Panasonic has long been one of the most notable camera makers in the world. In India, ever since broadcast cameras made way for more versatile DSLRs and mirrorless ones, Panasonic has been a bit-part player at best. Nevertheless, Panasonic’s present crop of cameras make compelling cases for themselves. Take, for instance, their video offerings with the Lumix GH5 – even in a market dominated by Sony, the Lumix GH5 is widely regarded as a great videography mirrorless camera for professionals and advanced casual shooters, alike. On the flipside of the coin, meanwhile, lies the Panasonic Lumix G9 – a flagship mirrorless camera that borrows a lot from the GH5 but focuses more on photography instead.
Despite being about two years old, the Panasonic Lumix G9 was launched in India only this May, 2020. It is also a rather unique one – instead of using a full-frame sensor (which the newer Panasonic Lumix S5 now features), the G9 comes with a 20.3-megapixel Live MOS micro four-thirds sensor without a low-pass filter. The rest of its specifications are pretty competitive as well – CIPA-certified 6.5-stop stabilisation with sensor shift and Dual IS 2, 20fps burst photography with electronic shutter for up to 50 frames of continuous autofocus, 9fps on mechanical shutter for over 600 frames of continuous AF, the option for 80-megapixel pixel-shift stitched RAW photos, serious video credentials with 4K 60fps at 8-bit 4:2:0 sampling (or 4K 30fps at 10-bit 4:2:2 sampling, a super rich electronic viewfinder, and more ergonomic elements such as a quick view LCD plate on top.
For all of this, you pay Rs 1,39,990, and at the time of writing, the Lumix G9’s market price at online retail stores was Rs 1,21,790. For perspective, this is about as much as the Sony a7 II – a generation-old entry level full-frame mirrorless camera, or the a6600 – the company’s premium APS-C mirrorless option. Even from Nikon, the new Nikon Z5 costs about the same. Should you, then, simply go for one of the more established options from Sony and Nikon? Or is the Panasonic Lumix G9 a bit of a dark horse that would give you a lot more than what you might be thinking?
The lack of the low pass filter further adds to the intricate definition of fine details. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)
Image quality: Great noise, dynamic range and colours
To begin with, one of the major questions to answer here would be whether you’d miss the size and resolution benefit of a full frame sensor, which Sony, Nikon and Canon have on offer. Simply put – no, you really wouldn’t. The 20.3-megapixel micro four-thirds sensor on offer produces a great level of detail, with a crisp level of sharpness that is aided by the lack of an anti-aliasing filter. However, this does have a downside – at low ISO levels, there is a clear case of banding, and certain textures leave behind noisy artifacts in out-of-camera JPEGs.
There is a slight bias of colours towards warmer hues, but not without retaining a good overall balance in colour tone. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)
What this essentially means is that for the overall image quality, photos at low ISO levels will show moire, and that may have a slightly jarring effect on certain photos. This, though, can largely be managed in most situations. For the most part, the Panasonic Lumix G9 produces an excellent level of details, and this applies for both RAW and JPEGs. This leads to well defined intricate details in most lighting conditions, and the good noise performance also helps the case here. In terms of colours, the Lumix G9 shows a slight tinge of bias towards the reds, which in turn inherently offer a warmer colour and white balance in photos.
However, most colours are largely accurate, and the overall dynamic range is excellent. Most colours produced look natural, even if not neutral, which actually contributes more to the overall JPEGs. Colour performance remains largely consistent across all ISO ranges, which comes in exceptionally handy when shooting at the lowest or very high ISO levels. The lack of excessive noise at high ISO levels combine with the excellent dynamic range to make sure that even in tricky lighting conditions, shadows and intricate shades are well retained in photographs shot on the Lumix G9, which further increases the versatility of this camera.
High contrast shots such as hard light and hard shadow subjects also render plenty of detail and dynamic range. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)
This also enables ISO invariance, and the good dynamic range, colour accuracy, limited noise rendering and great overall sharpness makes sure that you can drop the overall ISO comfortably by two stops. In turn, this makes it possible to shoot better photos at lower ISO in super low light conditions. All of this combined makes the Panasonic Lumix G9 an excellent performer on most grounds. It produces impressive levels of sharpness and details, natural colours with a slight warm bias, limited noise at high ISO levels, great ISO invariance and dynamic range for low light performance, and equally impressive results for both RAW files and out of camera JPEGs.
The overall colour balance, dynamic range and details produced in out-of-camera JPEGs by the Lumix G9 is quite impressive, particularly for its price range. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)
Autofocus: Super consistent, but needs more ease
Yet another area in which the Panasonic Lumix G9 differs from its competitors is in the autofocus mechanism. In comparison to the hybrid autofocus with live subject tracking methods used by Sony, Nikon and the likes, the Lumix G9 uses contrast detect autofocus (CDAF) along with a technique that Panasonic calls Depth from Defocus (DFD). The two techniques combined give the Lumix G9 a very reliable autofocus module.
