Oslo: Panasonic G9 + Panasonic Leica 8-18mm @ 18mm, 100 ISO f/5.6, 1/1000sec
From Portugal to the Arctic Circle (@-25 degrees Celsius), the Panasonic Lumix G9 was my trusty companion for action, sports and nature photography. Both the lightning-fast continuous AF of the Lumix G9 and the fastest single AF of all cameras tested to date were impressive. The weather-resistant body and super-silent mechanical shutter were super. And the specifications of the Panasonic Lumix G9 don’t lie: 4K 60p (150 Mb/sec) video, 4K and 6K Photo, a double UHS-2 SD card slot, 5-axis image stabilization, 40- to 80-megapixel high-resolution shots.
Panasonic Lumix G9: more than perfect for action, nature and sports photography.
Panasonic offers an extensive selection of cameras:
- the attractively priced Panasonic G80, with the ergonomics of an SLR camera and the advantages of a mirrorless system camera, is the most popular Panasonic camera. It is a broadly useful camera, made for a big group (practically all amateur photographers).
- the hybrid flagship Panasonic GH5 (recently also a GH5s), looks just like a G80, but on top of all G80’s photographic capabilities, it offers everything a professional videographer needs for making high-quality 4K video recordings. The GH5 is extremely popular with those who are serious about video, because this camera offers image quality and capabilities that you find on professional cameras from other brands, costing thousands of euros more.
- the ideal travel camera (or camera for street photography) Panasonic GX9 (with the GX80 and GX8 as forerunners), with the dimensions, ergonomics and ease of use of a rangefinder camera. This kind of camera is sold less often than cameras like the G80, but rangefinder cameras are highly appreciated by travel and street photographers who deliberately opt for a low-profile, high-quality camera.
- super-compact cameras, like the Panasonic GX800 and GF7, which are ideal for beginning photographers and bloggers, who always want to have an affordable, compact and good camera at hand.
The G9 was missing from this list: a flagship for nature, action and sports photography: a robust, freeze-resistant and dust- and splash-proof camera body with a 20-megapixel sensor (without an anti-aliasing filter), which focuses in a few milliseconds, can take pictures with burst speeds of up to 60 images (RAW and jpg) per second and to 20 shots per second with continuous AF.
Even though the target group for this camera consists of photographers, that does not mean that Panasonic has scrimped on the video capabilities. With 4K in 60 frames per second and Full HD in 180 frames per second, the Panasonic G9 makes video recordings that you cannot make with cameras from other brands in this price range.
The Panasonic G9 is the first Panasonic Lumix camera with an LCD window on top of the body. Advanced photographers who were used to photographing with a high-end SLR camera appreciate an LCD screen on top of the camera. A nature photographer who works from a tripod, for example, sees the camera settings at a glance without having to kneel down to look through the viewfinder. You could also use the freely turning and tilting LCD screen on the back of the camera for that, although the battery will be used up sooner if you do that for a long time.
The Panasonic G9 is dust-proof, splash-proof and freeze-resistant (guaranteed down to -10 degrees). During a few weeks above the Arctic Circle, there was not a moment when the camera even thought about stopping, even though it snowed occasionally and temperatures sometimes reached -24 degrees. But perhaps the most remarkable thing is the combination of a weatherproof camera with a fully turning and tilting touch screen. You only find that with Panasonic and Olympus.
The Canon 6D is one of the other rare first swallows predicting the summer. This Canon camera with a full-frame sensor is also weather-resistant (but not freeze-resistant) and also has a freely turning and tilting screen. But the touchscreen functionality is limited, while the G9 takes full advantage of the capabilities of the touchscreen.
Panasonic GH5 vs G9
The Panasonic GH5 and G9 have an equivalent 20-megapixel micro-43 sensor. Although Panasonic indicates that the more modern Venus image processor of the G9 allows a slightly better image quality than that of the GH5, there are other, more eye-catching, differences.
