Perhaps the most well-balanced camera selection of all camera manufacturers can be found at Panasonic. A special place was taken by the recently released Panasonic GX8. Panasonic’s camera selection varies from a camera with the advantages of a system camera and the ergonomics of an SLR (Panasonic G7), a compact hybrid with both video and photo quality and professional-level options (Panasonic GH4), to the ideal bridge camera with a large sensor and an enormous zoom range (Panasonic FZ1000) or a high-end compact (Panasonic LX100). For beginners to professionals, there is a Panasonic camera that meets all the requirements.
The Panasonic GX8 is intended for highly demanding amateur photographers or professional travel and street photographers who are more charmed with the appearance and the shape of a rangefinder camera than an SLR camera. What do you think about a dust- and splashwater-tight camera with a freely rotating and tilting screen? A fastest shutter time of 1/16,000 seconds, 6 shots per second with continuous AF and 4K video, without needing to connect an external recorde? With a larger viewfinder than a professional SLR camera? With an AF that still works at -4 EV and that also focuses faster and more accurate than a Canon 1Dx? A camera that can even focus on the light of a star?
As the cherry on top, Panasonic promises that you can take pictures with this camera in which you only determine afterwards where you want the focus. The Panasonic GX8 offers the highest image quality of all Panasonic G cameras and is not even the top model of the G series.
Dust- and splashwater-tight camera WITH rotating and tilting screen? Panasonic is, I think, the only camera manufacturer that has managed that, with the Panasonic GX8 (and the Panasonic GH4).
Panasonic GX8 versus GX7
Two years ago, the Panasonic GX7 was released, and its appearance is strongly reminiscent of the Panasonic GX8. The Panasonic GX7 is smaller and less expensive than the GX8. Even so, the new version is not an obligatory upgrade, as you sometimes see with other camera brands. There are many reasons why highly demanding photographers would choose a GX8 over the GX7:
- The Panasonic GX8 is extra well sealed against dust and splashwater. The GX7, like the vast majority of cameras, is not.
- The OLED viewfinder of the Panasonic GX8 is brighter, larger, clearer and has no trouble from “smearing”.
- The GX8 has a sensor with 25% more megapixels and offers 4K video and various 4K Photo modes.
- Dual IS of the GX8 offers significantly improved image stabilization.
- The GX8 has a larger ISO range (now also 100 and 25,600 ISO).
- Faster auto focus, which also focuses in the dark (Starlight AF mode).
Panasonic GX8 vs Canon 70D
Which camera do you compare the Panasonic GX8 to? In terms of distortion and ease of use, you could compare the GX8 with a Leica, but the Lumix is much less expensive than most Leica bodies. In terms of target audience, image quality and price, a comparison with a high-end SLR camera is more obvious.
- There is no SLR with 4K video or 4K photo mode.
- The Panasonic GX8 has better image quality for both video and photos.
- The GX8 is extra well sealed against dust and splashwater; the 70D does not.
- The AF of the GX8 still focuses in low light, where the AF of the 70D has already given up.
- The GX8 offers many innovative options that the 70D does not offer (focus peaking, starlight AF, 4K video, 4K photo, built-in image stabilization, etc.).
Panasonic GX8: Build quality & Features
Design, build quality and ergonomics
The Panasonic GX8 has a metal body, which feels very solid. Even so, the camera weighs just 435 grams (body only). Lighter than or equivalent to cameras with a plastic body, which are also not water- and dust-resistant. In comparison with the Panasonic GX7, the GX8 is a bit larger and that will appeal in particular to photographers with larger hands. Since the arrival of the extremely compact Panasonic GM5, Panasonic offers one of the most compact cameras with built-in viewfinder and interchangeable lenses. Those who choose a small camera will prefer a GM5 over the GX7. By making the GX8 a bit larger, the camera takes on a unique character. Those who think the GM5 is too small should choose the GX8. And vice versa.
The Panasonic GX7 had a settings wheel on the back, with which you could easily switch between aperture setting and over-/under-exposure when exposing manually by pressing the button. Probably in order to keep the GX8 water-tight, this button has been replaced by a larger button for aperture setting and a separate button on top of the camera for under-/over-exposure. That was one of the few things that took me the most getting used to, since I found the thumbwheel with two functions on the GX7 to be very practical.The super-solidly built (think of a professional camera) buttons on the camera offer direct access to all the most-used functions. And there are various Custom Function buttons, more than with most other camera brands, to which you can assign a function that you use often. I think the Panasonic GX8 more than fulfills Panasonic’s claims (High Performance, Functional Control and Premium Design).
