Published on June 5th,2009 at 12:19 PM
By >Daimaou - G.G-B

Panasonic GH1, a Stunning Video Camera in a Good DSLR

Before you get excited, yes I know, technically the GH1 can’t be called a digital SLR mainly due to the lack of a mechanical mirror system and pentaprism that by definition, at least according to Wikipedia, makes a DSLR a DSLR.

The GH1 is a Micro 4/3rd, a new kind of camera where the mechanical mirror system has been removed and a LCD a bit like a bridge has replaced the optical viewfinder.

Yes the GH1 is the child of the union of both a regular DSRL and a Bridge, a hybrid that’s supposed to provide the best of both in an ideal world.

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Specs
– 14-140mm HD Lens with optical image stabilizer
– 12.1 Megapixel resolution
– Live MOS Sensor
– Full HD 1080/24p and 720/60p with HDMI 1080i output
– 3” Free-angle LCD
– ISO Range : Auto / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600 / 3200 / Intelligent ISO

Download video

First Impressions.
The first thing that comes to your mind when you hold a GH1 with its 14-140mm HD lens is, how can such a small camera that’s about the size of an average Bridge, compete with other well-known DSRL brands… Everybody knows that in photography the bigger the censor, the better the result should be… So how does the GH1 perform?

Once you get used to its very compact size you have to admit the overall camera is extremely well built and feels like a premium product.

Being comfortable with a camera in your hands is also a very important factor when purchasing a camera, so size and button placement has to be your first priority. Personally I’m still a bit confused with some buttons, and having a bit of trouble navigating the menu. Nothing really bad, but I”ll have to get use to it, so in this matter the GH1 is in the “Good” , nothing really bad but nothing really good either.

Let’s Shoot Some Pictures Baby!
My major fear when I received the GH1 was its LCD viewfinder. It’s something that I really really hate since it’s inaccurate most of the time when playing with the manual focus and putting the camera in full manual. While a REAL DSLR like viewfinder is the ultimate setting, I admit the GH1’s LCD viewfinder acceptable for shooting photos, but could use some major improvements… In the end I tend to more often use the free-angle LCD at the back of the camera rather than the viewfinder itself… Definitely here, DSLR will give you more satisfaction.

Once you get used to the viewfinder thingy’s limitations, it’s now time to press the shutter and shoot some pictures. And guess what? The GH1 isn’t that bad in this area, at least with the 14-140mm HD lens which came with our test sample… Way better that any available bridge, almost as good a many entry level DSLRs, the GH1 is a nice surprise, but will not match a Canon 50D that’s sold in Japan for nearly the same price .

Yes a nice surprise in this aera, but with certain conditions… Mainly due by its small censor, the GH1 indoors is not very cooperative and easy to handle in lowlight, and may not give you the pictures you expect, at least if you’re not using a tripod. Outdoors in low light this is clearly another thing. Even at night, in a city like Tokyo (with many street lights), you get better results.

Since most of you will probably use the GH1 in broad daylight, I reassure you that the it’s a very capable camera and will match many entry level DSLRs with clear and sharp pictures at ISO 100.

So far so good, I’m not disappointed by the GH1, but it’s no way near a 5D MK II. However despite the good result when used outdoors in very good conditions, here again there’s some room for improvement when it comes to the AF. By default the GH1 behaves like a Point & Shoot or a Bridge with a not so accurate AF… You’ll have to go in your menu to change this and get your focus point in the center… Definitely here a regular DSLR user will really get frustrated.

Photo Sample to download, click here

Video Mode
Note: As of today I’m still waiting for Panasonic to reply to some questions regarding the 1080/24p mode which was on both my GH1 and the test sample we had. Not so impressive, so we’ll focus our review on the 720/60p mode for the moment.

The GH1 offers two video modes, the AVCHD (1080/24p and 720/60p) and Motion-JPEG (720p…) video mode, both with different BR. Basically a 4GB card with give you up to 30 minutes of video in AVCHD (1080/24p or 720/60p) at its maximum BR of 17MBps, the Motion-Jpeg will give you in 720p something around 8 minutes on the same card.

To be honest with you, I’m going to COMPLETELY skip the Motion-Jpeg part which gives you butt ugly video even in HD. I’m still trying to figure out why Panasonic gave this option when you see how horrible the results are.

