Panasonic Lumix G9 47,000 Pictures Over 10 Months
Panasonic’s Lumix G9
It’s been a little less than ten months since I first had the opportunity to shoot a pre-production model of the Lumix G9. Six months have passed since receiving a regular production model. Along the way, I’ve shot just shy of 47,000 pictures including geese and ducks, cranes and dogs, swans and elk, bald eagles, coyotes, red fox, lemurs, chameleons, and bison. I’ve shot these two cameras in pouring rain, desert sands, frigid cold, and under the glorious blue skies of a warm Montana summer. They’ve been banged, dropped, splashed and rolled, accumulating blemishes that make them look old. You get the idea. As I tell our Natural Exposures Explorers, if your camera looks brand new, you’re not having enough fun. And so far, I’m enjoying the G9 like no other Lumix I’ve used to date. For a quick introduction on how durable Panasonic gear is, take a look at the video below discussing how one of my Lumix cameras rolled 100 yards down a mountainside and survived with no issues.
If you’re reading this blog post, you’ve most likely been to other websites highlighting the Lumix G9. There’s no shortage of technically advanced, in-depth reviews—my guess would be dozens, many with the backing of a sophisticated lab that can spew results only serious pixel peepers look for. With that bit of reality in mind, this review, like my others, will not reinvent the wheel when it comes to the analyzing this newish camera. This is going to be more like a list of Pros and Cons with some added commentary thrown in for interest. Here’s a list of a few of the most in-depth reviews on this camera to date.
The list above will give you ample opportunities to examine the G9 based on a more scientific approach. My take will be personal, from in the field on authentic shoots. So let’s get started.
|Lens Mount||Micro Four Thirds|
|Camera Format||Micro Four Thirds (2x Crop Factor)|
|Pixels||Actual: 21.77 Megapixel
Effective: 20.3 Megapixel
|Max Resolution||20 MP: 5184 x 3888|
|Aspect Ratio||1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9|
|Sensor Type / Size||MOS, 17.3 x 13 mm|
|File Formats||Still Images: JPEG, RAW
Movies: AVCHD 2.0,
Audio: AAC, Dolby Digital 2ch, Linear PCM
|Dust Reduction System||Yes|
|Memory Card Type||SD
|Image Stabilization||Sensor-Shift, 5-Way|
I’m a huge fan of the Lumix system, much of it due to Panasonic’s understanding that cameras can be too small. My feeling is that Panasonic builds them just right, and the G9 is the most advanced example. I have relatively large hands and having something moderately sized is a big advantage.
Many of you know I’m constantly talking about how small the Lumix cameras are, but what I’m really referring to is the system overall. When it comes to downsizing, I accomplished that by replacing my monster traditional DSLR and the even more ginormous lenses. Smaller lenses are the most positive aspect of the MFT system, even though the camera bodies may be similar in size to other systems. For example, the Lumix G9 body is slightly larger than the newest Sony A7 body. But the well thought out ergonomics make the G9 much easier to navigate.
Though the body is moderate in size, I repeat, it’s the lenses that make all the difference. Keep this in mind if you’re like many who’ve recently decided to finally try mirrorless. Sony’s hot on the mirrorless list, but Sony is full-frame, and a full-frame system requires full-frame lenses. Therefore, downsizing won’t be as effective if you decide to go full-frame. Same goes for the two new kids on the full-frame mirrorless block, Nikon and Canon. You can buy their cameras, and they will be smaller than their traditional DSLR’s, but the lenses are going to be the same size and weight. That’s what so many people just don’t understand, for whatever reason.
I’m going to say it again, the lenses for mirrorless cameras from Sony, Nikon, and Canon ARE GOING TO BE JUST AS BIG AS THE LENSES ON THE FULL-FRAME DSLR’S THAT YOU MAY BE MOVING AWAY FROM. If it’s a full-frame DSLR from Nikon, Canon, or Sony, your system will not get much lighter due to the fact full-frame cameras require the big, heavy, full-frame lenses.
Micro Four Thirds lenses are much, much smaller, and less expensive. Sorry to beat this dead horse, but I’m regularly dumbfounded how many people come up to me and say, “Well Dan you convinced me, I’ve finally bit the bullet and downsized to mirrorless and bought a Sony.” What? You’ve not downsized your system if you bought a Sony. It’s that simple.
