Last week at CES Panasonic officially unveiled its newest flagship model, the DC-GH5, a video/stills hybrid camera that looks to be an indie filmmaker’s dream. To see just how far we’ve come, for this week’s TBT we decided to take a look back at where it all began: the Panasonic DMC-GH1.
The GH1 was announced way back in March, 2009, a few months after Panasonic’s first mirrorless camera, the G1. The G1 delivered on the promise of a mirrorless ILC system, but despite all its advances it lacked support for video. Fast forward a few months and Panasonic gave us the GH1 – essentially a G1 with video features added.
It’s hard to remember now, but back then there weren’t many ILCs that captured video. The best known was the Canon 5D Mark II, which was famous for its full-frame depth of field and low light capabilities. Although it was based around a smaller Four Thirds sensor, GH1 quickly became a favorite of the video crowd thanks to its compact size, excellent video specs, and (relatively) good codec.
The camera shot 1080/24p as well as 720/60p video. (1080/24p video was actually encapsulated in a 1080/60i wrapper.) 1080/24p was a magic number for video enthusiasts and indie filmmakers, and thanks to the camera’s multi-aspect sensor it was possible to capture a lens’s full angle of view when shooting video in 16:9 format.
Although the camera’s 1080p footage was competitive with other cameras from the era, I can tell you from first-hand experience that it tended to fall apart quickly if the image was too complex or involved a lot of motion, thanks to the 24 Mbps AVCHD codec. On the other hand, 720p footage generally held up much better, and that’s actually how I ended up shooting the camera most of the time.
Of course, one advantage we had back then was that most people weren’t actually viewing content on HDTVs or at 1080 resolution online, so it was a reasonable tradeoff. Heck, I even did a bit of commercial work for a client using the GH1’s 720p footage, and they loved it.
When it came to stills, the GH1’s 12MP photos held up well against APS-C cameras of the time, such as the Canon EOS 500D (Rebel T1i). On the other hand, its performance left a little to be desired: from power on to taking a photo took 1.3 seconds. The camera could manage a respectable 3.3 fps of continuous Raw shooting… up to a total of 4 frames before the buffer filled up.
Perhaps what I really loved most about the GH1, and part of the reason it got so much traction in the market, was the virtually universal lens mount of the Micro Four Thirds system. This was particularly important to videographers and filmmakers as it allowed us to utilize virtually any glass we could lay our hands on with the system, a fact I took full advantage of by attaching all my old Nikkor primes to the camera with adapters. Crazy times, I tell you.
With a launch price of $ 1499 (including the 14-140mm F4.0-5.8 kit lens) the GH1 seemed expensive at the time. In that context, the $ 1999 price for the GH5, which can run rings around the GH1 in its sleep, doesn’t seem too far out of line.
I have a GH1 sitting on my desk as I write this. I may have to charge up the battery and do a shootout against the GH5 as soon as we get it back in.
For a blast from the past, read our full review of the Panasonic GH1
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