Support me by shopping at B&H!
Panasonic Lumix G6 Gordon Laing, June 2013
 
   
 

Panasonic Lumix G6 verdict

I'll cut to the chase and say the Panasonic Lumix G6 is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying cameras I've used, sporting a powerful feature-set that's the envy of rivals and great image quality that's essentially as good as any of Canon's 18 Megapixel APS-C models. I used this camera extensively during a driving trip around Europe and there's little if anything more I could ask from it. Indeed I'd say it's one of the best cameras at this price point whether you're shopping for mirrorless or DSLR.

The camera handles quickly and is a joy to use with its superb OLED viewfinder and wealth of controls, whether you're operating it with the physical buttons or the very capable touch-screen interface. It's very responsive, focusing supremely quickly and confidently, even in very low light when other cameras would give up. The Wifi implementation is one of the best around with powerful smartphone remote control facilities, useful playback and uncompromised image transfer, not to mention the bonus of quicker setup if your phone or tablet also features NFC, such as the latest Samsung Galaxies and Google NEXUS models. Then there's the smaller additions like focus peaking, stop motion movies, interval recording and auto panoramas which further enhance the experience and together all add up to one of the most feature packed cameras around.

But what the Lumix G6 won't do is deliver significantly better image quality than its predecessor, nor indeed the model before that. Micro Four Thirds seems to have stalled at 16 Megapixels for some time and neither Panasonic nor Olympus seem in any hurry to boost the resolution, remove low pass filters or embed phase detect AF points on their sensors as many of their rivals have with great success. This apparent lack of sensor innovation is a real stumbling block for many people, but it's important to compare the quality and see the G6 can still keep up with Canon's latest 18 Megapixel APS-C models in terms of resolution and noise, while also boasting access to the broadest and most established native lens collection for any mirrorless system.

   
 

 

It's also important to remember image quality is only one part of the equation. Another camera may deliver slightly better looking images, but could be frustrating to use, or lack a feature which could really enhance the way you take or use your photos. This is what I really liked about the G6. It may share essentially the same image quality as the G5 and G3 before it, but has a far superior viewfinder, faster focusing that works in considerably dimmer conditions than most cameras at this price point, much better movie options including manual exposures, adjustable audio levels, an external microphone input and focus peaking, and all those little extras I mentioned above. It all adds up to a camera which is simply more enjoyable and productive to use than both its predecessors and many current rivals.

Then there's the wireless connectivity. I know some people are still on the fence on this one, but really, what's not to like about turning your smartphone into a powerful wireless remote control free of charge which can adjust almost every aspect of the camera while also providing a live image on-screen? Who wouldn't want to browse a day's work on the larger, more detailed screen of a tablet, or easily (or even automatically) transfer images (at their original sizes if desired) to online sharing or backup services?

NFC makes it even better if you have a compatible smartphone or tablet. While testing the G6 I could transfer a full-sized image to my Samsung Galaxy S4 by simply holding the two devices together for a second, then waiting about 15 more seconds for the process to complete. No searching for network names or entering passwords. Just let the devices have a quick hug and before you know it you'll be sharing pictures from a camera that's far superior to the one built-into your phone. Indeed during my test period, I switched to the G6 for all my Instagram photos and it only took a few seconds longer than doing it direct from the phone's built-in camera.

Not only do these features make the G6 one of the most satisfying cameras in its class, but they also make it a genuine upgrade over the G5 despite arriving less than a year after it. The combination of a better viewfinder, crisper screen, faster focus in low light, wireless communications, auto-panoramas and far superior movie options make it a very tempting option for G5 owners, and especially those with earlier generations like the G3. Indeed the movie enhancements also make it a viable upgrade for GH2 owners and I've detailed the differences in the movie section in the main review page.

It's obviously not perfect though. I found the lack of built-in GPS frustrating for starters. Yes, you can record a log on your smartphone and use the Wifi to later copy it onto the camera, but after that there's an additional step where you need to apply it to images which can take some time. It's a routine you can get used to, but why should you when models like Panasonic's own ZS30 / TZ40 have a GPS built-in which simply works without asking you anything more than whether you want it on or off.

The NFC capabilities may be neat, but the Lumix Image app really needs to let you change or at least quieten the 'ta-da' sound which plays at full blast when the negotiation between phone and camera is successful. This sound played at maximum volume on my Samsung Galaxy S3, S4 and Google NEXUS 7 every time there was a successful NFC link even if the handset's volume was turned right down. It is, frankly, very embarrassing.

Then there's the autofocus. Yes, it's faster than before, and yes it works under much lower light conditions too, but we're still talking about single AF processes, not continuous ones which have never been a forte of 100% contrast-based systems like Micro Four Thirds. So while the G6 will track action for stills or movies with a fair degree of success, there are better options available if this is your thing.

