Panasonic’s second Micro Four Thirds claims to be responsive on the street. Let’s find out.
Clearly, the G1 not a Leica wannabe. Unlike so many small retro cameras being introduced this year, the Panasonic GH1 is very much of the digital world, and does not claim to be a “street” camera. But here's the irony: In reviewing the GH1, I felt it had the potential to outperform many recently-introduced cameras that have the street-camera look but not the guts or responsiveness. Why? Virtually no lag time, an essential ingredient for a street-smart camera.
With that in mind (and knowing that its sister camera, the G1, turned in a stellar street performance when I put it through its paces a few months abo), I took the GH1 into the streets of Manhattan and shot on the streets under heavy overcast skies which forced me to shoot at lower shutter speeds and higher ISOs than I prefer. But that’s the real world. How did the GH1 do?
Here’s what I learned.
Also read: Product Review: Panasonic Lumix GH1
Slide Show: Stress Test photos shot with the Panasonic GH1
Controls are generally well placed, except for the video button, which is clumsily placed on the thumb rest. Guess what? My thumb rested on it, inadvertently activating video recording when I didn’t want it to. Fortunately, you can disable this button, which I did.
Manual focus requires a significant turn of the wrist, and the magnified center area is necessary since you can’t really tell if the image is in focus if you’re viewing it full-sized either on the LCD monitor or in the EVF. This is an awkward setup, and I found myself relying on the AF, which was very fast, silent, and accurate about 70-80 percent of the time in the subdued light.
Due to the low light conditions on the day that I Street-Tested the GH1, I shot exclusively at ISO 800. Even with that, my exposures ranged in the 1/200-1/360 range at f/4-5.6. Even so, I was able to make some pretty good-looking 8x10-inch prints and while some digital noise was present, it was not objectionable when shooting in JPEG. (Other photos, shot in non-street photo conditions, showed excellent image quality at ISO 640 and below.)
Color was generally accurate, even when scenes were lit by street lights.
Here’s where the GH1 excells on the street: When set on the Q-AF mode, autofocus is silent and decisive in moderate daylight and lighter. It is a tad slower in lower light. Under optimal conditions, there is virtually no shutter lag—even when using autofocus! I was able to capture fast-changing scenes and swift subjects without any processing time getting in my way. An excellent performance.
As long as you turn off the thumb rest Video button, and shoot primarily using autofocus, the GH1 is very acceptable for street photography. It is fairly unobtrusive (in fact, it’s smaller than a Leica M camera), it has a quick shutter with virtually no lag time—and it shoots HD Videos. Based on its quick performance on the street, I think both the GH1 and the G1 would also be excellent choices for sports photography, photographing children, pets, and other fast-moving subjects.
Stress Test grade: B+