Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX80 review
Panasonic Lumix GX80 – At a glance:
- 16-million-pixel Four Thirds sensor, no optical low-pass filter
- ISO 200-25,600 (ISO 100-25,600 extended)
- Dual IS: 5-axis in-body stabilisation working with 2-axis in-lens
- 4K video recording and 4K Photo mode
- 2.76-million-dot equivalent EVF (16:9 aspect ratio)
- 1.04-million-dot 3-inch tilting touchscreen
- New low-vibration shutter: 60sec – 1/4000sec (1sec – 1/16000 sec electronic)
- £509 body only, £599 with 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
While Panasonic was the first company to make a compact system camera with the G1 in 2008, in the intervening years it’s not really settled on any specific kind of design.
Its GX series aimed at enthusiast photographers is a case in point. The GX1 was a viewfinderless fixed-screen camera designed as a spiritual successor to the much-loved GF1. Its replacement, the GX7, was a slightly larger camera with a built-in, tilting electronic viewfinder, a tilting LCD screen and in a first for Panasonic, in-body image stabilization.
Last year’s replacement for this popular model was the GX8: an evolution of the design with a fully-articulated screen and weathersealing, but in a much bulkier body that wasn’t universally well-received.
Now with the GX80, Panasonic has gone back to essentially the same template as the GX7, in making a compact rangefinder-style body with a tilting screen and built-in EVF. There are a few omissions – the EVF is fixed rather than tilting, and the GX7’s focus mode switch has disappeared – but in exchange you get all of Panasonic’s latest and greatest technology, most notably a new dual IS system that combines 5-axis in-body image stabilization with 2-axis optical IS when using suitably-equipped lenses. This being Panasonic there’s also 4K video recording and its associated 4K Photo mode for extracting 8MP stills from 30fps 4K footage.
In short, the GX80 Panasonic appears to have hit on a Goldilocks formula – not too big, not too small, and not too expensive either. It costs £509 body only, £599 in a kit with the tiny retracting12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS pancake zoom, or £729 in a dual-lens kit adding the compact 35-100mm f/4-5.6 OIS telezoom. Three colour options will be on offer: all black, silver and black (exclusive to Jessops), and silver and brown (exclusive to John Lewis). So how well does it work?
The GX80 has a pretty solid feature set, most of which we’ve previously seen on other recent Panasonic cameras.
Rather than the 20-million-pixel sensor used by the GX8, the Panasonic Lumix GX80 shares the familiar 16-million-pixel MOS that’s in Panasonic’s other Micro Four Thirds cameras. However, for the first time Panasonic has removed the optical low pass filter entirely, which helps eke out a little more detail, although in practice the difference isn’t huge.
New image processing is designed to minimise sampling artefacts such as aliasing and moiré. The sensitivity range is now ISO 200-25600 as standard, with a pulled ISO 100 option also available that offers lower noise but less headroom before highlight details start to clip to pure white.
The Panasonic Lumix GX80 is capable of continuous shooting at 8 frames per second at full resolution, which is similar to other similarly priced CSCs and faster than most DSLRs.
If you want it to refocus between frames the speed drops to a still-impressive 6 fps. Switch to 4K Photo mode and you can shoot at fully 30fps then easily extract 8MP stills from the footage, a feature none of its direct competitors can match.
One relatively new 4K-based feature is 4K Post-focus. This takes a series of frames at different focus distances such that every object in the scene is in focus in at least one, and then records them together as a 4K movie file.
The idea is that you can then refocus the image after the event, simply by tapping on the camera’s touchscreen. This is all very clever and fun to play with, and it even gets its own button on the camera, but it’s difficult to understand what it’s supposed to be used for in practice.
An all-new shutter mechanism employs an electromagnetic drive with two solenoids to operate the shutter curtains, eliminating the use of springs.
In use the GX80’s new shutter operates with a quiet, discreet snick and feels much ‘softer’ compared to the GX8. According to the firm, it also reduces shutter-related vibrations by 90%, and in practice I saw no evidence for image blurring due to ‘shutter shock’.
A completely silent and shock-free electronic shutter is also on hand offering speeds up to 1/16000 sec; this is handy for using fast lenses in bright light, but brings some risk of image distortion due to rolling shutter effects.
For photographers who enjoy shooting black & white, there’s an attractive new high contrast black & white JPEG processing mode, called L.Monochrome. You can mimic the effect of using coloured filters in front of the lens with black & white film – yellow, orange, red or green – and apply blue or sepia toning with adjustable levels of saturation. Naturally, you can also record a raw file alongside.
