Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 First impressions Review

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Introduction

The Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 is the company’s newest mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (ILC), and in many ways, the first Lumix camera ever to be aimed squarely at professional and advanced amateur stills photographers – and it shows.

But that doesn’t mean the G9 is light on video specs; Panasonic has long been a leader in ‘hybrid’ stills and video cameras with the impressive GH-series, but just as the GH-series leans slightly more to the video side of things, the G9 leans the other way.

Introduction

Even though we’ve had only a few days with our G9, we’ve already seen improvements to the JPEG engine (color in particular), and been able to play around with some of its new features like the 80MP high-resolution mode, and been blown away by its incredibly large electronic viewfinder. Some of its capabilities – like impressive-looking 20 fps burst shooting with continuous autofocus – will need more in-depth testing.

But for now, we’ve put together some of our first impressions and takeaways – let’s get started.

Key specifications

Key specifications

Design sketch of the Panasonic Lumix DC-G9.

The Lumix G9 is overflowing with refinements and improvements both inside and out. There’s a lot to digest in this camera, but here are what we believe to be the G9’s most important qualities:

  • 20.3MP Live MOS sensor with no AA filter (same as GH5)
  • 6.5-stop 5-axis Dual I.S. 2
  • 0.83x (35mm equivalent) high-res, 120 fps electronic viewfinder
  • 80MP high-resolution mode
  • 20 fps bursts with continuous autofocus (60fps with focus locked)
  • Dual UHS-II SD card slots supporting new high-speed V-rated cards
  • Assortment of 4K and 6K Photo modes, in-camera focus stacking
  • Refined ergonomics and controls
  • USB charge and USB power capability, 400 shots per charge battery life (CIPA)

But for established photographers, particularly those Panasonic is targeting, equally important in addition to this list of objective specifications are the intangibles; how does the G9 feel in the hand, and how does it respond to your inputs?

Let’s get started with that first consideration, and look at the G9’s body and design.

Body, design and handling

Body, design and handling

The G9 isn’t a small camera, but with a suitably compact lens, it isn’t too intimidating. Out-of-camera JPEG, processed in-camera with increased exposure compensation. Panasonic Leica DG 25mm F1.4.

ISO 3200 | 1/500 sec | F1.4

The G9 comes with splash, freeze and dust proof construction, and feels in the hand as though you’re holding a chunk of solid magnesium alloy, as opposed to a hollow one filled with Panasonic’s most advanced photographic technology to date.

Battery life from the G9 is good if not downright impressive, at a CIPA rated 400 shots; it’s compatible with the same battery as the GH5, and will easily last you many hours of serious shooting. As always, exploring menus and rocketing through images in playback will shorten the battery’s stamina.

Speaking of playback, the rear jog dial does a good job of moving through your images quickly, handy for when you start firing off those 20 fps bursts. The new top-plate LCD allows you to check your settings at a glance, even if the rear screen is folded away, and the combined Mode + Drive dials on the left shoulder work surprisingly well; some competitors that have attempted this end up feeling kind of ‘fiddly.’

The top plate on the G9 is one of its key physical differentiators versus the GH5

The AF joystick has been tweaked, with a new textured finish and a click-in option to toggle between your chosen AF point and the center. Unfortunately, we think it could still be faster to move your AF area when you tap it to the side, and if you’re holding it to the side, your moving AF area won’t respond to a change in your desired direction unless you release the joystick, and push in that new direction. Compounding this is that you can’t move the point diagonally; only horizontally and vertically.

As always, having an AF joystick is always better than not having one, and we’re hopeful to see these issues addressed in a future firmware update.

Body, design and handling

An abundance of controls and overall responsive performance helped me get this grab image of a low-flying plane in South Seattle. Out-of-camera JPEG, cropped to taste. Panasonic Leica DG 12-60mm F2.8-4.

ISO 200 | 1/640 sec | F4.5

The G9 has tons of controls, and tons of customization options. It can take a while for you to find your way around the camera, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for a flagship. One thing we’ve noticed is that, likely on purpose, the shutter button on the G9 is verysensitive, so that could be something users may need to adjust to.

What shouldn’t require much adjustment to is the all-new 0.83x (equivalent) optical viewfinder. It’s among the largest electronic viewfinders ever built into a digital camera, providing an immersive shooting experience that’s enhanced by the use of an OLED display, which gives great contrast.

As someone who’s just officially griped about the necessity of USB charging, it’s nice to see it make an appearance on the G9 in addition to the ability to run off of USB power. The batteries by now are commonplace, but it’ll be great to power the camera with a USB power pack for longer shoots like timelapses, or when you need to top-up a battery off the grid.

The G9 has among the largest electronic viewfinders ever built into a digital camera.

And finally, let’s address the issue of size. There’s also no doubt that the G9 is fairly ‘chunky,’ especially given the Four Thirds sensor inside. Despite this, we think it’s likely to be a good fit for its intended audience.

After all, a comfortable grip, extensive external controls, decent battery life, robust weather sealing and a crazy stabilization system all come with size and weight penalties; but even so, the G9 is lighter than the GH5. Indeed, couple the G9 with the appreciably small size of many Micro Four Thirds lenses, and you have the potential to make for a lightweight yet comprehensive kit that doesn’t skimp on ergonomic comfort.

