Review: the 2018 Panasonic Lumix G9

When it comes to Micro Four Thirds, Panasonic is well respected for their expertise in video while Olympus for photography. This is especially true for the flagship cameras such as Panasonic GH5 and Olympus E-M1 Mark II. Therefore, when Panasonic launched their new Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 recently, it seemed like they were targeting the photography crowd, considering the very similar photography specific features the G9 has in comparison to the E-M1 Mark II.  In this article, I explore the stills shooting capabilities of the Panasonic G9.

As always, this is an independent review and neither Ming Thein nor I are associated with Panasonic Malaysia. The Panasonic G9 and several Panasonic lenses were on loan and have been returned at the time of writing this review. This is a user experience review, and my opinion may be subjective. I was not able to test all features of the camera and shall only focus on the highlights of the G9. I am not adequately equipped to do a video review for this camera. All images shown here were shot in RAW,  except the sequential burst shots which were shot in JPEG (for my sanity). The RAW files were converted to DNG directly via Adobe DNG Converter and post-processed in Capture One Pro.

You may find all the primary images (and a few extra samples) online on Google Photos here. 

The Panasonic G9 is an ambitious camera, sporting some of the best features for Micro Four Thirds.

In terms of AF and shooting speed, the G9 is able to do 20fps with full continuous autofocus using the Depth From Defocus (DFD) technology. The 20fps is only possible via the electronic shutter – you’re limited to 9fps with the mechnical shutter. Panasonic claimed that the G9 features a similar 20MP image sensor as the flagship GH5, but has a new and improved image processing engine. Further, the G9 has Dual IS 2, combining the built in body 5-Axis IS and lens IS. When used with compatible lenses the Dual IS 2 can achieve a claimed 6.5 stops (CIPA rated) of shake compensation. Like the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, the G9 is equipped with a high res shot capability. By taking 8 separate images in quick succession and by moving the image sensor by half a pixel between each shot and finally, combining these images, the G9 can output a full 80MP composite image. The electronic viewfinder has 3.68M dot resolution and 0.83x equivalent magnification. The G9 is fully weather sealed, and its body made of magnesium alloy. The G9 stands out – visually – from its other mirrorless brethren thanks to the addition of a top plate LCD panel, which shows primary camera settings and information. For a full specifications list, you can visit Panasonic’s official product page here.

I only had a few days with the Panasonic G9 and shot insect macro, street and also a live band performance – giving me diverse enough shooting experience for a review. Special thanks to Christine Hia for allowing me to shoot the super adorable Rocky. You are a life-saver.

Olympus 60mm Macro, F11, 1/100, ISO200, Flash Used

Olympus 60mm Macro, F10, 1/60, ISO200, Flash Used

Olympus 60mm Macro, F9, 1/60, ISO200, Flash Used

Olympus 60mm Macro, F5, 1/50, ISO200

There is a reason why I always try to shoot insect macro when I am reviewing a camera. The critters don’t show themselves in the best locations and in most cases you have to contort your body into uncomfortable positions to get a decent composition. Hand-holding the camera in this scenario is the ultimate test for camera comfort and handling.

The Panasonic G9 is about the same size as the GH5, slightly larger than the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, and looks just like a DSLR. In fact, it handles and feels like a DSLR in hand. If you dislike the bulk then there are smaller mirrorless camera options out there. I welcome the (relatively) beefy grip of the camera which adds much-needed comfort and stability while shooting insects. Over 3 hours of shooting along a hiking trail, I never felt discomfort and had a confident grip every time I took my shot. I did, however, wish that the camera was a tiny bit lighter, but I’m sure I will get used to this over a week more or two.

Shooting through that super large, 0.83x magnified and 3.68M dot electronic viewfinder was a new experience for me. The EVF was so bright and detailed that I can tell directly if my subject was slightly out of focus. The EVF did drop in resolution significantly when the camera was acquiring AF (half-press of shutter button), but that was brief and should not impact the overall shooting process. It was just noticeable and can be annoying when I was trying so hard to make sure my spider was in focus.

Pincushion effect on the EVF

On another hand, the EVF exhibited obvious pincushion distortion with the edges being curved into the frame. I did not find this to affect my shooting at all, but those who rely heavily on the EVF for wide angle shooting may find the curved edges frustrating. I guess that is one compromise that happened when a super large magnification was applied to an EVF. If you can somehow overlook the pincushion distorted EVF, this was easily the best EVF available in the market now.

An interesting observation about using the G9 with an Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens. The Panasonic G9 is faster and locks focus (using Single-AF) more efficiently than the Olympus E-M1 Mark II. This was a surprise, and I was pleased to be able to use autofocus for most of my macro shots – instead of my usual manual focus.

