Home Cameras/Lenses Panasonic Panasonic Lumix G9: First impressions, deskbound

Panasonic Lumix G9: First impressions, deskbound

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After a month’s wait, the sleek new Panasonic Lumix G9 has arrived at Macfilos Towers and is currently sitting on my desk. I have pimped it with one of Evris’s Rock n’Roll plaited leather straps in Asian Blue — it’s really intended for the M10 but looks good on the G9. I’ve also added the superb Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 ASPH zoom to complete the package. Ready for the road, now.

  Our new G9 wearing the Leica DG 12-60mm Vario-Elmarit and an    M10 model Rock
Our new G9 wearing the Leica DG 12-60mm Vario-Elmarit and an M10 model Rock ‘n Roll strap in Asian Blue

First impressions are extremely positive. The autofocus speed is something else, as they say. It is the fastest I have experienced and comes as something of a revelation. The 3,680k dot viewfinder with 0.83x magnification is truly magnificent, perhaps not as imposing as that on the Leica SL but it is so near that it makes no difference. The rear screen reverses, as on the GX8 and some Olympus m4/3 bodies, and this is an aspect I appreciate. I prefer to work entirely with the viewfinder, except for infrequent menu adjustments, and enjoying leaving the screen hidden. If you choose to reveal the screen, though, it offers a useful touch interface.

The Leica DG 12-60mm perfectly complements this camera. The slightly shiny finish of the lens barrel is identical to that of the body and the two are as peas in the one pod. They definitely look as though they have been made for one another. And they have, I suspect.

Some reviews have commented on the sensitivity of the shutter release. It is indeed sensitive, as on many pro DSLRs, and this is no doubt a requested feature for a professional mirrorless body such as the G9. I feared that it would be too sensitive for me and that the half-press I use to lock focus before recomposing the frame would not work reliably. That would have been a dealbreaker. As it happens, my fears were groundless and the shutter release is a paragon of propriety. There is a clear delineation between half press and full press but the overall feel is one of speed and slickness. I think it will grow on me.

  Back, glorious back: No screen to get in the way if you reverse the unit. Just the job for the non-chimpers among us. The control layout is consistent and surprisingly minimal for a camera of this type. Note the massive viewfinder window and the standard mode dial (with central locking button) on the left of the top-plate, with the drive-mode ring mounted below. The focus switch to the right of the back is standard Panasonic while immediately below it, to the left, is the new joystick
Back, glorious back: No screen to get in the way if you reverse the unit. Just the job for the non-chimpers among us. The control layout is consistent and surprisingly minimal for a camera of this type. Note the massive viewfinder window and the standard mode dial (with central locking button) on the left of the top-plate, with the drive-mode ring mounted below. The focus switch to the right of the back is standard Panasonic while immediately below it, to the left, is the new joystick

The large grip is just right for my hands and it works really well with the 12-60 zoom. I suspect it will be good with longer lenses including the 100-400mm zoom. The rather course faux-leather cover on both body and grip is very tactile and secure — no slippery stuff there. I’m due to get a free battery grip (a present for ordering in advance) which will arrive from Panasonic in a month or so. I’m not sure that it is entirely necessary but I will try it and report back. This additional grip does, however, hold an extra battery which will transform the 400-odd shot capability of the camera into something approaching the battery life of the typical DSLR. Battery life has always been an Achilles’ heel of the new breed of mirrorless cameras and the G9 is no exception. The G9 does boast an extended mode which shuts down everything within seconds and is claimed to double battery life. Nevertheless, I suspect this will irritate me and I’ll be happier with frugal mode switched off. 

  The deep standard grip and non-slip body covering will allow the camera to cope well even with longer lenses, without the absolute need for an accessory grip
The deep standard grip and non-slip body covering will allow the camera to cope well even with longer lenses, without the absolute need for an accessory grip

In a first for mass-market mirrorless cameras, the G9 boasts a DSLR-style information screen on the top plate. Leica led the way in this with the SL and, recently with the CL. The screen on the G9 is quite busy and some of the graphics are small — you need good eyesight — but it does offer a comprehensive overview of settings, including aperture, speed, exposure compensation, image quality, battery level and remaining shots. It is far superior to the display of the CL, which is tiny and offers only minimal information. And, at the same time, it contrives to be more informative than the very readable display on the SL. I suspect these top-mounted info screens will soon become a must-have feature for mirrorless cameras. 

  The tilting, reversible rear screen offers great versatility. The Leica DG 12-60mm Vario-Elmarit is a perfect complement for the new body and, together, they offer a 6.5-stop stability advantage. Note the new fully customisable function toggle switch at the bottom right-hand corner of the camera. This enables one chosen function to be switched on or off by the lefthand forefinger when holding the camera
The tilting, reversible rear screen offers great versatility. The Leica DG 12-60mm Vario-Elmarit is a perfect complement for the new body and, together, they offer a 6.5-stop stability advantage. Note the new fully customisable function toggle switch at the bottom right-hand corner of the camera. This enables one chosen function to be switched on or off by the lefthand forefinger when holding the camera

The control layout is sensible, although frankly I haven’t yet had a chance to get into detail. There is a joystick as well as a four-way pad and the usual Panasonic multi-switch on the back of the camera to select single, continuous and manual focus. The left-mounted mode dial incorporates a concentric drive mode dial. Unlike on the GX8, there is no physical exposure compensation dial.

