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Panasonic Lumix GX9 Review

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Panasonic is feeling pretty bullish. The total size of the interchangeable-lens camera market might be down to 95% of last year’s figures, but that includes declining DSLR sales; Panasonic says the market for mirrorless cameras has actually increased 135% on last year. This includes 181% growth for the Panasonic Lumix G range, with the most recent G9 and GH5 producing 65% of that grown between them.

That’s the background to the launch of the new GX9. It’s a step down from the G9, with a smaller rangefinder-style body, though it maintains the same 20.3MP sensor resolution. It’s designed as a premium street-photography camera, and it does not replace any other model, which means the similar-looking but cheaper GX80/GX85 carries on.

Specifications

  • Sensor: 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS
  • Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
  • Screen: 3.0-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 1,240,000 dots
  • Burst shooting: 9fps
  • Autofocus: 49-area AF
  • Video: 4K
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Battery life: 250 shots
  • Weight: 450g

Features

  • In-camera focus stacking for 4K Post Focus mode
  • 9fps continuous shooting, 6fps with continuous AF
  • EVF with 2.76m dots and 90-degree tilt action
  • 3in tilting, touchscreen LCD, 1.24million dots
  • L. Monochrome mode
  • Grain effect

Inside the rectangular-shaped body is a 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds sensor with no optical low-pass filter, together with a 5-axis in-body image stabilisation system. This works alongside Panasonic’s image-stabilised lenses to provide a hybrid Dual I.S. program.

Panasonic says the new camera has improvements both in resolution and in dynamic range over previous models, as well as improved tracking autofocus using the 3D measurement of the entire image. The AF sensitivity has been improved too, with the previously seen Starlight AF feature for shooting in low light included.

The autofocus system makes use of Panasonic’s DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology, although it’s based on contrast-detect AF, rather than on a hybrid system that combines contrast- and phase-detect AF. Even so, it’s fast and effective, and the lack of phase-detect AF points doesn’t seem to harm its performance at all.

Externally, Panasonic has given the electronic viewfinder a 90-degree tilt mechanism, and the touch-sensitive rear display tilts up and down by 80 degrees and 45 degrees respectively. There are two control dials – one on the top plate to the left of the shutter-release button and one inset into the rear where your thumb rests – and stacked mode and exposure compensation dials.

There’s also a new L.Monochrome Photo Style, plus an optional Grain effect for adding a film look to your photos.

The new camera also gets Bluetooth and a built-in flash, together with the option of using a separate grip. Naturally, the GX9 also shoots 4K video, but only up to 30fps; it’s more of an all-rounder than a video specialist like the GH5 or GH5S.

Panasonic continues to develop its 4K PHOTO modes, and these now include Auto Marking, where key moments in your 4K bursts are tagged automatically for easy navigation later. There’s also a new in-camera focus-stacking option for merging post-focus frames into a single shot with the full near-to-far depth of field. It’s possible to extract 8MP frames from the footage, and also select keyframes in a 4K burst before merging them into a single multiple-exposure image.

The Micro Four Thirds sensor used by Panasonic is significantly smaller than the APS-C sensors used in most mirrorless cameras, so you might expect the GX9’s body to be correspondingly smaller. And yet, it isn’t; it’s actually about the same size as the Sony A6500 and Fujifilm X-T20.

On the plus side, this does make it substantial enough to get a proper grip, and one of the key advantages of the Micro Four Thirds system is not so much that the bodies are smaller but that the lenses are.

If you go for the GX9 and 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA OIS lens combination, you end up with quite a compact package for travel and street photography. This lens does need to be physically twisted to extend it before it’s ready for use, but after that its mechanical zoom action is much more positive compared to the zoom-by-wire Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ Pancake (for those still deciding between brands), and the autofocus is quick and positive.

Of course, the appeal of rangefinder-style cameras like the GX9 is their size, so larger zooms will tend to undermine that appeal; the GX9 is perhaps better suited to Panasonic’s smaller zooms or prime lenses. It will work with any of them, but it’s a question of balance.

The external controls work well for the most part. The exposure compensation dial has a good, firm feel, and you can spin it with your thumb. The main mode dial, stacked directly above it, is smaller and even firmer, so that’s not quite so easy to budge. Unless you’ve got a massively powerful thumb, you’ll probably need to release your grip and turn it together with your thumb and forefinger.

The top-mounted control dial feels positive, offering just the right amount of resistance and feedback when you turn it with your forefinger. The rear control dial, which falls under your right thumb, is slightly less accessible and a tad vaguer; it has a click action too, so you might inadvertently press it while you’re trying to get a proper grip together with your thumb.

The camera’s minor functions are accessed via buttons on the rear and the four-way D-pad. We say ‘small’, but they’re actually quite important. They include the ISO setting, white balance, drive mode and focus setting. Here, the camera’s firm and positive exterior controls give way to the on-screen interface, with its menus and touchscreen controls. Adjustments now become a little more complicated, and it can take a while to navigate to some of the even more esoteric options provided by the camera. Despite all the external controls, you’re also going to have to spend a lot of time swiping and tapping on the screen.

You can save yourself a little time by assigning your favourite features to one of three different Fn buttons, and there’s also a physical focus lever on the back of the camera with settings for AF-S/AF-F, AF-C and Manual focus modes.

