Panasonic GH2 Review (with comparisons to Sony A55)

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by Armanius, Mar 2, 2011.

  1. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Real Name:
    Jack
    Disclaimer: I'm not a professional. I'm just an amateur photographer who is also a gadget-freak/gadget-geek/gearhead/camera luster. These are just my opinions, and I'm sure I have probably written something wrong in this review.
    ============================================

    I recently got a GH2 and 14-140 at the local camera shop. Here is my short review of the GH2. I will compare and contrast with the Sony A55, which I had until last week before I donated it to Dad. I may also compare it with the Oly EP2, which I still have.

    ERGONOMICS

    I love the ergonomics of the GH2. It's small, but the shape of the grip fits my medium sized hand perfectly. I have long skinny fingers, but I have no trouble holding the GH2. The buttons are placed nearly perfectly for me, and I like the rear control dial. The A55 is slightly larger than the GH2, but not by a whole lot. Unfortunately, it has a front control dial, and I never got used to it coming from rear dial cameras such as the Olympus E410, 510 and 620.

    OPERATION

    The GH2 has a left control dial which controls focus points and focus modes. Under the PASM dial, there is also a lever to control the drive mode (single shot, multi-shot, etc). I like having physical controls of certain functions. In the A55, focus point and drive modes (with the exception of the 10 fps setting) are controlled via menu.

    What really sets the GH2 apart from the A55 are 3 fully customizable function buttons. If I remember correctly, there are no customizable function buttons other than one DOF preview button. And if I remember correctly, there is only one other function that the user can use the DOF button for in the A55.

    BUILT

    Both cameras have lots of plastic. But the GH2 feels sturdier, and there's less rattling.

    EVF

    The GH2 and A55 both have very good EVF's. I have no complaints. The refresh rate in both is usable even in low light conditions. The EVF for the EP2 is probably the best one though. To my eyes, it's slightly brighter and bigger than both the GH2 and A55's EVF.

    LCD

    The A55's LCD seems to have better deeper colors than the GH2's. However, in terms of detail, I can't tell the difference between the A55's 900,000+ dots vs. the 460,000 in the GH2. I prefer the side-hinged swivel LCD of the GH2, over the bottom hinged LCD of the A55. The hinge in the GH2 also feels more robust and sturdier than the A55's.

    I haven't really used the touch screen feature of the GH2. So I can't really comment on it.

    PERFORMANCE

    The AF on both cameras is pretty fast, whether via the EVF or the LCD. The A55 seems to be more sure of itself, though. The GH2 does a small back and forth right before it locks on. It’s not very noticeable on the 14-140 lens, but it’s more pronounced on the 20/1.7. Even with the back and forth, the GH2 doesn’t feel slower than the A55 though.

    The GH2 has a focus assist lamp. Turning it off doesn’t seem to detract from its focus speed. If I recall correctly, the A55 uses the strobing flash as its focus assist lamp.

    Low light focus on both cameras is much better than my old Olympus E620 or the Olympus EP2. I would give the slight edge to the A55 over the GH2 though.

    The A55 does a better job of giving the user a “what you see is what you get” on the LCD and EVF as it relates to exposure and metering. There is a continuous preview setting on the GH2. But the GH2 doesn’t seem to always seem to get it right as the LCD/EVF tend to make the image look brighter than the actual exposure.

    The GH2 photo review is quicker than the A55. I had to turn off the A55’s photo review, because it slows the camera down.

    The A55 beats the pants off the GH2 in continuous shooting at 10 frames per second. But I haven’t really used either camera significantly in the continuous shutter mode to have an opinion about the cameras’ abilities to track the subject during the continuous shooting.

    IMAGE QUALITY

    I primarily use RAW and develop the file in Lightroom 3.3. So most of my comments regarding IQ are in reference to RAW files. The IQ of the GH2 using the 14-140 seems a little bit sharper and more detailed than the A55 with the Sony/Zeiss 16-80 all the way from base ISO to 800. The noise levels are pretty much even at this time. Above ISO 800, the GH2 gets a whole lot noisier than the A55, but it’s still usable at 1600 with some application of noise reduction. At 3200, a good dosage of noise reduction is necessary, but at the cost of detail. At 6400, it’s pretty tough to get a good clean image without massive loss of detail. I have not tried the max ISO 12800 setting on the GH2.

    On the A55, I had no hesitation using 6400 with some noise reduction application. Things get difficult at 12800, but with a good dosage of noise reduction, the image is usable for small photos. But the A55 also has the multi-shot noise reduction mode (in JPG only), which takes six photos in a quick burst, and superimposes the images on top of the other to reduce the noise. For static subjects, this actually works really well. With this mode, max ISO is 25600. In my opinion, in this mode, ISO 25600 is almost as good as ISO 6400 in the “normal” mode.

