Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Panasonic's GH2: Evolutionary, not revolutionary

Photokina is open, and Panasonic has officially released the GH2 DSLR, its next-generation HDSLR, priced at $899.95 (U.S.) for body only, $999.95 with a 14-42mm lens, and $1,499.95 with a 14-140mm lens. (Panasonic also announced a 100-300mm lens, but it looks like it will be almost as expensive as the GH2 body.) The camera will ship in December.

The GH2 has an 18 megapixel multiple aspect ratio imager (16 megapixels output), and an autofocus speed of 0.1 second. Like the GH1, the GH2 supports fully manual control in video mode. The camera's ISO range is 160-12,800, and Panasonic claims that the GH2's imager has 3 dB better noise and 200% better sensitivity than the imager in the GH1.

The GH2 captures 1080p at 60fps (NTSC) and 50fps (PAL), but outputs 1080i at both frame rates. Both the NTSC and PAL models also shoot and output 1080p at 24 fps, and 720p at 60 or 50 fps. The GH2 supports variable frame rates of 80%, 160%, 200% and 300%.

The GH2 has continuous full-quality video output from its HDMI port while the camera is recording. It's not clear if the camera overlays settings on the HDMI image while recording like the Canon DSLRs do, but if it doesn't (or if the overlays can be turned off), the GH2 would be the first DSLR whose HDMI output can be monitored and recorded for real applications. The camera doesn't have continuous autofocus in video mode, but it does have Touch AF in video. It has a rotatable, 460K LCD and a 1.4 megapixel electronic viewfinder. Finally, the GH2 has an audio input and stereo microphone, but professional users would likely be better off with an external audio recorder.

Based on its specifications alone, the GH2 is a good news/bad news story. The 18 megapixel imager should result in lower light sensitivity, but Panasonic claims that it's achieved significantly better sensitivity than the GH1. The higher pixel count of the GH2 should also increase rolling shutter problems, and the GH2 doesn't have the features of the AG-AF100 that are designed to minimize rolling shutter, so it remains to be seen how the GH2 performs. Panasonic claims that the HDMI output works when the camera is recording, but it's not clear if it's exactly the same image as that being recorded on the GH2's memory cards. The GH2 captures 1080p but outputs 1080i. It doesn't have continuous autofocus in video mode, but it does have one-touch autofocus.

Once the real-world reviews start coming in, we'll know more about the video performance of the GH2, but at least on paper, it seems to address most of the shortcomings of the GH1 at a more aggressive price.
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