It feels churlish to complain about the auto exposure bracketing, which extends to seven frames up to 1EV apart, but it would be even better if you could trigger the entire sequence with a single press of the shutter release or self-timer. As it stands, you need to fire each frame separately, although you can at least do it via your smartphone to avoid touching the camera between frames.

Then there is the perceived issue of image quality from that smaller sensor. Yes the Lumix G6 delivers images that are as good as those from Canon's 18 Megapixel APS-C models, but while they represent the best selling cameras, they're not the state of the art for quality. Fujifilm's X-Trans, not to mention the sensor in Nikon's COOLPIX A, are proving there's a step-up in image quality available in this price bracket. In my view neither share the overall experience of shooting with the Lumix G6, but if image quality alone is your goal and you're happy with their lens selection (or lack of for the fixed lens models), they could prove a better bet.

Oh and of course it wouldn't be a Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera review without complaining it doesn't have built-in stabilization like its partner, Olympus does on its PEN and OMD models. But that's never going to change, right Panasonic?

So before my final verdict, here's how the G6 measures-up against a number of rival cameras with viewfinders.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix G5

     
 
 
     
     

The Lumix G6 comes less than a year after its predecessor, so Panasonic has decided to keep both models on sale in most regions. The short time between both models implies similar capabilities, and while both certainly have a lot in common, the G6 sports a surprisingly broader feature-set which could even tempt recent G5 owners into considering an upgrade.

I'll start again with what they have in common: essentially the same image quality with 16 effective Megapixels, a fully-articulated 3in touchscreen monitor, 1080p at 50p / 60p, similar continuous shooting speeds in my tests and seven frame exposure bracketing.

In its favour, the Lumix G6 swaps the viewfinder for a far superior OLED panel, adds Wifi for wireless communications with NFC for easy setup on compatible devices, faster focusing that works in dimmer conditions, much better movie options including manual exposures, adjustable audio levels, an external microphone input and focus peaking, along with an interval timer, time-lapse movies and auto-stitched panoramas. It all adds up to a camera which is simply more powerful.

So if you think you'll exploit the more advanced movie options or appreciate the benefits of wireless communications, then it's worth spending the extra on the G6. It delivers a surprisingly richer feature-set and in some regions is also available in a kit with the new 14-140mm zoom at a subsidized price. But if you're happy with a mostly automatic movie mode and aren't bothered about Wifi, then the Lumix G5 will give you most of the G6 at a lower price point - look out for bargains as time goes on and likewise for the Lumix GX1.

See my Panasonic Lumix G5 review for more details.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix GH3

     
 
 
     
     

Panasonic's Lumix GH3 is the next model up from the G6 and the company's flagship camera; indeed other than an absence of built-in stabilization, it's arguably higher-end than the Olympus OMD EM5, making it the most professional Micro Four Thirds camera to date. But while the GH3 trumps the G6 on pro movie options and superior weather-proof build quality, you may be surprised to learn the G6 boasts a number of features lacking on the GH3 which could make it a preferred choice depending on your requirements.

I'll again start with what both cameras have in common: essentially the same image quality with 16 effective Megapixels, a fully-articulated 3in touchscreen monitor, 1080p at 50p / 60p or 24p, built-in Wifi, an external microphone input, adjustable audio levels, seven frame exposure bracketing, interval timer facilities and quick AF.

Now for the benefits of the GH3 over the G6: weather-proof construction, three control dials, a dedicated dial for the drive mode, a wider aspect ratio viewfinder that shows a bigger image when shooting HD video, movies encoded at up to 72Mbit/s in an ALL-I format, variable frame rates for minor slow-downs and speed-ups, optional timecode, longer Bulb exposures up to 60 minutes, a longer life battery, plus the addition of a headphone jack, PC Sync port and the option of a battery grip. I can also confirm the GH3 delivers a clean HDMI output, but I haven’t been able to properly test this on the G6 yet.

Now onto the G6 which sports the following over the GH3: a viewfinder that shows a bigger image for still photos, a Stop Motion mode which assembles timelapse videos in-camera, auto-stitched panoramas, Wifi with the addition of Near Field Communications for easier setup with compatible devices, focus peaking to aid manual focusing on stills and video, autofocus which works under dimmer conditions, and slightly faster continuous shooting in my tests.

Considering the Lumix G6 is below the GH3 in the range, it certainly offers a number of compelling benefits over the flagship model. Indeed I'd only go for the GH3 over the G6 if you absolutely needed either weather-proof construction or broadcast-quality video options. Pro movie makers will therefore stick with the GH3 (although look enviously at the focus peaking on the G6), but for everyone else the Lumix G6 offers a more compelling range of features for less money.

