The Panasonic G9 or My Search for the Perfect Day-To-Day Camera
What a journey this was.
On the very day that Canon announced their brand new full-frame mirrorless camera, I found myself in love with a 3 year old Panasonic micro-four thirds camera, the GX8. Crazy huh? I purchased the GX8 about 2 weeks prior to the announcement and after working through some growing pains, I found myself head over heels in love with it. It was truly a great little camera combining size, with speed and great image quality. But it, like many of the other cameras I tried, had a few small quirks. I ended up sending it back and got what I consider the perfect day-to-day camera for me. The Panasonic G9.
Let's start at the beginning of my arduous journey.
For the past 2 years, my primary camera has been the Nikon D810. I LOVE that camera, which I talk more in-depth about here. It served me very, very well and I used it day in, day out on all my assignment and portfolio work. After putting it through the ringer, it started failing on me. The rubber on the body started falling off, focus was consistently missing, and sometimes it wouldn’t power on. Since it was covered by a Geek Squad Warranty (thank God!)I dropped it off at Best Buy for a repair. They tried fixing the issues, but to no avail. Rest in peace D810. You will be missed. Alas, Best Buy had to give me a store credit which allowed me to purchase a D850. Woe is me right? I placed an order and, to my surprise, I got it within days. Though the D810 kicked butt, the D850 does what Hulk did to Loki in The Avengers on a daily basis. It's soooo good.
While I had my D810, I also used the D750 as my backup camera and for my headshot work. This was mainly due to the smaller file size. While I could use the D810 in crop mode to shoot roughly the same file size, I didn't like the borders through the viewfinder. I found them somewhat off when trying to hone in on the right composition. I’d either be too high or too low sometimes and the perfectionist in me was quickly becoming annoyed. I switched my D850 to the same crop mode and Nikon must have been reading my mind because it's much improved over the D810's version from what I can tell. The black bars covering the viewfinder aren't just stagnant, they even lit up when you're in focus amongst other small refinements. And with the larger, brighter viewfinder, composing was much more pleasant.
So, I started thinking. It was time to get rid of the D750. The D850 covered more than enough of my professional camera needs. It's like 3 cameras in one!
What I truly wanted was a camera I could take everywhere. Small, compact, and with great image quality. It didn't need to be full-frame, just serviceable for daily life photos, maybe some video, and street photography when I get the itch.
After much research, I narrowed it down to about 6 options: the Panasonic G9, Panasonic G85, Fuji X100F, Fuji XT-2, Fuji X-E3, and the Olympus OM-D EM1 Mark II.
No Sony? I've used Sony cameras for a number of years and to be quite honest, have never been overly impressed with them. Although I did enjoy their A99. Additionally Sony doesn't have the customer support I'd expect to see from a company that's targeting professionals. That's just one of my gripes with their system, but let me not get off track. So how do all the cameras on my list stack up?
1. Panasonic G9
This was my first choice. Lighting fast, GORGEOUS, HUMONGOUS viewfinder, 20 Megapixels, plethora of video options and just feels premium. Downside: About the same size as the D750 I sold. I didn't want a bulky camera. We’ll be revisiting this statement later.
2. Panasonic G85
A bit older, but I owned one before and loved it. Fast, great image quality, and great ergonomics. And smaller than the G9. Downside: 16MP Sensor(I wanted something bigger with no AA filter), Mic Input placement in the dumbest position ever(terrible for vlogging) for a camera with such capable video features.
3. Fuji X100F
I love the Fuji styling and I have owned several throughout the years. This one has a large APS-C sensor, great image quality, decent ergonomics. Downside: Fixed lens, fixed LCD. I wanted a fully articulating LCD for vlogging and love to have options for lenses. And video performance is just so-so compared to similar priced options.
4. Fuji X-T2
I love the X-T2. So far it's been my favorite camera from Fuji. It's a powerhouse of a camera with superb image quality and handling. Downside: So-so video features. No fully articulating screen. Instead it has that weird flippy screen that Fuji's trying to pawn off on everyone. If it were just down to image quality this would be the one I’d pick.
5. Fuji X-E3
Admittedly, I'd only recently heard about the X-E3. Same sensor as the X-T2, smaller body, X-Pro 2 like controls? Sign me up. Downside: Tried it and didn't like how it handled. It's solid for small lenses, but feels unbalanced for larger ones. Fixed LCD.
6. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
This camera is a spec junkie's wet dream. 20MP, 5-Axis Image Stabilization, 60fps Shooting, 4K Video, Full Articulating Screen, Weatherproof, 121-Point AF, makes pancakes and more. I handled one in the store and loved it. If I just had the money to splurge, this would be the camera.
Which brings me to the major downside: It’s $2000. Yes, $2000.
