This week Panasonic announced a widely anticipated upgrade to the G1 Micro Fourth Thirds SLR. This new version (the G1 remains in the line) allows the GH1 to capture HD video as well as working as a more traditional still photography camera.
As background, in case you missed it, Panasonic launched a new SLR standard called Micro Fourth Thirds (almost poetic, isn't it?). Panasonic wanted to address the conceptual errors in the earlier Olympus-initiated Four Thirds open SLR standard that prevented it from realizing the goal of making SLRs that are noticeably smaller than we're used to. Panasonic's first Micro Four Thirds camera, the G1, debuted in November of 2008. You can read our report on it here: http://www.avguide.com/blog/thoughts-the-best-digital-cameras-part-5
Just before the G1 arrived, Canon (EOS 5D Mk II) and Nikon (N90) announced SLRs with HD video capability. Prior to that, Casio (EX-F1) had been the recognized pioneer of HD video in digicams, though many digicams can now do 720p video.
This week, Panasonic announced the DMC-GH1, which is sort of a G1 with video. I say "sort of" because, to me, the 5D Mk II and N90 are SLRs with some video capability tacked on. The video capability in these SLRs is somewhat clumsy, which is typical when a feature is grafted on to an existing design.
What do I mean by clumsy? Well, take the optical viewfinder. In the traditional SLRs with video, the viewfinder is blacked out while you are shooting video. That's because the mirror has to be up so the camera can register the image. Since the Panasonic doesn't have a mirror (it uses an electronic viewfinder fed by the sensor), the GH1 doesn't have this problem.
The traditional SLRs with video also don't allow continuous autofocus. That's because their focus systems rely on separate sensors in the prism area. Thus, the mirror must be down for the camera to focus. So, basically, with these cameras, you focus (AF or MF), then begin shooting video and from then on you're stuck with the original focus point. The GH1 can, on the other hand, focus continuously. That's because it doesn't have a mirror and uses the main sensor for focus.
Panasonic also announced a 14-140mm (28-280 in 35mm terms) lens designed for continuous AF and quiet AF.
The GH1 is also well designed for audio. It has a built in stereo mic, with an optional directional stereo mic available for hot shoe mounting.
Finally, Panasonic created a new sensor for the GH1. It is a 14Mp sensor, that delivers up to 12Mp effective resolution. Why the big difference? Because Panasonic made the sensor bigger so that 16:9, 3:2, 4:3 and 1:1 aspect ratios could be delivered at pretty high resolution. 4:3 gives 12Mp, 16:9 gives 10.7Mp and 1:1 gives 8.9Mp. The nice thing about seletable aspect ratios is that you will be shooting video in 16:9 and you can shoot stills in that aspect ratio too so that they can be mixed in one creative group without cropping.
This is a nice camera, with a growing list of lenses (though nothing like Canon or Nikon or even Sony). As we've said before, Panasonic is on a roll. The full press release for the Panasonic DMC-GH1 is here: http://www.avguide.com/article/panasonic-introduces-lumix-gh1-micro-four...