See my Panasonic Lumix GH3 review for more details

 

Compared to Canon EOS SL1 / 100D

     
 
 
     
     

For many people, the big question is whether to go for a mirrorless camera or a traditional DSLR, and in the latter category Canon's EOS SL1 / 100D is a compelling option. Both it and the Lumix G6 share a fair amount in common, including similar body dimensions, similar image quality, the choice of viewfinder or 3in touch-screen for composition and Full HD video capabilities. But look a little deeper and there are numerous key differences beyond the fact one is a traditional DSLR and the other is a mirror-less design.

But I'll cover that first. As a traditional DSLR, the Canon EOS SL1 / 100D employs a mirror to reflect light from the lens through an optical viewfinder. These have the benefit of zero lag, clear views even in extremely low light and the same tonal range as your eyes. As a mirror-less camera, the Lumix G6 employs 100% electronic composition for both its screen and viewfinder, which equally enjoy the benefits of 100% coverage, superimposed graphics like guidelines and live histograms and live previews of white balance or other effects; in addition the view through the G6's electronic viewfinder is larger than the optical viewfinder on an entry-level DSLR like the SL1 / 100D.

Now you could argue that the EOS SL1 / 100D enjoys the best of both worlds, offering an optical viewfinder along with Live View on its screen, but the fact remains that live view on a good mirror-less camera like the G6 is a far superior experience to live view on even a modern DSLR, primarily thanks to much faster focusing. The SL1 / 100D may have faster and more confident focusing in live view than earlier Canon DSLRs, but it's still not as quick as mirror-less cameras from Panasonic, Olympus and Sony, and the G6 will also focus in dimmer conditions than the SL1 / 100D. The bottom line is to ask yourself whether you'll mostly compose with the screen or not. If you will, then you'll be better off with a decent mirror-less model like the G6. If however you prefer optical viewfinders, then you'll simply want a DSLR. But do remember there's pros and cons to both optical and electronic composition - it's by no means a one horse race.

Moving on, the Canon has an 18 Megapixel APS-C sensor compared to a 16 Megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor on the Panasonic. This may imply an advantage to the Canon but as you can see in my results pages it makes virtually no difference in practice. The Canon may enjoy a tiny edge, but really that's all it is. I certainly wouldn't make a buying decision based on their respective image quality.

In terms of size, both bodies are very similar in their dimensions, although once you fit a lens, the Panasonic enjoys a more compact form. If small size is important, then a mirror-less camera, especially one employing the Micro Four Thirds standard, will be smaller.

Both models have 3in touch-screens, but the Lumix G6's is fully-articulated, allowing you to easily compose at high or low angles, not to mention flipping it forward to face the subject for self-portraits. This is a big advantage over the fixed screen of the SL1 / 100D for those who shoot movies or stills in Live View.

Both offer Full HD 1080p video capabilities with continuous AF and the chance to pull focus by tapping the screen. Thanks to its updated Hybrid AF system and new quieter kit lens, I'd also say the SL1 / 100D finally matches the Lumix G6 in this respect. Both also have external microphone inputs and full manual control over exposures. Both also have a choice of frame rates, although the Canon tops-out at 30p for 1080 video, whereas the Panasonic offers 50p or 60p depending on region.

Both cameras offer remote control via external devices, but differ significantly in their implementation. The SL1 / 100D comes with the EOS Utility which runs on Windows or MacOS computers and allows you to remote control almost any aspect of the camera over a USB connection. The Lumix G6 features built-in Wifi which allows it to be wirelessly remote-controlled by the Lumix Image App which runs on iOS or Android devices, although the degree of control is more basic than the EOS Utility. That said it's impossible to overlook the benefits of Wifi, allowing you to not only remote control the camera with your phone or tablet, but also wirelessly browse, transfer, backup or share images, not to mention exploit the GPS in your phone. Panasonic even makes it easier to setup the Wifi with NFC for compatible devices. Sadly the EOS SL1 / 100D not only doesn't come with built-in Wifi, but doesn't have an official Wifi accessory either, leaving you to the limited functionality of an optional Eye-Fi SD card.

Wrapping-up some other features, the Lumix G6 also enjoys faster continuous shooting, in-camera panoramas, focus-peaking for video, interval shooting, time lapse movies and deeper bracketing with seven frames to the SL1 / 100D's three.

So far it should be clear the Lumix G6 is a better-featured camera than the SL1 / 100D, but this would be ignoring Canon's trump card: native compatibility with the biggest lens catalogue in the world without adapters or compromised AF, at least when composing through the viewfinder. Micro Four Thirds may now enjoy over 40 native lenses, but the Canon EF catalogue boasts more than double that. Couple this with an optical viewfinder in the smallest possible body and that's all many potential owners will need to know. But you do have to ask yourself whether you'd exploit the extra lenses and again if you really prefer an optical viewfinder over electronic composition. If you're happy with the lens selection of Micro Four Thirds and don't mind - or even prefer - electronic composition, then I'd say the Lumix G6 is a more compelling camera at this end of the market for most photographers.

