Register

A Peek into the Future of Cameras with the Panasonic Lumix G85

By Jeff Wignall   Thursday January 19, 2017

Fortune Teller

Went to the fortune teller
Had my fortune read
I didn't know what to tell her
I had a dizzy feeling in my head

Then she took a look at my palm
She said, "Sonny, you feel kinda warm"
And she looked into her crystal ball
And said, "You're in love…”

            Jagger/Richards

In brief: Street testing the mid-range micro four-thirds mirrorless Pansonic Lumix G85 with the Lumix G Vario 12-60mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH lens.




My friend Tom Curley who is a Business Development Manager at LUMIX Professional Services took the G85 with him on trip to Vietnam in December and came home with hundreds of incredible travel shots. The top shot is a Ha Long Bay excursion and the bottom is a woman in a produce market in Hanoi. You can see more of Tom's beautiful work (and read more about his journey) on his blog. Vietnam is at the top of my list of places to visit, by the way!

Snapshot:

Camera name:  Lumix G85
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless (DSLM) 16-Megapixel MFT (no low-pass sensor filters)
Viewfinder: 3-inch 1.04M-dot articulating, touchscreen
Weather protection: Weather sealed, splashproof and dustproof.
ISO range: 200-25,600 (native); 100-25,600 (extended)
Stabilization: In-body gyro sensor provides 5-axis body stabilization
Recording media: SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, SDXC Memory Card
Burst rate: 6fps
Shutter speed range: 1/4000 (1/6000 electronic) to 60 seconds
Flash sync: 1/160 sec
Weight: 453g (about 16 oz)
Body size: 128 x 89 x 74 mm
Video: 4K Video recording at 30p/24p 100 Mbps (full HD 60p 28Mbps)
Video formats: MPEG-4, AVCHD
Mic jack: yes (no headphone port)
Lens availability: Currently 27 interchangeable lenses
Full specifications: Here.

Lens: Lumix G Vario 12-60mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH (24-120mm equivalent).


The very first thing that I shot with the G85, almost right out of the box, was a concert by the legendary blues band Professor Louie and the Crowmatix doing a rare small-hall appearance at a club in Bridegport, Connecticut. Because the musicians were moving around so much I had to crank the ISO just to get fast enough shutter speeds to help stop some of the action. I ended up shooting most of the night at ISO 12,800 at shutter speeds that averaged around 1/80 second. I was really pretty shocked to see that the images had virtually no noise. I can remember the days when I shot concerts and pushed Ektachrome 400 to 800 and thought I was breaking barriers. I shot several frames at the show at ISO 25,600 and they show only a very minor amount of noise.

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetle…

There is funny moment early in the movie Beetlejuice that sort of sets up the entire plot. After a young couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) drive off of a covered bridge and land upside down in their car in a river, they find themselves back in their Vermont home with no memory of how they got there. Looking around their home they find a book on an end table that they’d never seen before called The Handbook for the Recently Deceased. After a few more odd things happen (like not seeing their reflections in the mirror—and how prophetic is that for this review?), the wife turns to the husband and says, “Honey, I don’t think we survived the crash.”

Perhaps because I had recently re-watched the film, that scene popped into my head as I looked through the first batch of images that I shot with the Panasonic Lumix G85—concert shots of the great Professor Louie and the Crowmatix shot in a small club in Connecticut. Here was image after image shot handheld at ISO 12,600, each one sharp as nails and perfectly absent of noise. Moreover, they were shot with a camera that quite literally fit in the pocket of my denim jacket (and weighed less than the 20 ounce bottle of water I had stashed in another pocket). I couldn’t help asking myself one question: how long would it be before DSLR makers were reading copies of The Handbook for the Recently Deceased: DSLR Edition.

I think that this is a question that lot of photographers (and the camera makers) are asking themselves on a daily basis. And after a few weeks of shooting with the G85, I was having a tough time making a good case for the longterm survival of the DSLR. It’s not that I don’t still prefer using a DSLR, I do, but each time I picked up the G85, I got swept away by its many fine qualities, not to mention it diminutive size.


I shot Miss Marie from the Crowmatix belting out a song using an exposure of 1/30 at f/5.6 at ISO 12,800. The Dual IS (5-axis stabilization) let me shoot at speeds down to a half second without any camera shake (I can't say the same for the musicians not shaking).


Handbook forthe Recently Emerged

Before I spin too far off into predictions about the future of cameras though, let’s get back to this particular camera and what I like so much about it. And for a camera that sells for under a grand (with the 12-60mm lens), there is a lot to like.

Simplicity: One of the things that I love about this camera is how simple it is to use and to get to know. Two minutes out of the box (thankfully it arrived with a charged battery), I was shooting pictures in my office. The camera has (how’s this for irony?) a kind of retro SLR look and feel to it—it reminds me a lot of my old Nikon FM bodies that I always loved. The controls are well placed, easy to read and all of the mechanical controls had a solid feel to them.


