Gear of the Year 2018 - Carey's choice: Panasonic GX9
The Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 is one of those rare cameras that seems to be more than the sum of its parts. It's not a market leader in any specific area, it's not particularly inexpensive, and I've used and reviewed cameras that offer objectively better results than the GX9 is capable of. And yet, there's something about its combination of features, build, form factor, image quality and controls that make it a camera I really enjoy using and want to carry around with me wherever.
Maybe most importantly, I think this is the first Panasonic camera I've truly felt this way about.
'They've got a great personality'
ISO 200 | 1/1250 sec | F2.8 | Lumix G Vario 35-100mm F2.8
That's a phrase that isn't exactly positive in the dating world, but bear with me - we're talking about cameras, after all. There are subtleties and intangibles - 'personalities' - cameras have about them that can impact how they make a photographer feel. And while Panasonic has made some mighty fine cameras over the past few years, I've never really felt that emotional pull to pick them up and go out shooting just for fun.
Back when the Panasonic GX85 came out, I thought that was the one. That was the Panasonic camera that I'd want to pick up and take with me, even if I'm just going out for a bite to eat. But there were some issues with that camera - one issue specifically - that really turned me off, but Panasonic has addressed them in the GX9, and then some.
Enough already, what's so good about it?
ISO 200 | 1/500 sec | F5 | Panasonic Leica 15mm F1.7
First of all, my hat is off to the folks at Panasonic for their work on the JPEG engine. When I started at DPReview, I hadn't been fond of Panasonic colors, particularly the skin tones, and while the noise reduction did a so-so job of reducing noise, it did a tremendous job at smearing away detail. This was the single biggest issue I had with the GX85, honestly.
I'm happy to say that's no longer the case. Even just previewing images on the rear of the camera, I can see that the color out of the standard picture profile is rich, warm and doesn't render my friends as green-skinned zombies. Plus, the shadowy regions of my images no longer look like mush.
This all means I'm likely to transfer images to my phone without needing to process Raws (though the GX9 can do that in-camera), and then post straight away to social media or send them to a friend. And the less processing I need to do, the more images I'm going to take.
Beyond that, I'm really happy to see the return of the addictive tilting viewfinder, though it's a tad small. The controls aren't quite as customizable as some competitors', but the highly customizable touchscreen makes up for this somewhat. And personally, I prefer the tilting screen mechanism on the GX9 to fully articulating screens on other models. And when the screen is tilted out, the eye sensor disables so you don't accidentally trip it when shooting from the waist. Why this still isn't standard practice, I have no idea.
But it only got a silver award!
|Obligatory angry cat photo. Out-of-camera JPEG.
ISO 1600 | 1/60 sec | F1.7 | Panasonic Leica 15mm F1.7
I know, I know. I was the lead reviewer for the GX9, and after all this gushing, I still only gave it a silver. But remember at the top, how I said it wasn't a market leader in any particular way, and wasn't particularly inexpensive? Then, consider that cheaper competition can often give you better outright image quality.
And even though the awards are weighted more toward subjective rather than objective criteria - that was all just too much for me to ignore. Bam, silver award.
But there are a few other considerations I'd like to see addressed in the GX9's successor. First of all, enough with the field sequential electronic viewfinder. Second, this camera launched at $999 with a kit lens - for that price, I expect a dedicated battery charger in the box, particularly with battery life this limited (though USB charging is handy for topping up on the go).
Lastly, if you're one of those folks that love Panasonic for their video chops, the GX9 is not the camera for you. It's not really geared for hardcore videophiles, but even for casual shooters, it's disappointing to see the newer model step backward in video capability with a 1.2x crop compared to the GX85.
ISO 200 | 1/80 sec | F2.8 | Lumix G 20mm F1.7 II
In the end, the GX9 is very capable camera. It's not necessarily the sort of camera I'd be eyeing for high-end, paid professional gigs - though I'm sure the GX9 could handle them in a pinch - but it is the sort of camera that I enjoy for personal, casual photography. It's also something I would absolutely recommend as a second body for more established shooters wanting a smaller package.
More to the point, I also think the GX9 is a good sign for Panasonic going forward. They tried splitting the GX lineup in two with the high-end GX8 and midrange GX85, but then decided that wasn't working, and quickly iterated to come up with a fantastic middle-ground in the GX9. I personally appreciate that level of responsiveness, and in my opinion, the GX9 really is the best of both worlds for those cameras. Well, almost.
For the last time - let's ditch the field sequential viewfinder.
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