The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 Micro FourThirds camera follows on from the earlier Lumix G1 model with enhanced features and the inclusion of Full HD movie mode. It is a feature packed camera that has all the expected Lumix auto features backed up with the more advanced features that the more serious photographer demand. As it is a micro four thirds camera it is rather compact compared to other DSLRs. Unlike the standard DSLR the viewfinder is a LCD screen.
The G series is a growing rang of cameras with the addition of the G2 and G10 models but the GH1 is still the model of choice if full HD movie capture with stereo audio is required.
The Panasonic Lumix GH1 has all the usual features that are common to the Lumix range of camera with extras:
- 12mp Live MOS sensor
- Micro FourThirds
- Fast Contrast AF System
- Venus Engine HD image processor
- Full HD Movie Recording with Stereo Audio
- AVCHD Format
- Intelligent Auto with Face Recognition
- Articulating LCD Screen
The GH1 is styled like the hybrid digital cameras of 8 years except that it actually has an interchangeable zoom lens and a much larger sensor. Below the Panasonic Lumix GH1 can be seen next to the Minolta Dimage A1. The Lumix GH1 is very similar in size despite it boasting a larger sensor and the 14-140mm lens. Both cameras autofocus technology is based on contrast detection.
Panasonic Lumix G1 compared with Minolta Dimage A1
Next, the Lumix GH1 is compared along side the a more recent camera, the Sony Alpha 350.
Panasonic Lumix GH1 compared with the Sony Alpha 350
The Sony Alpha 350 shown here with the 18-250mm DT lens (equiv. 27-375mm in 35mm format), is fairly small for an APS-C sensor based DSLR camera. Just like the Lumix GH1 it provides live view shooting with an articulating LCD monitor. The Alpha 350 AF system is firmly based on phased detection technology. It's missing feature is that it does not support movie capture. The Lumix GH1 is the smaller camera.
Front facing LCD screen
Back facing LCD screen
Protected LCD screen
The LCD screen can be easily adjusted as required making shooting at awkward angles less challenging. When the camera is being transported or not in use the screen can be faced inwards to protect itself from damage.
The Lumix GH1 does not have image stabilisation built into the camera body and has to be provided by the lens. For this review the GH1 was tested with the 14-140mm f/4-5.6 O.I.S. lens. This lens employs the Optical Image Stabiliser technology that Panasonic uses on its range of Lumix cameras. On the GH1 this lens offers the following operational modes:
- Mode 1: Camera shake automatically compensated for whilst camera is in the record mode
- Mode 2: Camera shake is only compensated for when the shutter button is pressed
- Mode 3: Used for when panning the camera. Only vertical shake is compensated for
The GH1 uses only contrast based auto focus technology that offers a variety of ways to detect and lock onto a subject or scene. The AF modes are as follows:
- Face Detection
- AF tracking - The focus will automatically follow the selected subject and maintain the correct exposure.
- 23 Area Focusing - Wide area focusing mode which leaves the GH1 to decide the point of focus.
- Spot Area Focusing - Used for selective user controlled focusing. The size of the focusing can be adjusted.
In addition there are two focus modes:
- AFS (Single AF)
- AFC (Continuous AF)
- MF (Manual Focus)
Manually focusing will automatically be assisted by a magnified display (the area of which can be changed).
The Lumix GH1 powers up quickly after flicking the switch located by the exposure mode dial and is ready to shoot once its dust reduction feature (sensor cleaning) operation has been completed. With the LCD screen showing the live view image will be displayed on it otherwise (in the case where the screen is protected by the body) the live view is shown in the viewfinder.
LCD Viewfinder and LCD Screen
The Lumix GH1 sports both and LCD viewfinder and an articulating LCD screen. The LCD viewfinder provides a resolution of 1,440,000 dots to produce a quite detailed display at is easy on the eyes. A diopter control permits optical adjustment to ensure sharp images whether you wear glasses or not. The LCD screen has a resolution of 460,000 dots but more importantly it is of the articulating design so that it can be positioned as required.
Image Aspect Ratio
The Lumix GH1 provides a number of alternative aspect ratios apart from the standard 4:3. The table below gives the available aspect ratio.
|4:3||4000 x 3000 (12mp)|
|3:2||4128 x 2752 (11.4mp)|
|16:9||4352 x 2448 (10.7mp)|
|1:1||2992 x 2992 (9mp)|
Where are 3:2 give the format typically used in DSLRs with APS-C and Full Frame sensors, 16:9 fits nicely for showing off images on a wide screen TV. It as can serve as a semi panoramic format. The 1:1 aspect is very much a square format which may suit a variety of situations.
3:2 Aspect Ratio
16:9 Aspect Ratio
4:3 Aspect Ratio
1:1 Aspect Ratio
16:9 Aspect Ratio
16:9 Aspect Ratio
3:2 Aspect Ratio
1:1 Aspect Ratio
Full Auto Modes
The Lumix GH1 has full photographic automation in the form of its iA (Intelligent Auto) mode. In reality iA is actually formed from a number of other modes which are employed as required. They are:
- Scene Detection - consisting of i-Portrait, i-Scenery, i-Close-up, i-Night Portriat, i-Night Scenery and i-Baby.
- Face Detection
- Backlight Compensation
In this mode photography becomes very much a matter of point and shoot. The iA mode works in much the same way as found on other Lumix cameras producing competent results with minimal effort. The scene detection works well but can be fooled but at least it is clear when the camera has chosen incorrectly.
Advanced Shooting Modes
When more control is required the traditional PASM modes can be called upon.
