Panasonic DMC-GH2 – best compact system camera?

The Panasonic DMC-GH2 is the company’s new flagship Micro Four Thirds camera – the leading light of its interchangeable lens range. Toting a high price tag and a list of features longer than Peter Crouch’s pegs, this is supposed to be the best compact system camera on the market. So, is it?

First impressions are mightily encouraging. The Panasonic DMC-GH2 is sturdily constructed from hard-wearing plastic and its right-hand grip makes it comfier to hold than dinkier rivals like the Olympus E-PL2, Sony NEX-5 and Panasonic’s own GF2. There’s also a crisp, fully articulated screen with touch capabilities, plus one of the largest, clearest electronic viewfinders we’ve ever pressed against our eyeball.

DMC-GH2 - touchscreen focus

This winning performance continues when it comes to the controls and interface. The DMC-GH2 is positively bristling with buttons and dials, allowing you to tweak pretty much any setting in a matter of moments. As with other Panasonic cameras, there’s an on-screen Q.Menu that lets you speedily change options that other snappers would bury deep in the menus.

The touchscreen also slathers another layer of usability jam onto the DMC-GH2’s toast. While touchscreens and cameras are rarely a good match, Panasonic has cleverly steered its camera screens’ finger-sensing talents towards one main purpose: setting the focus point. Tap a portion of the screen and the DMC-GH2 will autofocus on that spot. It’s a genuinely handy (no pun intended) feature.

Panasonic DMC-GH2 – DSLR quality?

And what about performance? Well, as a stills camera the DMC-GH2 leaves a little to be desired. Image quality is good rather than mind-blowing: colours are snappy, but photos show noise at as low as ISO 320. ISO goes all the way up to 12800, impressive for a Micro Four Thirds camera, but the grain gets so bad up here that you’ll reserve it for emergency use only. Micro Four Thirds’ claims of equaling a DSLR for photo quality just don’t wash – although pictures are a massive step-up from compact point-and-shoot cameras.

DMC-GH2 – HD video

One area that fares better is HD video. The DMC-GH2 is set up for filmmaking, especially fitted with the silent-focusing 14-140mm lens (which we used with our review sample). There’s Dolby stereo sound (you can also hook up an external mic if you want even better audio) along with a range of options to fiddle with, while video looks almost Hollywood-glossy thanks to a smooth frame rate and creamy out-of-focus backgrounds.

Despite an impressively long feature list, along with a sturdy and comfortable chassis, the Panasonic DMC-GH2 is still a little on the pricey side. It gets extra points for its full articulated screen, speedy interface and onscreen focus, as well as its top-notch HD video capture, but with this price tag we would’ve liked slightly better still image quality.

Stuff says... 

Panasonic DMC-GH2 review

Feature-stuffed and superb for movie-making, but photos should be clearer at this price point

Where to buy Panasonic DMC-GH2: