Lumix G9: A Still Photo Centric Camera From Panasonic
It’s been about a week now since Panasonic announced the Lumix G9. I’ve held off writing anything, wanting to digest it all before giving my take on what looks to be a great new camera. For all those folks who were blinded by the incredible video capabilities of the Lumix GH4 and GH5, Lumix has now made it possible for you to remove your blinders.
I’m guessing there will still be those who say, “I’ve never heard of Lumix,” as a reason to keep their blinders in place. But may I suggest you do so at your own peril since ignoring this electronic/technology powerhouse, you may get left behind—much like what’s happening to the world’s two largest camera companies that refuse to accept that photographers no longer want to carry large, heavy, expensive gear. Does anyone remember Kodak dragging their feet, wanting desperately to keep selling film?
I first had a chance to see a non-working prototype of the G9 this past summer when Lumix engineers came to visit me in Montana. I was aware they were working on a photo-centric camera, but I had no idea they would stuff so many high tech capabilities into such an amazingly small package. The other surprise they dropped was the new Leica 200mm F/2.8 and teleconverters. My only real disappointment in that meeting was the lack of information on the Leica 50-200mm F/2.8-4 we’ve all heard rumors about since last year. 4/3 Rumors recently ran a post stating that a Lumix executive announced the 50-200mm—indeed coming in 2018, but who knows for certain?
Lumix G9 Specs
Below is a bulleted list of the G9 specs. We’ll talk about most of these in further text.
- 20.3MP Digital Live MOS Sensor
- Venus Engine Image Processor
- UHD 4K60p Video
- 80MP High-Res Shot Mode
- 5-Axis Sensor Stabilization; Dual I.S. 2
- 0.83x 3.68m-Dot OLED Viewfinder
- 3.0″ 1.04m-Dot Free-Angle Touchscreen
- Top Status LCD; Rear Joystick
- Advanced DFD AF System; 6K PHOTO
- ISO 25600 and 60 fps Continuous Shooting
- Dual UHS-II SD Slots; Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
20.3MP Digital Live MOS Sensor and Venus Engine
Optimized for high-speed high-resolution imaging, the G9 packs in both a 20.3MP Light MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor and an enhanced Venus Engine processor to create sharp, detailed stills and UHD 4K video. This configuration maximizes resolution while keeping noise to a minimum, permitting the use of sensitivities up to ISO 25600.
Dual IS Gives 6.5 Stops of Image Stabilization
Panasonic’s Lumix engineers are not only claiming 6.5 stops of Image Stabilization with Dual IS up to 280mm, but they’re also claiming 6.5 stops for non-IS lenses that aren’t telephoto. In other words, 6.5 stops of Image Stabilization for lenses that are wide angle to normal range, even if they don’t have IS built into the lens. I hope I have that right, seems hard to believe but we shall see.
80MP High-Res Photo Mode
This is a feature that several camera companies are now implementing. In short, the G9 collects eight images, shot within split seconds of each other, and the camera then merges them together to give you a monster file. There are concerns by nature shooters that anything that moves in the frame, like blowing leaves, could be a problem, but for rushing water and silky skies, I think this new tool will be a huge bonus. Could be a problem, but so far there are some positive looking tests already appearing across the net.
Crazy Frame Rates
OK, I have to give credit where credit is due. Olympus started the 60 frames per second RAW shooting capabilities. I’ve never talked to anyone who has used this feature on the Olympus, and I have to say, who wants to edit 60fps? But…it’s there if and when you need it. No traditional DSLR comes even close. This is a fabulous feature. Something that Panasonic has done differently than Olympus is to make sure both the G9’s SD card slots are SDXC-ll capable. Meaning you have super fast speeds to both cards. Olympus chose to have two slots, but one is SDXC-ll and the other is SDXC-I. With the G9’s dual SDXC-ll SD card capabilities, you can actually shoot at 60fps, and when one card is writing the image, the other card can take over to handle the extra data, giving the first slot time to clear. The 60fps actually becomes a useful tool, but I will personally use it sparingly since I can’t imagine sifting through that many images. The additional frame rates are: 20fps with AF-C when using the G9’s electronic shutter, 12fps for AF-S, and 9fps for AF-C using the mechanical shutter.
Advanced DFD AF System
For accelerated autofocus performance, Advanced DFD (Depth-From-Defocus) technology is employed to quickly calculate the distance to subjects and adjust the focusing position in as little as 0.04 seconds, which enables continuous shooting up to 20fps with continuous AF. This contrast-detection type focus method benefits both still and video recording modes, as well as subject tracking applications where subject color, size, and motion vectors are used to intelligently lock onto the moving subjects and ensure precise focus. The sensitivity and speed can be adjusted to further improve performance with certain subjects. It also features 225 AF areas which provide excellent control over where the camera will focus. Additionally, supporting working in low-light conditions, a Starlight AF feature enables accurate AF performance down to -4 EV.
Benefitting manual focus operation, focus peaking is available. This highlights bright edges of contrast with a colored outline for quickly recognizing your focus point, as well as Touch MF Assist for touch-to-focus operation. Other AF features include an AF Point Scope setting that temporarily magnifies the subject by 3 to 10 times for confirmation of the focus position and a custom selectable AF zone for Multi AF / Custom Multi AF.
This is all about Predictive AF, and this is a big one if it’s improved over the GH5. I’ve had very good luck with the GH5’s Predictive AF capabilities, but they could use some improvement. I’m betting Panasonic nails this technology of focusing on the image sensor as opposed to off sensors, or a combination of both, like Nikon, Canon, Sony, and even Olympus currently use. There are many who swear Phase Detection AF will never be replaced by the Contrast Detection AF (that only Lumix is using), in any kind of pro-oriented camera. But it stands to reason that focusing on the sensor is always going to be more accurate. With the G9’s ever improved Depth From Defocus (DFD), they’re betting big on going a different way, and I predict they’ll win this one. We’ll how the G9 does.
Large 3.6 Million Dot Changeable EVF
The LUMIX G9 has the largest-in-class LVF with a stunningly high magnification ratio of approximately 1.66x / 0.83x (35mm camera equivalent). The magnification ratio can be switched among 0.7x, 0.77x, and 0.83x according to the shooting situation. The high precision and speed OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display features 3,680K-dot high resolution and 100% field of view. Lumix is claiming NO BLACKOUT between frames even in high burst shooting. This will be a very welcomed feature if true. Other EVF options that sound interesting include:
- An eye point of approximately 21mm, offering high visibility with comfort for users wearing glasses. It is always sharp and clear from the center all the way to the corners.
- The LUMIX G9 incorporates Night mode which provides mild backlighting. It lets the user watch the subject comfortably immediately after viewing the monitor while in a dark situation for a long period of time.
6K and 4K Photo
Utilizing the G9’s video recording capabilities, a trio of still shooting modes are available for recording continuous 8MP stills at a 60 or 30fps shooting rate or 18MP stills at a 30fps shooting rate.
- Burst: This mode will allow you to continuously record, making it ideal for instances where you need a fast frame rate in order to capture the best moment.
- Pre-Burst: This mode is ideal for times when you’re unsure of the critical moment to press the shutter button and will record images one second prior to and one second after pressing the shutter button in order to give you 60 frames to choose from.
- Burst (S/S): This mode most closely follows the video recording process and allows you to playback your video, pause at the chosen moment, and use the shutter button to mark a chosen frame from the video and save it as a single 8 or 18MP frame.
Body Design and Built-in Wi-Fi
- A large OLED Live View Finder has an impressive 3.86m-dot resolution and 0.83x magnification for eye-level composition. This viewfinder also has a maximum refresh rate of 120fps for clear, lag-free imagery.
- A larger backside LCD for image composition and playback, the 3.0″ 1.04m-dot rear LCD monitor has a free angle, tilt, and swivel design to support viewing from a variety of angles. It is also a touchscreen, which permits intuitive menu navigation and settings control.
- A backlit top status LCD provides immediate access to current settings without needing to raise the camera to eye level.
- Dual UHS-II SD card slots are present, which provides settings such as Relay Recording to automatically switch cards when one is full, Backup Recording, which records the same data to both cards simultaneously, and Allocation Recording, which lets you save certain files to each card for easier organization.
