Panasonic is laying out its stall in the compact system camera market - and its shelves are well and now truly stacked. The new Lumix G80 (or G81 in Germany; G85 in other territories, just to confuse the bejeezus out of you) is like a bulked-out DSLR-style version of the Lumix GX80, or, in some respects, a budget version of the Lumix GH4 - with plenty of the same high-end specs for a cut of the price.
Some months ago we got to sample a pre-production G80, testing it out around London Zoo to get a feel for where this camera fits into the range and what else it can bring to the table. Since then we've received the final version in-hand, which we've been using for a few days ahead of our full review.
So does this mid-level mirrorless deserve its place in the current compact system camera line-up?
Panasonic Lumix G80 review: DSLR-like design
Panasonic has a busy G-series line-up. One glance at the Lumix G80 might leave you - like us - wondering whether it makes sense to have this camera present in addition to the Lumix G7.
In the face of a glut of numbers and letters it's perhaps easy to lose sight of the core differentiators of the G80: it has the latest in-camera dual image stabilisation technology (as per the GX8) and a new super-quiet shutter unit, that works a treat. It's also 16-megapixel rather than the higher resolution 20MP outlay of the GX8.
In terms of design the G80 is a lot like a mini-DSLR; an echo of the G7. If you want all the dials and buttons at short reach then the G80 doesn't disappoint: dual thumbdials, a mode dial, continuous shooting dial, even distinct controls for single/continuos autofocus sit on the back. Five numbered function (Fn) buttons also allow for customisation, so you can setup and shoot with the camera as you please.
The only oddity, perhaps, is a sixth unmarked function button mounted in the centre of the rear thumbwheel, which feels impractical to press when holding the camera up to the eye. By default this doubles-up the thumbwheels' controls - front for white balance and rear for ISO, instead of the typical aperture and shutter speed controls - in a similar manner to the 2x2 level found in some of the Olympus OM-D range.
During early testing we arrived at London Zoo on a lovely rainy day - typical British mid-summer, then, eh? - but perhaps that was meant to be: for the G80 is both splash and dust resistant. And it sure did survive a soaking, no problems asked (our lens choice, on the other hand, might have been questionable, as that's not officially sealed).
Panasonic Lumix G85 review: Impressive autofocus
Now we use a Panasonic Lumix GH4 almost all of the time for lead product shots on this very website, because it's a capable and portable interchangeable lens camera. Having switched from that camera to this G80 for a few days, it's impressive just how well it translates. Because the G80's autofocus is actually more refined in use (we really need to jump on a GH4 firmware update, by the looks of things).
There are a multitude of focus types, from face detection and tracking automated options, through to 49-Area, Custom Multi, 1-Area and Pinpoint AF. The latter, which we use for most still shot compositions, zooms in on a crosshair to 100 per cent and, as the name says, pinpoints the focus. In the G80, however, this hunts even less than the already speedy GH4, with the lock-in final focus that much more refined than before. Good job.
A fully vari-angle LCD touchscreen joins a built-in OLED viewfinder, which offers a 2,360k-dot resolution and large 0.74x magnification. It's impressive how high-spec even £700 camera bodies have become these days. Both work a treat.
We've become so accustomed to using a variable screen these days for waist-level work. Because in a mirrorless camera there's no compromise in focus speed between screen and viewfinder, shooting is super fast - and the touch-to-focus option is particularly useful. We were snapping monkeys munching on leaves in bursts, which made for some great shots (and some other comical ones, mouth caught open).
The G80's new shutter mechanism is far quieter than that of the GH4, too. Indeed it's the quietest we've heard (or not heard) in a system camera to date. And if you want no sound whatsoever then an electronic shutter means there's no shutter movement at all, for wonderful silence (up to 1/16,000th sec - which is useful, but can cause issues with flicker in certain scenarios).
Panasonic Lumix G80 review: Image quality
Ultimately the G80 is similar to the G7 in its ability: it's got the same 16-megapixel resolution, but it does away with the low-pass filter in front of the sensor for potentially sharper results. Panasonic cites an approximate 10 per cent improvement in this camera compared to the Lumix GX80. (Still with us? Yes there are a lot of numbers; the GX80 is like the more "pocketable" version of the G80).
Partly to try and hide from the rain, partly to test out low-light scenarios, we opted to shoot many of our zoo visit photos indoors, capturing fast-moving fish, super-slow lizards and other reptiles. In the darkest of scenes the G80 finds some struggles, depending on the lens used, but we've largely been impressed with what the camera can do.
At present we've not shot enough frames with the G80 to get a final thought about the camera, with the shots in this review being pre-production samples to give a smaller-scale taste of what's possible.
Panasonic Lumix G85 review: In-camera stabilisation
Part of the improvement comes down to in-camera stabilisation, which is handy when trying to keep track of subjects and that extra lick of sharpness. It can be felt in hand and even works in conjunction with lens-based stabilisation, for Panasonic's best setup yet. Not even the top-end GH4 offers that (we suspect a GH5 isn't far away now, although it's not been revealed at Photokina 2016 as the rumours suggested).
As pulled from the GX8, the G80 has a dual image stabilisation system, pairing in-camera sensor-based stabilisation with lens-based stabilisation. By using a gyro sensor to detect the direction of camera shake, the combination of stabilisation systems (both of which are mechanical) can be actioned in the most proficient way. That means greater combat of pitch and yaw than before, for the sharpest possible images.
However, the on-sensor stabilisation maxes out at the 100mm mark (the physical movement of the sensor can only be so much, and as focal length increases that movement becomes amplified), while stabilisation for video capture is electronic only instead.
Panasonic Lumix G81 review: 4K smarts
And so much of what the G80 offers is beyond its all about 4K capture - both in stills and video formats. Panasonic has been pushing this idea for a while: that 4K video clips can be captured and each frame made available as an 8-megapixel image, so you won't miss a second. There's even a pre-burst option to capture a second of footage before even fully pressing the shutter.
Video-wise 4K capture can be saved straight to the SD card (in 2:2:2 8-bit), or there are 1080p options.
New this time around are Post Focus and Focus Stacking options, where the camera takes multiple frames at different focal depths which can be used for touchscreen-based refocus after shooting, or the merger of select images to select the in/out of focus depth. What's nifty about this is that it can be done inside the camera, so there's no need to fiddle about with software on a computer (which is so often slow).
The Panasonic Lumix G80 strengthens the bustling G-series camera line-up. Think of it like a DSLR-like version of the Lumix GX80 and we can see its place (although why the G7 is still in the line-up we're less sure).
If you're looking for a comprehensive, capable and affordable interchangeable lens camera then the G80 has plenty to offer. Speedy autofocus, comprehensive controls, in-camera stabilisation and a bevy of 4K still and video capture options head up its specification.
The competition remains stiff, of course, with the retro style Fujifilm X-T10 an obvious lure - but, ultimately, a less capable one in the autofocus department (you'll want a Fujifilm X-T2 for that).