I haven’t had much time to play with the Panasonic GH1 since I acquired it, but today I finally got out with it for a few hours and we got to spend some quality time together. Usually it takes me a while to “sync” with a new camera and this one is no exception. Here are some general impressions so far, in addition to the early notes:
This is not a rugged camera. Build quality is fair to good, but the controls and doors feel a bit cheap. This is not too surprising when you realize that unlike most kit packages, in this one the kit lens is easily half the overall cost. The lens feels of a higher quality than the body, and in fact the two are made in separate facilities (lens somewhere in Japan, camera somewhere in China). When factoring in this consideration, quality of the body build is par for the course at this price range, give or take a little.
The package is definitely smaller than a DSLR, but significantly larger than a compact. Owing to the weight of the kit lens, one actually needs a tight grip on the camera, and I find the GH1 grip to be a little too small to hold comfortably. I end up using the left hand to hold the lens as the primary hold on the camera, while my right hand steadies with the grip and operates the controls. However, the grip and controls are small for the overall combination and I find myself sometimes inadvertently pushing buttons accidentally. My overall impression is that for a lens of this size, the body actually needs to be a bit bigger, perhaps in the olympus 620 or pentax k-7 size range. It will be interesting to see when I’ve managed to get a pancake lens on this thing if my impression changes. Overall, my feeling is that the controls are compact sized, but with a larger lens on the front that makes for a difficult proposition.
Not to harp on the size issue too long, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m going to comfortably carry this thing around. Most of my other compacts are too big to actually fit in a pocket, but can comfortably ride in a small camera sack that I simply sling over my shoulder. With this lens it will properly need a larger padded case. I’ve been using a small messenger bag to carry it (much in the style of the bare bones bag), but I find that to be a bit awkward.
The lens, while on the large size, is incredibly versatile with its 28-280 (35mm equiv) range. I’ve been able to zoom in to crop some nice portraits at a greater distance than I have been able to previously with the compacts. The lens-based image stabilization is the best I have encountered on any camera I have used and it is quickly changing my notions of what constitutes hand-holdable shots. I do wish the lens were a bit faster though. At f4 on the fast end it quickly pushes you into high ISO territory when the light gets iffy. Fortunately ISO 1600 seems quite respectable, noise-wise. With that zoom range, you can really walk around all day with just one lens and feel prepared for just about anything.
I’m really enjoying having 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 aspect ratios at the touch of a button, all (except 1:1) with the same field of view. I tend to see in aspect ratios as I’m picturing. I will often experiment with the cropping in post-processing, but I tend to want to establish the basic frame lines at the time of capture, if possible. The 16:9 is new for me and I can see that I’m going to use that option more and more. The only bummer is that those, like most panoramas, are difficult to see properly on a blog.
I played a bit with the “intelligent exposure” feature today. This is Pana’s version of the “boost shadows, retain highlights” feature that is found on most cameras these days. It seems to work reasonably well if your expectations are not too high. It doesn’t really do anything that you can’t do yourself in an image editor, but might save some time for quite a few shots for which you don’t want to put in that kind of post processing effort.
Battery life is fair. Better than I had expected from the early reports, in fact. But this may be the first camera that I’ve acquired a third (primary + 2 spares) battery. That EVF takes some juice.
I have yet to do any serious video with it, although I have every intention of doing so. One justification for this camera was that my digital video camera died recently after nearly a decade on the job and I vowed to replace it with one that had no moving parts (i.e. tape or disk). I’m hoping this GH1 can do double duty as video camera. We’ll see.
I will need to bond with the custom modes (there are three, yay!) to really become intimate with this camera. The custom modes are where I can become truly fluid in use with devices that are as complicated as this. I’ll file another report down the road a ways. In the meanwhile, watch out for photos. I’ll be posting some mistakes along with the ones I like.