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.


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 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…


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.


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

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