Battery life: 380 shots (rear monitor), 890 shots using Power Save LVF mode
Hands-on with the Panasonic Lumix G9
The release of the Panasonic Lumix G9 comes at the end of the same year the manufacturer launched its top-of-the-range Lumix GH5. Unlike its senior relative, which has been a hit among videographers due to its broadcast-standard video capabilities, the Panasonic Lumix G9 is primarily designed to satisfy the demands of serious stills photographers.
As such, it becomes Panasonic’s flagship photo camera in the G-series. It advances in a number of ways from the enthusiast-friendly Lumix G7 and one-year-old Lumix G80 – both of which we’re told will remain in production.
The Panasonic Lumix G9 will be sold in a few different configurations when it goes on sale in early January. The more expensive of two lens kits will see it bundled with the Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4 ASPH OIS for £2019.99. The cheaper lens kit comes with Lumix G Vario 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS lens for £1669.99. The body-only price of the Lumix G9 will be £1,499.
Panasonic has made a bold claim saying that the Lumix G9 produces the highest ever picture quality seen from a Lumix G camera. This is despite it being built around the same Micro Four Thirds 20.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor used in the Panasonic Lumix GH5.
To achieve this we’re told the processing algorithms have been refined to maximise resolution and deliver a 25% improvement in dynamic range.
Panasonic has also looked at making improvements to the reproduction of colour and the level of detail at middle-to-high ISO settings, following feedback from its GH5 customers. In terms of sensitivity, the camera comes with a standard range of ISO 200-25,600, which can be expanded to ISO 100 at the low end.
One of the key features of the Lumix G9 is its ability to compensate for camera shake more effectively thanks to a new 5-axis Dual I.S II image stabiliser; it now offers 6.5 stops of shake compensation. It’s this IS system that also enables the Lumix G9 to offer a new 80-megapixel high-resolution mode, which shifts the sensor precisely between eight shots to create a single image with much finer detail.
This high-res mode can be used in both Raw and JPEG formats; however, it’s solely intended for stationary subjects. This is because there’s a short delay between frames where any movement is likely to be rendered blurred.
High-res shot modes seem to be very much the in-thing on new cameras right now. It will be interesting to how the G9’s variant compares to those found on cameras such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and Pentax K-1.
The implementation of a new Venus image processor sees the Panasonic Lumix G9 reach new heights in terms of speed. Autofocus uses Panasonic’s usual combination of contrast detection and Depth From Defocus (DFD) technology, with the Lumix G9 acquiring focus as fast as 0.04 seconds. This is an improvement of 0.01 second compared to the Lumix GH5’s autofocus acquisition speed.
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As for continuous shooting, the Lumix G9 is no slouch. In its AF-S mode, it can shoot at 12fps for as many as 60 frames in Raw, or at 60fps for 50 frames in the Raw format using the electronic shutter.
In AF-C mode, continuous shooting speed drops to 9fps using the mechanical shutter and 20fps using the electronic shutter. The maximum shutter speed the mechanical shutter permits is 1/8000sec, but with the electronic shutter enabled, users have the option to shoot silently and up to as fast as 1/32,000sec.
The G9’s 225-area AF covers an extensive portion of the frame, and you get all the usual face/eye detection, tracking, custom multi, 1-area and pinpoint AF modes.
The AF working range (-4EV to 18EV) suggests the camera should perform well in low light, and there are three new AF modes too. AF-point scope has been designed to enlarge the subject temporarily to confirm the focus position, whereas focus switching specifies the AF area position on the setting screen.
The other new AF mode – loop movement – is designed to more easily allow the AF point to be moved from one side of the frame to the other. In addition, there are four AF case settings to choose from, all of which can be fine-tuned to adjust AF directionality depending on the type of shooting scene or subject.
The electronic viewfinder at the rear of the camera promises a sensational viewing experience with its large 0.83x magnification and impressive 3680-kdot resolution. The display speed can be set to 60fps or 120fps and it has a refresh rate of less than 0.005 seconds when set to the latter.
The magnification of the EVF is also switchable to 0.77x or 0.7x, which should make it easier to view the corners of the frame. It could be advantageous for those who wear glasses, too.
As standard for Panasonic, the G9 features an impressive video specification. It can record 4K video (3840 x 2160) at up to 60fps, with a bit-rate of 150Mbps and 4:2:0 8-bit colour output. Full HD movies can be recorded up to 60fps. Panasonic’s 6K Photo and 4K Photo offshoot modes are present too, allowing users to easily extract 8-megapixel stills from 4K footage at 60fps, or 18-megapixel stills from 6K at 30fps.
Elsewhere, there’s a 3.5mm microphone port and 3.5mm headphone socket. Both are located above the G9’s USB 3.0 Micro-B and HDMI Type-A interfaces. A new night mode can be used to turn the EVF or screen a shade of red, to prevent it dazzling your eyes when you’re working in the dark, and the top-plate LCD has a backlight to enable you to check exposure settings in low-light environments.
