First impressions, what is the Panasonic GX9
Panasonic has introduced the GX9 to sit in the middle of its range as a “premium street photography camera”. With its small body size and flat rangefinder type design, it’s also ideally suited as a travel camera – especially if you already own another Micro Four Thirds camera.
It follows on from – but doesn’t replace – the GX8, being smaller in size and closer in form factor to the entry-level GX800 camera. It houses a 20.3 megapixel Four Thirds sensor, without an anti-aliasing filter for increased detail resolution.
It has a host of other appealing specifications, including a high-resolution tilting viewfinder, a tilting touch-sensitive LCD screen, 4K Photo and Video modes, and compatibility with the huge range of Micro Four Thirds lenses.
Build and Handling
Panasonic enjoyed great success with the GX7, with many appreciating its small size and weight. For some reason, Panasonic decided to make the GX8 much bulkier – and while it was a very good camera – the form factor never really struck a chord with me.
Fortunately, Panasonic has decided to go back to the smaller size for the GX9, and I have to say I’m pleased with the decision. For me, when I’m looking for a travel or street-style camera, I want it to be as small and discreet as possible.
Not only is the GX9 small and light, it’s also got an attractive leather-type coating on the outside, plus an indent on the grip for your fingers to sit. Overall, it’s got a high-quality appearance and feel, looking smart and stylish.
Naturally, in order to keep the size down, there has been a few changes made. One of the most obvious is that the GX9 now has a tilting, rather than a fully-articulating screen.
I actually tend to prefer tilting screens for cameras like this, where discreetness is the aim of the game, but it is much less useful when shooting portrait format images from awkward angles.
Never-the-less, the touch-sensitive screen is very responsive – I use it predominantly to set the autofocus point, which you can continue to do while looking through the viewfinder, but it’s also available when scrolling through images in playback, or changing menu settings.
Speaking of the viewfinder, the GX9 retains the tilting mechanism which was found on the GX8. A tilting finder is useful for shooting from various angles, such as straight upwards, or from chest height. The viewfinder itself is bright and clear and has no obviously noticeable lag.
Despite the camera’s small size, the GX9 has plenty of dials and buttons which give you direct access to a range of commonly used functions. An large exposure compensation dial sits underneath a smaller mode dial, both being easily reached by your thumb for making quick changes.
Just in front of these dials is a multi-purpose dial, which can be used for altering various settings, depending on the shooting mode you’re in – for example, in aperture priority it will control aperture. The dial also houses the camera’s shutter release.
A video record button is usefully recessed into the on/off switch, making accidental movie recording almost impossible. The on/off switch is nicely stiff, again helping to prevent switching it on in a bag (or a large pocket) and wasting battery power.
The back of the camera sees a plethora of all the usual buttons, including a four way navigational pad, access to 4K Photo Modes, plus the extremely handy quick menu. From the quick menu you can control various functions, including Picture Style, Picture Setting, Image Quality, AF Mode and so on. A small switch just above the screen takes you between the various AF options of AF-S, AF-C and Manual.
One of the biggest problems often cited with mirrorless cameras is battery-life. Quite rightly, when you consider that most modern DSLRs have quoted battery life stats well into the hundreds, it can make photographers nervous of running out of juice – especially while out travelling and without the time or access to a plug point.
Power Save LVF will boost battery life from 260 to 900 shots
To address this issue, Panasonic has introduced a “Power Save LVF” feature for the GX9, which boosts the standard battery life from 260 shots up to a rather more impressive 900 shots.
It achieves this by using a system similar to stop-start technology in a car, automatically detecting when the camera is not in use for a couple of seconds and switching it off, switching it back on as soon as you lightly press the shutter release.
In everyday shooting, I probably wouldn’t have this feature switched on, but if I knew I was likely to be taking a lot of pictures in any given day (for example while on holiday), it’s a very useful feature to have.