There's nothing more I like than wandering around the old mill towns of New England. I shot this photo of the town of Derby, Connecticut from across the Housatonic River in neighboring Shelton, Connecticut. Both towns are fading fast and a lot of precious architecture is being lost forever--you'll see some of my detail shots below. Since the last time I shot this area, just two months ago, an entire city block has been torn down. Exposure for this was 1/400 second at f/8, ISO 200, handheld. I love being able to change the point of focus in a scene like this just by dragging my finger over the LCD--even with my eye looking through the EVF.

Size and weight: The G85 body weighs just under a pound (the Nikon D7200, just as an example, weighs just under 24 ounces). But that’s only part of the story: the lenses are also substantially smaller and lighter. ThePanasonic Lumix G Vario 12-60mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH that I used weighs all of eight ounces and sits nicely in the palm of your hand.

ISO/Image quality:  This was one of the most impressive qualities of this camera for me. As I said, the first thing I shot were the concert photos shown here and in order to use shutter speeds fast enough to stop the musicians’ movements, I shot at speeds ranging from ISO 800 to 25,600. I shot most of the night at ISO 12,800 and I saw almost zero noise in the images. Even when I pushed the sensor to its outer limit of 25,600, noise was pretty much a non issue. I know that there are several fine DSLRs that offer the same (or broader) speed range, but to get this kind of high-ISO quality in a body that retails for under a grand—very impressive.

Perfect White Balance:  I’ve always been impressed by the Lumix cameras’ white balance capabilities and this camera was no exception. The very first photos that I shot were under mixed lights in my office (CFL, LED and daylight) and the white balance was perfect: dead on (to use a Beetlejuice reference). Even in the club shots of the Crowmatix when I decided to challenge the camera to see how it would handle stage lighting it did a better job than I did on the shots where I tried to manually set a color temperature (which you can do quickly in the menu system).


Photographing a white barn surrounded by dark winter earth at the end of the day is a tricky exposure situation, but the G85 did a great job with almost everything I threw at it. Shot at 1/200 second at f/5.6, ISO 200.

Articulated Touchscreen LCD: I’m an absolute convert to two things recently: quick menu buttons and touchscreen LCDs and the G85 has both. I would have a very hard time these days buying any camera that didn’t offer touchscreen capabilities. Scrolling through 18th-century menus? Forget about it. Combined with the quick menu system, the ability to change things like ISO, focus area, flash modes and video settings at a quick tap is too good to resist. There are also five physical custom buttons on the G85 that you can set to provide fast access to various features (Fn1, for instance, on top of the camera, provides instant access to exposure compensation).

The articulated screen is great for vlogging (video blogging) because you can aim it forward and see yourself on camera. It’s also great for selfies, getting down low or up high, etc. There is a little awkwardness in positioning the screen when a mic is plugged in, but it’s easy to remedy. One other particularly nice feature is that the touchscreen remains active even if you’re using the EVF.  So, for example, if you have chosen a particular selective-focus area mode, you can sneak your finger onto the screen while your eye is looking at the EVF viewfinder and change the desired focusing position just by dragging your finger around. It takes a little dexterity, but I got pretty good at it.


Here's a good demonstration of the range of the Lumix 12-60mm lens. The top shot is at its widest setting and the bottom one from its longest--shot from the exact same position. The late afternoon really ignites these old red-stone buildings that face due west. The top shot was exposed at 1/400 second at f/6.3, the bottom at 1/160 at f/13, both at ISO 200. The building (which you can see through the bridge in the river shot above) was once a bank, by the way, it's now a restaurant.

Mode dials: There are two mode dials on the top of the camera: the one to the right is your basic exposure-mode selection and also offers things like creative effects, scene modes and custom settings. The lefthand dial controls frame rates, video and post-focus modes and self timers, etc. Both are solid, tight dials that hold their positions.

Stabilization: The G85 uses an in-body gyro sensor that, says Panasonic, adds class-leading 5-axis body stabilization that when mated to LUMIX 2-axis optically stabilized lenses for a “Dual IS” effect, provides nearly 5 f-stops of stabilization in video and still capture. I shot a lot of concert photos at 1/5 second (and some even slower) and while the subjects had some motion (try to get a musician to stand still on stage), things like mic stands and the stage-lighting rigging were perfectly sharp.

EVF, The Good and the Bad: Overall the G85 has one of the best EVF (electronic viewfinders) that I’ve used. In fact, I’ve used several Lumix cameras and they all have superlative EVFs. The thing I love about EVFs is that, especially in dim light, they are bright, colorful and sharp. If you change the exposure compensation or the white balance, you see the effect immediately. Great. The thing that I dislike about them is that they still haven’t conquered the lag you get with moving subjects. Again, in shooting the concert shots I was getting woozy trying to keep Miss Marie framed and focused as she strutted around the stage. I have no doubt this will be conquered in the next generation or two of EVFs, but for now, I would prefer an SLR’s optical finder in those situations.

Video: I haven’t had much chance to shoot video with the camera yet, but it offers full 4k high def recording. You can pretty much record until you run out of card space, too. From the Panasonic site: “When using an SDXC memory card: You can continue recording without interruption even if the file size exceeds 96 GB or 3 hours 4 minutes in length, but the motion picture file will be divided and recorded/played back separately.” Put me in the stands at a Pats’ game and I’ll record the entire thing.