Users can now also allocate different burst settings to two drive modes. Drive Mode I and Drive Mode II are both located from the drive mode switch found beneath the mode dial.
Panasonic’s new power-saving LVF shooting mode promises up to 890 shots per charge from the same DMW-BLF19E as used in the Lumix GH5. With this mode switched off, however, average battery life is expected to be around 380 shots.
The camera’s dual-card slots are both UHS-II compatible to handle the high data rates required, and there’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity options to easily connect and wirelessly transmit images to mobile devices.
Panasonic Lumix G9 – Body and design
The G9’s body and design is quite a step up from the Lumix G7 and G80. Its strong magnesium alloy chassis gives it a high-end feel.
There are some nice touches, such as on/off switch that encircles a slanted shutter button, and sizeable top plate LCD of the type you’d get on a DSLR to refer to exposure settings without having to look at the rear screen or EVF.
There are also three dials – one just behind the shutter button, one thumb dial on the corner of the body, and a rear dial on the back of the camera that can be used to take independent control of shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
A flash of red between the mode dial and drive mode is a subtle cue to the G9’s premium status in the Lumix range, and its nice to see it embrace the AF-area selection joystick from the GH5.
Built to a splash/dust-proof standard and freeze-proof to -10ºC, the G9 also provides a rather useful new Fn lever at the front of the body. This can be setup to customise the camera for different types of shooting scenarios, and from the menu you’re given the option to change variables such as AF mode, Photo style, Image Quality, Self-timer, Shutter type and focus peaking.
It’s a slightly different approach to the G9’s custom modes, of which there are three available from the mode dial.
The G9’s 3-inch, 1040-kdot vari-angle screen is different to the 3.2-inch, 1.62-mdot vari-angle screen on the GH5. However, the touch functionality is much same and offers an alternative way of navigating the menu, setting the focus point and firing the shutter.
The exterior of the body is littered in customisable function buttons and the handgrip is deeper and better sculpted than the Lumix G7’s and Lumix G80’s. It’s been built to withstand daily use and the G9 feels like a camera you could shoot with quite comfortably over long durations.
With the Lumix G9, Panasonic has developed its most advanced camera for stills photographers. I walked away from our brief hands-on session very impressed. It certainly looks capable of doing what most serious amateurs, and enthusiasts want: to capture shots of fast action, sport and wildlife as easily as shooting motionless, static subjects.
I found the AF joystick a bit of a reach for my thumb and the movie-rec button is positioned a little too far back for my liking. However, only real-world testing will uncover whether these are serious concerns.
The G9 feels slightly heavier than its size suggests and the button layout and overall design is considerably more refined than previous G-series models aimed at a similar audience. It portrays the sense that it’s a serious stills camera in the hand and backs this up with some lovely DSLR-esque features.
To tie-in with the launch of the Lumix G9, Panasonic has also released a new battery grip (DMW-BGG9) for the camera. This optional accessory accepts one additional DMW-BLF19E battery. As well as doubling the shooting stamina, the grip mimics many of the G9’s key controls – including the AF selector – to offer a more intuitive shooting experience in the portrait orientation.
The grip is built to the same splash, dust-proof and freeze-proof construction as the camera and looks the part when it’s attached.
Anyone who pre-orders a Lumix G9 between the November 8th and December 24th will be entitled to the battery grip for free. The price for the battery grip once the promotion ends will be £309.99.
The Panasonic Lumix G9 certainly isn’t short of competition in the high-end mirrorless market, and I’m very much looking forward to finding out how well it performs at shooting wildlife and landscapes on an upcoming trip to South Africa in the coming weeks. Watch this space!
Leica DG ELMARIT 200mm f/2.8 POWER OIS lens
At the same time as announcing its new flagship stills camera, Panasonic revealed a new telephoto prime in the shape of the Leica DG ELMARIT 200mm f/2.8 POWER OIS.
This fast and relatively compact optic for Micro Four Thirds is equivalent to 400mm and will be fully compatible with the company’s 1.4x and 2x teleconverters.
Panasonic will be supplying a 1.4x converter with every lens that’s sold, giving the lens an impressive 560mm equivalent reach straight out of the box. Great news for sports and wildlife photographers to whom this lens is most likely to appeal.
As for its construction, the lens promises stunning image quality with a complex arrangement of 15 elements in 13 groups (2UED lenses), with a 9-bladed diaphragm delivering attractive bokeh. The lens will be 5-axis Dual I.S 2-compatible, and it uses Nano surface coatings to minimise flare and ghosting.
The lens accepts filters and adapters via its 77mm thread, and there’s a button on the side of the barrel that can be used as a Fn button, focus button or to recall a registered focus position. Those who’d like to mount the lens to a tripod or monopod for additional support will also greatly appreciate its permanently attached tripod collar.
The lens weighs 1245g (excluding lens cap, lens rear cap, lens hood and external tripod mount) and is due to go on sale in the first week of December, priced at £2,699.99.