With the introduction of the 20-megapixel GX9, Panasonic does a bit of give and take between the new model and its predecessor, the GX8. Although there are similarities between the two mirrorless cameras, the GX9 now takes more of a mid-level position in Panasonic’s line-up. While the new model lacks some of the features of the GX8, the GX9 is a little smaller, lighter and at $1,000 (including the $500 12-60mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens), less expensive than the body-only price of its predecessor.
To achieve the pared-down size and weight, as well as the lower price, the GX9 lost some of the GX8’s features including the fully articulated LCD, a microphone jack, Cinelike modes for videographers, and weather sealing. The grip is smaller and the difference in EVF quality is noticeable, though not a deal breaker.
On the other hand, Panasonic has eliminated the optical low-pass filter for sharper, more detailed images. With the GX9 you also get upgrades such as improved dual image stabilization (5-axis vs. 4-axis on the GX8). Panasonic redesigned the shutter mechanism, which decreases shutter shock by about 90 percent, according to the company. Bluetooth has been added and there are a couple of new monochrome options, such as the L. Monochrome D mode, with richer blacks and a new grain effect, both designed to mimic classic black-and-white film. Of course the GX9 offers
4K video recording, too.
A new sequencing feature has been added to its 4K Photo feature, which captures and combines multiple shots into a single image. And you get Post Focus, Focus Stacking, Focus Bracketing and another cool feature called 4K Live Cropping, essentially allowing you to move a part of the image around the frame (sort of like an in-camera Ken Burns effects). Other features also include timelapse and panorama stitching.
We tested the camera with the 12-60mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens as well as the tiny 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 lens.
Without the lens, the GX9 is nicely compact measuring 4.88 x 2.83 x 1.84 inches and weighs 0.99 pounds (with the SD card and battery). Mount the 12-60mm kit lens and the GX9’s total 1.46 pounds weight is respectably light and low profile enough for unobtrusive street and documentary style wedding photography.
Likewise, the control buttons are low profile as well, which makes it a little difficult to locate them by touch. Photographers with larger hands might find the control layout a little tight to maneuver and the grip a little too small. The latter can be resolved with the optional DMW-HGR2 accessory grip for about $58. We have smaller hands and found the camera’s grip quite comfortable.
Panasonic replaced the GX8’s fully articulated LCD with a tilting screen. While we’d prefer the fully articulated design, the GX9’s touchscreen is very responsive and is great for tapping to position focus points. The adjustable EVF is one of those love-it-or-hate-it designs. In its 90-degree upright position, it’s easy to be a little stealthier about shooting by looking down into the EVF, but one can always keep it in its default position just like any other EVF. The EVF wasn’t as clear and sharp as we’d like. We also noticed some smearing when moving the camera.
USB charging is available and the GX9 has a convenient retractable cover for the USB and HDMI ports on the side of the camera.
We do have a few quibbles, though not everyone may agree with us. The mode and the EV dials seemed very stiff and somewhat difficult to turn. Granted, there’s always a compromise in order to avoid accidental movement of dials, but these just felt a little too tight. The same goes for the on/off switch as well, especially when trying to quickly power up the camera with my thumb.
Design quirks aside, the GX9 delivered where it counts. Image quality was quite good. Colors were accurately rendered when shooting in the Standard Picture Style. The GX9 managed to capture the subtle color differences in blue skies, even when transitioning across faint, wispy clouds. Green landscapes were true green without being over-saturated and individual shades of colors were discernible between blades of grass.
The GX9’s metering system is, for the most part, spot-on accurate. Most of our test shots, regardless of lighting conditions, were perfectly exposed. More importantly, the metering system—and the camera—handled high-contrast conditions very well. Dynamic range was quite good and the GX9 effectively maintained highlight and shadow details throughout with few exceptions.
Test images were sharply focused and, thanks in large part to the lack of an OLPF (optical low pass or anti-aliasing filter), the GX9 managed to capture excellent details. Textures were reproduced well and highly visible, especially upon close inspection, whether in the petal of a flower or the slats of a wooden barn. With the removal of an anti-aliasing filter, moiré is always a concern. However, we noticed almost no moiré in test shots. And there was rarely any chromatic aberration other than the very occasional, minor purple fringing along some high contrast edges (mostly tree limbs against a bright sky).
The camera, with its extended ISO range of 100 to 25,600, performed well under low light conditions. Given the effectiveness of its 5-axis image stabilization, it’s less likely that you’ll have to push the ISO to extremes but even at ISO 3200 and 6400, the GX9 delivered above average results with minimal image noise and good details (without in-camera noise reduction). For the best results, shoot RAW and post process for noise.
Although the GX9 is decidedly focused on still photography unlike, say, the Panasonic GH5, the GX9’s video quality is also quite good. Like its still images, the GX9’s 4K video offers accurate colors.
The GX9 is a relatively speedy performer, with up to 9 fps (in AF-S) continuous. Continuous AF drops burst speeds to 6 fps, but focus and tracking are accurate.
The camera’s 5-axis image stabilization (IS) is very effective and delivers about an additional 4 stops of shutter speed—a great benefit when shooting in low light. IS works alone (in-body) or in combination with a compatible IS Panasonic lens.
Perhaps the biggest performance disappointment is the battery life, which is about 250-260 images per charge. The good news is that the GX9 has a power-saving mode that boosts the battery life to 900 shots. The camera naps more frequently to save power, but it doesn’t have too much effect on performance.
Keep in mind, though, that the GX9’s highest mechanical shutter speed is 1/4000th sec with a sync speed of 1/200th sec. versus the GX8’s 1/8000th sec and 1/250th sec. That shouldn’t be an issue for most photographers and the GX9 offers electronic shutter speeds from 1 sec. to 1/16000th sec. as well.
The Bottom Line
The GX9 is designed for still shooters for whom video is a secondary consideration. Although the GX9’s 4K video is quite good, serious videographers will miss not having microphone and headphone jacks, as well as a myriad of other video features found on, say, the twice-the-price Panasonic GH5.
As mentioned earlier, the GX9 falls in the middle of Panasonic’s mirrorless line-up. If you want a more advanced still camera, check out the Panasonic G9 with upgrades that include dual card slots, fully articulating LCD, an OLED EVF and more. But it will set you back around $1,700 for the body alone. You can find some bundles for the excellent Sony a6500 for around $1,200 and get a larger, APS-C sensor and additional video features.
But if you keep waiting for the next best mirrorless camera, you’ll always be in a holding pattern. Right now and for the near future, the Panasonic GX9 is a very respectable camera from top to bottom. And, the GX9 offers a great value with its lens kit.
Panasonic LUMIX GX9
PROS: Above average still image quality; responsive performance; good AF and image stabilization; excellent feature set; good value for the price; easy and effective Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connection.
CONS: Tilt vs. fully articulated screen; poor battery life (except in low power mode); no microphone or headphone jacks; small, low-profile controls; small grip.
PRICE: $1,000 (includes 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 lens)