2016 is a Photokina year. Photokina is the most important photo fair which takes place in Germany in September every other year. Traditionally, during photokina years, a lot of manufacturers wait until the summer to release their main new products. This year has been very different in this regard as each major manufacturer had released some major products over the last 6 months already. Even if one limit the search to the mirrorless camp and high-end compacts we got new products from almost each brand :
Olympus introduced the Pen-F , Fuji got the Xpro-2, Sony got out the third version of its RX10 and the Alpha a6300 to name a few… It is now Panasonic’s turn to bring out a new product the GX85 which is kind of the child of the Gx7 and the GX8. GX85 is the name of the model for North America only as Panasonic has decided to give it no less than THREE different names depending on the market (GX80 in Europe, GX7MII in Asia) ??
This new product seems to compete directly with the Olympus Em5 mark II (as well as the Olympus OMD-EM10 mark II) and being now the owner of both I think it is interesting to dedicate a portion of this rolling review to compare both models.
ERGONOMICS & MENUS
Let’s get out the good news first. The GX 85 built seems pretty good especially when considering its asking price ($699 body only in the USA, €699 in Europe). The body seems generally well put together with the notable exception of the battery door, which is, alas, not specific to Panasonic in the mirrorless world.
As a example of this, I was last week handling a new Olympus pen-F in a store and the battery compartment door came off when handling the camera. Rather shocking especially on a camera priced at nearly $1,200 (body only)
The grip of the GX85 is good but not great and, as always, handling the camera before purchase is always better. Personally I would have preferred a somewhat deeper/curvier grip which might have allowed to keep the same battery as in the GX8 and G7.
The GX85 weight (without lens) is just shy of one pound (426 grams) but feels hefty in the hands. In terms of weight and size, the actual difference with the Em5MII is negligible but both cameras have a different feel. To put things in perspective this means that the GX85 is more than 50% heavier than the Gm1 and Gm5.
Despite the diminutive size, the camera feels more like a neck-strap than a wrist-strap camera. (a neck strap is included in the box).
Speaking of what comes in the box, I was a little bit disappointed to notice that the version with the 12-32 kit lens does NOT include either a rear cap for the kit lens or a body cap.
Granted I only got the camera two days ago but there is something which is already bothering me A LOT and this is the size of BOTH the on-off switch and, more importantly. of the rear dial. It should be obvious though as shown in the picture above that the body was large enough to accommodate a larger/deeper dial.
I am a 5’10” male with normal-size hands. For those with larger hands OR when handling the camera with cold fingers (or gloves) turning the camera on and off is more of a “nail” thing than a thumb thing.
Of course the rear dial issue is a more serious one as you would use this dial a lot when shooting. The dial is , in my opinion BOTH too small and too recessed to be moved quickly and comfortably. It seems that this rear dial must also be pressed in some instances. Probably not a small feat either . More on this when I got a chance to use the camera longer.
The front dial, on the other hand, is ok. I am accustomed to have my front dial on the front plate of the camera rather than on the top plate but the index finger operates it without problem for me.
The GX85 as its more expensive sibling is a highly customizable camera. As such it is fair to say that it will take a while to have the camera adjusted to your settings, especially if you are not familiar with the Panasonic interface. Potential buyers of this camera are Olympus micro 4/3rd user. Saying that Olympus user interface requires a learning curve is an understatement. Most would probably agree that the Menu organization of the menus is a little bit more logical and the description of the custom settings a little bit less cryptic than the Olympus approach. Another difference in my view is that the Panasonic default settings (at least on the GX family) are significantly better than the Olympus default settings.
It is worth noting that the GX80 comes with yet another NEW battery for the G line.The battery is the BLG 10E which was previously used in the now widely discontinued GX7 model. It is also worth mentioning that while the GX85 battery is labeled BLG-10E while the battery in the Panasonic expert compact LX 100 was labeled BLG-10PP (see picture above), they are for all purposes identical (same size, voltage and amperage) so if you own the LX100 you can use the same battery and charger, which might comes handy since the charger is not included in the box but must be bought separately. The GX85 comes with a USB charger to be charged in the camera.
If I count it right this is the FOURTH DIFFERENT battery in the current G line. Why everyone would understand that size-wise it is not possible to fit the battery of a GH3 or GH4, it will be disappointing for recent purchasers of the G7 and/or the GX8 who might have been interested to buy the GX85 as a back-up camera body for their main camera.
Without a doubt, my biggest gripe with digital camera reviews on the internet is that they are often not made from a REAL camera user (meaning someone who is buying and keeping the camera for an undetermined period of time versus just trying a free camera sample for a few days). Such reviewers are usually whining about the battery life, seemingly not understanding that a large battery makes no sense in a camera. If those reviewers would ACTUALLY travel with the camera they would maybe better understand the non-sense of choosing a small camera system only to have to carry LARGE battery AND a large charger.
Let s now turn to something that everybody wants to know about image quality . Here is a first sample of comparison :
The test picture above was shot at ISO 200 with the GX85 mounted on a tripod in the highest quality JPEG mode fitted with the Panasonic 42.5 mm mode at F4.5 (arguable its best aperture).The image is not post processed or sharpened except auto-contrast in photoshop.
Here is the center crop of that same image :
Now the same combination with the Olympus Em5mII :
A couple of things become apparent right away :
the straight out of the camera color rendition of both cameras are very different. Most people prefer the Olympus rendition.
The sharpness of both cameras is pretty similar and very satisfying and should allow for nice enlarging conditions when shot with a good lens and reasonable ISO levels.
The subject used for the test show the benefits of using a camera with NO-ALIAS filter. I , of course, would have preferred the GX85 to use the newer 20MP sony m4/3 sensor but ONLY if the alias filter was removed (contrary to the GX8 which has the newer sensor WITH a low pass filter).
I have several cameras of different brands but they all have one point in common : the absence of this low pass filter. This is another point which , in my opinion, does not usually get the coverage it deserves in the established review sites. A low pass filter may make sense for smartphones and cameras with small sensors. On medium-sized and large sensors , having an low pass filter makes no sense unless your main activity is to photograph fabrics (think wedding Photographers, or those who photograph fabrics and clothes for catalogs).
This is like introducing some blur in ALL your images for the very rare instance where this may create a more issue on some surfaces (roofstops, fabrics,..). Panasonic claims that the processing engine allows to easily correct this issue in post-process. Tests would have to be made to see if that claim is verified.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, this is just the beginning of my rolling review and it would be completed in the coming days and weeks.