Panasonic 15mm, F3.2, 1/160, ISO400

Panasonic 42.5mm, F1.7, 1/80, ISO200

Panasonic 42.5mm, F2.8, 1/50, ISO400

Panasonic 42.5mm, F1.7, 1/320, ISO200

Panasonic 42.5mm, F4, 1/200, ISO200

The next test arena was the streets. This has been my default test for all cameras. To me, it is most important that a camera is able to respond quickly. What is the point of having a super high resolution camera, which can produce clean 1 million ISO images if you can’t rely on it to successfully nail the shot in the first place?

The Panasonic G9 was quick – reacting to my AF adjustments and the shutter button instantaneously. The camera was extremely fast and I managed to nail several critical moments confidently. As expected, the autofocus is almost fail proof in good light.

However, when the light drops, autofocus behaviour changes. I brought the G9 to a dimly lit bar/cafe with a stage (Merdekarya, PJ), one that I frequent for local singer-songwriters performances. The G9 managed to do quite well, but I did have some misses which were troubling. There were moments when the AF failed to lock focus, and then the EVF/LCD screen went completely black for a couple seconds, before returning to normal. I’m not sure what caused this temporary black-out, but I have not observed this with any other camera, not even with the other Panaosnic cameras I have used (LX100, GH4 and GM1). The EVF black-out happened only when the camera struggled to acquire focus repeatedly. I’m guessing the camera resorts to some kind of back-up focusing mechanism when the primary method fails. To remedy this, I changed the focus point and targeted parts of the frame that had more contrast.

Panasonic 12-60mm, F4, 1/4000, ISO200

Panasonic 12-60mm, F4, ISO200 (shutter speed varies). 20fps C-AF test. See the full set of 48 images captured by C-AF on 20fps electronic shutter burst here. 

Panasonic 12-60mm, F4, ISO200 (shutter speed varies). 9fps C-AF test. See full set of 58 images captured by S-AF on 9fps mechanical shutter burst here.

Panasonic 12-60mm, F4, 1/1250, ISO200, 4K Photo 60fps test

See full set of 109 images shot by 4K Photo 60fps here. 

I am not a sports photographer and I rarely shoot fast action subjects. I don’t use continuous AF during my usual shooting. Therefore, shooting a harmless, cute little dog is the best I can offer. If you want flying birds, human somersaults or exploding spaceships, there are other reviews which may sate your appetite.

The first test was with the full 20fps electronic shutter sequential shooting. I set the focusing area to “Custom Multi”, and clustered the group points right in the middle of the frame. The focusing mode was set to C-AF. I could only manage about 50 shots before the camera stopped. It’s important to note that I was shooting RAW + JPEG on a UHS-1 card. The lens used for this test was the Panasonic Leica 12-60mm F2.8-4 IS.

The G9 did a fantastic job in tracking Rocky from one end of the pool as he swam towards me in a straight line. Out of the 48 shots in the series, I counted only 4 images which were out of focus, but the camera was so quick to reacquire focus that within the next frame or two, the focusing was back on track. I repeated a similar test at least 8 times, and have achieved similar success each time.

Next, I tried the 9fps burst with mechanical shutter to follow the dog with lateral movements. Standing at the side of the pool, I followed Rocky from left to right, and then back to where he started. Again, the G9 did a superb job following Rocky with only a few, frames slightly out of focus. I’m thoroughly impressed by what Panasonic has achieved with the Depth From Defocus (DFD) for continuous AF.

There is a 6K Photo mode that allows bursts up to 30fps, or 4K photo mode at 60fps. While this sounds impressve, the photos were all in JPEG at appropriately reduced resolution (18MP for 6k and 8MP for 4K). The Olympus E-M1 Mark II is capable of 60fps and you get to keep RAW + JPEG files in full resolution.

Panasonic 42.5mm, F3.5, 1/160, ISO200

Crop from previous image

Panasonic 42.5mm, F2.8, 1/100, ISO400

Panasonic 12-60mm, F4, 1/125, ISO400

Panasonic 7-14mm, F6.3, 1/500, ISO200, High Res Shot

High Res Shot 80MP vs Normal Shot 20MP

Beware of moving subjects, creating articfacts in high res shots.

The Panasonic G9 is capable of excellent image quality. In terms of resolution, images are sharp and very detailed – thanks to the absence of an anti-alias filter. The latest 20MP sensor also means that this is one of the best options available for Micro Four Thirds right now.

