From Steve: Amy sent me an e-mail letting me know about her GH2 experience and seeing that I am a huge fan of her work, AND she is a reader and contributor to this site I figured I would post her thoughts for all of you to read! I have not yet been able to test a GH2 for myself, but here are Amy’s thoughts! Enjoy!
Me and the Panasonic GH2 by Amy Medina
So yeah… well I got my hands on one this passed week, and stupid me, I actually thought owning one might make the decision of whether it’s the camera for me or not an easier one to make. Not so… not so at all. I’ve really been wavering between the GH2 and the Pentax K-5, but because the K-5 didn’t offer manual video controls, I finally just pulled the trigger on the GH2.
The GH2 is not my first venture in Micro 4/3 photography. I started with the Olympus EP1 when it first came out, and I now own an EP2. I’ve been very happy with it! As anyone who shoots with Olympus knows, they have really cornered the market on great JPGs straight from the camera, and even in their RAW files I seem to really prefer their color. But more on that later when we get into samples and tests (I know, yawn!)…
A small complaint is the battery. After the first charge, it really seemed to kind-of suck. The first night I had the camera I let the battery charge fully before I played with it. Just messing around for maybe 45 minutes and then shooting off only about 10 shots, the battery indicator was down by one notch already. I charged the battery overnight before my outing on Saturday with the plan to shoot video… well the battery only lasted about 2 hours (being turned on and off, or going into sleep mode) for shooting 30 minutes of footage. I ended up having to finish the video shooting with my husband’s GH1. Now, maybe the battery needs more “training” but my initial reaction was the I’m really going to need a 2nd or even 3rd battery for any day that includes shooting video.
At base ISO (160), I found the files to be a little noisier than I anticipated. Saturday night, looking at some of my photos I was a tad concerned, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. I also kept asking myself if they are too noisy FOR ME. I obviously some make compromises in this area shooting with an EP2 and even the M8 (neither are known for being great at higher ISOs, especially the M8). However, I was a bit amazed at how much noise there was at ISO 160.
Shooting on Sunday with the kit lens outside in VERY bright conditions, I was astounded at the amount of noise I got in my ISO 160 shots. After some discussion on a photography forum I belong to, I decided to test it compared to the EP2 and Pentax K-x I own. I don’t like to pixel-peep, but seeing as I shoot a lot of blue seas and skies, I need to know if there is more noise in the blue channel as I was suspecting (and as some others’ tests have proven true).
Let me not be all negative. There’s lots to like about the camera too. The touch screen is very handy, especially when shooting video or when the camera has to be at an odd angle to get the shot (like down real low for example). The touch screen focus thing… it’s a bit finicky and doesn’t work well with every panasonic autofocus lens (in my experience so far). It didn’t seem to work at all with the 14mm f/2.5 Pancake, but it worked great with the 20mm f/1.7 Pancake. And when it works well, it’s a very cool feature.
The camera is the smallest and lightest DSLR-shaped configuration I’ve used (though let me say, the Pentax K-x comes pretty close, especially with pancake lenses). It feels good in your hands, even though a tad plasticky. With one of the pancake lenses it is an easy camera to want to have with you, no matter how much walking or hiking you might be doing. Even with a GorillaPod attached to the bottom of it, it’s extremely light. This is right up my alley! I love a small, light camera!
I was frustrated with the LVF/EVF until I figured out the “Constant Preview” thing… which, doesn’t work great in all modes, but at least works in some. “Constant Preview” when turned on shows you what to expect from your exposure settings. By default, this is turned off, so what you see on the LCD or in the EVF is always a bright, properly exposed picture (even if your settings won’t capture a properly exposed picture). Of course, with an Optical Viewfinder (OVF) you’d have the same problem, however, it somehow feels stranger with an EVF. It may take getting used to, but the GH2’s EVF is really very nice… I’d venture a guess, the nicest out there.
I had no problems manual focusing because the resolution really is as good as everyone says. The GH2 has a very sharp, very bright Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). It is THAT good. Blackout after taking a photo is also minimal, and it focuses very fast… almost as fast as a DSLR. Probably as fast as most entry-level DSLRs.
Let’s start off with my first real photos with the camera, using it like I would use any of my other cameras…
All shot in RAW and processed through Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.
“Coming Home” – GH2 + 14mm f/2.5 Pancake
“On Our Way” – GH2 + 20mm f/1.7 Pancake
Break Through – GH2 + 14-42 HD Kit Lens
“Along Side” – GH2 + 20mm f/1.7 Pancake
I did some video also.
The first is what I shot of my family on Saturday. It is all GH2 footage up until about 1:30 when the battery died and I had to switch over to my husband’s GH1. Most of it was shot with the 20mm f/1.7 pancake though a few shots were done with my Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton. I got some noise and posterization in the video, but let me not blame the GH2 for that… I suspect it might be iMovie or the way I exported rather than the camera. I never shot above ISO 1250.
