Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Performance starts with image quality, which is the criteria used as the foundation of our digital camera ratings. Ergonomic issues may get in the way, but in the end, image quality counts the most. For an ILC, image quality greatly depends on the lens used. While color, noise, exposure and dynamic-range are properties of a camera, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations are properties of the lens. Sharpness and contrast depend on the weakest link. That is, a camera cannot capture more details than a lens lets through. Conversely, it is quite possible for a lens to transmit more details than a sensor can capture.
Image Noise & Details
Image quality from the Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 is very good. The 20 megapixels Four-Thirds CMOS sensor captures finer details than the previous generation due to its omission of an Anti-Alias Filter. This makes output from the GX9 look much sharper than that of the GX8. This is shown side-by-side on the Indoor Crops page of this review. The rendered sharpness is adjustable in 11 levels with the default being quite acceptable, although optimal results are achieved at +2. Higher settings show mild oversharpening artifacts.
There is no image-noise from ISO 100 to 800 and virtually one at ISO 1600. At that sensitivity, there is a tiny amount of very fine noise which can only be seen at high-magnification. The Venus Engine which processes images from the GX9 has excellent noise-reduction capabilities. There are 11 levels with a very reasonable default. Pulling back noise-reduction to -1 can get an extra hint of sharpness while not increasing noise in a perceptible way. Anywhere from ISO 100 to 1600, the GX9 output can make superb prints up to 20" x 15".
ISO 3200 is almost as clean with a tiny amount of luminance noise. This noise has a fine-grain pattern and leaves fine details almost completely intact. Maximum prints sizes are slightly reduced, losing about one usable inch linearly. By ISO 6400, there is a gentle but obvious noise and the finest details starts appearing soft. It still manages to produce impressive 16" x 12" prints.
There is an obviously increase in noise at ISO 12800 which also shows a moderate softening of details. Noise-reduction still manages to make smooth out details while managing to preserve colors nicely. At this ISO, medium-sized prints are still possible. The maximum ISO of 25600 surprisingly remains usable for emergencies only. There is heavy noise at ISO 25600 and all fine details are gone. There is very sharp drop in contrast too, so this is a sensitivity to use as last resort.
Color & White Balance
Color accuracy is quite reasonable. Neither Standard nor Natural photo-styles are completely true-to-life, with reality falling somewhere in between these styles. Starting at Natural and increasing Saturation to +1 shows the most realistic colors. This Photo Style has a rather dull tone-curve, so a +1 or +2 boost in Contrast is required so that images do not look dull.
Automatic While-Balance performance is average. There are two versions of Auto WB which differ in how they deal with warm lighting. In practice, the difference between these two settings is vert small. Both options handle well under a variety of lighting but have trouble dealing with low artificial light which leaves a warm cast. To perfectly control color-balance, Custom White-Balance is spot on. One very welcome feature of the GX9 is that the LCD can be adjusted in terms of Saturation and Tint along 2 axis. This makes it possible to calibrate the display so that it correctly previews white-balance.
Metering of the Panasonic GX9 is quite good and generally dependable. It computes a conservative exposure with occasional over-exposure in the presence of small highlights. Low contrast scenes definitely need positive compensation to be sufficiently bright. Metering modes are quite simple with the Multi-Segment option working well under most non-backlit conditions.
Dynamic-range of the GX9 is comparable to digital cameras using the same sensor-size. The base ISO 100 sensitivity captures 12 EVs of dynamic-range. ISO 200 and 400 manage to reach almost that at 11½ EVs. This goes down steadily by about 1 EV per ISO stop and gets severely reduced by ISO 12800. For high-contrast scenes, it is recommended to stay at ISO 800 or lower.
It is important to know that the EVF and LCD are not Exposure-Priority except in Manual mode. Despite enabling the Constant Preview option in the menu system, exposure only previewed approximately, making adjust EC somewhat error prone if it needs to be precise. The optional live-histogram is not reliable either since it represents the luminance distribution of the display rather than the expected exposure.
This mirrorless digital camera has a very fast Contrast-Detect autofocus system. It locks focus quickly. Even in moderate light, it locks focus in ¼s. Under low illumination, it can take a little longer but rarely more than ½s. This Contrast-Detect AF offers a class-leading sensitivity, down to -4 EV which exceeds the capability of most similarly-priced digital cameras.
To speed things up, Panasonic provides two options: Quick-AF and Eye-Start AF. For the former, the GX9 starts focusing as soon as the camera is held steadily, presumably because the photographer is getting ready to take a shot. The the latter, it starts when the Eye-Start Sensor gets triggered. When the shutter-release is pressed halfway, the GX9 then only needs to adjust focus a little but this can make things jumpy when for things like HDR or panoramas where focus must be kept constant.
The Panasonic GX9 is a very responsive camera. Every button press and dial turn registers without delay. This means that the photographer is rarely slowed down by this mirrorless. Its performance is characterized by the following numbers:
- Power-On: Just under 1s. Good.