Plenty of other useful features are on board too, for example an auto-stitching panorama mode, image processing filters, time lapse shooting, and an extensive array of bracketing options including focus and aperture bracketing. Naturally, Wi-Fi is built in, allowing remote control of the camera from your smartphone, and transfer of images from the camera for sharing with family and friends.
Build and handling
In-hand the Panasonic Lumix GX80 feels very nicely made, and quite heavy for its size. It has a relatively small handgrip, but it’s just enough to wrap your fingers around, with a well-defined space to place your thumb. Where the tiny GM5 was too small to be comfortably useable, and the GX8 feels a bit large and bulky, the GX80 hits a near-perfect middle ground.
The control layout isn’t necessarily the best you’ll find, but it’s logical enough and works reasonably well out of the box.
It’s based around twin control dials to change exposure settings, front and rear; by default both do the same thing in all exposure modes except manual, but either can be configured to set exposure compensation directly instead.
The rear dial can also be clicked-in to change its function; during shooting this brings up a comprehensive exposure compensation and bracketing interface. Meanwhile the d-pad on the back gives access to focus area selection, ISO, white balance and drive mode.
You can also use the touchscreen to reposition the AF area directly, even when using the EVF, and if you’re one of the two-thirds of the population that’s right eye dominant, this should work fine.
However, if you’re a left-eye shooter like me, you’ll probably find the touchscreen unusable for this, as your nose will constantly reset the focus area. But because the camera is highly customisable, it’s possible to re-assign the d-pad to move the AF area directly if you prefer, and rework the rest of the interface to operate as you’d prefer.
Indeed, many of the controls are user-configurable, including four external Fn buttons, five touchscreen Fn buttons, and the onscreen Q Menu. Panasonic’s menus are relatively well organised and logical too, so it’s not too difficult to find your way around the camera and set it up how you want. I set the Fn1 button that by default accesses 4K Post Focus to control ISO and white balance instead.
Viewfinder and screen
Broadly speaking the Panasonic Lumix GX80 uses the same viewfinder and screen as the older GX7, with the main difference being that the EVF no longer tilts upwards. While I’m sure this will dismay some GX7 owners thinking of upgrading, personally I’ve never really found much use for tilting EVFs, especially on a camera with a tilting LCD. The big advantage is that, without having to fit in the tilt mechanism, the camera can be made noticeably more compact – most obviously the eyecup doesn’t stick as far out the back compared to the GX7.
The viewfinder itself uses a 2.76-million-dot equivalent panel with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Panasonic quotes an impressive-sounding 0.7x magnification, but things are a little more complicated than that. You’ll only get this when recording video or stills in 16:9, and narrower aspect ratios result in less of the screen being used. When you use the camera’s native 4:3 aspect ratio for stills, you’re looking at an effective magnification closer to 0.6x, although this still gives a view similar in size to competitors such as the Fujifilm X-E2S or Olympus OM-D E-M10 II.
Like the GX7’s, the EVF panel is of the field-sequential type, meaning that rather then having red, green and blue dots, it displays red, green and blue components of the image in quick succession to give a full-colour display.
One disadvantage is that this can sometimes give disconcerting rainbow effects, particularly when panning. Overall though the EVF is quite useable, if not as nice as those on some of its competitors.
The rear screen is similar to the GX7’s, being a 1.04-million-dot touchscreen that tilts 80° up and 45° downwards. This is really useful for shooting video, or stills at odd angles.
Naturally it’s not as flexible as a fully articulated screen, especially when shooting stills in portrait format (instead it positively encourages shooting everything in landscape format). But it’s quicker to use and helps keep the body camera small, and that’s a compromise many users will be happy to make.
For autofocus the GX80 uses a contrast detection system, and as usual Panasonic offers a huge number of different modes.
You can choose face detection or subject tracking modes, allow the camera to choose the subject from a 49-area grid spread across almost the entire frame, or specify any subset of those points as the focus region.
Alternatively, you can select the focus area manually, and there’s even a pinpoint mode for focusing on especially fine details in the scene. During video recording, you can also smoothly pull focus from one subject to another simply by tapping the touchscreen.
When used with Panasonic’s own lenses, the GX80 can also employ the firm’s own Depth from Defocus (DFD) technology. This uses knowledge of the lens’s optical characteristics when the image is out of focus to speed up autofocus. However, with almost all Micro Four Thirds lenses, autofocus is extremely fast and essentially silent. Indeed, with static subjects there’s no apparent speed penalty when using Olympus lenses that don’t support DFD, so existing owners needn’t worry about having to change their lenses.
