Panasonic Australia’s PR agency sent over a review loaner of the new Panasonic Lumix GX8 hybrid camera with a zoom and a prime lens recently, and it was a revelation of what Micro Four Thirds cameras can be.
I came to love the GX8 almost instantly and what it is has brought to my photography is without peer right now, a new form of the experience I am more used to having with 35mm and 120 film analog rangefinder cameras like the Leica M-series and what I refer to as Texas Leicas, rangefinder-style cameras made by Mamiya, Plaubel and Fujifilm under the Fujica brand name.
The Texas Leica Experience, But Digital
Those now mostly discontinued Texas Leicas (“everything is bigger in Texas”) had the twin virtues of speed of use and a large film format, often somewhat square in ratio, including 6cm x 4.5cm and 6cm x 7cm. Similar proportions to the canvases of big, classical paintings. Especially suited to figures in landscapes or environmental portraits.
My other favorite type of 120 roll film cameras were the twin lens reflexes made by Franke & Heidecke under the Rollei brand. The Rolleiflex TLR is, alas, no more. DHW Fototechnik GmbH took over the Rollei brand name then ceased operations in April 2015.
The Waist-Level Finder Experience
But in the Panasonic GX8 we now have something similar in effect. The Rolleiflex waist level finder with flip-up magnifier combined with its 6cm x 6cm square format was perfect for two different though somewhat related types of photography, portraits and street photography.
British portrait and fashion photographer/director David Bailey came to prominence with his celebrity portraits shot on Rolleiflexes. The recently-discovered self-taught photographer Vivian Maier was an exponent of street portraiture with the Rolleiflex.
There is something about using a camera by bending your head down to it that seems to disarm portrait subjects. Doing the same in public appears to turn photographers almost invisible, ignored by the swirl of people surrounding them.
The GX8’s Amazing EVF…
I certainly experienced that when shooting with the GX8, often tilting its beautifully sharp electronic viewfinder fully perpendicular or close to it. So sharp and certainly the next best thing to seeing through an optical viewfinder window like the ones in my Leicas and Texas Leicas.
I had long ago developed the knack of keeping both eyes open when shooting, the left to survey the wider scene and track people about to enter the narrower view through the camera’s viewfinder.
Two eyes, two viewpoints and a split view in my brain. Paying equal attention to both. Hitting the shutter at the exact moment. Knowing what is about to come next. Being ready for the next graphically significant moment.
I called it “visual athletics” and it was a whole heap of fun. My photographs gained a life and an energy from kinetic and potential energy frozen in 1/250th of a second.
The GX8, Best of Several Worlds
Try as I might, I could never reproduce that way of seeing and shooting with non-rangefinder cameras. Especially 35mm SLRs and DSLRs, even when using burst mode. Relying on eyes and trigger finger got results that were missed in the in-between when shooting in burst.
The GX8, I have discovered to my enormous pleasure, is the best of those several worlds. Its 20 megapixel sensor, the biggest of any Micro Four Thirds camera so far, delivers quality rivalling that of my Texas Leicas. Surpassing it, given the degree to which one can fine tune digital compared to images in silver halide.
The GX8’s EVF is the closest thing I have seen to date to the view through an optical rangefinder. I can operate with two eyes and two simultaneous views with impunity because both of them are equally sharp and detailed, without any discernible lag. Better yet, I have all the technical information I need overlaid in its display.
Autofocus, Ultrafast and Accurate
Ultra-fast, incredibly accurate autofocus is another GX8 strong point. With other cameras, I rely on manual hyperfocal focusing and the main subject hitting the sweet spot as I hit the shutter button. Wit the GX8, I found myself letting it take care of focus over 90% of the time. As I gain confidence, that may become 100%.
Exposure is another area where I increasingly handed it over to the GX8. My street photography often takes place in hard sunlight with deep shadows scattered about. I steadily replaced manually set exposure with reliance on the camera’s electronic eye, especially in A-for-aperture mode.
Choose a reasonable ISO and aperture to get everything crucial in focus, hand the rest over the GX8 and pay attention to the scene in which I am embedded. Focus mind and eye where it most counts. See the image, get the shot. Go on to the next.
