Panasonic G85 Field Test

The Panasonic G85 is a weather-sealed, faster G7 and it's great

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 11/03/2016

Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 320.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.

Introduction

It wasn't all that long ago that Panasonic introduced the world to the GX85 mirrorless camera. They're back with the G85, which is armed with the same image sensor and processor pairing that the GX85 launched with in April. However, rather than opt for a rangefinder-style camera body, the G85 has a compact DSLR-style body and is considered the successor to the G7. This Micro Four Thirds camera has an impressive list of specs, but does it deliver equally impressive results in the real world? Read on to find out.

Key Features

  • Compact, lightweight DSLR-style camera body
  • Weather-sealed, improved shutter mechanism
  • 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor without an optical low pass filter (OLPF)
  • Native ISO 200-25,600, expandable to ISO 100
  • 1/16000s-60s shutter speed range
  • 3-inch tilt/swivel touchscreen display
  • 49-point contrast-detect autofocus system with 0.07 second AF speeds
  • 4K Photo and 4K video features
  • Eco mode to improve battery life to 800 shots
  • Dual I.S. 2 image stabilization, providing 5 stops of correction with compatible lenses
  • $1,000 price ($900 street)

G85's DSLR-like body is compact & light with a great touchscreen

Externally, there's nothing much of note to differentiate the G85 from its predecessor, the Panasonic G7. However, when you take a peek under the hood, so to speak, you find considerable changes. The G85 has a new version of Panasonic's hybrid sensor-shift image stabilization technology, Dual I.S. 2, which combines lens and sensor-shift technologies to provide up to 5-stops of correction (at least to an equivalent focal length of roughly 280mm). When you shoot at longer focal lengths than that, the amount that the sensor can physically shift becomes a limiting factor. The new image stabilization technology is not compatible with all lenses, however, but with the 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens that I used, it worked very well. The 100-400mm lens that I also got to shoot with will be getting an upgrade to function with Dual I.S. 2 in 2017, but in the meantime the 1st-gen Dual I.S. stabilization with 4-stops of correction will work with the 100-400mm on this camera.

In addition to the new sensor shift image stabilization technology, there's also been a change to the shutter mechanism compared to the G7. The G85's new shutter mechanism is the same electromagnetically actuated mechanism found in the GX85, which causes less internal vibrations than previous shutter systems. In addition, even compared to the GX85, the G85's shutter is quieter thanks to the body's weather-sealed design. If you need ultimate silence in operations, you can use an all-electronic mode, which has some downsides such as increased rolling shutter.

As mentioned, the Panasonic G85 is also fully weather-sealed, a very impressive feat for a camera at this price point and a move that brings the G85 more in line with the Panasonic GH4. The G85, with these new changes, weighs in at around 1.1 pounds (505 grams), which is still quite light and very manageable to carry all day with a light or medium-weight lens.

The G85 has DSLR-like controls to go with its compact DSLR-style body. Despite being a mirrorless camera, DSLR users will feel very comfortable with the G85. It employs a moderately chunky front grip with twin control dials. The dials rotate smoothly but still have a pretty distinct click when making adjustments. In the center of the front command dial is the shutter release, which I didn't like the feel of but I got used to it with time. It has very little travel distance and felt overly sensitive. Looking at the rest of the top panel, the mode dial and drive mode dials rotate with considerable force, meaning that they won't be accidentally rotated but that also means that one finger rotation is slightly more difficult.

The back of the G85 has a fairly standard control layout. The buttons sit close to the body and can be difficult to press when wearing gloves, which is unfortunate when shooting in a cold climate, but the layout is good and I don't have any major complaints about the buttons. It's worth mentioning that I really like the rubber grip that covers the rear of the camera and the front grip. It's soft but has a nice textured finish that felt good to use and provided me with a bit of security when holding the camera.

