Gear Review: The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

Gear Review: The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

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1 - Gear Review - Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

The Lumix G9 – a 20.3mp, micro 4/3rds, mirrorless camera.

When I bought my first full-frame DSLR many years ago (an original Canon 5D), I thought I’d discovered the pinnacle of camera technology. Because a bigger sensor is better right?

Well, not necessarily.

Sensor sizes are like film sizes- they are different formats, not different quality. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and some will fit your needs while some won’t.

2 - Gear Review - Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

Flying in small planes is how I reach many of my photo locations. A light camera system is vital.

The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera

Bigger sensors, for all their benefits, also mean bulkier and heavier lenses. A smaller sensor, such as the micro 4/3rds system, is compact, and light. That’s why, as an outdoor pro who specializes in shooting in remote areas, I’ve recently begun shooting the Lumix m4/3rds system. Specifically, my primary camera is now the Lumix G9 mirrorless camera, the flagship of Lumix still cameras.

Body Quality

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The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera from the top.

The Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera is of a similar size to other pro-level mirrorless camera bodies. For me, this is the appropriate size. If the body were much smaller the controls would become too small and cumbersome for rapid use in the field, and impossible while wearing gloves. The G9, in my opinion, is a good compromise between size and functionality.

The build is sturdy with a die-cast magnesium chassis and is environmentally sealed. A textured rubber coating covers most of the body providing a confident grip, even when wet. The body weighs in 658g, more or less typical of this size mirrorless camera. I’ve used mine in temperatures varying from -25F, to +100F in the snow, rain, and salt spray. I’ve banged it around inside bush planes, safari vehicles, rafts, and canoes, and have yet to have an issue with durability.

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Bush planes. I’ve gotten used to flying in them, but I never get tired of photographing them. (De Havilland Otter reflected in an Alaskan lake).

Sensor

The 20.3mp micro four-thirds sensor has an excellent dynamic range for a sensor of this size and extremely low noise below about 1600 ISO. At higher ISOs, the noise does increase noticeably, which is a drawback for night photography. However, the files can handle substantial pushes in post-processing. Adding two or even three stops of light seems to have little impact on image quality.

Stabilization

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Handheld, at 1/15th second. Easy.

Lumix advertises a whopping 6.5 stops of stabilization built into the camera; a system that works seamlessly with lens-integrated stabilization. This impressive number isn’t just marketing hyperbole. I’ve found I can handhold images, even while using a long lens, to speeds as low as 1/8th of a second. Blurred water shots no longer require a tripod and video capture is smooth and almost vibration free. This is unquestionably the best camera I’ve ever used when it comes to image stabilization.

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Still Photography Performance

Frame Rate

Mirrorless cameras are not subject to the same limitations of shutter speeds as their DSLR counterparts. The electronic shutter of the Lumix G9 reaches a whopping 20 frames per second, far more than is needed except in all but the most extreme, fast-paced shooting situations. Even when using the standard frame rate, it still manages 9 frames per second, which is competitive with just about any camera on the market.

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At 20fps in the high burst mode, or 9fps in regular, the G9 makes quick work of moving subjects.

Autofocus

The autofocus is perhaps the one point, where the G9 does fall a bit short of high-end DSLRs. Lumix has applied a contrast detection system combined with Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus technology (DFD). In bright conditions with few obstacles, I found the autofocus to be exceptionally fast with a high hit rate. However, in tangled environments, or in low light, it occasionally struggles to grab my subject.

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The DFD system is an active autofocus that perpetually pushes and pulls the focus just a hair back and forth as it determines the focus point. It’s fast, but slightly distracting and often lead me to think that the camera hadn’t settled on my subject. It had, and the resulting images show a high hit rate, but the constant push-pull is a bit distracting.

Image Quality

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While overall image quality is excellent, night photography is the one place where the G9 falls short. This image, captured at ISO 3200, required substantial noise reduction.

In most lighting situations, the 20.3mp images are excellent. RAW format files have a competitive dynamic range which allows substantial pushing of exposure in post-processing. If you are jpeg shooter, the camera exports colorful, but not unnatural files ready for sharing on social media. I like the jpeg outputs so much that I’ve set the camera to write both small jpegs and RAW files which allows for quick shares without post-processing.

