Panasonic Lumix GH1 first impressions and first footage

phil-gh1aPanasonic UK have asked me to take a look at their new Lumix GH1. This is an updated version of the G1 with added video.

Video in DSLRs is a relatively new concept, little compacts have been shooting video for years but it wasn’t until Nikon brought out the D90 and then Canon brought out the 5dmk2 that everything changed. The Canon has been shown to be capable of producing awesome images and is great in low light. I have a D90 as I have about 20 Nikon lenses. The D90 video is ok, just has some rather problematic rolling shutter issues and is only 720p, whilst the Canon is full HD but limited to 30p. Both of these cameras are tricky to shoot with due to lack of full manual controls in video mode. Also you cannot use the viewfinder as they use the live mode.

We all know Panasonic make terrific video cameras but this is their first foray into video on their DSLR cameras. With the G1 being their previous top end cameras.

This camera is NOT a 35mm  camera it uses the micro four thirds technology which is about  17.3 x 9.7mm or something like that!  So not as good as a full frame sensor like the Canon 5dmk2 but it does have a large number of advantages over the 5dmk2.

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Thanks to Martin for the sensor chart
Thanks to Martin for the sensor chart

First off is it is WAY lighter. It’s very compact due to the sensor being smaller and the omission of a mirror box. It has full manual controls for ISO. You can change the shutter and iris manually WHILST filming, no exposure lock needed. It has an autofocus that works pretty well whilst recording, both in centre frame mode and using facial recognition mode, something I have recently found outstanding on the little Canon VIXIA HF20. The ability to have full manual controls should not be underestimated. At the click of the dial on the front you can switch between aperture and iris. This can be done whilst shooting.

Another top feature is the LCD, which unlike the D90 and the Canon 5dmk2 swivels out to any angle. Which means doing awkward angle shots is now much easier. Because of the design of the camera there is no longer a true optical viewfinder due to the lack of a mirror box, good and bad. Bad as it is obviously never going to be as crisp and sharp as a real VF like we are used to on SLRs, BUT this does give you the ability to have live view in the VF not just on the LCD meaning you can shoot video with the camera up to your eye so your shots can be that much more stable. SLR is a very old technology and the G1 was the first camera to take the SLR concept and revolutionize it.  Talking of stabilisation there is an optical stabiliser in the stock lens. It works well. More on the lens later, also I must point out that whilst the camera is a production model with English menus the lens I have at the moment is still a pre-production model and will be better on the one that will be sold when it is released in the UK and USA. Also very cool is there is a sensor that detects when you are using the VF and turns off the LCD saving on battery.

0526_panasonic-gh1The LCD is very sharp and very usable. The VF, not so great but still very usable.

My camera also came with a top mic, I don’t think this is standard but is pretty essential if you hope to get ANY proper sound. Although the built in mic is way better than both the Canon and Nikon ones.

GH1 and Canon 5dMk2
GH1 and Canon 5dMk2

Thanks to Chris Hurd of DVinfo.net for taking the above photo and the one at the top. The kit lens itself is fine, but really quite slow. it’s 14 to 140mm which roughly in 35mm terms equates to 28 to 280mm, so a nice range but the speed is f4 to f5.8. This is fine for general shots but to get that REALLY shallow DOF and for the camera to be usable in low light you need fast primes without a doubt. There are more lenses coming out and you can use adaptors for other lenses, including ones for the Leica M lenses which probably cost more than the camera itself. But this lens has been optimized to do auto functions really well whilst shooting video. It is totally silent in autofocus mode and the stabilisation is very good.

I am off to Hawaii for a week tomorrow where I will be doing so more shooting with it and I have a Nikon to GH1 adaptor waiting for me there so I can use all my Zeiss superfast primes and I can really test out the low light. The high ASA is noisy with the stock lens so shooting at a lower ASA and/ or with a MUCH faster lens will make a huge difference. One downside to using the Nikon adaptor is I will get a x2 magnification as the lenses are for much larger sensors. Twice the size hence the x2.

I have been down in Austin Texas this week for the Re:Frame Collective gathering which has been taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theatre. I was presenting on Tuesday where I talked about that elusive “film look”, how I achieve it, what I shoot with, how I shoot, some of my post work with Magic Bullet and other stuff. It was great seeing my work projected on the big screen at this famous cinema. It looked awesome. I also got to meet some really great people. So thanks to everyone who came and made it a memorable experience. Big thanks to Julie, Kristen, Bruce, Patrick, Matt and Conrad. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone. Their next one is in October in SF. I don’t know if I will be there but if it’s half as good as this one it will be well worth it. Below is a photo of me presenting on Tuesday and my short film “Return to Dungeness” playing.

Thanks to Joe Simon for the above photo
Thanks to Joe Simon for the above photo

One of the best things was yesterday, about 60 to 70 of us went out on 6th street in downtown Austin with all our various cameras. Everything from my GH1 to 16mm film cameras. Loads of EX1s, A1s, loads of Glidecam rigs. So I took some shots using the GH1 all handheld. Mostly using autofocus to try it out and also some manual focus. It’s all very “run and gun” not my usual beautiful still life  type stuff, which I will be doing more of in Hawaii. I also did some shots in a pool hall we went to. I really needed some fast lenses in there as it was DARK. But I still managed to get some half decent stuff. As I said, once I get my Nikon adaptor I will be able to do some real low light shooting and see just how shallow I can get that DOF. The Stock lens is still very good. As I said before, totally silent motor and terrific autofocus.