Let’s focus on the AVCHD video mode. My major surprise and unlike its competitors, the GH1 was made to be used in full automatic mode, you can control shutter speed, exposure, aperture and so on, something that until June 2009, the 5D MK II couldn’t do (Canon announced new Firmware to fix this). Another major surprise was discovering the GH1 pretty much uses the same kind of video setting we found in the Panasonic’s HVX200 Broadcast Camera. Basically you have several video modes to tweak the camera color, contrast, saturation, and noise reduction… Panasonic 0ffers nine presets and for editing them and even to saving them (up to two save settings). Once again something that NO competitor offers today and ONLY be found in Broadcast and Pro-Sumer HD cameras.

I’m used to shooting video with Panasonic’s P2 HVX200, an amazing video camera used by many TV studios in the US… But shooting with a DSLR (sorry a 4/3rd camera) is very different, first you have to think like a photographer and know how to master a DSLR before shooting good videos. Like a DSLR the GH1’s Video Mode is offered in P, A, S and M… If you don’t know what I’m talking about then the GH1 isn’t for you, or any DSLR for that matter. So depending of your video style and the condition, you’ll have to jump between four settings and adapt your aperture, exposure, ISO, shutter speed and so on…

Unlike a real video camera, and even on a HVX200, the GH1 needs a lot of preparation before recording video, as well as being sure to know what you do first, since you may not be able to see the result on the LCD better than on your NLE (Final Cut, Edius Broadcast, Vegas, Avid…)

Once you set your camera, get ready to be stunned… The 14-140mm HD lens is incredible, a bit hard to manipulate when the lens is brand new, but in 720/60p you’ll get stunning videos with crispy details and gorgeous DOF effects. If in this area the almighty lord and master without a doubt is the Canon 5D MK II, I tell you the GH1 has NOTHING to be ashamed of and in certain conditions I believe the GH1 is around 20% less capable than the 5D MK II (in broad daylight).

The best example we’ve published so far is the video below, and it’s a real pleasure for me to take videos of my daughter every weekends with it… However the GH1 isn’t so perfect with too many objects in motion like kids running around manly due to the limitations of the BR to only 17Mbps… This problem can be quickly overcome when you start mastering your camera.

Video of Tsukudanjima shot with the Panasonic GH1 in 720p60, Then converted in DivX 720p30

Let’s Visit Tokyo Video 5 Tsukudajima, HDTV

Comparison 3 DSLRs movie test D5000,5Dmk2,GH1by TKYSSTD

What can I say… First, despite its nice photos the GH1 with its 12.1Mpix falls short when compared to a Nikon D5000 or Canon Kiss X3, but overall pictures are good and will please many of you. The GH1’s real plus is its HD Video capabilities in 720/60p AVCHD at least (we still have no answer from Panasonic regarding your questions on the 1080/24p video mode that seems less sharp and colorful that the 720/60p video mode).

I’ve been working with different video cameras for quite sometime and I’m amazed by the result in 720/60p… Indeed there are many limitations and shooting video can be a difficult task for someone not used to shooting videos and taking pictures with a DSLR, but once you’ve to mastered the GH1 and spent some time reading the manual, results are incredibly gorgeous, with sharper video than MANY consumer HD cameras now available.

Category Review Cameras
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  • manov

    You wrote: ‘…the GH1 isn’t so perfect with too many objects in motion like kids running around manly due to the limitations of the BR’. What do you mean by not so perfect, is it blurry?

    Another Q, when we set the DOF, make background blurry on moving object, maybe a walking man/woman, can we lock the focus, to keep the moving object in focus while the background is still blurry (am I making sense)?

    Comparing with your HVX200, do you think you can generate nice DOF with your HVX200 Cam?

    Sorry, i’m beginner, too many question. Thank you very much for your review.

  • Daimaou


    1) BR, if there is too much movement (take a lot of wind in a Tree), you will have some blurry result due to the limitation of the BR (not only but this help a lot)

    2) Not sure to understand, but you can lock the focus of course

    3) the GH1 will give better DOF, the HVX can give good DOF but you have to be very far from the subject and zoom at max

  • Valentijn


    What’s the music track ??

    Ciao Valentijn

  • cafenitro

    24p is never as sharp as 60p. It’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to simulate movie film.

  • JRG

    Sensor, not censor. Work on your English.

  • Nomax

    work on your behavior. what are your japanese language skills, punk?

    Daimaou, thanks for your brilliant work, dont let ignorants let you down.

    Nomax (Berlin, Germany)



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