There are two customisable adjustment dials, one conventionally mounted on the far right of the top plate and a second vertical wheel aft of the on/off switch. Also on top of the grip are buttons for direct access to white balance, ISO and exposure compensation. It’s all pretty comprehensive and not too frightening. I will enjoy getting used to everything. 

The menu layout is fairly standard Panasonic but will need some getting used to. This is not one of those cameras where you can just pick it up and start shooting. There are many options and opportunities to customise, many of which I am not familiar with. I will have to break a long tradition and at least glance at the instructions manual. However, I do find Panasonic’s approach to menus less intimidating than, say, that of Olympus. A final conclusion will have to wait. If nothing else, the G9 definitely presents a more complicated environment than users of the SL and CL will be accustomed to.

  The DSLR-style information screen is a first for mirrorless cameras (other than the excellent display on the Leica SL and the inferior, tiny screen on the CL). Note the direct access buttons for white balance, ISO and exposure compensation in front of the on-off switch and the vertical control wheel. The video button can be disabled and there is tremendous versatility in function button and lever assignments
The DSLR-style information screen is a first for mirrorless cameras (other than the excellent display on the Leica SL and the inferior, tiny screen on the CL). Note the direct access buttons for white balance, ISO and exposure compensation in front of the on-off switch and the vertical control wheel. The video button can be disabled and there is tremendous versatility in function button and lever assignments

With the Leica DG 12-60 mounted, the G9 presents an homogeneous and businesslike aspect. I think I will prefer it to the GX8 with the same lens, and that is quite a surprise. Something I didn’t expect. The camera is clearly larger than the GX8 when you put the two bodies side by side, but on its own the G9 doesn’t look over big. The combo weighs just one kilogram which is acceptable, particularly bearing in mind the capabilities of the fast, wide and long zoom. It is under half the weight of the Leica SL with the portly 24-90mm zoom. The G9 body alone weighs 658g compared with the range-finder-styled GX8 at 487g. I have learned that the 12-60, which is 24-120mm in full-frame equivalence, is (for me) the perfect general-purpose choice. Another bonus: Both the lens and the body are shower proof and should be capable of handling moderately inclement conditions. 

   The GX8 , Panasonic
The GX8 , Panasonic’s rangefinder-style ILC with the distinctive pivoting viewfinder, is now over two years old and there is still no sign of a GX9. One dealer said that in the past year all attention has been focused on the DSLR-style GH5 and that interest will now transfer to the G9 and GH5s. On the other hand, the older GX8 offers excellent image quality and can be had for a third of the price of the G9, so it is still worth considering

The G9 has the latest five-axis in-body stabilisation which complements the stabilised 12-60 lens (and many other lenses in the range) using Panasonic’s Dual IS system. This is definitely an added bonus, offering a 6.5-stop advantage over an unstabilised rig. To some extent, this ability to use slower shutter speeds enhances the opportunity to grab usable shots in lower light without encroaching too far into the ISO scale. It serves to highlight the difference between this camera and the Leica CL which lacks stabilisation, either in body or lenses. In relation to the CL, the G9 compensates in terms of slower shutter speed for the higher ISO capabilities of the APS-C sensor. 

One welcome feature which, I know, is not universally appreciated, is the ability to charge the battery while inside the camera. This is something I value greatly and removes the absolute need to travel with (and, occasionally, travel without) the charger unit. The G9 does, however, come with a very small and neat charger pod which, unusually, is fed by USB cable rather than mains. There is also a mains adapter with USB socket which can feed either the camera or the charger unit. As I’ve found in the past, though, most USB sources (but not a computer or unpowered USB hub) can be pressed into service to charge a camera — even the low-wattage iPhone PSU will effect a trickle charge but an iPad or similar charger will do the job more quickly. And if you forget everything when packing for the airport, it’s an easy matter to go to any electrical shop and buy a cable and charger (or use your phone’s charger).

I also approve of the traditional eyelet strap lugs and I’m glad that Panasonic resisted the temptation to move over to the DSLR-style slit-lugs which make fitting third-party split-ring straps impossible. The SL has this disadvantage, although I suspect the weight of that camera made the alternative arrangement necessary. Anyway, if you buy a G9 you can add your favourite strap without let or hindrance.

