Panasonic Lumix G80 / G85 Gordon Laing, September 2016
 
 

Panasonic Lumix G80 / G85 preview

The Panasonic Lumix G80, or G85 as it's known in North America, is a mid-range mirrorless camera that's based on the Micro Four Thirds standard. Announced in September 2016, it replaces the 18 month old Lumix G7 and is positioned at a slightly higher level to the GX80/ GX85.

The G80 / G85 shares the same 16 Megapixel sensor of the GX80 / GX85 which lacks a low pass filter and allows it to resolve detail closer to 20 Megapixel models. Like all Lumix bodies, movies are well-catered for with 1080 and 4k video, the latter exploited in several photo-extraction modes including 4k Photo (effectively capturing 8 Megapixel stills at 30fps), Post Focus (which racks the focus during capture to let you later extract the one at the desired point of focus), and the latest Focus Stacking (which again racks the focus during capture but then lets you create a stacked image in-camera between a defined range of distances). Like the GX80 / GX85, the sensor is also stabilised inside the body with a five-axis system that works with any lens you mount, although Panasonic claims improvements now deliver five stops of compensation - one more than the GX80 / GX85 and now matching Olympus claims for the OMD EM5 Mark II.

The G80 / G85 represents a step-up in build over the GX80 / GX85 and the G7 with a magnesium alloy front panel and weather-sealing; impressively the 12-60mm zoom supplied in the kit version is also weather-sealed. Composition is with a 2360k dot OLED with a generous 0.74x magnification or a 3in fully-articulated touch-screen. The shutter mechanism is inherited from the GX80 / GX85 but improved here with quieter operation, less vibration and a new electronic first curtain option to minimise shutter shock. Battery life can be extended up to 900 shots with the viewfinder-only Economy mode, and an optional battery grip can double it again. Expect the G80 / G85 in November at a body price of 699 GBP or 799 GBP with the 12-60mm kit zoom. My hands-on first impressions follow.




Panasonic Lumix G80 / G85 hands-on impressions

I've always been fond of Panasonic's single-digit Lumix G bodies - they pack some of the strongest feature-sets at their price point and personally speaking I also prefer the aesthetic of their central viewfinder humps to flat-topped bodies. I felt the earlier Lumix G7 was the unsung hero in the lineup, but lacked the built-in stabilisation of arch rival Olympus. So when the Lumix GX80 / GX85 arrived with Panasonic's best built-in stabilisation to date, along with a sensor that eeked-out every last drop of its 16 Megapixels, my first thought was when are we going to see it in a G8?

Well the G7's successor may have gained a double-digit product number to become the G80 (presumably to allow a numerical variation for other regions, such as the G85 in North America), but it includes the key benefits of the GX80 / GX85 along with a number of additions which make it more attractive overall.

You already know it employs the same sensor as the GX80 / GX85 which lacks a low pass filter to deliver crisper results from its 16 Megapixels; in my tests with the GX80 / GX85, I found it came very close to matching the detail of the 20 Megapixel GX8. It also inherits the GX80 / GX85's built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you mount, although improved mechanics means Panasonic can now claim an additional stop of compensation making five in all. Revealingly this now matches the quoted level of the Olympus OMD EM5 Mark II, and I very much look forward to comparing them side-by-side as the EM5 II's stabilisation is the best I've tested. That said, even if the G80 / G85 doesn't attain the same levels, I still found the GX80 / GX85 stabilisation very effective so to improve on it remains promising.




In a very welcome upgrade, the G80 / G85 now gains a magnesium alloy front plate and weather-sealing; a key benefit over its predecessor and the GX80 / GX85, and a feature that importantly brings it in line with the dust and splash-proof Olympus OMD EM5 Mark II and Sony A6300. I'm also pleased to find the G80 / G85 kit includes the recent 12-60mm zoom which is also weather-sealed, making it more desirable in range and build over the 12-32mm non-sealed kit zoom of the GX80 / GX85. It's also longer than the weather-sealed 12-50mm zoom often bundled with the OMD EM5 Mark II.

In your hands, the G80 / G85 feels a World apart from the light and plasticky Lumix G7. It's heavier and feels reassuringly denser as a result. The dials didn't feel quite as chunky or the feedback as tactile as those on the EM5 Mark II, but in terms of overall feel, the G80 / G85 has come on a long way since earlier models in the series.

