Panasonic Lumix GX80 preview : ‘GX8 mini’ adds 5-axis stabilisation, loses low-pass filter

With the Lumix GF8 not arriving on British shores, we were beginning to wonder if Panasonic had bailed on the smaller-scale and more affordable compact system camera concept. But that’s not the case, as the latest Lumix GX80 stands to prove.

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If you’re looking for a relatively small-scale system camera that you can grow into, then the GX80 offers aplenty – from a tilt-angle screen to a built-in viewfinder. In many senses, having handled this latest Lumix, it feels like the little brother to the bulkier and more advanced GX8; or an echo of the earlier GX7 with some new features.

But just because the GX80 is smaller doesn’t mean it’s totally trimmed back on the features. Sure, the viewfinder is fixed in position and the tilt-angle LCD screen isn’t vari-angle like on the GX8 – but it still has both key features on its features list.

That LCD viewfinder is solid too, delivering 2,764k-dots of resolution over a 0.7x magnification (the panel is a fair bit smaller than that of the GX8, but that’s to be expected).

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If anything the GX80 goes large when it comes to new features, paving the way for future Lumix G-series cameras. Principal to its design is the removal of the low-pass filter (LPF) – a first in the G-series – a brand new electromagnetically-controlled shutter unit, and a new sensor-based 5-axis image stabilisation system.

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It’s kind of surprising it’s taken Panasonic this long to remove the LPF from its system cameras. The filter exists to diffuse light slightly to avoid jaggies and negate moire and false colour in images – the last of which is a result of the standard colour filter overlay. By removing the filter there’s an uptake in sharpness by up to 10 per cent and, as many manufacturers argue, at the higher resolutions of today many of those issues are never issues at all – helped along by enhanced processing.

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We’ve seen some print-outs of pre-production images from the GX80 and its results look a lot like the GX7 to our eyes. They’re natural with an ever so slight lift to resolution, but it’s a giant leap in overall quality. Still, we suspect this LPF-free approach will be Panasonic’s approach to all G-series models going forward.

The new shutter unit is one of the more interesting features of the camera because it’s so, so much quieter than the ones in the GX7 and GX8 – we’ve handled all three cameras side-by-side and the GX80 is the obvious winner (the GX7 has the most pronounced “draw” sound, the GX8 a more mighty “click”). This is because it works with electromagnetic coils rather than a tightly wound spring, using a different arrangement of shutter blades (still vertical-run).

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It’s a double-edged sword though. The new shutter means a 90 per cent reduction in vibration compared to earlier Lumix models, which ought to help with slower shutter speeds, but it’s not capable of operating quite as quickly. So 1/4000th second is the maximum mechanical operation, compared to 1/8000th second in the GX8 and other cameras. Sync, too, is limited to 1/160th, rather than 1/250th as with many other G-series cameras. However, the electronic shutter caters for speeds up to 1/16,000th sec, which is super-fast (although still a whole stop slower than the GX8’s 1/32,000th sec – presumably just to put a point of difference between the two cameras, rather than being an impossibility to implement).

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Also new is a sensor-based 5-axis stabilisation system, which can work in tandem with lens-based stabilisation for what Panasonic calls Dual IS. This system is developed in-house, rather than being a picking from Olympus orSony – both of which use their own systems.

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It’s interesting that the system works with sensor and lens stabilisation systems, including while capturing 4K video (again, a first for Panasonic), because the tandem subtle movement of optical and sensor can avoid drifting into the unwanted territories of the available image circle. How well will it work? We’ve only used the 12-32mm collapsible lens under flickering fluorescent lights, so we’ll have to wait and see when paired with a more suitable range of lenses.

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There’s more to say about 4K too, beyond video capture. As with all recent G-series Lumix cameras, the GX80 is going hard on the 4K Photo modes. Off the back of Christmas TV advertising we suspect there’s a lift in comprehension of what these modes are all about but, in short, it’s all about capturing 8-megapixel images at 30 frames per second – giving a huge breadth of shots to choose from. Options to reel off a second of footage before even pressing the shutter button are among our favourites. Additionally there’s a Post Focus mode to refocus a (tripod-mounted) frame after shooting – something we think has limited application really, as we’ve said before of other Lumix cameras.

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Elsewhere the GX80 responds impeccably, just as we’ve come to expect from the latest Lumix G-series cameras. Its autofocus system is up there among the best available in the compact system camera category, and we’re particularly fond of the variety of AF options, including Pinpoint AF for precision focus. Light permitting a refresh rate of 240fps means heaps of data to pick from when acquiring focus.

Given the mass of new features, the GX80’s £509/$764 body-only price seems fair considering its solid build, leather-like finishes and aluminium dials. It’s even available in silver (Jessops exclusive) and brown/tan (John Lewis exclusive) if black isn’t your thing. The best seller, we suspect, will be the £599/$898 12-32mm kit option, or there’s a £729/$1,093 twin kit option which adds the 35-100mm lens too.

(pocket-lint.com, http://goo.gl/SylOYh)

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