It only took one morning, but I fell in love with the GH1. From the moment I saw this camera at PMA, I knew it was going to be something special.
I had a chance to play with pre-production models and was impressed. So when it became available for sale in the US I made sure I had one of the first shipping models.
Let me begin with saying that I am only reviewing this camera based on its video capability. While I have shot a few still frames with it, and they are just fine, I am very happy with my D3 bodies and wouldn’t think of replacing them with a 4/3rds camera for still work. Of course, just as I’ve shot and published photos made with my LX3, I would in a pinch, shoot the GH1 in still mode if it’s the only camera I had available and I am sure I’d be happy with the results as long as I wasn’t required to do any high ISO shooting.
As a video camera though, well that’s where this puppy gets promoted to first string on my team. I can’t say enough about the video performance of the GH1. If you know how to properly set it up and use it, the results are simply amazing.
I won’t recite all the specs here. There are already plenty of online reviews that do that for you. Instead, I’ll simply recite my experience with the camera and let you know what I think of it in real world situations.
The camera is small, but not TOO small. It’s slightly larger than a Canon G10. The lens feels heavier than the camera. The ergonomics are great with two exceptions – I find it hard sometimes to remember to click the dial that serves as both the shutter speed and aperture set. You click it to switch between the two and it’s inconvenient. I wish there were an automatic zoom rocker switch. I find manually zooming to be difficult. Otherwise, the layout is easy and convenient.
There’s a start/stop button for video capture on the back of the camera or you can achieve the same thing by clicking the shutter button.
The LCD is bright and crisp. I love the way it articulates and rotates. No more bending over in an uncomfortable position just to see through the viewfinder. Speaking of the viewfinder, I was skeptical about the electronic view finder (EVF) but it works. It’s bright and clear and I don’t mind it a bit. The viewfinder offers one very cool feature. When you put your eye to the viewfinder, the LCD screen goes blank, saving power. When you take your eye away from the viewfinder, the LCD turns back on.
The kit lens autofocuses well for a contrast-based AF system. In fact, it’s the best I’ve seen in this type of camera. It even offers real-time autofocus while shooting video. The face tracking works pretty well too. You’re not going to get the kind of AF performance you get in a standards DSLR, but you’ll be happy with the results if you’re remotely reasonable with your expectations.
I should also mention that the optical stabilization featured on the 14-140mm kit lens works very well. I found between two and three stops of correction using OS. OS should be turned off when the GH1 is used on a tripod.
Another cool feature in the GH1 is the live histogram. It’s very important to keep an eye on this when you’re recording video. The power you have to fix files in post is pretty much non-existent so get it right to begin with.
And now for one of my favorite features. When you switch to manual focus and grab the focus ring, the camera automatically displays an enlarged version of what it thinks is the main subject of the focus to help you aid in establishing manual focus. You can change the size of this enlarged image as well as the location where it comes from. As soon as you touch the shutter button, the display reverts to normal view. This makes manual focus a breeze. It’s one of the neatest things I’ve seen on any camera.
The GH1 offers a built-in stereo mic but its location right on top of the camera leaves it useless to me. I prefer to use a pro mic anyway so this is no big deal as far as I am concerned. The GH1 offers a sub-mini stereo mike input. I wish it were a standard 3.5 mini plug but I’ll take what I can get. Audio recorded via a shotgun mic sounded very good. There is no way to control gain, which bothers me, but you can adapt by attaching a Beachtec audio adapter with mixer to overcome this problem.
Video FIle Conversion
Like many of the other combo cams and even some dedicated camcorders, the GH1 uses AVCHD files to deliver high definition video. This allows very high quality by compressing files so that they are more easily managed. You have to convert this file into Pro Res or Pro Res HQ to work with it in programs like Final Cut Pro or iMovie.
Several of the forums suggest NeoScene to convert the GH1 1080/P24 files into .MOV files. I found the program buggy. It crashed and hung regularly so I opted for the less expensive but more reliable VoltaicHD.
But hold on – the motion JPEG files at 720p are so darned good that I don’t know why people wouldn’t simply skip this step. Most “HD” television is delivered at 720p and this camera’s 720p video quality is simply as good as any I have ever seen from a combo cam – period.
While judging video quality involves mere opinion, I’m convinced this camera can more than keep up with a Canon 5DMK II in the video category. I find the ISO 800 performance for video to be good and 1600 to be acceptable. Judging the video quality in the blacks there seems to be more detail and less noise in GH1 video than 5DMK II video.
I do wish the GH1 offered built-in neutral density filters. Several times I couldn’t get the camera to shoot good video because I was in conditions that were simply too bright. I’m ordering a variable ND filter to test with the GH1 which should eliminate that issue.
There’s no perfect camera – but if you want a combocam, this one is a very solid choice and so far, my favorite when compared against the Nikon D300S, the Canon 5D MK II and the Nikon D90. At $1500, it may seem expensive, but the kit lens is no slouch. It’s a very good 10x zoom that will provide great coverage in most situations.