The Panasonic G85 has a 3-inch rear touchscreen display with 1,040,000 dots of resolution. The display is plenty sharp, but what is most impressive is its tilt swivel motion. The display rotates well and is very versatile in real-world situations. During my time with the G85, its tilting and swiveling screen proved useful on a number of occasions. The G85's touchscreen functionality works well too, particularly with regard to its handling of autofocus point movement. Even when looking through the viewfinder, you can use the touchscreen display as an autofocus touch pad. This feature is highly useful when shooting with the viewfinder, as I often like to do, particularly when shooting with a long lens such as the Panasonic 100-400mm telephoto zoom.

On the topic of the viewfinder, the Panasonic G85 has a 2.36 million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder that offers 100% frame coverage and a 35mm-equivalent magnification of 0.74x. The viewfinder works well in bright light, although it can get very choppy when shooting in low light. It is big and bright and works well in most cases, as does its eye sensor (although the tilting screen can trick it with reflections and shadows at times).

Overall, while the camera isn't necessarily inexpensive with a street price around US$900, it has a very solid feel that surpasses its price point. The tilting display and electronic viewfinder are both excellent and despite buttons that are a bit too close to the body and a trigger-happy shutter release, the Panasonic G85 body feels well designed.

The G85 can be purchased with a versatile kit lens, the 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH POWER OIS

Panasonic 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 at 12mm (24mm eq.), f/9.0, 1/250s, ISO 200
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

In addition to being sold as a body only configuration, the G85 can also be purchased in a kit with a weather-sealed lens. The kit comes with a 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS lens which offers an equivalent focal length of 24-120mm. The lens has 11 elements in nine groups, including one ED element and three aspherical elements. It's a moderately compact and lightweight lens that balances nicely with the G85 camera body. I enjoyed using the kit lens. It adds only $100 to the cost of the G85, so if you are buying your first MFT camera, I highly recommend taking a long look at the kit because it is a versatile, solid optic.

The Panasonic G85 captures sharp photos with updated sensor

Unlike the G7 before it, the Panasonic G85 forgoes an optical low pass filter on its 16-megapixel Live MOS Four Thirds sensor, but otherwise maintains the same resolution as the earlier model. Panasonic states that the G85 includes their sharpest 16-megapixel sensor ever, and while we need to wait for full testing results to verify their claim, it is definitely a sharp sensor. It's self-cleaning too, so that's nice.

Panasonic 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 at 39mm (78mm eq.), f/9.0, 1/320s, ISO 200
Click for full-size image.

Image quality: Very sharp, fine-detailed images

Straight from the camera, images can be a bit bland, which was an issue we had with the G7 as well. Nonetheless, the removal of the optical low pass filter leads to very sharp, detailed images, particularly at low ISOs. RAW images need quite a bit of sharpening to bring out the sensor's detail, but it's a worthwhile task as the sensor is capable of capturing sharp images. Colors are mostly handled well by the G85, although dark purples are pushed a bit and lose some fine detail.

Panasonic 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 at 12mm (24mm eq.), f/9.0, 6s, ISO 200
I performed extensive editing to this image, including bringing up exposure and shadows a considerable amount while reducing highlights. I was impressed with the flexibility of the G85's RAW files.

This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Artifacts and moiré can be problematic from the Panasonic G85

While removing the OLPF means sharper images, it also means that G85 is more susceptible to moiré when shooting subjects with small, repeating patterns, such as feathers. Moiré is typically very difficult to remove in post-processing, so it is worth keeping in mind when shooting certain subjects. There are a few things you can do to avoid moiré, although it is not always feasible to do so. You can change the focal length or your distance from the subject, you can slightly adjust focus, shoot from a different angle or stop down your lens far enough that you get diffraction, which can soften the image enough to eliminate the artifact. If you're photographing a subject that you think will cause problems, be sure to view your subject at 100%.

Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 800.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.
When viewed at 100%, you can see some jagged edges on some very finely-detailed lines.
Click for full-size image.

Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 1600.
Click for full-size image.
This 100% crop shows the moiré that the G85 can occasionally produce due to its lack of an OLPF.
Click for full-size image.

