What better time to test out a travel camera than while travelling? I took Panasonic’s tiny mirrorless Lumix DMC-GX850 on a cruise to put it to the test in all the difficult lighting conditions that travelling brings, and it held its own – for the most part. I’ve included several images I took on the holiday here, plus a video shot almost completely on the GX850 (except for the slow motion and party footage). My selfie game is not strong. Apologies in advance.
Maybe I’m a little behind the times, but such a small mirrorless body with the power to change lenses blew my mind – with the retractable 12-32mm lens attached the DMC-GX850 is no bigger or heavier than a compact camera, and slides into any pocket or handbag with ease. With full manual controls, if you know how to use them, you’ll have a lot more power in your pocket than you could dream of capturing with your phone.
This camera boasts that it was ‘made for selfies’, and it doesn’t lie – the selfie functions on this camera are well thought-out and more than welcome. As soon as you flip the screen up so you can see it when pointing the camera at yourself, the camera enters its automatic selfie mode with countdown timer and selectable filters to make your Instagram game as strong as possible. It makes vlogging a breeze for those who live for YouTube, and with 4K video the quality will keep you on the top of your game too.
Panasonic very kindly sent a micro SD card along with the camera, which was handy since most of my gear takes compact flash memory cards. If you were planning to invest in this camera and you do plan to shoot 4K video, you’ll need to budget for a very fast memory card too. The card I was using had plenty of space for images, but I could only record around 40 seconds of video before the camera had to stop and write the data to the card. I shoot mostly short clips anyway while travelling, so it wasn’t an issue for me on this trip, but I can see that being an issue if you need to shoot longer takes.
I did notice the image stabilisation for video doesn’t seem especially ‘stable’ – a feature of the Ai shooting modes, it does help a little but you’ll still need to keep your arms and breathing as steady as possible while shooting panning or tracking shots. Not so easy to do on a moving boat! If smooth, cinematic footage is important to you, you’ll need to invest in a portable gimble for extra stability, or step up to the Lumix G series.
For those who struggle with focus, the DMC-GX850 has your back with post-focus mode. The camera will capture a bunch of pictures with the plane of focus in a different place across each of them. Then if you’ve missed the focus, you can just touch the screen at the point you wanted sharpest and the camera will find the image that matches the focus point you chose. I’ll be honest – I’m a photographer by trade, so while I found this a cool novelty when I tried it out, it’s not a feature I used again. For people who always need to take a few shots before they get one that’s sharp, it could be a big time saver for those fleeting moments where you won’t get another shot. Those of you who serially cut off people’s heads, you’re on your own – you’ll still need to compose your shot first!
Another saviour for parents capturing their kids sports games is the 4K photo burst mode, which captures several images both before and after you press the shutter. For those of us not blessed with Cartier-Bresson’s sense for ‘the decisive moment’, this setting will make sure you don’t miss it. You’ll still need to be relatively on the ball though – while the retractable lens system works great for keeping things compact, it does mean an extra step between turning on the camera and snapping your shot. You also need to extend the lens – during which time you might miss your moment. After a few days I was easily doing everything in one movement – switch on, extend lens, compose shot, shoot – but you’ll definitely want to get some practice in before you take the camera out on your trip, to your kid’s soccer match or to a concert.
I’m a girl, and I love pink, so the fact that this camera is available in pink really appeals to me. The model I tested was black which gave it a really nice vintage look, and my casual-hipster boyfriend eyed it off with appreciation. Despite its size, it doesn’t feel TOO small or dinky – it feels like a rugged and strong body that can survive the rigours of the road.
I’m slightly embarrassed of myself to admit this, but somehow… no matter what I did, which mode I used or how many menus I searched through, I couldn’t get the popup flash to fire. I worked out how to pop the flash up easily (there’s a button on the back above the screen), and I found the flash setting in the menu, but in every mode it was greyed out, and even consulting the manual didn’t get me anywhere. I would have loved to have captured some long-exposure party shots on my cruise with flash-lit people and the glow of the ambient party lights (maybe even some light trails) but I also didn’t have internet access on the high seas, so I wasn’t able to work it out. Once I got home I was able to google, and I found that the flash isn’t activated when silent mode is on (which is how I prefer to shoot – stealthily) and also when the electronic shutter is used. It’s also not available in 4K or post-focus modes, or when using HDR or filter effects. The more you know.
I love shooting in dark and moody situations, so I’m always willing to carry a little extra gear along with me when I travel to allow me to push my ISO higher, but for those who want a light, pretty and flexible camera for under a grand – or for those who love to selfie but need to step it up from their phone – the GX850 is a great choice that won’t weigh you down.
Score: 7 out of 10
Highlights: Small, intuitive, clever
Lowlights: Flash conditions must be specific, 4K photo & video requires very fast memory card
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