G9 vs. G85 - a comparison

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Kharan Senior Member • Posts: 1,725
G9 vs. G85 - a comparison

So, after two weeks of testing a new G9, it's time for me to do a comparison between it and the G85. I won't go into all the technical aspects, just the stuff that is easy to overlook in spec comparisons, or that impacted me in particular.

A battle of sisters - which one is the right one?

Size and weight: There's no two ways around this. The G9 is the same size as an enthusiast-oriented DSLR, a bit smaller than the 80D or 6DII, and pretty close to the D7500 and A9. This is really good for me, as I enjoy shooting this larger form-factor very much, but the G85 is noticeably more compact. I wouldn't want a camera larger than the G9, and can perfectly understand the people who draw the line at the G85.

Sensor: I didn't know what to expect, since I've read conflicting accounts about the 20 MP chip's capabilities. I'll strike a middle ground here and say that I personally welcome the extra resolution, and that it's useful for birding and landscapes, but it's not groundbreaking. Noise performance is pretty similar between both, but dynamic range seems definitely improved on the new sensor. A 3-stop push feels like nothing on the G9, whereas the G85 would already show an impact in IQ. Also, the ISO 100 setting does help a bit to get cleaner shadows. Speaking of which, the G9 underexposes less, which is fantastic - both sensors seem to have about 1.5 stops of highlight recovery, making ETTR tricky with just the histogram or zebras, and the G85 is simply too conservative with the highlights, leading to excessive noise in dark areas.

Viewfinder: Too much ado about nothing? The extra resolution on the G9's EVF is very welcome, but the faster FPS setting (120) reduces it and brings no tangible benefits for me. The extra size is OK, but as a glasses wearer, I can't use the largest setting without losing the corners. Also, the pincushion distortion is very noticeable. I do love the faster display switch, which was one of my pet peeves with the G85. Also, the gigantic and supple eyepiece cover is an important upgrade, especially to avoid EVF-washout when shooting with the sun to one's side. Otherwise, the smaller camera is plenty good EVF-wise for all intents and purposes.

Shutter: A mixed bag. I'm thankful for the 1/8000 setting and faster X-sync on the G9, but the G85 is simply quieter. The former makes a very 'DSLR-like' click-and-flutter that I could swear was intentionally chosen to confuse consumers into thinking it's a reflex camera, whereas the G85 produces a quieter sound that is as stealthy as it can be, thanks to its lower frequency. The G9's e-shutter is also louder, which is frankly baffling - I tried different lenses and settings, thinking it could be the diaphragm stopping down, but no, it just makes this weird noise, like a miniature air rifle shooting. One solid positive for the G9 is rolling shutter, which is much improved over the G85.

Joystick: I thought I wouldn't use it much, but it's an excellent addition. No, it's not very smooth in operation, but having a convenient way to parse photos and move the AF point with the screen reversed is extremely helpful. The fluidity and lack of diagonal movement definitely need to be addressed going forward, though - the joystick feels quite primitive like this.

Top-deck LCD: Another thing that I thought superfluous has redeemed itself in actual use. I've owned a few cameras with feature before, but never really used it - the difference lies in how neatly-organized the information is displayed, and how legible the LCD is under bright sunlight. It's another helpful addition for reversed-screen operation.

Battery: No contest here. The G9 lasts much longer, and informs remaining battery charge more accurately than the G85 (which usually dies 5 minutes after going down to the last bar). I also love in-camera charging, but hate the USB-3 port. Ah well.

Touchscreen: This one has me baffled. The G85 is definitely better! Especially the touchpad AF, where the G9 has lag. Bad boy, Panasonic, rolled-up newspaper for you!

Controls: Another no-contest scenario. The G9 is chock-full of control points, and they're much easier to find by touch. Everything can be customized, and the choices are richer (and better-rationalized) than on the G85. For example, I really dislike the image review button on the left shoulder on the G9, but I could easily amend this by assigning the function to the 4-way control on the back. The rear-face dial for ISO is so damn convenient! The locking mode dial is the right solution - let the whiners who somehow keep on changing their exposure mode by mistake lock it, and leave the rest of us in peace

Stabilization: One shouldn't expect any miracles here, because there aren't any, but the G9 is indeed better. With Dual I.S. 2 it's easy for me to shoot one-second exposures below 25mm handheld, and in video it finally rivals Olympus' latest offerings - it's so darned stable that footage really looks as if taken on a gimbal. Amazing!

