Panasonic GF2 previewed

Smaller, lighter, and easier to use

Panasonic has released details of the replacement for its best-selling GF1 Micro Four Thirds hybrid, or compact system, camera. The new GF2 won't be available until the latter part of January next year, but journalists in the UK had plenty of pre-production samples to play with at the press launch this week. The GF2 is 19% smaller - indeed it is the smallest interchangeable lens digital camera with a built in flash - and easier to use, and borrows the concept of a touch screen from its G2 stablemate, although the 3 inch screen is fixed rather than articulating.

This side by side view of the GF2 (right) next to the original GF1 (left) demonstrates the less tall and wide design. In the foreground is the new 14mm (28mm 135 format equivalent) f/2.5 pancake lens that will be offered as one of the lenses bundled with the GF2.

Key features of the GF2 include full HD (1920x1080) video recording capability, with built in stereo microphones, a 3 inch 480,000 dot touch screen and enhanced icon-driven front end user interface, Panasonic's 3-core Venus Engine FHD image processor already used in the soon to be released Lumix GH2, as well as the LX5 compact, a new pop-up flash mechanism that places the flash higher than before to avoid unwanted shading by long lenses, aluminium body chassis, simpler controls to help users upgrading from compact and bridge cameras. There is also a new ever-ready case (ERC).

The view of the view of the GF2's rear (right) reveals less buttons, which Panasonic believes will simplify the camera's use in conjunction with the touch screen. Also note the removal of the mode knob on the original GF1 (left). The GF1's DMW-LVF1 clip-on electronic viewfinder is compatible with the GF2, although there is no higher resolution alternative offered.

Panasonic will manufacture a choice of colours and the UK will get silver, black, and red. White and pink will be available in other markets. Three kits will be available in the UK, bundling the 14mm f/2.5 pancake (599.99 guide price), or the 14-42mm standard kit zoom (629.99 guide price), or or with both these lenses (729.99 guide price). There are no plans to offer the GF2 without a lens. The GF2 also has a new, more compact, battery, but with the more efficient Venus Engine FHD Panasonic reports a slightly higher shooting capacity compared to the GF1.

Note the perforations to the right of the hot shoe that give away the location of the built in stereo microphones serving the GF2's full 1080HD high AVCHD high definition video recording capability. Instead of the mode selector knob there is an illuminated Intelligent Auto (iA) button. Other modes can be selected via the touch screen.

In the brief time that I had hands-on with a pre-production GF2, I found the on-screen user interface positive to use. The GF2 definitely feels more compact than its predecessor, especially with the 14mm pancake fitted. The original GF1 proved to be a popular alternative camera for experienced photographers but Panasonic is really aiming the GF2 at people upgrading from compacts. It will be interesting to see if the simpler design of the GF2 proves to be as popular with those who were attracted to the GF1. It will be over two months before the GF2 goes on sale and it definitely misses the 2010 Christmas market.

The GF2's touch screen, which is a resistive type instead of the more sensitive iPhone-style capacitive type, proves its worth with this feature that lets you adjust the background blur, or depth of field, without having to juggle aperture, shutter speed, and even ISO settings.

GF2s lined up for journalists to sample at this week's press introduction.

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