  The blindingly fast autofocus and world class stability systems are just the ticket for wildlife photography
The blindingly fast autofocus and world class stability systems are just the ticket for wildlife photography

All in all, the G9 is a very promising camera and is an outstanding addition to the micro four-thirds diaspora. It is designed especially for still photographers (that is, me and, probably, thee) unlike the GH5 and the new GH5s which are aimed at the video enthusiast. Indeed, the GH5s, which everyone is currently raving about, doesn’t have in-body stabilisation. It’s for a completely different market. Not for me, at least.

  They both got one.....
They both got one…..

Meanwhile, I believe the G9 is set to become the benchmark for still photographers who enjoy the speed, form and relatively low size/weight of the micro four-thirds system. It is sure to work well with all those gorgeous Leica DG zooms and primes and it offers a real alternative for Leica M aficionados who are looking for autofocus and zoom capabilities in a lighter second system. It will be interesting to see how the G9 stacks up against Leica’s new CL in terms of image quality. In design and general philosophy, the G9 and CL are as chalk and cheese. But, to some extent, they are both fishing in the same pond. 

Our Panasonic Lumix G9 was supplied by London Camera Exchange, 98 Strand, London WC2R 0EW.

All photographs in this review produced from the comfort of my desk, totally without effort thanks to the Panasonic image library.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for your impressions, Mike. Question – as a Leica user, how do both the menu system and usage of all those buttons and dials work out for you? µ43 is my secondary system, and I desperately need to replace my Olympus EP-2 – and the main problem I had with the Oly was usability compared to my M9, so I’m not too sure about sticking with Olympus this round.

    • This is a fundamental question and I can well understand your dilemma. The simplicity of the M is my ideal — just three things to consider, aperture, speed and ISO. But once you get into auto focus and all the other joys of modern cameras it’s inevitable there will be added complications. The G9 is not over endowed with buttons and they all appear to be in reasonable places. Some, such as the video, can be disabled. Many of them I will just ignore. It is possible to set up the G9 to act in a simple way (Aperture priority, centre-spot focus, etc). The Panasonic menu system is based on tabs and is less straightforward than Leica’s multi-page system. However, I generally find Panasonic menus (including those on the Leica D Lux and V Lux) quite intuitive. Olympus, on the other hand, has a fiedlishly complex system which I have never been able to come to terms with. As it happens only today I was comparing the G9 with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II and, while the G9 is bigger and chunkier, the Olympus controls are quite fiddly by comparison. The scroll wheels, however, are probably more ergonomically located for the fingers. If you are veering towards the G9 then you should compare it side by side with the Olympus. Olympus fans will disagree that the menus are complex (they get used to them, but I hop from camera to camera and always find Olympus a challenge).

      All that said, any of these cameras are going to be a sight more complex than the M9. They are even more complex than the CL and SL which, perhaps, are better cameras to compare them with.

      If you need more help drop me an email.

  2. Hi, I am new to your blog and really enjoy it. I have an Leica SL and 24-90 which I love. I have sold my M and Sony system and was going to get CL for small camera and small 70 to 200 equivalent and 35 equivalent for street photography. However G9 has aspects I like so look forward to your thoughts on both. Cheers Brian

    • Thanks, Brian. The SL and 24-90 is a magical combination for those with muscles in tip-top shape. Although I do own an SL I sold the 24-90 because it was just too big for me. It’s hardly a street camera, even with M lenses, as you imply. The CL is a quintessential street camera in the mould of the M3, especially with the 23mm or (my preference) the new 18mm pancake. M4/3 has its attractions for street photography, in particular the wider depth of field at any given aperture, but I do not think the G9 would be a good choice for this role. It is too big and hefty, looking rather like a threatening DSLR, for the job. If you do want an m4/3 camera for street work then I’d suggest the GX8, GX80/85 or the Olympus PEN-F. That said, you have to look at your requirement. The G9 will certainly excel with moving subjects and, of course, it offers a weather-resistant solution.

  3. Thanks for this view of the new G9. I use an Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II and have been delighted with it. I went along to try the G9 and have to say I still much prefer the Olympus. It is somewhat smaller, more dense (it is only 49g lighter than the G9) and the autofocus is just as slick. I also prefer the positioning of the controls on the Olympus to the G9 — particularly the two adjustment wheels which fit perfectly under my fingers. The back wheel on the G9 is too far to the right (caused by the presence of the top screen) and I hate the front vertical wheel. I’m also not sure how well the weather proofing will perform. I’ve been very surprised by the Olympus, having left it outside on the lawn in torrential rain by mistake. I fully expected it to be damaged but there were absolutely no ill effects once I’d towelled it down. On balance, too, I feel the OM is more solidly built. It will be interesting to see how you get in with the Lumix.

  4. Thanks for the early thoughts, Mike.

    Australian pre-orders due to start arriving in the next fortnight (I too went with the free grip) , so it will be interesting to see how it feels in the hand. I’m not locked in to it, I could still switch to the Omd (or even an Xpro2) or may just buy a Nisi Filter kit and be happy with the gx8 and G85.

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