Video: The G85 is pretty good, especially at its price point... but the G9 outclasses it in every which way, especially in AF. Panasonic didn't only improve the quality of the 4K recording, but also removed the crop (extremely useful for wide-angle shots, and to capture more light), and made screen articulation easy with mic and headphones plugged in thanks to the raised position of their ports. Good boy, Panasonic, here's a cookie!

Nitpicks, quirks, and other details: I thought I wouldn't adapt easily to the very Canon-esque changes that Panasonic made on the G9, but boy was I wrong. The three-button cluster behind the vertical dial is very convenient to access, the dial itself is easier to operate confidently, but the video button is now completely useless. Yeah, seriously. It's not a bad tradeoff, though, since the G85's Fn6 button was even worse, and that's a lost custom function (instead of a duplicated one, since the main shutter button can start recording on any video mode on both cameras, and that's what I use).

I'm seriously thinking of using JPEGs again with the 20 MP sensor and Cinelike V - it looks absolutely fantastic! It's too bad that Panasonic's noise reduction is still awful, because the colors themselves are simply the best that I've ever seen on any camera from any maker (well, no, it's not a Hasselblad, but still).

The change in power switch style (from Canon-Panasonic to Nikon-Sony-Pentax) has its pros and cons. The G9 is faster to turn on, and requires a less-deliberate action, but with the G85 there is absolutely no doubt about which state the camera is in - one can check it out at a glance (not so with the G9, since the top-deck LCD turns off when the camera enters sleep, d'oh!), the action is more positive, and there's no chance of turning it off or on accidentally. The additional top-deck space is an advantage for the G9, though.

I haven't seen a huge leap in AF between both cameras, at least in stills (in video there's no comparison, the G9 is so much better). Actually, I have the feeling that the G9 gets confused with specular highlights more often, confirming focus when there is none. Single-point AF is the same between the two, down to the available sizes and sensitivity of the AF point. Pinpoint AF seems better on the G9, though.

I do want my shooting mode dial back, though. The Nikon-esque lever beneath the mode dial is a PITA to turn, and impossible to verify visually quickly. I would gladly trade the top-deck LCD for having the exposure mode dial back on the right and the shooting mode dial on the left. Or even better, Panasonic could've stacked the mode dial on top of the rear jog wheel, making everyone... well, at least me, happy

I want my built-in flash back, too. It's a really good feature, and the 5% extra "weather sealing" or any such nonsense is pointless compared to the little strobe.

I'd have liked a bigger screen on the G9. There's plenty of available space in the back.

TL;DR (conclusion):

- If you need a powerful body that is quite compact, the G85 is great. It handles most shooting situations with aplomb, produces good files, has a very convenient amount of control points, is well-built, and in general represents ridiculously-good value at its current price, especially against cameras like the Olympus E-M5.2, Fujifilm X-T20, Sony A6500, Nikon D5500, and any Canon Rebel (yuck).

- If you are a street shooter, but can't live with the field-sequential EVFs on the Panny GX's, or would appreciate a larger body, then the G85 is as good as it gets. It equips one of the quietest focal-plane shutters ever made, is still small, and has instant AF-S.

- If you shoot lots of high-speed bursts, then the G9 is the better alternative by far. It's more responsive, and allows for far more effective subject tracking in my experience - the G85 blacks out for too long.

- If you want better video, the G9 is it. There's always the GH5, of course, which is even better, but I'll contend that the G9 is much better for casual users thanks to its straightforward approach to video and improved IBIS.

- If you're on the fence, wondering whether the G9 is X hundreds of dollars worth more than the G85, and have been hitting some of the smaller cam's limitations, seriously consider upgrading. For not a lot of money and bulk you'll be getting a much better machine, one that can fight against most professional crop bodies - and win.

- If you're on the fence, wondering whether the G9 is X hundreds of dollars worth more than the G85, but are "financially conservative" (i.e. a cheapskate ), definitely do not upgrade. You'll almost-assuredly regret it, because 90% of the differences between the G9 and G85 are quite subtle, and the kind of stuff that only heavy users that like to push their gear will notice. The G9 isn't revolutionary, but rather a refinement of what makes the G85 already a very good camera.

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"Chase the light around the world
I want to look at life
In the available light" - Rush, 'Available Light'

 Kharan's gear list:Kharan's gear list
Sony RX10 IV Pentax Q Olympus PEN E-P3 Olympus OM-D E-M10 Sony a7S +11 more
Canon EOS 80D Fujifilm X-T20 Nikon D5500 Nikon D7500 Panasonic G85 Panasonic GH5 Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 Sony a6500 Sony a9
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