Screen and viewfinder
The OLED screen on the Panasonic GX8 is, as far as I’m concerned, among the best and sharpest screens available today. Even so, I’m happy that there is a viewfinder on the camera, since I do not know of a single camera with a screen that is so bright that I can work well with it in bright sunlight.
The electronic viewfinder of the Panasonic GX8 is one of the most beautiful viewfinders that we have encountered to date. With a 0.77x viewfinder magnification, the viewfinder image is larger than the viewfinder image of an SLR camera with a full-frame sensor, like the Canon 5Ds or the Nikon D810 (both 0.7x), which in turn have viewfinders one-and-a-half times larger than SLR cameras with an APS-C sensor, like the Canon 760D or Nikon D5300 (0.5x). The refresh rate of the OLED screen is so high that you will never again have trouble from “smearing” if you move the camera suddenly. The contrast (1:10,000) is comparable with a modern LCD screen, but not yet with an optical viewfinder—although it no longer matters so much. The viewfinder is tiltable, like the angle finders from the analog era. For taking pictures where you are looking from above the camera—I’m thinking about photographing mushrooms in the woods or about desktop photography—you can look in the viewfinder from above. But because the Panasonic has a very nice rotating and tilting screen, I expect that the screen will be more often used in practice than the tilting viewfinder. That’s how it is for me, at least.
Auto focus: faster and more accurate than a Canon 1Dx
In practice, it is sometimes difficult to establish the differences in AF speed between different cameras accurately. In our test labs, we have cameras focus, usually with different lenses, from infinity to one about one meter. We always measure the time that it takes a camera/lens combination to focus and fire. In 50 ms, the Panasonic GX8 with a Panasonic 14-140 mm focused from infinity to circa 1 meter. That is the highest AF speed that we have measured so far. The Panasonic GX8 was about three times as fast in our test lab as the Canon 1Dx, which might also be the fastest SLR camera. It might be surprising that a camera that makes use of contrast detection is faster than a professional SLR with phase detection, because phase detection has the reputation of being faster. The secret lies in Panasonic’s unique FDF (Depth From Defocus) auto focus technology, which is only used with Panasonic lenses. With an Olympus lens, a Panasonic GX8 is not as fast as with the Panasonic 14-140 mm with which we conducted the test, but even then the AF is very fast.
The darker it becomes, the slower the AF works. In the dark, the Panasonic takes nearly 3 seconds to focus, but that is at a point where many other cameras have already given it up. Panasonic indicates that the Panasonic GX8 can even focus at -4EV. Most SLR cameras quit focusing at ~0 EV. Panasonic does even more, with Starlight AF: by shrinking the AF points, the light from a small light source, such as a bright star in the sky or a street lamp in the distance, is sufficient for focusing. We did not test that: we owe you that one.
The higher the resolution of a camera becomes, the more noticeable it is if the focus is not precise. Because the Panasonic GX8 focuses on the sensor signal, there is no sign of systematic front or back focus; those are problems that begin to arise with the increasing use of bright lenses on an SLR camera with high resolution. The Panasonic GX8 is spared from that. The AF accuracy of the Panasonic GX8 is amazingly good: with an SLR camera, a repeatability of 5% is the best possible achievement that we have seen. With several lenses (both Olympus and Panasonic) Panasonic comes out with a repeatability of 1%. In no case did the repeatability come out at more than 4%.
The Panasonic GX8 is also stunningly good at following a moving subject. AF tracking on a Canon 760D is about as good as with the Panasonic GX8. In our opinion, a real action camera like the Canon 1Dx is even better. We do not, however, have a method for measuring the AF speed with continuous AF. A month ago, we published an AF practice test for the Panasonic GX8, with the following illustration of the AF performance of the Panasonic GX8:
Unique: Post-focus technology: making your photo sharp afterwards
Panasonic is currently working on the development of the revolutionary Post-Focus technology. For this function, the existing 4K-photo technology of Panasonic is applied in a new way. By combining super-fast, extremely accurate DFD (Depth From Defocus) auto focus technology with 4K-photo, burst shots can be recorded in 4K resolution at 30 fps while the lens focuses on about 50 different parts of the image. Afterwards, photographers can focus on any random part of a photo with one touch of the screen. Regardless of the original point of focus, a new picture is then created as a separate photo with the new focus area.
