film’ userdefined settings. A ‘Multi Film’ bracketing function records two or three versions of an image in different ‘Film Modes’ which is really handy for recording colour and B&W images simultaneously. In the B&W modes the manual adjustments are for contrast, sharpness and noise reduction.
Auto bracketing functions are also available for white balance and, of course, exposure. The white balance bracketing is accessed via the finetuning colour square and can be set for either an amber-to-blue adjustment or a green-to-magenta one... and it can be based around any corrected point too. All the presets plus the AWB control and two custom settings can be fine-tuned and the display icon subsequently changes colour to show that some correction has been applied. For example, if the cloudy preset has some amber correction it turns orange and blue if the adjustment is in the opposite direction. Furthermore, if an adjustment in the green-to-magenta range is added either a green plus symbol or a magenta minus symbol appears as well so it’s possible to tell at glance what corrections have been applied to a preset. The G2 also has manual colour temperature setting with a range of 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin.
The auto exposure bracketing can be set over sequences of three, five or seven frames with an adjustment of up to +/-0.7 EV. Exposure control
is based on a choice of three metering methods namely multi-zone using 144 segments, centreweighted average and spot. The standard complement of exposure modes is supplemented by program shift, an AE lock, up to +/-3.0 EV of compensation (applied on 1/3 EV increments) and the just-mentioned auto bracketing.
Subjects And Scenes
There’s a selection of five standard subject modes – for portraits, landscapes (which Panasonic prefers to call ‘scenery’), close-ups, sports action and night portraits – which are selected via the main mode dial, but these are just the entry points to much-expanded set of sub-modes. So, for example, in the portrait mode, the subsequent choice is for Normal, Soft Skin, Outdoor, Indoor and Creative. If the latter is selected than the ‘Peripheral Defocus’ becomes available too.
Beyond all this, the G2 also has a set of scene modes, namely Sunset, Party, Baby 1 and 2, Pets and Peripheral Defocus again. In the ‘Intelligent Auto’ (iA) mode, automatic scene detection comes into play and roves between seven possible options depending on the data it’s processing from the autofocusing, metering and white balance systems. These are portrait, scenery, macro, night portrait, night scenery, sunset and baby. The iA mode also delivers a whole lot of other ‘smarts’ designed to maximise the strike rate with point-and-shoot operation, including automatic backlight correction, higher ISO setting and face detection. The G2’s focal plane shutter has a speed range of 60-1/4000 second with a bulb timer for up to four minutes and flash sync up to 1/160 second. The built-in flash is supplemented by a hotshoe for which Panasonic offers a number of dedicated accessory flash units. The built-in flash has a metric guide number of 11 and coverage equivalent to a 14mm lens’s angle-of-view (i.e. a 28mm in 35mm format terms). The flash modes are auto, red-eye reduction, fill-in, and slow speed sync (the latter two can be combined with red-eye reduction) while first/second curtain sync and flash compensation up to +/-2.0 EV are available as separate adjustments. When the flash is used in the red-eye reduction mode, a red-eye correction function is activated to automatically detect and eliminate any remaining effect as the image data is processed post-capture.
As on the previous G-series models, dynamic range extension is via Panasonic’s ‘Intelligent Exposure’ processing – called iExposure for short. It employs a combination of underexposure and tone curve adjustment to retain as much detail as possible in the highlights without blocking up the shadows. The facility can be set to Off, Low, Standard or High and, in some instances, the ISO will be automatically raised to give the underexposure which may result in some increased noise, most notably in the shadow areas. Incidentally, iExposure processing also operates in the Motion Picture P mode.
The G2’s autofocusing system is substantially the same as that of the G1, but with the obvious improvements – primarily in tracking speed – that come with another two year’s of development. As before a curious little retro-looking dial on the top deck sets the operating and area modes so switching between the single-shot and continuous modes is done manually. The wide-area mode employs 23 focusing zones, but they can’t be manually selected individually. However, the single-area mode essentially offers the same degree of control as its zone be moved around a large area of the frame and also varied in size so it can be quite precisely tailored to a specific subject and/or situation.
The two other area modes are face detection (for up to 15 areas) and dynamic subject tracking which selects and changes the 23 zones automatically to keep a moving object in focus. As is offered on a number of Lumix compacts now, the face detection function has been expanded to include a recognition capability which can be set for up to six individuals. The face detection system will further prioritise the registered subjects. Low light/contrast assist is provided by a built-in illuminator and manual focusing by a magnified image section which can be set to either 5x or 10x enlargement. With touch control any part of the screen can be tapped and that section will be instantly enlarged, otherwise pressing and holding the ‘Q.Menu’ button brings up a focus area frame which is moved around via the navigational keys.