None of those hundreds of frames about which digital early adopters complained so bitterly. Tempt me not into machine-gunning my subject matter with pixels going into my desktop’s round folder. [bctt tweet=”Panasonic Lumix GX8, an even better stills & movie camera than its excellent tech specs suggest.”]
A Precision Gained from Collaborating with Leica?
There is a precision in so many other aspects of the GX8. The years and man-hours (human-hours?) Panasonic has spent in close collaboration with Leica digital cameras, and lenses for that matter, has paid off here.
The GX8’s DNA clearly contains some of Leica’s DNA, past and present. Compare the GX8’s rectangular looks and feel in the hand with those of Leica’s brand new Leica SL. The “Straight Pro”, as it states on the Leica website front page.
Place the GX8 next to one of the Leica SL’s digital rangefinder predecessors, though do bear in mind the not inconsiderable price difference and manufacturing quality. Just as I found it hard to ever put my Leica M-series analog cameras down, the GX8’s clean lines and finely-textured hard-edged feel tempts me to pick it up, hold it, carry it, use it. Especially now that I’ve equipped it with Peak Design’s Clutch and Cuff camera straps, with Peak Design’s new SlideLITE or Slide Summit Edition often coming along for the ride.
Even Closer Collaboration, Please!
I’d like to see Leica and Panasonic work even closer again than they have so far. A camera like the GX8 that has so much of the Leica shooting experience to it demands more Leica-like lenses.
Although Panasonic Australia kindly sent over a Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 Aspheric pancake prime and a Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II Mega O.I.S. standard zoom, the GX8 seemed to demand something more substantial in build, with metal barrel instead of plastic. I found my Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro on the front of the GX8 more than I would have thought. A sharp-looking metal-crafted camera seems to want an equally sharp metal-crafted lens attached.
The Lumix 14mm prime and 14-42mm zoom lenses do possess some excellent qualities. I installed the latest firmware on the 14-42mm and put Panasonic’s new Dual IS to the test in available darkness and equally poor lighting conditions.
It was a welcome change from the GH4’s lack of in-body stabilization and a pleasant reminder of the benefits using my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 via its OIS-supporting Metabones adapter. I switch lens stabilization off when shooting video with it but often switch it on for stills.
Some Outstanding Panasonic Lenses
The Panasonic Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 is an outstanding little pancake lens for its size and price. It stayed on throughout my time outdoors in the city and delivered great results as two images on this page attest.
I really appreciate discrete cameras and lenses, especially when blending in with the crowd in tourist destination cities. I benefit from tourists and day-tripping locals lugging their full frame DSLR rigs around their necks and going through the whole big camera, big lens, slow and steady routine. I slip quietly through the throngs, within inches of my subjects, and get my shots with speed and precision, never overshooting.
I am much too unfamiliar with the whole range of Micro Four Thirds lenses and right now I do not have the budget to buy everything that I want. But I have been blown away by the Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Aspheric with Power O.I.S. I too-briefly tried out the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro but even so, rated it way up there above its remarkable, ever-reliable M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro companion.
I was spoiled for optical quality during the analog era with my small collection of German lenses. A case of quality over quantity.
I’d love to try the other Panasonic lenses too, especially the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 and the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 as well as Panasonic’s recent additions to its prime lens lineup.
My firsthand knowledge of the many other prime and zoom lenses available for the Micro Four Thirds format and the rest of mirrorless is a little too narrow for my liking. To all you camera and lens makers out there, any time you want to send some lenses and cameras over, please go ahead. Don’t hold back now!
The Joys of Dual Image Stabilization
Likewise I am not familiar with the GX8’s predecessor, the GX7, but have read the praise heaped upon it by users, especially photojournalists. The GX7 was apparently a pioneering camera for its in-body image stabilization. Having worked as a magazine and newspaper photographer, and now sometimes covering industry events, effective stabilization is a must especially when those events take place in available darkness.
The GX8 ups the ante and heads into Olympus OM-D territory with its 5-axis image stabilization. Again, I haven’t had the pleasure of using Olympus OM-D cameras but if what I have seen of 5-axis IS in the GX8 is any guide, then Panasonic, please do your level best to bring it to all aspects of still and moving image-making in your cameras from now onwards.
I tried a variety of lenses on the GX8, from adapted Canon L through in-lens OIS Panasonic and no-OIS Olympus and one Panasonic lens updated with firmware enabling full Dual IS, combining in-lens IS with in-body IS.
