Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Review

July 23, 2015 | Mark Goldstein | |

Introduction

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 is a brand new compact system camera aimed at the keen enthusiast. The GX8 integrates 4K video recording capability with a variety of 4K Photo functions, capable of recording 4K UHD (3840 x 2160 pixels) video with either 30p or 24p frames rates at 100Mbps in the MP4 format. The Panasonic GX8 features a new 20-megapixel Digital Live MOS sensor (making it the highest resolution Micro Four Thirds body to date), a built-in 90-degree tilt-able Live View Finder (LVF) with 2360k dots and 1.54x / 0.77x magnification, and a free-angle 3-inch touch-sensitive rear LCD screen with a resolution of 1040K dots. The DMC-GX8 also offers Panasonic’s first Dual I.S (Image Stabiliser), a splash and dustproof magnesium alloy body, 8fps continuous shooting, low-light focusing down to -4 EV, focus peaking, silent mode for street photography, built-in wi-fi and NFC connectivity, ultra-high speed AF of just 0.07 sec, mechanical (1/8000th sec shutter speed) and silent electronic (1/16000th sec shutter speed) shutters, RAW support and an ISO range of 100-25600. The Panasonic GX8 is available in black or silver for £999 / $1199 body-only, £1099 with the 14-42mm lens, £1399 with the 14-140mm lens, and £1699 with the 12-35mm F2.8 lens.

Ease of Use

The new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 is the successor to the two-year-old GX7, which actually continues in the range for the forseeable future. Comparing the two cameras side-by-side quickly reveals that the GX8 is a bigger, heavier and more serious affair than its predecessor, with a higher launch price to boot. Compared to the direct compeititon, the GX8 is similar in sizer and weight to the Olympus OMD-EM1 and the Fujifilm X-T1. Within the Panasonic range, only the flagship DMC-GH4 sits above the GX8, which with its DSLR-styling and video-centric positioning is an altogether different proposition.

The magnesium alloy bodied Panasonic GX8 is quite a large Micro Four Thirds camera, measuring 133.2 x 77.9 x 63.1mm, and weighing 435g without a lens attached or battery inserted, although this is only actually 33g more than the GX7. Even with a slim lens like Panasonic's 20mm pancake fitted, the GX8 isn't pocketable, being much more at home in a small camera bag, which may be a deal-breaker for some. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 has a chunky hand-grip on the right that really helps with the camera's handling, with more than enough room to accommodate three fingers. This works in tandem with the sculpted rubberized thumb-rest on the rear to ensure that it's easy to get a grip on the GX8.

The GX8 follows in the footsteps of the GX7 by again featuring a built-in electronic viewfinder. The 4:3 ratio OLED display has a high resolution of 2360k dots, slightly reduced from the GX7's 2764k dots, but now offering an impressive 1.54x / 0.77x magnification thanks to the newly designed large eyecup, which makes looking through it even more of a pleasure. There's a high color reproduction of approximately 100% of the Adobe RGB colourspace, 10,000:1 High Contrast and the ability to separately adjust the brightness, contrast and saturation.

There's also a handy sensor which automatically detects when the camera is held up to eye-level and even starts auto-focusing, with just the slightest delay until the display is ready. Thirdly, a whole host of information is displayed onscreen - virtually everything that you can display on the rear LCD screen can be shown in the EVF. And last but not least, the viewfinder can be physically tilted through 90-degrees, acting as a conventional finder or a waist-level finder and anything in between. Suffice to say that we didn't miss having an optical viewfinder when shooting with the GX8.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8
Front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8

Working in tandem with the tilting electronic viewfinder is the new free-angle 3-inch OLED screen on the back of the GX8. The rotating, free-angle OLED monitor, which is hinged on the left side of the camera (looking from the rear), can be rotated 180 degrees for side to side and flipped out and twisted through 270 degrees. You can use the screen as a waist-level viewfinder, holding the camera overhead, and even for turning the DMC-GX8 on yourself for arm-length self-portraits. There's also the added benefit of folding the screen away against the camera body to protect it when stored in a camera bag, preventing it from becoming marked or scratched. The 1040K pixel, high-resolution screen delivers approximately 100% field of view (as does the electronic viewfinder). The Monitor Luminance function can be set to automatically detect the current lighting conditions and boost the LCD backlighting by up to 40% when shooting outdoors in bright sunshine, helping to keep the screen visible, or you can manually set it to one of three levels.