Case in point is the new Sony G series 400mm F/2.8 that weighs just a tad over six pounds and costs $12,000. Compare that to the new Lumix/Leica 200mm F/2.8 (400mm equivalent) that weighs 2.7 pounds and costs $3000—just about 1/3 the price, size, and weight of the new Sony lens. An even more common comparison might be the Lumix 12-35mm compared to the Sony G-Series 24-70mm F/2.8. The Sony weighs in at 1.95 pounds (886 grams) and costs $2200. The Lumix is a feathery 10.76 oz (305 grams) and costs $999. Weight and size issues aside, I just can’t see paying the prices for full-frame lenses anymore. Forgive my digression, let’s get back to the Lumix.
Top Side Dedicated Buttons
Ever since the GH3, I’ve been extremely impressed with the layout of the dedicated top side buttons. Specifically the WB, +/- EV, and ISO. Some manufacturers are very proud of the fact they mark almost no buttons. The theory is you can customize these buttons any which way you want, so why label them? That’s great in theory, but in practice, it can be a nightmare. Especially for anyone not shooting their cameras on a daily basis. The G9 has the ability to customize buttons every which way to Sunday, but having these three buttons labeled helps eliminate confusion for people who use their cameras less often than they would like.
I know the issue of forgetting all too well from lots of experience during our Invitational Photo Tours. Most people, including our Explorers, don’t shoot every day, and most of them are very lucky to take 1-3 trips per year. Even if they did three trips each year, that’s still four months on average between trips. A lot can be forgotten in a four-month time frame. And believe me, I hear about it when we get back together. So dedicated, marked buttons are a very good thing.
|Viewfinder Pixel Count||3,680,000|
|Viewfinder Eye Point||21.00 mm|
|Viewfinder Magnification||Approx. 0.83x|
|Diopter Adjustment||-4 to +3 m|
|Display Screen||3″ Rear Touchscreen Swivel Touchscreen LCD (1,040,000)|
It’s big, bright, and very easy to look through. It has three options for making the field of view narrow to extra wide. I’ve not seen this on any other Lumix camera or any other camera for that matter. Is it as good as glass? In bright light, no. In dark light, it’s much better than glass.
An additional feature that only this EVF can offer is the G9’s complete settings info with the camera to your eye, the exact same information you see on the rear LCD. That means the histogram is always right where you want it, in the viewfinder or on the rear LCD, alerting you to necessary adjustments needed BEFORE you take the picture. When shooting traditional DSLR’s you have to shoot the picture first and then check the histogram, adjust, and continue shooting.
There is no feature on Lumix cameras, or any other cameras for that matter, that I feel is more important than the histogram. It’s completely changed the way I shoot; I never wonder if the exposure is perfectly set or slightly off. The histogram along with the front dial for adjusting the +/- Exposure Compensation has made my exposures incredibly consistent.
I almost never have to adjust my exposure using software, saving lots of time in post-processing, all because I can make my exposure changes in the camera based on an accurate visual of the histogram, before the image is captured. This is just one of the many benefits that mirrorless cameras have over traditional DSLRs. Once you experience the ability to adjust your exposure via the histogram BEFORE you push the button, you will wonder how you ever lived without it.
Back of Camera Button Layout and Eyepiece
For a perfect eyepiece, we have to look at the Lumix G85 in the picture below. Unfortunately, the G9’s eyepiece is very disappointing. Why? Because like the GH5, GH4, and GH3, the G9’s outer rubber eyepiece falls off way too easily. It doesn’t fall off as easily as the GH5, but it falls off easy enough that I’ve lost two in nine months and finally quit buying new ones. Like my GH4 and GH5’s, I’ve started using black gaffers tape to hold the diopter wheel while leaving the eyepiece off. You’ll notice this technique in the picture showing my GH5 below. Hey, it works.
Panasonic changed things up considerably with the layout of the buttons on the back of the G9. Gone are all buttons to the extreme right of the back of the camera body, most notably the Display button which has been an ongoing issue with all the GH series cameras since the GH3. I shoot with many folks who are now using GH4’s and GH5’s, and both cameras have the Display button on the far right side where the palm of your hand can easily change it.
