Panasonic Lumix GH1 Hands-On Review

One of the most exciting new cameras at PMA 2009 was the Panasonic Lumix GH1, which was a follow-up to the Lumix G1 introduced at Photokina 2008.  The GH1 shares most of the same features and specs of the G1; however, it includes one significant improvement – the ability to shoot video in true 1080p HD at 24 fps or shoot 720p HD video at 60 fps.  Panasonic uses an AVCHD format for video capture and records audio via Dolby Digital Stereo Creator.

Panasonic has not announced the price of the new GH1, which will initially only be offered in kit form with the 14-140mm HD lens.  Panasonic’s reasoning for selling it as a kit initially is due to the specialized silent autofocus functionality of the HD lens.  It was designed from the ground up with video in mind, which required Panasonic to overcome some significant hurdles so that AF noise did not interfere with audio capture when recording 1080p video.  According to reps at PMA, the kit should be available in May or June 2009.

Panasonic had a couple pre-production models on display at PMA.  I was able to get some hands-on time with one and even grab some images and a quick video on my SD card.

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Key Features

  • 12.1 megapixels
  • 3″ LCD at 460k dot resolution
  • ISO 100-3200 equivalent
  • 3 fps (unlimited JPEG buffer / 7 frames RAW max)
  • 1080p HD video capture at 24 fps
  • 720p HD video capture at 60 fps
  • SDHC compatible

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Handling Performance

The first thing you notice when you pick up the GH1 with the 14-140mm lens attached is how heavy it is compared to the G1 with its 14-45mm kits lens.  The difference is not in the body – it’s in the lens.  The bodies of the G1 and GH1 are essentially the same.  It seems oddly heavy, given that the G1 was promoted as being so light and compact.  Perhaps Panasonic can improve on this weight penalty, but for now this is part of the price that you must pay in order to achieve silent autofocus for video.

Other kit options will likely be available in the future, although nothing is official just yet.  Additionally, we can likely expect more HD silent AF lenses later on as well – but again, I got no official word on when.

Above you can see the HDMI output, which is accessible on the left side of the camera by flipping up a small rubber panel.

Aside from the weight and balance issues, which are unavoidable, the GH1 handles like a charm.  While it may seem a little small to some DSLR users, it really feels comparable to a Nikon D40 or Canon Rebel series camera.  The dedicated video button on the rear of the camera is a welcome addition and makes a lot of sense as it is easily accessible with your thumb.

The flip out LCD panel is convenient for both photo and video use with its crisp 460k dot resolution.  The bright electronic viewfinder is great – even when panning.  You get a little jerking sensation when panning fast – though its not too bad.  The brightness and clarity of the EVF is what will blow you away.

The AF is smooth and, as advertised, silent.  Manual focus and zoom on the 14-140mm lens was also smooth and tight, though not too tight.  The lens barrel is nice and solid, which makes for comfortable control of the zoom ring and allows for smooth zooming when filming video.  As you would expect, the 14-140mm lens has a non-rotating front element as well.

For non-HD lenses, expect some AF motor noise in video.  Like the G1 before it, the GH 1 will accept all other Micro Four Thirds lenses, as well as Four Thirds lenses when using the appropriate adapter.  Lens adapters for other brands are available as well.

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Sample Images

Below are a handful of sample JPEGs taken with a pre-production Panasonic GH1.  You can click on each image to see the full-res image.  Feel free to download them for your personal use.  All were shot at ISO 400 in auto mode.  (For those of you looking for video samples, see this post.)

14mm – OIS Off:

140mm – OIS Off:

14mm – OIS On:

140mm – OIS On:

Popup Flash:

Another 14mm Sample:

Another 140mm Sample:

Conclusion

The Panasonic GH1 is a worthy revision of the original G1.  While it will sell alongside the G1, the GH1 really adds a lot to the Micro Four Thirds System in a way that we have all been waiting for.  Video enthusiasts are really excited about the potential that the GH1 brings to the table.  If it is priced right, the GH1 may very well fill a market niche that is still trying to define itself with a variety of solutions.  Panasonic’s first-to-market approach may help it get the upper hand in a struggling market.

 

Comments

  1. Pablov says

    Hi Eric,

    This seems very promising.

    Will you you have the chance to compare movie clips from this camera to those from 5D Mark II ?
    That would be very interesting.

    Thanks a lot!

  2. PS says

    I’m glad I had a opportunity to read your review and view the samples you provide. I have been every interested in the G1/GH1 but I am quite disappointed in the poor clarity of the images shown in your review. Not one of them, even in their IS mode, and their full-size format, offers a suitably clear, sharp image. I was leaning very heavily towards purchasing this camera ( light weight, compact size and the very versatile swivel screen) but if that is the best it can do I’m re-thinking that now.

  3. says

    These sample pictures represent only the expertese of the photographer, not the capabilities of the camera. I think that this four thirds offering by Panasonic fills a much needed space for a compact, near DSLR image quality digital
    camera. I definitely plan to buy one.