Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GX8 - First Impressions

PANASONIC LUMIX GX8

A video above showing the camera and some of it's design features. Please excuse the somewhat over use of the word 'terrific'. However as you can tell I'm impressed. 

When the GX8 was first announced, I was very interested to get my hands on one since the specs. ticked more boxes for me than any camera I currently own or is on the market. Add in the fact that the image samples from the 20MP sensor looked very good, there is a well stocked m4/3 lens range to choose from and I've just bought the Metabones 0.64x Nikon > m4/3 adapter and the prospects looked good. But would I like the feel of it? Would it work well? Would I 'bond' with it? And could it possibly be 'The One', that holy grail of cameras that I've been looking for for years? Well the answer to those questions are Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes.

I'm not going to mess around, or keep you in suspense, I will state first off that I think this is a great camera. The best m4/3 camera and for me the best mirrorless camera ever made and possibly the best camera I've ever owned, though time will confirm (or otherwise) that last assessment. 

DESIGN AND LOOK

This is a very retro styled camera. Halfway between the original 'brick' the L1 and a Leica. It does in fact look and feel very Fuji X like. It is bigger than than the GX7 and actually feels quite chunky for a Panasonic m4/3 camera. For me this is good. The extra bulk (Though bulk is very much an overstatement) gives it a great feel and it feels right with both small and large lenses. The grip is quite pronounced and I immediately felt comfortable holding it. And yes it does have a Leica feel to it, helped by the pretty minimalist body layout. And also yes it's a return to rangefinder styling after the recent fashion for the small film SLR look. 

SPECIFICATIONS

But it's 'under the hood' that the real magic is to be found. 

  • Electronic shutter
  • OLED Viewfinder - Absolutely superb, even in semi darkness
  • Fully articulated live view screen
  • 4K Video and 4K Photo. The video footage is very good indeed - Super sharp
  • New 20MP sensor - Panasonic have pulled off a real magic trick. More pixels, yet better at high(er) ISO's
  • IBIS - However for video this is software based - there is no sensor movement - with certain lenses updated via firmware that works in combination with lens OIS - it works well
  • Super fast AF including pin point focus
  • Easy manual focusing with 3rd. Party lenses via a variety of methods
  • EX TELE CONVERTER for video - shoots straight through the lens - so extends your lenses reach
  • Really good dynamic range
  • Exceptional colour depth and overall image quality
  • Decent Panorama function

This is what the sensor can do at ISO 200. These are 100% blowups from raw files, Image on the left is from the Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 and on the right from the Olympus 75mm f/1.8

This is an example shot with a Metabones 0.64x Nikon > m4/3 Speed Booster and my Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 lens at f/4

Above images show the amount of dynamic range you can get from the raw files. There is no HDR here, just running the files through ACR in Photoshop CC and adjusting the shadow and highlight sliders.

This is an image shot at ISO 6400 from raw and processed by me in Photoshop. I've added my own noise reduction so the image is softer than would be expected at lower ISO's. However it's very clean with no noise and is very useable. This file would reproduce very well.

This is an 8MP screen grab / 4K video frame I took from video footage I shot. 

The above images were taken hand held one after the other and without taking more than one shot, using the 14-42mm kit lens at 42mm. You can clearly see the motion blur in the water but the plants are pin sharp. All images were taken at 1/6th. second. I've updated the firmware for the 14-42mm lens which combines the IBIS of the camera with the OIS in the lens. This is about the limit for this focal length for me to get close to 100% success rate. 

This was shot hand held at 1/8th. second using a Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G lens attached via a Metabones 0.64x Nikon G > m4/3 speed booster. Shooting wide open allowed me to use ISO 200 in a very dark place. This is slightly beyond what I would consider a safe limit for non IS lenses on the GX8. However, even at 1/15th. sec. which gives me close to 100% success, the speed booster is giving me a stop more light anyway. A shutter speed of 1/125th. sec. would give an ISO of 3200 for this image so you can see the low light advantage here. However, nothing is moving of course. (Except me!!!) Tests have revealed what I supected, that the IBIS / Lens OIS combination is about two stops better than IBIS alone.