I haven’t read the manual yet being a man…I will at some point…Not sure of the max recording time. A 30 minute counter counts down as soon as you hit record so maybe that is the max? EDIT|: Just checked with Panny, confirmed Max recording time is 29 minutes!!! EDIT: This is an EU issue only, the camera in other regions does not have this time restriction, it’s all to do with EU tax law. Read more here.

Here are some frame grabs…

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The image out of the camera is utterly terrific, so clean and noise free. Also very sharp. It’s a dream to use operational wise and the auto functions make it even better. I am never a fan of auto but when running and gunning it can be useful. When I shoot some stuff later this week on it using a tripod and better lenses I am sure it will be incredible. Now if this camera had a 35mm sensor in it then it would be a the best thing out there by miles, with the smaller sensor it is still feels like a  much better “video camera” than the Canon and Nikon purely based on the manual controls. As someone who uses a video camera for daily use these manual exposure controls are an utter must for me. I don’t think it is going to be anywhere near as good as the 5dmk2 in low light or the d90 probably….also the code is relatively low bit rate at just 17mbps so it won’t stand up to any heavy grading.

It records in AVCHD and Motion JPEG. It only records full HD in AVCHD mode. I haven’t tried out motion JPEG yet. My camera also records in 25p in a 50i stream. AVCHD is a massive pain for Final Cut as it needs to be transcoded to pro res 422 which is quite slow. I ended up using imovie and converting it to Apple Intermediate Codec just as it was so much faster and I kept getting errors on some of the files in log and transfer. I will look into that and hope FCP 7 will handle AVCHD much better.

Everything is ungraded straight out  the camera. Some shots are underexposed and I thought about bringing them up in post but I wanted to really not touch the image at all so you could get a better idea. Don’t forget this is the first time I used the camera. Much better stuff will come. I will be posting more thoughts and video over the next few weeks. Also do check out my Video Blog for more info. The link is on the right hand side menu.

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The compression down to a manageable size has created some blockiness at 1080p.

Please also check out my latest GH1 blog post about shooting in slow motion and low light here

The next Re:Frame collective gathering will be in SF this October…tickets go on sale soon. They will sell out pretty fast… Click here to go to their page


[vimeo 4441911 640 360]

[vimeo 4405518 640 360]

[xr_video id=”c2a4b969386e486fbfa4b51915c86bb8″ size=”lrm”]

162 comments

  1. Phil, Thank you for the review. I hope you will be getting a cut of all the sales of the GH1, as there will be tons!
    I will be ordering one for sure.

  2. Those pool hall shots look just fine. Interiors shouldn’t look like exteriors, the part of the image that is not the subject of the image should be dark, and that’s exactly what you’re getting there with the kit lens. I love it. I may not buy any primes.

    1. the lens is too slow. primes or a faster zoom would be awesome…in that pool hall i was limited to just the lit areas like the pool table. The joy of these dslrs is the ability to actually get usable footage in next to no light and have be as noisy as hell!

      1. But a third party lens (like Zuiko) cannot give full auto focus.

        If you need full auto function, you need to use the factory 14-140mm lens, right?

  3. I’ve never seen any footage like that coming from an, in fact, non-pro camera.
    Being European though we will have to be patient a little bit longer for it to land here.
    Can’t wait !

  4. Thanks Philip, very useful. Looking forward to seeing your Hawaii video. On what you have seen so far, would you say the video from the GH1 is inferior or superior to that produced by your Canon HF20? Or perhaps it’s just different. Thanks again.

      1. Philip, many thanks for that encouraging reply comparing the GH1 footage to your Canon HF20. Seems like the GH1 is a serious contender as an alternative to a mainstream consumer HD camcorder – with the advantage of doubling up as a proper DSLR for still images. I think, with the addition of the accessory stereo mic you mention on top of the camera, I am ready to buy! Look forward to seeing your next video using this very interesting camera.
        regards
        Charles

  5. Thanks for the review! I think I’m still going to get a 5DMK2 for while I’m in Hawaii next week and then consider taking another look at this one when it’s available. Perhaps as a second cam. The low light is still more appealing to me with the 5D, but the manual controls and flexible LCD are HUGE in this cam! Decisions, decisions!

    I wish I could have met you at Re:Frame! Kinda weird that we’ll both be in Hawaii at the same time but different islands! Will you be passing through Oahu at all?

  6. Great review! I can’t wait to get my hands on a unit.. I was wondering what Nikon to GH1 adaptor you would recommend and where to buy?

    Have a good one!

    //David

  7. Thank you so much for this review. You’ve generated so much buzz out there 🙂 Seems that everyone’s talking about GH1.

    Do you think it’s possible to use modern AF Nikkors with this baby and still get manual iris control plus autofocus?

