Panasonic's second-generation GF-series compact/DSLR hybrid is smaller, lighter and cheaper
Panasonic pitches into the crowded compact system market with its follow up to Camera of the Year at the 2010 T3 awards, the Lumix DMC-GF1, with the DMC-GF2, again with a maximum effective resolution of 12.1-megapixels. It’s available in black, silver or red in the UK, though we wish Panasonic had announced the white version over here too.
We loved the GF2’s mirrorless Micro Four Thirds system predecessor too – it regularly topped group tests of other hybrid models, including the Olympus E-P2 and E-PL1 plus Sony NEX-5, for being not only fully featured but also easy to use and capable of delivering some beautifully colour-rich results – so the new interchangeable lens Panasonic has a lot to live up to.
For starters, whilst still boxy in appearance and lacking the retro charm of the Olympus Pens, in an attempt to broaden the camera’s appeal further the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 is marginally smaller (by 19%) and marginally lighter (by 7%) than its forebear. It’s also marginally faster too, thanks to the incorporation of a Venus Engine FHD processor.
And, if fixing the most compact lens currently available – the 14mm pancake’– it just about fits into a regular jacket pocket. Which, given that the system’s selling point is portability twinned with high quality, is important.
Powering up in a second, part of the reason for the smaller overall size is that the chunky shooting mode dial that featured on the GF1 has vanished, its functionality absorbed by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2’s addition of a touch screen, here 3-inches in size and with a respectable 460k dot resolution.
Though screen menu icons are large and clear, there is room, we feel, for them to have been made larger still. Plus the screen might have been better yet if it could tilt and swivel for compositions from otherwise awkward angles, as on Panasonic’s DSLR-styled Lumix DMC-G2, a slightly bulkier alternative.
If you want to though there are enough physical controls featuring alongside the screen to avoid using it altogether – apart from obviously as a compositional aid, as there’s no alternative viewfinder. The regular ‘Q.Menu (Quick Menu) button still providing access to a toolbar that shoehorns all the key settings into the same screen space.
Further indicating the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2’s greater approachability for anyone trading up from a compact, the subject and scene recognizing ‘intelligent Auto’ (iA) function gets its own top plate button. Press this if all you want to do is point and shoot, the camera ably choosing the most appropriate setting. Similarly handy is the dedicated camcorder-style video record button featuring alongside the main shutter release button. A press of the former and recording immediately commences whichever mode you are in. The choice here is bright and clear Full HD AVCHD format video, or 1280x720 pixels video in Motion JPEG format, and with stereo sound too.
Panasonic Lumix GF2: Features
Also carrying over from the GF1 is a very useful integral flash of the pop-up variety that rises majestically from the top plate. A hotshoe for the attachment of a supplementary flashgun for more professional results with accessory port just beneath for optional electronic viewfinder (EVF) make a re-appearance too, but, again, as these share the same space on the camera you can’t use an EVF and flashgun in tandem.
Not all the new camera’s features get our thumbs up however. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 lacks a decent handgrip, doubtless to save on overall bulk; there’s just a slightly curve to one side of the faceplate that provides purchase for the fingers, and a correspondingly subtle thumb pad at the back. The device does however feel solid when gripped thanks to a mainly metal build, and it’s unlikely to slip from your palm in the heat of the action.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 doesn’t feature body integral image stabilization, unlike the Olympus Pen range, so requires optically stabilized lenses to help avoid image blur when shooting in low light. The 14mm we had for testing isn’t stabilized, but alternative of the 14-42mm kit zoom (28-84mm equivalent) is.
Panasonic Lumix GF2: image quality
More excitingly, Panasonic has also released a 3D lens for the GF2, available separately for around £250. This purchase only makes sense if you already own a 3D TV, as the camera’s back screen, unlike say Fuji’s FinePix W3, can’t display pictures in that format.
Fixing the 14mm lens altered the way we shot. With no option to zoom in or out, we had to shuffle forward and back to fill the frame as we wanted: not always a bad thing as it slowed us down and forced us to consider our composition that bit more. Plus, as we’ve noted, it’s this lens and camera combination that’s currently the most pocket friendly set up.
As we find with any Panasonic camera we use, when it comes to image quality, colour reproduction is especially impressive. We were able to have a play with both 14mm and 14-42mm optics, as well as the 3D lens and achieved sharp, clear and colourful results with each. We could argue that results aren’t quite as naturalistic as those achievable with a full-blown DSLR with larger sensor and lens, but then this isn’t a full-blown DSLR.
Our end impression is that an already excellent camera has been made smaller, faster and easier to use – if you’re happy navigating physical controls and virtual ones in tandem. Yet ultimately the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 is a refinement rather than revolution in comparison with its predecessor. So existing users shouldn’t feel pressure to upgrade just yet.
However, in being what we’d consider the most fully realized compact system camera to date in terms of the relationship between diminutive size and big time quality – though we’d like to see Micro Four Thirds really live up to its promise by going as small as Pentax’s Optio i10 snapper - the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 should win new fans amongst those looking for an alternative to an entry level digital SLR, and one without too many inherent compromises at that.
Panasonic Lumix GF2 release date: End of January, link Panasonic
Panasonic Lumix GF2 price: Around £499-£600 with pancake lens
Panasonic Lumix GF2 Specifications
- Sensor: 12.1 megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor
- Lens: 14mm kit lens on test
- Screen: 3-inch, 460k dots
- Viewfinder: n/a
- Stabilisation: Via optically stabilized lens only
- Video: Maximum 1920x1080 pixels at 30fps
- Storage: SD, SDHC or SDXC
- Battery: 300 shots
- Connections: USB, AV out, HDMI connector
- Dimensions/Weight: with lens, battery and card, 120.3x79.8x19.9mm