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Contrasting the previous image, this image captured at 800 ISO is nearly clean and required no noise reduction, despite the dim conditions. There seems to be a big reduction in image quality between ISO1600 and ISO 3200.

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High contrast scenes like this, the G9 handles admirably well.

High-Resolution Images

One of my favorite features of the Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera is the high-resolution setting. The 20.3mp sensor is plenty for general use, however, as a landscape photographer, I often desire files that can be printed very large. The high-resolution image setting on the G9 takes 8 images in a row, each offset by 1/2 pixel. This produces a final file that is over 80 megapixels! For best results, a tripod is required, but for landscape work, I’m almost always using one anyway. The quality of the final image is, quite frankly, amazing.

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This image was captured using the high-resolution setting on the Lumix G9. The original file is a whopping 10368x7776px.

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The above image, cropped nearly in half, is still enormous by almost any standard.

Features

WIFI

Wifi connectivity when combined with Lumix’s intuitive app for phone or tablet, allows quick exporting of files for sharing from the field. Additionally, the app allows full remote operation of the camera. Once your image is composed, you can use the app to adjust exposure, aperture, shutter speed or ISO, then click the shutter from a 100m away.

Customization

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With a wide variety of lenses in the Lumix (and Olympus) lines. There is no shortage of options for all kinds of photography from wildlife to portraits and landscapes.

Advanced shooters will appreciate the extensive customization options on the G9. You can program in multiple preset modes, accessible from the main function dial atop the camera. But I’ve come to like even more, a separate switch on the front of the camera at the lower left, which allows you to switch between two types of shooting modes. I have one set for my standard landscape settings, and one to my favorites for wildlife. With a quick flick of a finger, I can move back and forth between the two as my shooting situation changes. Nifty.

Video

Lumix has always been associated with video capture, even more than still photography. And while the G9 was definitely designed with still images in mind, it has inherited many video features of the other Lumix cameras. 4k video capture up to 60fps is possible with the G9, something few other still cameras can achieve. With the excellent integrated stabilization, high-quality video is a breeze. As many of my clients are now requesting video clips in addition to stills, the excellent moving image capture of the G9 means I no longer have to carry a second, video-specific camera when I’m shooting on assignment. For a still shooter who likes to capture some video or a film-maker who also wants high-quality stills, the G9 may be the perfect compromise.

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From the back, the camera’s controls are straight forward.

But What’s it Like to Use?

All the tech specs in the world won’t tell you what it actually feels like to use the camera. And in that case, I think the Lumix has really won the race. The controls are intuitive, with buttons conveniently located and ergonomics that allow you to determine buttons easily by feel, and without searching around. I moved from Canon to Lumix and found it didn’t take long to feel at home from the new system. I also shoot a Sony mirrorless, and moving back and forth between the two is not challenging.

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It was intermittently snowing hard and blowing cold wind when I made this image in Alaska’s western Arctic. The G9 handled the conditions without issue.

But it’s in the field that I really love the Lumix G9. The m4/3rd system means that not only the sensor is smaller, but the lenses too. Everything is much smaller and compact, even with fast, high-end lenses. My kit has shrunk substantially with my switch to Lumix. While full-frame mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than pro-level DSLRs, the lenses are not, which puts a limiter on how much weight and space you can really save by switching to full-frame mirrorless. With micro 4/3rds however, everything is smaller.

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As a wilderness photographer, this is a HUGE advantage for me. I can carry a body and multiple lenses for the same weight and size as a single DSLR and mid-range zoom lens. I can’t tell you how much this has meant to me on the many occasions I’ve had to weigh out every ounce to make my kit fit in a bush plane. Size matters to a backcountry photographer, and when it comes to cameras, smaller is better.

A Note on Lenses

While this isn’t a review of the Lumix lenses, I do want to offer a quick hat-tip to the Lumix-Leica lens systems. The glass is compact, light, and extremely sharp. The Leica glass elements are impeccable, and while not cheap, the sharpness is in every way comparable to the best Nikon, Canon, and Sony lenses. Secondarily, the m4/3rds lenses are compatible across brands meaning that Olympus equipment works seamlessly on Lumix bodies. (My current long lens is the Olympus 300mm f4 PRO, and it works perfectly on the G9).

