Panasonic GH2 revealed – 40fps continuous shooting rate and 1080/60p

Above – the Panasonic GH2, the speed demon! Image source (actual GH2) – 43rumors.com

First as always, 43rumors.com today had the scoop on the Panasonic GH2 specs ahead of it’s official unveiling at Photokina on the 21st September. Visually, it looks like a G2 with a better hand grip and ‘FullHD’ logo.

Inside, things are more innovative. Panasonic’s new camera appears to focus on speed.

Allegedly the camera over-cranks to full HD in 60p like the AF100 – that’s 60 frames per second on the sensor. It is stored in an AVCHD friendly 60i format, but once de-interlaced can be played back progressive.

The need for speed doesn’t stop there, we have a 40fps continuous shooting rate which may mimic a virtual global shutter without rolling shutter skew, because there is no way the mechanical shutter will fire that fast.

Although the 40fps is at reduced resolution, if this delivers 1920×1080 (around 2K, or 1.9MP), obviously that would make sense. But there is a high probability it could pump out more resolution. That means the GH2 has the potential to be hacked into a 4K video camera, as long as heat issues don’t arise.

This feature is extremely interesting for me, not least of all because if Panasonic are going to offer this mode for stills, no way would it be acceptable to have rolling shutter skew and aliasing, with a huge resolution loss. They surely must have found a way to scale the image perfectly in stills mode to get nice looking photos at a rate of 40fps. It would be unacceptable to have such poor resolution and aliasing in stills mode on a DSLR at 40fps. We’re put up with it on DSLR video modes until now, because we accept they’re primarily consumer stills cameras. For how long this continuous shooting rate can be sustained though, is anyone’s guess until the 21st September.

Of course there is always a chance that the 40fps continuous shooting burst rate produces low resolution 1080p video frames with rolling shutter and moire, but would Panasonic’s customer’s put up with that in stills mode? I don’t think so.

Now this in turn reflects quite nicely on the video mode. If Panasonic apply the same scaling and virtual global shutter to the video mode, we’d have very nice 1080p frames indeed. We’re talking a huge jump up in image quality, way beyond what a mere high bit rate patch can do.

There are still as many questions as there are answers! I am looking forward to the official announcement on the 21st September now more than ever.

In terms of the 60p full HD video mode, how certain are 43rumors that the GH2 has real 1080/60p output, and that is it is not just 24p wrapped in a 60i wrapper like on the GH1?

What concerns 43rumors Guy right now is that their reliable source gave them the codec format 1080/60i, 24Mbit AVCHD – that’s all. No further explanation, regarding the sensor’s output. Further sources (new sources) say that it’s real 60p. That’s yet to be confirmed. But there are some intriguing pointers to real 60p on the GH2. The consumer AVCHD spec tops out at 25p in 1080p mode, lacking support for 1080/60P. Even the AF100 only plays back it’s over-cranked 60p mode at 24fps in AVCHD.

So for the purposes of discussion and facing up to the future let’s assume the sensor does over-crank to 60p in 1080p mode like the AF100 but stores it in a TV friendly 60i AVCHD format. As we’re about to see the GH2 does have other major speed increases and a new 3 core processor – the first of it’s kind in any digital camera.

First, 60p will be great for slow-motion, we now do not have to switch to 720p mode – the choice is always there in post. Also 60p can be converted nicely to 24p. So it’s much superior than the inflexible hell of shooting at 30p.

It does however raise some questions. First, the minimum shutter speed must raise from 1/30 in 24p mode on the GH1 to 1/60 on the NTSC GH2 and 1/50 on the PAL model. On the GH1, should you shoot 1/30 in 60p mode you end up with 30p instead (it’s termed a 360 degree shutter). Not good. With the higher shutter speeds required for true 60p, low light performance will take a bit of a hit. What of 24p? Has Panasonic consigned it to history? We don’t yet know the answer as to whether it is there as an option or whether it is still default in 1080p mode. And no news yet on the 720p mode frame rates and whether it can switch between PAL and NTSC regions. I hated the language and region lock down on the Japanese GH1. Canon don’t do it, I think it’s wrong. Again, all these answers and more will come at Photokina, first on EOSHD.com and 43rumors.com.

