Panasonic G6 Hands-On Preview
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We spent some quality time with the new Panasonic G6 Micro Four Thirds camera at a press event held earlier this month in Vienna, Austria, to deliver you a hands-on preview. Click through / read on to find out what the buzz is all about.
An evolutionary upgrade to last year's Lumix G5 – which, we are told, will remain in the company's line-up for the foreseeable future –, the Panasonic G6 adds a number of features including a new OLED viewfinder, an expanded ISO sensitivity range, a 7fps burst mode, an ultra-sensitive night-shot/low-light AF mode, a user-adjustable HDR mode, intelligent two-pass noise filtering courtesy of a GH3-derived Venus processing engine, the ability to apply Creative Control effects to automatically stitched panoramic images, a couple of new Function buttons, a slightly reworked mode dial, a 24fps movie mode, a 3.5mm microphone socket; and – like the Lumix GF6 introduced two weeks ago – Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC (Near-Field Communication).
Let us examine these novelties and enhancements in more detail.
Sensor and processor Although the sensor's resolution is unchanged at 16.05 megapixels, it now offers an expanded sensitivity range that stretches from ISO 160/23° to ISO 25,600/45°. (Do note, however, that the latter is a boosted setting - the highest native sensitivity setting is unchanged at ISO 12,800/42°.) For optimum performance, the designers have paired this imager with the latest-generation Venus processing engine, which enables the camera to perform intelligent two-stage noise filtering on JPEG images, smoothing out the noise in homogeneous areas while preserving details where it really matters. It also applies different amounts of noise reduction to the shadows, midtones and highlights.
Auto focus Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds cameras have always been famous for their remarkable auto focus speed and accuracy in good light – but some of them were prone to hunting in really dark conditions. The company says it has enhanced the AF system of the Panasonic G6 to remain operational down to -3EV, an extremely low light level where most other cameras simply give up. The system does slow down when switched to this night-shot AF mode but that’s still a lot better than being completely unable to achieve a focus lock.
Burst shooting The Panasonic Lumix G6 is capable of shooting full-resolution stills at up to 7 frames per second (fps), which is an improvement over the G5's – already very decent – 6fps.
Mode dial The Panasonic G6 has a mode dial that's quite similar to that of the G5 except for a dedicated Manual Movie option and a separate position for the camera's Creative Panorama mode, which enables users to apply one of 13 Creative Control effects to panoramic images stitched in-camera. The other positions on the dial are reserved for the same shooting modes as on the G5: P, A, S, M, Scene, Creative Control and two custom modes.
OLED viewfinder The Panasonic G6 features a new OLED viewfinder, which delivers a clearer image with superior contrast. Unlike with some previous designs, we did not experience any colour break-up issues when panning, either. The resolution is unchanged at 1,440,000 dots. The magnification (1.4x with a 50mm lens, 0.7 with a 25mm lens at infinity) and eyepoint (17.5mm) are also the same as before.
Updated rear screen The Lumix G6 retains the immensely useful vari-angle design of the G5's rear display but comes with an updated capacitive touch-panel boasting an elevated resolution of 1,036,000 dots. The size (3") and aspect ratio (3:2) are unchanged.
Extra Function buttons The Panasonic Lumix G5 already had a number of customisable Function buttons, but the G6 gains a couple more, which is excellent news for anyone who likes to change settings directly, without delving into the menu system. One of these is used to access the camera's Wi-Fi feature when the camera is in Playback mode.
Adjustable HDR mode While the Panasonic G5 had an in-camera HDR mode, there was only an On or Off setting with no scope to tone down the effect. The new Lumix G6 addresses this problem by offering a range of options from Low to High. When we tried this effect on the pre-production camera provided to us on the shooting tour in Vienna, we found that the camera did manage to squeeze the entire luminance range of a contrasty scene into a single image with no blocked shadows or blown highlights; but the end result seemed a little underexposed overall. This, however, may be down to the fact that the camera firmware was not final.
Video recording Like its predecessor, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 can record Full HD 1080p movies in AVCHD or MP4 formats, but it also benefits from a new, 'cinematic' 24fps frame rate option. And, as mentioned earlier, the mode dial now has a dedicated Manual Movie mode for serious videographers, who will also appreciate the new 3.5mm external mic socket.
Wi-Fi with NFC While all the above improvements make the Panasonic G6 a more versatile camera than its immediate forebears, its real trump card is its Wi-Fi implementation, which includes NFC (near-field communication) support. NFC is a fairly new technology that allows users to easily establish a wireless connection between two compatible devices by simply touching them against each other. By communicating over NFC, the two devices can set up a Wi-Fi connection without a need for the user to bother with authorisation details every time. Once the Wi-Fi connection is established, the camera and the other device can transfer data faster and over a greater distance. In order for this to work, one needs an NFC-enabled smartphone or tablet computer capable of running the required Panasonic app. According to Panasonic UK, 10% of all smartphones sold in 2012 offered NFC support, and the number of such devices is expected to treble in 2013. If your phone does not feature this tech, do not despair – you can still establish a wireless connection the “traditional” way. And Wi-Fi isn’t just for image sharing – the Panasonic app also lets users control their camera remotely. This includes focusing, exposure, firing the shutter – and even zooming, if you have a power zoom attached. The Panasonic G6 can also connect to a wireless router for uploading images to a PC or the cloud, while its Wi-Fi Direct function allows it to be hooked up with a DLNA-enabled Viera HD TV for image playback on the big screen.
Key features carried over from the G5 The Panasonic Lumix G6 is very much based on the G5, which means that its core functionality is all but identical to that of the older model. One of the more notable features carried over from the G5 is the option to use a completely silent electronic shutter for taking full-resolution stills. This feature is highly appreciated by street photographers as well as anyone who needs to work in total discretion. As on the G5, the electronic shutter is indeed entirely silent. It does come with certain limitations though – for example, the maximum ISO speed you can use with the electronic shutter is ISO 1,600/33°. When using the mechanical shutter, you can go up all the way to ISO 25,600/45°.
Also present and correct is the excellent Function Lever, which allows users to control power zoom lenses in a similar vein as with a compact camera – or to easily adjust exposure compensation whenever a non-motorised zoom or a prime lens is attached.
And just like the G5, the Panasonic G6 has a touch-sensitive, free-angle rear screen which allows you to select and modify the position of the AF frame by touch even when using the eye-level viewfinder. With this feature enabled, the LCD screen turns into a touch pad, much like the one on your laptop. Thanks to the gesture support of the Panasonic G6’s touch-sensitive screen you can move the AF target anywhere within the frame with your finger and monitor the changes in the viewfinder. This may require a bit of getting used to, especially if you haven't used a G5 before, but it’s probably the fastest way of repositioning the active AF point with the camera up to your eye. The tap-to-focus feature is also available with movies, making it easy to shift focus from one subject to the other while filming. As before, creative effects can be applied to videos as well as stills, which can potentially save you a lot of time at the post-production stage.
Overall, the Panasonic G6 has been a joy to use - it surely is a small, fast and responsive little camera that is extensively customisable and extremely versatile to boot. Like its predecessor, it's quick to start up and offers truly lightning-fast auto focus. While we shall reserve final judgment until we can deliver you our fully-fledged in-depth Panasonic G6 review based on a production model with final firmware; it seems safe to say that - putting aside a few specialised areas - it’s hard to imagine a photographic task that you can’t perform with it.