Panasonic Lumix G6 Review
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The Panasonic Lumix G6 is a Micro Four Thirds compact system camera featuring a 16 megapixel image sensor, an OLED viewfinder, high resolution 3-inch free-angle LCD screen, new-generation Venus processing engine, ultra-sensitive "night-shot AF" mode and Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity. The Panasonic G6 also offers a touchscreen interface, fast 0.18 second auto-focusing, 7fps burst shooting, ISO range of 160-25,600, Full HD 1080p videos, mechanical and silent electronic shutters, a Function Lever, an eye proximity sensor, level gauge and an extensive range of Photo Style and Creative Control filters. The Panasonic Lumix G6 is available in black in four kit options: body-only (£549), in a kit with the 14-42mm II lens (£629 / $749.99), in a double-zoom kit with the 14-42mm II and 45-150mm lenses (£799) and in a bundle with the new 14-140mm superzoom lens (£949).
Ease of Use
The new Panasonic Lumix G6 is just a little larger than the G5 model that it succeeds, measuring 122.45 x 84.6 x 71.4 mm, but weighs about the same 340g for the body only. Styledl very much in the DSLR mould, the Panasonic Lumix G6 is an understated, contemporary camera that closely follows the design ethos of previous G-series models. It manages to fit a 3-inch fully rotating, free-angle LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder into its diminutive dimensions, yet is still comfortable enough for users with average-sized hands to operate. Apart from the handgrip, rear thumbgrip and the right-hand side of the camera, which are all rubberised, the G6 has a matt, smooth plastic finish. It's still extremely well-built with a high quality aluminium chassis, metal lens mount and metal tripod socket that belies its relatively affordable price point.
On the front of the Panasonic Lumix G6 is a small focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, black lens release button, metal lens mount and rubberised hand-grip with a sculpted indent for your forefinger, which is large enough to effectively aid your hold on the camera. As with all Panasonic compact system cameras, optical image stabilisation is supplied via the lens, but the 14-42mm kit lens lens that we tested the G6 lacks a physical OIS switch. Instead it can be turned on and off through the G6's menu system. When enabled, the Panasonic Lumix G6 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds when the camera is hand held. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos.
On the front-left of the G6 under the prominent "G" logo is the MIC socket for use with an external microphone, hidden under a rubber flap. On the left of the body are is the NFC logo. The Lumix G6 is one of the very first compact system cameras to feature NFC (Near Field Communication) technology (the same technology that's used for mobile payments), which allows you to connect the camera to a compatible internet enabled device or another NFC enabled camera by simply tapping them together.
On the right side of the G6 are three connection ports, including the AV Out/Digital port, a port for athe optional remote shutter release, and an HDMI port for connecting the G6 to a HD television or monitor. Panasonic don't include a HDMI cable as standard in the box, which means that you'll have to purchase one separately to take advantage of this camera's HD connectivity. 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 G6 manages around 340 shots using the supplied 7.2V 1200mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery before needing to be recharged, a slight improvement on the 300 shot life offered by the G5.
Found on top of the Panasonic Lumix G6 are the external flash hotshoe and built-in pop-up flash, complete with a manual switch to open it on the rear, twin stereo microphones, on/off switch, one-touch Intelligent Auto Plus (iA+) button for quickly switching to this beginner-friendly shooting mode, a handy one-touch movie record button and a reasonably sized, tactile shutter button. The G6 also retains the curious Function Lever from the previous G5 model. This innocuous looking switch allows to to zoom any power zoom lens, zoom into an image when in playback mode and navigate the user interface. It has a rather spongy feel but is well-positioned under your right forefinger and provides a useful upgrade path for compact camera users.
Completing the Panasonic Lumix G6's top panel is a traditional shooting mode dial that lets you choose the different exposure modes. This dial is a typical feature of SLR cameras and enables you to quickly change between the various modes. The usual selection of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual are available for more experienced photographers, while beginner-friendly Scene modes are accessed via the SCN setting. Additionally there are 2 custom modes, marked C1 and C2, which allow you to configure four of your favourite settings (two per mode) and quickly access them.
The G6's range of Creative Controls, denoted by an artist's palette, now offers a whopping 19 options. Some are more useful than others, and we're not quite sure why these modes deserve their own special place on the shooting mode dial, rather than being grouped together with the Photo Styles in the Main Menu. It's presumably because you lose control of the exposure and other key settings when using the Creative Controls, whereas the 6 available Photo Styles still allow full control of the camera's settings. The Creative Panorama mode allows you to apply any of the 19 different effects to a vertical or horizontal panoramic image, which is easily taken by 'sweeping' with the camera while keeping the shutter release depressed.