Confusion reigns when you accidentally hit that button and have no idea why the back LCD has changed, and worse yet, how to change it back. If you know your camera inside out it’s not a big deal.
But for those who shoot a few times a year, moving the Display button much further in and down, as we see on the above image of the G9, is a big improvement.
AFS/AFC Switch with AEL/AFL Lock and Back Button AF
Panasonic’s AFS/AFC switch on the top-right backside of the camera is the best placement of this kind of switch on ANY camera being produced. Nikon puts this same lever on the front of the camera, lower left side, and to the left of the lens mount. Describing Nikon’s version is every bit as difficult as it is to quickly make a change with that same switch. The G9, like the GH3, GH4, GH5, and even their second tier cameras like the G85 and others, have this switch front and center, comfortably close to where your right thumb will normally rest. Access to it is easy, fast, and simple.
In the middle of the AFS/AFC switch is the AEL/AFL button that I program to activate AF on all my Lumix cameras. If you’ve never used Back Button AF, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a powerhouse tool for photographers who understand and thrive on perfect composition. If you don’t typically feel composition is an important element of your work, you won’t connect the dots on why Back Button AF is so important. If composition is important to you, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without Back Button AF.
Front Right Hand Grip
The Lumix G9 is easy to hold with a larger, more robust hand grip. The other cameras in the Lumix line are not bad, but there is just something more reassuring about the larger grip of the G9. It protrudes further forward, has a nice rubbery texture, and fits the hand nicely. I can easily reach down and pick it up using just my right four fingers due to the sticky nature of the rubber.
Dual SD Cards
For many photographers, a camera with the option of two SD card slots is an absolute must. It’s one of the biggest complaints of the new Nikon Z and Canon R mirrorless cameras. For those who need two cards, you’ll be happy to know the Lumix G9 has them. Frankly, I’ve never used more than one card on any of my Lumix cameras, so having two is nice but not a need for me. But for others, based on the hand-wringing I’ve seen regarding the new Nikon and Canon cameras, two high-speed SDXC card slots are extremely important.
Extra Battery Grip
For the times I’m shooting a long telephoto lens, I’ll often use the extra battery grip. It really gives more support for the heavier zooms and teles. Yes, it does make the camera bigger and bulkier, but when you’re holding a lens that is a full-frame equivalent to a 400mm F/2.8, it’s nice to have a little extra purchase.
Equally beneficial is the ability to easily hold the camera in a vertical position with all buttons, WB, +/- EV, and ISO, seen on the top deck of the camera, replicated on the top of the vertical grip. The one downside is the Back Button AF is far to the right side of the vertical grip. It would be very helpful for that button to be an inch or so in from the edge of current placement.
Dual IS (In-camera/In-lens Combined Image Stabilization)
This is one of the most amazing features I’ve ever experienced. There are others doing something similar, but only Olympus is matching the Dual IS Panasonic is perfecting. Being able to handhold an 800mm lens down to 1/15 of a second is nothing short of magic.
At 16 years old, when I first started taking pictures of nature, I was completely opposed to using a tripod. I tried for months to get a sharp image of a whitetail deer, sneaking around the Minnesota woodlands with a 300mm lens shooting Kodachrome 64 film. I never succeeded. Finally, I broke down and bought a tripod and only then did I see quality results. At that time my mindset was, “How can a wildlife photographer drag a tripod through the woods and not scare the animals?”
Well, I figured it out, and though it’s possible I much prefer leaving the sticks behind. Having the ability to ditch the tripod is now like stepping back in time, turning into a naive, dreamy-eyed kid once again. Only today the physique is gone, there’s less hair, and what I do have is much more gray. In short, I’m getting old. Being able to leave the heavy tripods behind is a HUGE bonus that’s now possible with this diminutive camera system that produces great big results.
Frame Rates Off The Chart
Can you imagine 60 Frames Per Second in AFS? It’s possible with the Lumix G9. How about 20 Frames Per Second in AFC? Once again, it’s doable with the G9. In all fairness, Olympus first proved they could obtain a frame rate of 60 FPS in AFS and 18 FPS in AFC. Panasonic brought us one better by giving us 60 FPS in AFS and 20 FPS in AFC. The numbers from both companies are hard to believe.
