Camera Review: Panasonic GH2

Photographer Marc Muench

Marc Muench has been a professional landscape and sports photographer for over 20 years. After completing his studies at Pasadena Art Center College of Design in the spring of 1989, Marc immediately began photographing for book publishers such as Graphic Arts Center, Browntrout Publishing and Time Inc.  Soon after, Marc represented Canon Camera in several ad campaigns, as well as appearing on "Canon Photo Safari" which aired on ESPN outdoor block, for eight straight seasons. Marc is now the "artist in residence" at dgrin.com for Smugmug, where he contributes on a regular basis to the "Muench University" critique thread. He is currently the photo editor of the National Parks guide, published by The American Park Network, which contain many of his images taken throughout the United States National Park system. We asked Marc to give us some insight into the Panasonic GH2 that he has been using. 

Marc Muench: "The GH2 is not exactly a DSLR, but!

Cheetah, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa by Marc Muench

"I first purchased the camera for its video capabilities but soon found myself enjoying it for time-lapses and stills as well.
The Micro Four-Thirds systems were introduced in 2008 and have been gaining popularity since. Personally though, I did not want to deal with another camera system in my workflow only because it was something new. In fact, I did not pay much attention to any of the MFT cameras offered by any of the camera companies only because I was convinced the smaller sensor size would yield files that compromised too much quality.

"Then someone began raving about its video capabilities and that some dude had created a hack for it that increased the useable ISO for shooting video from 3200 up to 12800. Then a friend wanted to sell one for a song, and suddenly I found myself holding one in my hands installing the hack! I don’t want to go over all the features, as that can be found anywhere on the Internet, rather, I would like to share with you what I consider some very impressive options that have pegged my interest meter every time I use it.

IMPRESSIVE QUALITIES OF THE GH2

  • The lenses are sharp on the GH2! I own two lenses, the 14-140mm f/4-5.8 and the 7-14mm f/4, both of which almost fit in the palm of my hand! This is an equivalent focal length range of 14mm to 240mm, quite impressive for such a compact system. The 14-140mm is stabilized making those long tele shots extra sharp!
  • The video quality is superior to all the DSLR’s I have used including the Canon 7D and 5D Mark II. There is MUCH less aliasing!

Panasonic GH2 with 14 - 140 mm lens
  • There is no flicker from frame to frame when shooting time-lapses! This was a great surprise as no one was talking about this but rather there were many creating de-flicker programs to cure the disease all DSLRs are inflicted with. There is no flicker because the shutter stays in place while the active sensor controls the duration and sensitivity of the exposure.
  • The still image quality is remarkable for the sensor size. However, I will not sell my DSLRs, in fact I will continue to utilize DSLRs for many reasons including superior file quality, optical view finders, and quick auto focus.
  • There is a dial setting for shooting bursts of auto bracketed files for HDR. This is very handy as I like to quickly change between shooting bracketed bursts and single files.
  • There is a fold out LCD making it very handy to shoot at low angles. Not only is the LCD adjustable but live. I can set the monitor to become active thus allowing me to tap the screen to take a picture. And I can reset focus while shooting video by simply tapping the screen. This is very nice for so-called "racking focus" during a video shot.
  • The pop up flash comes in handy for fill flash.
  • Really Right Stuff makes a "L bracket" allowing me to utilize all my current quick release plates.
  • The in-camera audio is actually usable! I normally improve it with a filter or two in post with Final Cut Pro but it comes in handy when I have no time to set up a mic.
  • The view finder is actually usable. I always use the LCD when shooting video but find myself using the view finder for stills.

Evening fog, Santa Ynez Mountains, Los Padres National Forest, California by Marc Muench

DRAWBACKS OF THE GH2

  • The battery life is poor! I own five batteries, which I am constantly changing. This could be because I am shooting a lot of video and time-lapses. I also purchased an AC-power adaptor and hooked up a 8.4 volt airsoft gun battery that allows me to shoot continually for long 8 hour time-lapses. MacGyver would be proud!
  • There are too many small buttons on the back. I constantly mash the display button below where my thumb rests while grabbing the camera. This changes the mode from a view finder to settings and something I don’t want to see at the time. Recently while shooting video in Africa from a Land Rover, I mashed the WB button and without knowing changed from daylight to something evil. This is no big deal while shooting RAW stills, but when filming video it was devastating!
  • The auto focus is slow compared to most DSLRs. This is not a real gripe but rather something frustrating as I do not expect it to match a DSLR.
  • The build is not professional quality! It’s a good thing the image quality does not match the build quality! Although, it has taken a few drops from a few feet onto gravel and still keeps on ticking!

Morning fog, Santa Ynez Mountains, Los Padres National Forest, California by Marc Muench

"I have owned the camera for about six months. I have included it in all my shoots as I am now filming video all the time. Because it is there, I grab it to shoot stills on occasion and find myself enjoying processing the files as well. I have not conducted my usual resolution test by shooting the Edmond Scientific charts only because it did not matter for video. However, what I have seen while processing the still files is a wonderful amount of dynamic range combined with an adequate amount of resolution.

Tip:  For max pano resolution, place the Panasonic GH2 in vertical position and change the aspect ratio to 16:9. This utilizes the max vertical resolution of the sensor giving you largest top to bottom coverage. For my panos, I always overlap 40%."

All opinions ©Marc Muench

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