Panasonic has also added USB charging for the GX9, the port for which is hidden behind a clever retracting door, making it easier to charge the camera while out and about, using portable power banks, your laptop and so on.
The Panasonic menu system is relatively straightforward and easy to follow, but a useful new addition is the “My Menu” tab, whereby you can add your favourite or most-used settings into one tab to save you searching through various screens to get to the setting you need.
4K Photo is something which Panasonic always pushes with its cameras, so it is, of course, no surprise to see it here. In case you haven’t come across it before, it’s basically a way to extract stills from short 4K video clips, in camera, to help you freeze action.
There are a couple of new useful 4K Photo features for the GX9, which includes the ability to skip straight to the right part of the action in a longer recording, and the ability to merge together various frames for a sequence composition effect.
I’ve been using the GX9 with a variety of different lenses but owing to its small size and weight, it is best matched with the smaller zooms and primes from the Micro Four Thirds line-up. Bearing in mind that you can use both Panasonic and Olympus lenses, as well as third-party optics, the lens choice for the Micro Four Thirds mount is extremely vast.
The standard kit lens available for this is the 12-32mm collapsible f/3.5-5.6 optic. It’s this I’d recommend if you are trying to keep the size and weight down, perhaps switching to pancake or small primes if you find the quality to be a little more lacking.
Anybody who pre-orders the GX9 will be entitled to claim a free 25mm f/1.7 lens. With Micro Four Thirds, you need to double the number written on a lens to get the equivalent focal length – making this lens a 50mm equivalent, ideal for street photography and quite a tempting offer for anyone looking to buy this camera for such a purpose.
I’ve had the chance to use the GX9 for a few days ahead of the official launch, and my early impressions are positive.
The 20.3 million pixel sensor is capable of resolving very fine detail, while colours are lovely and vibrant. I’d like to use it in a few more conditions, particularly low light, before reaching a full conclusion, but it seems likely that the GX9 will be on par with the GX8, if not the more advanced and expensive cameras, such as the GH5 and the G9.
So far it seems that the camera’s all-purpose metering system does a good job to produce balanced exposures in the majority of conditions, while the automatic white balance system tends to reproduce roughly accurate colours. Again, this is something I’d like to test a little further, under more varied lighting conditions in the coming days.
Compatibility with Adobe Camera Raw is not available yet, but Panasonic has provided a copy of SilkyPix with which to look at the raw files. I haven’t yet had a chance to properly examine how the raw files compare with the JPEG images, but I expect to see slightly better detail, but with more noise.
The GX9 uses the same autofocusing system as the GX8, meaning you have a 49-area contrast-detection system, boasting speeds of just 0.07 seconds. In use so far, I have found it to be very quick and responsive, locking onto the subject with relative ease. I’d like to use the camera a little more before giving a definitive verdict, though.
Panasonic GX9 review sample Photos
I was extremely pleased when I saw that for the latest GX camera, Panasonic had decided to use the smaller form factor. Having used it for a few days, I can also confidently say that it’s a great little camera to use.
I like to have a camera with me pretty much at all times, but I don’t like to carry around anything heavy or bulky – so for me the GX9 is the perfect travel and street camera – being compatible with a wide range of lenses if I need them, but being small enough to fit in a small bag or even reasonably large jacket pocket.
The look of the camera is also very stylish, without attracting too much attention when using it out and about, which is ideal. There’s a good mixture of buttons and dials on the camera, while the tilting screen is very handy for composing from awkward angles – I’m personally not too bothered about articulation for a camera like this (others may feel differently).
You can check out some sample images already taken with this camera, and we’ll be adding more as soon as we can. I can imagine this being a very popular camera with travel photographers, particularly those who already own something larger, like a Panasonic G9 or GH5, as well as those who are completely new to compact system cameras. It is relatively attractively priced too (£699 body only), with a very tempting pre-order deal to lure in street photographers.
Stay tuned for more in due course!