Camera Review: Panasonic Lumix G85
February 28, 2017
The Panasonic Lumix G85 is a nicely proportioned mid-range mirrorless camera that delivers some surprising video results.
Announced at Photokina, the G85 was undoubtedly overshadowed by the news of the forthcoming GH5. But Panasonic’s latest Lumix packs a potent feature set for both still and video shooters that shouldn’t be overlooked as the GH5 hype bubble inflates. We paired with N.J. photographer and director David Patiño to take the G85 for a spin.
While the G85 uses a relatively low-resolution 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds-sized sensor, there’s no optical low pass filter, so you can squeeze out more sharpness. The ISO range of 200-6400 can be pushed to a low of ISO 100 and a high of 25,600.
The G85 employs an in-body 5-axis image stabilizer and when paired with select Panasonic lenses, can support the company’s Dual Image Stabilization technology to deliver up to 5 stops of image correction.
The camera uses a contrast detect AF system with 49 AF points. Mechanical shutter speeds reach 1/4000 sec. and there’s an option to use an electronic shutter to reach 1/16,000.
Like all of Panasonic’s recent introductions, the G85 records 4K video (3840 x 2160) at 30p or full HD at 60p in camera. It offers three 4K Photo modes to isolate 8-megapixel still frames from video. There’s also Post Focus, which records a series of 8-megapixel images, each with a different AF point selected. You can then choose the best image in camera simply by touching an area you want in focus or you can download the entire series to your computer.
Panasonic has always embraced a more utilitarian esthetic for its mirrorless cameras, eschewing the analogue-inspired designs of its competitors for a more functional and ergonomic body. “It’s like a mini DSLR,” Patiño observes approvingly. It works for us. The G85 has a prominent hand grip that’s very comfortable to hold. The exterior controls are well placed and there are multiple customizable function buttons that let you personalize the camera to your needs.
You compose your scene through a swiveling, 3-inch touch screen display or a 2.36 million dot EVF. While it’s a fairly high-res display, it’s not super bright.
Despite its weather sealing, the G85 is fairly light at 1.1 pounds—on par with the weather-sealed Olympus E-M5 Mark II but heavier than Fuji’s X-T10. Though the G85 has roughly the same dimensions as the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, it feels less substantial.
The G85 features a revamped shutter mechanism to dampen its vibration—the better to coax out even more sharpness from the filter-less sensor. The mechanical shutter is extremely quiet and images don’t appear to suffer from motion-induced blur (a problem that reportedly beset this camera’s predecessor).
The G85 may not have the resolution of comparably priced DSLRs, but JPEG image quality didn’t leave us wanting. However, Patiño says he was a bit disappointed in the camera’s ISO capabilities. Noise is visible in JPEGs from ISO 2500 and at ISO 6400, RAW noise was fairly tricky to purge without losing details.
Where Patiño was pleasantly surprised was the camera’s video quality. He used it to film a live performance in a music studio in fairly low ambient light at ISO 1600. The footage was excellent and could be cut in with the Sony a7R IIs that were also in the shoot. Panasonic has two video-friendly picture profiles, CineEV and CineD, to create a flatter image for post-process color grading. Unfortunately, there’s no headphone jack, though there is a mic jack.
The G85 acquires focus ridiculously fast, particularly when it comes to switching between objects in the foreground and background in AF-S mode. Focusing is also very accurate in low-light conditions. The camera is rated to an excellent -4 EV. The G85 can hit 6 fps with continuous AF engaged and 9 fps with focus fixed on the first frame, clocking in slower than Sony’s a6300 but on par with Canon’s 80D and a bit speedier than Nikon’s D7200.
We found focus tracking to be a bit more hit-and-miss than we were expecting given the speed of focus acquisition in single point. Shooting a youth basketball game, we alternated between face detection tracking and just tracking and had much better luck with the latter.
For all its speed in focusing, Patiño says the G85 was very slow to start video recording with delays of up to 7 or 8 seconds after hitting the record button.
The G85 has a CIPA-rated battery life of 320 shots, which is fairly meager by mirrorless standards. Patiño says the battery life was a major disappointment during video recording, where he was forced to power down the camera between takes to preserve battery life. Spares cost about $16 and are a must. There is an economy mode to boost battery life to 800 shots as well as an optional battery grip to prolong the camera’s endurance.
The G85 sits squarely in a price point that is brimming with some of the best mirrorless cameras on the market, including Sony’s a6300, Fuji’s X-T10, to say nothing of mid-range APS-C DSLRs like Canon’s 80D or Nikon’s D7200. The G85 shouldn’t be your first choice if continuous shooting is your priority (go for the a6300), or if you require low light capability (Nikon’s D7200 there) or higher still pixel counts (all of the above). Instead, the G85 distinguishes itself with excellent video quality, DSLR-like handling in a compact body and interesting features like 4K Photo and Post Focus.
PROS: Outstanding video quality; feature-rich; excellent design and ergonomics; blazing fast focus acquisition.
CONS: Poor battery life; limited ISO range; sluggish start to video recording.