    In my opinion, the A55 is probably one stop better than the GH2 in noise control at higher ISO. However, at low ISO, the GH2 seems to render more detail to my eyes.

    Relative to the EP2, the GH2’s image quality clearly renders more detail at all levels. The GH2’s noise levels are about the same as the EP2 at low ISO, and maybe half a stop better in ISO 1600 – 6400.

    The dynamic range of the A55 seems to be wider than the GH2 with better retention of highlight. Haven't looked at that too closely though.

    VIDEO AND MISCELLANEOUS

    I don’t use video, so I can’t comment other than repeating what I’ve read and heard elsewhere. The GH2 is supposedly the ultimate camera for videos. The A55 overheats after a number of minutes while using video.

    The A55 has a couple of cool modes other than multi-shot noise reduction. It has a sweep panorama mode that automatically stitches photos, and which is quite effective. It also has an auto-HDR mode, which also works well. These modes only work in JPG.

    Last but not least, just about any lens ever made can be used on the GH2 with the right adapter. Just imagine sticking a Noctilux on the GH2. I wish I could get a hold on one of those Voigtlander 25/0.95 (made for m4/3 cameras) too!

    CONCLUSION (preliminary)

    I really like the GH2. It fits my hand very well. It feels quite sturdy even though it’s mostly plastic (I think). The GH2’s built is almost like a mid-level DSLR, and it is priced as one at $1000 with the 14-42 lens. The A55 is built more like an entry level DSLR. The GH2 is light. Mount the 20/1.7 on it, and the GH2 becomes a super light package, allowing easy one handed operation.

    The weakness is clearly the sensor. While it appears to be an improvement over the 12 megapixel sensor in the EP2, it still lags slightly behind the newest APS-C sensors at higher sensitivities, especially if you like to pixel-peep (i.e. me). However, I was impressed that it rendered more detail and was sharper (to my eyes anyway) than the A55 at lower ISO’s.

    A smaller weakness is the m4/3 lens lineup. While there is a good number of lenses now, m4/3 cameras need smaller lenses so that the user can fully take advantage of the smaller camera sizes. In my opinion, a lens as big as the 100-300 defeats the "raison d'etre" of m4/3 cameras. Give us more pancake or small sized fast primes please!

    The GH2 is keeper for me in spite of the high ISO weakness. Unfortunately, my Dad was complaining about the A55 (there’s no “Made in Germany” on it), and he may give it back to me. If he does, then I really have no excuse to keep the GH2 as I have way too many cameras.

    PS: I’ve also been lusting after a Pentax K-5, which is supposedly even better at high ISO than the A55. It has all those cool small prime lenses too.

    Here's a couple of photos taken with the GH2. They were both shot in RAW and resized to 1024 pixels at their long edge. The first was with the 14-140 with ISO 500 or 600, with minimal PP. The second was with the 20/1.7 with ISO 3200 with noise reduction applied.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Real Name:
    Jack
    • Like Like x 1
  3. Janis

    Janis SC Regular

    145
    Nov 22, 2010
    Central Texas
    Trolls at DPR? Surely you jest! Thank God for the Ignore button over there.
    Thanks for your input here. Both cameras sound intriguing!
     
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  4. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend Subscribing Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    Real Name:
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Good summary Armanious. I agree with almost all of it, based on my few days with the A33. I have just a couple of minor differences, one of them down to personal preference. I personally prefer the swing down LCD of the A33 to the swing OUT LCD of the GH2 (and most other articulating screens). I don't find the A33 any more plastic-ey or rattle-ey than the GH2 - both feel plenty solid to me. And I did find the A33 (with the same Zeiss 16-80 you're using) to be notably sharper and clearer than the GH2 with ANY of the lenses I've tried on it. I attribute most of that to the lens since the sensor in the A33 is the same as in the Nex and I haven't seen that kind of quality coming out of the Nex. I was really blown away by the clarity of the images from that A33-Zeiss combination and I'm the farthest thing from a pixel peeper, so for me to even NOTICE was pretty surprising. The A33 doesn't have the same sensor as the A55 and shouldn't be as good in low light, but I wonder if it could be a bit sharper in good light? I have no idea, but my reaction to that lens/camera combination was pretty overwhelming. That said, I'm just ecstatically pleased with the IQ of the GH2 also - the best of the m43 cameras I've owned to date and more than good enough for anything I'll do with it.

