Lumix GH6 Has Much Improved Autofocus
The Lumix GH6 has much improved autofocus. Many of you may recall my association with Lumix pretty much ended for one basic reason. That was my frustration with autofocus issues on fast-moving subjects. Our official working relationship ended in September 2019.
Now fast forward to mid-February 2022 when Mathew Frazer of Panasonic contacted me. Mathew wanted to know if I’d be interested in testing the new GH6, and I said yes. As I had already heard, he mentioned that the GH6 was mainly a video-centric camera. He’s been shooting his son’s basketball games and was so impressed with the autofocus that he thought of me. That led to an email to see if I might be interested in giving it a try, and I’m very grateful he did. Lumix no longer sponsors me, but I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for the quality of their products overall. They just had one Achilles heel, and that was their autofocus.
That seems to have changed with dramitcally improved autofocus
Thankfully, it seems they may have eliminated that one issue. I recently had a few days to test the new GH6. My main reason for wanting to try this camera was to see if its AF had improved. And I’m happy to report for fast-moving, coming at the camera subjects, they have closed the gap dramatically.
The test gear
For the famous Speeding Pooch Test, which is a fast dog coming straight at you and a test just about everybody is now replicating, I used the GH6 with the Leica 200mm F/2.8. Keep in mind that the GH6, being a Micro Four Thirds camera, you multiply all lenses by 2. So basically the 200mm becomes the equivalent to a 400mm F/2.8. That’s decent magnification. Not too much and not too little for a test like this. I also chose to shoot at the widest aperture, F/2.8, to make sure there was little to no benefit of a smaller aperture for better depth of field. I wanted to see this camera work to get it right.
All photos were shot with the camera set to default AF settings. There are many options for tweaking the AF system, but I’ve always been a believer that it should just work. That combined with the fact I had very little time to test this unit, I just went with what was there. And frankly, that’s the way it should be. Real-life can often be just like this test situation. No time to make changes. For the dog test, I had very little time to even think about making adjustments. It was a spur of the movement opportunity. The same happens in the field when you all of a sudden have a chance for great action. How many of us have time to tweak the camera for specific situations? Not me.
For these tests, I used the Central AF pattern. I did not try the Tracking Mode. I didn’t have enough time, so I went with what I knew and the results were very positive. Here’s a link to full-sized JPEGs that you can download. These are for your own personal use and are watermarked. Please do not share them anywhere else.
Speeding Pooch Test results
Since I’ve been doing these tests clear back to early Nikon digital cameras, I use the 3,2,1, Star Rating system. 3 Stars represent perfect focus. 2 Stars are close to perfect and possibly even useable but not dead on. 1 Star is completely out of focus.
For this series of the Speeding Pooch Test I came up with:
3 Stars: 92 frames
2 Stars: 19 frames
1 Star: 61 frames
Closest Frames to Camera Were Most Problematic
As is typical with all cameras I’ve tested, the closer the dog came to the camera, the harder it was for the AF to keep up. The reason is the AF system needs to move the internal lenses further within the lens barrels as the subject gets closer. Some of the very closest images were razor sharp, but many were not.
Things I noticed
As we’ve all been hearing, the GH6 is mostly a video-centric camera. And after handling it I agree wholeheartedly. It’s being compared in many ways to the Canon 5C, a so called hybrid camera that does both stills and video. And like the Canon 5C, the GH6 is fairly large and bulky, all due to the special vents on the back of the body, and so much so it really takes away from a comfortable still shooting experience. For video, it’s fine when compared to what other video cameras are like. But as mainly a stills shooter, I would like something smaller. And who knows, maybe we’ll see an updated G9 that gives us better handling with the added tools and autofocus of the GH6. Hopefully, leaving out some of the video capabilities would give a stills version of this camera better ergonomics.
EV Compensation, WB and ISO Buttons
Lumix does switches and buttons better than anyone else. I’ve written extensively on the three top buttons, just behind the front Shutter button on the GH4 and GH5. They are the ISO, +/- EV Compensation, and the WB. All right there, within easy reach and very handy. I’m happy to say the GH6 sticks with that layout.
AF Switch moves too easily
The one exception to a quality switch is one used to go from AF-S, AF-C, and Manual Focus. It’s well placed just to the left of where your thumb sits, but it’s changed too easily from whatever setting you choose. While shooting the Speeding Pooch Test, I accidentally knocked it to AF-S. As I write this, I’m thinking I need to check metadata to make sure some of the 1 Stars were not related to this problem. I’ll let you know.
Menu is improved
I’ve always felt Lumix has had a decent menu system. And in the GH6 they’ve tweaked it to be even better. However, there are a lot of new options. The possibilities are seemingly endless. Below is a nice run-through of the Menu via a video by Amateur Photographer TV.
As I’ve gotten used to my Olympus cameras I’ve come to appreciate the front dial being forward of the Shutter button. On the GH6 it’s the same as other Lumix bodies, behind the shutter button. Kind of a niggly frustration but one I noticed.
Spring-loaded Lock/Unlock Mode Dial
Thankfully Lumix has kept the very positive option of having a spring-loaded lock button on the Mode dial. Push it down and it locks the Mode in place. Push it again and it pops up. This option allows the Mode dial to turn freely.
Sony has chosen to keep it locked at all times, making it difficult to turn when needed. You have no choice. I appreciate it when a manufacturer gives you the option. Thankfully the Lumix has the option as do my Olympus cameras.
Much improved AF Pattern options
Many more AF pattern options. I used the Group setting in the middle placed in the middle as large as it would go.
With the GH6 we now have two amazing new Micro Four Thirds bodies. In case you missed it, the other camera announced last week is the new Olympus OM-1. It too looks to be a fabulous update, but I can’t say for sure since I haven’t had any luck getting my hands on one. However, from everything I’ve seen and read online, the Olympus is a big upgrade for video but keeps its base plate firmly planted in the stills side of photography.
The need for both stills and video
I’m writing this on my way to Churchill, Manitoba on the shores of Hudson Bay. I’m heading there to shoot material for Polar Bears International and the Arctic Documentary Project. For this assignment, I’ll be shooting both stills and videos, so I can use a hybrid that can do both.
It’s possible the GH6 may be in my future. It all depends on how much improved the video capabilities are of the new Olympus E-M1. I’m hopeful the E-M1 will have enough video proficiency for what I do. Based on what I’ve read I’m guessing it will. But the beauty of the Micro Four Thrids system is if I need the GH6 I can easily add it to my bag of tricks.
Mix and match both bodies and lenses
All my Olympus lenses, including the 150-400mm that I used for the image above, work with the Lumix bodies. All my Lumix lenses work with the Olympus bodies. It’s just one of the major benefits to using cameras that use the Micro Four Thirds mount. I switched from Nikon ten years ago for this mobility. Can you imagine if we would have had Canon, Nikon, and now Sony sharing a lens mount? How nice would that be for the consumer? Below is my video comparing my new Olympus MFT camera and 150-400mm zoom to the Sony A9 and 200-600mm zoom. In this situation I had to choose because these lenses aren’t swappable between the two systems. In the MFT world you can do this with ease.
Either way, things are looking up for the world of Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses. Lumix has built a fabulous new camera. And… the new OM-Digital Solutions has done an admirable job bringing a new company online with what looks like an impressive new body. At one time I was a bit hesitant to recommend either company. However, with the new Lumix GH6 and the Olympus OM-1, I’m feeling much more positive about the future of Micro Four Thirds.