Panasonic Lumix G9 review

Panasonic commits to stills photography with its new high-speed, high-end mirrorless camera

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We found the G9 delivered the same kind of almost-instant focus acquisition we've become used to with Lumix mirrorless cameras. 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, offering a 400mm effective focal length and a fast maximum aperture.

You wouldn't normally want to get this close to a lion, but it was taken with the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH at an effective focal length of 800mm. The lens and the G9 between them have delivered biting clarity and sharpness – even at this distance

You wouldn't normally want to get this close to a lion, but it was taken with the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH at an effective focal length of 800mm. The lens and the G9 between them have delivered biting clarity and sharpness – even at this distance

Panasonic has once again employed its tried-and-tested Depth From Defocus DFD focusing system, though the fact that this is based on a contrast-detect AF principle, rather than incorporating any phase-detect AF pixels like some rival models, may concern some, as contrast-detect AF systems are less suited to keeping track of moving subjects. 

Another example of the G9's definition and resolving power. The lens this time was the Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH. POWER O.I.S., taken at f/1.4 to deliver beautiful background blur

Another example of the G9's definition and resolving power. The lens this time was the Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH. POWER O.I.S., taken at f/1.4 to deliver beautiful background blur

With regards to continuous shooting with focus enabled, performance is good but with some concerns. The main difficultly concerns the camera’s ability to communicate how well it’s keeping track as you’re capturing images at speed. The focusing system is centrally doing what it should, but this isn’t quite being relayed to you in real time. Instead, there is a slight lag, which means you end up placing faith in the camera to maintain its lock as it adjusts focus where it feels it necessary. 

This was captured with the more modest Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 II Power O.I.S.

This was captured with the more modest Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 II Power O.I.S.

It's important to bear in mind that, when photographing fast-moving subjects, the results partly depend on the camera’s speed and responsiveness, and partly on the photographer’s ability to both anticipate and follow subjects, and to select the right AF settings for the job. As long as you're set up as you should be and are employing the most appropriate technique, you should find the G9 carries out its part very effectively.

The Custom Multi mode delivered a good hit range in our experiments, even when the subject distance changed rapidly. If it does slip up, the chances are it’s because the subject has momentarily moved away from the focus-point cluster, and that’s largely down to the photographer’s tracking abilities.

The G9 is highly capable in low light, too, despite the smaller size of its Micro Four Thirds sensor compared to APS-C rivals. This shot was taken at ISO 6400 and the texture in the stone font at the far end of the aisle is still crisp and well defined

The G9 is highly capable in low light, too, despite the smaller size of its Micro Four Thirds sensor compared to APS-C rivals. This shot was taken at ISO 6400 and the texture in the stone font at the far end of the aisle is still crisp and well defined

The Tracking AF mode sounds like it should be even more useful, since the camera, rather than the photographer, now performs the subject tracking. You half-press the shutter-release button to lock the AF to your subject and it will then track it around the frame if it moves.

This worked well in practice, but only when the movement was relatively slow. A prowling tiger won’t be a problem (for you, maybe, but not the camera), but a chimpanzee leaping about in a tree might be too much. Here, it can lose focus with sudden movements and with rapid distance changes. When the camera is set up appropriately, its ability to maintain a lock when the subject isn’t too dissimilar from its background – a common stumbling block for many models – is very good indeed. 

The G9 is very good at coping with extremes of brightness, especially with its i.Dynamic mode enabled. This helps to lift dark shadow areas in high-contrast scenes, though it's applied only to in-camera JPEGs, not Raw files

The G9 is very good at coping with extremes of brightness, especially with its i.Dynamic mode enabled. This helps to lift dark shadow areas in high-contrast scenes, though it's applied only to in-camera JPEGs, not Raw files

So, the G9’s AF system is fast and effective, but what about its image quality? Micro Four Thirds sensors are about half the size of APS-C, and this does have some impact on image quality at higher ISO settings, but at low to medium sensitivities, the G9’s images are a match for those from any DSLR with the same pixel count. 

It helps that the Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 ASPH we used for many of our sample shots is a terrific performer, with reliable edge-to-edge sharpness. Lens corrections are applied to both JPEG and Raw files, so if you open up the latter in Adobe Camera Raw, for example, you won’t suddenly see uncorrected distortion.

The sensor resists highlight burn-out well, but we were careful to place the sun behind the lighthouse in this image

The sensor resists highlight burn-out well, but we were careful to place the sun behind the lighthouse in this image

Since we’re talking about Adobe Camera Raw, noise could prove an issue but not in the way you might expect. At ISO 6400, which is high for a Micro Four Thirds sensor, the camera's JPEGs show some loss of definition but it’s not too bad, and the textural detail remains good. 

If you open the Raw files in Adobe Camera Raw, however, you’ll see a lot more noise; this is something we’ve consistently seen with Adobe’s Raw-conversion software. It appears to apply little or no noise reduction by default, and if you do try to reduce the noise with the software’s own controls it’s often difficult to achieve as good a balance between noise and detail as that from the camera’s own JPEGs. 

In short, don’t judge the G9’s high-ISO noise control solely by Adobe Camera Raw’s rendition.

The Standard colour mode delivers rich, natural colours, but the Vivid mode, used here, really makes colours pop, and is particularly effective on blue skies

The Standard colour mode delivers rich, natural colours, but the Vivid mode, used here, really makes colours pop, and is particularly effective on blue skies

The exposure system proved highly reliable, and we only needed to apply exposure compensation for unusually dark or light-tone subjects, or in high-contrast scenes where there was more than one appropriate exposure, depending on your personal taste.

The auto white balance system performed really well too, producing natural-looking results in a wide range of conditions. It only tripped up once in our hands, applying a colour shift between two architectural shots taken in quick succession with just a small change in the framing.

The Standard colour mode produces rich, vibrant colours, while the Vivid mode is perfect if you like your colours to pop. The Monochrome modes are good too, though most photographers will probably prefer to perfect their black-and-white images later on a computer.

The camera's L.Monochrome mode produces good-looking black-and-white images, though most mono fans would probably still prefer to shoot Raw and carry out the conversion in software

The camera's L.Monochrome mode produces good-looking black-and-white images, though most mono fans would probably still prefer to shoot Raw and carry out the conversion in software

So, although the G9 has a Micro Four Thirds sensor and is designed for speed, this does not compromise image quality. It’s a very good camera for regular static photography too, and even more so when you factor in its clever 6K PHOTO mode, which extracts an 18MP image from continuously rolling movie capture. Our favourite feature, however, is the Post Focus mode, which lets you capture a subject with multiple focus points and then tap on the screen in playback mode to select the focus you like most, before exporting the picture as a new still image.