Image quality at high ISOs: G85 delivers decent high ISO results

Despite its somewhat small sensor size, the G85 does quite well at high ISOs. When considering JPEG images, I found that it produces usable files through ISO 3200. At ISO 6400, noise reduction starts to become excessive and fine details are lost and edges become riddled with artifacts. At ISO 12800, JPEG images are bad even when viewed at small sizes and ISO 25600 is basically useless, in my opinion. When viewing images at 100% or making large prints, I think that ISO 400 is probably where I would stop for larger, critical prints as there's a noticeable increase in shadow noise by ISO 800, although both ISO settings look very good.

Panasonic G85 Noise Comparison
100% Center Crops from JPEG images with Vivid Picture Style and otherwise default settings
(Click for full-size images)
ISO 200 Full Scene
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 12800
ISO 25600

Looking at RAW images, ISO 1600 is where image quality really takes a turn for the worse. Nonetheless, with a bit of noise reduction, ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 images are both what I would consider usable. Beyond that, balancing the sharpening that RAW files need with the noise reduction that has to be applied to the files becomes very difficult.

Overall: Sharp images, decent high ISO performance from the Panasonic G85

The Panasonic G85 captures sharp images overall. Its high ISO performance is pretty good, although not outstanding, and images can be a bit dull straight from the camera at default capture settings. RAW images need a bit more work than other cameras, in my experience, to bring out their best, but nonetheless, the G85 includes an impressive Micro Four Thirds sensor.

Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/60s, ISO 3200.
Click for full-size image.

Panasonic G85 user experience: feature-rich, fast AF, deep buffer

The Panasonic G85's somewhat compact form factor and excellent display help it be a very user-friendly camera. However, there's more to a camera's user experience than ergonomics. Fortunately, the G85 excels in other areas as well, including its variety of shooting modes, autofocus performance and video features. I would like to also point out that the camera's menu system is pretty good, but there's also a very neat playback feature. When you are playing back images on the G85, if you zoom all the way out (using the rear command dial) to view more images. If you keep scrolling, you can zoom out to get a calendar view, allowing you to view all of your images and videos from a particular day. Neat! You can also zoom-in to a single photo, by scrolling the rear dial in the other direction.

Panasonic 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 at 33mm (66mm eq.), f/9.0, 1/125s, ISO 200
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Wide assortment of shooting modes

The Panasonic G85 has a lot of photo modes, including the standard program (P), aperture priority (A), shutter speed priority (S) and manual (M) modes. On the mode dial, there are also intelligent automatic, creative expression, scene and user-customizable C1 and C2 modes. For movie shooting, there's a manual movie shooting mode on the dial as well.

Regarding the creative expression mode, there are a variety of filters that can be applied to your images, including, retro, high key, low key, sepia, monochrome, and much, much more. Scene mode, rather than applying a filter, selects settings appropriate to a chosen "scene." There are numerous different Scene options to pick through, which includes typical subjects options like clear portrait, handheld night shot, and panorama. There are also some oddly specific Scene modes, too, such as 'sweet child's face,' 'romantic sunset glow,' ' soft image of a flower' and 'cute dessert.'

Miniature filter effect

Metering performance is reliable

I found the Panasonic G85's 1728-zone metering system works well in most situations. There are three metering modes: multiple, center-weighted and spot. The latter of which is tied to the AF point, which is nice. The function button on the top of the camera (Fn1) works as an exposure compensation button during regular shooting, in case you need to quickly change exposure metering behavior. However, I didn't need to utilize exposure compensation very often as the camera did a good job in real-world use. More importantly, it was consistent. White balance metering was similarly good, although white balance can be quickly adjusted by pressing the 'WB' button on the back of the camera.

Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 2000.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.

Autofocus performance is snappy, capable in low-light and impressive overall

The Panasonic G85 utilizes a 49-point contrast-detect autofocus system that performs particularly well in low light situations. In fact, the camera can autofocus down to -4 EV, which is very impressive and rivals many of the more advanced DSLR cameras' autofocus systems.