More good news is that the much maligned AVCHD bit rate is not up to 24Mbps – the maximum allowed within the consumer AVCHD spec. It’s not 44Mbit but nor does it need to be – this is GOOD news, and higher than Sony allowed on their crippled consumer cameras. It needs be pointed out that although a high bit rate like 44Mbit or even 86Mbit does remove compression artefacts and smudged detail from the image it is not the be all and end all of specifications. More important is how well the AVCHD codec is implemented and what kind of processing oomph it has behind it. On the GH1 it didn’t have enough, it was a hellishly confusing bug in the firmware and we are still not sure what Panasonic were thinking. But for the GH2, Panasonic have increased the LSI (image processor, CPU) to a 3 core unit. I am not sure if Canon use a dual core image processor, and a 3rd CPU for more general stuff or if they only have one dual core processor to handle everything. It appears that Panasonic have everything on one chip – the LSI, and in the GH1 it was a dual core CPU. The new Venus Engine 2 HD chip could be the first ever 3 core image processor in a digital camera – ever – or it could just be similar to Digic 4 in the Canon 7D, with it’s dual core image processor and 3rd general task CPU.

If this new LSI allows the image to be scaled better from the full 18MP sensor down to 1080p, we’re in for a HUGE increase in image quality, much more so than a mere bit rate increase is capable of smoothing over. We’re talking huge resolution gains, because current DSLRs most only have a real resolution of 720p in 1080p mode, and very un-clean (quick and dirty) image scaling methods.

Here are the specs in full:

• 18 megapixels multi-aspect sensor (16 effective megapixels)
• ISO 100 – 12.800 *
• 1080i60 24Mbit/s AVCHD video recording **
• Venus Engine HD 2, an LSI with three cores
• Improved AF speed (0.099 second with the 14-140mm kit-lens ***)
• High-speed burst shooting of 5 fps with 16 MP
• Super high-speed burst shooting of 40 fps (lower resolution)
• Touch screen LCD
• Official announcement due on first day of Photokina, 21st September 2010

* Not known if higher ISOs see reduction in resolution
** Not known if sensor output is 60p, 24p or dreaded 30p! Also 720p frame rates not yet known.
*** Sadly no 12-75mm F2.5-3.3 kit lens. This is still under development for a later date.

So here we are just over 1 year on from the original Panasonic GH1. It appears Panasonic have kept innovating, but eased slightly off the throttle and turned away from the highway marked Pro.

What I would have liked to have seen is not for such an innovative camera to appease normal consumers, with a touch screen, a cheap plastic body, and looks almost identical to the G2 other than for a new faux leather hand grip.

The GH2 should have had a magnesium alloy chassis, and clearly global shutter was not developed in time – instead we have the virtual one and it is doubtful whether this even exists! Surely the 60p and 40fps burst rate would suggest that it exists, otherwise – have fun with rolling shutter skew in continuous shooting mode!

I’d also like a higher resolution screen – this may have to wait until next week too, but I expect it to be very similar to the G2.

In terms of the sensor, it is also a mixed bag and quite confusing. Panasonic claim the all important ISO noise is reduced to the extent of 1 stop, so IS0 1600 should be as clean as 800 is on the GH1. This is not a big enough step forward, and it is all down to the ridiculous megapixel race to 18MP on a Micro 4/3rds sized sensor. Panasonic needed to peg it back at 12 or even 10 to beat Canon for low noise on their larger APS-C format DSLRs. They missed that opportunity, thinking that customers still demand more megapixels, when in actually fact high ISOs and low noise are the new ‘megapixels’!

It will be interesting to see what concessions to video we have on the touch screen too – will Panasonic have taken the time to develop cool video enhancing controls, like programmable follow focuses or will it just be a reheated version of the G2’s touch screen? You know the answer…

Panasonic are struggling greatly with G2 sales, and the GH1 was no great seller. But with every new so-so consumer mirrorless, the demand grows for a proper professional mirrorless video DSLR. The GH2 could have been it, could still be it – but we will know for sure at Photokina.