Panasonic G9 Field Test Part I

An impressive mirrorless camera with great design & performance

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 01/24/2018

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3 1/640s, ISO 1600.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

The Panasonic GH5 -- and new GH5S -- clearly offer videographers a ton of great features and performance. They aren't slouches when it comes to still imaging performance either, but the Panasonic G9 appears to deliver many of the great video features of its GH5 siblings while delivering even more impressive imaging performance. Plus, the G9 is compact, comfortable to use and carries a smaller price tag than the GH5 too. On paper, there is a lot to like. Let's see how the G9 does in the real world.

Key Features and Specifications

  • Redesigned camera body with top-deck display
  • Tilt/swivel touchscreen display
  • Electronic viewfinder with 0.83x magnification
  • 20.3-megapixel Live MOS Micro Four Thirds image sensor
  • Native ISO range of 200-25,600
  • 225-point autofocus system
  • Up to 20 frames per second with AF-C, 60 fps with AF-S
  • In-body image stabilization
  • 4K UHD video at up to 60 frames per second
  • 6K Photo
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity
  • $1,699 retail price
Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 100mm (200mm eq.), f/8.0 1/200s, ISO 200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Camera Body and Handling

In William Brawley's hands-on first impressions of the Panasonic G9, he went into a lot of detail regarding the G9's ergonomics and handling. I want to add my two cents as everyone's experience with a camera will be a bit different.

With that said, I certainly echo William's sentiments that the G9 feels very secure in the hand. The G9 feels fantastic. The grip is chunky without making the camera huge. It's large for a Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera, but it is still pretty compact and lightweight without sacrificing anything by way of physical controls. It is like a downsized pro DSLR.

The camera includes convenient dual control dials, both of which rotate nicely. The star of the show for me, however, is the top deck of the camera in general. I do wish that the rear command dial was the same as the top command dial. The top one feels like one you'd find on a high-end DSLR with a heavily-ridged rubber surface. Whereas the rear one is different material and rotates differently. As for the top deck features, it includes white balance, ISO and exposure compensation buttons behind the shutter release and there's a very nice top display as well. The G9 is the first Panasonic mirrorless camera to include the top display, and it's an excellent addition.

The top deck of the G9 is very well-organized.

The rear of the camera is very good, as well. The touchscreen display tilts and articulates, a great feature when working on a tripod at odd angles or recording video, and there are multiple function buttons provided on the camera, too. Plus, there's a joystick to go with the directional pad. One thing I don't love about the joystick is that you cannot move the AF point diagonally, which is strange, and it can feel a bit finicky with respect to control. It doesn't always feel like my input is correctly registered. With that said, the joystick is still a nice feature and the overall handling of the camera is superb.

Electronic Viewfinder

While the electronic viewfinder falls under the general purview of the camera body and handling, I wanted to go into it in greater detail because it's very good. The OLED electronic viewfinder delivers 100% coverage and has a massive 0.83x magnification (35mm-equivalent). This is a big step up from the G85, for example, which had 0.74x magnification. Not only is the EVF large and crisp, but it also is very fast with a 120 frames per second refresh rate. It's blackout-free, fast and sharp. I couldn't ask for anything more, and I think that the G9 offers one of the best electronic viewfinders I've used, not just for a Micro Four Thirds camera, but in general.

Image Sensor and Image Quality

Utilizing the same 20.3-megapixel sensor as the Panasonic GH5, you'd expect that image quality would be much the same with the G9. However, Panasonic says they've tweaked the image processing to improve image quality. The G9 delivers very nice image quality, particularly at low ISOs, but the in-camera processing still feels a bit heavy-handed at times.

Consider the pair of images below. The first one was shot at ISO 200 and the second at ISO 2000. It shouldn't surprise us that the ISO 200 image has much better fine detail than the ISO 2000 image, but I want to bring attention to the feathers between the eye and the beak in particular. There are a lot of details present in the ISO 200 image that are essentially absent from the ISO 2000 image.

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/125s, ISO 200.
100% crop. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/640s, ISO 2000.
100% crop. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

If you zoom out or are making a smaller print, the two images display very similar quality. The G9 does a good job of smoothing out visual noise in areas without fine detail. The G9 also handles colors and dynamic range similarly well at ISO 200 and 2000 in this particular scene. There is slightly better shadow and highlight detail in the ISO 200 file, but if you have a good exposure at the time of capture, the difference isn't large or even likely to be noticeable in many situations.

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/125s, ISO 200.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/640s, ISO 2000.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Let's consider a much higher ISO, ISO 12,800, which is half the G9's maximum native ISO. When viewing the image zoomed out, it doesn't look bad. If you take a closer look, the G9's struggles become evident. The sensor is quite small, so we ought not to expect excellent performance here, but high ISO is going to be a weak area for the G9 when compared its APS-C competition. Looking at the JPEG image, we see detail loss, false color and blotchiness due to the noise reduction. Looking at the RAW image, there's a bit more detail but also considerable noise.

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 12,800.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 12,800.
100% crop from the original JPEG file. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 12,800.
100% crop from a RAW file processed with Adobe Camera Raw defaults. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

With respect to shadow recovery of RAW files in particular, consider the image below. The first image is the original straight from the camera JPEG image captured with default settings. The second image is a JPEG export of a RAW file which has had +100 Shadows adjustment performed in Adobe Camera Raw and nothing else. You can pull a considerable amount of detail out of the shadows for a Four Thirds sensor. However, you, of course, introduce noise when you do this, but it isn't too bad at all. I'm impressed with the shadow recovery of the G9's files.

Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 II lens at 12mm (24mm eq.), f/8.0, 4s, ISO 200.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 II lens at 12mm (24mm eq.), f/8.0, 4s, ISO 200.
100% crop of the above JPEG image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 II lens at 12mm (24mm eq.), f/8.0, 4s, ISO 200.
RAW file processed with ACR defaults and +100 Shadows adjustment. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 II lens at 12mm (24mm eq.), f/8.0, 4s, ISO 200.
100% crop of the above RAW image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

And what about highlight detail? Looking at the image below, the RAW-processed version has Adobe Camera Raw defaults plus -100 Highlights adjustment. We can see that the RAW file allowed for considerable recovery in the sky and none of the originally clipped highlights remained clipped.

Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 II lens at 12mm (24mm eq.), f/4.0, 1/40s, ISO 200.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 II lens at 12mm (24mm eq.), f/4.0, 1/40s, ISO 200.
RAW image processed with ACR defaults and -100 Highlights adjustment. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Overall, the Panasonic G9's 20.3-megapixel sensor delivers great images across a flexible ISO range. At low ISOs, images are sharp and detailed, although they do display some occasional odd artifacts due to the aggressive in-camera JPEG processing. RAW images are versatile, allowing for a good amount of shadow and highlight recovery. Plus, when shooting RAW images, you can control the sharpening yourself and produce better final images. High ISO is the lone weak area for the G9, especially when compared to APS-C cameras, many of which are similar in overall size to the G9 despite their larger sensors.

Autofocus

In what seems to be a trend, the G9 utilizes the same basic autofocus system as the GH5 but is said by Panasonic to actually be better. The Advanced Depth from Defocus (Advanced DFD) autofocus system has 225 autofocus points, which bests the G85's total by 176, and is said to lock autofocus in as little as 0.04 seconds. In the lab, the performance was certainly impressive. In the real-world, I was equally impressed by the G9's autofocus system.

Autofocus is fast and accurate, and it is able to handle very difficult situations. For example, when photographing small, moving birds in amongst tree branches, the G9 was able to stick to its guns very well and maintain good focus on the subject. It wasn't easily deterred by a small element popping in front of the subject and when focus was lost, which is inevitable, it was able to quickly recover.

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 280mm (560mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 250.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 280mm (560mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 250.
100% crop from the original JPEG file. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Continuous autofocus performance, in particular, is very good. The camera is able to reliably track the subject throughout the frame while also quickly recovering from lost focus. This was true with all three lenses I used but was most impressed when shooting with the 100-400mm at 400mm (800mm equivalent). To be able to have quick autofocus at such a focal length is excellent and makes the G9 a particularly flexible and versatile camera.

An aspect of the G9's design that I like is that you can easily switch between AF-S and AF-C via a rotating dial on the rear of the camera. It is easy to reach and is right above the autofocus point joystick. Further, the G9's full suite of autofocus modes is impressive. You can select between face/eye detection, tracking, 225-area, Custom Multi and 1-area when using AF-C, and then when using AF-S, a Pinpoint option becomes available. Pinpoint essentially just zooms in on the selected autofocus area, which works well when you are on a tripod and want to check for precision focus. Regarding Custom Multi, it's a neat little feature that allows you to customize an autofocus area within the frame. This is good if you are shooting in an odd, but repeatable, situation where you want autofocus in a distinct arrangement in the frame.

Overall, the Panasonic G9 delivers excellent autofocus performance and is very fast. Having used the G85, the G9 is a big step up in terms of features, speed and performance. The G85 was already impressive, but the G9 is superb.

Performance

If you think that the Sony A9 delivers impressive performance for a mirrorless camera, you will likely be similarly impressed by the G9. Obviously they are very different cameras in terms of sensor size, but they're not so different in terms of speed. Like the A9, the G9 can also shoot at 20 frames per second with full continuous autofocus -- which, as discussed above, is a pretty impressive AF system -- and 60 frames per second with locked autofocus. That's insane. This does require you to use the electronic shutter, but nonetheless, that type of speed is staggering.

Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/640s, ISO 320.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Supposing you want to use the mechanical shutter, you still have access to great performance. The G9 can shoot at just over 12 fps with the mechanical shutter and has an impressive RAW buffer depth of over 80 frames per our laboratory testing. This buffer clears in 14 seconds too, which is good. Of course, performance will vary based on the SD card used, but the G9 does deliver UHS-II support in both of its card slots.

During my real-world testing, the camera was snappy in most situations. The rare time the camera felt slow was when trying to power on the camera and playback images. This process felt sluggish, but during shooting situations, the G9 is a very fast camera. Its battery life is pretty good, too. The G9 is rated for up to 400 shots, which is good for its class, but honestly I think that the camera does a bit better in practice than that, at least based on my experience.

Field Test Part I Summary

Panasonic G9 makes strong first impressions thanks to excellent performance

What I liked:

  • Comfortable camera body
  • Tilting and articulating touchscreen display
  • Very good image quality
  • Very good autofocus
  • Fast shooting speeds

What I disliked:

  • Autofocus joystick is a bit finicky
  • Not as compact for a Micro Four Thirds camera as some shooters may desire
  • Rear command dial has a loose feel
  • In-camera JPEG processing is very aggressive and can produce unnatural edges in images

So far, the Panasonic G9 has excelled in terms of handling and performance. Its image quality is very good, although I find its JPEG processing to be heavy-handed. Autofocus performance and shooting speeds are incredible and certainly high points so far for the G9.

Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 II lens at 17mm (34mm eq.), f/11, 1/160s, ISO 200.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

In the next Field Test, I will be looking at the video performance of the Panasonic G9. In a third and final Field Test, I will look closer at shooting modes, the overall shooting experience, and then offer my final thoughts on the camera. Stay tuned for more on the Panasonic G9.

 



Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate