Panasonic Lumix GF2 preview

At first glance, sitting all on its lonesome like that, the GF2 might forgivably be perceived as just another mundanely incremental upgrade on what was already a lauded predecessor in the Lumix GF1. But, for once, our pessimism was not borne out by the facts -- far from it. With the GF2, Panasonic has somehow managed to shrink its smallest Micro Four Thirds shooter even further, by a reported 19 percent, and the difference in handling is tangible. The Japanese giant has also lightened the load by seven percent, thrown in a new touchscreen-centric UI, and, predictably, upped the video ante to 720/60p or 1080/60i recording in AVCHD format. Join us after the break to see what we thought of this delicious new recipe for pseudo-pocketable large-sensor shooting.

Please note: Panasonic has not yet finalized the GF2's firmware, meaning that the sample images and video below may not necessarily be indicative of the quality you'll get from the final product.%Gallery-106778%%Gallery-106781%

Whereas the GF1's dimensions sometimes betrayed the fact that it was composed of professional internals downsized to a more portable form factor, the GF2 truly feels like a compact camera, albeit a bulky one. It may seem odd to suggest there's a significant difference between a small pro camera and a large point-and-shoot, but the weight and feel of the GF2 definitely make it easier to handle with just one hand. Its improved ergonomics aren't without compromise, however, as the new GF has dropped the jog dial adorning the top of its elder sibling. We can't yet judge how big a sacrifice that'll be, mostly because we kept the GF2 in its iA fully automatic mode and relegated our own duties to pointing and shooting.

It's worth saying that our sample shots were taken late on an overcast day, yet still the GF2 managed to focus remarkably quickly and generally made the right decisions for us. Startup time is also fabulously fast -- we were able to go from turning the camera on to taking our first shot within about a second -- and the sheer responsiveness of the GF2 makes it a pleasure to operate. The dedicated video button kicks you straight into recording from the moment it's pressed, which makes accessing it an instantaneous and hassle-free affair.

We were taken aback a little by the difficult-to-decipher icons gracing the touchscreen UI when we got into it, but Panasonic has implemented a customizable quick menu where you'll be able to curate your favorite functions and thereby simplify operation. On the whole, we get the feeling that moving to the touchscreen and abandoning the physical dial will make this a less accessible and familiar camera for most, but it also seems that some judicial use of the manual would heal any ailments that arise from this shift. Where the newly responsive 3-inch display really shines is in allowing you to swipe between photos. It requires a firmer touch than your typical smartphone, but it behaved very nicely and there's just something a lot more natural about flicking images with your fingers instead of pushing a button.

The GF2's construction also merits praise, as its aluminum body looks to have been finished to a very high standard, offering us pretty much nothing to criticize. Its pop-up flash jumps open in a satisfyingly aggressive manner and can be retracted manually, while a couple of your standard-issue covers protect output ports and the battery and memory card slots. Speaking of the battery, it has a capacity of 1010mAh, which seems just about right for a device that'll be relying on its LCD for both picture composition and review. In fact, we might have wished for an even bigger cell, but then that might have come at the expenses of the GF2's delightfully streamlined proportions.

The 14mm kit lens is as light as a feather and a little bit smaller than the 20mm pancake unit typically provided with the GF1. We also got our hands on Panasonic's 3D lens (which the GF2 is also compatible with) and it too was light enough to be confused for a component of a toy, rather than semi-pro, camera. Hey, if you can get great image quality from something that doesn't weigh as much as a ripe water melon, more power to you, Panny.

We only tested out the GF2's flash with a couple of shots, but it seemed to handle itself well, illuminating the subject without washing out (too much) detail. Professional users will always be better off with a separate bit of kit, but for use in casual or emergency circumstances, it looks to be more than sufficient.

This is a pretty easy one to summarize, really: Panasonic has ticked the major boxes of reducing bulk and including HD video (at 60fps, no less) while seemingly sacrificing little of what made the GF1 such a richly appealing camera in the first place. Our biggest complaint, therefore, has to do with the GF2's January release date -- it's too far away, dammit!