THE LOVE FOR TRAVELLING, THE PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY (MADE IN MELBOURNE AND AROUND THE GLOBE)
Panasonic Lumix GX85 review for travel and city photography
I was waiting to review the Panasonic Lumix GX85 since it was announced, end of April 2016. On paper this camera was looking fantastic. On paper, a great combination of high end features and low end cost.
When people ask me how do I score a travel camera, I usually answer with 5 important characteristics:
easy to use
interchangeable lenses with a good selection to choose from
possibly with 4K video
Than it comes the price, which is usually related to the quality of the components.
With the Panasonic GX85 we have all of the above, and we have also an amazing competitive price.
This review covers some of the most important characteristics for a travel photographer looking to buy a new camera for the future trips and/or the occasional excursions in the city or the surrounding areas
View to Southgate Melbourne (1/320sec at f3.5 12mm ISO800)
If you are in Europe this camera is sold as Panasonic GX80. I would have to investigate why Panasonic has a different naming convention for Europe.
The Micro Four Thirds sensor
The GX85 is based on a 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor (17.3 x 13.0 mm). If you are not sure what I am talking about just compare the sensor to a human eye.
If I am in a closed environment, like a room, I can better distinguish things and details when there is more light into the room. In a camera, at the same aperture of the lens, the sensor will receive different amount of light based on the sensor size. As a general rule, the bigger the sensor the more light it will get.
The GX85 sensor is half the size of a full sensor camera, like the Canon 5D
Does it mean that the Canon 5D is twice as better than the GX85?
Things do not really work this say. In fact, in an environment with good light, you will hardly distinguish the difference in the photos made by these two cameras. Thing however may become tricky in a environment with poor light and you will start noticing differences.
The Penguin Parade at the St.Kilda Pier (1/25sec at f4.5, 12mm ISO200)
Moreover if you print up to A4 you will hardly distinguish any dissimilarity. On the bigger formats, your eye may start seeing some differences.
If you travel and you want a camera to document your trip, post photos on the web and eventually print a nice A4 format book, then I would not even consider to buy a Canon 5D, so heavy to carry around!! Instead the GX85, as well as most of the mirrorless cameras, will do everything you need without the weight of a DSLR
Build Quality & Portability
The design is quite retro, with a mix of metal and plastic.
The plastic looks almost as leather which gives quite a cool looking to the Panasonic GX85.
The camera is very small (122 x 70.6 x 43.9 mm), which is great for travelling. The weight is only 383gr (body only). Basically you have it in your backpack and you will not feel it.
I have small hands and the camera was a beauty to manage.
In-body stabilisation for the Panasonic Lumix GX85
In my travel Photography courses I always suggest to shoot with a shutter speed at least equal to the inverse of the used focal length otherwise the photo may be not that sharp
For example if you are taking a photo with an equivalent focal length of 50mm you should have a shutter speed of at least 1/50 of a second. As a precaution I also suggest to avoid shooting with a shutter speed longer that 1/40sec.
Of course these suggestions apply only when you make hand-held photos. With a tripod you can work for as long as you like. Also these suggestions are strictly related to your body and hands stability. They are averaged indications.
Now, with the Panasonic GX85 these rules should be re-written.
This new Lumix camera has 5-axis in-body image stabilisation which give a superior performance with stable imaging in situations where that was not previously possible.
Shooting handheld at 1/4sec f5.6, 30mm and ISO200
Crop 1:1 of the detail. Hard to notice any shacking (1/4sec and equivalent focal length of 60mm)
Add another important change.
The GX85 has an electromagnetically driven shutter mechanism instead of the market standard spring driven. This new solution helps to avoid the annoying shutter shock and also to decrease the weight of the camera itself (the less we carry with us the better it is;))
Now, how long can we go with our exposure using the Panasonic GX85 hand-held?
Can we move into a 1 second exposure? Not quite that stable LOL however we can definitely break the rule for at least 3-5 stops I think. I had some great sharp photos at 1/10 of a second with 50mm equivalent focal length.
Shooting at handheld at 1/6sec f3.5, 12mm and ISO200
What is the new limit?
I really suggest to start shooting, go longer and longer, and see what your hands can manage. From there you build your rules.
The last thing to notice is that these suggestions apply to equivalent focal length (full sensor). With a Four Thirds Sensor, as in the GX85, you need to double the focal length you are using (example, if you are shooting at 30mm you should use at least 1/60 sec)
And look at the details when shooting at a more reasonable shutter speed
Photo test for the sharp details (1/125sec at f3.5, 12mm and ISO200)
Pretty amazing details in the 1:1 crop
Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
How important is to have an EVF?
Of course a lot. If you come from the mobile world you are probably used to shoot using the monitor of your phone.
This is absolutely fine however it may not work that great because your eyes may be distracted by the nearby environment.
The EVF helps your eye to concentrate on the composition, on what you will see in your photo.
