Panasonic DMC-G2

panasonic dmc-g2
Release Date: June 2010
List Price: $800 USD
Compare Prices at Amazon, Adorama, B&H Photo Video

Overview

Already a hybrid, the Panasonic DMC-G2 takes it one step further.

The DMC-G2 is a cross between a compact and a digital SLR camera and it includes a feature that also makes it like a smartphone: a touch-screen LCD.

This is the first mirrorless DSLR to include such a feature and you can use it to change camera settings, take pictures, or review images just by touching or swiping your finger on the LCD.

To take this feature even further, the LCD flips out from the camera body and rotates, letting you take pictures from just about any angle.

FEATURES GUIDE

If someone asked me to describe the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 in a single word it would be this one: flexible.

There's virtually no type of photo the DMC-G2 can't take. It excels at everything from simple portraits to dramatic landscapes.

High and low-angle shots are a breeze thanks to the flexible LCD screen.

And if you're not perfectly happy with the out-of-the-box options that are provided with the DMC-G2, you can customize the camera's settings to your heart's desire.

The DMC-G2 is a "do it all" kind of a camera and it surprised me in a several ways (not an easy feat, given the number of different cameras that I've used).

Look and Feel

Unlike some other mirrorless cameras which resemble compacts, the DMC-G2 looks more like a shunken DSLR. >It has the same styling as a DSLR: the slight hump on the top where the viewfinder is located and a deep hand grip.

If you spotted someone using a G2 on the street, you might be hard-pressed to even tell that it's NOT a digital SLR.

But even though it bears the same general shape, the DMC-G2 is MUCH smaller and lighter than the most compact DSLR. For example, here's how it compares to the Nikon D3100:

 Panasonic DMC-G2Nikon D3100
Width4.88 in. (124 mm)4.90 in. (?? mm)
Height3.29 in. (83.6 mm)3.8 in. (96 mm)
Depth2.91 in. (74 mm)3.0 in. (75 mm)
Weight13.12 oz. (371 g)17 oz. (505 g)

Because of its DSLR-like styling, the DMC-G2 will definitely not slip into a pocket - those looking for that type of camera portability should look elsewhere.

However, the camera will fit into a small bag and can be hung from a shoulder or your neck with relatively little effort.

Camera Control

There are several different ways that you can control the DMC-G2, but the starting point for all camera settings is the main control dial.

The main control dial that sits on the top of the camera lets you choose between one video mode, automatic (scene) photo modes and manual photo modes:

AUTO IMAGE MODESMANUAL IMAGE MODES
  • Portrait
  • Landscape / Scenery
  • Sports
  • Closeup
  • Night Portrait
  • Scene (SCN)
  • Program (P)
  • Aperture Priority (A)
  • Shutter Priority (S)
  • Manual (M)
  • My Color
  • Custom (CUST)

Three buttons arranged on the back of the camera give you quick access to settings that advanced photographers change frequently:

  1. ISO — let the camera pick ISO values for you or manually select from ISO 100 to 6400
  2. White Balance — correct the color tone for different lighting conditions like daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, etc.
  3. Film Mode — adjust the intensity of colors and the level of contrast in your photos with settings like standard, dynamic, smooth, nature, nostalgic, vibrant, monochrome and custom

A fourth button (Function or fn) can be customized via a menu setting to let you change any one of the following settings:

SETTINGDESCRIPTON
Focus Area Set
Aspect Ratio Switch from 4:3 to either 3:2 (normal DSLR), 16:9 (widescreen monitor or TV) or 1:1
Quality Select between multiple image sizes (large, medium, small) and different qualities (fine, normal, RAW)
Metering Mode Choose between area (the entire viewfinder), center-weighted or spot
I.Resolution
I.Exposure This helps adjust exposure when there is strong contrast in the scene (also called wide dynamic range) and can be set to Low, Medium or High
Extended Optical Zoom When turned on, this maginfies the image being captured by the sensor up to 2x its normal size
Guide Line Displays three different types of white guidelines on both the LCD screen and in the viewfinder
Rec Area Changes the LCD display when taking movies to show you what you're recording (black bars appear above and below the image)
Remaining Disp. This can either be set to display the number of remaining images you can take OR the amount of movie capture time you have left

Automatic Mode

The fully automatic mode on the DMC-G2 is called "Intelligent Auto" or iA for short and its activate via a button on the top of the camera.

You can tell that iA mode is active because the button lights up.

Intelligent Auto is the mode for absolute beginners who don't want to fiddle around with camera settings at all. In iA mode, many of the camera's more advanced menu options are disabled and all decisions about exposure and color tone are left up to the camera.

Can you achieve decent results in iA mode? You sure can.

When I first started taking pictures with the DMC-G2 — before I'd read the manual and learned about its advanced settings — I put the camera into iA mode to see how it would handle different subjects in a variety of different light.

Even though I was pleased with the results, there were times when I wanted to make minor adjustments to the camera's settings — something that is not possible with the camera in iA mode.