Just like every other Panasonic compact system camera, optical image stabilisation is supplied via the lens, in this case the top-of-the-range 12-35mm optic. But unlike every other Panasonic compact system camera except for its predecessor, the GX8 also offers image stabilisation built-in to the camera body too, with an improved four axes of compensation. And for the first time on a Panasonic camera, the two systems work together to combat camera-shake, rather than independently of one another.

In practice, the in-body system is always turned on when an image-stabilized lens is attached, with the usual modes available. There are two different modes, Mode 1 is on all the time including image composition, and Mode 2 compensates for up and down movements only (which in turn allows you to pan the camera). If a non-stabilized lens is attached, you also get the option to turn off in-body stabilization. If you fit a non-stabilized lens that the GX8 doesn't recognise, you need to enter its focal length from 8mm to 1000mm via the main menu system to benefit from the in-body stabilisation system.

The Wi-Fi function (IEEE 802.11 b/g/n) lets you use your smartphone to change the DMC-GX8's settings (focus setting, exposure compensation, ISO, WB and Photo Styles) and even fire the shutter button remotely (including interval video recordings), while the auto transfer function automatically backs up your photos onto a tablet. You can also use GPS data from your smartphone to record the shooting location onto your images. The DMC-GX8 also features NFC (Near Field Communication) technology (the same technology that's used for mobile payments), which allows you to connect it to a compatible internet enabled device or another NFC-enabled camera by simply tapping them together. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 offers a time lapse function in which you can set the time interval and the number of images to take, plus a multi-exposure option that lets you combine up to four exposures in a single frame.

The top shutter speed has also been increased to a very impressive 1/8000th second, making the GX8 one of the first compact system cameras with a mechanical shutter to offer such a high speed, and great for freezing fast-moving objects or shooting wide-open with fast lenses, even in bright conditions. The new electronic shutter function also raises the shutter speed to 1/16,000 sec. as well as allowing silent operation for quick, inconspicuous shooting.

On the front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 is a small focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, lens release button, metal lens mount and the already mentioned chunky hand-grip. On the bottom is a metal tripod socket, importantly in-line with the middle of the lens barrel, and the shared battery compartment and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot. The GX8 manages 330 shots using the supplied rechargeable Li-ion Battery Pack (7.2V, 1200mAh, 8.7Wh).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8
Rear of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8

The right-hand side of the camera, looking from the rear, is empty save for the small NFC symbol. On the left are ports for the Remote/Mic socket, HDMI and AV Out/Digital connections, hidden beneath a plastic flap. Underneath is a small microphone, with protruding metal eyelets on either side of the body for the supplied camera strap.

The top of the GX8 houses the tilting electronic viewfinder, a flash hotshoe, small stereo speakers, a one-touch movie record button and a new configurable Fn button, shoulder-mounted shutter button surrounded by a control dial for setting the aperture/shutter speed, and a shooting mode dial that's directly on top of a new exposure compensation dial, making it easy to change this key exposure setting. Note that the GX7's built-in pop-up flash has been sacrificed to make way for the new second control dial, which cleverly has a small button at its centre that makes the dial toggle between two configurable settings. Despite having so many controls in such a small space, Panasonic have achieved the no mean feat of making the GX8's top-plate feel relatively uncluttered and intuitive.

The shooting mode dial offers the usual selection of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual for the more experienced photographer. An optional exposure meter can be displayed in the P/A/S/M shooting modes which graphically shows the relationship between shutter speed and aperture, with a color-coded warning that alerts users when the settings are not in the proper range.

Intelligent Auto mode tries to make things as easy as possible for the complete beginner. It allows you to point and shoot the camera without having to worry about choosing the right scene mode or settings. Intelligent Auto Mode automatically determines a number of key criteria when taking a picture, including selecting the most appropriate scene mode (from 5 commonly used presets) and ISO speed, and turning face detection (up to 15 faces), image stabilization and quick auto-focus on.

The Intelligent Auto Plus Mode also includes Intelligent Exposure, which increases exposure only in the under-exposed areas of the image, Digital Red-eye, which automatically detects and removes red-eye, and AF Tracking, which continually tracks a moving subject and keeps it in focus, without you having to hold the shutter button halfway down as on most other cameras.

