(Pocket-lint) - We thought the era of Panasonic making palm-sized compact system cameras was over: the earlier GF7 model was the last sighting of small-scale, as the GF8 was skipped in the UK. But, as it turns out, that's not the Japanese camera maker's approach: the GX800 is like a "GF9" in disguise; a small-scale interchangeable lens mirrorless camera that neatly fits into the company's GX-series lineup.
With the Lumix GX8 (top-end, tiltable viewfinder built-in), Lumix GX80 (mid-level, fixed viewfinder built-in), the GX800 becomes the entry-level, viewfinder-free model. It's got a tilt-angle LCD screen which can flip forward for selfies, it's approaching pocketable in size with its collapsible kit lens and, at sub-£500 all-in, it's not going to burn a hole in your pocket either.
With so many camera makers focusing on the higher-end, is this affordable Lumix proposition a clear winner in the entry-level mirrorless market?
Panasonic Lumix GX800 review: Design
- 106.5 x 64.6 x 33.3mm; 259g
- Tilt-angle (180-degree) 1,040k-dot LCD touchscreen display
- No viewfinder nor hotshoe to add one
- Silver, black, tan & orange finishes
The GX800 presents a simpler, more angular design than older GF models, ditching the bump that houses the built-in flash for a more seamless top line. With a flattened line ranging from the left and filling two-thirds of the top, that line then drops, giving way to the various buttons and controls: a separate mode dial sits next to a 4K Photo button (more on that later).
You'll notice there are no thumbwheels to control this camera's settings. Instead, around the back, there's a rotational d-pad control, which can be used in a similar fashion. This is flanked by access to the quick menu and, of course, the rear LCD screen.
The screen is the only way to see what you're shooting with the GX800, as there's no viewfinder or hotshoe provision to add one later. The screen has its own special trick: it's mounted on a tilt-angle bracket which can rotate the panel vertically through 180-degrees until it's facing upright and forward for - you guessed it - all those selfies you'll (not?) be taking. We took the simpler approach, typically using it positioned at 90-degrees for waist-level shooting.
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We think the general layout of the camera feels right, suits its entry-level target market, but doesn't feel particularly special. It's really lightweight, partly because of the materials used: the plastic rotational d-pad, for example, doesn't feel great, and the same goes for the buttons. It's serviceable, it's fine, it's hitting a price point and this build is part of the way that's achieved.
Panasonic Lumix GX800 review: Performance
- 49-area autofocus, pinpoint AF and other modes
- microSD card slot (not standard SD)
- Micro Four Thirds lens mount
- Built-in Wi-Fi for image sharing
Just because a few bits here and there feel plasticky has no bearing on the GX800's performance, however. Panasonic offers largely the same setup across its range of interchangeable lens Lumix G-series cameras, with the familiar autofocus system as you'll find in the company's top-end Lumix models also showing face here.
Just as we've come to expect from Panasonic's autofocus setup, the GX800 is quick and reliable in this department. Whether using the automated 49-area array, one-point, or pinpoint modes it's a snappy experience, just like the Lumix GX80 and GX8. There are also face/eye detection, tracking, and a custom multi mode (which offers multiple user-selected points to be activated) options.
Low-light is rarely an issue for focus, whichever AF mode is selected, as the GX800 can achieve focus to as low as -4EV, which is approaching moonlight conditions. We've been shooting at ISO 6400 in dimly lit restaurants with few problems.
Coupled with the touchscreen it's possible to tap-to-focus anywhere on the screen, which is great, although it's all too easy to move the focus point by accident when adjusting the tilt-angle screen's position - a problem we've long had with Lumix cameras, but one that's easily corrected with another tap of the screen (or you can switch off touchscreen altogether).
The main problem you're likely to encounter when shooting with the GX800 are the kit lens' limitations. The collapsible 12-32mm doesn't have an especially wide aperture option, which limits the amount of light that can enter the camera. Less light, more processing work on the camera's behalf and the slower the shutter speed will become - when it gets too dark it then won't be possible to handhold a shot without blur. We've found this to be an issue with this 12-32mm, something we won't experience when using our 12-35mm f/2.8 lens due to the proficient aperture option. But that latter lens costs about twice the price of the GX800 body.
That's part of the potential appeal of the Lumix G lineup though: it's based on the Micro Four Thirds system, meaning any MFT compatible lens will fit on the camera - whether made by Panasonic, Olympus or other third-parties. It gives the opportunity for expansion and advancement - although, we admit, most GX800 users are probably going to stick with the one lens out of the box.
But before you go and shoot anything you'll need to put a card in the camera. Which is where we came stuck initially: the GX800 takes the small-scale microSD card, like the ones some mobile phones accept, rather than the full-size SD card. This seems a real oddity if you ask us: we can see no benefit to it, as few-to-no laptops have microSD card slots, rather full size ones. And it's not as if there's not enough space in the design of the body. It's not the end of the world, but it's something to be aware of - we've even spotted some camera sellers listing the incorrect card size on their sites, because it's so unusual (we can only think of some now-deceased Samsung cameras that also accept microSD).