Panasonic has introduced a new standard zoom in the shape of the Vario G 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH which is mainly designed to be lighter so it has a polycarbonate mount instead of a stainless steel one. It incorporates Panasonic’s ‘Mega OIS’ optical image stabilisation system although, compact camera style, the modes are selected via the G2’s menu system and not on the lens itself. There are three modes for continuous compensation, compensation activated only when the shutter release is depressed and correction in only the vertical plane to allow for panning.
Pixels And Processing
The G2 has the same Live MOS type sensor as its predecessor, but it’s mated to a new Venus Engine HD II processor which is designed to deliver a number of performance improvements, particularly in terms of noise reduction. Consequently, the sensitivity range is extended by a stop to span ISO 100 to 6400. The processor also drives a new feature called ‘Intelligent Resolution’ which was first introduced on the TZ10 compact.
‘Intelligent Resolution’ detects outlines, textures and areas of soft gradations and then enhances the edges to increase the definition and, consequently, the perception of sharpness. It’s primarily designed to make the digital zooming function – which crops the sensor in order to fudge extra magnification – more useable than has been the case in the past, but it also has benefits with video recording (such as extracting higher res stills). However, as on the Lumix compacts with this feature, it only operates in the fully automatic shooting mode.
As before, the G2’s sensor reads out four channels of data simultaneously primarily in order to facilitate the 60 fps live view feed. The total pixel count is 13.06 megapixels of which 12.1
million are effective, giving a maximum image size of 4000x3000 pixels in the 4:3 aspect ratio. Images can also be captured in the 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 aspect ratios, although these are all crops on the 4:3 sensor so there’s some loss of resolution. There’s a choice of three image sizes at each aspect ratio and two levels of JPEG compression; fine or standard. RAW+JPEG capture can be set to include either a large/fine or a large/standard JPEG file.
Sensor cleaning is performed via the Olympus- devised ‘Supersonic Wave Filter’ which is located just in front of the imager, and which vibrates at around 50 kHz to shed dust particles. Adhesive strips collect the dislodged offenders. Sensor cleaning is performed automatically when the camera is switched on, but it can also be manually activated via the G2’s custom menu. As the shutter is mostly open on an interchangeable lens compact camera the sensor is highly exposed, especially when the lens is removed and early experiences are that all the built-in sensor cleaning systems are being challenged. The advice here is to be even more careful with when and where lenses are changed than with a D-SLR.
In The Hand
We’ve already extensively covered the touch control operations, but it’s worth repeating here that, once tried, they’re likely to become the preferred method of driving the G2. However, the conventional means remain, using the menus, navigational keys and short-cut buttons.
The alternative to using the standard menu pages is the ‘Quick Menu’ which is either available as a separate display or superimposed, function by function, on the live view image. The dedicated ‘Q.Menu’ display can be set to one of three colour schemes and the function icons are selected by the four-way navigation keys, although it’s here that the touch control option really makes the most sense. The ‘Q.Menu’ screen also includes a circular graphic for setting exposure compensation which additional displays the set value in its centre. With the monitor-style display (i.e. superimposed read-outs and icons), exposure compensation is set via the rear input wheel which is pressed to change its function back to setting either shutter speeds or apertures. The viewfinder display options include a real-time histogram which, with touch control active, can be moved around the screen via a drag of the finger. There’s also a choice of grid patterns, including one which allows the vertical and horizontal lines to be positioned wherever they’re wanted via touch control.
Exposure adjustment is assisted by a pair of moving scales – one each for the aperture and speed ranges – which indicate which combinations of settings will give a ‘correct’ exposure and which are out of range. The latter are indicated in red and these zones shift as either setting is adjusted. It’s a great way of seeing at glance whether an exposure will be right or not, but also which combinations of settings are available within given exposure value.
The image replay screens include a full set of brightness and RGB histograms, a highlight warning and a thumbnail with capture data. The replay modes include 12 or 30 image thumbnail pages, zooming up to 16x and a slide show with variable display times and background music. As mentioned at the outset, the styling is extremely SLR-like even down to a couple of very old-worlde looking dials and switches. The G-series Lumixes are very different in concept to Sony’s fly-by-wire Alpha NEX models, but D-SLR users will feel right at home. And there is the argument that people who want to move up to a serious camera want it to look like a serious camera. Regardless, the G2 is a very comfortable camera to handle, easy to use in the conventional way and even easier to use via touch control.
