HandlingFilming with the Panasonic GH2 is an enjoyable experience: it's easy to hold and the recording button is easily accessible close to your index finger. The camera starts up quickly and the rotating touchscreen LCD display makes it easy to line up a shot from almost any angle. The only disappointment is that the resolution of 460 000 pixels is a little stingy for the three inches available. The GH2 is powered by a battery which offers enough juice for up to an hour of recording and records onto an SDHC memory card, though you'll need a Class 6 card to cope with 24 Mbps AVCHD video.
The GH2 offers an autofocus that stands up to comparison with a camcorder. By that, we mean that it can determine the focus by itself in a second or two, but easily gets confused if the subject moves. That creates unwelcome blurriness if you suddenly change the focus of a scene or zoom in too quickly. The GH2 can't hope to beat the Sony Alpha 55 on this front, which behaves more like a 'real' camcorder.
We tested the GH2 using the 14-140 mm kit lens, which is recommended for video because of its quiet autofocus mechanism. It also boasts powerful stabilisation, which means you can shoot perfectly stable video even when walking forwards and holding the camera upright. Panasonic has made some very definite progress since the GH1.
The video button is easy to reach next to the shutter release
The 2.5 mm line in is too small for most mics, which use 3.5 mm connectors
Following the current trend for cameras that can also shoot video, the GH2 uses a very shallow depth of field, creating a sharp primary subject against a more blurry background. This attractive effect is one of the main reasons people prefer a digital camera like this with a large sensor over a traditional camcorder. If you add in a 28 mm wide-angle lens and Full HD, the result is video worthy of your local cinema. Panasonic has taken that concept to the extreme by using a 24p progressive scan, though we're not sure who that's supposed to impress. Professional studios use 24p for cinema releases and Blu-ray discs, but we're far from convinced that's what most of the GH2's potential customers are planning on.
In any case, it's unlikely that the GH2's 24p mode will win over real pros, who are mostly smitten with more substantial cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II and its powerful 24 x 36 mm sensor.
You're more likely to use the default option, 1920x1080/50i AVCHD, which lives up to most users' expectations and produces very fluid video. Because the sensor itself is progressive, the interlacing is done natively, so there's no visible combing. The GH2 doesn't put in a very good performance when light levels are low, because its 14-140 mm lens can only open as far as f/4.0. It's also a lot less sensitive than other camcorders (f/1.8). In our lab test, just about everything was invisible below 3 lux. On the other hand, when the going was good, it's god nothing to be afraid of next to a camcorder. Comparing its results with various test cards, it did better than the Sony CX550 and the Canon HM32, but doesn't quite beat Panasonic's own SDT750.
This video, shot using the Panasonic GH2's 50i mode, should give you an idea of how it performs:
We shot the whole thing without using a tripod, which should give you an idea of how good the image stabilisation is on the 14-140 mm. The wall of portraits near the start is a still photo that's been animated, but the shots taken below the planes are all handsfree. We deliberately didn't correct the autofocus problems when we edited it so you can see how hesitant it is, especially in the shots of Concorde. We used Sony Vegas Pro 10 software for the editing and it had no problems at all with the video produced by the GH2. One thing to bear in mind is that it adds a second of white space is added to the start of each clip that you need to remove like we have done here.