For the 80MP high res shot, the camera must rest on a steady surface ( ideally it should be mounted on a sturdy tripod), and the subject must be completely still. Any movement, either the camera or the subject, will render weird artifacts in the final result. If you can control these variables, then you can get a whopping 80MP image output.

There is no easy way of saying this, but I dislike the color profile of the G9. The default JPEG color and the white balance engine don’t work for me. I find the reds unnatural with strong hints of magenta and the green channel is off as well. Skin tones don’t look close to real life and the overall balance is not pleasing. Perhaps the problem is not with the camera, but my own preference.

Therefore, for this particular review, I have painstakingly converted the files from RAW to DNG and processed the images individually in Capture One Pro. I have never tweaked color extensively for any of my reviews before and this was my first time changing the color profile. I did this because I believe the images from the Panasonic G9 deserve better color treatment than what is produced straight out of the camera.

Panasonic 12-60mm, F20, 1/5, ISO200, hand-held

Panasonic 12-60mm, F8, 4 seconds, ISO100, hand-held

Panasonic 12-60mm, F10, 5 seconds, ISO200, hand-held

Crop from previous image

Lets talk about that dual IS 6.5 stops Image Stabilization. At first I was skeptical about the claims from Panasonic, especially having tried the GX8 and GH5 which were nowhere near the Olympus’ capabilities. Quite frankly, I had low expectations when testing the IS.

But… boy oh boy, was I wrong.

I can confidently hand-hold the Panasonic G9 with the 12-60mm F2.8-4 IS lens down to about 5 seconds, with a 50% hit rate. Yes, you heard that right – 5 seconds! I thought I could only do that with the Olympus E-M1 Mark II. However, my coffee intake has also increased significantly over the past few months and the shakes were actively working against me when I tested the G9. I was blown away by the stabilization capabilities of this camera.

Of course, I’m not saying there is no need for a tripod, and for any serious slow shutter, long exposure photography, a sturdy and reliable tripod is mandatory. The image stabilization is a life-saver in situations when a tripod is absent, and allows you to get the shot in less than ideal conditions.

I had no chance to test the dual IS with longer lenses, as the longest Panasonic lens I had was the 12-60mm F2.8-4 lens.

Panasonic 12-60mm, F4, 1/320, ISO6400

ISO6400, RAW processed (left) vs SOOC JPEG (right). Pay attention to the yellow color patches on the eye-brows on the JPEG image.

Panasonic 42.5mm, F1.7, 1/640, ISO800

Panasonic 12-60mm, F3.9, 1/160, ISO3200

Panasonic 12-60mm, F4, 1/100, ISO3200

The final test was shooting in low light. Shooting live performances on stage is a big challenge, and I often find myself using ISO to 3200 and 6400 to obtain a fast enough shutter speed to freeze movements.

The default JPEG engine does a poor job at managing the high ISO noise and details balance. There are noticeable traces of over-sharpening and artificial blurring of details at ISO3200 and higher. I also observed random, stray color fringes in shadow areas that look ugly. I tried various noise reduction settings in camera and they all produced undesirable results. In summary, at high ISO, shoot RAW.

By applying just a hint of noise reduction, I can get away with very usable images even up to ISO6400. I don’t mind the presence of some luminance noise, as long as the image does not look like water-color in the end. I’d rather keep some luminance noise and protect the structural integrity of the image and have it look more natural. The high ISO performance of the G9 sits right at the top of Micro Four Thirds system, alongside Panasonic GH5 and Olympus E-M1 Mark II.

In terms of battery life, I didn’t exhaust the batteries on day-long shoots where I shot about 500-600 shots per day. Since I had one battery to work with, I had to keep it charged for the following day and wasn’t able to deplete it completely for testing purposes.

I did enjoy using the Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 tremendously. It is a high-performing camera, filled with impressive features that just work. The image quality is excellent. The continuous AF is one of the best I have seen on a Micro Four Thirds camera, and the Dual IS 2 surprised me while shooting dangerously slow shutter speeds hand-held. The bright and high resolution EVF was so pleasing to use and the camera confidently nails images one after another.

I do, however, dislike the default color profile of the G9 and found the JPEG to be poor in handling high ISO images. This is a minor problem considering I mostly shoot RAW and post-process images to my liking. The AF suffers a minor hiccup in extremely low light conditions (which the LX100, GH4 and GM1 never had any issue) but this happens so rarely that it shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

The Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 is highly recommended for Micro Four Thirds shooters who want the best for all photography needs. And for those looking to venture into mirrorless from the DSLR camp, the G9 should sit high on your list of considerations.

The Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 is available from B&H

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