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Panasonic Lumix G2 Digital Camera Expert Review

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2

Rating: ★★★★½

The Panasonic Lumix G2 inherits many of the virtues of its predecessor – compact size, powerful optics, ease of use – but also brings some genuinely exciting new extras to the party.

As well as shooting HD movies in the economical AVCHD format at 720p, the Lumix G2 makes brilliant use of the latest must-have in gadget land, namely touchscreen technology.

Touchscreen widgets in themselves are no big deal these days, as anyone who owns a modern phone will testify, but here comes the zinger – on the Lumix G2 you can use touchscreen to tell the camera where to focus, adjust camera settings or even take the picture.

Oh, and you can scroll through all your existing shots, too.

Like many usability breakthroughs it sounds a bit banal and gimmicky until you actually use it – and then you wonder why nobody has implemented touchscreen technology in this way on cameras before.

To set the focus point, for instance, you literally point to where you want the camera to focus on the articulated rear screen and up pops the relevant AF crosshairs. It’s certainly more intuitive than manipulating AF points via a dial or button, as other camera makers expect you to do.

Multiple AF points can be selected in this way, too. And, recognising the innate conservatism of camera buyers, compared to, say, the style-phone crowd, Panasonic has kept all the conventional controls on the G2. So, there’s a conventional PASM dial sitting next to less familiar buttons like Intelligent Auto (a souped-up auto everything mode).

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 is cleverly positioned to appeal to two quite distinct markets. Its light weight and the ease of use of its touchscreen will appeal to nervous compact owners eager to try something more powerful without being overwhelmed.

Meanwhile the decent optical performance, manual controls and ability to shoot HD video will appeal to more experienced photographers or people looking for a lighter, more convenient SLR replacement.

As mentioned, Panasonic might have had the Micro Four Thirds party to itself back in 2008, but the Lumix G2 now faces some stiff competition.

With a street price of around £650 with the 14-42mm kit lens, it’s up against attractive hybrids like the Olympus Pen series and the Samsung NX10, not to mention other products in the Panasonic range, like the well-regarded Lumix GF1 and the G10.

Seven hundred quid will also buy you a very nice DSLR with 1080p HD video recording, such as the Canon EOS 550D. The Lumix DMC-G2 certainly isn’t an impulse buy, so how compelling are its new features?

G2 Features

Panasonic has opted to keep the same 12.1 megapixel count as the G1, GF1 and other models in its range. While the similarly priced Canon 550D SLR weighs in with a 14MP sensor, the disparity doesn’t make much difference in practice.

The layout is conventional enough, with a top PASM dial and an extra ‘iA’ button, standing for Intelligent Auto.

We’re not sure why Panasonic gave a dedicated button to this hand-holding auto mode, as some beginners might not even realise it’s there if they haven’t read the manual – but still, it’s a useful setting for complete novices. iA works cleverly with the touchscreen AF – so if you’re taking a portrait and touch somebody’s face to set the focus point, the iA automatically switches to Portrait mode.

As with the Canon 550D, there are a lot of icons squeezed onto the top dial, including the scene modes (exposure pre-sets for a range of shooting conditions) and the My Color range of picture styles.

The My Color icon on the top PASM dials enables you to choose a range of options, from Pure to Retro to Dynamic Art, via Elegant. They’re fun to play with, and can help boost the colours in JPEGs, but don’t get carried away and use them as a replacement for proper camera technique.

Another big selling point of the Lumix DMC-G2 is the articulated three-inch screen which can be rotated through 270 degrees. It’s well engineered, but could be easier to read – try and use the touchscreen to set the AF point in very bright sunshine and you have to duck into the shadows.

The menus themselves look a bit cheap compared to Canon’s, but they’re easy enough to use.

As well as being simple to use, the Lumix DMC-G2 is fairly fast. although the limited choice of lenses means this camera is unlikely to appeal to sports photographers, it can fire off 3.2 frames per second in continuous shooting mode.

The electronic viewfinder is of a very high quality and enables you to check exposure and colour settings as you frame the shot. It also makes manual focusing a lot easier than on comparatively priced DSLRs. Being able to call up a grid is a big help with composition and keeping horizons straight.

The electronic viewfinder gives plenty of information about settings too, so it’s really one of this camera’s strong points.

The Lumix DMC-G2 enables you to shoot in JPEG or RAW, and although the supplied RAW-editing software won’t give Adobe any sleepless nights it does the job (and works on Macs, too). In common with other hybrid cameras, the Lumix DMC-G2 offers a wide-range of in-camera image tweaks.

There’s a good choice of cropping options too; as well as the conventional 4:3 ratio, you can go for the 3.2 aspect ratio used by most DSLRs or even choose 1:1 or 16:9 (widescreen crops).

