"Some say that it eats Canon SLR's for breakfast, and Leica's for lunch, all we know is that it's called The Panasonic GX80 / GX85!"
Smartphone cameras are good. System cameras with interchangeable lenses are better. Regardless of brand, modern cameras with interchangeable lenses, both SLR and mirrorless system cameras, deliver an image quality that satisfies perhaps more than 90% of hobbyist photographers. No wonder, then, that weight, size, ease of use, video options and versatility are becoming increasingly more important arguments in the choice of a camera with interchangeable lenses.
4K changes photography: This shot of a thrush was taken during a walk in the woods without a tripod and with a long telephoto lens on the Panasonic GX80. For 4K video recordings without a tripod with a telephoto lens (210 mm), the image stabilization ensures that the individual frames are sharp, but you see the image move. One of the advantages of 4K is that you can crop an image to Full HD. I hae purposely shown the black edges that are created with software image stabilization in order to illustrate what the image would look like if you had made a Full HD recording by hand that you later wanted to stabilize with software. By cropping the stabilized shot to Full HD, I end up with a great memory of this thrush thanks to the Panasonic GX80. And extreme enlargement without a loss of quality.
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Street, portrait and travel photographers often choose a camera that has the viewfinder on the top left, instead of in the middle. Think about Leica cameras. Sport photographers and former SLR owners prefer a camera with the viewfinder in the middle, like the Panasonic G7 or Panasonic GH4. At the moment, you can choose from 3 Panasonic cameras with a rangefinder appearance (with built-in viewfinder at the top left in the camera). The Panasonic GX80 is between the GX7 and the GX8, but it also has a couple of unique characteristics:
As far as price is concerned, the GX7 is ridiculously inexpensive, the GX80 nicely inexpensive, and the GX8 attractively priced.
The Panasonic GX80 is just a bit heavier than the GX7 and 20% lighter than the GX8.
The 20-megapixel sensor of the GX8 is equipped with an anti-aliasing filter. The GX80 has a 16-megapixel sensor without anti-aliasing filter (~19 megapixel). That produces practically the same resolution for the two cameras, which is about 10% higher than the resolution of the 16-megapixel sensor of the GX7 with anti-aliasing filter.
The GX8 is a bit larger and has a clearly larger grip, so that the GX8 can be better combined with larger lenses, like the Panasonic 100-400 mm. The nicely compact Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8 fits better on the GX8 than on the GX80, I think.
The GX8 is dust- and splashwater-tight. The GX80 and the GX7 are not.
Because the GX8 is larger, it has more buttons, including two extra Fn buttons, to which you can assign your own function. The GX8 has a separate button for over- or under-exposure. With the GX7 and GX80, the thumbwheel has a double function: if you press it, you can over- or under-expose with it. Press it again, and the thumbwheel returns to its original function (setting shutter time or aperture).
On the back of the GX80 body, in the upper middle, there is a Fn button, which is assigned to a 4K menu by default. The GX8 and GX7 do not have this, and it increases the ease of use of the different 4K options: not only 4K Pre-burst, 4K Burst, and 4K start stop, but also Post-Focus, 4K Live crop and Light Composition.
If you use the mechanical shutter, then the GX80 is much quieter than the GX7 or GX8.
Build quality & image stabilization
The GX80 has the quietest mechanical shutter of all the Panasonic G (G, GF, GH, GM, GX) series.
It is a camera that you can keep with you all the time, to express your creativity in documenting memories. The target audience for the Panasonic GX80 is the large group of starters who have gotten a taste for photography and are looking for a fashionable, compact, versatile camera to use unnoticed in everyday circumstances without standing out. The Panasonic GX80 has an entirely newly designed electro-magnetic shutter, which is quieter and causes fewer vibrations ("shutter shock").
You capitalize on the advantage of a viewfinder at the top left on the camera—certainly on a camera with a touchscreen—when you look through the viewfinder with your right eye. If you do that, then your nose does not end up pressed against the screen of the camera. You can then also position the focal point in exactly the right place with your thumb while keeping the viewfinder in front of your eye. With an SLR camera, all the AF points are in the middle of the image. Here, you can precisely place the AF point over an area that is nearly twice as large with 1 click on the touchscreen. Not everyone loves an electronic viewfinder, but the viewfinder image is just as big as the viewfinder of an SLR camera with a full-frame sensor: nearly one-and-a-half times as large as the viewfinder of an SLR camera from this price class. Once you become accustomed to the viewfinder, then you experience the smaller viewfinder of an SLR camera with an APS-C sensor like looking through a tunnel. For those who wear glasses, the viewfinder of the Panasonic GX8 is easier to see than the viewfinder of the GX80, where you have to place your eye closer to see the whole viewfinder image. Thanks to focus peaking and enlargements of the image in the electronic viewfinder, you can focus much more accurately with an electronic viewfinder than with an optical viewfinder. And in the dark, an electronic viewfinder still gives a clear image when an optical viewfinder has already become useless.
