by Ian Burley
HD video-enabled Lumix G-series and two new Micro Four Thirds lenses debut
Editor's note: This report was first published on our sibling publictaion, Digital Photography Now (DPNow.com). From a Four Thirds User perspective, most of the news is expected, based on the preview information gleaned from Photokina last year. What is particularly interesting is that another next generation LiveMOS sensor has been developed for the GH1, to address low light sensitivity in particular.
We saw a mock-up at Photokina five months ago, but at last Panasonic has working samples of its second Micro Four Thirds hybrid system camera, the GH1, which has been carefully designed to embrace HD video recording as well as DSLR-level stills shooting. We recently had a chance to touch and try the GH1, and a mock-up of its video-optimised kit lens, the 14-140 (28-280 equivalent) 10x G Vario f/3.5-5.8 zoom. We also had a chance to play with a pre-production sample of the new diminutive G-series 7-14mm f/4 super wide angle zoom.
The GH1 was officially launched at 8:30AM here at the PMA show in Las Vegas - before the doors actually opened for the first day of the show. The GH1 is a fascinating development as, in effect, it will compete against Panasonic's own HD camcorder offerings. And in many ways, the GH1 will produce more desirable results and creativity options than all but the most high-specification semi-professional camcorders. That said, we still don't know how much of a premium the GH1's HD attributes will work out compared to the original G1.Panasonic Lumix general manager, Ichiro Kitao, reveals a silver example of the GH1 at this morning's launch.
Full HD resolution 1080p (1920x1080) video shooting is supported by the GH1 at 24 frames per second. This does limit use to shooting where there isn't much fast action or panning of the camera. However, using 720p (1280x720) mode at 60 frames per second, there are no such restrictions. Stereo microphones are built in to the camera, situated on the top of the pop-up flash, and there is an external stereo mic socket as well. An external hot-shoe Dolby-compatible stereo mic is on the accessories list for the GH1. To facilitate instant movie recording, without needing to change camera modes via dials or menus, there is a dedicated red video record on/off thumb-operated button. Under the hood, Panasonic has produced another generation of LiveMOS sensor since the G1, with improved low light sensitivity and noise performance.
As well as full manual mode, the GH1 offers all the Panasonic advanced Intelligent Auto modes found on other current Panasonic models, including auto scene detection, face detection, face learning and recognition, subject tracking, auto ISO, etc. Most of these also work in HD movie mode, except for face recognition, though face detection does work.
The new Panasonic Lumix GH1 may look like a DSLR, but apart from interchangeable lenses, it's really quite different.
Of special note is the new G Vario 14-140 f/3.5-5.8 video-optimised kit lens for the GH1. Because snappy autofocus, so desirable in still cameras, would ruin video recording, the 14-140 uses a linear autofocus motor that is both quiet and steplessly smooth in operation. The aperture diaphragm actuation is also noise-reduced and steplessly adjustable. In movie mode with auto exposure, the aperture changes smoothly and steplessly, as well as continuously, as does the autofocus. This ensures smooth exposure and focus transitions, critical for professional-looking video. The only potential problem I see is that there is no power zoom function. Power-zoom adds stability to the camera when zooming compared to operating a zoom ring on the barrel of a lens.
The 10x (28-280 equivalent) video optimised zoom is a key element of the GH1's video potential.
In terms of video mode creativity, the GH1 can do certain things that are very difficult for conventional camcorders to achieve. Control and exploitation of depth of field blur is one. Camcorders have much smaller sensors, which results in a much greater depth of in-focus scene area, both in front of, and behind the main subject. By shooting with a fast aperture setting, the GH1 can creatively blur parts of the scene through limited depth of field. And of course the GH1 can be fitted with over 20 Four Thirds DSLR lenses, with the use of an optional adapter, including, for example, a fish-eye lens.
Panasonic is steadily growing its Micro Four Thirds lens line up, with a 20mm f/1.7 pancake, and 45mm f/2.8 macro with image stabiliser, due by the end of this year, as well as Leica M and R-series lens adapters.
Here is a close-up of the stereo mics located on the top of the GH1's pop-up flash.
Internally, the GH1 differs from the G1 in having an improved LiveMOS Four Thirds sensor. Panasonic has improved low light sensitivity to improve high ISO performance. Heat management of the sensor has been modified to enable continuous shooting, without interruption, for as long as the user needs.
Here, the new 7-14mm f/4 super wide angle (14-28 equiv) is shown fitted to a G1, with the standard 14-45 kit zoom for comparison.
One of the advantages of the Micro Four Thirds platform is the ability to produce much smaller lenses thanks to the reduced flange-back distance between the lens mount and the sensor plane. An article here on DPNow explains how. The new 7-14mm super wide angle zoom announced today is remarkably small, especially compared to the DSLR Zuiko Digital version, which has the same basic specifications.
The close family resemblance of the GH1 to the original G1 is clearly demonstrated above.
The 7-14mm ultra-wide zoom is pictured in front of the 14-140 HD zoom.
The GH1, like the G1, has a versatile articulated LCD screen.
Note the red video record button, situated to be thumb-operated, just like on a conventional camcorder.
There is a school of thought that many potential G1 purchasers have held off in order to see how good or how affordable the GH1 turns out to be. We still don't know the answer to these particular questions, but there is no doubt that the potential of the GH1 is there.
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