Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review (2024)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 at a glance:

  • 12.1-million-pixel Live MOS sensor
  • Venus Engine FHD processor
  • Micro Four Thirds lens mount
  • World’s smallest and lightest body
  • 3in, 460,000-dot touchscreen LCD
  • 144-zone multi-pattern metering
  • 1080p HD video capture
  • Street price around £600 with 14mm lens

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review – Introduction

The Compact system camera (CSC) has been the biggest growth area in the camera market over the past year and currently shows no sign of slowing down. As a whole, the market has been clearly split into two main camps: the DSLR-style models and the compact-style models.

Panasonic split these with its G and GF-series cameras, while also introducing a third GH-series for video-focused models. The Lumix DMC-GF2 is Panasonic’s seventh CSC, which replaces the last of the original line-up, the GF1, and fits into the compact-style set.

The race to dominate the compact system camera market is still very much on, and although Panasonic currently has the largest share, the competition is certainly hotting up.

This new model is 18% smaller and 7% lighter than its predecessor, making it officially the world’s smallest and lightest interchangeable-lens model to include a built-in flash. Although this caveat means it isn’t smaller or lighter than the likes of the Sony NEX-5, it is still an impressive feat, and is taking advantage of using a smaller-format sensor than the APS-C-format Samsung and Sony models.

After all, the Four Thirds system was always designed to reduce the size and weight of cameras, and for APS-C-format models to still be outclassing them in this way must be more than a little frustrating.

Yet despite its petite frame, the GF2 is anything but basic. It features some of Panasonic’s latest technologies, including a touchscreen display, Full HD video capture and a fast AF system.

It is also compatible with Panasonic’s new 3D lens, which allows 3D still-image capture with the camera. The GF2 has some very strong competitors, but its charm and specification might just make it the one to watch.

Features

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review (1)
The GF2 uses a Four Thirds Live MOS sensor with an effective 12.1-million-pixel resolution. This appears to be the same sensor as featured in the recent G2 model, with an output of 4000×3000 pixels in 4:3 format, or 4000×2672 pixels in 3:2 format.

The camera can also shoot in 16:9 and 1:1 formats at lower resolution, should you wish. The sensor gives roughly a 10x13in image at 300ppi (in 4:3) without interpolation. Files are outputted in either JPEG or Panasonic’s native RW2 raw format, with video in AVCHD and Motion JPEG.

The processor is the same Venus Engine FHD that is also included in the new flagship GH2 model and features advanced signal processing capabilities for both photo and video. This has advantages in noise control and offers an ISO range of 100-6400, which is in line with the other models in the G-series range, but 1 stop below the GH2’s ISO 12,800.

A supersonic wave filter provides dust reduction in front of the sensor, while image stabilisation is left to the individual lenses via Mega OIS rather than any sensor-based system.

The exposure system provides metering from a 144-zone, multi-pattern sensing system with a choice of intelligent multiple, centreweighted and spot options.

Exposure compensation can be added in 1⁄3EV intervals to ±3EV. There is also the ability to bracket over three or five frames in 1⁄3 or 2⁄3 intervals to a maximum of ±11⁄3EV, or use exposure lock (AE) when recomposing.

Being a mirrorless camera, the GF2 uses contrast-detection autofocus but, thanks to the Venus Engine FHD processor, this is a lot faster than most – quicker than the G2, for instance – but not quite up to the speed of the GH2, Panasonic claims.

There is a choice of 23-area-focusing, face-detection, 1-area-focusing, AF tracking and touch-focus methods, as single or continuous focus, and also manual focusing via the lens focus ring. There is an AF illumination light for dark conditions, and an AF lock for recomposing.

The GF2 has done away with a shooting-mode dial in its quest for space saving and instead makes use of its touchscreen display to change between the shooting modes.

There is still a full array on offer, though, comprising program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual, plus my colour and scene mode sets, a custom mode and iA (intelligent Auto), which can also be set via a dedicated button on the top.

The scene modes are largely automatic in their operation, with just exposure compensation and focus controls, although the my colour modes offer a peripheral focus control to alter the aperture value and adjust the depth of field across all its settings, which allows a little more creativity in their use. It would have been nice if they could have been applied in the full creative shooting modes, even via the menu.

Post-production options are limited to cropping, resizing, rotation and a change of aspect ratio, although there is the option to title and highlight favourite images with a single star system to aide the selection process once you download them onto the computer.

To cut down on space there is no viewfinder on the GF2, and being a mirrorless model it would have needed to be an electronic version anyway. Therefore, to compose a shot you must rely entirely on the rear 3in, 460,000-dot LCD screen. If you really do miss the viewfinder you can buy an additional electronic viewfinder (the LVF-1, which also fits the Lumix DMC-GF1).

