Thursday, November 04, 2010

Panasonic's new GF2: Full HD in a compact camera

Panasonic's long-rumored GF2 has finally been announced, and Digital Photography Review has had a few days to test a pre-production model. Panasonic will ship the GF2 in the U.S. in January, and will release U.S. pricing in December.

The GF2 is slightly smaller and lighter than its predecessor, the GF1. (It's still slightly bigger overall than Sony's NEX-5, but when using its pancake lens, it's a bit thinner.) It uses the same 12.1 Megapixel imager as the previous model. In order to reduce its size, Panasonic had to remove some of the physical controls that were on the GF1 and replace them with menu options.

Perhaps the biggest change in the GF2 is that it now has Full HD video, rather than the AVCHD Lite in the GF1. That means that the GF2 has 1080/60i and 720/60p video (the 60i mode reads the image data off the sensor in 30p mode).  However, the GF2's AVCHD bitrate maxes out at 17Mbps, not the 24Mbps maximum that Panasonic's GH2 and some other DSLRs can achieve. ISO sensitivity has been increased to 6400 from the 3200 maximum of the GF1. The GF2 also has a built-in stereo microphone, but as with most DSLRs, you'll be better off capturing audio with an external recorder. It fully supports Panasonic's new 3D lens, which will turn it into a tiny, albeit limited, 3D camera.

Digital Photography Review didn't do image and video quality testing, so that will have to wait for another review. The fact that the GF2 only goes to 17Mbps AVCHD means that its video output almost certainly won't stand up to that of the GH2. There's no word about whether the GF2 provides a live output on its HDMI interface while recording, what the resolution of the live output is, and what (if anything) is superimposed on it by the camera.

The GF2 is clearly a consumer-oriented camera, a step up from point-and-shoots rather than a smaller replacement for a DSLR. It's unlikely to have many cinematography applications, especially if it's priced only a few hundred dollars less than the GH2.

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