The chance that another brand releases the same technology in the short term (within a couple of years) seems small to me. Aside from Samsung cameras and 1 Sony and 1 Nikon, there are not yet any system cameras on the market that can make 4K shots like the Panasonic, let alone with Post-Focus & DFD technology.
Post-Focus technology is also a perfect solution for photographers who take multiple pictures of a subject because they have insufficient focal depth. With help from Focus-stacking, that series of shots is then combined in such a way that you have a much greater focal depth than would be possible with a single shot. I do not know, though, whether Panasonic includes that. We will have to wait for that answer, but not long. Panasonic is introducing the Post-Focus function via a firmware update for the GX8 between the end of 2015 and spring 2016. It is also being considered whether to introduce this for other models as well. (My bet: GH4.)
High image quality
The 20-megapixel sensor of the Panasonic GX8 delivers the highest sharpness of all Panasonic cameras that we have reviewed, although the difference from the Panasonic GH4 (with a 16-megapixel sensor) is so small that you have to blow up the picture enormously in order to find a difference. In our Imatest measurements, the Panasonic GX8 achieves the same resolution in RAW files without sharpening as the Olympus OMD- E-M1 (16 megapixels, without a moiré filter) and the Canon 760D (with a moiré filter, just like the Panasonic GX8). It may be that Canon uses a bit heavier moiré filter than Panasonic, so that the difference in megapixels is negated. Another possibility is the quality of the Panasonic lens used.Move your mouse over the shot above for a comparison of a 24-megapixel shot made with an SLR with a (scaled) shot made with the Panasonic GX8.The color reproduction and contrast of Canon cameras (standard picture style) is clearly different than that of Panasonic (also standard picture style). This is a matter of taste and is simple to adjust on the Panasonic GX8 by choosing another picture style with slightly more saturation and contrast. If you compare the sharpness, though, for example by looking at the bus or the ladder at the bottom right, then the sharpness in the corners is clearly better for the Panasonic.Panasonic GX8.
In shots where very dark colors and bright highlights appear simultaneously, you run the risk of closed up shadows and bleached out highlights. With the Panasonic GX8, the dynamic range that we measured corresponds at 200 ISO with the dynamic range of the Panasonic GH4. At 6400 ISO, the dynamic range of the Panasonic GX8 was even a bit higher. It is often thought that the size of the sensor is the most important condition for preventing this problem, but the Panasnic GX8 has a higher dynamic range than the current Canon SLR cameras with an APS-C sensor. Even the Canon 5Ds with a full-format sensor has a dynamic range that is comparable with the Panasonic GX8.The Panasonic GX8 also performs well on all other image quality points (color reproduction in daylight and artificial light as well as signal-to-noise ratio). It is comparable to or better than an SLR. The jpg files are sometimes a bit less sharpened or contrast-rich in comparison with other brands, but they look very natural to me. I sharpen my own RAW shots even less than Panasonic does in the jpg files.
Video: 4K is better, even if you produce Full-HD pictures
Despite the advanced video capabilities of the Panasonic GX8, it is not an alternative to the Panasonic GH4 for a serious amateur videographer. The Panasonic GH4 offers additional, advanced options, like making 10-bit 4:2:2 recordings on an external recorder like the Atomos Shogun. During 4K-video, you do not have the ability to use in-body image stabilization. The processor needs all its calculating power to make 30 8-megapixel shots per second.
If you only publish Full-HD video, then 4K is still an enormous added value that you should not underestimate. At CameraStuffReview, we film in 4K, although we only publish Full-HD recordings in the end. Thanks to 4K, the final recordings have better color reproduction, higher sharpness and a better signal-to-noise ratio than Full-HD shots that you make with a system camera (mirrorless or SLR).
4K photo mode
4K-Photo mode, perfect for “unexpected moments that you see coming”: film in 4K, choose which images to store afterwards in the camera as photos (retaining EXIF information) stored in the camera as 8-megapixel jpg shots.The 4K-Photo mode is perfect for “unexpected moments that you see coming”: you know that a whale will be surfacing for breath, but you don’t know exactly when. The whale will dive unexpectedly, and you get maybe a fraction of a second to see the tail. Choose a faster time than you would choose for video (1/1000 sec for sharp photos, instead of 1/50 sec for fluid video) and then you only have to keep the whale in frame.