- Constructed from magnesium alloy with a die-cast frame, the G9 features a durable design that also incorporates extensive sealing at each joint, dial, and button to render it both splash- and dust-proof as well as freezeproof to 14°F.
- A joystick is available on the rear of the camera to make changing many settings easier and more intuitive, such as changing a focus point.
- The sleek flat-body profile incorporates both front and rear dials for intuitive control over aperture and shutter speed settings.
- Multiple assignable function buttons are also available, including a function lever.
- Built-in 5 GHz Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC and Bluetooth 4.2 Low Energy allows for wireless image sharing and remote camera control from linked smartphones and tablets. Bluetooth LE also enables a constant connection to your mobile device, allowing for functions such as geolocation and automatic image transfer.
Other Camera Features
- A mechanical focal plane shutter enables a fast maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 sec, as well as a top flash sync speed of 1/250 sec. An electronic shutter function also avails a top shutter speed of 1/32,000 sec to better enable working in bright conditions and with wider aperture settings. This shutter is rated for approximately 200,000 actuations.
- A Night Mode will automatically adjust the brightness of the EVF and LCD for comfortable viewing in low-light conditions.
- An optional external USB power pack can be used to supply power to the camera via its micro-USB port.
- Depending on the lens in use, the included DMW-BLF19 battery provides approximately 380 shots per charge when using the rear monitor, or 360 with the electronic viewfinder.
- Photo Style modes: Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, L. Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait, Custom, Cinelike D, and Cinelike V.
- Creative Control modes: Expressive, Retro, Old Days, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Monochrome, Dynamic Monochrome, Rough Monochrome, Silky Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Toy Pop, Bleach Bypass, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Fantasy, Star Filter, One Point Color, and Sunshine.
Better High ISO Capabilities, Lower Noise
Just tonight the folks at 4/3 Rumors received a series of images shot with the G9 and the GH5, comparing their higher ISO characteristics. It looks impressive. I’m not exactly sure how the gentleman who sent these test images was able to shoot the same example of a glass with both cameras. Will let you check out the 4/3 Rumors Blog post and decide for yourself. If these images are the real deal, the G9 has a pretty significant advantage over the GH5. Below is one of the samples on the 4/3 Rumors site. Both shot at 3200 ISO.
Leica 200mm F/2.8
There’s a lot to like about the new G9, but Lumix also announced a brand new lens. I have to say this one really caught me off guard. I’ve been hearing about a coming 50-200mm F/2.8-4 zoom which I’ve been excited to finally see. But for this announcement, we got a very specialized—and what looks to be exceptional quality—fast, prime lens.
As much as I wanted to see the rumored 50-200mm, I think having this 400mm F/2.8 equivalent is a great move on Panasonic’s part. I have my doubts it will sell as well as the 50-200mm, when the latter eventually appears, but the new Leica 200mm fits the needs of many sports shooters. The Nikon and Canon 400mm F/2.8 lenses are legendary in the world of sports, and having an equal quality optic that is a fraction of the cost and fraction of the size and weight is a good thing for MFT users going forward. I personally think this lens suggests Panasonic knows something they’re not talking about yet. That something I believe will be a new sensor some time in the not too distant future. It’s a step up in sensor technology that will be a huge advancement for these small but mighty Micro Four Thirds cameras. Maybe that will be the surprise for the 2020 Olympics. Panasonic has always been a big part of the Olympics and 2020 will be no different. It’s not that far off and a very short time compared to how long Nikon and Canon have dominated the photographic landscape. Until then we have what is being called a minor, but worthy, update in Dynamic Range and better high ISO capabilities in the new G9.
That’s It For Now
So that’s about it. The above is basically just a compilation of specs and initial reviews from others around the web. I should mention that I had a chance to shoot the G9 before its official announcement but sadly had to turn it down. Panasonic U.S. contacted me with the idea of shooting sample photos, but there was no way to get a camera to me since I’ve been out of the country for the past three months. It would’ve been exciting to have used it here in Madagascar where I’m writing this. I’m told I’ll get my chance in early December. Stay tuned to the Blog for how that all goes.