I’ve said for a while, for micro 4/3 mirrorless cameras, I recommend Olympus for still photography and Panasonic for video. This may be an over simplification, but I think it’s a good rule of thumb. But it’s good to re-evaluate one’s assumptions from time to time. I was at Precision Camera’s Expo yesterday, spending several hours looking over the latest gear and updating my mental database of available cameras. Today is part one, which focuses on Panasonic. They make the closest cousins to the Olympus cameras that I shoot most often.
I own a lot of cameras, including a Panasonic point and shoot, a Panasonic compact super zoom and four Panasonic micro 4/3 lenses. But I’ve never owned a Panasonic micro 4/3 camera. When Precision Camera advertised some killer Panasonic show specials, it piqued my interest. Conveniently, the Panasonic display was right next to Olympus, so I could easily compare the cameras from both companies.
The Panasonic Lumix G7, at $499 + $100 gift card, was an incredible bargain. That was the show special that got me thinking. It maybe the first time a mirrorless bundle had undercut the Nikon and Canon DSLR specials you typically see at this time.
Believe it or not, with all the cameras I own, I don’t have anything that shoots 4K video. And the G7 does, and very well apparently. The body is a very light and comfortable with DSLR styling. It’s a bit plasticky but appears solid enough and certainly at least comparable with entry-level DSLRs. I would recommend the G7 over the starter Nikons and Canons. Unlike those entry-level DSLRs, the Panasonic G7 has a surprisingly nice and large EVF that runs circles around the peephole like optical view finders from Nikon and Canon.
I even considered buying the G7 for a while, imagining a good 4K video feature that I don’t have. But ultimately, I decided against the opportunity. The big missing feature for me is the in-body image stabilization (IBIS). The G7 comes with a old-fashioned 2 axis image stabilized lens but I’ve grown addicted to the Olympus’ 5 stop, 5 axis variety. My micro 4/3 lenses don’t have image stabilization so IBIS is critical for me, both for stills and video.
The other noteworthy show special was the two lens Panasonic GX85 kit for $599. The GX85 does have IBIS, though not has good as the Olympus’, requiring a lens to get complete 5-axis stabilization. It’s a compact “range finder like” design, instead of the DSLR aesthetic of the G7. It has a minimal no-nonsense design that Panasonic are known for. Also 4K video capable, but with a disappointing EVF, which looked inferior to my eyes than the less expensive G7. I found the EVF very small, dark, contrasty and with overly vivid colors. While usable, I didn’t find it nearly as enjoyable at the G7 or my Olympus EVFs. At $599, it was expensive enough that it was no longer in my “impulse buy” range.
I didn’t look seriously at the well regard GH4 and GH5 models that are loved by video pros. I want 4K video but nothing that serious or capable. They did have the recently announced Lumix G9, however, which warranted additional play time.
The Lumix G9 is a chunky well-built camera. It’s the high-end professional stills camera from Panasonic. In may ways, it’s a response to Olympus’ flagship, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II. The feature sets of both cameras match very closely. I’m sure each company has their advantages, but they both play in the same ballpark of capability. The G9’s list price is also $300 less that Olympus, though recent discounts from Olympus matches in price.
The defining observation of the G9, is it’s size. It’s significantly larger than the E-M1 Mark II. The G9 has the looks and build of a professional DSLR though smaller than the full frame variety. Size wise, it’s larger than the entry-level APS-C DSLRs and a tad smaller than the mid-level APS-C DSLRs like the Nikon D7200. For someone used to a serious (non-entry-level) DSLR, it would be a comfortable change in a slightly smaller package.
While I’m not currently in the market for a top of the line sports-action mirrorless camera, I suppose the G9 deserves careful consideration. However, as someone who views the Olympus E-M1 Mark II as large, certainly compared to my E-M5 Mark II or PEN-F, the Lumix G9 looks downright hefty. That alone might drive me to the E-M1 Mark II. However, for anyone who shoots action with the larger micro 4/3 lenses, the Lumix G9’s additional body size with beefier grip might be preferable.
In the final analysis, for my needs, I still prefer the offerings from Olympus. But there are certainly well priced cameras from Panasonic and the top of the line G9 looks awesome for people who prefer a larger body. I’m glad that these two companies both compete and enrich the wide variety of choices in the micro 4/3 world.
Note: Photo above, courtesy of the Panasonic website.
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