Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85 Real World Experience 

An evening of challenge light, both in terms of temperature and brightness, couldn't stop the Panasonic GX85. Edited to taste in ACR. ISO 3200, 1/500 sec at F2.8. Shot at 50mm (equiv. ) using the Panasonic Lumix G 25mm F1.7 lens.SO 3200

I've been working on our forthcoming review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85 for a couple of weeks now and as I put the finishing touches on the technical portion of the write-up, I wanted to share some highlights of my shooting experience with the camera, specifically in two very different shooting environments.

While I've been using the GX85 to shoot street photos and portraits of friends, I also took it along to a music festival in Seattle's industrial SoDo neighborhood called Big BLDG Bash. I shoot a lot of live music for my blog, mostly with a Nikon D750, 50mm F1.8, 20mm F1.8 and flash. But after using the GX85 for a couple of weeks, I felt relatively confident in the Panasonic's ability to keep up.

The GX85 handled challenging AF scenarios all night long. Out of camera JPEG.  ISO 6400, 1/500 sec at F4.5. Shot at 50mm (equiv. ) using the Lumix G Panasonic 25mm F1.7 lens. 

Seven stages, both indoor and outdoor, gave me a chance to test out the GX85's autofocus and overall performance in a variety of scenarios. And the non-stop music meant that this would be a good test of the battery life, too. 

Of course after a night of rocking out I figured the GX85 needed some peace and quiet, so I also brought it shooting around one of my favorite places in Seattle: Golden Gardens, a beach along the city's Northwest coast. There I put the GX85's articulating touchscreen and near-silent electronic shutter to good use as I photographed both strangers and other wildlife enjoying the beautiful day and later, the sunset.

I love articulating LCDs, especially ones with touch interfaces. The GX85 makes it so simple to get creative with your framing. Edited to taste in ACR. ISO 640, 1/640 sec at F2.8. Shot at 48mm (equiv. ) using the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8. 

Rock and roll

But let's start with some rock and roll. I arrived at the venue around 9:00pm, with plans to shoot as many acts as possible, using mostly available light, until everything wrapped up around 2am. 

Since starting work on the GX85, I've found myself very attached to the Panasonic Lumix G 25mm F1.7. Maybe because it reminds me so much of using my own Nikon 50mm F1.8. Both are lightweight, affordable lenses that offer excellent results. I also brought along the Lumix G Vario 7-14mm F4 lens. 

Panasonic's Depth from Defocus technology is really impressive. Having already run the GX85 through our AF test (more on that in the forthcoming review) I knew it was more than capable of maintaining focus on a moving subject while shooting at 6 fps. But that testing had been done in bright daylight, and I was eager to see if those results would hold up in low light.

Great Spiders is one of Seattle's best rock and roll bands. This image in particular was shot one-handed as a cold one graced my other hand during the set -- a crucial part of real world testing. Edited to taste in ACR. ISO 6400, 1/320 sec at F1.8. Shot at 50mm (equiv. ) using the Panasonic Lumix G 25mm F1.7 lens.

Looking back through my images shot in continuous drive at 6 fps I am impressed. The hit rate isn't quite what I enjoy with my full frame DSLR (nor did I expect it to be), but it's still very high.

The majority of the show was shot using a single point in continuous AF mode. One of my absolute favorite features is touch-pad AF. With one's eye to the finder, simply touch the screen with your thumb to drag your AF point around. The GX85 is remarkably responsive in this regard; and shooting with touch-pad AF is ridiculously simple. 

I did also try using both face detect and subject tracking, two AF modes I've had success using in good light, but had poor results in this environment, which is not all that surprising given the challenging shooting conditions.

Edited to taste in ACR. ISO 6400, 1/500 sec at F4.5. Shot at 14mm (equiv. ) using the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm F4 lens.

Overall, I was very happy with the GX85's performance at Big BLDG Bash. Sure I got some funny looks from dual-DSLR-toting hot-shots, but after field testing cameras like the Sigma Quattro, I'm used to that. One of the best features of the GX85 is how light it is, especially with lenses like the 25 F1.7, 7-14 F4 and even the 12-35mm F2.8. All of those, with the exception of the 25mm are image stabilized lenses, meaning they can take advantage of the GX85's Dual I.S. system which combines sensor and lens based image stabilization.

Of course, IS doesn't do a whole lot for me if I'm shooting stills of bands thrashing around stage, but for hand-held video, it is a true blessing.

Shot at ISO 6400 1/50 sec F4 in 4k/24p. Shot at 50mm (equiv.) using the Panasonic Lumix G 25mm F1.7 lens.

Though my experience with the GX85 at Big BLDG Bash was largely positive, I did have some frustrations: Many times I found myself attempting to flip the camera on in a hurry in an effort to capture a fleeting moment of rock and roll glory, only to accidentally switch the camera to video mode and initiate video capture.

This unfortunate occurrence is due to the illogical placement of the mode dial in relation to the on/off switch. The mode dial sits directly above the on/off switch, and because Manual Video mode is directly to the left of Manual mode on the mode dial, it’s easy to bump the dial to this position while turning the camera on in a hurry. 

