Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

I've been shooting with the Panasonic Lumix GH2 for the last week or so. It's been an interesting experience to say the least, and has started me thinking about the future of mirrorless cameras. Can they eventually usurp the dSLR?

Watch this space. Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing my thoughts on the camera. But this won't be a brick wall and test charts kind of evaluation. This is about taking photos and finding the right tool to do so.

Pictured here is the Panasonic GH2 20mm F1.7 and Pentax K-x 40mm F2.8 Limited. The Pentax is currently one of the smallest dSLRs, made smaller still with the DA40 F2.8 Limited lens, the smallest pancake in Pentax's arsenal. Together they make a potent street and available light package - focus is fast, the shutter equally responsive (4.7 FPS), and you can take good clear images at 3200ISO, 6400ISO in a pinch. Built-in Image Stabilization adds a stop or two to boot.

Smaller still is the Panasonic GH2 when paired with the 20m F1.7 lens. Is it a lot smaller? No? Is the difference big enough to make a difference? Yes. I can, for example, stuff the GH2 in an oversized coat pocket or the slash pocket of a messenger bag. The K-x is just a hair too big for either. The Panasonic is shaping up to be a potent street and available light package as well. The contrast AF feels just as fast as the K-x, as does the FPS. ISO1600 seems to be at the camera's limits; ISO3200 is only for desperation, ISO6400 more or less unusable, and ISO12,800 is purely for Panasonic's marketing department to put in brochures.

So when you look at the numbers, it ends up pretty close. The K-x gains a stop with higher ISO. The GH2 gets it back with the faster lens (ignore for now the difference between effective focal lengths - they're both normals, even if they are at opposite ends of the range). The K-x gains a stop or two with built-in image stabilization. But the GH2 has a focus assist lamp to help with low light AF and what is the best MF assist that I've tried. A press of the rear wheel give you a magnified view in either the rear screen or electronic viewfinder. You can then MF perfectly. Another press gets you back to normal magnification. Simple. Brilliant.

The Panasonic is a much more expensive camera of course - Google Shopping puts the GH2 with the 20 F1.7 at around $1300 while the K-x plus DA40 F2.8 Limited is about $900. That extra cost does get you extra features, including a nice flip-twist rear screen and benchmark 1080p dSLR video. The K-x on the other hand has a poor implementation of Live View and ok but not great 720p 25fps video. One step up is the K-r, which improves on the K-x's AF and some other features but has a similarly-performing sensor.

But enough about price. The knock against M43 cameras up to now has been that they simply can't perform as well as a dSLR - APS-C or Full Frame. I'll be looking at that closely in the next weeks, and hope to answer the question - is M43 ready for prime time?

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