Panasonic's 12.1-megapixel Lumix DMC-GF2 is a Micro Four Thirds camera, which means it's smaller than a digital SLR but still lets you swap lenses. The successor to the well-received Lumix DMC-GF1, the GF2 is touted as the world's smallest and lightest hybrid camera with a built-in flash. It also offers a touchscreen, 1080i video recording and the ability to shoot 3D photos and video, via a special lens.
The GF2 will be available in January 2011. You can currently pre-order the camera as part of three kits. You can buy the camera with a 14-42mm zoom lens (equivalent to 28-84mm in 35mm film terms) or a 14mm (28mm equivalent) pancake lens for around £650. Alternatively, you can grab the camera with both lenses for around £730. The zoom lens will prove the best option for anyone new to the GF series.
Full metal jacket
The GF2 will be available in black, red or silver in the UK. Panasonic says it's about 19 per cent smaller than its predecessor and 7 per cent lighter. It retains most of the GF1's blocky, almost retro, styling. The GF2 is made mainly of metal, so it feels pleasingly solid.
At the GF2's launch, Panasonic claimed that the handgrip had been made more pronounced than that of its predecessor. But, comparing the cameras, the opposite feels true. The GF2's grip may be slightly curvier but it's smaller and doesn't run from the top to the bottom of the camera, as on the GF1. That said, we never felt like we were going to drop the GF2.
We tested the GF2 with the truly tiny 14mm pancake lens. With this lens attached, the camera proved compact enough to squeeze into a jacket pocket.
The pancake lens affects the way you shoot. Without the ability to adjust the frame simply by zooming in or out, you're forced to take a step forwards or backwards to fit everything you want into the frame. As a result, taking a picture is inevitably a more considered and slightly slower process.
If you buy the £250 H-FT012 lens, you'll be able to use the GF2 to shoot 3D photos and video. You'll need a 3D TV to review the results, though, as images appear in 2D on the camera's screen. As such, the GF2 has an HDMI output on the side, along with a USB port.
With no electronic viewfinder included in the basic kit (it will be available as an optional extra), you're reliant on the touchscreen for almost every aspect of the camera's operation. Thankfully, it's fairly large, measuring 3 inches diagonally, and it has a respectable 460,000-pixel resolution, ensuring clarity even on dull days. The touchscreen would, however, be more useful if you could tilt and swivel it, enabling you to capture shots at awkward angles.
The GF2 has a brand new user interface specially designed for the touchscreen, with just-large-enough virtual buttons and controls that fill the screen with a dizzying array of options. You can take a picture or focus on a particular subject just by tapping the touchscreen.
The touchscreen has also enabled Panasonic to lose the chunky shooting-mode dial that sat atop the GF1, so the GF2 has a more streamlined appearance overall. Although the touchscreen doesn't detract from the camera's usability, we don't think it represents a massive boost in that regard either.
On the button
For the sake of convenience, Panasonic has retained a one-touch video-record button on the top of the camera. Press this and you can quickly shoot 1080i video in the AVCHD format with stereo sound, or 720p Motion JPEG footage.
Like the cameras in Panasonic's point-and-shoot range, the GF2 also features a physical 'quick menu' button for speedy access to key settings, such as image resolution and quality. There's also a new dedicated 'intelligent auto' button on top of the camera, which will suit anyone who wants to point and shoot and let the camera calculate which pre-optimised setting is right.
Intuitive and quick
The GF2 competes against the Samsung NX100, Olympus Pen E-PL1 and E-P2, and Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5, among others, in the burgeoning hybrid camera market. While it doesn't quite have the charm of the Olympus Pen cameras, nor their built-in image stabilisation, we prefer its build quality to that of the NX100, and we found it easier to use than Sony's NEX-5.
Like its rivals, the GF2 handles like a cross between a compact camera and an entry-level dSLR. Anyone trading up from a compact snapper, or seeking a capable back-up camera for their dSLR, won't find that the GF2 presents them with a steep learning curve.
The GF2 is responsive too. Panasonic's new Venus Engine FHD processor boosts operational speed and response times. Flick the power switch and you can be snapping JPEG or raw files in a second.
This processor has also allowed Panasonic to incorporate its 'intelligent resolution' technology. This apparently analyses an image, pixel by pixel, to sharpen up outlines and textures for a crisper, clearer result.
The GF2's colour reproduction is especially impressive. Indeed, we generally achieved sharp, clear and colourful results. The camera's images aren't quite as crisp as those achievable with a full-blown dSLR with a larger sensor and lens, but many will feel that the smaller dimensions of the GF2 are a fair trade-off.
If you own a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, you can rest easy -- the Lumix DMC-GF2 doesn't represent a giant leap forwards. Rather, the GF2 subtly refines an already excellent camera. If, however, you're looking for your first hybrid camera or a back-up to a dSLR, the GF2 will prove well worth a look.
Edited by Charles Kloet