To date, Panasonic has issued Dual IS firmware updates for six lenses including the loaner Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II and is working on the same for more. In its present form, full image stabilization on the GX8 is conditional, applying to some lenses and where one is shooting stills or video, and whether the video is HD or UHD aka 4K. I am greedy. I want to see full IS in everything, having experienced it in available darkness stills and HD video now.
Panasonic’s Excellent Menu System & GX8’s Great UI
The GX8 continues the excellent tradition established by the GH4 and other Lumix cameras of having one of the most rational menu system I have seen so far. The GX8 contains items I have not seen in the GH$, the former being more of a stills came than a mice camera and the latter being the reverse. But most menu items are available in both and starting fast with the GX8 was a snap.
Also getting top marks is the GX8’s physical user interface, every button and dial being easily accessible with the fingers of the right hand. There are plenty of programmable function buttons too. I left them as is though. The GH4 showed me you need plenty of time with a new camera to work out the best way to program its function buttons.
Amazing Stills and…
I have throughly enjoyed my time with the GX8 and it is now at the very top of my hardware wish list. And that is without being able to get the very best out of it yet. The stills images on this page have not been processed through my usual workflow, involving DxO OpticsPro, DxO FilmPack and DxO ViewPoint, which also constitute the DxO Photo Suite.
DxO is working on profiling the GX8 camera, sensor and a range of MFT lenses at the moment and may be issuing profiles later this year. In the meantime, DxO OpticsPro will accept GX8 JPEGs though not all functionality will be enabled. And it will also accept TIFFs exported from other raw processors though again without full access to all OpticsPro functions.
It is workaround time until later this year, or you can use other Raw processors that have already updated their camera profiles to suit. DxO OpticsPro is my benchmark for final judgements on camera capabilities so I am looking forward to the coming OpticsPro update.
Meanwhile I have been thoroughly impressed with the GX8 as a stills camera despite the workaround, and experienced twinges of regret that my magazine career is in the past. Give me a couple of GX8s and a brace of top prime lenses and I would head out into the field in a flash, if the field was anything like it used to be.
… Great Video too.
The GX8 has much in common with the GH4 as a video camera and I have no hesitation in recommending it as an excellent second or B-roll movie camera. I shot footage at a local event where I would normally rely on my GH4 and was very pleased with the results.
The GX8 lacks flavor-of-the-moment V-Log L and does not shoot 4K DCI but its handling of 4K UHD is very good indeed. Better yet is that all the usual photo styles (except V-Log L of course) on the GH4 are also available on the GX8 and you can make the most of them via customization.
I applied the Cinelike D customization recommended by Berlin-based Australian Paul Leeming of Visceral Psyche in his Leemimg LUT One and commend it highly. Leemimg LUT One has two parts, the in-camera customization and the input LUT. It is worth every cent, and is a viable alternative to V-Log L that allows you to quickly and easily color sync GX8 footage up with GH4 footage, ready for further grading and looks LUTs.
It feels as if there is so much more to be said about the GX8 but I have already written too much. I love this camera, clearly!
It has got me excited about stills photography again even after being so impressed with the GH4’s underestimated abilities in that area.
It has given me the confidence to take it into the field in any situation to shoot top quality stills and video. It feels great and operates beautifully in the hand and is equally terrific on a tripod or monopod.
I love its fully articulated LCD touchscreen monitor and its EVF is simply amazing.
I cannot recommend this camera enough, and have already done so after being approached by a budding young photographer the other day.
And I have yet to push the GX8 to its limits.
Some Recommended Reviews
I am not the most technically nor specifications-minded person so I am recommending some reviews, below, by others who have had longer access to the GX8 and have been Micro Four Thirds users far longer than I. Enjoy!
- 4/3 Rumors: The Pansonic GX8 gets DxOmarked. Is now officially the best ranked MFT camera!
- David Thorpe: A Review Of The Panasonic DMC-GX8 Micro Four Thirds Camera
- DxOMark: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Review: Top-ranking Four-Thirds sensor
- MirrorLessons: The GH4 Revamped for Stills – The Panasonic GX8 Review
- MirrorLessons: Comparing the Panasonic GX8 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 – Sensors and stabilisation
- Neocamera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Review
(cover photo credit: snap from Karin Gottschalk)