Panasonic’s new mirrorless model is built for capturing fast action at high frame rates
Billed as the ultimate outdoor and wildlife camera, the G9 is Panasonic’s new flagship stills-oriented camera. It joins the company’s video-orientated GH5 and GH5S at the top of the range. While the GH5 previously served as the flagship Lumix camera, it’s a video/stills hybrid that’s never been intended as a direct rival to a similarly priced APS-C DSLR.
The new Lumix G9, however, changes things. It’s the perfect complementary model to the GH5 and especially the new GH5S, but optimised for regular photography rather than video. With a focus on fast-burst shooting and refinements to its AF system, it’s up against the likes of the action-focused Canon EOS 7D Mark II and the Nikon D500, as well as recent high-end mirrorless options such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II.
The 60fps burst mode, which comes down to 20fps with continuous focus, is just slightly better on paper than the 60fps/18fps option offered by the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, and Panasonic matches Olympus’s claims of 6.5-stop image stabilisation using a similar combined in-body and lens-based stabilisation system.
The G9 inherits the 20.3-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor from the GH5, which has no optical low-pass filter. The Venus image processing engine is the same, but Panasonic says the processing itself has been improved.
The G9 also has the same kind of High Resolution capture mode introduced by Olympus, which takes a sequence of images with a tiny shift in the sensor position for each, then combines them into a single 80-megapixel image.
Panasonic says the G9 has the world’s fastest AF speeds for a mirrorless camera with a focus time of just 0.04 sec with the Leica 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 ASPH lens. It uses Panasonic’s Depth From Defocus (DFD) autofocus technology and there’s a joystick on the back of the camera for moving the focus point around the frame.
It might not be a video specialist like the GH5 or GH5S, but the G9 can still capture 4K video, and Full HD video at up to 180fps for a 3x slow-motion effect on playback.
Build and handling
The G9 is pretty big for a Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera – but that’s no bad thing, because it gives it better handling with larger lenses like telephotos. It’s about the same size as a mid-range enthusiast DSLR, but the smaller sensor does mean that the lenses for this camera are smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts. The G9 might not be any smaller than a DSLR, but your kit bag is still likely to feel a good deal lighter.
The G9 feels solid and well-made, but the external design is somewhat underwhelming for a top-of-the-range camera. Its sharp edges and crease lines are typical of Panasonic’s current styling, but it feels a bit downmarket compared to its smoother-profiled DSLR rivals. The inclusion of a top-plate LCD, though, should please the same audience. The information in this screen is presented nice and clearly – perhaps not as large as on a similar DSLR displays, but the range of information here is broad.
Another new feature is a lever on the front of the camera, which allows you to instantly switch from one combination of camera settings to another. It is welcome, but for a camera of its size it’s a little fiddly and on the small side.
The new High Resolution shot mode, which blends a number of images into a single high-resolution file, is something we’ve already seen from Olympus and Pentax. In use, the eight images are not only captured quickly but processed in what feels like a couple of seconds. The fact that you need to use this mode on a tripod, and with static subjects, makes fast speeds here less crucial.
This camera is designed as a dedicated sports/action specialist, and the main controls you’ll need are pretty straightforward. Underneath the main mode dial is a drive mode dial with settings for single-shot mode, continuous shooting and Panasonic’s special 6K Photo modes. Once you’ve selected your continous shooting mode, you need to make sure the AF lever on the rear of the camera is set to AF-C (continuous) and then select the focus pattern – you can do this via the Fn2 Q.Menu button and the choices are clearly set out.
We found the G9 delivered the same kind of practically instant focus acquisition we’ve become used to with Lumix compact system cameras. Panasonic’s DFD AF is a contrast autofocus system, though, so some might be sceptical that it can keep pace with moving subjects. In fact, it does this very well – although as ever when you’re photographing fast-moving subjects, the results depend partly on the camera’s speed and responsiveness, and partly on the photographer’s ability to anticipate and follow subjects, and select the right AF settings for the job.
The Custom Multi mode delivered a good hit range in our experiments, even when the subject distance changes rapidly. If it does slip up, chances are it’s because the subject has briefly moved away from the focus point cluster, and that’s down to the photographer’s tracking abilities.
The Tracking mode sounds like it should be even more useful, since the camera now does the subject-tracking, not the photographer. It does a good job, too, though if sudden, erratic movements can fool it for a couple of frames until it refocuses.
When you’re using continuous AF in burst mode, there is a slight display lag, which means you must place your faith in the camera to maintain its lock as it adjusts focus where it feels it necessary.
So what about the image quality? Micro Four Thirds sensors are about half the size of ASP-C, and this has some impact on image quality at higher ISO settings, but at low to medium sensitivities, the G9’s images are a match for any DSLRs with the same resolution.
The exposure system proved highly reliable. We only needed to apply exposure compensation for unusually dark or light-tone subjects, or in high-contrast scenes where there was more than one ‘correct’ exposure, depending on your personal taste, and that’s exactly as we’d expect. The auto-white balance system performed well too, producing natural results in a wide range of conditions.
So although the G9 has a Micro Four Thirds sensor and is designed for speed, this does not compromise image quality. It’s a very good camera for regular static photography too, and even more so when you factor in its clever 6K photo modes.
The G9 certainly appears to be the start of something new for Panasonic, and is unquestionably the company’s most capable camera for a stills audience to date. It’s more substantial in the hands than the company’s non-video-focused models, and more significant a departure from the likes of the G7 than its name suggests.
There is a slight lag in the electronic display which means you have to place your trust in the autofocus system to keep a moving subject in focus, but it does this very well. Its continuous shooting speed, dual image stabilisation system and lenses like the Leica DG Elmarit 200mm f/2.8 make the G9 a keen proposition for sport and wildlife photographers, while its price keeps it within the reach of the enthusiast market.
But Panasonic is targeting a pretty small niche. For general everyday photography, there are cheaper and perhaps more appealing alternatives.
www.panasonic.com.my RM8,200 (body)