Finally, my Panasonic GH-1 has arrived – some initial impressions

Written by Gary on July 12th, 2009

After 1-2 months of waiting, I finally received my Panasonic GH-1 with Leica 14-140mm HD Mega OIS lens, but still waiting on my Four Thirds to Micro Four Thirds adapter and Leica 25mm f/1.4 FT lens.

It just happens that its arrival coincided with the extensive review of it by dpreview.com so I am not going to go into details you can otherwise get from there.

Aspects I love about the GH-1:

  • nice and compact and light – now I can look more under-stated, and can carry it with me to more places where a dSLR may not be acceptable or feasable
  • surprisingly fast contrast detect AF – at least as fast as entry level dSLR phase contrast AF and far more versatile with a very usable face detection or subject tracking system, and ability to AF on any part of the frame. Even more surprising, is how fast it is in low indoor light – as long as the subject is light coloured and with contrast with minimal movement (black hair in dim light is pushing it!)
  • a brilliant artificial intelligence system for novices – iA mode detects what kind of subject material (eg. face vs macro vs night scenario), applies the scene mode settings for that scenario and sets exposure for the subject taking into account subject movement in deciding on shutter speed – all just incredible!
  • very effective optical image stabiliser which works during movie mode
  • any camera mode can be used with movie mode – just press the movie button to start it and stop it – how simple is that – and with option of FULL controls over settings
  • incredible lens optimised for movie mode – silent AF during movies, step-less aperture to allow smooth exposure transitions as light changes during the movie, circular diaphragm for nice bokeh, 10x optical zoom (28-280mm in 35mm terms with clever option of 2x or 4x further movie zoom by sensor cropping without significant loss of image quality)
  • electronic viewfinder – the best out their on still cameras and essential for hand held movies
  • easy to learn control layout and very customisable settings – the perfect transition for those going from point and shoot to dSLR sophistication
  • the ability to use almost ANY lens EVER made on it – albeit in manual focus mode and no image stabilisation – and for Canon EOS lenses, only at wide open aperture as they do not have aperture rings
  • battery only takes 1hr to charge
  • excellent still image and movie quality with reasonably low noise at high ISO and more image detail with less aggressive anti-alias filter which should allow more detail from the lenses
  • swivel LCD and MUCH better design than that on the Nikon dSLR
  • ability to preview effects of exposure compensation, aperture and shutter speed on the image before you take the shot – very nice indeed!
  • customisable grid lines to help you compose and ensure camera is level
  • external mic port – an essential for quality audio in movies
  • the best implementation of live view and manual focus assist available

Aspects which I might miss or which disappoint me:

  • features available on the Olympus E-P1 Micro Four Thirds but not on the GH-1:
    • no CCD-shift image stabilisation option for non-optical IS lenses such as is the case with Olympus cameras – however, the Olympus E-P1 does not allow the IS to function during movie recording, so the optical IS during movie mode is as important feature – just a pity they couldn’t have put both options in!
    • no creative ART filters as with Olympus although it does allow tone control via “film” settings, and it does allow skin smoothing via one of the portrait settings, but it would have been nice to have movie mode with pin hole effects, etc as with the Olympus E-P1
  • digital zoom functionality – the 4x digital zoom is not really producing good image quality in either still or video modes, but the 2x digital zoom is quite useful in video mode, but not useful in still mode (as you can just crop in PS afterwards), thus personally, I would have preferred that you could have just enabled the Fn key to toggle 2x digital zoom for video mode ONLY on and off. When you are in 2x digital zoom mode for your videos and you suddenly want a still shot, it is a hastle to turn the digital zoom off.
  • mechanical shutter is noisy – I had hoped the lack of mirror would allow it to be almost silent, but the use of a mechanical shutter instead of an electronic shutter to ensure better sensor image quality has resulted in a still obvious shutter noise – and louder than I would like
  • no HDMI out DURING movie recording – this would have been nice
  • limited range of dedicated lenses for AF in HD video mode – but these will come, and soon, hopefully
  • the 14-140mm kit lens is a bit big and heavy for the GH-1 – but then it does replace two kit lenses – a 14-42mm and 40-140mm, and it is very sharp in the 14-50mm range and a unique lens which took 12 months to develop for movie mode
  • 62mm filter size of the 14-140mm and the Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens is not really standard compared with Four Thirds lenses which tend to be 58mm or 67mm
  • battery life not great but that is to be expected given its size and the need for EVF or LCD – buy an expensive 2nd battery BUT it must be a Panasonic one or the new firmware will not allow its use for “safety” reasons.
  • can’t charge a battery and use the charger to run the camera via DC at the same time
  • not weatherproof and not pocketable – well, you can’t have everything!
  • very expensive in Australia – $2999 will price it out of reach of most people, and why so high a price when the RRP is $US1499 and the $A is worth 80c US? Even with 10% GST added, it should be $A2061 – not $A2999! Maybe the price is subsidising the optional and fairly well priced 4 year extended Australian warranty which appears to be an additional $A100 according to the supplied leaflet
  • desperately needs a portrait and macro lens compatible with contrast detect AF, preferably an image stabilised HD movie compatible one – perhaps a 35-75mm f/2.8 macro or a revamped 50mm f/2.0 portrait macro and a 100mm f/2.8 macro for nature work. Please put a focal range limiter on it eg. full range, 1m to infinity, macro to 1m or whatever makes sense for that lens.

This has to be the most versatile, fun, take almost anywhere camera you can get your hands on, and with the best implementation of HD video movies to boot – bored with the kit lens? Just get an adapter an use an EOS or Nikon tilt shift lens, or Lens Baby, or any of the Four Thirds lenses (although only a few will contrast detect AF at this stage).

See more of my blogs on the Micro Four Thirds system here.

 

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2 Comments so far ↓

  1. John says:

    Hello, Gary. I just want to say that your website is great. It looks like you have extensive knowledge on micro-four third cameras. So I was wondering what lenses do you frequently use or recommend when taking photos on your Panasonic GH1?

  2. admin says:

    Hi John, I use the 14-140mm HD kit lens the most as it is so versatile, but in addition, I use the Panasonic leica D 25mm f/1.4 (if I had not already bought this, I would definetly go for the smaller, cheaper, but excellent Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 instead), and it is also very useful for infrared use.
    The Olympus OM 135mm f/2.8 or 100mm f/2.8 for when I need faster optics or shallower depth of field.
    The Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro is great for macro work in manual focus.
    The Olympus OM 21mm f/3.5 comes in handy for street photography – just manually set an approximate focus and aperture and away you go.
    The Canon EF lenses are nice too but a lot bigger than the OM lenses and you can’t change the aperture.
    I still like the Olympus ZD 50-200mm lens on my Olympus E510 as well.