Panasonic GX9 Field Test
Panasonic GX9 Field Test
A compact, high-performance and versatile travel-friendly camera
by William Brawley | Posted 02/13/2018
*Updated with Monochrome Picture Style and new Grain Effect comparisons. See below.
Panasonic 25mm f/1.7: 25mm, f/2, 1/6400s, ISO 200, L. Monochrome Picture Style
As the model name suggests, the new GX9 is the replacement model for 2015's impressive GX8 rangefinder-style mirrorless camera. The new GX9 maintains that characteristic shape and overall style, including its unique tilt-up electronic viewfinder, while offering some pleasing usability changes, including improvements to its control layout, an updated body shape, and new features. Plus, on the inside, there are a lot of exciting new goodies and advancements to the camera's image quality, high ISO noise performance, as well as fun and rather clever in-camera tricks revolving around Panasonic's 4K PHOTO technology.
Before the announcement, I was able to spend some time with this new rangefinder-esque Micro Four Thirds camera and wanted to share my experience with the camera's design, image quality, and some performance features. Don't forget to check our Samples Page for our First Shots series of lab images as well as our Gallery Page for an even more in-depth look at the GX9's image quality.
OK, onto the details...
Panasonic 25mm f/1.7: 25mm, f/4, 1/1000s, ISO 200, -0.3EV, L. Monochrome Picture Style
Design and Ergonomics
As mentioned, the GX9 replaces the GX8 and keeps the same rangefinder-style body design with top-left corner-mounted EVF -- as opposed to a central "hump" viewfinder as on DSLR-styled models like the GH5 and G9. The GX8 was rather beefy and almost chunky with a thick body and fairly full handgrip. For the GX9, Panasonic slimmed things down a bit, although it's little difficult to tell unless you have both cameras side-by-side.
GX9 shown here with accessory eye-cup attached.
The GX9's body is slimmer than the GX8's thanks in part to a new rear LCD touchscreen. The GX8 used a fully articulated, vari-angle LCD panel, while the GX9 opts for a more straightforward tilting screen. The GX8 used a fairly chunky articulating hinge mechanism, while the GX9's tilt screen can sit more flush up against the camera body. Now, I know there are two camps of people, those who like tilt screen and those who prefer vari-angle ones. Not many cameras give you the option of both styles, so compromises have to be made. For me, personally, I love the fact that they switched to a tilting display. I don't shoot a lot of videos -- where a vari-angle screen makes more sense -- thus the tilting screen on the GX9 is a welcomed change. The tilt-screen lets me easily shoot low or high without having to flip out a screen, which feels more prone to breaking and takes more time to maneuver.
The GX9 body is not only thinner, but its handgrip is also less pronounced. The thinness is a nice change, I think -- I'm all for compactness when it comes to travel- and street-centric cameras -- but the smaller grip might be frustrating for those with larger hands. There's still some "purchase" for your fingers to grip around, but you can't really let the camera "hang" from your fingers as you can with the GX8. Overall, in fact, the GX9 feels much more akin to the GX85 in terms of size and shape.
Thankfully, to compensate for the smaller size, Panasonic introduced an add-on grip base-plate (that's also compatible with the GX85), and while it's an additional accessory you'd have to buy, it does add a substantial grip to the camera as well as a little more height. If you often shoot with bigger, heavier lenses, then this accessory is close to a must-have. Pet-peeve warning, however: The base plate screws into the camera's tripod socket (though pleasingly has its own tripod socket), but it completely blocks the battery/SD card door, forcing you to unscrew the baseplate to replace the battery or memory card.
GX9 shown here with accessory grip baseplate and eye-cup attached.
