Panasonic Lumix G9 review

Tech Radar

The Lumix G9 is Panasonic's new flagship mirrorless camera, sitting alongside the Lumix GH5 in the range. 

Despite the GH5 being the company's most stills-orientated flagship camera so far, it's still seen by many as primarily a videographer's tool that just happens to also have a wealth of photography features on tap.  

The arrival of the Lumix G9, then, is designed to rectify this situation. While it has many of the same specs as the GH5 it offers more features designed to appeal to the stills photographer, while sacrificing some of the advanced video features that many target users aren't likely to need. 

With 2018 marking 10 years since Panasonic launched the world's first-ever mirrorless camera, could the Lumix G9 be the perfect way to celebrate?

Features

  • Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor, 20.3MP
  • 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
  • 6.5-stop built-in image stabilization system

The Lumix G9 gets the same 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor as the Lumix GH5, which means that, as on that camera, there's no low-pass filter. And if 20.3MP isn't quite enough resolution for you, the G9 also features a new High Resolution mode, which outputs files at an equivalent 80MP. This works by combining eight images that have been taken in rapid succession, with small sensor shifts between each one, which means that, unlike with some rival systems, a tripod is a must when using this mode.

The sensitivity range remains the same as in the GH5, running from ISO100 to 25,600; this is a spec we'd have liked to have seen improved, as the G9 lags a little behind rivals like the Fujifilm X-T2 and Nikon D500, but Panasonic believes image quality has been refined over the GH5 thanks to the inclusion of its latest Venus processing engine. 

The 5-stop in-body image stabilization (IS) system in the GH5 impressed, and the Lumix G9 takes things a step further with a class-leading 6.5-stop system. Panasonic has achieved this by using – wait for it – angular velocity and motion vector information from not only the gyro-sensor, but from the accelerometer and image sensor as well.

The Lumix G9 takes things a step further with a class-leading 6.5-stop IS system

The Lumix G9 features a large and bright electronic viewfinder with an impressive 3,680,000-dot resolution. While that number is the same as on the GH5, the magnification has been bumped up from 0.76x to 0.83x (35mm equivalent), while the display runs at a smooth 120fps. For action shooters, the feed is blackout-free when using the camera's burst shooting mode, while there’s also a night mode, plus an AF Point Scope integrated into the viewfinder design.

On the rear of the camera is a vari-angle 3-inch touchscreen display with a 1,040k-dot resolution – it's a bit smaller than the 3.2-inch touchscreen on the GH5, but it does feature a night mode for low-light shooting.

As you'd expect for a camera that's designed to appeal to a slightly different market than the GH5, the G9 doesn't have quite the same video credentials. That said, you can still shoot 4K video at up to 60fps – and that's Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160) too. 

There's both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity, with the latter enabling a constant connection to your smartphone with minimum power consumption.

The G9 gets dual SD card slots, both of which support the UHS-II format for fast transfer speeds, as long as you've got a compatible card.

Build and handling

  • Magnesium alloy body
  • Status LCD display
  • Splash and dust-proof

The design of the Panasonic Lumix G9 sees a slight change in direction from the GH5. It looks a bit more hunched-over in its proportions, which is likely due to the raised shutter button and grip, while the sharp-edged pentaprism sits a bit lower.

The most obvious change to the design, though, is the arrival of a top-plate status LCD – this feature is common on high-end DSLRs, but the pricey Leica SL is the only other current mirrorless camera to sport one. While mirrorless designs have largely shunned the top-plate LCD it's nice to see one on the G9, making it easy to have a quick glance at all the key shooting settings.

The arrival of this display means the mode dial has shifted over to the left-hand side of the viewfinder, with the drive modes now selected via a switch at the base of the mode dial.

The rear of the Lumix G9 follows a similar control layout to the GH5. There have been some minor tweaks in terms of which button does what, but you still get a decent amount of programmable function buttons. There's also a useful mini-joystick for quick AF area selection. 

The G9 features a decent-sized handgrip, while the rear thumb rest is a bit more pronounced compared to the GH5, enabling you to get a firm and comfortable grip on the camera. The G9 feels nice and solid thanks to the magnesium alloy front and rear frames, while it's also been sealed to make it splash-, dust- and freeze-proof. 

We used the G9 a lot with the new Leica-branded 200mm f/2.8 telephoto prime lens, which balances really well on the camera, especially if you pair it with the optional DMW-BGG9 battery grip. 

Autofocus

  • 225-area AF system
  • Customizable AF settings
  • 0.04 sec AF speed

The Lumix G9 gets the same 225-area AF coverage as the GH5, which covers the majority of the frame, though not quite to the edges. Focusing is sensitive down to light levels as low as -4EV, while the G9 also uses Panasonic's DFD (Depth from Defocus) autofocus technology. 

While mirrorless rivals have embraced a hybrid AF system that takes advantage of both phase-detect and contrast-detect AF methods, Panasonic has opted to plough on with solely contrast-detect autofocus. While you'd expect this approach to result in slower AF acquisition than from rival cameras, it certainly doesn't seem to be compromised in use. Achieving a 0.04 sec acquisition speed (a very slight improvement over the GH5's 0.05 sec) in our testing, it certainly didn't leave us wanting – and even in poor light it managed to lock on without any issues.

There are plenty of focusing modes to choose from too. If you want to keep things simple, opt for the 225-Area mode in single AF and the camera will do much of the hard work for you, choosing which part of the frame it thinks you want to focus on; if it doesn't get it quite right you can always use the joystick to toggle to your desired point of interest. There's also a Face/Eye Detection mode if you're going to be shooting a lot of portraits. 

There are also Pinpoint (single AF only) and Tracking modes, but we found that we predominantly used either the Custom Multi or 1-Area modes for a lot of the subjects we were shooting. The flexibility to change the amount of AF areas covered in Custom Multi is really useful (though we'd like it to store the last-used setting when you switch the camera off and on again), while the precision offered by the 1-Area AF mode was a must for some subjects. 

As on the Lumix GH5, users can set up four different profiles with adjustable sensitivity, AF area switching sensitivity and moving object prediction, depending on the type of subject they're shooting.

Performance

  • 20fps burst shooting with full AF
  • 4K and 6K Photo modes
  • 400-shot battery life

The Lumix G9 is capable of shooting at a blisteringly quick 20fps with full continuous AF, while this can be stretched a staggering 60fps if you don't need to track your subject. That's quite a jump from the GH5's 12fps (9fps with AF-C), while it's also possible to use the 4K and 6K Photo modes to extract still images. These modes might have less appeal with the G9 capable of shooting at such fast speeds, but it's possible to extract single 8MP and 18MP images from 4K 60fps and 6K 30fps footage respectively.

Just like the GH5 and a selection of other Panasonic mirrorless cameras, the Lumix G9 uses a 1,728-zone metering system to determine exposure. As we've experienced in the past, it's a very dependable system, and there were very few occasions when we needed to intervene and dial in exposure compensation.

We also found that the Lumix G9's auto white balance performed very well, with the camera delivering natural-looking results under a range of lighting conditions and light sources.

Using the 200mm f/2.8 (equivalent to 400mm don’t forget) meant it was still possible to get pin-sharp shots even at modest shutter speeds

The Lumix G9's image stabilization system really impresses. The 6.5-stop compensation means it's possible to shoot at incredibly slow shutter speeds with wide lenses, while using the 200mm f/2.8 (equivalent to 400mm don't forget) meant it was still possible to get pin-sharp shots even at modest shutter speeds. This is certainly helped by the comparatively compact proportions of the lens making it a breeze to shoot handheld, while even with a 1.4x teleconverter attached it worked very well. 

The electronic viewfinder is one of the largest to be built into a camera, and the display and shooting experience are excellent. It's large and bright and the use of OLED technology delivers good levels of contrast, while the refresh rate delivers a very smooth feed.  

Battery life is rated at 400 shots – that's 10 shots less than the GH5, but it's fairly typical for a mirrorless camera of this class. You'll definitely want to invest in an additional battery or two to keep handy in your bag. One little annoyance is that the battery level isn't shown as a percentage – just four bars, so it's not always clear how much charge is left.

Image quality

  • ISO100-25,600
  • No optical low pass filter
  • Good dynamic range

Image quality from the Lumix G9 is very good indeed, and it's certainly the best performance we've seen from a Micro Four Thirds-based camera. 

Unencumbered by an optical low pass filter, the 20.3MP chip delivers really fine detail at lower sensitivities; you'd certainly struggle to tell the difference between results from the G9 and a comparable APS-C rival. 

Panasonic has also worked hard to improve color rendition, and the G9 produces much more natural-looking and faithful colors in JPEG files than we've seen from other Lumix cameras in the past. 

Results throughout the ISO range also look very good, with only a slight hint of luminance (grain-like) noise in the mid-range sensitivities when looking at raw files – you'll have to be looking really closely to notice it. 

The G9 handles noise very well up to ISO3200 when shooting raw. At this sensitivity, as well as luminance noise being that bit more noticeable in shots, chroma (color) noise is also becoming more apparent. At ISO6400 the chroma noise is quite pronounced, but detail in raw files is very good considering. For JPEGs, the G9's noise reduction does a good job, controlling noise pretty well without sacrificing too much detail.

The G9 also delivers solid dynamic range performance. We found it possible to recover a decent amount of both highlight and shadow detail in JPEG files, while raw files offer even more latitude and flexibility.

Verdict

Aimed at enthusiast and semi-professional photographers, the Lumix G9 is certainly very competitively priced at £1,499 / $1,699 / AU$2,499 (body-only); you get a lot of camera for your money. 

Panasonic has made a sensible move with the Lumix G9. The GH5, for all its qualities, is still perceived, rightly or wrongly, as very much a videographer's camera, and in the G9 existing users of the Lumix system (and Olympus users as well for that matter), now have the option of purchasing a feature-packed high-end model without necessarily feeling that they're paying for a load of advanced video tech they may not need.

Some might view the smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor as a bit of a compromise, but the pay-off is a compact and well-balanced system, and we were thoroughly impressed when we paired the G9 with the 200mm f/2.8 telephoto prime; considering the equivalent focal length you're shooting at it's an incredibly neat setup, while you're certainly not compromised on quality.

Throw in 60fps shooting, polished handling and a wealth of advanced features and the Lumix G9 is a brilliant all-round mirrorless camera. Not to mention Panasonic's best mirrorless camera to date.

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