- Power-On to First-Shot: 1¼ seconds. Very good.
- Autofocus: ¼-½s even down to very low-light levels. Excellent.
- Shutter-lag: Instant with extremely short blackout. Excellent.
- Shot-to-shot: ¾s with AF, 1/3s without. Faster than average.
- Playback: Instant to enter, ½s to exit. Good.
- Power-Off: 1½s. Average.
- Video: Very quick to start or stop. Great!
This mirrorless delivers impressive numbers in nearly all aspects of its performance with almost the same speed as its predecessor. There is a tiny lag to start video recording but it is too short to measure. After continuous shooting, the GX9 clears its buffer quickly when using a fast memory card. The only really low performance number is a battery-life rated at 250 shots-per-charge. This is below average even for small mirrorless cameras, so two extra batteries are highly recommended for a full-day of photography. A charger is also essential in order not to tie up the camera while charging.
The new Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 is a considerably different digital camera than the GX8 which precedes it, even though they are both inspired by the classic rangefinder design. The entire Panasonic mirrorless lineup was shuffled with the new GX9 being classified now an intermediate-level mirrorless compared to the flagship status of the GX8 reviewed here
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8. While some people expressed disappointment at this, the only two downgrades are that the GX9 lost the weatherproof construction of the GX8 and no longer offers an audio input. At the same time, the GX9 improved details capture by forgoing the Anti-Alias Filter, improved stabilization and was made smaller and nearly 50% lighter! The latter is a significant advantage.
This compact camera is one of the smallest and lightest Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless on the market, yet it manages to pack a tilting EVF, dual control-dials, a traditional mode dial and a tilting LCD touchscreen, plus plenty of external buttons. Its offers an impressive feature-set with built-in 5-axis image-stabilization effective to 4-stops, 7-frame AEB, built-in HDR, Shutter-Delay mode, Time-Lapse, Interval-Timer, Stop-Motion Animation, Post-Shot Focus, Multiple-Exposure, Sweep Panorama and more.
Images from the GX9 show very good image-quality. Its 20 megapixels Four-Thirds CMOS sensor captures very fine details thanks to the omission of an Anti-Alias Filter. Its Venus Engine renders image with well-preserved details, nice sharpness and well-balanced noise-reduction. Output from the imaging-sensor shows virtually no noise until ISO 1600 which is outstanding for Micro Four-Thirds. Even ISO 3200 and 6400 remain quite good for typical print sizes. Colors are nicely saturated and white-balance generally works well too, only needed occasional adjustments to more true-to-life.
The metering system in the Panasonic GX9 is quite reliable and generally conservative. This produces well-balanced exposures and requires less EC than the average camera. Having a 2X-crop factor limits the dynamic-range to just over 12-stops at ISO 100 and exposure-lattitude goes down from there. This is a fair performance yet is really where these small sensors are most behind larger APS-C ones. Those, of course, are built into larger cameras that require even bigger lenses, so this compromise is truly on-point.
Speed is the area where mirrorless cameras have improved the most and the GX9 delivers on that front. The GX9 can capture full-resolution 20 MP images at a fast 9 FPS for 100 JPEG images or 30 RAW files or shooting 8MP images at 30 FPS with optional pre-buffering. Given that 4K has about 8 MP, this camera unsurprisingly can capture 4K Ultra-HD video at 30 FPS or 1080p Full-HD video at 60 FPS. The Contrast-Detect AF system in this camera extrapolates Depth-From-Defocus (DFD) to deliver one of the faster and most sensitive AF-system in its class. The camera itself is extremely responsive too.
Even though the Panasonic GX9 is very compact, it manages to include a 0.39" EVF with a large 0.7X magnification. This unit tilts upwards 90° and features an Eye-Start Sensor. With 2.8 MP, the view it provides is very sharp and makes it easy to confirm critical focus, although Panasonic yet again did not fully implement an Exposure-Priority view which makes exposure slightly less predictable. As a modern mirrorless, this model includes plenty of connectivity options including WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2 LE.
Given all this, the Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 earns the title of the Best Beginner Mirrorless of 2019. This is truly one that delivers on the mirrorless promise of providing high image-quality in a compact form-factor, plus the ergonomics of the GX9 make it efficient to control, while its rich feature-set provides many creative opportunities.
Panasonic DC-GX9 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 17 x 13mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|20 Megapixels Mirrorless||ISO 100-25600|
|Micro Four-Thirds Mount|
|5-Axis Built-in Stabilization, 4-Stop Improvement||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|0.39" Built-in EVF 2.8 Megapixels (0.70X)||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|Automatic Eye-Start sensor||Spot-Metering|
|2 Axis Digital Level||Hot-Shoe|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|9 FPS Drive, 100 Images||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|3840x2160 @ 30 FPS Video Recording|
|3" LCD 1.2 Megapixels|
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