The Micro Four Thirds sensor used by Panasonic is significantly smaller than the APS-C sensors used in most mirrorless cameras, so you might expect the GX9’s body to be correspondingly smaller. And yet, it isn’t; it’s actually about the same size as the Sony A6500 and Fujifilm X-T20.
On the plus side, this does make it substantial enough to get a proper grip, and one of the key advantages of the Micro Four Thirds system is not so much that the bodies are smaller but that the lenses are.
If you go for the GX9 and 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA OIS lens combination, you end up with quite a compact package for travel and street photography. This lens does need to be physically twisted to extend it before it’s ready for use, but after that its mechanical zoom action is much more positive than the zoom-by-wire Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ Pancake (for those still deciding between brands), and the autofocus is quick and positive.
The 12-32mm lens has an equivalent focal range of 24-64mm in 35mm terms, which is on the short side, so for better image quality and/or zoom range you might want to look at the aforementioned 12-60mm or 14-42mm kit lenses.
Of course, the appeal of rangefinder-style cameras like the GX9 is their size, so larger zooms will tend to undermine that appeal; the GX9 is perhaps better suited to Panasonic’s smaller zooms or prime lenses. It will work with any of them, but it’s a question of balance.
The external controls work well for the most part. The exposure compensation dial has a good, firm feel, and you can spin it with your thumb. The main mode dial, stacked directly above it, is smaller and even firmer, so that’s not quite so easy to budge. Unless you’ve got a massively powerful thumb, you’ll probably need to release your grip and turn it with your thumb and forefinger.
The top-mounted control dial feels positive, offering just the right amount of resistance and feedback when you turn it with your forefinger. The rear control dial, which falls under you right thumb, is slightly less accessible and a tad more vague; it has a click action too, so you might inadvertently press it while you’re trying to get a proper grip with your thumb.
The camera’s minor functions are accessed via buttons on the rear and the four-way D-pad. We say ‘minor’, but they’re actually quite important. They include the ISO setting, white balance, drive mode and focus mode. Here, the camera’s firm and positive exterior controls give way to the on-screen interface, with its menus and touchscreen controls. Adjustments now become a little more complicated, and it can take a while to navigate to some of the more esoteric options provided by the camera. Despite all the external controls, you’re also going to have to spend a lot of time swiping and tapping on the screen.
You can save yourself a little time by assigning your favourite features to one of three different Fn buttons, and there's also a physical focus lever on the back of the camera with settings for AF-S/AF-F, AF-C and Manual focus modes.
To change drive modes, though, you have to press the down button on the four-way controller on the back. It’s also the only way to access Panasonic’s clever 4K PHOTO modes.
Overall, the GX9 feels substantial and well-made, and it's easy to get good purchase. The size of the body, however, does limit the number and size of the external controls, which results in a camera that's chunky and satisfying to use but occasionally fiddly to adjust.