The architectural detail that you find in old mill towns is really stunning. Most of these buildings were built in the mid-to-late 1800s, during the peak of the mills' heyday. Most of the towns were built in river valleys and took their power from the rivers. The towns grew up on the hillsides along the banks of the rivers. I really doubt that there are craftsmen alive today that could duplicate the detail work shown here. I'd love to write and illustrate a book about the mill towns one of these days. Both of these were shot handheld at ISO 200 and exposed for 1/250 second at f/9. That Lumix G Vario 12-60mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH is blisteringly sharp at all focal lengths.

Conclusion:

It’s obvious that I really like this camera a lot and I may well end up buying one, I was that impressed. I still am not crazy about using an EVF in some low-light fast-action situations and that’s an issue, but for photos like the shots of the architecture shown here, you couldn’t ask for a more user-friendly camera. The EVF is great in most situations and you see details in your subjects that you’ll never, ever see in a DSLR viewfinder, especially in dimly-lit situations. The touchscreen is something I just can’t see living without and I think that for consumer/prosumer audiences who are looking for a good all-around camera (and a great travel camera) the G85 is ideal.

So am I predicting the Alec Baldwin/Geena Davis fate for the DSLR? No, not quite yet. There is the issue of having much larger sensor sizes in DSLRs that you can’t deny (particularly for professional work where high-end repro is a factor). Also, the presence of an optical finder is something I still prefer in many situations. Those things aside, however, there are fewer and fewer arguments left that I can make in favor of the larger, much heavier and much more expensive mirrored cameras, at least for most casual photography needs. The bottom line is that if I’m training into Manhattan to meet friends and shoot snaps around the city, once a G85 enters my life, the DSLR is staying home.

So here is the question you have to ask: Can you still see yourself in the mirror?


Here are two more of Tom Curley's shots with the Lumix G85 in Vietnam. The top shot is of lacquer bowls that he shot in a gift shop on the way to Ha Long Bay. The bottom shot I really love, it's the foot of a boat skipper believe it or not. Tom writes, "This one is a story. The boat driver sat behind a large metal wheel to steer the rudder, and used his toes to grab onto a wooden block tied to a piece of string that is tied on the other end to the throttle of the engine. I couldnt believe it and got this shot plus several video clips which I haven't had time to edit." The G85 strikes me as the perfect travel companion--small, lightweight and very straightforward. Again, check out Tom's blog here. You can also follow him on Instagram: @tcurley1

New Products News

Epson SureColor P5000. If you’re been daydreaming about a new printer, Epson has introduced a wide-format 17-inch photo printer that should interest you. The SureColor P5000, says the company, will redefine the standards for desktop photo printing. The Epson PrecisionCore TFP printhead delivers high print speeds with 360 nozzles per color channel, with variable-size ink droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters. The printer offers output with an increased color gamut, higher-density blacks and  with twice the print permanence of previous generation printers. It uses 200 mL UltraChrome HDX 10-color ink cartridges that use newly developed core pigments, including new orange and green inks, and black inks that are 1.5 times denser than the previous generation. A power-driven roll media spindle that is useful for producing panoramas and roll printing up to 100-feet is standard.Suggested Retail price for standard and deluxe editions is $1,995. A designer edition will sell for $2,495. I'm not really clear on the designer concept.

LiteBox LED Studio-45 Lighting Kit. LiteBox has introduced a cool and inexpensive LED lighting set up for product and still life shots that, at $279 (on Amazon) probably fits into almost anyone’s budget. The kit includes: (2) Studio-45 Dimmable LED Lights with Diffuser (each produces 50,000 Lumens at 5500k, 90+ CRI), (2) 7'6" Professional Quality Aluminum Adjustable Light Stands and (2) Reflective Softbox units (28 x 20 inch, Horizontal or Vertica) for Studio-45 LED Lights. Really not a bad kit for learning the basics of still-life lighting and the entire set up weighs in at just over 11 lbs. Oh, and it all comes with a travel bag. Neat.

Syrp 82mm Super Dark Variable ND Filter Kit.  If the world just has too much light for you, perhaps it’s time to enhance your ND filter kit. And just in the nick of time, Syrp has introduced the Super Dark Variable ND 82mm Filter Kit that includes an adjustable 82mm filter with exposure reduction of 5-10 stops of light (ND32-ND1024) and the stops are clearly marked on the filter. Made with high-quality Japanese glass, the kit includes a leather case, two lens adaptor rings (for 72 and 77mm lenses) and a lens cloth. And if knocking down 10 stops of light isn’t enough (you’re shooting near the sun, perhaps?) the front of the filter is threaded so you can stack more filters. Actually, for time exposures of waterfalls or city streets at night, this is a pretty cool filter kit--imagine the long daylight exposures you could make with a 10-stop reduction.

2 Comments

  1. Donna Caporaso commented on: January 19, 2017 at 6:19 p.m.
    Great article and shots.
  1. Jeff Wignall commented on: January 20, 2017 at 1:34 a.m.
    Thanks Donna!

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now


StreetTests