I also tested doing some slow motion stuff… it was a quick test to see if the new iMovie 11 will handle the slow motion without converting it through JES first (and it does). I didn’t spend more than about an hour on this between shooting and editing it together. All shot with kit lens. Some use of Tele-Con mode.
Now, lets talk more about the noise in the blue channel. If you know me, you know I don’t typically do these kinds of tests. I’m not a camera scientist. I like to go out and use a camera and see if it’s a “fit”. It’s usually more a feeling for me than anything else. However, because of the noise I was seeing in my skies, I had to question if it was just me looking for it (since I’d read about it previously), of if it really was noisier. I saw a swatch on DPReview that also seemed to confirm there was indeed more noise in the blue channel on the GH2. I just had to go out and see for myself.
I shot with three cameras. The GH2, the EP2 and the Pentax Kx. I wanted to see how noise faired in the sky and the colors in the blues, since I personally shoot a lot of seascapes and skies. I shot in both RAW and JPG. However, I accidentally deleted the Olympus JPG in the field, so I processed a second RAW file (that was with the JPG that got deleted) through Olympus Master. I think the results are pretty close to what the JPG would have looked like.
I did NOT process the RAW files to my own taste. All I did was open them in ACR and then open them in Photoshop to crop and save as a JPG. I touched none of the settings in ACR… I let them open as they do by default.
White balance was set to AWB in all three cameras.
EP2 and GH2 were both at ISO 160.
Pentax doesn’t offer that setting, so was shot at ISO 200.
GH2 and EP2 both were shot with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Lens.
Pentax was shot with the 40mm f/2.8 Limited.
f-stop on all was set at f/6.3
Observations (just my opinion): The colors on the EP2 are nicer than the GH2, both in the JPG and RAW (at least to my personal taste). The colors in the Pentax are nicer than the GH2 but not the EP2. Noise performance between the EP2 and the GH2 is VERY VERY similar in RAW, though I would give a teeny-tiny slight edge to the EP2. The Pentax clearly beats them both (for skies and blues at least in this test).
In the JPGs it’s a harder call… I think there is a little bit more noise in the EP2 shot, but the GH2 shot has lost some detail because of Noise Reduction (it’s way too agressive in-camera). There also, to me, appears to be slight blotchiness in the GH2 JPG. The Pentax again, IMO, beats them both.
I included the last setting on the Pentax JPG just so you can see how I have the camera set for my own personal taste. It’s close to what I like, but not perfect (I’ve still been futzing with it). The EP2 is closest to what the scene looked like in person, and more like the way I like a file to look out-of-camera.
Here’s the 100% crop samples:
One final test…
What happens when I process the GH2 RAW file to look more like the EP2 in color and more like the results I want?
Here’s what I did. I opened each file, the GH2 and EP2 in ACR. For the EP2 I did nothing. For the GH2 I moved the color temperature and tint sliders a bit to the left to match the “blueyness” (yeah, not a word… LOL) of the EP2.
I opened them in Photoshop then and simply did an Auto-Contrast. Nothing more. Made 100% crops and saved.
I think the GH2 ends up showing a bit more noise after doing this. Accentuating the blues also accentuates the noise in the blue channel.
So what’s the verdict?
IMO, I think I was correct in thinking the GH2 is noisier in the blue channel. DPReview’s own swatches backed up this thinking, and now my own test has done the same.
Do I think the difference is significant for me and my style of shooting? I’m not sure, and I still have to play with noise reduction in ACR to see what kind of results can be had. For a final output of this test picture, I was pretty satisfied.
Let me say, noise in general doesn’t usually bother me, and it isn’t something I go pixel-peeping for on a regular basis. The noise in the GH2 files is like a very fine grain, so it isn’t unpleasing in the RAW files (though in JPG files I see blotchiness I do not like). At base ISO, the GH2 is not as noise-free as an APC-S sensor camera… at least not when there’s a lot of blues in your scene. I think we all kind-of knew that already though.
Overall, the GH2 is a camera I can like, I think. I just have to optimize my settings in ACR and I will probably never shoot JPG. I know it’s capable of outstanding video, and that is part of why I bought it (I’m getting more into video these days). But for me, it has to hold up on the photography end too. I’m not 100% convinced yet, but I’m leaning towards believing it can. However, it’s also no K-5, which I dream about owning… Let’s hope the tax man is nice to me this year! LOL
Finally, I want to show you that test picture from above… when it’s finished (as taken with the GH2) and post-processed to my liking. I really like the way it came out. I ended up adjusted the temperature and tint in ACR and using ACRs noise reduction and detail settings to find the right balance (to my taste).
With results like the above, I’m pretty sure I’ll keep the GH2. Honestly, unless you can afford a much more expensive camera like the 5D, I don’t think you’re going to find a better video-and-picture-taking machine. At least not as of this writing.
Thanks for listening to all this (if you’re still with me)…
And, if you want, you can follow me on the web in a few places. I’m up to day #555 in my Picture-A-Day Project!
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