It's taken a couple of generations of camera for manufacturers to really work out who wants to buy mirrorless cameras and, as a result, what features they should offer. Panasonic's GF series has slalomed around the demographics before arriving at a similar conclusion to that reached by several of its rivals - a small camera that can work as a point-and-shoot, but with some expectation that the user might want to take more control over it.

By this we mean that the GF6 is a small camera with a compact kit zoom, flip-out screen and a dedicated mode dial - a very similar set of features to those offered by the Olympus E-PL5 and Sony's NEX-3N. This puts the GF6 somewhere between the enthusiast-friendly GF1 and the more point-and-shoot orientated GF5. But, while it gains features that will appeal both to the point-and-shoot and the take-control crowd, the GF6's trump card is Wi-Fi. Or, more specifically, the best implementation of Wi-Fi to hit the market so far.

In common with a couple of recent Panasonic compacts, the GF6 gains Near-Field Communication (NFC), through which the camera can establish a conventional Wi-Fi connection simply by tapping devices together. NFC is a very short-range means of exchanging data that allows the camera to share details of its Wi-Fi connection with compatible smartphones or tablets. The list of compatible devices includes many recent Android devices, though Apple has yet to embrace the technology.

In addition to an extra control point provided by a top-plate zoom lever encircling the shutter button, the GF6 gains an additional customizable Fn button on its rear, plus another two on a 'pull-out' tab on its touch screen. These direct controls come in addition to the camera's user-definable Q.Menu. Equally, though, the camera retains its point-and-shoot-friendly iA button that provides one-button access to the camera's fully-automated mode.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 key specifications

  • 16MP Four Thirds sensor (as used in GX1)
  • Tilting 'Cell-touch LCD' touchscreen - 1.04m dots (720 x 480 pixels)
  • Near-field communication (NFC) to simplify Wi-Fi connection
  • Mode dial and four customizable function buttons (two on-screen)
  • 1080p30 video as MP4 or AVCHD (presented as 60i PsF in AVCHD mode)
  • Jog lever around shutter button (which operates zoom or exposure compensation)
  • Sensitivity expandable up to ISO 25,600
  • Faster startup (as quick as 0.5 sec with non-power-zoom lenses)

The GF6 is the second mirrorless camera we've seen to gain a compact-camera-style zoom lever around the shutter button but, whereas the Sony NEX-3N is often bundled with a power zoom lens, the same isn't true for the GF6. However, when you attach a conventional zoom lens, it instead controls exposure compensation. This makes a lot of sense to us, since arguably the most useful additional property a point-and-shoot user might want to gain control over, simply, is image brightness.

Many of the camera's basic specs have also been upgraded over its predecessor - the rear screen is a higher-resolution panel, but it's what's in front of it that users are likely to notice. The touch capability is now capacitive, rather than the GF5's pressure-sensitive design, and the front glass has been attached without an air gap, reducing internal reflection and improving visibility. This more precise touch screen allows the implementation of touch-based photo editing (including a Clear Retouch mode that attempts to remove distracting object s from your images, which sadly we haven't been able to test yet). The screen also tilts, both downwards for overhead shooting and upwards to face forwards for self-portrait shots.

NFC-simplified Wi-Fi connection

Connecting the GF6 to a an NFC-equipped smartphone is as simple as starting the Panasonic Image App, pressing the Wi-Fi button on the camera and tapping the two devices together. NFC works over such short distances it may take a couple of attempts to locate the antenna on your smart device, but once located, it's all pretty simple.

If your device doesn't have NFC, the process involves manually selecting the right Wi-Fi connection in your phone's settings, then typing in a fairly long password (as is the case with most Wi-Fi cameras). Once you've paired your devices, the camera will remember the connection to speed up the process in future.

The Panasonic Image App on iOS gives a live view image and allows you to set the focus point, take the exposure or control the zoom if you're using a power zoom lens. The equivalent app for Android also gives the option to control manual focus. Panasonic says the apps will also give the ability to control exposure parameters (as is the case with the Lumix Link app for the GH3).
Both apps also allow you to view the contents of the camera's memory card and transfer images (at various sizes) across to the 'phone.  

The Panasonic Image App gives a pretty good level of control over the camera - allowing the user to position the camera's focus point, control a power zoom lens and the ability to control exposure (though this didn't appear to be available when we tried the currently-available version of the app). Once a shot is taken, it can be uploaded across to your smartphone - either at full or reduced resolution.

In addition to smartphone connections, the GF6 allows you to create an account on Panasonic's Lumix Club cloud service. With this established, you can send images up to Lumix Club by connecting to a local Wi-Fi router, with the option that they are then posted on to various popular social networks, via Lumix Club. Alternatively, if you're connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your computer, you can get the camera to push all your images across to your computer as you shoot.

Compact 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 kit zoom lenses

Panasonic's latest compact 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II kit zoom (center), compared to its predecessor (left) and the 14-42mm powerzoom (right).

The GF6's compact size is complemented by a couple of the smallest zooms available for any interchangeable-lens cameras. The basic kit zoom is the recently-announced Lumix G Vario 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II ASPH Mega OIS, which is on of the smallest around that features conventional rotary zoom and focus rings (it's about the same size as Olympus's collapsible M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 II R).

The GF6 can also be used with the tiny 'pancake' Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS powerzoom, which can be controlled by its top-plate zoom lever for very compact camera-like operation. As can be seen in the comparison above, both are considerably smaller than Panasonic's previous 14-42mm kit zoom, which is pretty typical in size for its type.