Lightning-fast and very accurate AF
For measuring the AF speed, we choose a "worst-case scenario" from infinity to one-and-a-half meters. That allows us to measure accurately. In practice, the distance difference is usually smaller, but the fastest camera is still the fastest. The AF of the Panasonic GX80 focused faster in our test from infinity to 1.5 m than all SLR cameras, as shown during our AF test of the GX80.
The vast majority of photos will be made in the Single-AF mode. For testing the AF speed, we manually set the camera to infinity and measure the time that it takes to focus to one-and-a-half meters. If we compare the AF speed of an SLR camera with the AF speed of a mirrorless system camera, then the Panasonic shows convincingly that system cameras can focus faster. With the Panasonic 12-60 mm lens, the Panasonic GX80 focused in 0.05 seconds. The camera also has a Quick AF mode, with which the focus time can be shortened in practice, because the camera then focuses before you put your finger on the release button. We have not yet tested any SLR camera that can match that. Fifty milliseconds corresponds with the release delay of many SLR cameras; that is the time that a camera needs to take a picture after focusing. Depending on the lens and the camera, you still need to add between 200 ms and 1000 ms for an SLR camera as the time the camera needs to focus.
The fast AF time of Panasonic cameras is, I think, on account of at least 4 factors:
The high refresh rate at which the sensor is read out. (The sensor signal will be used to focus.)
When using Panasonic lenses: Depth by Defocus, where the camera can estimate on the basis of the bokeh how far has to be focused. The AF motor then makes a very quick adjustment, followed by precise focusing with contrast detection.
The relatively short focal distance of micro-43 lenses and the associated, larger focal depth.
The low weight of the lens element that is moved.
Enormous progress has also been made with continuous AF and focus tracking as far as the AF speed is concerned, although on that point the fastest SLR camera will beat out the Panasonic GX80. It would not surprise me if Olympus or Panasonic show up at the next Photokina with surprisingly fast continuous AF. The Sony A6300 and the Nikon 1 cameras are also surprisingly good on this point. For the GX80, it doesn’t matter much, since this is not a camera that has sports photographers as a target audience.
Fast focus does nothing for you if it isn’t also accurate. When testing lenses, we always measure how accurately the AF focuses. Panasonic cameras and lenses (also on Olympus) cameras are among the very best on that point.
Body and lens work together: 5-axis image stabilization
Traditionally, camera manufacturers chose to build image stabilization into the lens. The disadvantage of this approach is that in each lens image stabilization should be built in, which cost and weighs extra. There are still more lenses which no image stabilization built than lenses that have come with image stabilization. Minolta - and after the acquisition, Sony - was the first with image stabilization built into the camera. This allowed you to benefit with all lenses from stabilization, but the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) was less effective than the lens stabilization of other brands. Olympus then came up with IBIS which was at least as good as in-lens stabilization, probably even better. That's why Olympus released until recently only lenses without stabilization. Until recently, because especially with telephoto lenses with an extremely long focal length, accurate in-lens stabilization is most effective. Olympus 300mm f / 4 is the first Olympus lens with built-in image stabilization. About the same time showed Sony, Olympus and Panasonic (Panasonic in GX8) that it was possible to make the in-body image stabilization work together with in-lens image stabilization.
When testing the Panasonic GX8, we saw that the 5-axis image stabilization of the Panasonic GX8 was not yet as effective as that of Sony or Olympus. The designers at Panasonic faced no small challenge. On the one hand, Panasonic cameras lead with 4K video. When recording 4K video, so much data is generated that the chance is very good that the sensor will overheat. While testing Canon SLR cameras in Liveview, I found to my great irritation that the mirror popped down after about one minute—probably with the idea of preventing overheating (and with the Canon 760D we aren’t even talking about 4K video, but regular HD). With Panasonic that problem did not arise. I suspect that they securely mounted the sensor of, for example, the Panasonic GH4 on a big heavy block of copper to be able to drain away all the heat that is generated during 4K video recordings. For 4K video, this solution works well, since I never experienced the camera getting too hot during video recordings with a Panasonic camera. But for good in-body image stabilization, you do not want a big block of copper hanging off your sensor. The greater the freedom of movement of the sensor, the more effective the IBIS. “Dream on,” the pragmatics say. But Panasonic did one better.
Tests results for the image stabilization of the GX80 (5 stops profit) are flat-out impressive. It is a neck-and-neck race between Olympus, Panasonic and Sony: all with 5-axis image stabilization.
When you hold the body of the Panasonic GX80, after you have removed the lens, then you see the first indication that the freedom of movement of the sensor has increased: you see the sensor, freed from its copper block, wobbling cheerfully. That means there is a great chance that the Panasonic GX80 can achieve very high returns through image stabilization. I tried it out with the Panasonic 12-60 mm. In the screen of the Panasonic GX80, the message “Dual IS” appeared, as an indication that the image stabilization of lens and camera were combined into one 5-axis image stabilization. I took 10 shots each with and without image stabilization, of which the resolution was measured with the help of Imatest. The first thing that stands out is that even at a short shutter time of 1/200 sec, we benefit from the image stabilization. The second thing that stood out is that a shot made with a shutter time of 1/200 sec without image stabilization is as sharp as a shot taken at 1/6 sec with image stabilization. That is really very good.
The newest lenses, like the Panasonic 12-60 mm or the Panasonic 100-400 mm, are already equipped with firmware that enables collaboration between the camera image stabilization and lens image stabilization. For 11 Panasonic lenses, like the Panasonic 14-140 mm, the Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8, Panasonic 12-35 mm f/2.8 or the Panasonic 42.5 mm f/1.2 or f/1.7, a firmware update is needed in order to benefit from the 5-axis image stabilization. The first thing to do if you buy a Panasonic GX80 is to update your lenses.
Panasonic GX80 image quality
If you stay lower than ISO 400, then even with the Panasonic FZ1000 that has a smaller 1-inch sensor, you get pictures whose image quality you cannot distinguish from that of an SLR camera. A micro-43 sensor is larger and has a surface that amounts to 25% of the surface of a full-frame sensor. An APS-C sensor catches twice as much light (1 stop difference), and a full-frame sensor, four times as much light (2 stops difference) as a micro-43 sensor.
High resolution and image quality
Click on the illustration for a larger version
If you want to have the same focal depth, the advantage of a larger sensor is sometimes lost: a shot taken on a camera with a full-frame sensor and a 50 mm lens at ISO 400, f/8, 1/100 sec looks the same as a shot taken with a micro-43 camera and a 25 mm lens at ISO 100, f/4, 1/100 sec. The same applies for the bokeh and the focal depth, but also the signal-to-noise ratio. That is, if we assume that the same sensor technology is applied in both cameras. Relative to some SLR cameras, the image processing on the Panasonic sensors is so good that dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio below 6400 ISO are so good that the differences are much smaller than you would expect based on the sensor size. Over 6400 ISO (the exact limit is open for debate, since that depends on image processing, lighting conditions and the requirements that you set for an image as the photographer), it still applies, however, that the larger the sensor, the better the image quality. As far as image quality (resolution, usable dynamic range, color reproduction and signal-to-noise ratio) is concerned, the Panasonic GX80 has more than enough going for it to satisfy most photographers with an A3-size print.
If you omit an anti-aliasing filter from in front of the sensor, then the chance of colored interference patterns with very fine, regular patterns, as shown above (and in practice, fine fabrics or buildings at a distance), becomes greater. Because modern cameras have such a high resolution that you less often enlarge the image to 100% or more, moiré will not soon be noticeable, even if should occur in a shot. It is possible that Panasonic ensures that moiré is eliminated in the image processing. I did not see it in the practice shots. The only example that I found is the partial enlargement above of a shot of a test card. In Lightroom or Photoshop, you can also easily remove any moiré locally with a retouch pencil. Because you remove moiré locally, the image quality in the rest of the image is not affected and remains high.