There are three exposure metering methods provided:
- Multiple - This is the default and uses evaluative metering making it suitable for a variety of lighting situations
- Centre Weighted - Metering is weighted towards the central area of the screen.
- Spot - For precise metering of a given area this metering option is handy in difficult lighting situations.
The GH1 was used for this review almost entirely in the multiple metering mode and exposures were felt to be acceptable in general with the need to resort to exposure compensation too often. In the case where exposure compensation was required it was in contrasty conditions where blown highlights was to be avoided. Ensuring the correct point of focus held to reduce exposure errors as the metering is tied with the focus point.
When lighting conditions are difficult as in the case of a high contrast lighting situation, i.Exposure if active will try and produce a more evenly rendered photo.
The above photos were taken with i.Exposure active. The shadow areas have been lightened to give more detail and provide overall better balanced photos had the feature not been employed.
All the usual white balance (WB) presets are represented but the auto white balance is most likely the default setting of choice for many users. If ultimate control is required there are two memories for recalling manually set WB. Alternatively, the colour temperature can be dialed in. The white balance will be reflected on the image seen on the LCD screen and the LCD Viewfinder.
Shot with Auto WB
Shot with Auto WB
In the above photos the Lumix GH1 auto WB has handled the complex indoor lighting.
Built in Flash (and External)
The built in flash has only a Guide Number of 11 and so it really only has sufficient power as a fill flash when the ISO is set low. The exposures from it looked balanced but it was not designed with a lens like the 14-140mm lens in mind. This lens, towards its shortest focal length, obscures the flash light and removing the lenses hood does not help. Use of the DMW-FL220 flash unit would be the preferred option with the 14-140mm lens.
Image Noise Analysis
Image noise is always a concern for the modern photographer especially those who intend to make significantly big enlargements. The Lumix GH1 generally copes well in bright daylight conditions (although image noise can be introduced can raised if iExposure mode is enabled) but when light levels drop things get more interesting. The noise filter can be set to one of the following conditions: off, low, standard and high. All the photos illustrated here were shot with the noise filter set to standard.
ISO 400 - f/4 at 1/5 sec. (100% crop)
ISO 800 - f/4 at 1/10 sec. (100% crop)
ISO 1600 - f/4 at 1/20 sec. (100% crop)
ISO 3200 - f/4 at 1/40 sec. (100% crop)
All the above photos were shot handheld relying on the optical image stabiliser within the 14-140mm lens to maintain sharp results. The ISO 400 shot at 1/5 second seems to of reached the limited of the images stabilisers abilities. Keep in mind the longer the lens focal becomes the more challenging it will be for the image stabiliser to produce sharp results.
Long Exposure Photography
Long exposures are another situation where image noise can be an issue. The GH1 provides noise reduction to deal with this situation. The following sequence of photos the typical noise levels at various ISO settings.
ISO 100 - f/14 at 60 sec. (100% crop)
ISO 200 - f/14 at 30 sec. (100% crop)
ISO 400 - f/14 at 15 sec. (100% crop)
ISO 800 - f/14 at 8 sec. (100% crop)
ISO 1600 - f/14 at 4 sec. (100% crop)
ISO 3200 - f/14 at 2 sec. (100% crop)
Full HD Movie Capture
The movie mode has not been included as an after thought but as one of the core features of the Lumix GH1. The movie feature is well integrated and as a result made of the exposure modes and iA features can be applied during recording. There are two recording formats provided: AVCHD and Motion JPEG. Panasonic recommend the AVCHD format for when the movie is to be watched on a TV rather than on a computer.
Operation of the GH1 when shooting movies is straightforward and comfortable. Movie recording is immediately initiated by pressing the dedicated movie record button on the back of the camera. Pressing the button again will stop the recording. Unlike many of the DSLRs with movie capture modes the GH1 is capable of still using the autofocus. And despite the built in stereo microphones the audio track seemed clear of undue AF motor noise. However, for more professional looking results it is often better to disengage the AF and manual focus when required. There choice is down to the user. If a better audio sound track is required external microphones can be employed and mounted on the camera where the flash would sit.
The Plus Points
- Fast contrast based AF
- LCD Viewfinder gives detailed image
- Auto switching between LCD Viewfinder and LCD Sceen
- HD movie capability with the efficient AVCHD mode
- Dedicated movie record button
- Stereo microphone
- No undesirable AF noise on movie audio
- Microphone socket so higher quality mics can be attached
- Menu navigation similar to other Lumix cameras
- HDMI output socket
- Rubberised type surface provide good grip
- Selectable aspect ratios ... check coverage
The Negative Points
- The GH! maybe too small for some hands
- The LCD Viewfinder may not suit everyone
- Image noise at ISO too excessive
- Limited selection of available lenses
- Low light focusing with LCD Viewfinder can be problematic
The Panasonic Lumix GH1 certainly shows the benefits of having a larger sensor but without the added heft that having a mirror can bring. The GH1 in many ways harks back to an earlier digital age when hybrid cameras where more common place and offered very advanced features.
Image quality proved to be good although jpeg images tended to be softer than those taken in RAW. It was felt that image noise was too high above ISO 800 and ISO 1600 and 3200 were best left for emergency purposes only or if printing small.
The autofocus is fast for a contrast based system and did not feel like it was getting in the way of the photographic process. It is quite comparable to the AF speeds found on entry level DSLRs. Subject tracking gave mixed results but was at its best when there is sufficient contrast available.
For the travelling photographer who wants to travel light but maintain a high degree of flexibility then the Lumix GH1 must be of consideration. It does raise the question of when is a DSLR too small as it's size is not suitable for all. However, assuming the size is not an issue then it is a joy to use and switching between still and movie modes is straightforward and quick.