To change drive modes, though, you have to press the down button on the four-way controller on the trunk. It’s also the only way to access Panasonic’s clever 4K PHOTO modes.

Overall, the GX9 feels substantial and well-made, and it’s easy to get good purchase. The size of the body, however, does limit the number and size of the external controls, which results in a camera that’s chunky and satisfying to use but occasionally fiddly to adjust.

Build and handling

  • Rangefinder body with tilting EVF and LCD
  • External EV compensation dial and focus lever
  • Not weather-sealed

While the Lumix GX9 is a replacement for the GX8, the design follows the more compact Lumix GX80/GX85.

It’s a touch smaller than its predecessor, with the chunky handgrip replaced by a much more streamlined affair. Despite the reduction in size, the grip is still pretty comfortable, but there’s an optional attachable grip if you want something a bit more substantial.

The reduction in grip size makes the GX9 a neat little camera with a quality feel, although Panasonic has opted to drop the weather-sealing featured on the GX8.

There’s a mode dial on the top plate and, stacked below it, an exposure compensation dial, while there are twin command dials to control key settings. The front dial is easy to spin with your forefinger, while the rear dial is squeezed in above the thumb-rest on the back of the camera, and isn’t quite so easy to use.

Also on the rear of the camera is a focus lever that can be used to switch between AF-S (single shot), AF-C (continuous AF) and Manual focus modes, but there’s no dedicated joystick to select your desired focus area – that’s done via the touchscreen or the four-way control pad, and the latter option is quite a clunky affair, requiring a couple of button presses before you’re in a position to move the focusing area.

There are also dedicated controls for the drive mode, 4K Photo modes, focus point selection, ISO and white balance. In an effort to keep the Lumix GX9 as trim as possible the buttons sit fairly flush with the body; however they’re a bit too flush for our liking – we’d rather they were raised a bit more to make them easier to press.

The reliance on menus and icons for some routine adjustments might prove a little irksome for a few, but the touchscreen is very responsive and effective, and you can use the twin control dials for menu and feature navigation rather than tapping on the screen.

Autofocus

  • Focusing speeds are fast
  • Depth From Defocus (DFD) technology works well
  • Focus tracking suited to more predictable subjects

Unlike the Lumix G9 and GH5, which both feature Panasonic’s 225-area AF system, the Lumix GX9 features a more conservative 49-area arrangement similar to that used by the Lumix G80/G85.

While it’s not quite as suited to action photography as the G9 and GH5, focusing speeds are very quick indeed. Panasonic quotes 0.07 sec, and it’s hard to dispute that, with the AF system using Panasonic’s Depth From Defocus (DFD) technology to assess two images with different sharpness levels to determine correct subject distance. If you want to keep things simple the camera can be set to a 49-area focusing option, with the digital camera selecting the key element to focus on, while 1-Area, Custom Multi, Pinpoint and Face- and Eye-detection options are also available.

In addition to these modes, there’s a dedicated Tracking mode, and while this will struggle with fast-moving subjects, for more pedestrian or predictable subjects it’s a good option.

Performance

  • Capable of shooting at up to 9fps
  • The solid multi-zone metering system
  • Power Save mode extends battery life to 900 shots

While it’s not designed to be an action camera, the Lumix GX9 can shoot at up to 9fps, but this drops to 6fps if you want continuous focusing as you shoot – and of course, you’ve got the option to use the GX9’s 4K Photo mode, which can shoot a sequence of images at 30fps, allowing you to then extract a single 8MP frame from the footage.

The Lumix GX9 uses the 1,728-zone metering system that’s in Panasonic’s other current mirrorless cameras. As we’ve found in the past it’s a very solid system, which can be safely left to its own devices in most situations. Like other systems, it does tend to underexpose high-contrast scenes, but this can be easily corrected if desired using the dedicated exposure compensation dial.

While the GX9’s built-in image stabilization system might not offer quite the impressive 6.5-stop compensation of the system in the G9, the 4-stop, 5-axis system works very well – we found that we could happily shoot at 1/8 sec (and in some instances even slower) and still achieve pleasingly sharp shots with either the 12-32mm or 8-18mm lenses we were using.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is good, but not great. As we’ve touched upon, the aspect ratio is a little at odds with the sensor format, so it’s a bit more cramped than it needs to be for stills shooting. And while some will love the 90-degree tilt facility of the viewfinder, it’s something we can’t get too excited about – if you’re going to be capturing at waist level, the tilting rear screen is a much better option.

A problem not unique to the Lumix GX9 is the relatively modest battery life of 260 shots (250 shots using the EVF). A trade-off for having a compact body may be the limited size of battery you can squeeze in, although that number is 90 photos less than Fujifilm’s equally compact X-E3. Panasonic is obviously aware that this is an issue, as the GX9 features a power-saving mode that can eke out 900 pictures from the electric battery. It does this by putting the camera into sleep setting after it’s been inactive for one second, with a half-press of the shutter release required to wake the digital camera.

Check Out: Best Lenses for Panasonic Lumix GX9

Verdict

In many ways, the Lumix GX9 takes two steps forward over the GX8, but one step (maybe half a step) back. While there’s perhaps a little too much reliance on the touchscreen interface for some, especially when selecting your desired AF area, the GX9 is a nice camera and a very solid performer – it just doesn’t do quite enough to stand out from the crowd.

Check Panasonic Lumix GX9 Price and Bundles 

 

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