WTF Olympus? There's no way I'm paying $2000 for a micro-four thirds camera unless it's a GH5 and that's for the video capability. But for shooting only stills, I would pick the G9 over the Olympus in a heartbeat. Spec wise they match up pretty close with the G9 having an edge in some departments. However, if the E-M1 was to drop to say, $1500, that would pique my interest for purchasing. $2000 is just a bridge too far. I mean, c'mon. I can buy a Sony A Mark whatever for that price and still have money for McDonald's. It's the perfect size, with the perfect feature set, just too damn expensive. Curse the photo gods!
So after much fuss and much groaning from my girlfriend to make a decision, I decided to browse Panasonic's website once more. Then I came across the GX8. These gifs of Vince McMahon sum up my thoughts reading the specs perfectly.
Suffice to say, I bought the crap out of it. I caught an awesome deal through KEH(my favorite used equipment source by the way) on a used one for about $650. Initially I paired it with the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7(40mm equivalent on 35mm), but found it a bit too tight indoors. I then bought the Olympus 17mm 1.8 (34mm equivalent on 35mm) and it was picture taking heaven! I took the camera everywhere. Outside, inside, kitchens, restaurants, bathrooms. I even sleep with it. It was my baby. Don't give me that look!
And the COLORS! Oh my god, the colors. I'm going out on a limb and saying something blasphemous, but the Panasonic colors are the best colors I've ever seen for digital. I know color is subjective, but personally I've never been pleased with most digital color. My favorites have been the Canon (Canon still reigns supreme for DSLR color) and Sony. No honorable mention for Nikon or Fuji? Nope. The Nikon's aren't bad, I just don't find them special and I use Nikon! I’ve rarely ever heard someone gush over Nikon’s colors. Fuji's are great, but good luck dealing with them in Lightroom. Color can also be lens dependent but the color I got from the Canon and Sony cameras were incredible. This little Panasonic GX8 tops them both. I mean, just look at these colors:
Beautiful, vivid, but still true to life and not over done like I've seen from the Fuji colors. I just love Panasonic's color science. Even the video quality is stellar. I'm just amazed at all the capability in such a small and affordable camera.
So I lived happily every after right? Wrong.
Downside? The battery life and ergonomics. Ugh...while I don’t mind carrying spare batteries, the GX8’s battery life was abysmal. There were times when I’d be out shooting and reach for my camera only to see it’s dead causing me to miss the shot. Another gripe is the ergonomics. One one hand it’s great to hold and use. On the other hand, Panasonic doesn’t give you the option of turning off certain buttons so if the camera is at your side or even in your bag, buttons will get inadvertently hit, adjust settings without your knowledge. When you go to take a new picture, your focus point will be off or some other feature will have been turned on, ruining the moment. It was infuriating I couldn’t lock the camera settings somehow.
I thought I could live with those quirks, but nope. Couldn’t do it. There just had to be one that worked for me. One that was my photographic soulmate.
Shortly after, to my surprise, I managed to find an awesome deal on the Olympus EM1 Mark II and snagged one. I’d just said that if I could get a great deal I’d be all over it. But unfortunately, after about 3-4 days of constant use, it wasn’t the camera for me. I just didn’t love it like the GX8. The menus were confusing. So confusing, in fact, that there’s a nice guy who made a whole website explaining what they mean and how to properly set everything up. There was also the viewfinder size. The viewfinder seemed tiny in comparison to the GX8 or what I was used to with my Nikons. No matter how hard I tried, I just didn’t connect with it. It felt cumbersome to use in comparison to the other options.
I sent it back and had to do some thinking again.
I took a trip to B&H and asked the nice gentleman behind the counter to see the Panasonic G9 once more. He smirked and I think I saw a glimmer in his eye. He handed it to me and asked me what lenses did I want to see on it. I told him the Olympus 17mm and perhaps Panasonic’s 42.5mm. He got them for me and left me to it. Within minutes I knew it was the one. I bought it the same day.
What can I say about the G9? Perfect handling. Yes it’s big for M43, but doesn’t feel as big and heavy as a DSLR. My worries about it being comparable in size to my D750 were a bit unfounded. It feels lighter. The viewfinder is amazing; large and crystal clear. The customization options are incredible and really help me personalize the camera to my liking. 20MPs with no AA filter. TWO memory card slots. Great battery life! The buttons are designed in a way where you won’t inadvertently hit them and most can be turned off. And those Panasonic colors. I have found nirvana. There’s really no other camera on the market I’ve found as enjoyable to use when I’m out and about. If the GX8 would have had the same ergonomics in terms of buttons, it would have won out, but the G9 takes the cake. Plus it’s has a more robust, future-proof feature set. I plan to use it for years to come.
Oh before I go. I also consider Nikon Z7 and Z6 mirrorless. They both look impressive, but the new lenses seem large, using old lenses with adapters seems even larger. Not to mention there’s no support for old AF-D lenses (my 85mm would be useless), one card slot, and no fully articulating screen. I never make it a habit of buying first generation hardware. I’ll wait until they come out with version II and see where the system is before committing. Good luck early adopters.
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