To everyone who’s ever asked me what camera to buy “to take nicer photos than my phone” — get a Lumix GX9. You’re welcome.
In all seriousness, I did not expect to become so enamoured with this camera. Smaller mirrorless cameras usually leave me underwhelmed, with their noisy after-dark shots, clunky menus and plastic feel, but Panasonic have hit the nail on the head with the GX9. It’s small, but not too small; hefty, but not too heavy. Further, its 20 megapixel, low-pass-filterless sensor is more powerful than I would have ever given it credit for before I tried it for myself.
Is there anything that feels cooler than a rangefinder-style camera? Panasonic’s 6-month-old mirrorless enthusiast camera feels reassuring to hold — hefty for such a small body at around half a kilo, but in a rugged way. It feels like a camera, not a toy. It comes in a stealthy all-black option (like the model I made friends with for this review) as well as a slick retro-style silver and black two-tone option which I think looks stylish as hell. Everything was where I expected it to be, and comfortable to reach — three easy-access function controls at the top that, in D-SLR style, cover everything from shooting mode, to shutter release, to video record start and more. I rarely needed to delve into the menu, but when I did it was easy to find what I was looking for.
I tested this camera HARD. I took it to a night market. A carnival. Dance classes. I vlogged with it for a week. Shot behind-the-scenes footage at shoots. Timelapses. Portraits. Landscapes. 4K photos… in the dark, handheld. The GX9 took it all in stride. The AF was fast, the stabilisation smooth, the handling easy. And this was all done with the kit 12-32mm kit lens provided. I only needed to charge it twice in three weeks with fairly heavy use. “Impressed” doesn’t come close to describing my feelings.
The only drawbacks I could find to the GX9 are its lack of a mic input (which, I mean, the camera is already so feature-packed, where would you put it?) and the fact that the screen, while not completely fixed in place, isn’t able to swing all the way up or out to allow you to easily shoot images or video of yourself. I’ll concede that you can work around the screen issue easily enough with the Panasonic Image App and a wifi or Bluetooth connection with your phone — you can use the app to trigger video or photo capture, as well as to transfer to your shots straight back to your phone for immediate sharing. As for the audio, there will always be a workaround with external recording, but you’re on your own there.
Five-axis optical image stabilisation is what’s going to take mum’s photo from “oops I cut all your heads off when I pressed the shutter, silly me” to “yes this will be perfect for Nanna’s sideboard, there’s Christmas sorted.” For those who speak camera, it will get you 4 extra stops slower than your usual handheld shooting speeds without the dreaded blur that comes with long-exposure camera shake. Pair your GX9 up with a lens using its own in-built stabilisation and you’ll be able to push it even further.
Video options are fairly standard for a 2018 release — 4K video is available at 24, 25 or 30fps, plus full HD up to 60fps and a 720p alternative that I can’t imagine anyone using in this day and age. I’m not a terribly creative videographer, so I don’t often find I need slow motion options at higher frame rates, which means these video limitations didn’t bother me at all. Of course the audio from the built-in microphone wasn’t spectacular, especially in wind, but it did the job well enough.
If you’re planning to take your camera out and about with you, you’ll definitely want to invest in a case for the GX9. It has an adorable little movable viewfinder that can sit in the logical down position or pop up to give you a flashback to your early 90s camcorder… or get tangled up in your handbag strap or hook itself into an inside pocket of your backpack. That feisty little viewfinder will have adventures of its own if you let it, so it’s best packed up into a case to keep anything from causing damage. I honestly never found I needed it anyway, but I did appreciate its eager little periscope impression. It also features a handy hotshoe for attaching a flash or other peripheral.
Lumix mainstay features like 4K photo (30fps still shot burst sequences which you can then select the “keepers” from), post-focus (which lets you choose the focus point AFTER you take a photo rather than before), time lapse and stop motion work seamlessly and intuitively as always, with the camera even going to the trouble of assembling your stop motion or time-lapse movie for you (while always giving you the option of DIY-ing it later with the individual shots), compositing your focus-stacking shots into one and saving a little video of your 4K photo burst.
The best time I had with this little beast was shooting portraits of my Instagirl friend Lucy at dusk amongst the carneys in Sideshow Alley at the Ekka, Brisbane’s big agricultural show. We used 4K photo mode to capture just the right combination of bokeh-y goodness from rides in the background, iA (Intelligent Auto) mode to let the camera keep up with the wild variation in lights from screens and moving rides and the setting sun, and praised the image stabilisation when shooting in front of the ferris wheel past sunset. I had intended to bring another camera specifically to shoot these portraits, but it didn’t pan out and I was dubious about what the GX9 could do for us in such difficult conditions. When it rose to the challenge — that was when I knew it was love.
Review conducted using a loaned Panasonic GX9 provided by the manufacturer.