Need to buy a gift for somebody who loves technology but you can’t afford the big ticket items?
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 camera
A high-end camera that produced inconsistent image quality
- Good manual control
- Hinged EVF and LCD
- Fast performance
- Image quality not as crisp as we expected
- Focus and clarity were inconsistent in our tests
- Focus peaking feature too subtle
Price$ 1,999.00 (AUD)
There is a wide body, extra controls, and a hinged viewfinder that can be directed upwards. All of these features immediately point to the fact that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 is for experienced hands, rather than users only now getting their feet wet in photography. It's a 20-megapixel camera that commands the user's attention, and even though it still has scene modes and an intelligent auto function that can do all the work for you, if you make extensive use of those features, then you're better off with a simpler, much less expensive camera.
From the outset, this is a mirrorless, Micro Four Thirds based camera with a wide body that makes it feel like a giant in its category. Extra controls are in place to change exposure compensation and focus on a whim, and there are two dials for honing the aperture and shutter values in manual mode. The LCD screen can be used as the viewfinder for angled shots, and you can enable the setting 'Constant Preview' in the menu so that your exposure changes will be displayed on the screen in real-time.
Mostly, this is a camera for a creative minds, and also for those of you who have aspirations of shooting 4K video. Panasonic puts a firm emphasis on 4K video, perhaps because it's also a prominent 4K TV maker. It also claims that 4K can be a user aid for still photography. A 4K still mode allows you to record bursts of 4K video, and then extract a still image from that video. It can work either by you pressing and holding the shutter button to capture your video, or it can take a short burst after you press the shutter once.
A still image from the 4K video will be eight megapixels rather than the 20-megapixel still mode that is native to this camera, but it's a feature that can be used when a video is more likely to capture your desired action than a still shot. The thing is, though, who needs 4K still shot mode when you have a super-fast continuous shooting mode that can rattle off about 170 shots in 20 seconds? We used continuous burst shooting when we wanted to capture action shots, primarily because we wanted to make sure we captured them at the highest possible resolution.
At this point we'll mention that the camera should be kept still when you want to shoot 4K video. You'll get better results if you place the camera on a tripod to record a scene, rather than handholding or moving the camera while you shoot. When you move the camera, the 4K video can tear or look wobbly.
In our still shot tests, the DMC-GX8 was inconsistent. We tested it with one of its kit lenses, the 14-140mm, and a lot of the time we didn't get the image clarity we expected with this combination. A lot of our shots ended up looking blurred and feathered when we viewed them at their native size on our computer monitor, more so than what we expected out of a camera that is positioned as a high-end model. In fact, many of the test shots that we take in natural environments didn't fare so well with the DMC-GX8. Only a small percentage of shots looked the way we expected.
Taking this camera for a spin around Sydney's Botanic Gardens, we found ourselves harnessing the hinged LCD screen, rather than looking through the electronic view finder (EVF). Even though the EVF can be angled upwards, we enjoyed the freedom of being able to position the camera into low-down angles, and to shoot 'around corners' so to speak, and found the EVF a little limiting in this environment.
In the brightness of day, the LCD screen was quite sharp and it was easy to see what was going on, unless the light was hitting the screen directly. Touch is supported, meaning you can tap anywhere on the screen to set a focus point. If you're like us and you turn off the camera's beeps, then you will have to look closely at the colour of the focus square to make sure it's green when you are using the autofocus modes (single shot, or continuous).
Focus peaking is available for when you want to use manual focus, but we found it to be of little use. Highlighted areas were tiny and many times very hard to see when using the LCD screen, despite the camera blowing up part of the focus area so that we could see it clearer. There was always too narrow a range of focus on each focal plane, unlike what we're used to seeing from this feature with other cameras (such as on Olympus' OM-D models).
Moving back to the image quality, it was perhaps our love of the LCD screen that caused some of our photos to turn out blurry when viewed at their native size. But the camera has both sensor and lens optical image stabilisation (OIS), which is meant to counter movements from handshake. More to the point, we also made sure our shutter speed was never too low, and turned up the ISO as needed in darker areas to keep the shutter speed up, mindful that this might cause noise and softness if we went too high (the default ISO is 200).
We did use the lens at 140mm a lot of the time, but we also made sure that our shutter time was longer than our focal length, and again, this is another reason for having OIS. We could see the effects of the IOS clearly through the viewfinder and LCD screen when we disabled and re-enabled the feature. At 140mm, the image jolted slightly in the frame when OIS was disabled, but then appeared steady and smooth when we enabled OIS.
At the end of the day, what we came away with were images that exhibited a lack of sharpness at the expected focal point when using either auto or manual focus, and some of our images even showed haloing and a form of ghosting.
Of course, we picked all these things out when we viewed the photos at their native size. At 'social media' size, they looked fantastic. This is a $2000 camera that won't just be used for social media sharing, but for photos that will perhaps be cropped or printed at large sizes, so the clarity of the images is of the utmost importance. Even an entry-level camera such as Canon's EOS 760D, which costs under $1500 with a 24-105mm lens, produced crisper results.
All images are JPEGs taken straight from the camera. They have been resized to fit this page. A 100 per cent view is presented beneath each full image.
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