In general, the color reproduction of the Panasonic GX80 is very good, even at higher ISO values. The very first micro-43 cameras lost saturation at the very highest ISO settings, but that appears to be a thing of the past. I find the Olympus and Panasonic colors to be very natural. The standard jpg files of the GX80 tend a very little bit toward yellow-green. I got the impression that you see that a bit in the practice shots as well. But it’s spring now and all the plants are also a very fresh green in real life as well. In artificial lighting, you’re best overruling the automatic white balance and manually setting the camera to artificial light for the best results. Normally, we assess the color reproduction of RAW files on the basis of RAW files converted with Lightroom (Adobe standard). At the moment, converting RAW files from the GX80 in Lightroom is not possible. We therefore converted the RAW files with SilkyPix for determining the noise and the accuracy of the color reproduction. When editing RAW files from Olympus, Nikon, Sony or Canon, then aside from Adobe standard, you can also choose the brand-specific image styles in the bottom tab (camera calibration). I suspect that Adobe has therefore made the correction profiles with the goal of getting as close to the standard image styles out of the camera as possible. It would be great to get this option for Panasonic RAW files as well, since the colors of the jpg files that are stored in the camera are so natural that it sometimes takes me some effort in Lightroom or Photoshop to get colors from a RAW file that come close to those of the jpg file.
This is a detail from a 4K Photo shot, made in the woods, at a relatively high ISO value. What appeals to me is the noise in the background, which is reminiscent of the traditional grain from analogue photography.
The difference between a RAW shot made at 200 ISO and 6400 ISO, developed in Silkypix, is visible if you enlarge the image to 100%. The resolution suffers from the noise suppression. For many, that will be a non-issue ("I practically never use images at an enlargement of A3 or more, never mind shots taken at 6400 ISO."). Even I have the tendency not to go higher than 1600 to 3200 ISO; that is a bit higher than with the older Panasonic cameras. It is possible that omitting the moiré filter made a small contribution to the improvement of the signal-to-noise ratio, but in any case, it is a consequence of the efforts of the Panasonic engineers to achieve better image processing.
Ergonomics, design and options are ideal for street photography, wedding photography or travel photography
Beautiful, clear and big (0.7x!) electronic viewfinder
High build and image quality
16-megapixel camera with the resolution of a 20-megapixel camera
Compact and light
Built-in, advanced image stabilization (now for Olympus lenses as well!)
Screen tilts but does not turn
Not extra-well sealed against dust or splashwater
Viewfinder not as easy to see for those who wear glasses as the viewfinder of the GX8 is
"Some say that it eats Canon SLR's for breakfast, and Leica's for lunch, all we know is that it's called The Panasonic GX80 / GX85!"
Make a checklist sometime of wishes that you have for your ideal camera. Think for example about: budget, built-in image stabilization, 4K video, tilting screen, great-looking and yet discreet, light and compact and yet user-friendly. Check off per camera whether they fulfill your requirements. The chance is good that the Panasonic GX80 will land very high on your list. I don’t use the paraphrase from the testing report in TopGear (The Stig) without reason. The Panasonic GX80 is capable of much more than you would expect based on its modest appearance.
If you don’t make many prints at A3 or larger, then a camera with 16-megapixels will be more than enough. More important arguments for choosing a specific camera are ease of use, options and ergonomics. Not everyone prefers an SLR camera, even without considering weight and size. They choose a compact, discreet camera with built-in viewfinder and the look of a rangefinder camera. For this group of photographers, the Panasonic GX80 is a bull’s eye.
The combination of extensive 4K video options and built-in image stabilization make this camera unique in the price class of up to 1,000 euros. An electronic viewfinder does not outclass an optical viewfinder, but in comparison with the GX7, the difference relative to an optical viewfinder has become significantly smaller. An electronic viewfinder does have a couple of advantages that you do not have with an optical viewfinders on an SLR under 1,500 euros. The viewfinder image of the Panasonic GX80 is just as big as the viewfinder of an SLR camera with a full-frame and nearly 1.5 times bigger than the viewfinder of an SLR camera from this price class. Thanks to focus peaking and enlargement of the image in the viewfinder, you can focus much more accurately and quickly with an electronic viewfinder than with an optical viewfinder. In the dark, an electronic viewfinder still gives a clear image, while an optical viewfinder has already become useless. Image quality of photo and video are outstanding. Built-in image stabilization is extremely effective. With post-focus, 4K Photo and 4K video, a new world of photographic possibilities will open up for you.
If you have large hands, photograph often in poor conditions or prefer lenses with a long focal length, then the Panasonic GX8 might be a more suitable candidate. If you want to use the camera primarily for video, then the Panasonic GH4 is a more obvious choice. In all other cases: It is a pleasure to work with this handy camera. The AF of the Panasonic GX80 is really lightning fast. 4K photo offers the option of recording action at 30 frames per second and saving the best picture in the camera. Go ahead and argue with them, the photographers who choose a Panasonic GX80 over a Leica or a Canon.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.