Panasonic’s flagship Micro Four Thirds camera has traditionally been part of the GH series, with the latest GH5 delivering solid imaging and exceptional video capture capabilities. But the company doesn’t want to leave photographers out in the cold. The Lumix DC-G9 ($ 1,699.99, body only) can be considered a co-flagship model, with a feature set that emphasizes stills over video. On paper it looks like a solid option for Micro Four Thirds shooters, and we’re eager to take it out in the real world to see if it lives up to its promise.
The G9’s aesthetic is a departure for Panasonic. It’s more angular than rounded, giving the body a rather striking silhouette. I like the way it looks, even if it’s only available in black. It measures 3.8 by 5.4 by 3.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.5 pounds without a lens attached. The general shape and design takes its cues from an SLR, but it’s smaller and lighter than models with similar capabilities, like the Nikon D500 (4.5 by 5.8 by 3.2 inches, 1.9 pounds). As you’d expect, the body is sealed to protect from dust and splashes, and omits an integrated flash.
The G9 feels very solid. Its handgrip is well designed; the body is comfortable and secure in the hand. Two control buttons sit between the lens mount and hand grip. There’s a switch at the bottom corner of the front, accessible via your left hand, that changes between one of two customizable user profiles. You can choose a bank of settings for shooting fast-moving action and a second for landscapes, or one for color photography and a second for black-and-white capture.
On the top plate, to the left of the hot shoe, you’ll find a dedicated dial to select the drive mode, built into the bottom of the Mode dial. The Mode control is locking, using the design that can be unlocked or locked with a push of the center button, rather than the type that requires you to hold the button down when turning. The right of the hot shoe is dominated by a monochrome information LCD, a feature you don’t see on a lot of mirrorless cameras—the last one we saw was on the short-lived Samsung NX1. Also on top are two control dials, the shutter release, and the power switch.
Rear controls include a flat dial, a dedicated joystick for focus point control, and the sundry delete, menu, playback, and record buttons. The menu interface is similar to other Panasonic cameras, and includes an on-screen Q.Menu for quick adjustment of settings. New to the G9 is a Night mode, which will display the menu in red text on a black background, so you can adjust settings without losing your night vision. You can also set the Live View to show in this manner, but images will still be captured in full color.
The rear LCD is a 3.2-inch vari-angle screen with touch input support, the same as you get with the GH5. It’s very sharp, at 1,040k dots, and the touch control is as good as you get with a flagship smartphone. You can tap to set focus, drag your finger across the screen to do the same when using the EVF, and swipe and pinch images during playback.
The EVF is one of the largest we’ve seen in a mirrorless camera to date, with a 0.83x magnification rating. It presents a huge image to your eye, bigger than you get with even the best full-frame SLR. I wear glasses and was able to see all four corners of the frame, but the periphery wasn’t entirely clear without a peek left or right. If you wear glasses and want to size down the view in order to better track a moving subject, you can set the finder to a 0.7x or 0.77x view; there’s a dedicated button to do this.
The G9 includes the normal mix of Bluetooth, NFC, and Wi-Fi. You can use your Android or iOS device as a remote, with full exposure and focus control, and transfer images from the camera to your smartphone. You can also use your phone as a simple Bluetooth shutter release, without a live feed, but also without the need to establish a Wi-Fi connection.
Physical ports include 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, a full-size HDMI connection, PC sync, and microUSB 3.0. There are two SD slots that support the latest UHS-II SDXC format. The battery is the same as the GH5, and per CIPA ratings should deliver about 380 images per charge, or up to 920 if you enable the power-saving mode.
The camera can be charged and powered over USB, and also includes an external charger. The external charger also supports charging via USB. You’ve got a lot of options to power the camera, but it is surprising that Panasonic opted not to use the more modern USB-C connector.
Performance and Imaging
The G9 promises to capture photos at up to 20fps, with continuous focus, when using the electronic shutter, and 60fps with focus fixed at the first shot. If you’re shooting in Raw you’ll be able to capture 50 images before the buffer fills. These rates put it right up there with rival Olympus’ E-M1 Mark II, which tracks subjects at 18fps, and like the Olympus the G9 includes a pre-shooting buffer option to capture action in the moments before you push the shutter down.
If you want to shoot longer and faster you can switch to 6K Photo to snap 18MP JPGs at 30fps, or 4K Photo to grab 8MP JPGs at 60fps, both with locked focus. But these modes don’t work for Raw format images.
With the mechanical shutter the G9 shoots at 9fps with continuous focus and 12fps with locked focus. The mechanical shutter can fire at 1/8,000-second, with flash sync available for exposures 1/250-second or longer. The electronic shutter fires at 1/32,000-second, but can’t sync with flash. We haven’t yet tested the G9, so take these numbers with a grain of salt—we’ll confirm Panasonic’s claims when the camera is available to test.
The autofocus system is an improved version of the DFD contrast system used by the GH5. It’s rated to lock focus in as little as 0.04-second, and Panasonic claims that it’s more effective at tracking fast-moving, oncoming subjects than the Sony a6500 and Fujifilm X-T2, which is a bold claim as we found both to be quite effective in real-world testing.
The image sensor is a 20MP Micro Four Thirds design, with a 4:3 aspect ratio, 5-axis image stabilization, and no optical low-pass filter. It’s the same sensor used by the GH5, but Panasonic states that the image processing engine has been fine-tuned for stills, which should deliver JPG output with more natural color rendition and gradations, and better detail at high ISO settings. Raw output is the same 12-bit quality that you get with the GH5. Panasonic states that its stabilization system is effective for 6.5 stops of correction at wider angles on its own, and offers the same effectiveness when combined with a stabilized lens when working in the telephoto range.
The stabilization system also enables a high-resolution image capture mode. It’s similar to what we see in Olympus cameras. The G9 captures eight photos in rapid succession, shifting the sensor by a mere half-pixel between each. It takes the 160MP worth of image data and combines the eight shots into one 80MP image, in camera. It’s best used on a sturdy tripod and with a perfectly still subject, of course, but can be a big plus for landscape photographers who want more detail out of images than a Micro Four Thirds sensor can provide with a single shot.
The G9 isn’t as capable a video camera as the GH5, but it still looks like a solid option if your needs aren’t professional. It records in 4K at 60fps with 4:2:0 8-bit 150Mbps quality (for up to 10 minutes per clip) and a 100Mbps bit rate at 24 or 30fps, for up to 30 minutes per clip. You can also shoot in 1080p at up to 150fps for slow-motion capture. The HDMI port outputs a clean, uncompressed signal, also at 4:2:0 8-bit quality. You don’t get the 6K, 10-bit, or 400Mbps compression options that you do with the GH5, nor do you get quite as much leeway for color grading. The only flat profiles offered by the G9 are Cinelike D and V.
Panasonic has long enjoyed a niche in the mirrorless camera world—its top-end models are the best out there for video capture, and the most recent GH5 epitomizes that. But the company doesn’t want to be pigeonholed, and doesn’t want to ignore photographers. The Lumix DC-G9 is its answer, promising to deliver best-in-class capture rates, image quality that’s tuned for still photography, and controls designed with stills in mind. And while the video specs aren’t on the same level as the GH5, they’re nothing to sneeze at.
At about $ 1,700 the camera undercuts the rival Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II by about $ 300, giving it a slight edge in a very competitive space, as both cameras use the same Micro Four Thirds lens system. Our current favorite mirrorless camera in this class is the Fujifilm X-T2, which sells for about $ 1,600, and sports a larger APS-C image sensor. We’ll see if the G9 is good enough to recommend over the Fujifilm when we get a chance to test it around its release in January.
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