The Lumix G2 delivers excellent image quality in terms of colour accuracy, sharpness and dynamic range (with the ‘Intelligent Exposure’ processing at its default setting). Red saturation is up slightly in the Adobe RGB colour space, but both the overall neutrality and smoothness of tonal gradations is very good indeed. Noise levels are very low up to ISO 800 and acceptably low at both the ISO 1600 and 3200 sensitivity settings. In this regard, the camera’s Micro Four Thirds sensor loses nothing to the ‘APS-C’ format models now appearing in this category. Test images are JPEG/large/fine files captured in the Standard ‘My Film’ mode. PageBreak
Speed And Performance
In our continuous shooting speed test the G2 fired off a burst of 21 JPEG/large/fine frames in
6.727 seconds which represents 3.12 fps, only a whisker short of the quoted speed of 3.2 fps. The camera is card speed sensitive so Class 6 or Class 10 types are recommended, especially for HDV recording.
The test JPEGs exhibited generally accurate colour reproduction with just a hint of increased saturation in the red-to-orange range, but very good handling of the usually trickier greens and blues. Images captured in the Adobe RGB colour space exhibited very slightly more saturation again, but the overall colour reproduction is very pleasing.
With iExposure processing set to Standard, the dynamic range is quite wide with tonal variations still evident even in the brighter highlights. Applying a slight amount of negative exposure compensation (-0.3 EV is enough) helps pull back the highlights a little more without unduly affecting the shadows.
The maximum quality JPEGs also exhibit excellent sharpness with sufficient levels of well-defined fine detailing to negate any concerns that there’s ‘only’ 12 megapixels at work. Improvements in noise reduction processing is one of the key areas where digital camera development continues to improve so it’s not surprising that the G2 does a whole lot better than its predecessor in this regard. Noise levels are extremely low up to ISO 800, still low at ISO 1600, acceptable at ISO 3200 and marginally acceptable at ISO 6400.
A good balance is achieved between detailing and noise reduction, but inevitably at the higher ISOs definition starts to suffer especially in the areas of the low contrast. Importantly though, users can choose to balance noise levels and detailing via the plus/minus two steps of noise reduction adjustment available in each ‘Film Mode’.
However, in terms of the overall imaging performance, the smaller sensor doesn’t prevent the Lumix G2 holding its own against its ‘APS-C’ format rivals, particularly as far as noise reduction and detailing levels at the higher ISOs are concerned.
The arrival of the just-mentioned ‘APS-C’ format models has undoubtedly livened up the interchangeable lens compact camera category, but the G2 shifts the focus back on the Micro Four Thirds format. Not only has Panasonic made sure that the G2 has a good story to tell – namely its excellent touch-control operation – but it has also sought to convincingly counter any suggestions that the smaller sensor may be somehow inferior in performance terms. Like the Olympus E-PL1, the G2 squeezes yet more image quality out of the MFT imager (mostly via enhanced data processing algorithms, of course) so size still doesn’t matter here.
Beyond all this, the G2 also benefits from being a second-generation model so a few rough edges have been smoothed off and the bumps ironed out. And with affordability now also on its side, the G2 has a lot more going for it than its predecessor and is arguably the best Lumix G-series camera to date. But it’s the touch screen that really makes it a winner.
Panasonic Lumix DMCG2 $1299
Type: Fully automatic digital camera with Micro Four Thirds bayonet lens mount.
Focusing: Automatic 23-point wide-area system using contrast-detection via imaging sensor. Single focus point – with variable area size – can be moved around the image frame. Manual switching between one-shot and continuous AF modes, the latter with a tracking function. Face detection and recognition. Sensitivity range is EV 0 - 18 (ISO 100). AF assist provided by dedicated illuminator.
Metering: 144-point multi-zone, centre-weighted average, spot and TTL flash. Metering range is EV 0 to 18 (ISO 100/f2.0). Exposure Modes: Continuously-variable program with shift, shutter-priority auto, aperture-priority auto, metered manual, TTL auto flash and TTL flash. Plus 27 subject/scene programs. Subject programs also set appropriate white balance, sharpening, contrast and colour saturation. Auto scene selection in ‘Intelligent Auto’ mode (portraits, landscapes, closeup, night portrait, night scenery, sunset and baby).
Shutter: Electronic, vertical travel, metal blades, 60- 1/4000 second plus B. Flash sync to 1/160 second. Exposure compensation up to +/-3.0 EV in 1/3 stop increments.