Image and video quality

As mentioned, the camera comes with a reasonably sized 12.1megapixel MOS sensor and the new Venus Engine II image processor.

Both deliver smooth, well exposed images from the box. There’s a slight tendency to underexpose but this is easily tweaked via exposure compensation, and anyway, better slightly underexposed shots than blown-out ones.

g2

CREATIVE ART MODE: The My Color presets are fun to try and handy for boosting colours for creative effect

ISO performance is acceptable for the money, though noise is more noticeable at higher settings than the Canon 550D, for example. It’s certainly very usable up to ISO 800, however.

White balance, meanwhile, is impressively accurate, and comes with a full range of options. The 14-42mm lens is workmanlike without being spectacular, and surprisingly light and compact compared to a similarly-specced kit lens from a DSLR. Image stabilisation is built into the camera, rather than the lens, so you need to delve into the menu to activate it.

g2

AUTO FOCUS: Being able to quickly set the AF point via the touchscreen LCD is a big help when shooting pets or kids

Considering the camera and lens are quite light, it’s definitely worth doing this. The lens itself is certainly up to the standard of a basic kit lens you get with a comparatively priced DSLR, and we noticed minimal lens distortion and aberration.

Shooting movies is very straightforward, and although it’s a shame you don’t get full HD, the 720p HD performance is good. Again, we noticed a slight tendency to underexposure, but colour and detail are captured well. The stereo microphone is sensitive, and there’s a useful Wind Cut option to reduce extraneous noise.

g2 macro

MACRO: The flexible AF options are also good for flower close ups

Our only slight query concerns the ease of adjusting exposure controls in movie mode. The only way we could adjust aperture, for instance, was to set the aperture in A mode on the top dial, then hit the red movie record button to the right of the dial.

It’s easy enough when you work it out, but not that obvious when you first use the Lumix DMC-G2, so this is something that could confuse less experienced users.

g2 skin tones

SKIN TONES: The camera has a slight tendency to underexpose on default settings, but skin tones are accurate and pleasing

Once you have figured out how to adjust exposure controls when shooting movies, the results are very good – colours are clear and motion is captured smoothly. There’s a choice of standard motion JPEG recording or Panasonic’s proprietary AVCHD Lite format.

g2 zoom

ZOOM: While the 14-42mm kit lens is respectable rather than revolutionary, telephoto performance is reasonable, with minimal distortion

While AVCHD Lite is an economical and efficient format, it doesn’t work with every video-editing program (or older versions of software) so check before you shoot.

Final thoughts

It would have been embarrassing for Micro Four Thirds-pioneer Panasonic to drop the ball with the Lumix DMC-G2, so the company has worked hard to deliver a real high scorer.

While it may seem expensive at first glance, you get a lot of innovative camera for your money, and it is worth getting just for the touchscreen wizardry, intelligent auto modes and quality HD movies.

We liked:

The Lumix DMC-G2 is a very well made and generally well-thought out camera. The plethora of buttons and dials can look a bit intimidating at first, but this camera bends over backwards to be helpful.

Touchscreen AF-point selection is a truly impressive innovation, one that many less experienced photographers will find makes a huge difference to the quality of their photographs. The electronic viewfinder is excellent too, as is the articulated screen (though it could be easier to read in sunlight).

We disliked:

Obviously it would be nice to shoot HD movie at the 1920 x 1080p level offered by Canon 550D DSLR, but there are always some compromises with Micro Four Thirds hybrids.

Apart from a few usability niggles, which you soon get used to anyway, the biggest problem with the Lumix DMC-G2 is the relatively narrow choice of lenses and accessories.

Compared to a similarly priced DSLRs, there’s a limited choice of glass, and using different types and makes of lenses via lens adaptors is a clunky and expensive solution. The supplied 14-42mm lens is fine for the money, but it’ll soon feel restrictive.

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Pros

  • Innovative touchscreen AF
  • Decent 720p HD movie mode
  • Reasonable kit lens
  • Excellent electronic viewfinder

Cons

  • Limited choice of lenses
  • Some eccentric layout
  • Movie-mode tweaks could be simpler
  • Not 1080p HD recording
  • Limited RAW editing software

Verdict

If you’re looking for a real do-it-all camera and aren’t too worried about building up an extensive collection of lenses in the short term, the Lumix DMC-G2 is an excellent buy. It packs in lots of features for the price and the quality electronics deliver impressive still and video images.

In a nutshell, the Lumix DMC-G2 is one of the best Micro Four Thirds-cameras to date, and throws the gauntlet down to Olympus and other hybrid competitors.

Panasonic Lumix G2 Digital Camera Expert Review

 


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