A Worthy Successor!
The battle for market share in the ILCC market is indeed hotting up! Although Panasonic had the first mover advantage with its Micro Four Thirds G1, others like Olympus (Micro Four Thirds), Samsung (APS-C) and Sony (APS-C) have also joined the fray.
Initially, the ILCC market was divided into two sectors – the D-SLR style Models (like the Lumix G1, G2, GH1 etc.) and the compact style models (like the Lumix GF1, Olympus EP-1, EP-2, EPL-1, the Sony N-EX 5 and 3 and the Samsung NX 10). By definition, the compact style models stood a better chance in the market place since a potential buyer would have liked to steer clear of bulky, cumbersome SLR style models. Predictably, the GF1 from Panasonic became a hot seller and was SP’s ILCC of the year. The UK magazine, Practical Photography, also gave it the camera of the year title. In the meantime, Sony introduced its NEX series, which boasted smaller bodies (but much bigger lenses). Panasonic had to come up with a reply and the GF-2 is the end result.
Yes, the GF-2 is even smaller than the GF-1. Panasonic has removed the mode dial on the top plate and remodeled the hand-grip to give the camera a slimmer, cleaner look. The body is still a little larger than Sony’s NEX series but this is without considering Sony’s larger lenses, courtesy the APS-C sensor. Also, the GF-1 comes with a hot shoe and a built-in flash that the competition does not. Panasonic claim that the GF-2 is the world’s smallest and lightest ILCC that includes a built in flash.
DESIGN & BUILD QUALITY
Although smaller than its predecessor, the GF-2 is and feels well built. The metal body feels solid and is reassuringly heavy at 265 gms. (Dimensions – 113 x 68 x 33mm). The camera is available in matte black, silver, pink and red finishes. Panasonic package the camera with two lenses – the 14mm f2.5 and the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 standard zoom. As a design, the GF-2 is very successful; and along with the pancake lens, it forms a neat, pocketable package.
The GF-2 features a 12 MP 17.3x 13mm Live MOS Four Thirds sensor that outputs the same file size as its predecessor. The small size of the Four Thirds chip helps to keep the size of the camera and lenses down. It also brings benefits in the form of low power consumption from the CMOS sensor whilst being able to deliver high quality images even at 12 MP. The distance between the sensor and the lens mount combined with the smaller sensor results in less chromatic error and better edge detail. On the other hand, a smaller sensor means the photosites are smaller than in an APS-C sized sensor and could mean lower dynamic range and higher levels of noise. The camera can shoot in 16:9, 4:3, 3:2 and 1:1 formats.
The new processor, the Venus Engine FHD (also included in the GH-2) features advanced signal processing capabilities for both photo and video. Recording quality has been upgraded to full HD using the AVCHD format.
On the autofocus front, the new processor promises staggeringly fast autofocus for a contrast detection system and unlike a phase detection system, is not linked to a set number of focus points. A choice of 23-area AF and one-area AF is available. Also, the size of the AF area can be changed and face detection can help to retain information of up to six faces. Focusing can be achieved by touching the screen or by half pressing the shutter button. Autofocus tracking locks the subject and keeps track of moving subjects. Manual focusing is aided by a magnified display on the LCD screen. An AF assist lamp aids focusing in low light.
The GF-2 offers a choice of 144 zone multi-pattern metering as well as center weighted and spot. Exposure modes include program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual. ISO speeds can be set to a range of ISO 100-6400 or to Intelligent ISO/Auto. Both, exposure compensation (±3 EV in 1/3 EV steps) and Auto Exposure Bracketing are available. Shutter speeds vary from 60 seconds to 1/4000 sec. A variety of scene modes are also available.
In the area of White Balance, apart from a whole range of settings, White Balance fine-tuning is possible as also color temperature setting and White Balance bracketing.
The GF 2 is one of the very few ILCCs to sport a built-in flash gun. This TTL flash has a Guide Number of 6m (at ISO 100) and synchronizes at speeds up to 1/160 seconds. External flashguns from Panasonic/Olympus can be fitted on the hot shoe.