The first obvious differences are the red ring around the transport mode button and the LCD screen on top of the G9. Compared to the Panasonic GH5, the G9 is slightly smaller, but has a larger grip, making the G9 more comfortable in the hand in combination with a 100-400 mm or 200 mm f/2.8 telephoto lens.
The Panasonic GH5 offers higher video image quality (4:2:2 10-bit) and specific video image styles, such as Hybrid log gamma, or (for a small surcharge) V-logL. The Panasonic G9 also offers 4K @ 60p video, but distinguishes itself as a professional photo camera. With continuous AF, the GH5 is no match for the much faster G9. The buffer of the GH5 (unlimited for jpg shots) is larger than that of the G9 (about 50 jpg shots), while with the G9 (60 images per second), the buffer fills up faster than with the GH5 (12 images per second). The Panasonic G9 offers the option of taking high resolution shots from a tripod. That’s not possible with the GH5.
The bigger viewfinder of the (approximately 200 euros cheaper) G9 (0.89x: really unique!) relative to the GH5 (0.76x) is a pleasant surprise, as is the improved image stabilization, which, according to the specifications, delivers 6.5 stops (vs. 5.5 with the GH5) with some Panasonic lenses.
Panasonic cameras only use contrast detection for autofocus and not phase detection, like most other brands. Even so, the AF of the Panasonic G9 is faster. With single AF, the Panasonic G9 offers the fastest AF results of all system cameras (SLR and mirrorless) of all the brands we have tested (more than 50 camera/lens combinations). Because Panasonic focuses on the sensor signal, for both focusing speed and accuracy: Olympus and Panasonic cameras score very high in our tests when it comes to focusing precision.
With continuous AF, Panasonic has so far not managed to focus as quickly and accurately as the competition. But the Panasonic G9 does manage it: it focuses about as successfully in continuous shooting as a Canon 7D mk2. Both cameras are on the heels of the Nikon D500 for the title of best action camera.
The shots above are image excerpts from two consecutive pictures, shot with continuous AF at 20 frames per second, where I moved the central AF point from the white horse (first shot) to the brown horse (second shot). The Panasonic G9 succeeds in keeping these two horses, who are galloping toward the camera, with continuous AF. The performance is extra remarkable, because the shots are taken with a 200 mm f/2.8 telephoto lens, with a limited depth of field.
Another striking feature of Panasonic cameras is that they focus remarkably well in low light, regardless of the aperture you choose. Because a large part of the sensor surface is used for AF, the Panasonic G9 still focuses at -4EV. However, specifications do not say everything. Sony cameras have the same sensitivity according to the specs, but less in practice. Sony cameras focus at the aperture you have set on the camera. If you want to take a picture with a lot of depth of field in low light, then with a Panasonic (like with a Nikon) camera, you have the advantage over a Sony camera.
BUILD QUALITY & Features
Fastest shutter speed of the Panasonic G9: 1/32,000 second!
The Panasonic G9 body is slightly smaller than that of the Panasonic GH5, but it has a slightly larger grip, making the camera sit easier in the hand with a big telephoto lens. The dust- and splash water-resistant aluminum body is very solid and sits comfortably in the hand. The camera is sufficiently large to also provide plenty of space for operating all buttons. What took some time to get used to was that the shutter was set to very high sensitivity. When you press the shutter halfway, the camera will focus. But with the Panasonic G9, I initially took a picture right away when I only wanted to focus. The longer I used the G9, the fewer accidental shots I took.
Personally, I like to set a camera to aperture priority (landscapes or portraits) or shutter priority (action and sports photography) and then to use my index finger for aperture or shutter speed and my thumb for over- and underexposure, while the camera is set to auto ISO (with 3200 as the upper limit).
The Panasonic G9 shoots 60 images per second with pre-focus (AF-S) or 20 frames per second with continuous autofocus (AF-C) when using the electronic shutter. Thanks to a large buffer, the G9 also keeps that up for a long time: nearly 50 RAW + jpg shots in 1 series.