In reality, these frame rates are only for special situations. Can you imagine a photographer at the Olympics shooting a gymnast on the balance beam? Basically, a subject that does not move from front to back stays in a relatively static position in relation to the plane of the camera. There on the beam, she performs moves difficult to comprehend but easy to discern with a series of pictures shot at 60 Frame Per Second.
I first saw the benefits of mega frames rates, 30 FPS, when shooting the early version of 4K Photo Mode with the Lumix ZS100. It was the winning goal of the 2107 IIHA International Hockey Championship in Paris. I wasn’t allowed to bring in my so-called “professional camera” which at the time was the GH5. But they had no problem with me shooting the Lumix ZS100. Working with 4K Photo Mode I captured the winning goal. Astonishingly only one frame out of the 30+ the camera fired showed the puck turned broadside to the camera. It’s the image above, and it proves there really are times where massive frame rates, beyond the traditional 12-14 current DSLR’s shoot, can be a tremendous advantage. It allowed me to capture that once in a lifetime image.
Whisper-quiet Shutter (as well as completely silent)
For me I like the sounds of a clicking camera. There’s something satisfying about the push of a button and the snap of the shutter. The G9’s version of this is even more interesting. Why? Because it’s super quiet yet loud enough to give the pleasurable feedback. That’s when it’s in normal mode. Set the shutter to Silent and nobody has any idea the camera is even working. A great feature for times where noise can be an issue.
Even Jane Goodall likes quiet cameras, as witnessed on 60 Minutes where she and Tom Mangelsen are sitting on the banks of the Platte River photographing cranes. Mangelsen picks up his big old clackity Nikon D5 and points it to the sky firing off several pictures. Ms. Goodall looks over at him as Mangelsen brings his camera down. Dr. Goodall looks straight at him and says, “Next year do you think you can invest in a silent camera?” I about fell off the couch laughing. Seems the good Dr. would appreciate the silent mode in all the Lumix cameras. Below is an image I shot of Dr. Goodall enjoying a much more peaceful moment than she experienced on the banks of the Platte River.
Some photographers think one of the downsides to the smaller MFT sensors is their lack of megapixels. The G9 has 20.3 megapixels, but when you switch it to High-Resolution Mode you get a whopping 80 megapixels, a file size of 10,368 x 6912 pixels. For a quality comparison test of the G9’s High-Resolution file, I borrowed a Nikon D850 and a Sony A7Rlll from my friends at Bozeman Camera. I know the quality of the Nikon and the Sony are superb, so they were great cameras to do this comparison with.
Below are the three images. I feel the details in the G9 file are impressive, but the river’s water is less than pleasing. Something very strange and unnatural about it. The Nikon and Sony rendered it beautifully, but then again they weren’t combining frames as the High-Resolution mode does. I plan to shoot further tests of the same river to try and see if maybe a longer exposure would smooth the river out. If not I will have to be disappointed in the High-Resolution mode for the kind of work I do.
For architecture, the High-Resolution mode could be fabulous. Make sure you look at the small yellow flowers in the right upper part of the frame. They are exceptional in all three pictures. Everything in the Lumix frame looks very good other than the strange looking water. I’m not sure what’s going on—maybe a much longer shutter speed would have smoothed out this disappointing effect.
Lumix G9 with Leica 12mm F/1.4 High-Resolution Mode
Sony A7Rlll with 24-70mm F/2.8 G Master Lens
Nikon D850 with 24-70mm F/2.8
Star Light AF
A popular photography genre these days is night skies. The G9, GH5, and GH5s, as well as a few other Lumix cameras, have a special feature called Star Light AF. What this feature does is give you the ability to focus on the stars without having to do it manually using the infinity mark on a lens. This is very helpful if you don’t have a manual lens with a specific infinity mark. Without infinity marker, it’s often difficult to impossible to get proper focus when setting up after dark. Many photographers solve this by purchasing a special manual focus lens with the infinity mark.
Or… they have to get to their shooting location before the sun sets to get focused on infinity, then tape the lens or shut AF off so as not to change focus when the skies go black. Having Star Light AF alleviates the need to buy a special lens and makes shooting night skies a breeze. Keep in mind, however, the directions mentioned in the manual that you must use the middle part of the screen as the AF area. Don’t try to use AF on the outer edges of the viewfinder. Star Light AF doesn’t work on the edges. I tried before going back to the manual and getting set straight.
