Panasonic GX8 Field Tests | Brighton Photography
You may be wondering why I’m just starting to field test a camera which has been out for over a year. Well, not everybody is an early adopter and I’ve seen the benefits in waiting a while. Initial reviews can be useful in building up excitement, but there’s nothing quite like a substantial body of real-world testimonials to give you a better picture of how any given camera or lens performs in real-world situations. And importantly for me, after a year prices tend to fall substantially.
My work is quite demanding in that I require exemplary optics for everything from portraiture through to wildlife photography. I also need superfast performance because many of my subjects (pets, other animals, and sport) are fast-moving. And as a working professional, focus accuracy is important as well. Notice image quality doesn’t tend to get much of a mention – IQ is fabulous in all of today’s modern cameras. If you’re a shameless pixel peeper do try to remember that an image when viewed at 100% on your computer screen is broadly equivalent to a print several feet across. How often do you print at that size? The fact is that most people view their photographs on a computer, then they publish those photographs somewhere on the Internet. In which case the photographs will be posted at low resolution in order to be manageable and practical. A camera with even minimal resolution and average image quality will yield beautiful results in skilled hands, the limiting factor is final output form and size.
I do make a lot of prints of course, it’s what my business specialises in. And they’re big – my clients routinely want images for the wall which are 40 inches across. Today’s modern 16MP sensors will have no problem with that, providing the photographer exercises the usual presumptions around skill. That is, accurate focus, appropriate shutter speeds and aperture, and indeed all the other factors which add up to a sharp and pleasing photograph. Remember that any weaknesses in your technique will be magnified the larger you print. The quickest way to add a bit of resolution to your camera is to upgrade your lenses – a sharp contrasty optic, when used correctly, will mean the difference between a 20 inch maximum print and one much bigger.
Digression aside, I have an assistant who routinely comments on how he dislikes small buttons. Not small cameras – small buttons. For this very reason he’s always grasping at my Olympus EM1, leaving me to use something else. I don’t want this habit to continue so it was time to get him something suitable. I don’t have the budget for another EM1, and indeed there are other options out there. Handling is everything when a camera is going to be in your hands for hours at a time, and the Panasonic GX8 is known for its substantial grip and impressive feature set. I got a very good deal over the Black Friday weekend and I’m only just getting a bit of time to put the GX8 through the usual initial field tests which tell me what I need to know.
On yesterday’s outing I set out to examine:
- single autofocus speed and accuracy
- continuous autofocus speed and accuracy
- RAW dynamic range
- white balance in Auto WB (not what I use when working, but definitely something my readers are interested in)
- overall handling
- sharpness and IQ (I didn’t expect any surprises on that front)
- postprocessing malleability
By a happy coincidence the day I’d set aside for this coincided with a gloriously bright crisp winter day – with the sort of extreme and glaring low winter sunshine which will stress any sensor. So I headed off to Brighton with one of my students. Unfortunately we didn’t get to stay as long as we’d hoped because the car park by Churchill Square now charges £12 if you’re a minute over four hours, and upwards thereafter. And this is not the most expensive Brighton car park by any means. But I think we were there long enough for me to form an initial impression on the camera.
In terms of one shot autofocus the GX8 is absurdly fast. I remember being blown away by the speed of my OMD cameras each time I bought one, but the GX8 is blistering. And it’s accurate. Very often the big deal with Micro 4/3 cameras is continuous focus – normally the province of highly specified DSLR bodies. I tested this out on some very fast moving jet skiers which I shot from the end of Brighton Pier. All of the photographs were perfectly sharp which was a pleasant surprise. I do have further continuous autofocus testing to do, but initial impressions are very positive.
Dynamic range and image quality are what you would expect from a modern Micro 4/3 camera – excellent. That said, with all of the Panasonic cameras I’ve ever used I’ve noticed that RAW files (irrespective of white balance setting) run cooler with a slight magenta cast. The Panasonic JPEGs on the other hand have excellent colour balance when using the auto setting. Luckily the RAW shift is confined just to the red channel and is very quick and easy to correct in Lightroom. By comparison my Olympus files are always spot-on.
The images are packed with detail. I will say at this point that my tests were conducted using the Panasonic 14-140ii lens. This is not a professional lens by any means but it is a hugely versatile travel lens and one I use a great deal for personal photography, which makes it a good first choice for initial benchmarking. It’s a lens which has a slightly bad reputation with this particular camera, due to a phenomenon called shutter shock, which tends to occur at shutter speeds below about 1/320. Some of yesterday’s photographs did fall into that category but examination did not reveal any evidence of shutter shock. All of the tests were carried out using the mechanical shutter not the e-shutter.
I will say that you should never purchase nor upgrade your camera based on a perception that your photographs will be better – with today’s equipment that comes down to your skill (notwithstanding specific performance needs for discipline such as sport etc). Will you see a difference between the Micro 4/3 16MP sensor and the latest 20MP offerings? If you put your photographs mostly on the web and make prints at less than about 20 inches then no, I doubt you’ll see any difference. Whilst 16MP to 20MP sounds like a large increment, it only amounts to about 12% in linear resolution terms. That said, I do see a little more detail when zooming in but as I said earlier you’re only likely to see that if you make massive prints. If you have to crop a lot, as I often do, then it can be argued that any resolution increase will be helpful.
The landscape in Brighton had changed a little since my last visit. For a start, the Brighton Eye has gone – vanished. That structure has been imprinted on my brain for so long that I didn’t even notice that it wasn’t there. Instead, there is something else which you will have seen in the pictures. Before anybody writes in and goes ‘when are they going to pull down that ghastly chimney stack’ I should point out it exists for the pleasure of those who want a panoramic view for miles around. But I agree it is really ugly. The doughnut thing which goes up and down, and contains people, is actually quite pretty. It looks tiny from a distance, but it’s big in real life with lots of room for people to walk round in any direction. I haven’t been up it due to my complete horror of heights.
The shot below is a really tight crop of the image above – I think the detail is impressive:
Once again, a tight crop of the photograph above – this was taken using the continuous autofocus: