Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: At a glance:

  • 16.05-million-pixel Live MOS sensor
  • 1.44-million-dot OLED EVF
  • 3in free-angle LCD touchscreen
  • NFC technology for fast Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Full HD video recording
  • ISO 160-12,800 (expandable to ISO 25,600)
  • Street price around £549 (body only), £629 with 14-42mm lens

Five years ago Panasonic kicked off the compact system camera sector with the micro four thirds Lumix DMC-G1, and each year since the manufacturer has produced an evolutionary successor. Now along comes the Lumix DMC-G6, just eight months after the Lumix DMC-G5, although for the time being it will sit above its predecessor rather than replace it.

Unlike its micro four thirds partner, Olympus – which has only produced one model with an integrated viewfinder – the OMD E-M5, the G6 is Panasonic’s eighth, including the GH1, GH2 and GH3 which are aimed at higher-end users and those who shoot video. So, for the most direct competition you have to look outside the micro four thirds family and at cameras with a similar price to the G6 of around £600 and that come with a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom lens, which features optical image stabilisation as standard.

Having been launched so soon after the G5, the question has to be: ‘what makes the G6 different?’ One of the most obvious changes to the G6 is that its styling is far less utilitarian, it is marginally bigger while at the same time slightly lighter. However, what really differentiates the camera is what’s new under its skin alongside familiar core features.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: Features

Image: In its standard colour setting, the Lumix DMC0-G6 produces realistic, natural colours

A pioneer in the use of articulating screens and touchscreens, Panasonic has until recently been content with old-style resistive versions that only respond to a single pressure point. However, the G6 has been given a more responsive capacitive screen – the same technology as smartphones – which allows you to use ‘multi-touch’ gestures such as ‘pinch-to zoom’. Panasonic’s 1.44-million-dot LCD-based electronic viewfinder introduced with the G1 in 2008 was a groundbreaker, but it had flaws. With the G6 Panasonic switching to the use of OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology the view is definitely improved, although the resolution is unchanged.

Like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6, the G6 is Wi-Fi-enabled and has NFC (Near field Communication) so you can tap it with an NFC-equipped tablet or smartphone for easy Wi-Fi pairing and connection. Wireless remote shooting is useful for a number of situations – for example, wildlife photography – so it’s no gimmick. Panasonic has duly updated its Image App, which was originally developed for its Wi-Fi-enabled compact cameras and the GH3.

If you are looking for video functionality, the good news is that the G6 has a very rich set of capabilities. A 24p recording mode has been added on top of full-HD 50p recording, although 60Hz modes for countries with 60Hz electricity are not available unless you have a 60Hz version of the camera, when 50Hz options are unavailable.

Panasonic has made great efforts to establish its own sensor technology in recent years and the G6 is fitted with same 16.05-million-pixel Panasonic Live MOS sensor that used to be exclusive to the former DMC-GH2 flagship model. It was designed to be over-size so multiple aspect ratios could be used without cropping the default aspect ratio frame. Unfortunately, Panasonic hasn’t enabled this feature with the G6.

This sensor was first seen almost three years ago and Panasonic has turned to Sony for the sensor in the current GH3 Lumix flagship. While the G6 sensor is also found in its predecessor, the camera benefits from a later iteration of Panasonic’s multi-core Venus Engine image processor developed for the GH3, which should mean slightly better camera JPEG results. The G6 can shoot sequentially at a faster rate of 7 frames per second in full resolution. Even without a mirror the G6’s mechanical shutter can make an unwanted noise at times, so its silent electronic shutter mode could be very handy. The available ISO sensitivity setting range is now extended to 25,600 although the base ISO remains 160.

One area where Panasonic excels is autofocus. Single-action AF for stills and continuous AF for video have worked extremely well on recent Lumix models, so much so that Panasonic claims superiority over most DSLRs’ single-action AF speed. However, weaknesses have been seen in action photography with continuous AF and low-light focusing where DSLRs still outperform micro four thirds models. That said, Panasonic has made strides in low-light AF with the G6.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: Wireless remote shooting

From an imaging point of view, the Lumix DMC-G6 hasn’t built on the G5 that much. The biggest differences are in the new viewfinder and capacitive touchscreen, and most of all in the new support for Wi-Fi connectivity. Don’t think of this simply as a convenient, spaghetti-free way of getting images off the camera, or a simpler and quicker way of getting photos onto Facebook and Twitter. It is all these things plus a lot more. Users with a compatible smartphone or tablet running Android or Apple iOS can download and install Panasonic’s free, and rather plainly named, Image App. With Image App, the G6 can be used wirelessly, with access to a surprisingly wide range of camera settings and controls.