The EVF sits on the hotshot mount and plugs into a small port on the back. Unlike some other models, doing so won’t necessarily restrict your flash use, as the GF2 sports a built-in flash unit. This is on a sprung mount that lifts the flash head around an inch above the camera, and gives both redeye reduction and slow sync options.

The flash provides a modest guide number of 6m @ ISO 100, which is enough for low-light portrait use.

Storage is via SD card and is fully compatible with SDHC and the new SDXC cards for maximum speed and capacity potential. In burst mode, the camera is capable of shooting at up to 3.2 frames per second.

Single write times using a SanDisk Extreme III 8GB card are around 1sec for JPEGs, 2.5secs for raw files and 3secs for raw + Fine JPEGs. Shooting in burst mode will continue for four shots in raw + JPEG, six shots in raw, and until the card is full in JPEG only.

Features in use: 14mm Pancake lens

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In the process of slimming the GF2 down from the original GF1, Panasonic has chosen to offer the camera with a new, smaller pancake lens: the 14mm f/2.5. With the crop factor of the Four Thirds sensor, this gives the lens a 28mm equivalent field of view, which makes it a handy lens for landscape and travel photography.

However, when it comes to portraits, unless you are shooting full-length it can distort features. It is also difficult to compose still-life and macro shots due to the close focus distance necessary for really filling the frame, and the aperture is a stop slower than the old 20mm, so shallow depth of field effects are trickier to achieve. Those interested in this style of photography would be better served by the 14-42mm kit lens, or the twin-lens kit.

On the plus side, the new lens really suits the camera in terms of size, keeping it very pocket-friendly. The focus ring, although electronically controlled, is smooth to use and feels very responsive when focusing manually.

For me, a perfect combination would be to have the 14mm f/2.8 lens along with a second pancake optic, such as a 25mm f/1.4 (a lens I’d love to see Panasonic add to its collection), as you could easily carry both in your jacket pocket and be equipped for almost any shot.

Build and Handling

The GF2 may not be the most diminutive of compact system cameras (only the smallest with flash), but it feels considerably smaller than its predecessor and most of the competition. The Sony NEX models may be smaller but they have much larger lenses, so to carry around can end up being more bulky.

When using the GF2 you can easily forget it is an interchangeable-lens camera, especially with the 14mm optic on the front, and in size it is only fractionally larger than Panasonic’s new advanced compact, the Lumix DMC-LX5.

The body feels solid and hardwearing, and reassuringly heavy for its size. It looks classy in its matt black finish, although the silver and red colours that will also be available in the UK really suit the camera too. White versions can be found in Europe and pink in Asia, but these shouldn’t be missed too much in the British market.

While there is no significant grip on the front or rear of the camera, it isn’t really a problem. The camera is small and light enough not to need it, and the small ridge on the front and shaping on the rear are enough to give the finger and thumb something to steady against when composing your shot. Although you can attach longer lenses such as the new 100-300mm, or even Four Thirds lenses via an adapter, I wouldn’t recommend it for extended use, as the camera would become unbalanced and unwieldy.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review (3)The lack of a shooting-mode dial on the GF2 did concern me at first, but having it available on the touchscreen means that it is no more difficult to change and in fact, it is less likely to be changed by accident.

The iA button sits next to the shutter button, and a quick movie record button is a little easier to press by accident and will override any other setting from the shooting menu. But, handily, this lights up in blue when activated, so is fairly obvious when in use.

Most of the camera’s operation can be controlled from the touchscreen – even taking the shot, thanks to the touch shutter option where you simply tap your subject on the screen and the camera focuses on that point and fires.

However, if you prefer to use the buttons or are wearing gloves, then you can still access all the features using the four-way pad, quick buttons and selection dial. The quick-menu button can also be customised for use as a function button for a range of 12 different functions, from AF/AE lock to Intelligent Resolution control.

The menu screens have a new graphical menu that keeps operation very simple and the initial screen resembles a sat nav or mobile phone menu more than any advanced camera. New users should love it, but it is perhaps too much form over function and it might be nice to have an option to remove the initial screen to save time for more advanced users. However,, with the touchscreen control, it doesn’t really slow the operation significantly.

Autofocus

When the G2 was introduced last year, it boasted a staggeringly fast AF for a contrast-detection system, against what was generally fairly slow competition.

The GF2, with its new Venus Engine FHD processor, is even quicker – although the GH2, which uses the same processor, is claimed to be quicker still. Performance in good light is close to instant and, thanks to the AF illuminator, closer focusing in low light can be just as quick.

To put this focusing head to head with a phase-detection system of an SLR would still see faster focusing at times with the SLR, but against its direct competitors it really does stand out as an example of how good contrast-detection AF can be – and offers a real alternative, at least for the entry-level/amateur market.

One advantage of a contrast-detection AF system is that you are not tied to a set number of focus points. From the menu you have a choice of 23-area AF, which selects points of focus for you, or 1-area, which allows you to touch precisely on the screen where you want to focus, with the exception of the very outer edges of the frame. You can also change the size of the AF area from large to regular.

The tracking mode allows you to choose your subject by touch, or by half-pressing the shutter with your subject centrally positioned, and will then maintain a lock on it as it moves around the frame. Face detection and recognition are also available and the camera can retain information on up to six faces.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review (4)Colours are bright and punchy but skin tones remain natural, shown here with some fill-in flash

Manual focus is aided by a magnified display (4x or 8x) on the LCD screen, which allows for precise focusing, and the magnified area can be selected from anywhere, with the exception of the outer edges of the frame.

White Balance and Colour

White balance control is achieved with an auto setting, five presets (daylight, cloudy, shade, halogen, flash), two custom settings and a colour temperature setting of between 2,500 and 10,000K. There is further white balance adjustment with blue/amber, magenta/green axis adjustment on all the settings and even the ability to bracket over three exposures.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review (5)Image: White balance appears slightly blue in the snow using AWB, but the raw file has allowed us to cool it further to suit the mood

The auto white balance does an impressive job of keeping a neutral image even in difficult lighting situations.

When presented with snowy scenes, the AWB managed to avoid the typically blue hue that some cameras can lean towards and, under tungsten lighting, the scene avoided the warmth normally associated with indoor shots. This is an ideal default and having the ability to fine-tune all the presets means that, should you wish to leave some warmth in a shot rather than neutralise it, for instance, this can be easily achieved.

Images are generally bright and punchy without losing their realism. Deeper colours appear rich, much like a slide film, while subtleties in natural greens and browns remain well defined.

The my colour modes allow effects such as monochrome and pure, as well as some unusual shifts in colour such as cinema, dynamic art and expressive. These won’t be to everyone’s taste and some will suit video makers more than still photos, but there is also a custom mode with slider controls over contrast, brightness, saturation, and contrast, allowing you to create your own image style.

Noise, Resolution, and Sensitivity

The GF2 does suffer slightly from a market where the megapixel race is still creeping upwards, and its 12-million-pixel resolution is already looking dated. The GF2’s main competitors are now sporting 14-million-pixel sensors on the larger APS-C format, so their sensors still have larger pixel sites. Adding the new 16-million-pixel sensor from the GH2 would have made the GF2 class-leading, though would have meant an increased cost.

The GF2 reached 20 on our resolution chart in JPEG and 22 from the processed raw file, with the benefit of some sharpening.

As the ISO increases, the resolution is maintained until ISO 6400, when it drops to 18. JPEG artefacts are visible as low as ISO 400 and noise starts to creep in from ISO 1600. This is increasingly prevalent at ISO 3200, and at ISO 6400 there is severe discolouring to the image.

From comparing the JPEG and raw files it is clear that the processor is working hard to keep the images noise-free, but ISO 6400 at least should be classed as an extended mode rather than a regular ISO setting.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review (6)These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using a Panasonic 14mm f/2.5mm lens. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

Metering

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In this scene you can see how noise levels increase over the ISO range. Although it starts to become visible at ISO 1600, by ISO 6400 it really starts to degrade the image

Using its 144-zone multi-pattern metering, the GF2 keeps images well exposed.

The shadow detail seems to be most carefully maintained while giving an often darker midtone, which helps give the images their richness. In maintaining the blacks, highlights are occasionally lost in high-contrast scenes.

Thanks to the on-screen histogram, however, this is possible to plan for and leaves users with the choice of dialling in negative exposure compensation, switching to more selective metering or using graduated filters.

The smaller sensor size and lens diameter of Micro Four Thirds cameras makes them perfect for filters, as you can use the smaller and more affordable versions to make up for a more limited dynamic range.

The camera also offers intelligent dynamic range control in low, standard and high settings to provide greater control over the shadow and highlight detail, should you wish to do this in-camera.

Dynamic Range

Although the GF2 has not yet received a score from the DxO labs, the same sensor in the G2 reached a maximum dynamic range of just over 10EV.

This is very much in keeping with similar Four Thirds sensors, but is nearly 2EV less than that achieved by its APS-C-format competitors.

The i-Dynamic range does go some way to enhance its potential, but is clearly still at a disadvantage because of the physical size of its sensor.