Nighttime Lighting changes the color and intensity of the G9’s upper and rear LCD. This is a nice option to keep your eyes from having issues adjusting when shooting those night skies with Starlight AF.
6K & 4K Photo Mode
We covered this a bit when I discussed frame rates. Some might feel the power of 6K & 4K Photo Mode is weakened with the G9’s actual 60 Frames Per Second stills capabilities. But shooting video stills can be advantageous in some situations like the hockey goal example shown earlier. The only problem with 6K Photo Mode is that there are few programs that make it easy to extract the frames you want once the card leaves the camera. If you do the extraction process from the camera it’s much easier. My fellow Lumix Ambassador Photo Joseph has produced a nicely done video on how to extract 6K Photos from a 6K Video file which I’ve included below.
Yes, it’s true that while shooting 6K or 4K photo Mode you’ll only get JPEGs to work with. But the advantage is the ability to turn the camera’s video function on and just let it go. No need to predict that decisive moment during capture.
Start the camera, let it go, and pick your 18-megapixel frame when the action is over. 6K Photo Mode gives you an impressive 30 FPS capturing 18-megapixel jpegs. 4K Photo Mode gives a whopping 60 FPS, with 8-megapixel jpegs. The manual says you can even shoot AFC and the camera will adjust even at these massive frame rates. I haven’t tried this yet and to be completely frank, I would need to see the results to believe it. We’ll talk more about Predictive AF a bit later.
There’s even a feature for correcting Rolling Shutter which is an issue with virtually all digital cameras. 6K & 4K Photo Mode will show signs of Rolling Shutter. Once you take the picture you can review your 6K video, select a still image, and when you save it, the G9 automatically fixes Rolling Shutter issues.
I’ve also found a much simpler way to extract your photos from the 6K Photo Mode, but unfortunately it’s only for Mac users via Apple’s Photos. I created the video tutorial above for extracting stills from your 6K video files in Photos.
Post Focus / Focus Stacking
This is another inspiring tool based on Panasonic’s revolutionary 4K video capabilities. In a nutshell, the camera shoots a video series, changing the focus from front to back of the frame as it records the video. When finished it stacks all the different focused frames into one frame giving you much better depth of field than what you could get from a lens alone. Once again the final output is a JPEG.
Many reading this blog may not even think that a guy specializing in wildlife and nature would even know what a flash is. If that’s what you thought, you would be wrong. Flash is actually a very important tool for documenting conservation efforts and natural history. When used correctly as fill flash on subjects in normal daylight where the flash doesn’t affect the animal’s eyes, flash is very helpful. I stress “fill flash” here since using a flash in bright daylight to fill in the shadows is much different than using a flash in unlit conditions where the animal’s eyes are adjusted for the dark. I don’t shoot flash with animals in unlit situations. Remember, the safety of your subject is the most important rule we have in the world of wildlife and nature photography.
Forced On/Red-Eye Reduction
Slow Sync/Red-Eye Reduction
|Max Sync Speed||1 / 250 Second|
|Flash Compensation||-3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)|
|Dedicated Flash System||TTL|
|External Flash Connection||Hot Shoe, PC Terminal|
But fill flash is a different story. As long as the day is bright and the animal’s eyes are adjusted to the daylight, fill flash is never going to be more powerful than the sun. But it can help in brightening shadows and stopping the action of a moving subject. The image below of a leaping black and white ruffed lemur is a perfect example of when I like to use flash.
Panasonic has three great flashes that work with the G9. They are the FL360, the FL580, and the much smaller FL200. All of them work wirelessly to give you extensive options for firing your strobes off camera. Unfortunately, as good as the Lumix strobes are, and they are very good for most situations, they do have a few issues for the kind of work I do.
On the plus side is the fact the FL360 is a serious powerhouse, yet still very small. It shoots in TTL and can be controlled via the camera—I don’t have to adjust the flash itself for +/- Exposure compensation. It has a High-Speed Sync setting, works wirelessly, and has a fabulous video light built in the front. Overall it’s an impressive unit.
The biggest issue with all my Lumix strobes is a substantial delay in how quickly the flash fires after the shutter button is pushed. It’s not something you’ll notice shooting events, family gatherings, etc., but break out a leaping lemur or two and you’ve got problems. Below is a photo of a leaping black and white ruffed lemur.
