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The Panasonic GF2 is being billed as the smallest, lightest interchangeable lens system camera and has only recently been released. This camera comes under the umbrella of a micro four thirds camera - that is to say it's not a compact, bridge or SLR. It has interchangeable lenses like an SLR, but they are a different mount and the sensor onto which the image is recorded is smaller than an SLR but far bigger than a compact.
Quick specification list:
12 mega pixels
1080 HD movie
No viewfinder as standard
Lithium ion battery
One of the main differences with this camera over the GF1 is the touch screen element and to be honest I'm not keen on it - you have to be quite firm with it and it quite often fails to react, which is of course frustrating and no good from the aspect of shooting at speed. Furthermore it isn't at all intuitive and you'll have to look at the manual to work out what many of the symbols mean as they are very ambiguous. A good example of this is the quality settings shooting in RAW+jpeg fine is indicated by a button on the LCD showing the word RAW, an arrow pointing downwards and 6 boxes.
Using the background blur (DOF, changing the F number) is done on the touch screen by using a slide function on the LCD - if you look at the front of the lens whilst doing this you can see the effect it has on the lens iris (opening it and closing it down) however this is annoyingly loud, creating a grating noise and it isn't very smooth. Luckily there are still a lot of buttons on the camera and most of these can be used to make adjustments instead of the LCD.
Near the top right of the camera is a small scroll wheel which can be used to change the settings when in the manual shooting mode - switching between the aperture and shutter adjustments when shooting on full manual is easily done by pushing the scroll wheel inwards slightly. This wouldn't necessarily be obvious to anyone who is relatively new to more in depth photography, but shouldn't be too hard for someone used to modern digital cameras to work out.
The built in flash is located on the top left of the camera - this can be forced up with a press of the button or will come up when necessary if the camera is left on an automatic shoot mode. The hinge mechanism on which the flash sits feels incredibly flimsy to me and I'd be very wary about breaking it.
On top of the camera is a one touch record button which is red - this is very handy to go straight from photos to movie without having to fiddle with lots of different settings. Not only this but the movie quality is very good - there is virtually no white noise and the microphones pick up an impressive level of sound, which is very clear. The colours are also good, the autofocus is quick to adjust and very accurate.
The image quality is also very good - colour rendition and contrast are accurate, as is the auto white balance setting. The ISO is adjustable up to 6400 ISO, however as can be expected, it is very noisy at this level - I'd say it's usable up to 400/800 depending on personal taste.
The LCD does not always give an accurate representation of what the image will look like once you've pressed the shutter - this is particularly true when using high ISO's as the LCD maintains a crisp, bright look, whereas the image you get will invariably be darker and noisier.
The playback button can be slow to respond ie. several seconds to switch between shoot mode and image review. When looking at the photos you've taken you can zoom in on them and this is done by tapping on the screen - again this is very fiddly and doesn't always work. Deleting images on the other hand is very quick and simple through the use of physical buttons on the back of the camera.
Apart from the flimsy flash, the body of the camera feels very solid and well made. I'll agree with Panasonic in that it's very small, however it does feel a lot heavier than I was expecting for the size. However if size is what is attracting you to this camera then I would think very carefully about as it's only as small as what you put on it. Apart from the 14mm pancake lens, all zoom lens will significantly increase the size of the camera, not to mention the optional viewfinder which is quite large and sits on the hot shoe.
Battery life is reasonble and gives roughly 150 photos per charge although this does of course depend on conditions eg. very cold weather will reduce battery life, how long you spend composing each shot will be another variable. The lack of a view finder and dependancy on the LCD does drain the battery life far faster than if you were using a viewfinder to shoot through on an SLR and this is a big downside for me.
Packaged in the box (aside from battery and charger etc.) is a CD containing software/full manual and a USB cable, which are standard contents for most new cameras. The USB type does vary dependant on camera though so if you have some already, they won't necessarily fit this camera. The software is easy to upload to your computer (it's also MAC compatible) and makes image transfer very simple, however many people don't like to clog up their computer with lots of different software and you don't have to use the Panasonic software provided to transfer files from the camera - if you simply hook it up to the computer via the USB you will be able to transfer the photos using the basic software provided on your computer. That said if you're shooting in RAW, then the Windows software will be able to detect but not open this file type, so using the dedicated software will be more appropriate for this unless you have photoshop or similar. Futhermore for those who aren't especially technically minded it will be more simple to use the software provided as it has been specifically made with this camera in mind. The software will allow for basic editing (colour adjustments etc) which is quick and easy to do (user friendly), but if you want to do anything sophisticated or extensive such as spot removal, or swapping backgrounds then you'll be better off which dedicated software such as photoshop or paintshop pro.
This camera with the 14-42mm lens can be bought for around £500. Additional lenses can be quite expensive depending on which one you go for eg. if you want a telephoto then the 100-300mm will set you back another £500 and the viewfinder is £180. When you compare this to an entry level SLR with and 18-55mm kit lens and and similar lens (non image stabilised Sigma 70-300mm £140, image stabilised version £330) you can see that the GF2 is very expensive. So why would you buy the GF2 instead of an SLR? Well I'm struggling to think of a good reason - with a viewfinder and larger lens attached it isn't that much smaller than an entry level SLR, although image quality and movie mode are good, most SLR's will be better due to the larger sensor. Not only that but the accessories for the GF2 are generally more expensive than those for SLR's, there are less available accessories and you don't have as much room for 'photographic growth' by which I mean if you get seriously into photography, it probably won't take you too long to reach the limits of this specific camera and the system type.
All things considered I am giving this camera 3 out of 5 - I like the results it gives, but I can't help feeling it's gimmicky and over priced for what it is.