Panasonic Lumix GX800 review: 4K all the way
- 4K Photo mode
- 4K video (to 30/25fps)
Unlike some other manufacturers (cough, Canon), Panasonic isn't scared on 4K ultra-high definition. Indeed it's fully embracing it.
All of the company's recent interchangeable lens cameras come with the ability to record 4K video, which is four times the resolution of Full HD (1080p), at a perfectly decent rate of 30 frames per second (25fps is also available to better fit UK PAL tellies and playback).
Then there's 4K Photo, which is a slightly different way of thinking. It's a stills mode at heart, which can capture 8-megapixel images at super-fast bursts (essentially by capturing video) to produce a single relevant frame. That kind of burst speed can be really handy for pulling out "the one" from a 1-second whirr. We've written about 4K Photo in more detail, link below, to explain its ins and outs.
Whether users are going to understand from the off exactly what 4K photo is and does, however, is a different matter. We've never been that convinced by the name. Perhaps it'll come to stick over time and just be an expectation of use, but with it being very much a Panasonic naming convention - after all, other manufacturers from Nikon to any 4K-capture devices can offer much the same way of capture, albeit in a less user-friendly way - it might take some time. Indeed, many users might ignore the button altogether.
Panasonic Lumix GX800 review: Image quality
- 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor
- Same sensor as Lumix GX80
Tucked inside the GX800's body is a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds size Live MOS sensor - the same as you'll find in the step-up GX80 model. If you want more resolution then you'll need to go up yet another step, however, to the GX8.
The results, therefore, are identical between GX800 and GX80. The factor that will see variance to this is lens choice. And the 12-32mm collapsible lens with the GX800 isn't the very best going: you'll see some smearing to the corners at the wider-angle settings, for example, while other pricier Micro Four Thirds lenses offer heightened sharpness and wider aperture options. Fortunatly all such lenses are available to you: like we say, you'll just need to stump up the cash and buy as you please. A larger lens might not look or feel so balanced on the small-scale GX800 body, though, we must say.
Just as with the GX80, the GX800 has done away with the low-pass filter that some cameras still use to diffuse light entering the camera and falling onto the sensor to negate moire, jaggies and false colour in images. By removing the filter there's an uptake in sharpness by up to 10 per cent compared to an equivalent camera and lens combination with said filter in place.
When it comes to image quality the GX800 performs really well, with well handled image noise reduction clearly at play. The camera's sensitivity ranges from ISO 200 to ISO 12,800 - the higher the sensitivity the more the camera has to work and process the signal, which results in increasing image noise (spot the colour and grainy flecks within a shot). However, you'll need to use higher ISO sensitivities when there's limited light, if you're handheld shooting.
There's no ISO 100 option, which is a shame, but it's somewhat commonplace to begin at ISO 200 in these camera types. Given the fast electronic shutter speeds available that's not necessarily an issue anyway. And the results at this starting sensitivity are crystal clear. We shot a wooden lodge in the Italian alps which shows good detail in its structure. The only oddity is the colour noise shown to the shadow of the snow stack on the side of the roof.
Move up the ISO range and the camera handles very well indeed, with results becoming slightly softer due to processing through to ISO 1600. Even at this four-figure setting the detail is solid and there's only a slight undercurrent of image noise in shadowy areas - such as the back plate of an old-skool cash till. It's subtle though.
Push things a little further and results remain usable at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400. Even ISO 12,800 isn't a total write-off, although the level of detail by this point is diminished considerably, as you'll see in finer details such as tree branches against the sky.
Given that the GX800 is a sub-£500 camera, you're getting plenty of imaging bang for your budget. There are high-end compact cameras that cost just as much these days and yet aren't as capable.
What the Panasonic Lumix GX800 really gets right is its price proposition. There's a lot of features on offer for its sub-£500 price point, which will see camera keenos flocking to check out this accomplished little mirrorless system.
Downsides are the lack of any viewfinder option (but then just look at the GX80 instead), some plasticky build elements, limited battery life, that 12-32mm collapsible lens not being the best, and the odd choice of a microSD card.
All things considered, however, those above nit-picks are far from major problems. Especially when decent image quality, an autofocus system that'll better almost anything else at this price, a raft of compatible Micro Four Thirds lenses, 4K capture and accessible touchscreen controls use are all par for the course.
The GX800 is an affable, affordable entry-level mirrorless system camera. And one with few competitors, save for the harder-to-operate Olympus E-PL8.
Panasonic Lumix GX80
Want a viewfinder? The GX80 is the logical choice. It's dropped in price since launch so it's only an extra £50-60 more than the GX800. It's a little bigger, but not by much, and packs in yet more features.
Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix GX80 review: Small in scale, big on features