Field Review: Panasonic G2 (Day 1)

I haven’t worked with the Micro Four Thirds system much. It’s still a pretty new tech, and between its price, complexity, and smaller-than-SLR sensor size, I wasn’t entirely sold on the concept. Then I got my hands on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2Micro Four Thirds camera, and while I’m still not certain of the future of M4/3rds, it’s definitely growing on me.

Tech Specs

The Panasonic G2has a 12MP Micro Four Thirds sensor measuring 17.3 x 13.0mm, producing an approximate 2x crop factor. Its kit comes with a 14-42mm, f/3.5-5.6 lens, which combined with its extensive image settings makes it a good choice for a “starter” camera for aspiring photographers. It uses an SD memory card slot, and can record video up to 720p resolution in AVCHD or Motion JPEG.

Ergonomics

While the G2 is quite smaller and lighter than an SLR, it feels very similar in the hands. It has a nice, SLR-like grip on the right side of the body, and even in my large hands both the shutter release and wheel fell comfortably under my forefinger and thumb. Two mode dials sit on the top of the camera body, on either side of the viewfinder.

The electronic viewfinder is easy to look through even if you wear glasses, making it one of the better EVFs I’ve worked with. For shooting without the viewfinder, the camera features a 3-inch touchscreen LCD on a swivel, swing-out arm. It can sit facing the camera body when not in use, flip out and tilt for capturing tricky shots, or sit against the body facing out for use as a conventional live view display.

Button Layout

If you’ve shot with an SLR, you can shoot with a G2. Everything is laid out logically in a manner similar to a midrange SLR. The two mode dials serve double or triple functions thanks to levers mounted around them, and offer easy access to Auto/PASM/preset modes, four different exposure/focus modes, continuous/auto-bracket/timed modes, and manual/auto focus modes. A few finger-flicks can take you from shutter-priority auto-bracketed center-metered manual focus shooting to program-mode continuous-shooting subject-tracking autofocus shooting, all without touching the menu system.

Besides the mode dials and the shutter two other buttons sit on the top of the camera. A dedicated movie button lets users switch quickly into movie-recording mode, and an “intelligent auto” button locks the camera in a special auto mode that picks from a handful of presets. On the back of the G2, a direction pad and thumb wheel let you navigate the menu and make adjustments while shooting, and dedicated buttons trigger autofocus/autoexposure lock, switch between the EVR and LCD screen, switch through display settings, access the quick menu, review your shots, and delete your shots.

I was concerned by the camera’s inclusion of a touchscreen display, but my fears were put to rest when I saw the button layout. Unlike so many other cameras that use a touchscreen, the G2doesn’t force its screen upon you. Every feature is accessible through the navigation pad and mechanical buttons and dials on the camera, so you don’t have to run your fingers all over the screen just to change a few settings.

Autofocus

The G2’s autofocus is very fast, but not very smart. When not shooting in the Macro preset mode, the camera very quickly got a focus lock as soon as I depressed the shutter release. However, whenever my subject was closer than the G2’s comfort zone of about 2 feet, it would ignore the subject and instead fixate on a point in the background. This is a fairly easy fix, thanks to the touchscreen-activated focusing. If I couldn’t get the lock I wanted at first attempt, I could just tap my subject on the screen to focus the camera on that spot. I could even change the size of the square the camera would attempt to focus on, a very nice touch. There is also a basic touch-activated zone focus that lets you select clusters of focus zones, like the classic plus-shaped focus zone or zones on the sides of the frame. The only problem is, without a dedicated zone button, I had to flip out the touchscreen whenever I wanted to isolate a specific area for focus when the camera couldn’t immediately pick it up.

Outstanding Features

The flip-out touchscreen is the most notable feature of the G2, but the best aspect of the camera is its design and form factor. It feels so SLR-like and comfortable that I naturally took to shooting with it. The interface is easy to use, and made changing virtually any setting a matter of a few seconds’ worth of tapping buttons.

Units Used

The G2 and kit lenscame with the Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 Aspherical Pancake Lensand Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 Aspherical MEGA OISlens. All will be part of the review.

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