Viewfinder, LCD, Live View, Video

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review (8)The GF2 doesn’t feature a viewfinder within the body, although the VF-1 electronic viewfinder can be attached via the hotshoe and connection port if required. For most users, however, the rear LCD will be their only method of composing images.

The LCD screen is a 3in, 460,000-dot display with touchscreen control. This technology has already been seen on the G2 model and remains very similar in operation.

Early touchscreen systems on cameras (as on phones) appeared to be more of a gimmick and tended to slow operation rather than improve it. On the GF2, however, as on the G2, it does feel like a benefit to the shooting process.

The fact that you are not tied to just using the touchscreen and can happily swap between it and the buttons also helps. Buttons on the screen are large and well spaced out, making it easy to avoid accidentally pressing the wrong one.

Touch focus is perhaps the best part of the system and even the touch shutter has some advantages – although, as this requires you to hold the camera with one hand, it can leave you prone to camera shake. The only frustrating part is in the reviewing process, as the sideways swipe to flip between images doesn’t always work first time and can easily zoom into the image instead.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review (9)The video functionality of the GF2 is quite advanced, offering 1080p AVCHD. This is recorded at 50 interlaced frames per second but outputted at 25fps (or 60i to 30p NTSC). The data rate is a very impressive 100Mb/s, giving a very smooth and detailed image.

It also features full stereo sound from the dual microphones in the top of the camera, although there is no further option to add an external microphone source.

The one downside of the AVCHD format is that video must be processed by video software before being viewable on most machines, as opposed to regular QuickTime formats, but the compression rate and quality do make up for it.

Our verdict

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 is a superb little camera: it is an immense improvement over the GF1, a camera that until just a few months ago was a worthy competitor in the compact system camera market. Its build quality and handling make it a pleasure to use, and the overall size means you really can take it anywhere.

The touchscreen control is a nice feature, and something I found far more useful on this type of camera than I expected. The more I used it the less I needed to use the physical buttons.

The focusing speed is, however, probably the GF2’s most impressive aspect and makes it a far more pleasurable experience to use than quite a lot of contrast-detection AF cameras.

The only areas that let the GF2 down are in terms of its resolution and noise; it seems the current 12.1-million-pixel, Live MOS sensor is unable to compete with the latest APS-C-sized units on either count and therefore for overall quality, especially in low-light conditions.

It makes the GF2 a difficult choice for those looking to print big, but if you are willing to accept some sacrifices in favour of its usability and size, then the GF2 is a great little camera.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2: Focal points

Flash hotshoe

The hotshoe allows use of a range of external flashguns as well as the VF1 electronic viewfinder, which also uses the connection port just below

Control dial

This handy little thumb dial allows quick control for aperture, shutter and compensation control, plus a range of other functions

Touchscreen

The 3in LCD screen allows direct touch control for menu use, focusing and functions, and can even be used to fire the shutter

D-pad

This control can be used alongside or instead of the touchscreen and offers quick access to a range of functions

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Touch focus

Using the touchscreen technology, the GF2 allows you to touch exactly where in the scene you want to focus. This is then confirmed by the focus square appearing under your finger. It is useful when working on a tripod or with more unusual compositions, and also works very well with the focus-tracking function.

Touch shutter

With this function enabled when using the touch focus system, not only does the camera focus at the point of touch but it will then automatically fire the shutter as soon as focus as been achieved. This function is great for quick snap shots and saves you having to readjust your grip to take the shot.

Face detection

With face detection selected, the GF2 will recognise multiple faces in the scene, and using the 1-area AF allows you to set a finer focus around the eyes. It also features face-recognition technology, which allows you to save up to six faces in the memory so your images can be easily labelled for searching and cataloguing.

3D-compatible

The GF2 is fully compatible with Panasonic’s latest 3D Micro Four Thirds lens. Once attached, the camera will allow you to take and save still images in 3D MPO format. These can then be played back on any 3D viewer by connecting directly to the camera or plugging the SD card into the viewing device.

The competition

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The compact system camera market now has an assortment of cameras that fit a more compact shape, from the Olympus Pen series to the Sony NEX models.

Two of the GF2’s main competitors are the Sony NEX-5 and the Samsung NX100, although both of these feature larger and higher-resolution sensors.

Perhaps a closer competitor is the Olympus Pen EP-2, a camera that shares the same lens mount and a similar, if slightly higher resolution, 12.3-million-pixel sensor.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review (12)At around £600 for the basic single-lens kit, the GF2 is around £150 more expensive than the NEX-5 and the NX100, but at least £100 cheaper than the EP-2.

The advantage the GF2 has over its competition is its touchscreen LCD, its overall size and the addition of a built-in flash. Also, once the camera has been on sale for a few months, the price gap between it and its competitors will reduce.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review (2024)
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