Look on my works, ye mighty… Part 2

There’s a very thorough review of the new (and as yet unobtainable) Panasonic GH-1 just posted on dpreview.com. Edit: and Cameralabs has just posted their review as well (link is to the verdict — it’s worth noting that after carefully managing to give all the current generation of contenders — D5000, XTi, E620 — identical scores of 88%, the GH-1 scores 89%).

Here's an unretouched 100% crop from an ISO 3200 sample shot
Here's an unretouched 100% crop from an ISO 3200 sample shot. (If you're not into the minutiae of digital photography and for some reason you're still reading this blog entry, a digital photo taken at this sensitivity until the current generation of cameras looked like absolute garbage.)

You can find more (still) samples here.

Here’s the bad news:

  • It’s still listed at $1499 (which is not unreasonable given it comes bundled with a very good 14-140mm lens, but still)
  • Its electronic viewfinder is apparently a bit unpleasant to use in low light conditions (not sure how low — need to play with one)
  • Its continuous shooting rate is 3.3 fps (roughly the same as a Canon 500D/XTi, but not as good at the Nikon 5000D). Edit: Camerlabs notes that the EVF stops updating between shots during continuous shooting, which is actually a pretty crippling deficiency.
  • The built-in Flash is kind of lame (oh right, I don’t use flash)

Aside from that, the news is all good. Shockingly good. Notably:

  • Better detail (JPEG or RAW) than the Canon XTi/500D. (Brief pause while you adjust your lower jaw.)
  • Equal or even slightly better low light performance (JPEG or RAW) than the Nikon D5000. (Damn, it’s just not going to heal, is it?) Edit: Cameralabs low light tests (which are both more consistent and realistic than dpreviews) favor the Nikon D90 (which performs identically to the D5000) slightly over the GH-1.
  • Much better at avoiding “jello” effect than any other DSLR (apparently its circuitry is optimized for rapidly grabbing frames from the sensor)
  • 1080p at 24fps, 720p at 60fps (AVCHD) or 30fps (MJPEG). 720p footage described in the review as “broadcast quality” and favorably compared to footage from semipro camcorders.
  • Viewfinder size is roughly similar to Canon 1DS Mk III (i.e. full-frame pro DSLR)
  • Generally excellent UI, handling, menus, customization, physical dials
  • No “video mode” — dedicated video button is always available

So, we’re here. Panasonic appears to simply be better at doing image processing than Nikon or Canon (how else to explain equal or better image quality from a smaller sensor?), and they’ve produced a camera that is simply a better still camera than Nikon or Canon can (currently) make (bear in mind that the image quality on the D5000 and 500D/XTi is, in essence, as good as anything Canon or Nikon can offer, modulo sensor size) and is actually a credible video camera (versus a half-assed video camera with sub-par frame rate, jello effect, and manual focus while shooting). All in a camera that’s smaller than any DSLR on the market and has the most flexible lens mount there is*.

So, now all we need to do is wait for the GH-1 to actually appear in stores and the price to drop. (Then there’s the Pentax K-7 just around the corner, which is quite small and weather sealed.)

Note: * micro four-thirds cameras can currently use any Panasonic, Olympus, or Leica four-thirds or micro four-thirds lens, and Olympus OM lenses; there’s no reason not to expect adapters for Nikon, Canon, and Pentax mounts in the near future thanks to the micro four-thirds design. Of course you will probably need to focus manually with everything except the micro four-thirds lenses.