More beginner-friendly Scene modes are also available. One scene mode particularly worthy of mention is the Peripheral Defocus option, which makes it easy for beginners to achieve a blurred background / sharp subject effect without having to understand what apertures are. For more advanced users, the GX8 offers a graduation curve which can be used to individually tune the contrast behavior of the camera. The highlights and shadows can be adjusted via the touchscreen or front and rear control dials to create your own unique look, which can then be stored on one of three custom settings (or one of the three presets can be selected). Additionally there are 3 custom shooting modes which allow you to configure your favourite camera settings and quickly access them via the dedicated C1, C2 and C3 modes.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8
Top of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8

The DMC-GX8's range of Creative Controls, denoted by an artist's palette, now offers a whopping 22 options - you can see examples on the Image Quality page. You can also fine-tune each effect via a series of simple on-screen sliders for color, saturation and contrast, complete with a real-time preview of your changes. The camera even provides filter recommendations and on-screen scene guides. The Panorama mode allows you create a vertical or horizontal panoramic image (standard or wide settings), which is easily taken by 'sweeping' with the camera while keeping the shutter release depressed., plus there's the ability to apply any of the different filter effects to the panorama.

The DMC-GX8 offers both AVCHD video capture and MP4, with the latter offering 4K recording at in 3840x2160 at 25p (50Hz) or 24p in MP4 with full-time auto-focusing. Interestingly, if you want to shoot the maximum 4K video – i.e twice as high quality as Full HD – then a switch to MP4 mode is required before you can implement that setting on the Panasonic, with the choice of 25 or 24 frames per second capture speed. In other words 4K shooting is not available with AVCHD compression. You can also extract a still image from a 4K sequence, ending up with the equivalent of an 8 megapixel photo at 30fps.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 is an intriguing prospect for would-be videographers, providing access as it does to the same creative exposure P,A,S,M modes selectable when shooting stills. You also get access to all the Photo Style and Creative Control modes when shooting video. ISO settings, white balance and AF tracking are also all accessible when shooting movies. The normal bugbear of exterior location shoots is also dealt with thanks to a wind cut option among the four screen's worth of menu settings in motion picture mode.

The DMC-GX8's Intelligent Auto mode works for movies as well as for still photos. Simply select the iA shooting mode on top of the camera, then the Movie Record button. The Intelligent Scene Selector automatically determines the most suitable Scene mode from five options - Portrait, Scenery, Low Light and Close-up or Normal modes. Face Detection automatically detects a face in the frame and adjusts the focus, exposure, contrast, and skin complexion. Intelligent Exposure continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting as conditions change to prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows. The Image Stabilizer helps prevent blurring from hand-shake when using a compatible lens or via the camera body. One great benefit of the touch-screen control system is that Touch Auto Focusing is available in movie recording, enabling pro-level rack-like focusing simply by pointing at the subject on the LCD screen.

There are three 4K Photo functions - 4K Burst Shooting, 4K Burst (Start/Stop) and 4K Pre-burst which all record continuous 8 megapixel stills at a 30fps shooting rate. 4K Burst allows you to continuously record 8 megapixel images at 30fps, 4K Pre-Burst does the same but for one second prior to and one second after pressing the shutter button in order, giving you 60 frames to choose from, and 4K Burst (S/S) allows you to playback your video, pause at the chosen moment, and use the shutter button to mark a chosen frame from the video and save it as a single 8 megapixel frame.

The DMC-GX8 inherits the DMC-G6's clever touchscreen interface. Panasonic have wisely restricted the amount of things that you can do by interacting with the screen, and indeed you can still operate everything on the camera without having to push and prod the LCD at all. You would be missing out on a lot of genuinely useful functionality, though, which really improves the overall shooting experience. The DMC-GX8 has a feature called Touchpad AF which allows you to move the focus point area with your finger on the LCD while you're looking through the EVF.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8
Tilting LCD Screen

The most immediately noticeable function is the ability to use the 1-area AF mode to focus on your main subject simply by touching it on the LCD. If the subject then moves, the DMC-GX8 cleverly follows it around the screen using the the AF tracking function. If the subject exits the frame entirely, simply recompose and tap it again to start focusing. Impressive stuff that makes focusing on off-center subjects fast and intuitive. It is a little too easy to accidentally press the screen and set the focus point to the wrong area for the current subject, but a simple tap in the middle of the LCD will center the AF point (or you can turn this feature off altogether).

The size of the AF point itself can also be changed via an interactive onscreen slider. If Face Detection is enabled, the 1-area AF point can be manually set to a person's eye to help ensure that the most important part of a portrait is in focus. If Multi-area AF rather than 1-area AF is enabled, then you can select a group of 4, 5 or 6 AF points from 9 different areas, again providing some manual control over what is traditionally a rather hit and miss affair.

