Initial thoughts on the GF2 announcement

— November, 2010

If this is your first time visiting — hello! — consider reading my GF1 Fieldtest review for some context.

Update: Here's a promo video for the GF2:

We’ve been waiting a while for this. And by 'we' I mean the legions of obsessive GF1 devotees.

Before considering the GF2 announcement, let’s remember what we love about the GF1:

  • great RAW photos in a compact package
  • super simple, always accessible manual controls
  • amazing battery life
  • a beautiful and fast prime kit lens

And remember where it was lacking:

  • no 1080p HD video
  • mono-mic
  • ISO speeds above 400 excessively noisy
  • LCD almost impossible to use in direct sunlight

So, with these points in mind, it was with some excitement and trepidation I read the reports on the GF2 announcement in Paris.

In my opinion, the GF1 is a phenomenal camera. It’s stylish, always with you, unburdensome and the quality of output is outstanding. I rarely shoot video so the lack of 1080p and a stereo mic don't bother me. I would love better ISO performance but the noise reduction algorithms in Lightroom 3 have alleviated some of this issue. And the LCD in bright sunlight, well, I’ve learned to live and shoot on intuition.

The most striking change in the GF2 seems to be the touch sensitive LCD — to which they’ve moved most of the external controls. The end result is a very minimal camera surface. Personally, I dig the new minimalist styling — the lines are incredibly clean. Just look at the sexy curves on the front panel up above. It does, sadly, have the side effect of making the camera appear more 'digital.' There's something about an analog knob on the top of a camera body that screams vintage. Still, aside from the thumb knob (aperture / shutter speed), ISO and auto exposure lock toggle, I almost never manipulate any other buttons or switches on the GF1. That many of the other functions now live in the LCD will bother many, but if you gave me a GF2 today, I don’t think my shooting style would change.

I think DPReview sums it up best here:

“The camera may have slimmed down and lost many external controls, but thankfully the features list has scarcely been trimmed at all. The net result is a camera that's simpler and less intimidating for newcomers, but also one that's less likely to appeal to more advanced users.” — DP Review

Truth be told, the GF1 was never really meant to be a manly — or expert targeted — camera. In Japan, it is almost always marketed directly to women as a fun way to take nice photos. The colors, models and sample photographs at electronics stores in Tokyo targeted playful, bashful, creative, photo-curious women. Panasonic didn't seem too pressed to appeal to the deconstructionist, let’s-throw-a-retro-lens-on-this-thing and hike in Nepal guys. And anyway, I seem to have done all the marketing to that group for them.

So in that context, many of the changes make good sense. The GF2 is now even less intimidating than the GF1, with the same high quality output.

Reports indicate the GF2 body is now 19% smaller and 7% lighter than the GF1. If the functionality remains largely the same, then this is great news for us travelers looking for an even lighter kit.

It seems the LCD has been coated for a better daylight shooting experience. And if you care about video, it now shoots 60fps at 1080p. One large downside, in my opinion, is the reduction in battery capacity to 7.3Wh from 9Wh. I love that I can take my GF1 on a trip and almost never worry about charging. I hope the GF2 carries with it the same experience.

All things considered, it looks like a sensible update to a great camera — a realignment, if you will. Many will undoubtably lament the touchscreen LCD and removal of external controls, but it’s hard to say definitively if these changes are positive or negative until we spend some time with the body. I think our biggest fear is that these are simply changes for the sake of marketing and not changes for the sake of improved experience.

If Panasonic is going to go the simplicity route, my main gripe with the GF2 would be that it’s not even simpler. My dream camera is something whittled down to the essence of an M9, but in a smaller package and at 1/10 of the price. The GF1 was the closest we’ve gotten thus far, and while the GF2 has simplified things, it’s not simplicity in the direction I was hoping for.

If you don't shoot video, the purchase might be hard to justify (but then again, when have us camera geeks ever needed a rational reason to justify a purchase?). I'm curious to see if ISO performance has improved. And lighter and smaller is a great bonus, especially if it doesn't come at the sacrifice of build quality or user experience (after all, something can be too small and too light).

Regardless, I’m very much looking forward to taking the GF2 out somewhere — Tibet? Morocco? — and see what it can do.

For now, the GF1 is doing just fine.


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