Remote live view on a smart device screen is the first benefit. It’s pretty much like viewing the camera’s own LCD screen. Users can move the AF point around the frame, change metering zones, white balance and ISO settings, review shots on the memory card, switch GPS geotag logging on – which uses the device’s GPS facility – and switch between movie and stills mode. In fact, there are too many options to list them all here.

There are many possibilities for using the remote-shooting feature. For instance, to capture wildlife scenes out in the country or even in your garden, you could set up the camera near to your intended subject, then remove yourself to a covert position or possibly a hide. In this way, really close-up shots are possible without frightening your targets with your presence.

Similarly, when photographing an event, such as a stage or school production, you could set up the camera almost anywhere – especially in areas where it would be difficult to stay close to the camera without getting in the way – and shoot from the comfort of your seat in the audience. Battery power might be a concern for long periods of remote shooting, but a Panasonic mains power adapter is available if necessary.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: Build and handling

Pick up a Lumix DMC-G6 and it is immediately apparent just how light its sub-400g body is. Micro four thirds lenses are also smaller and lighter than equivalents for APS-C-format cameras. Although the G6 is, on paper, larger than the G5, it remains a compact design, especially when compared with most DSLRs. The body is almost entirely of polycarbonate so there is no getting away from the plasticky feel to the camera. On the other hand, the mouldings are of a very high standard and nothing creaks. The G6 feels featherweight for a camera of its size, but solid, and the casing surface is textured enough for a secure grip.

There are plenty of external controls, including 11 buttons – not counting the pop-up flash release or four-way pad – five of which are function controls. One problem with the buttons is that they are flush with the body and it’s difficult to feel them. The G6, like the G5, features a slightly unusual rocker-switch adjustment control behind the shutter release, which Panasonic calls a function lever. Unlike some cameras in this class that only offer a single adjustment control, the function lever is supplemented by a wheel on the rear corner of the body. This has a dual function, which can be toggled by pressing it. On the G5, this wheel was too exposed and at risk of accidental operation, so to rectify this Panasonic has made it recessed on the G6.

Unfortunately, it’s still too easy to alter some camera settings accidentally. The function lever is easily knocked, resulting in unwanted changes to exposure settings. The four-way controller, especially on the right-hand side near the handgrip, can be easily pressed unintentionally and cause some very strange white balance settings. A partial solution is to modify your grip on the camera, but that’s not ideal.

Also, like the function buttons, the outline of the shutter release is difficult to feel,. It can sometimes be a struggle, without removing your eye from the viewfinder, to find where to press – especially if you are using one of the function buttons at the same time, like the auto-exposure lock.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: Metering

The Lumix DMC-G6 has a fairly conventional metering arrangement, with a 144-segment matrix mode, centreweighted area and spot area modes. The spot-metering mode is linked to the AF position if a single AF point is in operation. One of the benefits of a live-view camera like the G6 is that changes in exposure can be seen through the electronic viewfinder or on the external LCD, which is especially useful when using spot metering.

In general use, the G6 metered scenes accurately and without fuss. I found little need to adjust brightness in post-processing. Landscapes with some white clouds against mainly blue skies were exposed neutrally, balancing the sky and foreground. When faced with more white cloud than blue sky and a shaded foreground, the matrix metering on the G6 chose to avoid blown highlights, resulting in darker shadows.

No unusual exposure issues were experienced in dull and overcast conditions. Metering also worked commendably in night-time scenes, dealing well with bright shots, such as illuminated shop window displays, and very low-light scenes using high ISO sensitivity. Metering indoors under dim artificial light was also reliable.

It’s worth mentioning iAuto on the G6, which will invoke scene modes that it calculates will match the scene being photographed. It is pretty standard fare these days, but there are advanced options. For example, image-motion detection will work out if a higher ISO setting is needed for a faster shutter speed to more effectively freeze a moving subject.

Image: In bright sunlight the  evaluative metering worked well, retaining detail in highlight areas

Dynamic range

Image: Shot at f/5.6 at 300mm, this image shows the fine detail that the G6 can resolve, and that a very shallow depth of field is possible with the right lens

With their smaller-than-average sensors, micro four thirds cameras have earned a reputation for higher-than-average noise and narrower-than-average dynamic range when lined up beside key APS-C competitors. The Lumix DMC-G6’s Live MOS sensor was competitive when we first saw it in the GH2 back in September 2010, but the competition has moved on and there is no escaping the fact that it lags behind other APS-C and even micro four thirds sensors.

