Tweaking the Panasonic GH-1 – a few tricks you should know

Written by Gary on July 15th, 2009

Even though I am able to use most cameras without reading the manual, I still go through it when I get a new camera (and usually BEFORE I buy a camera as it is there you will find the gotchas which may disappoint you).

First, let’s look at how I have decided to change the default menu settings of my new Panasonic GH-1:

  • Camera menu items:
    • QUALITY = RAW + best quality jpeg (if you are just playing with it, or memory space is a problem, you may decide on just best quality jpeg or RAW alone)
    • FACE RECOG. = ON – does not seem to impair AF performance, so let’s have it
    • FLASH SYNCHRO = 2ND (I prefer blurring of moving subjects to be behind them but for some situations, you may prefer 1ST)
    • ISO LIMIT = 1600 (you may prefer 800 instead)
    • EX.OPT.ZOOM = OFF – there are circumstances where turning this on may be useful – it will save you cropping your images and also allow more on your memory card – all it does is use the central 25% of the sensor (ie. gives ~3mpixel images) to give in effect a further 2x crop factor which turns the GH-1 with 14-140mm lens into a 3mp 54-546m zoom camera in 35mm terms. Of course, you could achieve this by cropping in Photoshop.
  • Movie menu items:
    • these will depend on your needs – AVCHD vs Motion JPEG, record quality, wind cut to reduce wind noise in the audio part of movies
    • AVCHD gives smallest file sizes for capture size but is more difficult to edit – 17Mbps 1080 50i or 720 50p HD video requires 8Gb for 1hr, 9Mbps 720 50p requires 4Gb per 1hr – most people will probably prefer to shoot at AVHCD 720p (SH level)
    • QuickTime Motion jpeg is easier to edit but 1280×720 30fps requires 16Gb for 1hr, VGA 640×480 30fps requires 6Gb per 1hr, and QVGA 320×240 30fps requires 2Gb per 1hr
    • digital zoom – I normally would NEVER use digital zoom on a camera BUT with the GH-1 in movie mode, at 2x, this does NOT result in substantial loss of quality when used for movies (BUT 4x zoom does lose image quality) – just remember to turn it off for still images! 1920×1080 HD video only uses 2mpixels of the 12 mpixel sensor, so the 2x digital zoom just uses the more central pixels and no quality is lost – now that is cool! The 14-140mm lens could become the 35mm equivalent of 54-546mm in movie mode how versatile is that for your wildlife movies?
    • you may want to set your preferred EXPOSURE MODE for when you use creative movie mode – this allows you to choose aperture-priority, shutter-priority, programme AE or manual exposure modes for your movies
      • for a filmic look, you may wish to set the shutter to 1/50th sec for 1080i or 1/120thsec for 720p or 1/60th sec for 30fps motion jpeg, set ISO to AutoISO, and if not using the HD lens, you may need to fix the aperture to avoid iris noise – in which case you should use a ND filter in bright conditions
      • if you are shooting in manual exposure, then, set the LIVE HISTOGRAM to be ON to help you adjust exposure by changing the aperture
      • for a cine look, Reichmann, suggests using Smooth Film Mode with -1 Contrast and -2 Sharpening
      • more video tips here
  • C wrench items:
    • AF/AE LOCK = AF – I prefer to be able to lock focus and not have to half-press shutter, and this setting allows the AF/AE LOCK button to do that
    • AF/AE LOCK HOLD = ON – this means you can release the AF/AE button and the focus will remain locked until you press it again which will unlock it and then re-enable the default half-press shutter AF option – very nice implementation indeed!
    • MF ASSIST = ON – actually this is default setting but its important to ensure it is on!
    • SHOOT W/O LENS = ON – this allows you to shoot with legacy lenses via adapters – just leave it set to on
  • Wrench items:
    • Clock set – you will actually be asked to set this when you 1st turn the camera on
    • Fn BUTTON SET = GUIDE LINE (ie. compositional grid but you may wish to set it to one of the other options)
    • BEEP = MUTE – I don’t need my camera making beeps everytime AF is attained
    • USB MODE = PC – This way when connected to computer it just opens as a drive automatically
    • AUTO REVIEW – REVIEW = OFF and ZOOM = OFF – this is quite important, as being an EVF, if you set either of these ON, it will mean you will be “blinded” for a few seconds after you take the shot as the viewfinder will display the shot you have taken unless you half-press the shutter.
  • Playback items:
    • ROTATE DISPL. = OFF – when I view an image on LCD, I want to see it as well as I can – rotating it for me is not a useful idea in my mind

Now, a few important tricks you need to know:

