Phil Peel

Film, video, photography, sound and story

Panasonic Lumix GH2 HDSLR Pros and Cons versus Canon

Posted by Phil On June - 21 - 2011

Canon have so dominated the HDSLR market, that you might be forgiven for thinking that they are the only manufacturer of HDSLRs.

For example today at the Edinburgh Film Festival there was  “an intro to HDSLR Filming”, which was advertised as  “which camera works best for which situation”, but the only camera mentioned was the Canon. 

So why have I bucked the trend and not bought a Canon?  Partly I’m a bit of a rebel. e.g. I’ve gone for an Android Tablet and not the Ipad, partly because  the GH2 was cheaper, but also partly because the GH2 appeared to be more flexible and useable in a wide range of situations. Everybody raves about the look of the shallow depth of field of the 5D mk II, but unless it is used with great skill, the results are lots of out of focus shots.  Certainly  from examples I’ve seen today of hand hold close shots on an moving actor producing focus that shift from nose to left eye to right eye the back of the head. So though shallow depth of field is very cinematic,  for drama with actors  …who have a habit of moving …and not necessarily hitting their marks, then this can make shooting very difficult.       

I researched the market very carefully, before I bought the GH2. This was my second DSLR.  I have been using a Pentax K7 for a couple of years, shot several music videos and a drama on it, so I was aware of the limitations of the conventional DSLR configuration. ( I went for the Pentax as I still have about 6 Pentax 35mm cameras completed with a variety of prime lenses.) looked carefully before I bought.

Partly it was the price. I got the GH2 and 14 to 140 lens for about £1000, but it was also for what it did that the Canon couldn’t.

Anyway I’ve had the Panasonic GH2 DSLR for 2 months now. I’ve shot a number of interviews, a music video, a live concert, and about 10 days of  drama documentary filming .  I’m about to shoot a 30 minute drama with it.

So how have I got on with it?

It been very good.

The flip out screen is so, so useful. High shots or low are easy.  The conventional screen on the back on the camera  is very limiting. I had previously often found myself with cheek pressed to the earth to get a low angle shot, or straining to see the back of the camera as I hald it up high.

Whereas the flip out screen on the GH2 is a joy. 


Being able to use the electronic viewfinder is also so much better than using an add-on loupe finder.  The image is so good that I’m really hardly aware that it’s  an electronic image.

The camera also senses whether you are looking thought the EFV and switches off the back screen as your eye comes close.

phil -cu with camera

This work really well especially in bright light and enables me to use the traditional photographer’s way of shooting with the camera pressed close to the face and arms locked in for stability. Though quite why I’m looking through my glasses in this shot, I don’t know as I had corrected the viewfinder for my eyesight.

The autofocus is superb and fast. It has facial recognition and will follow focus on faces. OK it’s not perfect and will sometime lose the plot and decide to go way out of focus before regaining focus again. But if you’re shooting music or drama, then you can always shoot it again. It is of course fantastic for jib shots, as you can monitor the output on a HD monitor.

The back screen also has touch screen focusing. So you can tap on one part of the screen and shift focus to that zone.  It’s a bit harsh and it’s not going to put a good follow focus  puller out of a job. But it’s very useful if your working single handed. I have a follow focus rig which I can use with it if I want.   But it’s  fiddle to put on and if you’re trying to work fast and discreetly then the touch screen is great.

The GH2 also has full quality HDMI out, whilst filming, so you can run it onto a small or large external monitor. 

The lens extender is amazing. I have allocated this to one of the preset buttons as I use it so frequently.  What this does is to shift the recorded output, so it is only coming from the centre of the sensor. THERE IS NO DROP IN QUALITY, unlike normal digital range extenders, so this means that with the 14 to 140 kit lens, it becomes the equivalent of about a 600 mm lens, which you can hand hold, ( with care) as it has electronic image stabilisation.  This gives the most extraordinary beautiful compressed perspective shots. 

e.g couple talking on a wet street. You can be filming from 50 feet away and be on close up.  It looks fabulous.

The sound isn’t bad. You can plug in a mike, but there’s no headphone monitoring, so I don’t trust it. There is at least, audio levels meters in the viewfinder.  But I’ve used a separate Zoom H4N and then synched up afterwards. When I forgot to run the H4N once, the recording  from the on board stereo camera mikes was usable. Not great as it was too far away, but useable.

There seem to be adaptors for any type of lens. And using the lens extender you can even use 16mm or 2/3 videos lenses. So it looks like it can actually take anything you want to hang on it.  I even used some lenses from the old Pentax 110 camera.

Unlike the Canon it will record for ever. Well actually 29mins 59 seconds.  This is set into the camera as any longer in Europe and it will be classed as a video recorder and be taxed higher.

The controls are good, the menus pretty clear and quick to get at with the quick menu button. Apart however for the Autofocus switch which has MF (manual) AFC ( auto focus continuious) & AFS (autofocus single). plus another auto focus switch buried in a menu.

This switch apparenly only works in stills mode and it is very confusing how this affects focussing during filming.  I have found the answer after much testing. and If I get a moment I’ll write it out.  It’s a shame that they’ve made it so unclear.

Ther body is also  horribly plastic and feels very cheap after the superb build quality of the Pentax K7.  I find the hand grip a bit too small …and I have small hands, so this will be worse for big guys  ..or gals. :’-)

It does 24p but not 25p .   Why?  but you can shoot 720 p at 50 fps and then replay at 25 for slow mo.  So that’s useful though I haven’t used it yet.

So all in all I’ve found it very, very good.  I now feel confident to use it for a major shoot.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

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