Highlights are generally well preserved by the G6, but sometimes at the expense of shadow density and detail. However, it is possible to lift the shadows and retain a reasonable amount of detail. In one example with bright sunlit cumulonimbus clouds dominating the sky, and much of the foreground in shade, using a G6 raw file in Adobe Camera Raw 8.1 Release Candidate I lifted the overall brightness by 1.0 and shadow levels by 0.7 while trimming back highlights. The end result was not bad until I looked closely at the shadows, where noise had a subtle presence. Less extreme tonal adjustment is required with cameras employing the latest sensors, one example of which is Panasonic’s own GH3.

In normal day-to-day shooting in undemanding conditions, such as in a studio with good lighting, the G6 works very well. However, if it is necessary to stretch the camera in conditions that would benefit from an extended dynamic range, the G6 may leave you wanting more.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: Autofocus

There is no shortage of AF options in the Lumix DMC-G6, ranging from a single focus point to an automatic multiple point program, and it is possible to make the AF system track a point on a moving subject. Face detection is an underrated option that can help enormously when photographing people moving around in a group, for example. When using a single focus point, its size is variable. Using a tiny focus point is useful when trying to lock on to fine details like branches in the boughs of a tree or bush, and for macro photography.

The current range of micro four thirds cameras from both Panasonic and Olympus mated to the latest micro four thirds lenses are unparalleled when it comes to single-action autofocus performance. Panasonic says its cameras and lenses can outgun the best DSLRs when snapping an image into focus. Thanks to low-mass focus lens design and optimisation for quiet focus motors, as well as advanced contrast-detection autofocus algorithms and very fast sampling rates, focus can be expected to snap into place, and the G6 is no exception.

Where micro four thirds can’t match DSLRs and their range-finding phase-detection AF systems is in continuous AF with action photography. There have been improvements and the G6 does fairly well at continuously focusing when a subject is approaching the camera at a steady rate, but when things are less predictable – such as when trying to follow a bird in flight – the focus system generally doesn’t cope so well.

One area that Panasonic has definitely improved is low-light AF performance, which has been achieved simply by slowing the focus system down. The logic is similar to slowing the shutter in low light: contrast sampling is slowed so that the data being analysed is more reliable, and although focusing in low light is more leisurely, there is less hunting and failure to lock focus.

Continuous autofocus in video recording mode is excellent, even in moderately low light. Focus transitions are deliberately slower than in stills mode to avoid the distraction that fast-focus actions would bring, and to avoid hunting.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: Noise, resolution and sensitivity

Image: Although colour and luminance noise are controlled well at high sensitivities, there is a significant loss of detail

The standard ISO sensitivity range offered by the Lumix DMC-G6 is 160-12,800, with an extension to 25,600 when needed. With the current trend towards using fast prime lenses, it’s worth noting that a minimum ISO speed of 160 and a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000sec could force the user to stop their lens down in bright light. Some cameras are now offering ISO range extension options downwards to ISO 100 and even ISO 50, but not the G6.

If there is enough contrast in the subject being photographed, then smooth results with adequate detail retention can be recorded in JPEGs up to and including ISO 3200. At ISO 6400, artefacts caused by the noise processing start to appear, although there is still useful detail preserved. By ISO 12,800, noise grain is quite evident and dark areas that should be black have a blue tinge. The highest ISO 25,600 setting – which is only available if the ISO range extension option is set in the camera’s menu – should only really be used in emergencies, but can produce images that will stand a small or medium-sized print, as long as you don’t look too closely at it. Using the silent electronic shutter option limits the range to ISO 160-1600, which is a shame because places where camera noises are forbidden are often not well lit.

G6 raw files respond adequately to post-processing. JPEGs are heavily processed, with lens-specific geometric and chromatic aberrations automatically corrected. Consequently, they look very smooth at 100% compared to raw files, even after some raw-file smoothing is applied. They also retain fine details. Chroma noise is only a problem at very high ISOs and Adobe Camera Raw, for example, deals with this effectively.

