Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/08/preview_camera_panasonic_dmc_g2/

Panasonic DMC-G2

Micro Four Thirds hands-on with test pics and video

By Bob Dormon

Posted in Hardware, 8th March 2010 14:47 GMT

First Look With a DSLR dangling from my neck, unpacking the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 was certainly quite a contrast. The diminutive lens is remarkably light and, even when married to the body, you certainly don’t feel like you’re being burdened by bulk.

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Finishing touch: Panasonic's Lumix DMC-G2

A DSLR it ain’t and it’s easy to see that there is probably some truth in Panasonic’s claims that Micro Four Thirds cameras are fast becoming a favourite among compact owners wanting to trade up to the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, and advanced users needing something small, but versatile.

With the DMC-G2 and DMC-G10 officially announced only moments earlier, as the Focus on Imaging show opened, press samples were dished out with just an hour allowed to play. Panasonic was keen to stress that the G2 test models were running version 0.20 firmware. The underlying message being, it’s work in progress, so be kind, but have fun. There will be many refinements between now and the release models in June.

Indeed, it was pertinent to keep that in mind on turning on the G2 and seeing a purple wall through its viewfinder where a grey one stood before me, but on moving around things steadily improved. According to a Panasonic product specialist, the samples are still running on algorithms based on the G1, but the G2 and G10 both feature the new dual processing Venus Engine HD II.

So what about this new processor? Could a warts ‘n’ all pre-production model show off the charms of Madame Venus’ twin engines? Judge for yourself, as the urge to perform an impromptu ISO test was too great to resist. Like its predecessors the G2 has a 100 to 6400 ISO range and a 12.1Mp sensor.

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

AF tracking screen view

However, it soon becomes obvious that the higher you climb, the view starts to get uglier. Compression artefacts abound in the details too – even in the lower ranges – which suggests that Madame Venus is a bit of a harsh working girl at the moment and will be in for a makeover before she hits the streets in June.

Sample Shots

Pre-release sample with version 0.20 firmware

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Wide angle
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Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Tele-photo
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Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Click for a full-resolution crop

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Moving vehicle
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Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Click for a full-resolution crop

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Click for a full-resolution crop

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Click for a full-resolution crop

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Click for a full-resolution crop

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Click for a full-resolution crop

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Click for a full-resolution crop

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Click for a full-resolution crop

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Click for a full-resolution crop

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

Click for a full-resolution crop

ISO Tests

Pre-release sample with version 0.20 firmware

Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

ISO 100
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Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

ISO 200
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Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

ISO 400
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Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

ISO 800
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Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

ISO 1600
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Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

ISO 3200
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Panasonic DMC-G2 pre-production sample

ISO 6400
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The lens supplied for testing is the current 14-45mm G-series kit lens and isn’t the one that will be supplied with G2 and G10 kits – that will be the new Lumix G Vario 14-42mm/f3.5-5.6. So, the focal range will differ slightly to that seen in the various sample images here. Even so, the autofocus was responsive and fairly quiet too, which is helpful given that the AF works when video recording too. Admittedly, there is a bit of lag to the responsiveness here, but plan your shots and pan at a leisurely pace and it will play nice most of the time.

Touchscreen focus pulling effect test and resulting video
Available to view in HD

Can't see the video? Download FlashPlayer from Adobe.com

Incidentally, the touchscreen comes into its own for focusing tasks during video recording by offering a form of focus pulling. By simply touching on different areas of the screen the focusing smoothly transitions from one point in the field of view to the next. You can see this in action in the video clips that show activating these changes on-screen and the resulting video recording.

Setting this up with the G2 guidebook in the foreground and lighting props in the background revealed that selecting the foreground object could, literally, be a bit hit or miss. The issue appeared to be that there wasn’t enough of the guidebook visible for the touch-enabled focusing area square to latch onto. Using the G2’s scroll wheel varies the size of the focusing square, so it can be dragged further over to the edges of the display, despite being somewhat keen to resist attempts to do so.

Still images can be set up for touchscreen focusing tricks too, with AF tracking performed by tapping on the relevant item. Again, tests proved inconsistent. The issue this time was that where the small focusing square would end up wasn’t where I thought I’d pointed.

It was a similar experience to that of using a BlackBerry Storm 2, in that the alignment of the contact with the screen doesn’t match user expectations of where the finger was pointing to. Still, with the G2 you get there in the end and there’s no doubt a knack to it that you get familiar with.

Finger trouble? Firm presses are needed to toggle between tracking and capture modes
Available to view in HD

Another useful feature is touch control shutter. This combines focusing on the point you press on the screen and instantaneously taking a photo. An icon on the right of the LCD panel toggles between this function and AF tracking. In use, I found myself taking numerous unwanted photos as I tried to switch back to AF tracking and, likewise, set up new tracking points when I was trying to activate the touch control shutter feature.

In the somewhat challenging mixed lighting environment of the Focus on Imaging exhibition, many of the images seemed a tad over-exposed with muted colours as a consequence. Yet outdoors was a different story, with the results being much more vivid and accurate. During tests, video capture also faltered slightly, flickering momentarily when panning from an outdoor view to the interior exhibition scene, a quirk that could be repeated easily enough. Indeed, video playback was none too smooth with pan shots, as shown in the clip below.

Playback is not the smoothest for this pan shot - room for improvement here
Available to view in HD

Yet, thanks to the dedicated video record button – adjacent to the shutter release – video recording is perceived as a guilt-free function of this camera, rather than some bolt on extra that gets the die-hard stills fan worked up into a lather. Indeed, the task of video capture is effortless, with the G2 delivering a creative workflow, enabling decisions to be made on the fly without the distraction of manually switching modes. And talking of modes, there are plenty more that an hour’s play just didn’t allow time to fully explore.

Verdict

It’s easy to like this camera in terms of concept and compactness. Image quality does seem like work in progress, which had been implied by Panasonic right from the start. Certainly there’s room for improvement, and it will be interesting to compare and contrast how refined the G2 becomes from the pre-production samples on show now and the retail models coming in June. ®

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