New and notable features

New and notable features

In this image, you can see how possible motion in your scene might impact your ability to use this mode – but you can also see just how much detail is there in the static portions of the scene. Panasonic Leica DG 12-60mm F2.8-4.

ISO 200 | 1/500 sec | F4

The new 80MP high resolution mode on the G9 works similarly to competitors’ offerings, and takes eight shots in quick succession, moving the sensor by a half-pixel for each image. In practice, it’s one of the faster implementations of a pixel-shift high res mode that we’ve seen, and predictably comes with a serious increase in image quality. Usually.

What you gain in detail and noise characteristics, you lose out depending on how much motion is in your scene. The above image is a good example of both the detail benefit you can get from this mode, as well as how it copes with moving subjects – and for the record, this is not necessarily the setting Panasonic would recommend for this feature, but we figured you, dear reader, might be curious about it.

Image stabilization on the G9 is a claimed 6.5 stops, which is basically magic.

As an added bonus, if you did attempt an 80MP image and were bothered by unintended motion artifacts, the G9 has an option to capture an additional ‘normal’ 20MP Raw and JPEG image simultaneously.

Image stabilization on the G9 is a claimed 6.5 stops – which is basically magic. With shorter lens, you’ll have an almost glidecam experience (even if you’re only using the in-body stabilization), and even with the new Panasonic Leica 200mm F2.8 lens and 2.0x teleconverter, you can easily frame your subjects shake-free through the viewfinder, even hand-held.

Image and video quality impressions

Image and video quality impressions

Panasonic told us that, for their latest JPEG engine, they’ve been working hard on the G9’s rendition of yellows and blues, particularly for blue skies. We think they look pretty darn good.

While we don’t yet have Raw support for the G9, the early JPEGs coming out of our camera look good. We’ve been critical of Panasonic’s JPEG color and noise reduction in the past, and our early sample shots seem to show noticeable improvements.

First, the automatic white balance seems to handle a variety of settings with much greater reliability – warm evening light is represented as such, without going over-the-top orange, colors are nicely saturated and exhibit far less ‘green-shifted yellows’ than before. We’ll wait until we can perform our studio testing to make a definitive call on noise reduction, but it looks to this reviewer that there’s less smearing of areas of fine detail, which was historically a problem even at lower ISO values.

Panasonic is claiming more sophisticated sharpening and noise reduction on the G9, but we’re waiting for our studio scene analysis before we can claim anything definitive in this regard

In terms of video, the G9 offers 4K UHD capture at up to 60 fps, as well as an array of slow-motion modes in both 4K and Full HD. While you lose out on some more advanced features of the GH5, such as ultra-high bitrate recording, higher color depth capture and unlimited clip length (the G9 tops out at 10 minutes and 30 minutes for 4K/60p and 4K/30p respectively), video capture is still taken from the full width of the sensor and downscaled, and so should provide great detail. Lastly, our initial impressions show DFD autofocus to be more decisive and less prone to ‘wobble’ when shooting video, making run-and-gun capture more feasible.

Overall impressions and sample gallery

Overall impressions and sample gallery

Out of camera JPEG. Panasonic Leica DG 12-60mm F2.8-4.
ISO 200 | 1/4000 sec | F4

Credit where credit is due, Panasonic has a long history of bringing cameras to market that bear impressive technical capabilities; from the lineage that gave us the first-ever mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, to the first mirrorless camera that could capture 4K video comes the stills-focused G9. With this new model, Panasonic has taken advantage of that greater emphasis on stills to pack some advanced and innovative features into a camera that is meant to be rugged and reliable for professional use.

Starting with ruggedness, we have to admit the G9 feels great in the hand. It’s all-metal, with a redesigned (and really comfy) grip. It’s far from compact, but it doesn’t feel heavy for a professional-level camera; its overall size allows room for an enormous viewfinder, good-sized battery and abundant external controls.

We’ve only had the G9 for a few days, and so we’ve not had time to fully evaluate all of the G9’s new features in-depth. For now, we remain impressed with overall JPEG image quality, video autofocus performance looks to be improved and the image stabilizer is really something you have to see to believe.

The G9 continues to use the same Four Thirds 20.3MP sensor as the GH5

With the same mechanical shutter as the GH5, it offers 9 fps burst shooting with what should be similar (read: very good) autofocus performance at 9 fps, but we’re really looking forward to doing some sports testing at the full 20 fps with electronic shutter. We have to admit we’re also curious how the new V-rated SD cards holds up to the CFast and XQD slots in high-end sports DSLRs.

There will always be folks that will have a hard time seeing past the Four Thirds sensor in the G9, relative to APS-C and full-frame offerings. But the G9 nonetheless comes with incredible image stabilization, high shooting speed, high quality 4K video and compact-yet-high-quality lens offerings (all of which are made possible, or at least easier, with the smaller Four Thirds sensor). For this, we think the G9 represents a compelling option for professional photographers needing all of the capability, customizability and resilience they can get in a smaller package than many competitors are able to offer.

(dpreview.com, https://goo.gl/mRjjKH)

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