Despite being a contrast AF module, the Lumix G9 offers super consistent autofocus performance even in low contrast subjects with too many lines and edges. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)
The 225-point autofocus system offers face and eye detection, as well as highly reliable subject tracking. The high accuracy autofocus system makes sure that continuous shots produce super accurate focus results. While the Lumix G9’s 50-shot buffer with 20fps electronic shutter shooting will be plenty for amateurs and hobbyists, what professionals will really love is the seemingly endless buffer size, which at 9fps continuous photography can prove to be excellent for sports and wildlife shooting. Unfortunately, the joystick to the rear of the camera is not all that great for intuitive focus point adjustment. Nevertheless, the Lumix G9 produces great autofocus performance consistently – even in low light conditions. It works best in full auto, which would suit both pros and amateurs alike.
Video quality: Great for pros, not amateurs
What’s particularly impressive is how the Panasonic Lumix G9 works as a professional video camera, despite being oriented for better photography performance. The Lumix G9 is capable of shooting oversampled 4K 60fps videos, but its limited 8-bit, 4:2:0 sampling readout in internal recording media (despite the support for fast SD cards) may not be great if you are producing professional videos. Thankfully, the Lumix G9 has an answer to that as well – as long as you are okay with 30fps videos. In-camera videos can go all the way up to 4K 30fps at 10-bit, 4:2:2 sampling readout.
The one weakness of the Lumix G9 lies in its inability to shoot faster frame rates at lower resolutions, which could have helped subjects such as birds for basic users. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)
In simpler terms, the Panasonic Lumix G9 is one of the best photography oriented mirrorless cameras for video purposes. Sadly, though, this will largely prove true as long as you are happy with footage up to 60fps, since the G9 does not get 120fps shooting at any resolution. In terms of overall video quality, factors such as colour accuracy, colour tone, saturation levels, noise, moire, dynamic range and sharpness artifacts are all very well produced. Coupled with the high resolution output, the Lumix G9 produces a massive blow to its rivals in terms of how professional users can use the camera.
However, for beginners or amateurs, the Lumix G9 has a limited range of options for producing fast frame rate, light videos in limited, oversampled resolution.
30fps 4K videos offer 10-bit 4:2:2 readout, which produces a great level of details in intricate subjects. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)
Shooting and ergonomics: Added versatility for pros
On overall terms, the Panasonic Lumix G9 is not the simplest camera to use. Its menu layout, while being fairly intuitive, is not the simplest – and nor is it laid out in the most ergonomic format. What’s impressive about the Lumix G9 is its chunky hand grip, coupled with a sizable heft that adds to the overall feel of the camera. The clunky shutter response is great, and what I’ve particularly enjoyed is the razor sharp electronic viewfinder that is one of the very best in the business.
The kit lens is excellent – Leica’s Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4, with its own image stabilisation. It is one of the best kit lenses we have used by virtue of its minimal aberration lens elements. However, the Lumix G range is limited mostly to its own ecosystem, which means that in India, you’ll need to spend a fair bit more than what you would, had you used a Nikon camera. Nevertheless, Panasonic already has a robust range of options across a wide variety of prime and zoom lenses, while others such as Nikon and Canon are yet to establish such a wide select of Z-mount and R-mount lenses.
All things combined, the Panasonic Lumix G9 is a pretty good offering in terms of ancillary shooting elements. It requires better third party lens support and a superior interface in terms of the firmware that runs on it, which would bring it up to the level of ergonomics that Sony’s and Nikon’s cameras offer already.
Verdict: More than just a candidate
All things considered, the Panasonic Lumix G9 is not just an afterthought option that you must consider when buying a professional consumer camera. It may not come with a full-frame sensor, but its micro four-thirds system is great on overall terms, for both photography and professional or semi-pro videography. It also has an excellent kit lens, its image stabilisation and high ISO performance means it is excellent for low light performance, and it is built almost like a tank. All it really requires is a better menu layout, an easier assisted autofocus point selection and a slight improvement on the low-ISO end. It can go blow-for-blow against the likes of the Sony a7 II, and even better the overall performance of the Nikon Z5. However, the latter will retain popularity by virtue of being easier to use and more viable to get lens support from, in the long run.
Nevertheless, the Panasonic Lumix G9 is one of the very best cameras at around the Rs 1,30,000 range, which means that it must be in your list of choices – if you aim to buy a professional camera at around this price range.