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Final Thoughts

Lumix has been a go-to manufacturer for videographers and film-makers looking for a compact, high-quality system for many years, while Olympus has led the m4/3rds still photography market. That has all changed with the Lumix G9. While I look forward to a few improvements in the next generation, the G9 has almost everything a serious photographer could want: great image quality, excellent choices in lenses, ability to shoot 4k video, abundant customization options, and intuitive controls.

It looks like the Lumix system has found a permanent place in my camera bag.

Have you used the Lumix G9 Mirrorless Camera? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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David Shaw is a professional writer, photographer, and workshop leader based in Fairbanks, Alaska. His images and writing on photography, natural history, and science have appeared in hundreds of articles in more than 50 publications around the globe. Dave offers multi-day summer and winter photography workshops in Alaska and abroad. He is currently accepting sign ups for affordable photo workshops in Alaska, Africa, and South America. Find out more HERE .

  • dabhand

    I’ve had one since they first made it to the UK – About the most important feature to me is the Dual IS as I no longer want to pack a heavy backpack & tripod when scrambling around obstacles – I mainly shoot sea and land scapes. Typically I carry Panasonic 12-35 and 35-100 f2.8 lenses along with a monopod when doing so. Occasionally I also take a Laowa 7.5mm f2.0 manual lens which works really well (no Dial IS and manual only) with the G9.

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  • Great review using real world rationale and examples of why you use the G9.

    I have a G85, GX85 and many Lumix lenses that I enjoy using in my outdoor trekking.

  • Jason

    I was happy to see this article and read about how you are using the G9 in your professional workflow.

    I have been using mine since last May and have taken some excellent shots including a recent one of the full moon at 400mm equiv (Leica / Panasonic 50-200mm) at 1/100″.

    https://jason.aminus3.com/image/2018-11-24.html

    For me it feels like a more creative alternative after using Canon dSLRs for many years. I find myself using some of the creative modes more like shooting in camera B&W and making multi-exposures. The weight reduction is also welcome as well as the video options of which I’m only just getting into.

  • David W. Shaw

    The IS is absolutely extraordinary on this camera. And I too have both the 12-35 and 35-100, though I’ve also become very fond of the 8-18. Thanks for the comment!

  • David W. Shaw

    I really think the Lumix system is highly underrated. Glad to hear you’ve been having success as well. Thanks for commenting!

  • David W. Shaw

    My first lumix was as GX85, it definitely hooked me with the compact size, and great image quality. The G9 is a solid step up, though a big larger and heavier.

  • Steve Yates

    Hi David, I enjoyed your article, in relation to noise, I shoot with a Lumix GX8 and have found that using the DxO Photolab prime noise corrections I can shoot at very high iso. I have an example here. If you have not used DxO Photolab I would give it a go with your Lumix G9 and let us know the results are 🙂 I would be interested to see how you get on. Here is what I was able to do. http://beforeafterotherstuff.com/2018/11/15/noise-should-you-worry-about-it/

  • mic warmington

    Thanks for this David – i have the G9 myself alongside the G80 (each fitted with a lens to avoid changing) – i’d like to know what camera bag you use as i’m preparing to move to a backpack or sling from a shoiulder bag.

  • David W. Shaw

    Thanks. I’ll check it out.

  • David W. Shaw

    Hi Mic,
    Thanks for the comment. My current bag is a Mindshift Backlight 26L. I really like it. You can access the gear without taking the pack off by swinging it around on the waist belt, its comfy for long hikes, and holds what I need. I carry a G9, 300mm f4, 8-18, 12-35, and 35-100 lenses, plus a Sony A7riii and a couple lenses for that, plus a Mavic Drone and accessories. It all fits in without a struggle.

  • Mr Martin Smith

    I don’t know why you state that the maximum frame rate with the electronic shutter is 20fps. Unless your G9 is different from mine, I get a choice of either 30fps or 60fps on electronic shutter.

  • David W. Shaw

    The 30/60 numbers you are referring to relate to 4k video capture, while the 20fps is the highest speed attainable with the electronic shutter for fill resolution still images.

  • Steve Yates

    If you do remember to let us (me) know how you get on 🙂 I have not f.ound a better way to deal with noise.

  • Ian Drury

    I own one myself and it is the best camera I’ve ever owned .

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