Viewfinder: LCD EVF type with 1.44 dots resolution. Coverage = 100% vertical/horizontal. Magnification = 1.4x (50mm lens at infinity). LCD displays and focus point indicators. Eyepiece strength adjustment built-in. Auto or manual switching between EVF and external LCD monitor screen.
Flash: Built-in pop-up unit with GN 11 power (ISO 100) and 14mm coverage (equivalent to 28mm). External flash units connect via hotshoe. Flash compensation range of +/2.0 EV in 1/3 stop increments. Flash modes are auto, red-eye reduction, fill-in, off and slow speed sync.
Additional Features: Choice of body colours (red, blue or black), camera settings displayed in main monitor screen, AE/AF lock, face-detection AF/AE, auto exposure bracketing, multi-mode self-timer (2 and 10 second delays, one or three shots), audible signals, auto power-off, hard-wired remote triggering. Optical image stabilisation via packaged 14-42mm zoom lens.
Sensor: 13.06 million (total) pixels Live MOS with 17.3x13.0 mm imaging area and 4:3 aspect ratio. Sensitivity equivalent to ISO 100-6400.
Focal Length Magnification: 1.97x.
Formats/Resolution: Two JPEG compression settings, RAW output (lossless compression) and RAW+JPEG capture. Three resolution settings at 4:3 aspect ratio; 4000x3000, 2816x2112 and 2048x1536 pixels. Three resolution settings at 3:2 aspect ratio; 4000x2672, 2816x1880 and 2048x1360 pixels. Three resolution settings at 16:9 aspect ratio; 4000x2248, 2816x1584 and 1920x1081 pixels. Three resolution settings at 1:1 aspect ratio; 2992x2992, 2112x2112 and 1504x1504 pixels. 24-bit RGB colour for JPEGs, 36-bit RGB colour for RAW files.
Video Recording: AVCHD Lite format at 1280x720p pixels, 50 fps and 16:9 aspect ratio (three quality levels). Quick Time Motion JPEG format at 1280x720 pixels, 25 fps and 16:9 aspect ratio. Also at 848x480, 640x480 and 320x240 pixels and 30 fps. Mono sound recording. HDV clips in Motion JPEG format limited to 2.0 GB file size which is roughly 15 minutes at maximum quality. HDV clips in AVCHD Lite limited to just over 13 hours in theory, four hours and 14 minutes with a 64 GB SDXC memory card. Recording Media: SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards.
Continuous Shooting: Unlimited JPEG/large/fine frames at up to 3.2 fps (JPEG/large/fine) or up to seven RAW frames. Medium (2.6 fps) and low speed modes (2.0 fps) also available.
White Balance: TTL measurement. Auto mode, five presets and two custom settings. White balance compensation (amber-to-blue and/or green-to-magenta) in all presets, and white balance bracketing. Manual colour temperature setting from 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin.
Interfaces: Multi-connector (USB 2.0 and NTSC/PAL composite video), HDMI mini, stereo audio input.
Additional Digital Features: Built-in sensor cleaning, 7.62 cm LCD monitor (460,000 dots) adjustable for viewing angle (270 degrees tilt, 180 degrees swing) and with touch control, digital zoom (up to 4.0x), Adobe RGB and sRGB colour spaces, long exposure noise reduction, six colour ‘Film Modes’ (Standard, Dynamic, Nature, Smooth, Nostalgic and Vibrant), three B&W ‘Film Modes’ (Standard, Dynamic and Smooth), two user-defined ‘My Film’ modes, ‘Multi Film’ bracketing (three frames), incamera adjustment of all ‘Film Modes’ (contrast, sharpness, colour saturation and noise reduction), eight ‘My Colour’ modes (Expressive, Retro, Pure, Elegant, Monochrome, Dynamic Art, Silhouette and Custom), in-camera adjustment of all ‘My Colour’ modes (hue, brightness and colour saturation), luminance/RGB histogram displays, highlight alert, adjustable image display time, auto image rotation, slide show (with variable display times and background music), playback zoom (up to 16x), 12 or 30 thumbnail displays, capture date calendar display, image resizing and cropping, DPOF support, PictBridge direct printing support.
Power: One 7.2 volt/1250 mAh rechargeable lithiumion battery pack (DMW-BLB13PP type).
Dimensions (WxHxD): body only = 124x83.6x59.45 mm.
Weight: body only = 375 grams (without battery or memory card).|
Price: $1099 body only. $1299 with Lumix Vario G 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH Mega OIS image stabiliser zoom. $1599 for twin lens kit which adds Lumix Vario G 45-200mm f4.0-5.6 Mega OIS zoom. Available in black, blue or red body colours.