When Intelligent Auto is switched on, the DMC-GX8 changes the scene mode used when you touch the subject, for example selecting portrait mode if you touch a face and macro mode if you touch a close-up flower. If you prefer to manually focus rather than use the snappy AF, you can magnify any part of the subject by 1x, 5x or 10x by simply dragging the image around the screen. The final touchscreen ability from an image composition point of view is the ability to release the shutter, with a small icon on the right hand screen enabling this functionality, and then a single on-screen tap all that's required to take the picture.

All of the menu options can now be changed via the touchscreen interface. You can also control image playback by touching the screen, with the ability to tap a thumbnail to see the full-size version, scroll through your images by dragging them from side to side, and magnifying them up to 16x.

Above the LCD screen is the aforementioned electronic viewfinder, and to the right of this is a button for manually switching between the viewfinder and LCD screen (which can optionally be configured as a Function button). To the right again is a switch for choosing between the auto and manual focus modes, with yet another Fn button at its centre. The GX8 offers three auto-focus modes - AF Single, AF Flexible, and AF Continuous. AF Flexible is a relatively new mode which conventionally locks the focus when the shutter button is half-pressed, but then automatically resets it if the subject moves. Notably the GX8 can focus on a subject in very low light situations, such as under starlight, with Panasonic claiming an industry leading level of -4EV. A useful AF/AE Lock is located to the right of the rear thumb-rest.

Focus Peaking is also available on the GX8. When enabled, it graphically shows the peak of focus in the MF and AF+MF modes by displaying an outline around the subject. The detection level can be set to 'High' or ‘Low’ and a colour can be selected In ‘High’ these are light blue, yellow or green and in 'Low' blue, orange or white can be selected.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 In-hand

Directly to the right of the LCD screen is the Quick Menu button, which is again customisable to suit your way of working, although we can't see why you'd want to turn off the Quick Menu, which as the name suggests provides quick access to most of the principal controls via an onscreen menu. Depending on the current shooting mode, this displays up to 13 options that can all be changed via the touch-screen. You can also configure it to include up to 10 out of 19 available settings simply by dragging and dropping the onscreen icons. You can still access all of these options from the main menu system too if you wish.

Underneath is a self-explanatory Playback button alongside the Display button which toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed. Underneath again is a traditional 4-way navigation D-Pad system with Menu/Set button in the centre. Pressing left, up, right and down on the D-Pad buttons selects AF Mode, ISO Speed, White Balance and 4K / Burst / Self-timer options respectively.

The main menu system on the DMC-GX8 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu/Set button in the middle of the navigation D-Pad. There are five main menus represented by large icons, Record, Motion Picture, Custom, Setup and Playback. As an indication of how configurable the GX8 is, the Custom menu has 42 different options, allowing you to fine-tune this camera to suit your way of working. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Panasonic have only chosen to supply a basic guide in printed format, with the full manual only available as a PDF on the product CD.

The DMC-GX8 employs the same Contrast Auto Focus system that is commonly used by compact cameras. Despite this, the DMC-GX8's auto-focus system is as fast, if not faster, than a typical DSLR camera's, with a claimed speed of just 0.07 second when used with certain lenses, and a still impressive 0.18 second with the 14-42mm kit lens. In practice we noticed very little difference in speed between the DMC-GX8 and a DSLR, and there were also very few occasions when the DMC-GX8 failed to lock onto the subject, especially when using the centre AF point.

The DMC-GX8 additionally boasts a mode called Low Light AF which allows the camera to focus even in moonlight without needing to use the AF assist lamp, while the Starlight AF mode allows you to capture individual stars and constellations in the night sky. There are a wide range of AF modes on offer, including multiple-area AF with up to 23 focus areas, 1-area AF with a selectable focus area, Face Detection, and AF Tracking. The DMC-GX8 also has a useful Quick AF function that begins focusing as soon as you point the camera.

The start-up time from turning the Lumix DMC-GX8 on to being ready to take a photo is very impressive at less than 0.5 seconds. It takes about 1 second to store a JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card. Storing a single RAW image only takes around 1 second. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 has a very good Burst mode which enables you to take 8 frames per second when using the mechanical shutter for around 100 JPEG images at the highest image quality, or 30 RAW images. There's also a faster 10fps mode when using the electronic shutter, and a 6fps mode at full 16 megapixel resolution with AF Tracking turned on to capture moving subjects. The electronic shutter function also raises the shutter speed to 1/16,000 sec. as well as allowing silent operation for quick, inconspicuous shooting.