When shooting in AF-S mode, the autofocus system is quick to acquire accurate focus. 49 points proves to be plenty on the Four Thirds sensor. By far my favorite autofocus feature of the G85 in real-world use is the ability to use the touchscreen display as an AF touchpad. When looking through the viewfinder, it's possible to move the AF point around the screen with your thumb. It may not sound like a big deal, but it is very intuitive and works well. However, you have to be careful to not accidentally hit the screen with your face or thumb when trying to access buttons on the back of the camera, as this can disrupt your focusing and move your AF point to an undesired location.

Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/200s, ISO 800.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.

Despite the lack of on-sensor phase-detect AF, I found continuous autofocus performance is generally quite good on the G85. There is a slight tendency, however, for the camera to hunt in lower light or fail to realize that it has acquired focus on your subject and start searching again. Overall, though, I was impressed with the camera's continuous autofocus capabilities.

It's worth noting that the G85 utilizes Panasonic's Depth from Defocus (DFD) technology, which you can read more about here. Focusing is very fast, acquiring focus in just 0.07 seconds. In my experience, while the continuous autofocus was certainly quick, the single-shot focus is where the G85 shines.

Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 200.
Click for full-size image.

Performance remains strong with some improvements, plus a handy battery-saving mode

The Panasonic G85 is a pretty speedy compact ILC. Compared to its predecessor, the G85 offers an additional frame per second of continuous shooting speed with a total of 9fps in continuous high mode. With that said, if you want to shoot with continuous autofocus, shooting speeds are capped at 6fps, which is still pretty quick but not groundbreaking.

The biggest improvement in performance comes in to RAW image buffer depth. The G85 is rated to capture 45 RAW shots before slowing down whereas the G7 maxed out at just 16 frames in our lab testing. JPEG buffer depth has been improved, as well, to a rated 300 frames, although we found it to shoot 240 JPEG frames during lab testing, so it wasn't exactly an area of weakness before. Like the G7 before it, the G85 is UHS-II compatible, which helps clear the buffer rapidly. In my experience, buffer clearing was a bit slower than the G7, compared to the numbers we tested in our lab. However, with the G85, you can start shooting again at full burst speeds while the camera continues clearing out the buffer.

Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 250.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.

What about battery life? During normal shooting, battery life is 330 shots when using the monitor and 320 shots when using the electronic viewfinder, which isn't particularly good but fairly standard for a mirrorless ILC. However, when using the new battery saving eco mode, battery life increases to a very good 800 shots. This is accomplished by using the camera's built-in eye sensor and quickly putting the camera to sleep when it isn't in use. You'll need to toggle the display settings to turn off Live View on the rear LCD and shoot with only the EVF, but it's a great way to drastically extend the battery life.

No NFC, but the wireless capabilities of the G85 are quite impressive nonetheless

Using the Panasonic Image App, you can connect the G85 via Wi-Fi to your smartphone to transfer images and remotely control the camera. The connection process is straightforward, requiring turning on Wi-Fi on the camera, connecting to the G85 in your device's settings and then opening up Image App. Although straightforward, the process would be much faster if there was a dedicated "wireless" button on the camera body rather than require users to go through the menu system.

Screenshots from the Panasonic Image App iOS application.

Once connected, you can select images to transfer to your device. This works fine, but the real draw of the app for me is the ability to remotely control the G85. The connection is reliable and the live view feed is sharp and stable. You can make changes on the camera body itself without disconnecting the camera from the phone as well, which is nice. There are a plethora of options you can remotely adjust, including photo style, filter settings, picture size and quality, metering, flash, bracketing, aperture, exposure compensation, ISO and white balance. It's really a very impressive wireless application and one of the best ones I've used.

