- 20.3MP Four Thirds sensor
- ISO 100-25600 (extended)
- 2.76m-dot tilting viewfinder
- 1.24m-dot 3-inch tilting touchscreen
- 5-axis in-body stabilisation
- 4K video recording
First look at the Panasonic Lumix GX9
With the new Lumix GX9, Panasonic has listened to its users and made what many will see as a true successor for the much-loved GX7. It combines many of the best bits of the GX8 and GX80, while adding in all of the company’s latest technology.
In the process, Panasonic has come up with an attractive, small-bodied Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera that should appeal strongly to enthusiast photographers.
Price and release date
The Lumix GX9 will be available in early March for £699/$972 (body only).
Panasonic has based the Lumix GX9 around a 20.3MP Four Thirds sensor similar to that used in the GX8. But it’s removed the optical low-pass filter, which in principle should give slightly sharper, more detailed images at the possible expense of image artefacts such as false colour moiré and maze-like aliasing. The sensitivity range covers ISO 200-25,600 as standard, with an extended ISO 100 option also available, but at the risk of clipping highlight detail.
Continuous shooting is slightly uprated compared to its predecessors, with the GX9 capable of 9 frames per second when the focus is fixed at the start of a burst. But if you need to camera to adjust focus between frames, it’s capable of doing so at 6 frames per second.
The mechanical shutter offers speeds from 60-1/4000sec, and operates with a pleasingly quiet, well-damped snick. It’s supplemented by a fully electronic shutter option, which extends the speed range up to 1/16,000sec, and is completely silent in operation.
Its autofocus system is similar to previous models, using Panasonic’s contrast detection with Depth from Defocus (DFD) technology. The specified focus acquisition time is a decent 0.07sec, and Panasonic’s usual huge range of focus autofocus modes is available, including face detection, and pinpoint AF for homing in on small subjects.
For holding focus on moving subjects the camera is now capable of tracking the entire image area in 3D, which Panasonic says should prevent objects that pass in front of your main subject from interfering with the focusing.
As with other recent Panasonic bodies, the GX9 includes the firm’s latest 5-axis in-body IS system. This is compatible with the firm’s Dual IS system, working in concert with the optical stabilisation found in many Panasonic lenses for greater overall effect. As a result, users can expect to hand-hold at shutter speeds 4 stops slower than would otherwise be possible, without seeing image blur from camera shake.
One welcome update sees the GX9 adopting the same improved JPEG colour processing as the high-end G9, which aims to give more attractive sky colours and skin tones. With updated processing and noise reduction, the firm also says the camera can record more detail both at low and high ISOs compared to older models.
As usual for Panasonic, the camera is capable of 4K video recording, although it lacks the microphone and headphone ports found on the GX8. But it gains a few new additions to the firm’s useful 4K Photo mode; the camera will auto-mark its suggested best shot in a burst, and can create composite images by combining selected frames from a sequence.
Other new features include an enhanced version of Panasonic’s attractive L. Monochrome mode that aims to simulate the look of black & white film. You can now add a grain effect to your shots, with a choice of different strengths. There’s also a cryptically-named L. Monochrome D variant that adjusts the tonality in darker regions of the frame to bring out a touch more detail.
Panasonic’s Power Saving LVF mode also comes to the GX series for the first time. This uses the viewfinder eye sensor to power the camera down when you’re not looking through the viewfinder. When it’s enabled, the DMW-BLG10E battery is rated for 900 shots per charge, compared to 250 shots without. The battery can be topped up through the Micro USB port, which sits behind a cleverly designed sprung door that retracts back inside the camera body when it’s opened.
Alongside the usual Wi-Fi connectivity, Panasonic has added Bluetooth for making an always-on connection to your smartphone via the free Panasonic Image App for iOS and Android. This brings a number of benefits; for example, you can easily use your phone as a simple remote shutter release.
The Bluetooth connection can also be used to turn on the camera’s Wi-Fi, either for remote control with a live view display and ability to change almost any shooting setting from your phone, or for browsing and copying images for sharing to social media. It’s even possible to do the latter while the camera is turned off and in your bag.