The clever Intelligent Auto mode, selected via the dedicated button on top of the G6, tries to make things as easy as possible for the complete beginner, allowing them 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. Intelligent D-range continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting as conditions change to prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows, while Intelligent Resolution mode makes a standard image look like a higher resolution one.
In practice the Intelligent Auto Mode system works very well, with the G6 seamlessly choosing the most appropriate combination of settings for the current situation. The 5 available scene modes are Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait and Night Scenery, so obviously not all situations are covered by Intelligent Auto Mode, but it does work for the majority of the time. It makes it possible for the less experienced photographer to easily take well-exposed, sharp pictures of people, scenery and close-ups by simply pointing and shooting the camera. Also catering for the beginner are a total of 23 different scene modes.
The G6 offers Full 1080p HD 1920 x 1080 movies at 60/50/25/24 frames per second, and 720p HD 1280 x 720 movies at 60/50fps, both in the AVCHD (MPEG-4/H.264) format. In addition it can also record MP4 movies at 1920 x 1080 at 60/50/25fps, 1280 x 720 movies at 25fps, and 640 x 480 pixels at 25fps, useful as this format can currently be shared more easily. Panasonic describe it as the best mode for playing back on a HD TV direct from the camera, and MP4 best for email and playing on a computer. There is a limit on the length of a movie of up to 29 min 59 sec in European PAL areas, and continuous recording exceeding 2GB is not possible when recording in the MP4 format.
The new Creative Movie shooting mode, accessed via the mode dial on top of the G6, allows you to set the shutter speed, aperture or both settings manually during recording (a Program option is also available). Changing the shutter speed is especially suitable for shooting fast-moving subjects, whilst the ability to control the aperture is convenient when there are several subjects at different distances. In practice this system works well, allowing some really creative effects, but there are a couple of drawbacks. Firstly the operating sound of the control dials is very audible in the movie, so you'll need to edit the soundtrack later to remove it or use the new Silent Operation mode which operates the zoom, aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity and mic level adjustments via the touch-screen. Secondly, you can't set the shutter speed to below 1/30th second, instantly ruling out more creative slow shutter-speed effects.
Stereo sound is recorded during video capture and you can also fit an optional external stereo microphone, as with the G5. There's also a useful wind cut function which blocks out most of the noise from background wind. The dedicated movie button on the top makes it simple to start record video footage at whatever quality level is currently selected. The HDMI port allows you to connect the G6 to a high-def TV set, but only if you purchase the optional HDMI mini-cable.
The Panasonic Lumix G6's Intelligent Auto mode works for movies as well as for still photos. Simply press the iA button on top of the camera, then the Movie Record button on the rear. 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 Optical Image Stabilizer helps prevent blurring from hand-shake when using a compatible lens. 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.
The new Wi-Fi function (IEEE 802.11 b/g/n), accessed by the new button on the rear of the camera, lets you use your smartphone to change the G6'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 Panasonic Lumix G6 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 rear of the Lumix G6 is dominated by the large 3 inch LCD screen. The rotating, free-angle LCD 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 G6 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 higher-resolution 1036K pixel high-resolution screen coped admirably with the majority of lighting conditions. The Auto Power LCD function automatically detects the current lighting conditions and boosts the LCD backlighting by up to 40% when shooting outdoors in bright sunshine, helping to keep the screen visible. The high-res, free-angle LCD screen is much more than just a novelty - it's a lot more versatile than the usual combination of optical viewfinder and fixed LCD, providing new angles of view and enhancing your overall creativity. Above all, it's a fun way of composing your images.
The G6 inherits the G5's clever touchscreen interface, but the LCD now uses a more responsive capacitive design, rather than its predecessors pressure-sensitive technology. 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 G6 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.
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 G6 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 G6 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.
|Front||Tilting LCD Screen|
Instead of the optical viewfinder of a conventional DSLR, the Panasonic Lumix G6 has an electronic viewfinder. The viewfinder on the G6 is a new OLED Live View Finder with 1,440,000 dots, a big improvement on the G5's already very good EVF. It has a large 1.4x (0.7x on 35mm equiv.) magnification, very high contrast at 10,000:1, and offers 100% field of view, resulting in a very usable display that won't leave you cursing. The EVF (and also the main LCD screen) operates at 60fps, twice the usual speed, which helps make it relatively flicker-free (although it is still slightly noticeable).
The G6 has a handy eye proximity sensor which detects when the camera is held up to your eye and automatically switches from the rear LCD screen to the EVF. You can also manually switch between the two via the LVF button (this button can also be usefully reconfigured to the Function5 button). As the EVF is reading the same signal from the image sensor as the rear LCD screen, it can also display similar information - for example, you can view and operate the G6's Quick Menu, giving quick access to all the key camera settings while it's held up to your eye.