  • the front dial not only allows you to change aperture in mode A, or shutter speed in mode S, but by pressing it in, you can toggle it so that you can now change exposure compensation and this compensation effect is visible in the viewfinder. In Manual Mode, it toggles between aperture and shutter speed
  • MF assist – when using a compatible lens in MF mode, moving the focus ring will automatically activate magnified view for MF assist – very nice indeed! BUT, how do you activate it with a legacy lens using a lens adapter? Almost a simple but NOT intuitive – you press the left arrow button on the rear (which is also the AF mode selection button), then once the box is displayed, you can move it around using the arrow keys, then press SET button to enter magnified view, and you can further magnify it using the front dial. It works very well in reality. Nice!
  • moving the AF area – when using the single AF area, unlike the case with dSLRs where you have a limited selection of AF points, with the GH-1, you can move this area ANYWHERE in the frame, and what’s more, you can change its size! Just press the AF button on the rear, ensure single AF mode is selected, then press the down arrow button to enter the mode where the arrow buttons allow you to move the AF area, while the front dial changes its size. Press SET to return to normal camera function but with the AF area set. Very cool, especially for those using tripods!
  • Custom WB – press WB button, select either CWB 1 or CWB 2 option using arrow keys, aim camera at white subject lit by the light, press SET. Done!
  • DOF / shutter speed preview – depth of field (DOF) preview is easy – just press the aperture/rubbish bin button at bottom right on rear – but that’s not all folks, while in this mode, press the DISPLAY button and you get to see the effects of your selected shutter speed as well – up to 8 secs shutter speed – now that is almost fun!
  • Movie playback – go into PLAY mode by pressing the PLAY button next to viewfinder, select the movie to watch using left/right arrow buttons, then play movie by pressing the UP arrow button.

Face recognition AF:

  • if you have set face recognition AF to ON in the menu system, it becomes activated automatically if using either: iA exposure mode and a face is detected; portrait mode; or you specifically select face recognition AF mode using the AF button on the rear;
  • face recognition is surprisingly fast on this camera as long as the subject is not moving too fast, is in adequate lighting and is side on or front on to the camera, and not wearing glasses, and not too small on the screen.
  • you can register up to 6 faces and have the camera prioritise AF and metering for those faces, but registering faces may slow AF detection a little and may not distinguish close relatives.
  • it is very useful for movie mode when the last thing you want to do is to be adjusting focus yourself – just let the camera do it for you!

AF tracking:

  • this may be new for those coming from dSLR cameras and is only possible because of the fast contrast detect AF system in live view which the GH-1 is based upon.
  • you select this mode via the AF button on the rear
  • initially there is a central AF tracking frame which is white
  • adjust camera composition to place this frame on your subject then half-press shutter to lock onto the subject – the AF frame will then become yellow and the camera retains memory of the appearance of the object and the frame will move with the object, maintaining AF and optimising exposure for the object – very clever indeed!
  • if the object goes out of the image area, or you press AF button or SET button, or lock is not obtained initially (frame goes red), the lock is released and frame returns to its white status
  • if AF lock is not active, AF defaults to centre area AF
  • AF tracking lock may not occur if either:
    • subject is too small
    • subject is too dark or light
    • subject is moving too fast
    • background is similar color to subject
    • too much camera shake
    • when zoom is activated

Aspect ratio:

  • the GH-1 actually has a 14mp larger-than-usual sensor for a Four Thirds sensor which allows it to give you the option of various aspect ratios which can be VERY useful depending on your subject or the purpose of your prints:
  • default 4:3 aspect gives 4000x3000 pixels = 12 mpixels and is a nice ratio for most computer screens and its 1.33 ratio is close to the ratio of 8″x10″, 11″x14″ and 16″x20″ prints
  • 3:2 35mm film aspect gives 4128x2752 pixels = 11.4 mpixels and is a nice ratio for wide computer screens and its 1.5 ratio allows uncropped prints to traditional 35mm film print sizes of 8″x12″, 10″x15″, 12″x18″, 20″x30″ prints
  • 16:9 widescreen motion video aspect gives 4352x2448 pixels = 10.7 mpixels and is great for panoramas or display on wide TV screens but its 1.77 ratio may make it an issue to print
  • 1:1 square image gives 2992x2992 pixels = 9 mpixels but the only real advantage of using this is to save space on your memory card and to save having to crop in Photoshop, otherwise, you could achieve all this from a 4:3 aspect image and cropping it.
  • you can access this setting from Q.Menu button or by allocating it to the Fn button

Uploading GH-1 videos to YouTube:

  • according to this page, Youtube prefers video files to be uploaded as stereo audio, 1280×720 or 640×480 video in H.264, MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 codecs
  • the PhotoFunStudio software supplied with the GH-1 can trim your AVHCD videos and upload them to YouTube directly. AVCHD files are automatically converted to MPEG-2 while Motion Jpeg MOV files are uploaded unedited. Maximum upload is 100Mb or 10 minutes.
  • you can also directly upload motion jpeg .mov files via YouTube’s interface which allows max. 2Gb or 10 minutes – on my broadband, it uploaded at a rate of ~1.5Mb/minute

2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Dave Myrow says:

    Thanks much for these tips! Just got the GH1 and plowing through the manual is tedious. You have picked out the crucial bits.

  2. admin says:

    glad you found them helpful Dave