See my Canon EOS SL1 / 100D review for more details.

 

Compared to Olympus PEN EP5

I'll add a comparison with the Olympus EP5 when I've had a chance to test a final production sample, but remember this model does not have a built-in viewfinder - you have to add it as an optional accessory. If there's demand I'll add a feature comparison with the OMD EM5 as well.

 

Panasonic Lumix G6 final verdict

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Panasonic Lumix G6 is one of the most satisfying cameras I've used to date. The image quality may be essentially the same as its predecessor, but the feature set, handling and usability have all received significant improvements which turn it into one of the best cameras in its class, mirrorless or DSLR. Indeed for many, including myself, it's actually more attractive than the flagship Lumix GH3.

It may be a mid-range camera, but offers far more controls and customization than most of its peers using either a wealth of physical buttons, dials and levers or one of the most capable touch-screen interfaces that Panasonic has been steadily refining over the years. Composition is also a joy with the OLED viewfinder or articulated 3in screen, both of which look much better than the G5. The movie mode has importantly caught up with rivals thanks to manual exposures and a microphone input, but now joins the best with the addition of focus peaking and time lapse recordings. The focusing which was already fast on previous generations is now even quicker, but crucially works under much lower lighting conditions than most cameras including the GH3 and rival DSLRs at this price point. This alone makes the G6 so much more usable than many cameras I've tested.

Then there's the Wifi implementation which is one of the best around whether you're remote controlling the camera, browsing images, transferring them to other devices or uploading them directly to sharing or backup services. NFC is the icing on the cake, eliminating the search for network IDs or password entry if you have a compatible device like the Samsung Galaxy S3 / S4 or Google NEXUS 4, 7 or 10.

Throw in an interval timer, seven-frame bracketing and auto-panoramas and you've got a very impressive camera which I can Highly Recommend to anyone considering a mid-range mirrorless or DSLR camera at this price point. I'd even recommend it to existing G5 owners if they think they'd exploit the upgrades.

If the camera itself weren't enough, Panasonic also has a secret weapon in the form of its new 14-140mm super-zoom, offered as a kit option in some regions. This surprisingly compact lens when mounted on the G6 results in a body that's roughly the same size and weight as a typical DSLR 18-55mm kit, yet with three times the reach. It's well worth considering as part of a subsidized kit.

Ultimately there will be those who'll rightly question a format which has essentially stood still in quality for several generations now, and there's no denying there's exciting developments afoot in rival camps, especially with Fujifilm's X-Trans sensor.

I certainly share the frustration that Micro Four Thirds has stood still on sensors for a while, but so has Canon for APS-C, so the thing you need to ask yourself whether you're chasing quality for quality's sake or a genuine need. Is the 16 Megapixel sensor of current Micro Four Thirds models good enough? Only you can answer that, but I can tell you I've made great-looking prints at 50x40cm and shared countless images across social channels which many people thought came from much larger and more expensive cameras. Remember you also have to add optics to the equation and there are many lenses in the Micro Four Thirds catalogue which deliver pin sharp details right into the corners. I've been using Micro Four Thirds as my main system for over a year now and I'm perfectly satisfied by the sensor quality and delighted by the lens selection. It's this coupled with the great handling and powerful feature set that has me sold overall, compared to a camera which may deliver crisper results, but with less satisfying handing and usability.

Convinced? I hope so, as to eliminate the Lumix G6 on its sensor would see you missing out on one of the best system cameras around, whether equipped with a mirror or not. Once again it earns our Highly Recommended award without hesitation.



Good points
OLED viewfinder and 3in articulated touchscreen.
Great Wifi features including remote control and NFC.
Fast single autofocus which works under very low light.
Movies w 1080/60/50/24p, focus peaking and mic input.
Time lapse, stop motion, panoramas and 7 frame AEB.
Access to the broadest native mirrorless lens catalogue.

Bad points
Quality similar to last 2 generations. But does it matter?
No built-in GPS. Adding data via app can be fiddly.
Can't turn down 'ta-da' sound when NFC is successful.
Phase-detect AF systems remain better for continuous AF.






Scores

(relative to 2013 system cameras)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

16 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20

87%
   

If you found this review useful, please support me by shopping below!
 
 
Photographing the 4th Dimension: time
eBook by Jim M Goldstein
Price: $20 USD (PDF download)
More details!

A great-looking and highly informative eBook for anyone interested in long exposure photography. Whether you're into painting with light, capturing star-trails or creating timelapse video, author Jim M Goldstein has the answers. One of my favourite eBooks to date and one you'll want in your collection even if it's just to browse the great images.
     
All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

/ How we test / Best Cameras / Advertising / Camera reviews / Supporting Camera Labs