Design and build
In essence, the GX9 revisits the compact, flat-bodied design with a tilting screen and corner-mounted viewfinder previously used by the GX7 and GX80. Like those cameras it has twin electronic control dials, one around the shutter button and the other embedded into the camera’s back. But it adds in a number of enthusiast-friendly controls from the GX8, including an exposure-compensation dial nested below the exposure-mode dial, and a focus-mode selector switch on the back.
Overall this results in a very neat layout that makes the camera just that bit more portable than SLR-shaped rivals with central viewfinders. The camera seems pretty well made too, with a reassuringly dense feel, but unlike the GX8 it’s not weather-sealed. For that, Panasonic fans will have to choose an SLR-shaped camera like the G80 or G9.
The addition of the exposure-compensation dial is certainly a welcome touch that’s in keeping with current camera fashion. Indeed the GX9’s is particularly large and easy to use, clicking firmly into place at each setting while being easy enough to set with your thumb.
The problem is, though, that Panasonic hasn’t taken the opportunity to rethink how the other dials work, so most of the time they both do exactly the same thing. It’s only in manual-exposure mode that they’re properly employed, with one controlling shutter speed and the other, aperture.
Even stranger is the fact that the rear dial can be clicked inwards like a button, like it can on the GX80, but on the GX9 this doesn’t seem to have any useful function at all. It would be great if Panasonic could add more customization options via a firmware update – for example, allowing users to configure one dial to change the ISO setting directly, and enabling a click of the rear dial to toggle through multiple functions.
It’s frustrating, because the GX9 has more than enough controls to be a really likeable camera, but it lacks the ability to make the best use of them.
Aside from this, there’s an array of buttons arranged across the camera’s back, giving plenty of direct access to the most-used functions. The GX9 also features Panasonic’s well-designed touch interface for changing settings and browsing though images in playback.
The touchscreen can be used for positioning the focus point, even when you’re using the viewfinder. This is fortunate, as there’s no physical control for moving the focus point directly. It’s possible to reconfigure the D-pad for this purpose, but then you need to reassign its functions elsewhere, for example to the fully customisable onscreen Q Menu.
Viewfinder and screen
If there’s one feature that sets Panasonic’s single-digit GX-series cameras apart, it’s the tilting electronic viewfinder, which following the demise of Samsung’s NX range is now unique. In essence, the GX9 uses the same LCD viewfinder as the GX80, just in a tilting housing that lets it rotate upwards by 80°. Some photographers find this feature very valuable, but to be honest, I’m not one of them.
Just like the GX80, the GX9 uses a 2.76m-dot equivalent field-sequential viewfinder with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Rather than using separate red, green and blue pixels in the panel, this displays red, green and blue images in very quick succession, to give a convincing illusion of a full-colour display.
However, in certain situations, for instance when you’re panning, it can display colour-tearing artefacts, where white areas flicker through the three colours. It’s not a serious problem, but some photographers do find it very disconcerting.
The 16:9 aspect ratio is great when recording video, giving a wide view with a very decent 0.7x equivalent magnification. But when you’re shooting stills at the sensor’s native 4:3 aspect ratio, the area of the display that’s actually used decreases significantly, giving a magnification around 0.6x. But this is still broadly comparable with similarly priced competitors like the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III.
Below the viewfinder, the 1240k-dot LCD is very nice indeed, and can tilt up and down for shooting at unusual angles. While this design is only really useful when you’re shooting in landscape format, making it unarguably less flexible than fully articulated displays, it’s a good fit this kind of small-bodied camera. Tilting the screen now turns off the viewfinder eye sensor, which makes shooting at waist level very much easier.
I’ve been using the GX9 for a couple of days prior to its official launch, and in many ways it’s a very nice camera indeed. I prefer its compact design to the bulky GX8, and it has enough updates and improvements to make it well worth considering over the GX80.
However, I also can’t help but feel that Panasonic has missed an opportunity to re-think how the camera works, and make better use of its external controls.
This reservation aside, though, the GX9 packs a lot of useful technology into a relatively small body at an appealing price. When you consider its compatibility with a huge range of Micro Four Thirds lenses, not just from Panasonic but also Olympus, Samyang and Sigma, it’s clearly got the potential to form the basis of a very powerful, yet portable set-up.
Available in black and silver versions, the GX9 is due to go on sale in early March for an attractive £699/$972 body-only. Customers who pre-order will also get the tempting sweetener of a free Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 ASPH lens, which normally costs around £150/$209.