With the camera set to automatic, all manual controls are disabled. You just have to rely on the camera to make all the right decisions.

If you'd like a little more flexibility but don't want to spend time learning tons of camera controls, then Progam (P) mode works just like auto mode, but with the ability to customize individual settings as you see fit.

Scene Modes

In iA mode, the camera is calling all the shots: it's trying to determine the amount of available light, your subject type and a variety of other factors in order to get the best image quality.

If you'd like to help the camera out a bit, then you can use one of its scene modes.

Scene modes are still fully automatic (the camera is changing all its settings) but in this case you're telling the camera what your primary subect is, so that the camera can adjust its settings accordingly.

Flexible LCD

The flexible LCD screen on the DMC-G2 is a joy to use...IF you like taking pictures from different angles and viewpoints.

Even if you don't, one nice aspect of having an LCD that rotates is that it you can leave it facing IN when the camera is not in use - thereby protecting it from smudges and scratches.

If you do want to snap pictures from waist level and from above your head then having a flexible LCD like this one is essential.

It also makes a huge difference when you're capturing video — I held the camera at about chest level to capture movies, and being able to rotate the screen allowed me to see the LCD image at all times.

There will also be times when having a flexible LCD makes the difference between capturing a memorable image or movie vs. nothing at all.

On a recent drip to Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando Florida, we arrived right before the park opened and had the chance to see the countdown.

With my son sitting atop my shoulders, I was able to hold the DMC-G2 high above the heads of everyone else in the crowd which provided the camera with a clear view of the festivities.

With the practical points covered, the flexible LCD lets you get creative with your points of view, taking pictures from extreme high and low angles. Even if you don't do such things today, you might find you do it more once you have a camera that lets you.

Touch Screen

Like a smartphone, iPod or iPad, you can control the DMC-G2 just by touching the LCD screen with your finger.

First, let's talk about taking pictures: when you enable the touch-screen picture mode, you can have the camera autofocus and take shots merely by tapping the LCD.

Let's say you're taking a picture of a friend standing in front of a major landmark. To ensure that your friend's face is in focus, you just tap her face on the LCD screen: the camera autofocuses on the point that you tap and takes a picture.

While this is certainly a fun way to use the touch-screen LCD (and a neat party trick), there are other more practical ways you can leverage this special feature.

  • Browsing Photos — in playback mode, you can scroll through your photos by swiping your finger across the screen just like you do when using an iPhone, iPod or iPad.
  • Camera Settings — rather than digging through a lot of menus looking for the "image quality" setting, just press the quick menu button on the LCD, touch the setting you want to change and pick a new one (voila! camera setttings changed).

Does the LCD get smudged with all this touching, tapping and swiping? Yes, it sure does.

But a quick rub with a soft cloth (I used one that I also use to clean the front of my lenses) made it good as new. Plus, given how bright the LCD is, it's hard to tell that it is smudged unless the screen is blank.

Electronic Viewfinder

The main way that mirrorless cameras differ from their DSLR cousins is in the viewfinder.

All DSLRs have optical viewfinders: a collection of mirrors that reflects the image from the lens up to the viewfinder eyepiece. By contrast, mirrorless cameras have electronic viewfinders (and some have no viewfinder at all).

The best part about having a viewfinder is that it gives you another way to compose pictures if you're having a hard time seeing the LCD screen (for example: in direct sunlight).

The electronic viewfinder on the DMC-G2 is essentially a small TV screen that shows you what the lens sees. While fine for stills, it's not as effective at keeping up with fast-moving subjects since the slight delay in processing the video signal can make thinks look blurry.

The bonus is that you can super-impose shooting information on the viewfinder just like you can on the LCD screen.

For example, I have a tough time keeping horizon lines level when I take landscape shots. You can change the viewfinder and LCD display to display a white-line grid on top of the image to assist with composition.

You can also see all the camera settings in the viewfinder like the ISO value and white balance. This is a good thing for photographers who enjoy working with manual controls but sometimes forget what values they've selected.

ISO

One of the benefits of mirrorless cameras over compacts is that their sensors are physically larger — larger sensors create less image noise at high ISO settings.

In addition to the larger sensor size, camera manufacturers have also come up with their own flavor of noise reduction that's applied to every image you take.

I'd say that Panasonic did a very good job with the DMC-G2 keeping high ISO noise to a minimum.

But what does low noise at high ISO really mean for the family snapshot photographer? It means that you can take blur-free shots in near-dark conditions without severely degrading image quality.

My son recently had his birthday party at a local bowling alley and the dim interior light left a lot to be desired, especially since I was trying to take photos of kids hurling balls down the lanes.

For this challenging photographic scenario, I took the ISO all the way up to 1600, which provided me with a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action.

While the resulting photos do include some image noise, it's quite hard to see when you make a standard 4x6 print or view the images on a computer monitor at normal size.

Image Stabilization

Helping out with the low-light performance of the DMC-G2 is its image-stabilized lens.