St.Kilda Pier (1/20sec at f4.5, 12mm ISO200)
When I tested the viewfinder of the bigger brother, the Panasonic Lumix GX8, I was blown away, especially in low light condition. Just amazing.
When I tried the GX85 I soon noticed the difference. The quality is still good but not as amazing. Obviously there is a difference in price between the two models which explains also the difference in quality of some of the components and the EVF is one of them.
The EVF of the Panasonic GX85 looks also smaller and that is because it is a native 16:9 cropped to 4:3 aspect ratio. This means that if you shoot 4:3 you will have two black stripes on the side.
However if you shoot mostly with a 16:9 aspect ratio the EVF becomes suddenly great and unique.
As you may have noticed in this blog, I mostly shoot with 16:9 aspect ratio and I believe it is actually the best way to show your photos on monitors, tablets and mobile phones.
If you are a blogger or run a website, having a 16:9 EVF is actually a benefit. If you print most of your work, this may be a concern, however I do not think it is a deal breaker.
Why not some night photography with a tripod (30sec at f5.6, 12mm ISO 200)
The auto focus works on the area contrast. Therefore if you try to focus, let’s say, on a black panel, the camera most probably will not be able to focus, as easy as that.
There is a trick, which I usually explain in my course.
If auto focus does not work, try to focus on another object with more contrast and similar distance between you and the subject. Once ready, lock your focus and recompose.
The other possibility is of course to go manual.
When does auto focus start having more problems? When it becomes darker and in night photography.
I have noticed that the GX85 has a tremendous auto focus even in the darker environments, just after sunset. I was very pleased by that.
I almost feel that the auto focus has been actually improved since the GX8
I was really happy with the outcome of my photographic session (1/100sec at f3.5, 12mm ISO400)
I usually use a Nikon D610 and a tilting monitor was never my priority. I always thought that I could do without it
It may be just me however I find also that the tilting LCD is never well integrated in the design of a camera, it clashes slightly with the body lines.
When I opened the Panasonic GX85 box I though I received a prototype without the tilting monitor. Than I noticed that it was so well integrated that the tilting mechanism disappeared.
The touchscreen is also a bonus.
You can also use the EVF and select the subject to focus through the LCD, quite an handy option to have.
Having fun with some street photography (1/15sec at f3.5, 12mm ISO800)
As I said in most of my reviews, I do video only rarely. Sometime for interviews or during the travelling.
For the interview, the 4K is a game changer. I can produce full HD videos with half body and close-up using the same video track and just cropping the part of the image I want.
Stability has been always a bit of an issue with most of the cameras however the 5-axis in-body stabilisation is actually a great feature to have when shooting video handheld.
If you run a blog or a website and you are thinking to include videos as well, then I would definitely take the Panasonic GX85 in great consideration.
This video below was done in a market in Taiwan, a typical place where, with so many people around, stability is definitely an issue. I was blown away by the outcome.
There is however a possible deal breaker if you shoot lots of video, the lack of a microphone and headphone ports.
With a GX85 you can however do in-camera time-lapse, which is great when you want to document the city, or a sunset at the beach, without much hustle and bustle (PC, photos, software etc)
I love the way you can charge the GX85, you just need a USB cable, no need to have an external charger or converter. It’s all built it into your camera.
What is the benefit of it when you travel?
When I rent a vehicle I always take with me a USB charger to connect to the car (I use the Maxboost one with 2 ports and it’s great). I use it to charge my mobile, especially when I need to use a lot the maps. The second port can be used to charge the GX85, as easy as that.
This does not mean that you need the battery in your camera to charge it. You can still use an external charger to for the spare battery in your bedroom (check for example this great value $20 deal from Amazon). This external battery charger is not included with the Panasonic package.
To be honest with you, I believe that the new Panasoni Lumix GX85 is one of the most best value camera ever produced by Panasonic and one of the best mirrorless with interchangeable lenses in the market at such a great price (check out the best price in US and in Australia).
The EVF and the lack of microphone and headphone ports may be an issue to someone. However if these are not a deal breaker then the GX85 is really a unique buy.
The Panasonic GX85 comes with a 12-32 lenses (f/3.5-6.6) which is actually a great starter lens for travelling.
This camera is small in size (122 x 70.6 x 43.9 mm) and very light too (383g) however it is not environmentally sealed.
It supports both WiFi and NFC and it can be controlled through your smartphone, for example as a remote controller.
If you are thinking to buy a camera for your trips with interchangeable lenses then the GX85 may be just for you. I may only suggest to buy a second lens to cover the focal length 32-70mm if you need a bit of zoom capability.
Stefano is a cycling, movie and life style photographer with a big love for landscape & travel photography. When in Melbourne, his hometown, you will see him cycling around at sunset or sunrise looking for the best spot for a photo of this beautiful city. It is quite amazing how much photography gear he can pack on his bike :o