Like the G7 before it, you can compose with a 3in fully-articulated screen or a 2360k dot OLED viewfinder, although Panasonic has upgraded the magnification from 0.7x to 0.74x. Revealingly the EVF specification now matches the OMD EM5 Mark II, a camera which also features a fully-articulated touch-screen, making them very similar in terms of composition. I should also add I much prefer the composition options of the G80 / G85 to the GX80 / GX85 as not only is the screen fully-articulated versus vertically-tilting only, the OLED panel in the viewfinder also looks much better to my eyes.






The EM5 Mark II outguns the G80 / G85 in terms of ports with a PC Sync port built-in and a headphone jack on the optional grip, but Panasonic fights back with its ECO mode which claims to extend battery life to 800-900 shots per charge - a figure that's doubled if you fit the optional battery grip. The ECO mode works by only composing with the electronic viewfinder and automatically switching it off when not in use. If it successfully works in practice without overly compromising response and handling, then Panasonic will have gone some way to address the battery issues that mirrorless owners have to put up with.

Where the G80 / G85 takes the lead over the EM5 Mark II, not to mention many other rivals, is in terms of video. Like its predecessor, it'll film 1080 or 4k video, the latter also exploited in a wide variety of frame-grabbing photo modes. As before there's 4k Photo (which effectively captures 8 Megapixel images 30 times a second), along with the recent Post Focus (which racks the focus during capture to let you later extract the one at the desired point of focus), and the latest Focus Stacking (which again racks the focus during capture but then lets you create a stacked image in-camera between a defined range of distances). If you want to generate your own focus-stacked image at the full 16 Megapixels though, there's still focus bracketing available for use with optional software on your computer.

Another small but important feature over the GX80 / GX85 is the option of an electronic front-curtain shutter, which should greatly reduce the risk of shutter shock. This is added to the existing fully electronic shutter option which can shoot in silence, albeit with the risk of some skewing for subjects in motion. The G80 / G85 also shoots slightly faster than the GX80 / GX85 at 9fps with a larger buffer of over 200 JPEGs or 40 RAW files too. It also inherits Panasonic's DFD technology which improves continuous AF from the contrast-based autofocus system.

The Lumix G80 / G85 represents a significant upgrade over the earlier G7 and offers a number of compelling benefits over the more recent GX80 / GX85 too. And while the GX8 remains a higher-end model in the range, I prefer the G80 / G85. The camera it really goes up against is the Olympus OMD EM5 Mark II. Both are compact Micro Four Thirds bodies sharing the same native resolution, same viewfinder and screen specifications, and while I know the EM5 II's stabilisation is the best I've tested to date, Panasonic is quickly catching up and promises the G80 / G85 is its best yet.

Panasonic also boasts far superior video capabilities, not to mention the cunning photo modes which exploit photo extraction from 4k video - these are much more practical then the 40 Megapixel composite mode on the EM5 II for most people. In my tests with the GX80 / GX85, I also found Panasonic's DFD technology more convincing at tracking moving subjects than the continuous AF on the EM5 Mark II, and it works in lower light too.

Drilling-down further, the EM5 II boasts a faster mechanical shutter speed of 1/8000 vs 1/4000 (although both models also have even faster electronic shutter options), and a longer maximum Bulb time of up to 30 minutes compared to just two minutes on the Lumix. In terms of flashes, the EM5 II doesn't have one built-in but it does have a PC Sync port for studio lighting in addition to a hotshoe. The Lumix lacks a PC Sync port but it does have a built-in flash. In terms of battery, Panasonic claims more shots per charge with its new ECO mode, but in a missed opportunity the optional battery grip (which doubles it again) lacks a headphone jack; the optional Olympus grip booster includes a headphone jack.

Style wise, I still prefer the chunkier dials on the Olympus, but beyond a handful of small feature benefits in its favour, the Lumix G80 / G85 looks likely to be more powerful overall, especially for video and autofocus. See my Olympus OMD EM5 review for more details.

The G80 / G85 also looks strong compared to the Canon EOS M5 announced a few days earlier. The Canon has a larger and higher resolution 24 Megapixel APS-C sensor, Bluetooth to aid Wifi negotiations, and (probably) more confident phase-detect AF thanks to Dual Pixel CMOS AF, but the Lumix G80 / G85 has built-in stabilisation, weather-proofing, a larger viewfinder image, fully-articulated screen and 4k video with all of Panasonic's 4k photo modes. Plus the Lumix is two thirds the price of the Canon. See my Canon EOS M5 review for more details.

As I always say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so I look forward to testing them all side-by-side.

 
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