The DMC-G2 has three flavors of image stabilization, depending on how the camera is moving about:

The stabilization works exceptionally well, capturing clear shots even at shutter speeds approaching 1/10th of a second (1/30th of a second is pushing the image blur boundary on most cameras).

One note: stabilization only helps prevent blur from CAMERA motion. It won't help if you're taking pictures in dim light of SUBJECTS in motion. For that, you'll have to rely on a higher ISO setting (see above).

Autofocus

The autofocus on the DMC-G2 is noteworthy because it is so dang fast.

For years I have only used digital SLR cameras because I can't stand how slow the autofocus is on compact cameras. With compacts, I always missed the shot I was trying to capture.

The good news for those interested in the DMC-G2 is that there is zero autofocus delay, even under some challenging lighting conditions.

ANY digital camera - regardless of make - is going to have a tough time locking focus when there is not a lot of available light (i.e. at night). Even in very dark rooms, the DMC-G2 still can lock focus quickly.

But if you provide the camera with plenty of light, then there is virtually no autofocus lag: you press the shutter button, the camera locks focus and you fire away.

If the sheer speed of this system isn't enough to make you giddy, then the number of ways you can customize it sure will.

Movie Mode

The movie mode on the DMC-G2 is a real joy to use.

It's certainly easy to access: with the press of a bright red button on top of the camera, you're capturing video. There's not need to fiddle with any knobs, buttons or menu settings.

As for the quality of the video, I'll say this: it's exceptional.

Sure, it's fun to watch the videos you've captured on the camera's LCD screen or your computer monitor. But for a real thrill plug the camera into an HDTV using an HDMI cable.

It's pretty amazing to sit and watch a video that you've taken up on a big screen, with the level of quality that you'd expect from High Definition broadcast television.

The image sharpness and color quality are superb and about the only drawback is that it quickly makes you recognize that taking great videos isn't quite the same as taking great photos.

Once you add the element of motion, you have to learn a whole new set of skills to capture movies that don't make viewers want to doze off.

Flash

Some compact mirrorless cameras like the Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5 don't have a built-in flash in order to conserve space and reduce camera body size.

Built-in flash is not something that I like to resort to since it doesn't make any subject look good — the light is too harsh and direct.

However, there are times when you need to add a bit of extra light to the scene and the built-in flash is the only thing you've got. In these situations, having a flash with the camera (rather than an extra flash you have to remember to take with you) is indespensible.

On a recent vacation, we had waiters in restaurants take family pictures of us. The pictures would not have turned out without the help of the built-in flash, and there was NO way that I was lugging along an additional flash unit every time we went to dinner.

The built-in flash on the DMC-G2 also helps to add a kick of light to shadows on bright sunny days when your subject is in the shade.

If I were taking a LOT of flash pictures with the DMC-G2, I would take a look at a more sophisticated external flash unit to get better results.

For the typical family vacation snapshot, advanced flash is less necessary — the built-in unit on the DMC-G2 does just fine.

Playback

A variety of different playback modes help you find and show off images on either the camera's LCD screen or on an HDTV (provided the camera is plugged in to the TV).

The single image mode lets you display one image at a time. To move through images, you can either press directional buttons on the back of the camera or you can swipe your finger across the LCD screen.

A gallery display shows multiple images at a time and you can control the number of images that appear on the LCD.

Finally, a calendar mode shows pictures grouped by the day that they were taken - a useful feature if you've just been on a long vacation and want to review photos day-by-day.

The DMC-G2 does have a slideshow mode if you don't want to manually scroll through pictures.

Overall Impression

The Panasonic DMC-G2 is a complicated yet versatile mirrorless camera.

When I call it "complicated" what I mean is that the camera has SO many custom settings that it's a bit overwhelming the first time you crack open the user manual.

As you flip through page after page that describe settings like I.Exposure and Custom White Balance it's hard to imagine that you'd ever need or use many of them.

And yet - over time - you just might find that you do.

Let's say that you're not typically a flower photographer but one day find yourself in the most exquisite rose garden. You want to take some closeups of the flowers but it's hard to tell from looking at the LCD if the petals are in focus.

Turning to your manual (hopefully you have it) you find that the image on the LCD screen can be magnified so that you can check that the focus is correct.

If you also decide that you want the colors of the flowers to appear more vibrant, you can select a different film mode to change how the camera captures colors in JPG files.

Learning the basic controls of the DMC-G2 is not difficult: set the camera to I.AUTO mode and fire away.

However, learning how to manipulate some of the more detailed controls does take time and experimentation. Since the descriptions of some features in the manual leave a lot to be desired, you really have to find out on your own if a particular setting creates a look you like.

Once mastered, the DMC-G2 has the potential to take photos under all sorts of conditions: landscapes, sports, low light, nature, wildlife, etc.

When you add on the exceptional quality of the camera's HD movie mode, it means that the DMC-G2 is really a go-anywhere-take-anything sort of a camera.

If you're the owner of a DMC-G2 and have found something that it can't do, I'd be happy to hear about it. During the time I used it for this DMC-G2 guide, it captured hundreds of images exactly the way I hoped it would.