Note the new switch at the bottom right: this switch can be assigned to a series of specific menu functions. During the test, I used this button to quickly switch to night mode.
IMAGE QUALITY OF THE Panasonic G9
Panasonic G9 + Panasonic 200mm f/2.8
As far as image quality is concerned, the Panasonic G9 is close to the Olympus OM-D EM1 mk2 and the Panasonic GH5. Thanks to better noise suppression, the image quality of the Panasonic G9 at high ISO settings is better than that of the Panasonic GH5: above 400 ISO, the G9 loses less detail due to the increasing noise suppression. the color reproduction is nicely neutral and pleasant. At very high contrasts, micro-43 cameras have less detail left in the highlights than with full-frame cameras.
80-MEGAPIXEL SHOTS THANKS TO PIXEL SHIFt
As far as resolution, dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio are concerned, the Panasonic G9 pixel shift shots are comparable to those taken with a Canon 5DsR, Sony A7R II or a Nikon D810.
Just like the Olympus OM-D EM1 mk2 and the Sony A7R III, the Panasonic G9 can control the image stabilization of the sensor so accurately that it is possible to make a series of shots in which the sensor is shifted by 1 pixel. In this pixel-shift mode, you can take up to 80-megapixel shots with ultra-high resolution. This feature is ideal for table-top and macro photography, where the subject does not move. For a landscape shot, it has to be so still that the leaves don’t move while the series of shots is taken. The results are impressive: thanks to the pixel-shift function, the Panasonic G9 can keep up with today’s very best full-frame cameras in terms of resolution. It is also possible to combine multiple shots into a 40-megapixel image, which is less affected by moiré and whose signal-to-noise ratio is better than that of a normal G9 image. Below you can see a YouTube video from Panasonic Australia with a demonstration of pixel shift on a Panasonic G9.
The best solution for this problem is focus stacking, where you make a series of shots from a tripod with the focus point shifted a little bit and then combine all the shots into one fully sharp image. The above product shot – sharp from front to back – is made in this way with the Panasonic G9. You indicate in the camera menu for focus bracketing how many shots you want to have and how big the steps must be in which the AF is adjusted. The Panasonic G9 (and most other Panasonic cameras) then does the rest. The composite image is also created in the camera and saved as jpg. If you prefer to work with RAW recordings in Photoshop, as with the shot above, that’s possible too.
Panasonic G9 + Panasonic Leica 200mm f/2.8 @ 3200 ISO
The jpg picture above directly from the camera was made under favorable conditions, with 3200 ISO. You would not think that looking at the image: there is less noise visible than you would expect for a 3200 ISO image made with a micro-43 sensor. With the Panasonic G9, I prefer 3200 ISO as the upper limit, but with some extra editing and/or favorable lighting conditions, you can go even higher.
At low ISO values (under 400 ISO), the Panasonic G9 gives little up to cameras with a bigger sensor. The signal-to-noise ratio of a micro-43 sensor is then equivalent to the signal-to-noise ratio of an APS-C sensor, especially if the APS-C sensor is equipped with an anti-aliasing filter. (The Panasonic G9 does not have that.) Even with cameras with a full-frame sensor, the difference in signal-to-noise ratio below 400 ISO is less than the 2 stops, which you would expect based on the difference in size. If you compare the signal-to-noise ratio with a full-frame camera from a few years back, the G9 will beat it on dynamic range, signal-to-noise ratio and resolution, as long as you don’t push the ISO too far.
We started this story with a 3200 ISO shot, made under optimal conditions, and we finish it with a shot made in a worst-case scenario. Under poor lighting conditions, the signal-to-noise ratio at higher ISO values (from 1600 ISO; 6400 ISO in the image below) shows the limits of the possibilities with a micro-43 sensor.