The main downside of the G6's EVF system occurs indoors in low light, as it has to "gain-up" to produce a usable picture, resulting in a noticeably grainier picture. In all other situations, however, the electronic viewfinder on the G6 is the equal of and in many areas better than a DSLR's optical viewfinder, particularly those found on entry-level models which are typically dim and offer limited scene coverage. The truest testament to the G6 is that we mostly used it by holding it up to eye-level, something that we wouldn't do unless the EVF was of sufficiently high quality.
Positioned to the right of the EVF are the Quick Menu button and a very useful AF/AE Lock button (which can be reconfigured to the Function1 and Function2 buttons respectively). The Q.Menu button provides quick access to most of the principal controls, including the photo style, flash, movie type, image size, image quality, auto-focus and metering options.
To the right again is a black control dial that's used for, amongst other things, changing the aperture and shutter speed by turning it from left to right and back again. This is a common feature found on DSLR cameras, so you'll be right at home if you've used a DSLR before - compact camera users will need to get used to using this dial, although it is possible (but rather long-winded) to set the aperture/shutter speed via the LCD screen. The control dial can also be pressed inwards to switch to set the exposure compensation.
Below this are the Playback and the Display buttons, the latter cycling through the various LCD views, including the useful level gauge for making your horizons straight. Underneath again is a traditional 4-way navigation pad system with a Menu/Set button in the centre. Pressing left, up, right and down on the D-Pad buttons selects AF Mode, ISO, White Balance and Burst mode / Bracketing / Self-timer options respectively.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The main menu system on the G6 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 G6 is, the Custom menu has 37 different options, which along with the 5 different configurable Function buttons allows 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 Panasonic Lumix G6's Intelligent Resolution mode makes a standard image look like a higher resolution one by processing the contour areas, texture areas and smooth areas individually. There are three available strengths - low, standard and high - and an Extended option which increase the zoom range. Despite all the clever behind-the-scenes processing, it's fairly easy to tell which image was taken with Intelligent Resolution turned on and which one with it turned off due to unwanted artifacts appearing, particularly if viewing onscreen at 100% magnification. While the difference isn't quite so apparent on a print up to A3 in size, we're not convinced enough to recommend regularly using it.
Intelligent Dynamic adjusts the exposure setting to record more detail in the highlights and shadows, with three strengths available - low, standard and high. It's actually very effective for high-contrast scenes when the camera tends to blow-out the highlights and block-up the shadows. You can see some examples for both Intelligent Resolution and Intelligent Dynamic on the Image Quality page. The HDR feature achieves the still fashionable high dynamic range look, and there are now three available EV settings to adjust the effect, rather than simply On and Off as on the G5. The new Stop Motion Animation function creates a stop motion (stop frame) video on camera with the pictures that are sequentially shot while moving an object, while the Time Lapse Shot mode records a series of images of a stationary subject and then automatically combines them in-camera to produce a time-lapse video.
The G6 employs the same Contrast Auto Focus system that is commonly used by compact cameras. Despite this, the G6's auto-focus system is as fast, if not faster, than a typical DSLR camera's, with a claimed speed of less than 0.1 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 G6 and a DSLR, and there were also very few occasions when the G6 failed to lock onto the subject, especially when using the centre AF point. The G6 additionally boasts a new mode called Low Light AF which allows the camera to focus even in moonlight without needing to use the AF assist lamp. 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 G6 also has a useful Quick AF function that begins focusing as soon as you point the camera, and it also now offers the popular Focus Peaking function that outlines the in-focus subject in the MF and AF+MF modes.
The start-up time from turning the Lumix G6 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 - there is a barely perceptible LCD blackout between each image. Storing a single RAW image takes around 5 seconds, but thankfully it doesn't lock up the camera in any way - you can use the menu system or shoot another image while the first file is being written to memory. The Panasonic Lumix G6 has a very good Burst mode which enables you to take 7 frames per second for an unlimited number of JPEG images at the highest image quality, or 9 RAW images. There's also a faster 40fps mode, but the images are only recorded at 4 megapixels, and a 5fps mode at full 16 megapixel resolution with AF Tracking turned on to capture moving subjects.
Once you have captured a photo, the Panasonic Lumix G6 has a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (up to 30 onscreen at the same time and in a Calendar view), zoom in and out up to 16x magnification, view slideshows, delete, protect, trim, resize, copy and rotate an image. You can also select favourite images, change an image's aspect ratio, divide a video and set the print order. The new Clear Retouch function erases unwanted parts of a picture after shooting by simply tracing over them with your fingertip on the LCD screen. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small brightness histogram available during shooting and RGBY histogram during playback if enabled in the menu. You can also turn on guide-lines to help with composition and flashing highlights which indicate any over-exposed areas of the image.