Also, Panasonic is one of the few companies that does not offer a minimum shutter speed setting in Auto ISO, something that would have been hugely helpful for me shooting fast subjects in low light.

Donormaal performing at the Hangar 1 stage. Edited to taste in ACR. ISO 6400, 1/400 sec at F1.7. Shot at 50mm (equiv. ) using the Panasonic Lumix G 25mm F1.7 lens.

By 11pm my first battery died. By 1am my second battery died. Around 1000 images and 20 videos into the show and the GX85 was dead. Good thing I packed my Nikon just in case!

Beach day

The next day I made my way out to Golden Gardens which is about a 10 mile bike ride from my apartment. A backpack packed to the brim with picnic supplies left little room for camera gear, fortunately the GX85 with 12-35mm F2.8 was just small enough to make the cut. 

Once I got to Golden Gardens and started shooting, one of the GX85's biggest pitfalls became more apparent, specifically, in regard to its field sequential 16:9 electronic viewfinder. While in low light, color tearing and the rather small image view (due to displaying a 3:4 image in a 16:9 aspect ratio) is less noticeable, it is VERY noticeable in bright light. For these reasons I stuck to shooting using the LCD only while at Golden Gardens. This of course put me in flare's way, fortunately the GX85 can be operated with one hand, freeing your other hand to shade the sun's rays from the LCD. 

I don't shoot birds in flight, I prefer birds at rest. Out of camera JPEG shot in the Scenery JPEG style . ISO 200, 1/1600 sec at F3.5.  Shot at 70mm (equiv. ) using the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 lens.

In fact, I spent the majority of the day using the touchscreen with the camera set to it electronic shutter mode. This allowed to discreetly take images, whether of folks walking through the frame, or waterfowl. Speaking of the E-shutter, I am happy to report that at no time was I forced to use it to avoid shutter shock. The GX85 features a newly designed shutter that appears immune from the issues we've experienced with previous M43 cameras.

The scenic views also gave me a chance to try out some of the GX85's JPEG picture styles. The above scene was taken using using the 'Scenery' style, while the below was taken using the new 'L.monochrome' style. 

Out of camera JPEG shot in the L.monochrome style. ISO 200 at 1/320, F9. Shot at 70mm (equiv. ) using the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 lens. 

The GX85 offers four customizable buttons, one of which I assigned to 'Photo Style,' for easy access. The new L.monochrome picture style is pretty cool in certain shooting scenarios . And it’s nice to see Panasonic jumping into the fun of releasing a moody analog b/w mode. I really hope this trend of trying to capture specific film ‘looks’ in JPEG profiles continues. I much prefer it to the trend of tacky creative filters.

Back to custom buttons, I left the Quick menu assigned to its default and assigned another button to toggle the touchscreen on/off. I set the final button to 'Focus area set,' so that I could still move my AF point while using the LCD with the touchscreen off.

While I mostly shot using the touch functionality, I occasionally found that when shooting vertically, my nose would move the AF point. Which is both hilarious and frustrating.

The Takeaway

The GX85 is an excellent choice for street photographers, though I wish it was weather-sealed. Out of camera JPEG. ISO 200, 1/80 sec at F2.8 Shot at 52mm using the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 lens. 

The GX85 is arguably Panasonic's most compelling camera to date. Sure, it doesn't use the new 20MP Four Thirds chip from the GX8, but it makes good use of its 16MP sensor by removing the AA filter for better detail capture. Moreover, its new shutter mechanism means that shutter shock is a non-issue. And its 5-axis in camera IS makes it the steadiest Panasonic M43 camera to date, not to mention its offers outstanding 4K video. But most importantly, its a really fun and practical camera to shoot with, regardless of whether you're shooting a concert in the dark, or a lazy day at the beach. 

Now, should someone buy this over (say) a Sony a6000? Before I answer that, let me make it clear that the reason I compare the GX85 to the a6000 is because despite its age, the latter is probably the camera I end up recommending most to friends and family, due to its excellent all-round performance and attractive price point. 

Another low angle shot brought to you thanks to the GX85's articulating touchscreen. And yes, the seaweed was very smelly. Thankfully, I did not have to lay in it.  Out of camera JPEG. ISO 200, 1/500 sec at F14. Shot at 52mm (equiv.) using the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 lens. 

In short, reasons to purchase the GX85 over an a6000: Better/more affordable lens selection, excellent sensor-based IS (plus Dual I.S.), an outstanding touchscreen with class-leading interface and excellent 4K video. On the other hand, with the Sony, you get a better EVF, better overall image quality and a hybrid AF system. Though the GX85 handles itself quite well in the last two regards.  

At the end of the day, the GX85 is a great camera, with a couple of things, like its EVF and fumbly controls holding it back. But as a complete package, it has a lot going for it. Enough so that I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a lightweight, capable interchangeable lens camera.

Out of camera JPEG. ISO 200, 1/400 sec at F5. Shot at 70mm (equiv.) using the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 lens.