Tromso, Noorwegen, 9uur ‘s ochtends: Panasonic G9 + Panasonic Leica 8-18mm @ 18mm f/4.5, 6400 ISO, 1/10 sec
4K 60F AND FULL HD 180F VIDEO FOR SLOW-MOTIOn
The video quality of Panasonic cameras has been cutting-edge in recent years. There are few cameras with which you can get 180 frames per second (180f) in full HD and 60 images per second in 4K (with a bitrate of 150Mbit/s).
USER-FRIENDLY TIMELAPSE FUNCTION
The Panasonic G9 has, like other Panasonic cameras, a very user-friendly timelapse function.
For timelapse shots, an electronic shutter is absolutely preferred.
What is often overlooked when making timelapse recordings is the lifespan of a mechanical shutter. The lifespan of the best mechanical shutters is guaranteed to a few hundred (in the case of the G9: two hundred) thousand shots. For a 50f timelapse video lasting 10 minutes, you need 30,000 successful frames. If 10% of your shots are good enough to end up in your final timelapse, you have already taken 300,000 shots (and worn out a mechanical shutter) for 1 timelapse video of 10 minutes.
STABILIZATION IN LENS AND CAMERa
The Panasonic G9 is equipped with Panasonic’s most modern image stabilization (Dual IS 2), where camera and lens work together to keep the image as still as possible. That works even better than the Dual IS from previous Panasonic cameras and is so effective that Panasonic is now sharing the lead with Olympus when it comes to image stabilization. Duals IS 2 is currently only possible with a limited number of Panasonic lenses, where in some cases you first have to do a firmware update before benefitting from Dual IS 2. The shot below is made with the Panasonic 200 mm f/2.8 + Panasonic 1.4x converter (i.e. a field of view corresponding to a 560 mm lens on a full-frame sensor camera) and a shutter speed of 1/40 of a second!
CONCLUSION: PANASONIC G9 REVIEW
- Lightning-fast continuous AND single AF
- Biggest viewfinder of all reviewed cameras
- 40- & 80-megapixel HighRezz mode
- 4K and 6K photo mode
- 2 (UHS 2!!) SD card slots
- Dust- and splashwater-tight & freeze resistant, yet a freely turning screen
- 4K 60f and Full HD 180f video
- In-body image stabilization combined with lens stabilization
- Night mode, AF joystick, LCD screen on top of the camera
- Silent mechanical shutter
- Fastest shutter speed (with electronic shutter) of 1/32,000!
- High rezz mode only usable from a tripod for a static subject
- Brightness of viewfinder cannot be adjusted separately
- 100 ISO is the lowest ISO setting
- Above 6400 ISO, you’re better off with a full-frame sensor due to the signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range
The Panasonic G9 is a camera with a (semi-)professional price tag. Not everyone buys a camera body for more than one and a half thousand euros. But if you’re planning to, the Panasonic G9 is an ideal starting point for a checklist with features you find important for your new camera. The Panasonic G9 offers a combination of features that you won’t find with any other professional cameras in the segment from 1500 to 4500:
Click on the lens for specifications, price & test results.
The good ergonomics and easy-to-use buttons on the Panasonic G9 are important, but they do not make the camera unique in comparison with other professional cameras. The Panasonic G9 does distinguish itself (along with the GH5 and the Olympus OMD EM1 mk2) from the competition with a body that is not only dust- and splash-proof and freeze resistant but also has a freely turning and tilting touchscreen. The viewfinder of the Panasonic G9 (0.83x) is larger than the viewfinder of a Sony A9 (0.73x) or a Canon 1Dx mk2 (0.7x) and much larger than the viewfinder of the Canon 7D mk2. The combination of in-body stabilization with lens stabilization puts Panasonic, along with Olympus, on top when it comes to image stabilization. The video (image quality and capabilitites) of the Panasonic G9 are at least equivalent, but mostly better than comparable cameras from other brands. Finally, a silent shutter with a fastest shutter speed of 1/32,000, night mode, 40- and 80-megapixel high rezz mode, 4K and 6K photo are nice-to-have features that further distinguish the Panasonic G9 from all professional cameras on the market.