    For me, there was a choice to make and it mostly came down to size/weight and existing lenses. The Sony isn't really much larger than the GH2 in any dimension except depth, where I think its about a centimeter thicker, but between the body and lens, it just FELT a lot bigger. The Zeiss lens is about the same size and weight as the Pany 14-140 which I find objectionably large and heavy for an everyday lens and I didn't see using buying a whole set of lenses for the A33, so the Zeiss was probably the smallest I would use on it. And it was just more than I wanted to carry around. The GH2 will generally be used with much smaller and lighter lenses (which I already owned), the exception being the 100-300, but I don't mind the extra size and weight when I'm shooting an event that calls for a long lens like that - I'm usually not moving around all that much with the camera anyway - the long lens is to bring the action to me.

    Anyway, thanks for the detailed comparison.

    -Ray
     
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  5. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Real Name:
    Jack
    Ray-

    I was surprised to see that the GH2 + 14-140 produced images a bit sharper than the A55 + Zeiss 16-80. I know that my old man has been complaining (after I donated my A55 to him) that he's getting soft images with the A55. So maybe the focus is a bit off on my (or my Dad's) A55?

    As far as the body is concerned, my favorite thing about the GH2 was the additional dials and customizable buttons. I'm not a big control via menu fan, even though I do like my NEX 3.

    Thanks for the comments!

    -Armando
     
  6. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend Subscribing Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    Real Name:
    you should be able to figure it out...
    You know, I've read that there have been some build issues with the 16-80 Zeiss (its about the least expensive Zeiss around, even though its not cheap, so they must have cut corners somewhere) and quite a bit of sample variation. One guy who used to hang out on these boards (maybe he still lurks, dunno) went through a couple that were notably soft on one side before he found one he was happy with and then he was THRILLED with it. I was just stunned by the quality of light coming through mine, so maybe your Dad has a poor copy? Maybe not, but it might be something to look into... And again, I'm absolutely no pixel peeper - this was just something that couldn't be missed even at normal resolutions on the Mac screen.

    -Ray
     
  7. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Real Name:
    Jack
    Kinda scary if someone cuts corners on a $750 lens! But then, I've read about all these problems that Pentax allegedly has with their lenses (including pro-grade ones) and even the K-5. So who knows ...

    Speaking of lens, I tried my Oly 12-60 on the GH2. Unfortunately, the AF is sl-o-o-o-w. The Oly 4/3's version of the 14-42 was actually decent on the GH2. The Oly 25 pancake could not nail the AF at all. If set in MF on the GH2, turning the focus ring on the Oly 4/3 lenses also automatically magnifies the image.
     
  8. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend Subscribing Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    Real Name:
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Its hard to remember that $750 is dirt cheap for Zeiss! I'm really wondering what the 24mm f1.7 for the Nex is gonna cost. That's a lens I KNOW I'm gonna want - it should really bring out the potential of the Nex sensor and its right in my field of view wheelhouse for street shooting. But I'm afraid it could come in north of that $750 zoom and if it does, I'm gonna be hard pressed to spend that. Jeez, that's about what the camera and the two lenses I have now cost together.

    As for the 4/3 lenses working with the m4/3 cams, I don't think the lenses designed to work with phase detect AF systems EVER work very well with contrast detect cameras. Even though they're very fast when mated with the right AF system, dead slow with the wrong one. But the AF speed on the GH2 with the native lenses really is quite remarkable. I've never shot with a truly high end DSLR, but I thought the A33 AF was incredible compared to anything I'd used before and the GH2 is pretty much indistinguishable to me. Even with a long lens like the 100-300 it locks in really quickly and I've been getting a very high percentage of keepers. Using long lenses with previous m43 cameras had been a real exercise in frustration. I'm reading really good things about the AF speed and lack of any shutter lag on the X-100 too, so I think things are really looking up for mirrorless technology.

    -Ray
     
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  9. Folecr Rcelof

    Folecr Rcelof New to SC

    3
    Mar 2, 2011
    Thanks for the review. All that is left for Panasonic to do is to get these cameras into the stores!

    Doesn't the K-5 have the same sensor as the newer Nikon's?
     
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  10. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Real Name:
    Jack
    Ray-

    I'm looking forward to the Zeiss for the NEX too. I'm afraid that it will be more than $750 though. The A mount Zeiss 24/2 is something like $1200. So I don't anticipate that a 24/1.7 is going to be any cheaper than the 24/2. Especially if the 24/2 is image stabilized (just speculating on the IS).
     
  11. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Real Name:
    Jack
    I believe the K5, Nikon D7000, Sony A55 and Sony A580 all have the same sensor. The high ISO on the K5, D7000 and 580 are all better than the A55 though. Supposedly, something to do with the loss of some light going to the sensor, because some light is reflected to the EVF.

    Yes, those darn GH2's and A55's are both the hardest cameras to find nowadays. The white Oly EPL2 is hard to find too!