Shooting Experience

By Samuel Spencer

The first time I picked up the GX8 I immediately noticed it felt more like an APS-C camera in the hand than a Micro Four Thirds camera. The grip and dials have all grown along with the body compared to the GX7, and are good news for anyone who finds the controls on smaller cameras from the Micro Four Thirds ecosystem 'fiddly.' I also found the size strange when in-body image stabilization is also found in smaller cameras. It does have weather sealing, but did it really have to grow to X-Pro2 size for that? With the added heft the grip could be a little bit deeper, and I have short fingers. One's fingernails will start to dig in to the front of the camera, especially when they're not filed down. After using the GX8 a bit the size stopped worrying me. Having a camera that is stabilized, 4K video-ready, weather-sealed, and theoretically indestructible, is invaluable to many.

The GX8 has grown quite a bit, especially when viewed next to its predecessor, the GX7. As a result, it is a much more comfortable camera to hold.

Using the GX8 is much like using many of the recent Panasonic cameras to enter the Micro Four Thirds universe. It keeps the lovely touchscreen rear screen (one of the best-responding I can remember using) for AF selection while shooting, making AF point selection always ready and in many cases faster than a dedicated AF joystick. Combine that with some of the fastest contrast-detect autofocus in the industry, and already the GX8 became a delight for waist-level, touch-to-focus shooting. I did find with a telephoto lens handheld, shooting in portrait orientation and trying to use the touch AF point selection became difficult and I found myself switching eyes and the way I was holding the camera to try and keep the touch screen accessible. Thankfully, turning on 'direct focus area' makes the 4-way controller an AF selection pad when using the EVF, and offers a way to keep both at hand.

Some will debate the merits of making the 3" rear screen articulated, rather than tilting type, but I am a fan of it. I enjoy how they allow you to use weird angles at portrait orientation as well as making shooting high or low in landscape mode easy. There's even more that enables the photographer to shoot from unique angles, and it is my favorite feature on the GX8 - the articulating viewfinder.

I've been itching to improve on my street photography for a long time, especially after seeing the This American Life feature on Vivian Maier, then purchasing a Rolleiflex TLR for some waist-level perspective of my own. That camera ended up sold once my local processing lab closed down, and it wasn't until the GX8 came around that I remembered some of the great advantages of waist-level shooting.

The first time I tried street shooting with a DSLR I wasn't comfortable at all. I am not a confrontational person, and I like my images to be candid. This isn't a problem in a situation where I'm expected and known to be the photographer (wedding, event reportage) where photographers are expected and won't be offensive. However, walking down the street where a photographer not be welcomed is a situation where my DSLR technique hasn't been honed in to a sharp skill yet thanks to my shyness. I still have the problem of signaling my intentions by raising the camera to my eye – the dead giveaway I'm about to take a shot. Many times, this gets my targeted subject's attention, I let my anxiety get the best of me, and the shot is gone.

That flip-up viewfinder changes things a lot. Without the obvious signal of lifting up the camera to the eye, one can remain a casual observer instead of an invasive documentarian. Plus, when using the viewfinder at its upright position your face is looking down, yet another signal that you're not paying attention to the person in front of you, when in fact you are.

I'm no Rinzi Ruiz or Vivian Maier yet, but thanks to the GX8's various configurations I was able to find one that gave me the stealth and confidence to start making myself a better street shooter.

I'm not saying the GX8 is a bit of pixie dust that magically made me a better photographer – just that it helped break down a wall that my own personality had prevented me from becoming a better street shooter. I also see the need for it in the studio as well. I've shot a number of tabletop setups where the camera is low to the table and looking through the viewfinder requires either a squat or a back-breaking bend to look through. I always wished for a viewfinder that faced vertically in those situations, and so far only the GX8 has answered my call. Buying this camera simply for the viewfinder is a completely justifiable reason if you've ever felt the need for it before.

There's another feature that helps make things even more candid on the streets; our testing shows there's no Raw penalties to shooting completely silent. I decided to switch it on while out shooting one day, and suddenly... wait hang on a second... suddenly everything got sharper? Before using e-Shutter, the GX8's files didn't feel too far ahead of the 16MP chip we've seen just about everywhere else in the Micro Four Thirds universe, especially with Panasonic's aggressive default sharpening applied. It wasn't until switching to e-Shutter that I noticed something was wrong, and that my files up to that point weren't as sharp as they could have been.

Mechanical Shutter
Electronic Shutter

'Shutter shock' on a camera this expensive was upsetting, especially when that holds it back from showing the full potential of the shiny new 20 Megapixel sensor. Thankfully in a firmware update Panasonic has implemented a handy workaround: with 'Electronic Shutter: Auto' switched on. It's still a workaround, rather than a fix, since its behavior varies between lenses and there are some image quality risks associated with e-shutter, but it does reduce the circumstances in which you'll encounter shutter shock.

When sharpness is absolutely uncompromised there is plenty of detail to be had. JPEG sharpening might be a touch aggressive, but otherwise handles the camera handles colors - especially oranges and reds particularly well. Plus, when shooting scenes like sunsets or other high-contrast light, iDynamic does a great job of keeping details in the shadows without looking like a crummy HDR attempt. In fact, I found my Raw conversions ended up fairly similar to the out-of-camera JPEG files with iDynamic giving them a boost. The only difference I found was I pushed the highlights up a bit more, which can easily be done using the lovely "Highight and Shadow" tone curve function on the camera.

Out-of-camera JPEG with iDynamic switched to 'Auto'. E-shutter on. 1/500 sec. F5 ISO 200.

In conclusion, the GX8 offers shooting experiences few others do with a pleasing and very adjustable JPEG output. There are some band-aids placed over the shutter shock issue, but a look at our gallery (which used a mix of electronic and mechanical shutter) shows that in many situations the shock will have a minimal impact on sharpness at wide and normal focal lengths, but will impact telephoto shots greatly. Behind this issue is a lovely camera that is a great choice for shooters that aren't limited by the use of electronic shutter (and possibly aided by it), especially if they can see the benefits of that tilting EVF the same way this photographer does.