When I was down at the Four x Five Photo Fest in San Antonio, I turned my eye to the Panasonic flagship, the G9. That was a month after I played with a Panasonic GX85, a model closer to entry level. In both cases, I used the premium Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f1.2 portrait lens. You can’t truly get the best out of a camera after only an hour of usage, but you can get some initial impressions. Here are some I had of the Panasonic G9, from the perspective of an Olympus shooter.
There is no getting around the size of the G9. It’s big. In fact, it’s larger than Sony’s flagship A9, which has a sensor that is nearly four times larger. Why would you want to get a micro 4/3 camera that is larger than full frame? It’s all about the lenses, the large ones. The G9 has a robust enough body and grip to balance a Panasonic Leica 100-400mm or the Olympus 300mm f4 Pro. One can argue that the Sony A9 is too small. The smallish grip is not comfortable enough to handle the larger full frame lenses.
And while the G9 is large, it’s still smaller than my Canon 6D full frame DSLR. So, size is relative, I guess. As a flagship, the camera is built like a tank with the requisite quality you would expect. While Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f1.2 is hefty prime on a Panasonic GX85 or my Olympus PEN-F, the G9 handles it with aplomb. Compared to Olympus flagship, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, the G9 is slightly wider but noticeably taller. In actual usage, the G9 feels a lot larger than the Olympus.
How does it shoot? Very fast. I focuses fast and the shutter has a hair trigger. For someone used to the PEN-F or OM-D E-M5 Mark II, the camera seems unbelievably speedy. I got the same feeling with the Olympus flagship too. I don’t know which is faster, but they both seem fast enough.
There’s a bunch of wacky focus modes I wasn’t used to, being new to Panasonic. There seems to be enough features that I should be able to setup an optimal one, for any occasion. The one I ended up with, seem to recognize people, the entire person and not just the face. It would draw rectangles around them like some kind of targeting computer. The actual results wasn’t always spot on. It was also hard to selectively focus on a particular area. If I owned this thing, I might still use some kind of center focus system, unless I was shooting fast action. Focusing properly, especially on a sophisticated camera, is something that takes more than an hour to figure out, I think.
I can’t comment on the ultimate image quality since I shot in JPEG — I knew I didn’t have a RAW converter for this camera. While I like how the post processed JPEG came out for my featured photo, in general, I wasn’t blown away by the look. Sure, the lens is sharp and the noise is clean so technically, I’m sure it will produce great results. And honestly, for any camera, it takes me at least several weeks of steady usage to really create the best quality images. Each camera has a different way of working, so it takes effort and developing muscle memory to turn out consistent keepers.
What was my major gripe? The exposure metering. The Panasonic seems to default to underexposure. Even when I crank up the exposure compensation a stop, even two stops, it would meter dark. Is it trying to preserve highlights? I’m not saying the Olympus does it properly but I prefer Olympus’ metering. I’m sure I can post process RAW files and brighten the shadows, but in JPEG, I’m limited. But, the metering was also not consistent. Sometimes, it would meter brighter in similar conditions. I’m sure if I had the camera for a while, I would figure it out. But it will take some effort.
I’m also not a fan the Panasonic color, which is either dull, perhaps because it’s underexposed or flat, even when the exposure is good. The best way to describe it might be “neutral”. I’m sure there are other JPEG settings that would amp it up, but it will take more post processing to get it to sing the way I want it to. Keep in mind that there is no proper color. What I like is probably very different from what you like.
I did turn the JPEG to a monochrome mode in camera, which, while not as contrasty as the one I like on the PEN-F, still looked good. The problem was, once it had the black and white effect on, it put the camera into some kind of consumer “dummy mode”. I could no longer change my exposure settings. On the PEN-F, I still have all photographic controls, even when set to my monochrome mode. Perhaps there is another way to do this on the Panasonic.
There are a couple of nits that also bugged me. When I shoot in a vertical portrait orientation on the Olympus, in playback, I can tilt the camera vertical and the image will fill the entire screen. The orientation sensor is used to properly position the picture for playback. The Panasonic doesn’t do this.
There is also no way to quickly toggle on and off, the Panasonic equivalent of the super control panel, which shows all of the camera’s major settings. With the Olympus, I can push a button to show or hide the control panel. With the Panasonic, I need to cycle through a few screens to hide or show what I need. It’s a lot slower and more cumbersome.
Some caveats. I did talk to a Panasonic sales rep, to see if there is a way to get around some of these nits. She didn’t know the answer, but perhaps, a technical rep might know of a different way to configure the camera. Despite my gripes, the G9 appears to be a very capable camera. For sports and fast action, I’m sure it would run rings around any of my current cameras. And, as I indicated above, it would really take me several weeks to adjust my shooting and optimize the images that I create.
The reality is, however, the G9 is not the kind of camera that I would normally use. And, unlike the Olympus cameras, which WOWed me with their color and exposure from my first shots, the Panasonic would take more work. I’ve always said, perhaps with a bit of laziness, that I prefer Olympus for still photography and Panasonic for video. After playing with the G9 and even the GX85, I’ll stick to that general assessment.
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