Hands on: Panasonic Lumix G6 review
Like a G6: Panasonic's speedy new compact system camera has landed, but the Lumix G6 doesn't come with its own Far East Movement pop theme tune. Instead it comes loaded with a 16-megapixel sensor, the latest Venus processing engine, a built-in OLED viewfinder and new Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. Much like the previous Lumix G5 with a little added pep then.
Pocket-lint took the Lumix G6 on tour around Vienna, Austria, earlier this month alongside the already-announced Lumix GF6 to get a feel for the latest Lumix system cameras. Is the G6 anything more than a subtle upgrade to the previous G5 or a bigger leap forward for the Lumix G-series' mid-level range?
The G6 represents the company's more traditional, DSLR-like camera - indeed Panasonic has recently coined "DSLM" rather than using the commonplace "compact system camera" term - unlike the viewfinder-less and more entry-level GF6 model.
If you're thinking DSLR then you may have already crossed paths with Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras - the G6 is similar to a DSLR in many respects, only without the mirrorbox in the design this techie bit of kit relies on an electronic viewfinder and sensor-based autofocus system instead. The body, sensor size and therefore respective lenses are also slightly smaller than you would find in a typical DSLR system - although, in a similar fashion to the Lumix GH3's more DSLR-like size, the G6 is that little bit chunkier than its predecessor. It's as if Panasonic, DSLM terminology in tow, is trying to bypass the fact that the camera is anything much different than a DSLR at all.
Technically, of course, it is. But in use the autofocus system doesn't feel inferior at all - in the right conditions the G6 is super fast, as its "light speed autofocus" name would suggest, and easily on par with what many DSLR cameras can offer.
Cost effective 14-140mm lens
We used the camera with the included - and also new - 14-140mm, which strips back on the original 14-140mm lens' size and build quality for the sake of cost. Not that we really felt it - the latest lens is easy to handle, responsive, and, combined with the G6 body, scooped subjects up into focus with no delays at all.
As per the GF6, the G6 has the same set of autofocus options: there's a 23-area auto mode, user-adjustable 1-area, as well as a cross-hair pinpoint AF option that sits among face detection and focus tracking options.
We spent the majority of the time shifting between 1-area and pinpoint modes - the latter which zooms the preview in to a 100 per cent crop to ensure absolute focus, although it wasn't fully operational in this pre-production model as the black and blue preview colours made clear - and found their combination with the touchscreen made for fast focus-point positioning. Despite those odd colour preview blips the speed was still on form: we managed to capture plenty of candid street shots and non-posed pictures in dim-lit cafes with no problems at all.
The G6 is said to include "Low Light AF", the same system as per the GF6 which limits the sensor's 120fps readout to a lower figure to avoid hunting and is, according to Panasonic, said to make low-light focus eight times better than before. We're not buying eight fold measure by any means, but we will say that the G6 was our pick compared to the GF6 - its low-light focusing seemed the more successful of the pair, even though both utilise the same autofocus systems.
The one ongoing performance issue the G6 has is its continuous autofocus' ability to keep up with moving subjects. It's the one area where the camera - along with any given current compact system camera, so it's not an isolated issue - isn't really able to match up to an equivalent DSLR's prowess. This isn't down to low-light, it's just a general condition. However we did manage to snap from a moving horse and cart on cobble-stone streets - harder than it sounds - with some limited success.
Here it was useful to be able to use the rear 3-inch, 1,040k-dot, vari-angle LCD screen instead of the viewfinder for lower level shots. That's one key benefit of a compact system camera: the focus system for screen-based preview and shooting is identical to how it performs through the viewfinder.
A key reason to buy the G6 is for its viewfinder. The latest OLED panel has been brought into the G6's specification - it's large, bright, gives all the feedback information that you could need and is particularly useful for helping to keep the camera steadied with the addition of a press against the eye. Those longer shots at 140mm - which is a 280mm equivalent in 35mm, full-frame camera terms - sure did benefit from not only the viewfinder method, but also the assistance from the lens' "Power Optical Image Stabilisation" system. We've often had a lot of praise for the Panasonic system, whether in a compact, superzoom or individual lens it's a top notch stabiliser.
The camera's overall layout is as per the G5 model. There's a zoom toggle to the top to control power zoom lenses which is ideal for zooming during movie capture (now capable of 1080p at 24fps in AVCHD and MP4 formats), main mode dial to adjust shooting mode and a one-press iA - intelligent Auto - button that lights up blue to let you know the camera is in the driving seat for all shooting settings.
On the rear there are no less than five physical function (Fn) buttons which can be be programmed for optimum personal preference. It means nothing is far from a single press and if not via the function buttons then the quick menu shows up all the settings on screen which can then be pressed thanks to the touch panel. The G6 is a breeze to use in auto, or opens up the door to much more complexity for those users that will want such benefits. A good balance.
The sharing revolution
We're deep into the age of social networking, and images make up a huge part of that. The ability to share directly from devices has made the smartphone a powerful bit of kit - and digital cameras want to get in on the action too. The Lumix G6 isn't the first Panasonic camera to entail Wi-Fi connectivity and NFC, we've already seen it from the likes of the TZ40, FT5 and GF6.
The G6 uses the very same system as those aforementioned cameras, and while the concept is right the barrier of passwords is the most immediate downside. As we raised in our TZ40 review, the idea to share from camera has great potential - but it's not quick to set up. There's still a lot of dot-joining to be achieved here to simplify the pairing and password-entry process to ultimately make everything that much more effortless.
Picture-quality wise we've not been able to show full size images as they're far from their completed state. The camera was running on firmware version 0.2 which - and it goes without saying really - isn't near to final production. But even in its current state we thought that images had plenty of pomp to them. The bright-coloured low-light ISO 3200 snaps that we captured managed to maintain a decent level of detail and limit image noise in the JPEG snaps - even four-figure ISO sensitivities deliver plenty, which is decent from a sensor that's smaller than much of the competition.
We weren't able to extract from Panasonic whether the sensor is the same as the G5's or not - it appears that it is, albeit paired with a new Venus processing engine for, so the official press release claims, "improved image quality". Just like the GF6 the G6 includes "advanced process noise reduction systems" so we suspect quality between the two will be similar. It also wasn't possible to view the RW2 raw files at this early stage as no software was available to read them.
So there are lots of questions to be answered in the image quality department - but as Panasonic hasn't thrown massive resolution at the same sensor it's highly unlikely that we'll see image quality dip compared to its predecessor; we anticipate subtle improvements.
The G6 bring the series up to date - largely because of the implementation of its Wi-Fi and NFC features. Elsewhere improvements are relatively subtle, and therefore we feel the latest model is more about keeping Panasonic in line with the latest technological expectations.
But as we noted with the G5 model that means there's plenty on offer from this mid-level snapper. It's autofocus is super-fast, the viewfinder is great in use, there's all kinds of layout customisation and with the inclusion of a super-sensitive vari-angle screen means there's not much missing from the features list whatsoever. We'd still like to see a leap forward in continuous autofocus improvements and the addition of a microphone input, but otherwise it's difficult to bemoan much about this camera.
With the latest 14-140mm kit lens the Lumix G6 is anticipated to retail for £799 - similar to that of its predecessor but with a more versatile lens which, in our book, makes for a more complete and worthwhile investment from a new buyer or someone upgrading a G-series from a couple of generations back.