The line between DSLR and mirrorless cameras continues to blur, with the Panasonic Lumix G9 gunning to be the first choice for pro photographers.
How? By cutting out the typical irks that mirrorless cameras can present: it's got a huge viewfinder with near-instant startup; a super-fast 20fps continuous autofocus mode at full resolution; it adds a light-up status LCD screen; and improved battery longevity with up to 920 shots per charge.
- See Panasonic LUMIX G9 on Amazon US
However, with the already high-end Lumix GH5 in its roster, just how does the G9 intend to stand apart as Panasonic's champion stills camera? We saw the impressive new model ahead of its official unveil to find out.
How does it differ from the GH5?
- All-new status LCD screen atop camera
- Dual IS 2 offers 6.5-stop image stabilisation
- Redesigned body with extra deep grip and textured leather-like coating
- 4K at 60fps video recording also possible
There's no skirting around the presence of the GH5 - a camera that's already largely accomplished in this sector, but which is perhaps more widely seen as a videographers' camera. That's where the G9 fits into the equation differently: Panasonic says image processing has been tuned specifically for stills photography, plus the Dual IS 2 image stabilisation system is now said to be good for up to 6.5 stops (bettering the GH5's 5-stop ability).
Our biggest take-away from the G9, however, is its design. It's a bigger, blockier camera that's a lot closer in looks to a classic DSLR than any other mirrorless camera we've seen. The grip is ultra-deep to make for an ideal handle on the camera - although, depending on the lens you're using, it might be too deep for comfortable handling of smaller lenses (the 12-60mm, for example, feels a little far positioned from the left side of the camera). The textured leather-like finish is also deeper than any other camera we've seen, too, which should make good for gloved use.
The other significant feature to make the G9 stand apart from the GH5 is the inclusion of a status LCD screen atop the camera. This light-up window onto current settings is a pro DSLR classic feature - and the first time we've seen it in a mirrorless camera at this scale (ok, the Leica SL has a status screen too, but that camera is a whole other proposition).
You might be thinking that the G9 would more-or-less do away with its video features, then, leaving that for the GH5 to rule. But no, Panasonic has ensured the G9 comes with up to 4K capture at 60fps (albeit with 4:2:0, putting it a peg behind the GH5). So you won't be short changed there either.
The best electronic viewfinder, ever
- 3,680k-dot 120fps 0.83x magnification electronic viewfinder
- 1,040k-dot vari-angle LCD touchscreen
The electronic viewfinder is a long-established and often maligned feature in the world of digital cameras. When such digitised screens first appeared, they were a long way behind what's on offer today. And the Lumix G9 isn't shy to capitalise on what's available, offering the best electronic viewfinder we've seen in a camera to date.
It's not just down to the resolution - but, ok, 3.68 million dots is aplenty - but more the magnification, which relates to the physical size of the panel you'll see to your eye. The G9's 0.83x equivalent mag makes for a huge image - we can't think of a larger equivalent in any camera, come to think of it, as even the Fujifilm X-T2 has 0.77x, the Canon 1D X II has 0.76x, the Nikon D850 has 0.75x - that almost extends to the point of peripheral vision. Which could be considered a weakness, should you find yourself "looking around" the preview trying to get things lined up perfectly - yet Panasonic has included a V.Mode button to step down the magnification (in addition to full 0.83x there are two additional steps).
The other hugely important factor is that the panel used has a 120fps refresh rate, doubling what you'll find from the competition. This high frame-rate is important because it reduces ghosting and tearing, making for a super smooth image to the eye that reflects the real world. Top job.
It's not all about the viewfinder, of course, as a mirrorless camera can shoot just as proficiently when using its rear screen as it can through the finder. And the Lumix G9 comes with a 3.0-inch touchscreen panel, sat on a vari-angle bracket to allow the screen to be manipulated through various angles as you please. This is increasingly standard in such cameras today, but that's exactly why we see it as a must-have feature in the way we now work.
Performance to rival a pro DSLR?
- "World's fastest autofocus" with 0.04s second acquisition
- Electronic shutter maximum: 20fps continuous autofocus; 60fps single autofocus
- Mechanical shutter maximum: 9fps continuous autofocus; 12fps single autofocus
- 125-area autofocus system
- Splash, dust and freeze-proof construction
The Lumix G9 isn't mucking about when it comes to other high-end features. From ultra-fast autofocus - Panasonic describes it as the "world's fastest", which it may well be, given how lightning quick it was operating when we tested the camera out - to ultra-fast burst shooting.
We've long praised Panasonic's autofocus setup for its proficiency. For us it's the one to beat in the mirrorless market - although it's not always felt on par with a DSLR's phase detection system when it comes to moving subjects. The G9 may well be the camera to rectify that.
Plus it's fast. Fast enough to keep sports photographers happy. Its headline 60fps burst shooting needs to be considered on balance, however, as that requires electronic shutter use (not great for all lighting scenarios) and a single point of focus. That said, a 20fps burst with continuous autofocus is possible, putting it out there as one of the fastest cameras on the market.
If electronic shutter is no good for you - we love it because it's silent, therefore discreet whether you're shooting golfers before the tee or wildlife that otherwise might scupper - then the mechanical shutter also snaps away quickly, at 12fps in single autofocus or 9fps in continuous autofocus. Quick, but worth noting that it's a peg behind the Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII.