  8. 17mbps – not ready for the big top. Canon’s camera does between 35-40 mbps. The Broadcasters I’ve worked with now require a large percentage of a program be shot at 35 mbps or more….yeah, I know,it all depends on the content. Thanks for the review Philip, I’ve been waiting for a review like this for the last couple months. Keep up the great work.

  9. you look like your having an amazing time in austin, I felt really there, very very impressed by the camera. I was already thinking about a G1 and now this…
    Now I really must get back to may morning in oxford
    best wishes and thanks
    X

  10. Phil, you mention coming lenses from Panasonic (will also be new lenses from Olympus too) and using legacy lenses with an adapter.

    I thought I’d point out, something that I’m sure you know about, the Four Third lenses from Panasonic and Olympus that work with an adapter. These lenses have been design for the size of sensor in the GH1 and a number of them will work with autofocus (how many of which isn’t completely clear yet and may change as Olympus release similar cameras to the G1 and GH1 – though of course the autofocus has been design for photography so may be heavily floored). They will no doubt give the best image quality possible from the GH1. There is also a huge range of lenses.

    Here’s a list including most of them as well as the current compatibility with G1 regards to autofocus as Panasonic see it – may not be accurate. Haven’t found a list for compatibility with GH1 though.

    http://panasonic.jp/support/global/cs/dsc/connect/g1.html

    Note the 4th panasonic lens is a 25mm f1.4 leica overseen lens.

    More info on Four Thirds lenses here:

    http://www.four-thirds.org/en/products/lense.html

  11. Hi
    great review, theres not many cross camera reviews for this sort of spec camera.

    I am desperate for some advice into buying one of these cameras.
    Currently im looking at, the d90, mk2 and now this…
    im getting confused, im fairly new to this but i need a camera that is good for stills, but more importantly HD Video! i need it for, shooting low light, handle fast moving subjects well, blue screen, compositing with cg/3d.

    Can you give me any advice, which is the best option do you think?
    Also, what is the guide price at the moment?

    Cheers

    1. Alex, this would NOT work for the SFX work or fast/low light you mention. At all.

      Its a very cool camera, but you just mentioned the very things that would drive you batty about it.

      Instead, use it for sneaking around for documentary or long remote hiking shoots. Or general life and family memories.

      This will NEVER work for SFX shots. Too compressed and aliasing at the edges will KILL a Blue Screen like your worst DV nightmare.

  12. Footage looks pretty impressive!

    Another quick question… is there a headphone jack?

    (yeah, and it would be great to know about the HDMI during filming, too 😉

    Thanks for posting this, Philip!

    Andy Mac

  13. Hi Phil,

    I’m fairly new to SLR’s but I do want something that has great video capabilities. The video above speaks for itself but as far as stills go, how would you compare the GH-1’s image quality when compared to the D90? Thanks…

  14. Philip,

    I checked the new Canon T1i and Nikon d5000 footage, and this Panny seems to shoot way better

    Do you have experience with both and could you compare to the GH1?

    The GH1 footage that you made (the three so far) looks really incredible for a 14MP still camera.

    Would you use this Panny for (semi-)pro productions?

    What are the artefacts of this AVCHD codec in post-production and grading?

    Could you post some stills?

    When using a lens for 35mm sensors, do you -aside from the smaller FOV, have light-loss? I mean : does a 50mm f1.4 become a 100mm f2.0 or a 100mm f1.4?

    Sorry for the many questions, but -like i said on ER- i might just sell the HV30 and go with this one, until i have some money for a entry-level RED one day.

    1. you are asking so much!! 😉 Don’t know about canon t1i and havent seen new Nikon… the panny is a good semi pro camera but not a pro camera to be honest…it is great for holidays and stuff as it shoots awesome pics and video and is tiny…

      17mbps causes artifacts without a doubt….you don’t get more light loss just longer focal length…i think it’s probably better the hv30…

  15. Thanks for the review. What about that jelly effect or wobling effect when you move the camera while shooting video? and framerate? best regards

  16. thanks for this first review, i was waiting for this to place an order…

    if you put a leica M serie lens on it with a rig, it will still double the focal length ?

  17. Beautiful stuff. I think you are now the go-to guy for testing out new gear. We actually purchased our EX1 because of the footage you released early on and now we are shooting a feature with it.

    The footage from REFRAME in Austin makes the event look like a lot of fun. I couldn’t afford the event this time, but this video has definitely raised it higher on my list of priorities.

  18. Hey Philip,
    very interesting stuff. Thanx for sharing.

    Did you notice anything like the rolling shutter problem that similar products suffer from?

    Looking forward to see the Nikon shots!

  19. I am very interested in getting one of these cameras
    and keep checking for reviews or whatever. Ran across yours today on a Google search. What a useful site! Thanks for this. The videos look terriffic. And I saw the rest of your site as well-going bookmark it- i like your stuff.
    One thing I thought would be useful on a camera like this is the ability to record high quality audio files. Photographs of course, high quality video that’s great, High quality audio only files would be excellent. All the field equipment in one neat little wrapper.
    Thanks again