Panasonic has had its GH5 model serving as the flagship Lumix camera for the best part of the year now, and while it's an excellent model in its own right, it's never been intended as a direct rival to a similarly priced APS-C DSLR.
It is, after all, a camera targeted at enthusiast and professional videographers, those needing extensive control over creating broadcast-quality footage. Its price has reflected this somewhat, leaving the likes of the GX8 and G80 as the more fitting options for those focused on more traditional stills shooting.
The new G9, however, changes things. While its name may make it appear as though it's a straightforward update over the existing G7, it's a decidedly more serious camera pitched at a more demanding user.
Indeed, it appears as a perfect complementary model to the GH5 for stills, not only matching much of its functionality, but also bettering it in a number of ways. With a more defined grip than the GX line, a focus on fast burst shooting and refinements to its AF system, the camera appears as a challenger to the likes of the action-focused Canon EOS 7D Mark II and Nikon D7500, as well as recent high-end mirrorless options such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II.
Admittedly, much of what we're seeing introduced in the G9 is not entirely new, and no doubt Panasonic realises it must now play catch up if it's to win over DSLR users and those not strongly tied to other mirrorless systems.
The 60fps burst mode, which comes down to 20fps with continuous focus, is just slightly better on paper than the 60fps/18fps option offered by the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, while claims of 6.5-stop image stabilisation are also mirrored by that camera.
The option to define different autofocusing options for easy recall is something Canon users are very familiar with, and something Fujifilm users have enjoyed on recent cameras like the X-T2, while the Night Mode option, which turns the screen and EVF completely red, has also appeared on recent Pentax models. Even so, it's the fact that we now have all of these features and many more in a single model that makes the G9 so attractive.
Picking it up, anyone familiar with the GH5 will see that the two cameras are designed along very similar lines, although the influence of previous G-series models is apparent. The deep grip makes its suitability for telephoto optics obvious, and means that those used to the handling of a typical DSLR will be satisfied, while the inclusion of a top-plate LCD, something we've not seen before on the Lumix model, should also please the same audience.
Like many others, this screen can be illuminated quite simply through a flick of the Nikon-style power control around the shutter release button, whereupon bright orange lights spring to life at its sides. The information in this screen is presented nice and clearly, perhaps not as large as on a similar DSLR displays, but the range of information here is broad.
Another new feature is a lever on the front of the camera that allows you to instantly switch from one combination of camera settings to another. Again, while this is reminiscent of the similar lever that has graced previous Olympus models, it's inclusion is welcome. For a camera of its size it's a little fiddly and on the small side, but, hopefully, this should make it slightly harder to unintentionally knock out of position.
The new High Resolution shot mode, which blends a number of images into a single high-resolution file, is also something we've seen from Olympus and Pentax. Like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II and PEN-F, it can output both Raw and JPEG files, although both are output at 80MP (whereas the OM-D E-M1 II and PEN-F output 50MP JPEGs and 80MP Raw files).
In use, the eight images are not only captured quickly but processed in what feels like a couple of seconds. The fact that you need to use this mode on a tripod, and with static subjects, makes fast speeds here less crucial, but if you imagine you'll need to use this repeatedly in a short space of time, you'll no doubt appreciate it.
One of the joys of using Panasonic's GH5 is its 3.68million-dot viewfinder, so that fact that we have the same resolution here is great to see. It is, however, bolstered by a higher magnification, equivalent to 0.83x in 35mm terms, against the 0.76x magnification of the GH5. Furthermore, the feed has the potential to be more stable, thanks to more effective image stabilisation systems.
While we did not compare this side-by-side with the GH5, we were certainly pleased with its performance. It's large and bright, and displayed the menu system crisply.
Focusing speeds are said to be the fastest of their kind among similar type of cameras, and this is one area where Panasonic has traditionally done well. At least with the pre-production sample we used, we found the camera delivered the same kind of practically-instant focus acquisition we're become used to with Lumix CSCs, although naturally we should expect the camera to have to work harder when used in low light or against low-contrast subjects.
Focusing with the new LEICA DG ELMARIT 200mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S. lens, also proved to be a positive experience, while the Dual I.S. systems ensured the feed remained particularly steady. We expect this lens will become a fast favourite among wildlife photographers.
The G9 certainly appears to be the start of something new for Panasonic, and is unquestionably the company's most capable camera intended for a stills audience to date. It's more substantial in the hands than the company's non-video-focused models, and more significant a departure from the likes of the G7 than its name suggests. Indeed, it wouldn't have been entirely surprising for it to have been released with a new prefix.
While we've no concerns about what Panasonic has chosen to include for this new model, what will be interesting to see now is just how well the headline features work in practice. From its ability to focus continuous on moving subjects whilst shooting at 20fps to the extent to which it can stabilise images and videos at longer focal length, and not forgetting the 80MP High Resolution feature, Panasonic has certainly set some lofty challenges. We're encouraged by what we've seen so far, but we have not yet had the opportunity to really find out how well it fares in the kinds of demanding scenarios in which it will likely be used.
With highly capable competitors like the Fujifilm X-T2 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 II already established, expectations will be high. If, however, it can deliver what we love about the Panasonic GH5 and take things even further, it should be just as much of a smash for enthusiast users as the G80 has proved to be for newcomers.