My desire for this picture was to use a shutter speed slow enough to blur the background, panning with the animal to keep the subject sharp. Along with panning the flash was used to help freeze the action. This is a technique I’ve used for decades with my Nikon gear, but last year when I tried this approach on the lemurs I found the animal was always out of the frame by the time the camera and flash fired. I could not figure out why I kept missing them. This year when I returned, rather than using TTL, I switched the flash to manual and that did the trick. Apparently, when the flash is in TTL it fires a series of pre-flashes that affect the speed of capturing the real exposure. By the time the pre-flash is done, the subject is out of the frame.
Flash for Macro Subjects
Unfortunately, one of my few disappointments in the G9 is the lack of in-camera flash. The photo below is of my GH4 and FL360 setup where the built-in flash of the GH4 can wirelessly fire my FL360. It’s a phenomenal macro setup but one that’s not possible with the G9 unless you hang a comparatively bulky FL200 or FL360 on top of the G9 as a commander flash.
Very disappointing since the GH4 and the wireless FL360 is the best macro setup I’ve ever used across all camera lines. Oh well, maybe a future Lumix camera. Lumix isn’t the only one that thinks Pros don’t want a built-in flash. When I was deep into the Nikon system I only ever had one of their high-end flagship pro bodies, such as the D3 or D4.
The main reason was a lack of a built-in flash. Like we’re seeing with Lumix, Nikon required you to purchase their second-tier cameras like the D700, D300, and others to get the built-in flash. The same is now happening with Lumix where you have to buy the second tier G85 to get the built-in flash. And I do have a G85 for this exact reason. I would rather have a built-in flash on the G9, but that’s not how it was built. Unfortunately, nobody asked my opinion before the G9 came to be. Such is life.
My Nikon contacts loved to tell me their pro bodies didn’t have built-in flashes because “Pros don’t want a built-in flash.” Wrong! I absolutely love a built-in flash, and I’m very disappointed my new G9 body doesn’t have it. I was certain that since the G9 was targeted at still photographers, it was most assuredly going to have a built-in flash. I’m hopeful that Lumix will change that in future cameras. It’s definitely not a deal breaker, but macro and quick portraits in harsh midday sun would be much more efficient with a built-in flash. I use it all the time when I have a camera that has it.
Predictive Auto Focus AKA AF-C
One of the ongoing issues with all MFT cameras has been less than stellar Predictive Autofocus capabilities. I’ve said for years that it’s a real testament to the hard work and engineering Nikon and Canon have employed to achieve the best Predictive AF in the world. It’ obviously not an easy thing to do.
The below gallery is an in-sequence series of images shot in AF-C, Custom AF Set 1 (Default settings).
Panasonic is trying hard with their DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology which uses Contrast Detection for acquiring proper focus. Many YouTube pundits have harshly criticized the DFD/Contrast Detection for not being able to match the results of Phase Detection AF other manufacturers employ, and that criticism has been warranted. However, Panasonic is making great strides with DFD, and I’m confident DFD will eventually catch up and surpass Phase Detection AF. Panasonic engineers are on to something here. Their way of doing Predictive AF is different than the rest and that will eventually be an advantage. I can hear some screaming now, but I’ll put money on it that I’m right.
Last summer I did a Predictive AF comparison blog post titled: Predictive AF Comparison Tests Lumix GH5, G85, Oly EM-1 Mark ll, and Nikon D500 using the new Lumix GH5. For that test, I used very consistently fast-moving subjects–cars coming towards the camera at 50-80 mph. The GH5 did extremely well, and in fact better than the Nikon D500. However, in real world shooting situations, where the subject was less predictable—like birds flying against a busy background—the GH5 didn’t do so well. Unfortunately when the G9 came out it used the same AF system as the GH5, so it wasn’t’ much better. But things are changing fast with ongoing firmware updates.
Fast forward to today, and I’m seeing the G9’s Predictive AF showing substantial improvements. With the firmware update Version 1.1, I’m getting much better results when shooting flying birds against busy or bright backgrounds. This latest trip to Madagascar I was finally able to get a large number of sharp pictures of the dancing sifakas as well.
