Panasonic Lumix DMC G2 – A Great Compact Digital SLR

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 is a relatively small, DSLR-like camera that uses the Micro Four Thirds  sensor jointly developed by Panasonic and Olympus. It has many of the same features as a DSLR, including the use of interchangeable lenses and RAW format, but does not have a mirror box and utilizes an electronic viewfinder rather than an optical viewfinder. The G2 and the G10, a more basic version of the camera reviewed here last month, are updates to the Lumix DMC-G1, released in 2008.

Like the G10, the Panasonic DMC G2 has a 12.1 megapixel Micro Four Thirds CMOS sensor, full manual controls including aperture and shutter priority, an intelligent auto mode and movie modes in both AVCHD Lite and motion JPEG formats. But, unlike the G10, the G2 has a fully articulated LCD monitor that uses touch screen technology, though the touch screen is not the only method of control.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC G2 has a classic DSLR look, with a large handgrip on the right, but it’s smaller than even the smallest entry-level DSLR. Its dimensions are 4.x 3.3 x 2.9 inches (124 x 84 x 74mm) and its weight, body only, is 13.09 ounces (371 grams). The Panasonic G2 comes with a DMW-BLB13 lithium-ion battery, a charger, an AV cable, a USB cable, a shoulder/neck strap, a 218 page manual, a stylus pen, a body cap and a CD containing Panasonic’s PhotofunStudio 5.0 HD Edition photo management software, and Silkypix for editing RAW images. The digital camera comes in basic black (the color I reviewed), as well as a striking red and blue.

While the DMC-G2 is on the small side, compared to a typical entry-level DSLR, it has excellent build quality. Its construction is mostly metal with a plastic coating. Dials and buttons are very sturdy and work smoothly. The camera is weighty in the hand, especially with a lens attached. Although the camera looks small, it is not delicate. While I wouldn’t advocate dropping it, I think it could survive a modest fall rather well.

The DMC-G2 is very well-balanced, with a deep right-side handgrip. There is also a useful thumb rest in the rear. Although the camera looks like it could be used with one hand, it’s probably too heavy to do so comfortably. But there is ample room on the left side for a thumb and a couple of fingers, permitting quite steady two-handed shooting. The camera has a very smooth surface, which tends to make it a bit slippery. All the buttons and dials are reachable and easy to use. As a newcomer to this type of camera, I was surprised at the number of dedicated controls for functions that, when using Point and Shoot  cameras, are only accessible through the menus. Once I explored the various controls I realized that they were very useful shortcuts.

The top left side of the DMC-G2 contains a switch to select among manual focus, auto focus single and auto focus continuous. There is also a nice dial to select face detection, auto focus tracking, 23-area auto focus and one area auto focus. The top right of the camera contains a switch to select the drive mode – single, burst, auto-bracket or self-timer. There are also dedicated buttons for movie recording and for activating the camera’s intelligent auto mode. The large mode dial, also located at the top right, contains numerous recording modes including program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, custom, movie, scenes, my color, portrait, scenery, sports, close-up and night portrait. The top right of the camera includes a power switch and a large shutter button. At the center there’s a hinged flash and a flash hot shoe.

The rear of the camera is dominated by the electronic viewfinder and LCD monitor. The viewfinder is fairly large and surrounded by a rubberized eye cup. The viewfinder can be set to be automatically activated, and the LCD deactivated, when the camera is raised to eye level. To the left of the viewfinder is a button to activate or deactivate the viewfinder manually. There is also a diopter control to adjust the viewfinder to compensate for vision issues.

The G2′s 3.0-inch LCD has 460,000 dots of resolution and a 3/2 aspect ratio. It folds out and can be twisted 90 degrees forward and 180 degrees back, which I found to be very useful in taking photos at strange angles. The LCD monitor can be adjusted to seven brightness levels and the color can be tinted for better visibility. It automatically brightens and dims depending on the brightness of the environment. I rarely had a problem seeing the monitor, even in bright sunlight.

The LCD monitor also has touch screen ability which can be operated by one’s fingertip or an excellent stylus (included with the camera). The touch screen can be used for selecting menu items as well as focusing. Generally speaking, I wasn’t crazy about using the touch screen. I felt the response time was a bit laggy and the screen icons were not intuitive. I had a much more positive experience with the touch screen in the Sony DSC-TX7, a small but sophisticated Point and Shoot  camera I recently reviewed. However, the G2 does not force the user to rely on the touch screen, as every menu item can be selected by the camera’s many buttons and dials.

The DMC-G2′s speed of operation is very good in most respects. The camera starts up almost instantly and shot-to-shot speed is very quick. I was able to take ten shots in a row, pressing the shutter as fast as I could. However, its auto focus speed is not all that quick compared to a DSLR’s.

The Panasonic Lumix G2 uses a contrast-based AF system rather than the phase detection system used by most DSLR’s, which is often slower. However, compared to similar mirrorless cameras produced by Sony, Samsung and Olympus that also use the contrast system, the G2′s performance is quite good. I used the G2 in various lighting conditions and I found its focus to be very reliable.

The DMC-G2 produces sharp images with excellent white balance and strong, but natural looking color. It can shoot RAW images for those who prefer to post-process rather than leaving relying on the camera’s processor. You can make the camera to shoot two versions of the same image, one JPEG and one RAW.

While outdoor images were consistently, good I had a problem with indoor images. I found the auto white balance function to be inaccurate. For instance, the color of the wall below has a bluish tint, but was more yellow in actuality. I tried different white balance settings but was never able to find one that captured the overall color of the image.

I was impressed with the Panasonic Lumix G2. It’s a solidly-built, well constructed camera. All of the controls work smoothly and very quickly. The camera’s many dedicated buttons mean that you rarely have to consult the menu, something I greatly appreciated. The swiveling LCD is a pleasure to use, as is the high resolution electronic viewfinder.