Panasonic G85 4K Video and Photo features are excellent

As has become standard for Panasonic cameras, the G85 is very well-equipped in the video department, including 4K video recording up to 30p. Although it doesn't have the same level of pro-video features as the GH4, it does come close. The G85 has a 3.5mm mic input, but no headphone jack, and includes Cinelike D and Cinelike V picture styles for increased dynamic range when recording video that will be post-processed. You can record with a 100Mbps bit rate in the MP4 format as well as AVCHD files at a lower bit rate. Unlike the GH4, there's no MOV format on the G85.

Additional features include fully manual video recording, 4K Live Cropping (which lets you record a 1080p video within a frame that you move around on the display), focus peaking and exposure zebras.

Panasonic G85 4K Video Sample #1
3840 x 2160, 30fps, ISO 200, Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3
Download Original (153.2 MB .MP4 File)

Panasonic G85 4K Video Sample #2
3840 x 2160, 30fps, ISO 200, Panasonic 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6
Download Original (100.3 MB .MP4 File)

How does the video quality look? Very nice. 4K video is sharp, and the camera handles exposure and focus well. Continuous focus can sometimes hunt a bit, but its transitions are generally smooth and quiet with the lenses I tested. You can record video within P, A, S and M shooting modes by hitting the dedicated movie record button on the top of the camera, but there's also a dedicated movie shooting mode on the mode dial itself that lets you cycle through different movie modes, such as manual and aperture priority, my two go-to choices.

Panasonic G85 High ISO Video Sample
3840 x 2160, 30fps, ISO 3200, Panasonic 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6
Download Original (153 MB .MP4 File)

Even at high ISO, 4K video quality remains quite good, particularly through ISO 1600. You cannot record video beyond ISO 6400, which given the high noise levels when recording at ISO 6400 makes sense.

Panasonic G85 4K Video Sample #3
3840 x 2160, 30fps, ISO 200, Panasonic 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6
Download Original (212.9 MB .MP4 File)

Overall, the G85 includes a lot of video features considering its price point, and its performance is very impressive. It can't quite match the GH4, but it comes quite close.

4K Photo: Fast-paced 8-megapixel JPEG shooting

4K Photo is a hugely important shooting mode for Panasonic cameras, and it, of course, is offered on the G85. You can capture 8-megapixel JPEG images at up to 30 frames per second with this mode, making it well-suited for action. There are various 4K Photo modes that let you change focus after shooting, stack multiple images for more depth of field, or save 5-second chunks of 4K burst video (or up to 150 individual frames) for later sorting and editing. You can even set the camera to start recording 4K photos when you half-press the shutter so you can ensure that you capture action as soon as it starts. As has been the case with other Panasonic cameras I've tested, 4K Photo modes work very well. It's disappointing that you can't shoot RAW images in this mode, but that isn't surprising given the technical demands of the feature.

Panasonic G85 Field Test Summary

The Panasonic G85 is a very rugged, fun-to-use and capable mirrorless camera

What I like:

  • Compact, lightweight and weather-sealed camera body
  • Fantastic tilt/swivel touchscreen display and interface
  • Good image quality and sharpness across a wide range of ISO speeds
  • Fast autofocus performance
  • Excellent use of the touchscreen when shooting
  • Impressive continuous shooting performance for its class
  • 4K photo and video modes work well

What I dislike:

  • Moiré and aliasing can be problematic if you're not careful
  • Shutter release is sensitive and has little travel distance
  • Electronic viewfinder can struggle slightly in low light, displaying a decreased frame rate
  • Wi-Fi should have a dedicated button
Panasonic 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 at 12mm (24mm eq.), f/9.0, 10s, ISO 200
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Following up on the Panasonic G7, the G85 brings a wide array of improvements and continues to deliver on the best aspects of the G7, including a compact, lightweight DSLR-style camera body and fast autofocus performance. The tilt/swivel touchscreen display is particularly impressive as both a tool for composing images and for interacting with the camera. Additionally, image quality from the 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor is very good, and the G85's performance has received a substantial upgrade in the RAW buffer depth department. Overall, thanks to impressive imaging performance, autofocus and a very good variety of 4K photo and video modes, the Panasonic G85 is not only an excellent camera, but also a great value.

 



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