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 14-42mm  kit lens set to 25mm and f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: White balance and colour

The latest multi-core Venus Engine image processor does a fine job of rendering accurate colour in JPEGs in the Lumix DMC-G6. There is no evidence of oversaturation using the standard settings. Skin tones are well reproduced and green foliage only tends towards a cool tone when underexposed, while blue skies are recorded faithfully with little evidence of cyan overtones.

When using auto white balance, measured grey tones in daylight, including sunny and overcast conditions, were neutral. Under artificial light there is modest warmth to the tone under either tungsten or fluorescent light, which accurately reflects the mood of such scenes. I didn’t detect any problematic green or yellow casts under fluorescent lighting.

There is full control over the customisation of white balance if needed. This includes various white balance presets, Kelvin temperatures and two custom white balance settings that can be easily programmed using a white or grey card. An alternative is to use a visual colour balance selector whereby the user moves a point against a colour chart and previews the effect on the live view in real time.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video

A brand-new OLED electronic viewfinder with eye-detection is featured in the Lumix DMC-G6. It is the same 1.44-million-dot resolution as previous Panasonic LCD viewfinders, but contrast and clarity are much improved. The firm’s old viewfinder was also prone to colour breakup when the subject moved around the frame rapidly, such as when panning. In normal light, responsiveness is good and there’s no flickering, with some flicker only coming into play in lower light when moving the view around. However, this is pretty normal for EVFs.

With a 1.4x magnification, the view is spacious enough and all four corners of the frame are visible, although spectacle wearers may have to adjust their view slightly to see the whole frame. As the viewfinder has a native 4:3 aspect ratio, there will be black bars above and below when shooting in 3:2 or 16:9 widescreen. The resolution isn’t quite high enough to make the pixels disappear, but the overall viewing experience is nonetheless positive.

The capacitive touchscreen of the G6 is much more responsive in general than previous Panasonic resistive versions, as well as being less prone to accidental operation by miscellaneous objects resting against the screen. Multi-touch gestures can now be used, such as pinch-to-zoom. Unfortunately, the familiar old problem of unwanted ‘nose-gestures’ remains, which frequently means the focus point annoyingly moves position. The screen panel is a TFT LCD of just over 1 million dots, and has an excellent viewing-angle range. Visibility in sunlight is about average, although adjusting the viewing angle can improve matters. The 3in screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which means that black borders will appear on the sides when shooting 4:3, or above and below in 16:9 widescreen for video recording.

The screen itself is versatile, being side-hinged, and its movements are unhindered by the camera being tripod-mounted.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: The competition

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6’s main competitor is the Sony NEX-6, which has a better sensor and a higher-resolution OLED viewfinder. However, the G6 enjoys a considerably wider range of compatible lenses that are like-for-like smaller and lighter, plus built-in flash, more controls and a more versatile touchscreen.

Another camera of note is the Samsung NX20. Its viewfinder is inferior to the G6 and NEX-6, AF is not as impressive and its articulating screen is not touch sensitive. This is somewhat offset by its good-quality 20-million-pixel sensor compared to the 16-million-pixel units of others, and built-in GPS. The NX20 started off more expensive than G6 and NEX-6, but is now being discounted.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 review: Our verdict

In some areas, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 is a big step forward, such as the new viewfinder, touchscreen and Wi-Fi support, especially for remote shooting with a smartphone or tablet. However, its basic picture-taking capabilities are similar to its older stablemate.

For anyone seeking an affordable camera with a wide range of customisable controls in a lightweight package, with an eye-piece viewfinder, fast autofocus and modelled on an SLR layout, the G6 has a lot going for it. Its micro four thirds compatibility with, by far, the largest range of lenses of any compact system camera platform is also a major plus point. The increasing importance of video, which is an area of excellence with the G6, will also make it worthy of consideration by some.

However, its sensor, while still good, is no longer cutting-edge, and if your photography pushes a camera’s dynamic range you may be better off with a more up-to-date unit. The fallibility of some of the controls is also a concern and demands careful handling of the camera.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 – Key features

Keeping level
The G6 has a dual-axis digital level with an artificial horizon indicator. This is ideal for keeping the camera level, especially when using the articulated screen.

Custom settings
Two custom-setting modes are accessible quickly and conveniently via the mode dial.

Audio and video
Video recording is a strong area for the G6, but there is no port for a high-quality external microphone. This can be worked around by using a separate recorder and syncing audio when editing the video.

Wi-Fi and NFC
Wi-Fi allows remote shooting with live view using Android and Apple smartphones and tablets. Connection and pairing can be as simple as tapping a camera with an NFC-enabled device.