November 21 2009
I picked up this new Panasonic camera, the GH1, at the IFA electronics fair in Berlin and at first couldn’t quite work out why it was so very special. It wasn’t just its exceptional specification, but a feeling of sheer quality.
Panasonic’s camera line-up is becoming extraordinary. I might just as easily have headed up this Christmas special with its equally new GF1, a proper compact but with interchangeable lenses. Indeed, I suggest you look seriously at the £600-ish GF1 as well. Or get both. I would in a beat.
Panasonic is now far and away the most successful Japanese non-camera-maker to go into cameras. Its brilliantly designed and wonderfully performing line of Lumix compact models, offering Leica lenses at distinctly non-Leica prices, has practically convinced camera nuts and regular consumers alike that Panasonic is principally a camera marque.
So, the GH1. What’s it got? Well, if you’ve handled last year’s G1, you’ll know that its overarching feature is its small size and light weight. If digital SLRs are flawed by one thing, it’s by being so damned big; the GH1 isn’t strictly an SLR (it doesn’t have the characteristic flapping mirror box affair) but it is as good as one. And it’s a similar size to, if you remember it, the wonderful old Pentax Spotmatic from the 1960s. The GH1 feels equally fantastic in the hand. A revelation.
The 12.1 Megapixel GH1 has some fine twiddles, such as the increasingly popular swivel-able LCD screen, which makes shooting from all kinds of difficult angles a breeze. It has a huge range of manual controls and an electronic viewfinder, which makes shooting in bright light much easier and more natural. It also has a range of lenses that is positively mouthwatering. As well as the terrific 14mm-140mm lens it is normally sold with (equivalent in 35mm terms to a 28mm-280mm, which is pretty incredible), I tried the 45mm-200mm in Berlin. Wow. And there are loads more, either already out or on the way, plus the GH1 can use lots of lenses by other manufacturers.
But none of this is as significant as the GH1’s abilities as a video camera. Just last January I reviewed the Nikon D90, the first SLR with video capability. It was revolutionary but had a heap of issues, such as the autofocus not working in video mode. The GH1 is the equal best video SLR yet, alongside the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which is twice the size and price.
When you look at the Panasonic’s 1080/25p Full HD movies, you will be amazed, I promise. I have taken some video with it, the quality of which provably exceeds that of human vision. While you gasp – as you surely will – at your Full HD family films taken with your dinky GH1, a real video nut will look at your movie and see a few “noisy” glitches in the picture. But don’t worry about it. This is probably the most complete camera available for the serious amateur as we go into 2010.