The GF2 (bottom) is noticeably smaller than its GF1 sibling

You may have seen that the Panasonic GF3 has been just launched (after many leaks), but this means that the Panasonic GF2 (which shipped in Feb 2011) price might take a dive ($499 street price – today). I just happen to have one at the office today, and as a GF1 user, I thought that I would give you my take on it.

The Panasonic GF2 is perceptibly smaller than the GF1, first because the body itself is smaller, but also because this unit came with a 14mm lens that’s even smaller than the 20mm “pancake” lens that I have on the GF1. The more compact size is great – that’s the reason why most people get a “GF” camera to start with. It has this quality/size ratio that is very attractive.Despite its smaller size, the GF2 performs better than its older GF1 sibling in some ways: it can record 1080p movies, with stereo audio (thanks to the Left+Right microphones). If also supports Panasonic’s 3D lens, if you are attracted by the technology. I played with it at CEATEC 2010, and we even gave an award to Panasonic for it.


Panasonic tries to make it more mainstream by removing as many buttons as possible

On the back and at the top, you will notice that there are slightly fewer buttons/controls on the GF2 (right). On the other hand, it has a touch-display that is convenient for some operations, like selecting things. But although the touch screen is cool, it’s no panacea: I still very much prefer the buttons for speed.


The touch interface lets users "show" the camera where to focus

At this point, the touch interface is slower than your average smartphone, and it’s not really as fancy as Android or iOS. I mean that this could, and hopefully will, be much improved in the future. For my personal use, my first impression was: “gosh, I want those buttons back”. However, after a little bit of time, I got used to it and became much more proficient at manipulating the options.

So, why did Panasonic do it? First of all, you have to understand that Panasonic wants to push the GF Series, and micro 4/3 in general, deep into mainstream territory. Having fewer buttons, and a touch interface means that novice users won’t be (or should not be) scared by a “pro-looking” interface. The GF3 takes that even further, and has even fewer buttons than the GF2!

The GF1 was more of an “enthusiast” camera. This means that the company expects most people to use the GF2 as a “super” point and shoot. To be honest, that’s what I’m doing most of the time, and it works great. On occasions, I have to tweak things, but that’s only in difficult lighting situations. Most of the time, having a “fast” lens with a big aperture (f1.8 or so) takes care of it.

That’s great, but you should know that some features are gone too: there is no remote release socket, no flash exposure compensation , no 2nd curtain sync and the battery capacity is smaller (7.3Wh, versus 9Wh).

One thing that I would like changed: Panasonic should start using a standard micro-USB port for both data exchange, and charging. I’m perfectly OK with a slower charge over USB, but in my view, any small electronic device should be USB-rechargeable. If Panasonic was to do that, the camera would not require an external charger (it could be optional), making it cheaper and more convenient.

Of course, if you seek an small interchangeable-lens camera, you should also look at the Sony Alpha NEX or the Olympus E-PL2. Competitors are most definitely worth looking at, but don’t miss the Panasonic GF3 which was just announced, but will ship only in July.

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