Overall, my initial impressions after shooting with the camera are overwhelmingly positive. The camera is lightweight and very solid-feeling (despite no longer being weather-sealed like its GX8 predecessor). The grip is actually a bit more substantial-feeling than I had expected, especially thanks to the rear thumb grip that provides some extra security. The textured leatherette material, however, can feel a bit slippery, especially if your hands get sweaty. To me, the GX9 strikes a nice balance of remaining small and compact, yet offering enough of a grip for it to feel comfortable and secure, whether you're snapping shots with one hand or two.
As with the GX8, the GX9 also includes the clever tilting electronic viewfinder. Personally, I often just used the tilting LCD if I wanted a top-down shooting position, but it's nice to have the option of a top-down EVF, too. The screen inside the GX9's EVF uses a field-sequential LCD panel rather than the nicer OLED screen of the GX8 (it's the same EVF as in the GX85). Nevertheless, images in the EVF are sharp, but it's not quite as good as the GX8's. I also noticed some minor RGB tearing artifacts on the EVF screen if I blinked or moved my eye around.
Out of the box, the GX9 doesn't have much an eye-cup around its EVF, and it hardly blocks any stray light. Thankfully, Panasonic sells an add-on eye-cup that's much wider and deeper -- also nice for those using glasses. Unluckily for me, I didn't have the add-on eye-cup, which means out in the bright sun, I often found myself using my hand to block out light while shooting.
My one main "gripe" with the GX9 is the lack of a joystick control, or at least some other directional pad control that lets me immediately move the AF point while the camera it up at my eye. I've really come to rely on this type of control, and I get frustrated when cameras don't have this functionality. The G9, GH5, and GH5S all feature joysticks, but Panasonic has yet to implement this on their lower-tier models. Neither the GX8 nor GX85 has joystick controls, and the GX9 follows the same path.
Now, to be fair, you can use the rear touchscreen LCD simultaneously with the EVF -- a feature called Touch Pad AF. It keeps the touchscreen portion of the rear screen active while you use the EVF, letting you slide your finger around the screen to move the AF point precisely where you want it. This works quite well, except if you're left-eye dominant like I am. Since I use my left eye with the corner-positioned EVF, my nose ends up touching the screen, inadvertently moving the AF point. Therefore, if I want to reposition the AF point quickly, I have to bring the camera down from my eye and use the LCD panel to tap where I want the AF point.
Another "missing" feature I encountered was a dedicated drive mode dial. I understand that there really isn't room on the camera for this extra dial, but I really appreciate the physical, easily-visible indicator of what drive mode you're in and ability to quickly change shooting modes.
Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6: 32mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 200
Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6: 12mm, f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 200
Image Quality - Initial Impressions
Overall, the image quality from the GX9 is very good. I've shot primarily at lower ISOs, and the fine detail is excellent. (Update: there are now some higher ISO images in the Gallery Page) The GX9 uses a 20MP Four Thirds sensor like its predecessor, yet foregoes the optical low-pass filter for some extra resolving power. I shot a lot around the city of Atlanta, with lots man-made subjects like buildings, bricks, fences, and screens that would be notorious for showing moiré and aliasing artifacts. The GX9 does a great job at avoiding or combating these artifacts with its in-camera JPEG processing, though I did manage to find some moiré artifacts in a few images, so it's not perfect.
Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6: 16mm, f/4.1, 1/1600s, ISO 200, -0.3EV
Notice the moiré pattern on the metal facade of this building.
Panasonic also put a big emphasis on the GX9's color accuracy with its JPEGs, particularly when it comes to blue skies. So far, from the images I've seen, colors (in the "Standard" picture style) look pleasingly vibrant without looking oversaturated. Dynamic range seems impressive, as well, even from the JPEG images I've seen. I was shooting in sunny, daylight conditions with harsh shadows, and for the most part, the resulting high-contrast photos show lots of shadow detail and good highlight retention.
Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6: 20mm, f/4.6, 1/1000s, ISO 200
Although I assume more advanced photographers will likely shoot in RAW and post-process images after the fact, Panasonic does a lot for those who simply want to capture and create images in-camera. As such, they've introduced another Monochrome picture style, as well as a pretty realistic Grain Effect filter, for film-like grain. The GX85 introduced the "L. Monochrome" black-and-white picture style, and the GX9 goes one further with a more dynamic "L. Monochrome D" style. L. Monochrome D style tweaks the black level and tonal gradation compared to the standard Monochrome style; you'll get deeper blacks and enhanced contrast.
Panasonic 25mm f/1.7: 25mm, f/2.8, 1/1250s, ISO 200, -0.3EV, L. Monochrome Picture Style, Grain Effect "Standard"
I enjoyed shooting in the Monochrome picture styles. I don't often shoot in black-and-white, so it was fun stylistic change. One cool trick (that's not exclusive to the GX9) is that if you are shooting in RAW+JPEG, your view on the LCD and EVF is black and white while set to the Monochrome styles. This can help focus your eye on seeing lines, patterns, light, and shadow in black and white without the distractions of color, and should help improve your monochrome photos.
Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6: 12mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 200, L. Monochrome Picture Style
Plus, you then have a full-color RAW file should you want a color image later on. Even better is that the GX9 offers in-camera RAW processing, so if you happen to find yourself shooting tons and tons of monochrome images like I was, you can easily go back and re-process the RAW file to make a new photo with any picture style and with numerous image quality adjustments.
Monochrome Picture Styles Comparison
In this section I'll compare the "Monochrome," "L.Monochrome" and the new "L.Monochrome D" Picture Style presets. In these comparisons, the RAWs were all processed in-camera into each of the different monochrome picture styles.
|Standard Picture Style
|Monochrome Picture Style
|L.Monochrome Picture Style
|L.Monochrome D Picture Style
|Standard Picture Style
|Monochrome Picture Style
|L.Monochrome Picture Style
|L.Monochrome D Picture Style
In both of these comparisons, you can see how the L.Monochrome presets increase the overall contrast compared to the standard, flatter "Monochrome" preset. You'll also notice in the second comparison set how the L.Monochrome presets darken the blue sky more noticeably than the standard Monochrome style. The new "L.Monochrome D" style tweaks the contrast compared to the regular L.Monochrome picture style, with a subtle increase in shadow detail yet with a noticeable boost to highlights and other bright areas.
"Grain Effect" Filter Comparison
The GX9 introduces a new Grain Effect filter preset, which aims to emulate the fine grain appearance of film. Below is a quick comparison between the different strengths of the Grain Effect filter, processed from an original RAW file in-camera. Be sure to check back here later, as I hope to be able to compare the GX9's film grain effect against other notable competitors to see how they all stack up.
|Grain Effect "Off" (Shot with L. Monochrome D preset)
|Grain Effect "Low"
|Grain Effect "Std"
|Grain Effect "High"
Performance & Autofocus - Initial Impressions
Although we've already tested the GX9's performance in the lab, we need to field test the camera more thoroughly, however I still wanted to touch briefly on the camera's real-world performance so far. Overall, the GX9 is very nimble and responsive. Start-up time is quick, so you can pull the camera out and be ready to shoot in no time. Menus and settings changes feel responsive, much like other recent Panasonic mirrorless cameras I've used.
Panasonic 25mm f/1.7: 25mm, f/2.5, 1/3200s, ISO 200, L. Monochrome Picture Style
Like other Lumix models, the GX9 doesn't use phase-detect autofocus, but rather Panasonic's own DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology to provide quick, accurate and nearly wobble-free contrast-detect AF. Panasonic's made big strides regarding the speed and overall performance of their DFD autofocus technology, and on the GX9, it performs remarkably well from what I've seen so far. Single-shot AF is very fast, especially for a camera that doesn't support phase-detect. In my experience, the camera locked onto subjects quickly without any hunting or missed focus. Granted, this was mostly in the daytime and on subjects with decent lighting and contrast. However, I did shoot some indoor photos, and the GX9 performed admirably.
Panasonic 25mm f/1.7: 25mm, f/2, 1/250s, ISO 800
I did briefly test 4K PHOTO and the new in-camera Sweep Panorama modes. 4K Photo is super-quick and can capture a lot of images in a short span of time. To be fair, I was using a fast 95MB/s SanDisk Extreme Pro memory card, but I didn't feel like I had to wait much for the camera to finish buffering all these images before I could either start reviewing frames or shoot more. The GX9 can however be a little sluggish at clearing a long burst of full-res images, as shown in our lab results.
Sweep Panorama Mode
Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6: 12mm, f/8, 1/640s, ISO 200, L. Monochrome Picture Style
Similarly, the Sweep Panorama mode is simple to operate, and the camera generates the resulting pano shot in just a few seconds. Like a smartphone, to begin the panorama shot (you'll need to switch to Panorama mode, of course), you simply press the shutter button down fully, the GX9 will then automatically rapid-fire multiple frames as you pan the camera. To complete the panorama image, however wide you want it, just press the shutter release once more. Then the camera composites the final image right away. The camera doesn't give you any warnings about panning too quickly or slowly, but the resulting image quality is usually quite good. For the most part, the stitching looks pretty seamless, although I did notice some compositing errors, such as repeating objects and textures, which you can see in the example below.
Lastly, as for battery life, the GX9 uses the same rechargeable lithium ion pack as the GX85. The GX9 is CIPA-rated for just 260 shots/charge (LCD) or 250 shots/charge (EVF), which is pretty underwhelming and not as good as the GX8's rating. Before taking it out to shoot, our lab technician also warned me that the battery life wasn't very good. In my experience, though, it felt decent. I was able to get through about half a day of shooting (approximately 9:30am to 2:00pm), testing still images, a few 4K PHOTO sequences and panoramas (but not videos), and did not deplete my single battery pack. I took about 380 RAW+JPEG images on a single charge in standard mode (non-Eco Mode). I was, however, pretty judicious about turning the camera off if I wasn't using for a few minutes, so your mileage may vary. In the end, I do recommend picking up a spare battery just in case.
Field Test Summary
Overall, the Panasonic GX9 is a fun, lightweight and solid little camera. The image quality observed is quite nice, with the camera's new OLPF-less sensor capturing lots of fine detail, pleasing colors and good dynamic range for a Four Thirds chip. Its performance is quite nimble, as well, making it an ideal companion for the street or travel photographer needing something quick, discrete and speedy.
Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6: 13mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 200, -0.3EV
Although it technically replaces the GX8, it seems more like a beefed-up GX85 rather than a direct successor the GX8. The GX8 featured weather-sealing, had a larger and nicer OLED EVF, mag-alloy chassis, better battery life, an external mic/remote jack, and was offered in a body-only configuration, while the GX9 makes no claims for weather resistance, uses a smaller field-sequential LCD for the EVF, is mostly polycarbonate plastic (though it feels very solid), and is being sold kitted with a zoom lens. But, at US$999, it's also a bit more affordable than the GX8's body-only launch price, and this is with a 12-60mm lens, so it's a fairly high-performance, full-featured camera setup at a good price point.
Panasonic 25mm f/1.7: 25mm, f/1.7, 1/60s, ISO 800, L. Monochrome Picture D Style
Panasonic 25mm f/1.7: 25mm, f/1.7, 1/60s, ISO 800
The GX9, nevertheless, offers some new tricks and features that the GX8 did not have, such as faster AF-S burst speed, the new 4K PHOTO Sequence Composition feature, a built-in flash, and a tilting rear LCD (good or bad, depending on your personal preference). Overall, despite sitting between the GX85 and GX8 in a sense, the GX9 is shaping up to be an excellent mirrorless camera for the advanced or enthusiast photographer looking for a compact, high-performance and versatile travel-friendly camera.