This is the in camera panorama creating function. The files are only around the 35-40MP mark (12-14MP's) so not as big as I can create with my iPads and iPod Touch, but they are bigger than a lot of other cameras offer. The stitching seems pretty good with only the odd glitch and it's a breeze to use. Very simple and very reliable. Jpg. only of course. 

PANASONIC LUMIX GX8 4K VIDEO FOOTAGE

Above is a sample of the 4K video footage - shot with an Olympus 75mm f/1.8


Now I don't know about anybody else, but I'm pretty impressed by all of that.

And all of this is great news for me. I have cameras that do some of this, but until now no camera that does it all. Bad News? Like most mirrorless cameras the battery life isn't great and there is no % left readout. But that's it as far as I'm concerned. 

I have to say that for me, this leaves the entire Fuji X-Trans sensor system trailing in it's wake. I have no agenda here, Fuji don't send me cameras to review, so here it is - the GX8 has high ISO performance that I believe is equal to that from the larger APS-C Fuji sensor, simply because the files are sharper and not so heavily noise reduced. Add in some noise reduction of your own and 'hey presto' you have the same results as that Fuji X-Trans sensor. Or as it should rightly be described, an anti-aliasing filter pretending to be something different. 

And what about the other mirrorless competition? Well I'm not that impressed by either Sony's APS-C or 'full-frame' offerings. Lots of pixels and therefore resolution, but the files have always looked dull to me. No life, no colour depth. This Panasonic camera suffers from neither of those failings. And I'm not convinced this is a Sony sensor either, as some have suggested. The results look closer to my Leica Q (Typ 116) than any Sony I've ever used, which is of course high praise. And from everything I've seen from the Samsung NX1, the GX8 produces better looking files than that too.

Of course this is all personal opinion, but for me this is the best mirrorless camera ever. Not least because it gives access to the m4/3 lens range, which is far and away the most comprehensive of any mirrorless system. I've had the camera for a few days and the results I've got from the Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 and Olympus 75mm f/1.8 are simply breathtaking. Wonderfully sharp. And yes Fujinon lenses are excellent, but better than these? Not for me.

The GX8 is also what I think a mirrorless / CSC / E.V.I.L system should be. Small, light, classy. Not some hyped up DSLR clone with a small body and huge lenses. And using this camera is a pleasure. Panasonic haven't always been the producers of well made, good looking, great handling cameras, but they have followed up their classy GX7 with an even nicer camera. And this is the top of their range. Sure the GH4 has lots of pro video options, but that 20MP sensor takes the GX8 past that, as far as I'm comcerned.

And my final words in this first (of many) posts about the GX8, are about that sensor. It is really very good indeed and I believe deserves to be compared with 24MP units. Because if you crop a 24MP 3:2 images to 4:3, what you get is very close to the 20MP's that the GX8 produces. I'm of the opinion that It pushes m4/3 forward in the mirrorless marketplace and I have to say I was worried those extra 4MP might have a detrimental effect, but they don't. In fact quite the opposite. Anybody who owns any other m4/3 camera is now not experiencing the best that format can offer and surely every other top end m4/3 camera has to have this sensor, because it's quite simply better than what's around currently. Consequently I will be selling my Olympus OM-D E-M5 II and my recently acquired G7, because the GX8 is, for me, a 'better' camera that produces 'better' files and I'll probably buy another one as a backup.

Now new models and new cameras should improve on what went before (because if not what's the point?) and there should be a significant difference in the newer versions. And each new 'upgrade' should produce a better specified camera and produce better looking files. Now, as we all know, that is not necessarily always the case, but with the GX8 it is. And magnificently so.

CONCLUSION

I have to admit I had high hopes for this camera, but I was prepared to accept that what's on the spec. sheet and what manufacturers claim for their products doesn't always mean that gear delivers the goods. But if anything, the GX8 has exceeded my expectations. I'm really impressed with the sensor and with some fast lenses and of course my Nikons + Metabones Speed Booster I could seriously describe this as a good camera for low light. Something I wouldn't have expected to write about a m4/3 camera. 

The IBIS is also very interesting, the video IS being software based and not dependent on a shifting sensor. Now this certainly explains the video stabilisation in my Leica T (Typ 701) and Leica Q (Typ 116) I always wondered where it came from and now that question has been answered - Panasonic. It does work and works well. The IS for hand-held video is not as good as the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, but then none of these IBIS systems are good enough for pro. video work anyway. For that Steadicam / Gimbal is needed. Plus that 4K video is so good it would be a shame not to use a tripod.

The issue of battery life contrinues to bug me, but then this seems to be a problem with batteries rather than the cameras. If we are going to be offered 4K video and improved screens and EVF's then we need small, high powered batteries to power all this. It's the biggest hurdle to my mind for a lot of technology. My smartphones are pretty awful as well. We are asking our technology to be mobile and do many more complex and power hungry things than the original digital cameras and mobile phones were able to offer, but batteries don't seem to have moved on. Sort it out!!

But to end on a positive note, the GX8 really is a superb camera. It scores heavily where it should, it produces great image files and video footage. Now the monster 42.5MP 4K Sony A7r II may have a lot going for (At 2.5x the price lets not forget) but for me I'm reluctant to buy into Sony again because the lens range just doesn't fit in with what I want. And I really dislike that small body, huge lens feel. And to get what I have for my m4/3 cameras I would have to get some of the bigger Sony lenses. My Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 and Panasonic 14-140mm and 100-300mm zooms are all significantly smaller and lighter than either APS-C or 'Full-Frame' equivalents and in fact those don't offer much advantage (if any) over DSLR's. But the GX8 is a genuine small, light very high quality camera with the option to use small, light very high quality lenses. And the images that come out of the camera are a match for anything else. So ultimately, why would I go for anything bigger? I'm selling lots of smartphone taken images anyway, so the notion that I have to go for the biggest pixel count cameras isn't a priority anymore. None of the images I sell get reproduced that big anyway.

And of course the important thing is the GX8 is exactly the kind of camera I love using. It's not a Leica, but it could well be and it has the same feel and design ethic. There's a lot going on inside but aethetically it's very simple and can easily be set up to work well without a lot of fuss. It offers a lot of options, some of which I will use a lot, some of which I won't, but like all the best cameras I've bought over the years it helps me create the best images I can. And since that is ultimately what's most important for me, I have no hesitation in recommending the GX8. All serious m4/3 users should at least try to get their hands on one to see what it can do. I doubt they will be disappointed. 

UPDATE

The IBIS in the GX8 is somewhat odd. I stated in the post that this is software based. However I neglected to say that was for the video when a non OIS lens is used. However, I'm putting some thoughts I expressed in the comments section of this post.

'Yes I somehow managed to leave that bit out. I've changed the post. 

However, whatever the IBIS is doing for stllls it does it completely silently, so I'm not sure it's anywhere near the same as the Olympus system. When I press the shutter button on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 II you can hear the stabilisation clearly kicking in, however the GX8 is totally silent. You can hear the lens focus but then nothing. If I use the electronic shutter then there is still no noise. If I turn the stabilisation on or off still no noise at all, even with my ear pressed right up to the camera. There is some only just barely audible background noise, but I assume that is system noise. It's the same however whether stabilisation is on or off. 

With every lens with OIS and every IBIS camera I've owned  I can clearly hear the noise of the IS system. In fact with Pentax cameras you can hear the sensor clanking about. With the GX8 there is nothing at all. Have Panasonic come up with a completely silent IS system or is there something else going on? What is also interesting is that the 'IBIS effect' doesn't show up in the viewfinder on the Panasonic as it does clearly on the Olympus. So exactly what is going on and how in fact does this IBIS work? From things I've read in the past I gather it is perfectly possible to measure the movement of the camera during the exposure and compensate for that in the image.

It's in the Leica Q as well and do Leica want a moving sensor? I suspect it's not quite as it's made out.'

So, I suspect there are some intruiging questions here. If anyone out there has any theories on this then I'd be happy to publish them.