The 3-inch LCD monitor of the GF2 features a “Touch” panel. The LCD monitor can be adjusted for color/brightness and features 460,000 dots. It also offers a 100-percent field of view.
Other features include a dust reduction system, Live View, real time histogram, guide lines, full compatibility with SDHC & SDXC cards and a burst speed of 3.2 frames per second.
The GF2 can shoot video in high definition and produce 3D still images. A maximum recordable time of 75 minutes is available in the AVCHD format. A dedicated movie button and stereo microphone is provided.
A tilt and swivel LCD screen would have been a bonus but given the already diminutive size of the camera, is perhaps asking for too much.
Does the smaller size of the GF-2 come at the expense of handling? At first glance, the absence of the shooting mode dial on the top plate appears to be a drawback. In practice, however, having the modes on the touch screen works just as well or even better. The small grip on the front and rear of the camera is quite adequate for comfortably holding the camera. Almost all the camera’s controls can be controlled from the touchscreen. Alternatively, the four-way pad can be used. Having separate buttons for the movie mode, intelligent Auto and the ‘Quick’ menu is a plus point. The menu screens are very intuitive and user friendly. Again, with the GF-2, both the built-in flash and the optional electronic viewfinder can be used simultaneously. Finally, with the 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens, the camera is eminently pocketable and easy to carry with you wherever you go. The new 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 standard zoom features image stabilization that is controlled from the camera body.
The GF-2 does focus faster than its predecessor. In good light, the autofocus performance of the camera is comparable with D-SLRs. Contrast detection autofocus is certainly coming into its own and Panasonic seems to have put a lot of effort in this direction. Focusing in low light is also faster, thanks to the AF illuminator.
We faced no problems with the multi-pattern metering of the GF-2. The ‘My Color’ mode offers a range of special digital effects like Mono, Dynamic Color, Silhouette etc. but these may not be to everyone’s taste. The GF-2 also offers intelligent dynamic range control in low, standard and high settings to provide greater control over shadow and highlight detail.
Noise is well controlled by the GF-2 at ISO 100,200, 400 and 800. Above these levels, noise levels begin to creep in and ISO 3200 to 6400 are noisy. But seriously, will you use these levels? Auto White Balance met our requirements in most shooting conditions and most users should be quite happy using just the AUTO option.
The 3-inch LCD screen of the GF-2 could have boasted a higher number of dots than its 460,000. However, the screen is very versatile and crisp and the touchscreen option is, contrary to our initial fears, not a gimmick but very useful.
Images produced by the GF-2 are certainly superior to those produced by any compact camera. Good tonal range, natural colors and impressive sharpness were the main characteristics of images produced by the camera. Video quality was also impressive.
VALUE FOR MONEY:
Panasonic intend to launch the GF-2 in India in late April. Abroad, it is available in kit form along with the 14mm f/2.5 and 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lenses. In some markets, the optional electronic viewfinder forms part of the package. In Singapore, the GF-2 kit with two lenses retails for around S$1100 which translates to around Rs.40,000 which is an attractive price. The indicative Indian price at Rs.45,000 includes either of the kit lenses and is a fair value.
+ Light, Pocketable
+ Brisk AF
+ Superb touchscreen
+ Panasonic has 11system lenses to choose from
– LCD screen not detachable
– EVF is optional
– Noise above ISO 800
– Availability in India
Design and Build Quality 16/20
Key Features 18/20
Performance Autofocus 4/5 Metering 4/5
Noise Control 3/5
Value for Money 8/10
Grand Total 81.5/100
The GF-1 was a winner. The GF-2 has better autofocus, a superb touchscreen and is both smaller and lighter. If you don’t shoot at ISOs higher than 1600, this is definitely an ILCC you should shortlist before you buy. Very, very attractive indeed!
H. S. Billimoria