With the G9 and the GH5 before it, Panasonic created a series of four Custom AF sets that are intended to help fine tune AF for several different situations. Unfortunately, those four Menu Sets are complicated. Yes, they give us many options, but it’s almost impossible to figure out which ones are best.
Keeping track of the Set’s changes is the most problematic, especially in the heat of action where you’re just trying to capture exciting flight pictures. Making it even more difficult is a lack of metadata to document the Custom Set you used with all its specific details. If this information was available in Metadata, nailing down the best AF settings would be much easier. But, unfortunately, we don’t have that option.
For whatever reason Panasonic does not record Custom AF settings in the RAW file’s Metadata. Nailing down Custom AF settings would be so much easier if we had this information available AFTER the shoot.
Birds In Flight
One of the hottest topics across the Internet and on any of the forums is Birds in Flight, AKA BIF. I understand why. Photographing flying birds is a lot of fun and it’s not easy for a camera or photographer. Fortunately, the G9 is the best Lumix camera to date for flying birds. Below is a screenshot of a series of a jabiru stork I recently photographed in Brazil. You have to take my word for it, but out of the 26 frames, 24 are razor sharp. The other two are sharp enough to keep. Almost a perfect score.
This was a particularly difficult situation since the bird was flying against a seriously contrasty background in the first half of the frames. That’s always been very problematic for the Lumix cameras. One advantage this scene offered was a very bright, white subject.
I can’t say whether a darker bird against the same background would have come out as well. However, I have found that since the latest firmware update to Version 1.1, the G9 does a better job with all subjects against a brighter/distracting background.
The above group of pictures is of a black skimmer against a very bright whitish, sandy beach. I was using a Custom AF mid-sized Diamond shape for the AF pattern. It most certainly covered the bird and would have most certainly seen a part of the background as well. Thankfully it stuck with the bird. Again, this is not how the G9 reacted when it was first released.
Another New Firmware Update for Lumix G9 Version 1.2
Much of this review was written over about a month-long time frame. When I first started this report my G9 pictures stood at about 35,000 images. Today my Lumix G9 files stand at 47,000 pictures. During that time Panasonic announced new firmware updates for several cameras including the G9 This firmware update includes the following improvements.
- Improved AF performance
–There were cases where the focus point was shifted to the background while tracking the subject in AFC mode. The new firmware minimizes this problem.
– There were cases where the focus point was shifted to the background while tracking the subject in video recording. The new firmware minimizes this problem.
- Improvement of operation under specific lighting conditions (fluorescent lights, etc.)
– There were cases where the camera did not catch up to the brightness change smoothly under specific lighting conditions such as fluorescent lights. The new firmware minimizes this problem.
I’ve been hearing very good things about the new firmware update. Peter Gregg and his little buddy Jingles gives it a try which you can watch in the video below. I love Jingles, and the Christmas room just makes me warm and fuzzy.
I’ll be trying the G9 update with fast dogs in the Speeding Pooch Test, hopefully later this month. If not, for sure in early December.
Smaller Sensor Equals More Noise
Let’s face it, it seems the number one criteria people base a quality camera on is its ability to shoot at very high ISOs. Unfortunately, noise at higher ISOs is the biggest issue we face with all Micro Four Thirds cameras. The G9 is no exception, but it is the best so far aside from the GH5s. That said, I personally feel we’ve all been brainwashed to think lack of noise is the only thing to care about.
With software, you can fix a huge amount of the noise issues we sometimes see with the smaller MFT cameras. In general, the G9 is about 1.5 to 2 stops less capable than a full-frame camera. That means if you start seeing noise with full-frame at ISO 6400, you’re going to see the same at about 1600 ISO on the G9. I typically don’t shoot the G9 above 2000 ISO but I have shot it as high as ISO 6400.
With software, specifically DxO PhotoLab 2, I clean it up. And my goodness DxO PhotoLab does a fabulous job cleaning up noise and retaining sharp details in feathers, stars, and other things. I can agree that if you absolutely need the most ultimate quality possible, a larger sensor will make that happen, but I’m doing prints as large as 30×40 inches and they are extremely sharp and detailed with outstanding colors.
The number of times I do prints that size is maybe four times per year, and then it’s mostly for testing purposes to prove to people these cameras can handle it. It’s truly just plain crazy that we’ve all been hoodwinked into thinking we ALL need a full-frame sensor camera by the phenomenal marketing machines from Nikon, Canon, and now Sony.
