The new Lumix G9’s autofocus system’s sensitivity and ability to pick out a subject behind distracting foliage really impressed me when I used it to photograph wildlife in South Africa, but I didn’t encounter any fast-moving subjects to test its speed. With this in mind, I took it along to a Henley Hawks Women’s rugby match to see how it performs when photographing sport.
Naturally, I was ‘delighted’ that the match took place on one of the rainiest, most overcast days that December has had to offer so far this year because it made the AF system’s challenge harder gave me a chance to really test the camera’s weatherproofing.
I set the G9 to continuous shooting at 20fps and shot with the Leica DG Elmarit 200mm f/2.8 Power OIS lens mounted. I had intended to also shoot with this lens and the 1.4x converter that comes with it, as well as the Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4-6.3 ASPH, but the weather was atrocious and the camera got so wet that I couldn’t risk swapping optics.
There are six autofocus (AF) modes available on the G9: Face/Eye Detection, Tracking, 225-Area, Custom Multi, 1-Area and Pinpoint. I concentrated on using Tracking, Custom Multi and 1-Area in AFC (Autofocus Continuous) mode when I was shooting the rugby.
In Tracking AF mode, the starting point for the focusing is set using the mini joystick on the back of the camera. Then, when the shutter release is half- or fully-pressed the camera will attempt to focus on the subject and track it around the frame as it or the camera moves.
As you might guess, 1-Area AF mode allows you to select one AF point for focusing. There are 8 sizes available for the AF point, I mainly concentrated on using the smallest available point but occasionally I used the next size up.
To change of the size of the AF point, you just need to push the joystick on the back of the camera one way or other to move the point and bring-up the arrows around the active area, then use us the rear dial around the Menu/Set button to increase or decrease the size.
In Custom Multi mode you can set the size and location of the AF area. There are three patterns available for selection; Horizontal Pattern, Vertical Pattern and Central Pattern and three custom settings. The patterns’ location and size can be adjusted either by dragging your finger on the screen or using the navigation controls and the adjustment dials. I used the Central Pattern for shooting rugby.
Tracking AF Mode Performance
I found that the Panasonic G9’s Tracking performance was pretty good, far better than I have experienced with previous Lumix cameras and it delivered a good hit rate. It worked best when I was shooting the players from a long distance as it seemed able to distinguish them from the surroundings. It was less successful when the players came close and I wanted to focus on an individual.
1-Area AF Mode Performance
This mode relies on the photographer’s ability to frame the subject and keep the active AF point over the right area. When I was able to do this, in most instances the camera got the subject sharp and delivered a good result.
However, with so many diagonal movements and the ball often being hidden from view by the players, it’s quite tricky to frame the subject accurately.
Custom Multi Mode Performance
This was my preferred mode for focusing as I could vary the size of the AF point quickly and shift it around the frame using the rear joystick control. It delivered a high hit rate, but as with the other AF modes, there were a few occasions when the camera field to lock-on to the target. On the whole, however, it works very well.
It’s helpful that as you shooting in this mode you can see the outline of the selected AF points in white while the active ones illuminate in green in the viewfinder or on screen. It gives you a good indication of the success of the camera’s focusing system.
AF Customisation Options
Panasonic has given the G9 four customisation options for AFC mode these are:
Set 1: The default setting and a versatile option
Set 2: For subjects moving in one direction at constant speed
Set 3: For tracking subjects, ignoring obstacles
Set 4: For subjects that change speed and move unpredictably.
Each of these Sets has three parameters, AF Sensitivity, AF Area Switching Sensitivity and Moving Object Prediction. All three can be adjusted manually with the first two having settings ranging from -2 to +2 and the third running from 0 to +2.
Set 1: AF Sensitivity 0, AF Area Switching Sensitivity 0, Moving Object Prediction +1
Set 2: AF Sensitivity +1, AF Area Switching Sensitivity -1, Moving Object Prediction 0
Set 3: AF Sensitivity -1, AF Area Switching Sensitivity +1, Moving Object Prediction +2
Set 4: AF Sensitivity 0, AF Area Switching Sensitivity +1, Moving Object Prediction +2
I started out using Set 1 when I was shooting rugby, but I found Set 4 more responsive.
I spent 90 minutes shooting in pouring rain and the G9 continued to function throughout. More importantly, it was still working the next day!
Can you shoot sport with the Panasonic Lumix G9?
It’s possible to shoot sport with most cameras, but some make it easier than others. In some instances, you might be able to get the odd shot for example, but not be able to shoot a sequence of sharp images of a moving subject. It’s clear from my experience at the rugby that the Panasonic Lumix G9 is a capable sports camera. It doesn’t deliver a 100% hit rate, but it gets the subject sharp on the vast majority of occasions.
It’s worth bearing in mind that I was shooting in relatively low light and low contrast conditions, the camera would have a much easier time of it in clear weather.
This images below are direct from the camera with no adjustment or cropping. Follow the link to browse and download full resolution images