Even press and portrait photographers sometimes choose 4K video, and not only because they are assured that way of capturing that one perfect moment with that charming smile. 4K Photo delivers—depending on your camera settings—25 or 30 images per second. That is more than the 5 to 10 images per that a professional SLR can make. In addition, 4K Photo lasts for a longer period (the buffer does not fill up) and with significantly less noise because a mirror is not popping up and down 5 to 10 times per second. Playing children, interviewed politicians or newlywed couples who have to be photographed—with 4K Photo they are more relaxed in front of the camera.
Unique image stabilization: Dual IS
Panasonic has chosen to equip most lenses with image stabilization, while Olympus has chosen In-body image stabilization (IBIS). Olympus’s choice works out better. In the GM series, Panasonic introduced in-body image stabilization. It is about as good as the lens image stabilization, but not as good as Olympus IBIS. What is, technically seen, an exceptional achievement is that Panasonic has succeeded in having the in-body image stabilization of the Panasonic GX8 work together with the lens image stabilization of Panasonic lenses. Panasonic claims to achieve results with Dual IS that are just as good as Olympus’s IBIS.
Practically all Panasonic lenses can be made suitable for Dual IS by installing new firmware for that lens. Only three lenses (14-45, 100-300 and 45-200) are not suitable for Dual IS. The firmware updates for Dual IS with Panasonic lenses appeared between August 2014 and February 2015. After the release of firmware updates, we are going to conduct a separate test of Panasonic’s revolutionary Dual IS.
Electronic shutter: 1/16,000 and completely silent!
The Panasonic GX8 is equipped with both a traditional shutter and an electronic shutter. With an electronic shutter, the rows of pixels are read in sequence (Panasonic is working, just like Sony, on the development of a global shutter where all the pixels are read simultaneously). The disadvantage is that vertical lines in fast-moving subjects, like a train that races through the frame at full speed, are not shown true to nature (but slanted). Those kinds of situations will seldom occur for most photographers, but it is good that the mechanical shutter can be used in those cases.
My own preference is working with an electronic shutter, not only because I can then choose a shutter time of 1/16,000 second—and thus a larger aperture—so that I can play more with background blur/bokeh. The most important reason for me to work with the electronic shutter is that the camera is thus completely silent when taking a picture. Only the photographer can still hear the aperture close when taking a picture, but that sound is so soft that even close to the camera in a completely silent environment you do not hear it.
The GX8 can be operated remotely with a user-friendly, free-to-download app. You can also make a connection via Wi-Fi or a QR code with your smartphone in order to share photos on social media. The Panasonic GX8 is equipped with a USB/AV output, a Mini-HDMI port and a 2.5 mm microphone plug. The last one was unexpected for me: it is a smaller plug than I was accustomed to.
Conclusion Panasonic GX8 review
Conclusion Panasonic GX8 review
- Attractive in terms of design and ergonomics (even for photographers with large hands)
- For experienced photographers: lots of buttons
- Big and bright OLED viewfinder: 10% larger than that of professional SLRs
- High image quality for photo & video
- Dust- and splashwater-tight
- Dual IS: Unique combination of in-lens + in-body image stabilization
- Future firmware update to change the focal point afterwards
- List price of over a thousand euros
- Dual IS and Post-Focus technology only available after a firmware update
- Small (2.5 mm) microphone jack
I think the Panasonic GX8 is the most ideal street photography camera currently available.
The traditional appearance of the Panasonic GX8 does not betray the fact that this is one of the most innovative cameras available today. It is a beautiful and well-built camera, also dust- and splashwater-tight, that sits nicely in the hand and with which you can work unnoticed as a street photographer. A completely silent shutter and the fastest AF of all the cameras that we have reviewed so far mean that you can get to work quickly. The Panasonic GX8 offers a photo quality that gives nothing up to an SLR camera with 24 megapixels and has video quality that is remarkably better than that of practically all competitors. Revolutionary innovations such as Duals IS, 4K Photo and Post-Focus technology make it easy for you to capture precisely the right moment, from special to everyday events. And despite all the technology that is in this camera, the Panasonic GX8 is pleasant and simple to operate..