What’s in the Pipeline
I’ve been waiting for a breakthrough sensor, one that will equal or better full-frame sensors, since I embraced my original MFT camera the Lumix GF1. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet in the Micro Four Thirds realm, but I predict it’s not far away. We all know that electronics are always getting faster, cheaper, and better. Sensors are nothing but electronics and therefore are no exception. The time is coming where we will have at least as much resolution, dynamic range, and low noise characteristics in Micro Four Thirds sensors as the full-frame sensors.
Panasonic recently announced a new 8K video camera, the AK-SHB 810 with their equally brand new Organic Sensor. This sensor sounds like it may be the one I’ve been hoping for, but it’s not made it to our smaller cameras yet. There’s not been any word on when that may happen, so this little dream is all just speculation but it’s coming, just a matter of when.
This review is a bit lengthy, and yet there are lots and lots of features on the G9 I’ve not covered. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough time to sort it all out. Even I’m still learning new things about this camera. Not to mention, what fun would you have if I gave you every single feature and how it worked? There would be no surprises left. The things I’ve covered in this Blog post are tools and features I use regularly. There are some I’ll never use, but overall this is the most well thought out/designed camera I’ve ever had the privilege to shoot.
So there you have it, ten months and 47,000 pictures later. Some might think this review is a bit late, but I’ve never been one to be the first. I only strive to do my best, and being the first certainly wouldn’t have let me get to the know this camera as I have with 47,000 frames under my belt.
As mentioned at the head of this post, there are lots and lots of other reviews on the details of this camera that came out within weeks of its release. Those reviews are a dime a dozen. My goal was to shoot this camera long enough to make sure I figured out the pros and cons so others can be prepared for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thankfully, I didn’t find anything ugly. The Lumix G9 is a fabulously fun, capable, and easy to carry photographic powerhouse. Combine it with the best lenses available and you get a tool that allows you to compete handily with full-frame cameras. Which leads me to what I call the Micro Four Thirds Triad which I’ll discuss in more detail in a coming video. In short, the Micro Four Thirds Triad states that if you:
- Use the most current Micro Four Thirds camera being made, currently the Lumix G9, Lumix GH5, or Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark ll
- Buy the highest quality lenses such as Lumix Leica or Olympus Pro lenses
- Use the best RAW conversion software, in my opinion, DxO PhotoLab 2
Do the above three things and you can compete very well with full-frame sensor cameras. You can try it for yourself at a great price. Lumix just announced a promotional discount of $400. I paid $1799 for my first G9, but the stores listed below have it for $1299. Smokin deal! I’ve listed two of my favorite smaller stores, Bozeman Camera and Hunt’s Photo. I also listed B&H since they so kindly helped me with some of the technical details in this post. I prefer to use smaller dealers, but obviously, it’s up to you. Both Bozeman Camera and Hunt’s are great dealers to work with.
Thanks for stopping by. Please do me a favor and share this post across Facebook, Twitter, or other forums you feel would be interested. I used to post my reviews on DPReview, but they’re not very friendly over there so I’ve stopped. If you visit other forums and want to give them a heads up, I would be grateful. This is truly a labor of love and without feedback, I’m not sure how long I will continue to do these things. This review alone I’ve logged well over 80 hours.
Lumix Ambassador Disclaimer
In the spirit of complete transparency, I want all my readers to know that I am a Lumix Ambassador. That means I get paid a small stipend for writing about a system I absolutely love. That said, I want you all to know there is no amount of money more important than my integrity. Much to the chagrin of some of my Lumix colleagues, I often point out the bad with the good regarding Lumix technology and camera gear. My belief is honesty and truthfulness will not just help others, but it also helps a company I truly admire and enjoy working with.
Just for those who might wonder, none of my images are manipulated in any way. All are virtually exactly as they were straight from the camera. I don’t use Photoshop or any other software that allows for manipulation of an image. I do allow for minor color correction, cropping, and retrieval of highlights if needed. The software I use for keeping track of my entire 1 million+ image library is Mylio. I sometimes use DxO PhotoLab for noise reduction and highlight recovery when needed. You can see more of my work on my Instagram account labeled with the hastags #nophotoshop and #realphoto.