In addition to a detailed 125 autofocus areas, the Lumix system also features Pinpoint AF for crosshair accuracy. And in the G9 there are some additional modes, including Night Mode (black and red screen with the system setup for night photography), auto focus switching (locked-on subjects remain in focus when switching camera orientation), and various speed customisation adjustments to perfect continuous autofocus for your needs.
Customisable to outsmart other mirrorless cameras
- Function lever for two user-defined presets
- Dual user-defined drive modes
- Dual UHS-II SD card slots
- Battery saving mode to 920 shots per charge
- Optional battery grip available for increased longevity
The other area the Lumix G9 is clearly proficient is in its level of customisation. Panasonic has long offered the ability to assign functions to the various Fn buttons that are positioned around the camera, but in the G9 it goes one step further with the introduction of a Function lever.
This lever, found to the lower left of the camera (when raised to eye), has a simple two positions to toggle between, making it possible to setup the camera in two quick-to-launch forms. No need to go forever digging into menus, as the flick of a switch could provide all the customisations you need.
The same can be said of drive mode: there are I and II burst shooting options on the drive mode ring, which can be setup for different shooting scenarios. Sure, may cameras have fast/medium/slow burst shooting options in a similar position, but on the G9 you can choose what each mode is set to with greater precision. Whether that's electronic shutter at 20fps continuous autofocus on II and mechanical shutter at 12fps single autofocus on I, or something different to suit your preferences.
Dual setup, dual burst shooting, and a dual SD card slot to entertain the "dual" theme. Both slots are UHS-II compatible for optimum transfer speed, which will certainly come in handy if you decide to whirr off 60 frames in a second at full resolution.
Even battery modes are customisable, which is a good job given how poor mirrorless cameras' battery lives tend to be. The Lumix G9 probably won't last much beyond the 400 frames per charge, unless you activate battery saving mode, more than doubling its life for up to 920 shots per charge. The mode will put the camera to sleep at every opportunity, however, which may slow down your shooting process - so carrying spare batteries may well be the preferable solution. Or buy the optional battery grip (free for those who pre-order the G9, £309 for those who pick it up after the fact).
What's image quality like?
- 20-megapixel Live MOS sensor
- 80-megapixel High-Res mode
- 6K Photo mode
- Micro Four Thirds lens mount
- New Leica 200mm f/2.8 lens available (£2,700)
Being a camera aimed at stills photographers over videographers, the Lumix G9 isn't wildly different to the GH5 in its like-for-like image quality. The engineers behind the scenes have adapted default processing to be a little sharper, dynamic range expanded and colours a little more vibrant overall, but the same 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor means similar results overall.
Of those three points, we find it's the dynamic range that's the most prominent processing change. In side-by-side sample shots next to the GH5 we've seen how clipped highlights in the G9's shots are suppressed, without causing an issue with lightness, for natural results with a little more room to breathe.
We're rather spoiled in 2017, really, given how good image quality has become. Which is a good job overall, as the Live MOS sensor at the heart of the G9, despite being slightly smaller than some rivals, doesn't suffer in terms of sharpness or image noise processing as a result. Even the G9's ISO 6400 shots look great - just as they do from the GH5.
Where things might get a bit more interesting is the G9's introduction of a High-Res mode, capable of shooting 80-megapixels. It does this by offsetting the sensor a pixel at a time in four directions and gathering the additional data for a hugely resolute shot - much in the same way as Olympus offers in its latest OM-D cameras. Of course, given the way the mode functions, it can't be used handheld - you'll need total stillness from a camera support, such as a tripod, and need a totally still subject too. But if still life is your thing then medium format resolution is no bad thing.
Overall, like the GH5, the Lumix G9 offers not only great image quality straight from camera, but a great range of features to achieve the perfect pictures in the first instance.
Not to mention there's a brand new lens to further lure in the pros: a Leica 200mm f/2.8 delivers a 400mm equivalent in a package that's a third the weight and half the size of a full-frame DSLR equivalent. It even comes with a 1.4x adaptor in the box (for a 560mm f/4.0 equivalent) at no extra cost.
The Panasonic Lumix G9 doesn't only step mirrorless cameras up a step, in some areas and for some photographers it'll have more appeal than a pro DSLR. It's a very impressive machine indeed.
Whether it's existence as separate from the Lumix GH5 is entirely necessary is another argument, but from what we've seen so far - in that huge viewfinder, the super-fast burst rate, excellent autofocus system and top-spec touches like the LCD status screen - are sure to cement its position as the mirrorless camera to buy.
- See Panasonic LUMIX G9 on Amazon US
We'll be receiving a final review sample this December, where we'll be testing it and the 200mm f/2.8 Leica lens in great depth, before bringing you our definitive review. Watch this space…
The Panasonic Lumix G9 will be available from 1 January 2018, priced £1500 body-only, £2020 with the Leica 12-60mm f/2.8-4 lens, £1670 with the Panasonic 12-16mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. The Leica 200mm f/2.8 lens will be priced £2700. The optional battery grip will cost £309 (but is free for pre-order customers)