In body IS / Dual IS
Perhaps the GX80’s most appealing new feature is Panasonic’s latest Dual IS system.
Like the GX8 before it, the camera can use both in-lens and in-body IS together to allow the use of even slower shutter speeds without blur from camera shake ruining your shots. But where the GX8 only offered four axes of correction in body, the GX80 now offers five, adding in correction for rotation around the lens axis. This tends to be important for long exposures with wideangle lenses, so it’s great to see it added.
The great thing about this is that you get image stabilisation with every lens you can use, not just those from Olympus, Sigma, Samyang and so on, but also old manual lenses on mount adapters (when using the latter, the camera helpfully prompts you to enter the focal length when you turn it on). So if your subject’s not moving, you can keep shutter speeds much slower than usual in low light, and so use lower ISO settings. This in turn can often offset the noise disadvantage of the smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor. What’s more, the image stabilization works for video recording, including at 4K.
In practice the GX80’s stabilisation works very well indeed. I’ve found it gives excellent results with all lenses – Panasonic, Olympus or third-party, with or without optical stabilization – often allowing the use of shutter speeds around four stops slower than would be possible without it.
We tested out the image stabilization for video shooting side-by-side with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II (each fitted with the Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS lens), which until now has been pretty much the class leader for hand-held movie work. You can see the results on our sister site The Video Mode, but suffice to say that the GX80 performs at least as well.
In use the GX80 is generally well behaved and produces attractive images.
Its colour rendition is typically Panasonic, being accurate and attractive, if a little subdued compared to some its rivals. Auto white balance tends to give neutral results, occasionally erring to the cool side.
Overall though the camera’s JPEGs are perfectly useable, and there’s always the option of taking advantage of the in-camera raw development to tweak the results.
Metering is generally accurate, giving well-judged exposures much of time. Unfortunately though it does have a certain tendency towards underexposure in dull conditions, requiring positive exposure compensation to give good results. However, the camera’s live histogram helps with judging when this is necessary.
Image quality is very good at low ISOs, with easily sufficient detail for a nice A3 (16” x 12”) print. But it gradually deteriorates as you increase the ISO, and by ISO 1600 there’s a noticeable loss of detail.
I’d still use up to ISO 6400 for non-critical purposes – online sharing and small prints – but would steer clear of the highest settings. Don’t forget though that the effective image stabilisation means these are relatively rarely needed anyway.
The GX80’s kit lens is a plastic mount version of Panasonic’s tiny 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS zoom. It offers impressive image quality for its tiny size, although it’s somewhat somewhat weak at the 24mm-equivalent wideangle setting. The 64mm-equivalent tele end is also a little limiting. But the key advantage is that it makes the overall package very portable indeed.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX80: test results
Here we’re showing preliminary test results from the GX80 to see the effects of removing the optical low pass filter. We don’t have any way of processing the camera’s raw files at the time of writing, so for now can only look at JPEGs, but this should still give some idea of the camera’s image quality.
Below are 100% crops from camera JPEGs of our resolution test chart, shot at each ISO setting using the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro at f/4.
Multiply the number beneath the line by 200 to get resolution in lines/picture height. What we can see here is clean resolution of fine detail to around 3200 l/ph, then blurring of the lines together with no obvious sampling artefacts, before some false detail appears at higher frequencies.
Impressively, noise only has an obvious impact on resolution above ISO 3200: however the top two settings don’t look great. However, this doesn’t look very much different to what we previously saw from the 16MP Panasonic G7, so in JPEG at least we’re not getting much more resolution.
The GX80 gives pretty typical dynamic range measurements for a Micro Four Thirds model in our Applied Imaging tests.
It can’t quite match most APS-C cameras at low ISOs, although with readings above 11 EV at ISO 100 and 200, there’s still real scope for recovering additional shadow detail from raw files.
At ISO 1600 a figure of 9.2EV indicates that the camera’s files should still give good detail rendition through the full tonal range, but will have little scope for further manipulation.
Beyond this things get marginal, with the ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 reading indicate increasing noise that will have a particularly negative effect on shadow detail. The two top settings have very low readings indeed, indicating poor image quality.
ISO sensitivity and noise
Below are 100% crops from JPEGs of our studio test scene, shot using the Panasonic 12-32mm lens at 25mm. The idea here is to show how noise impinges on detail as the ISO setting is raised.
There are no huge surprises here, with the GX80 behaving like other recent Micro Four Thirds cameras. It gives nice, clean images at low ISOs, and is perfectly useable up to about ISO 1600.
However, higher settings are increasingly affected by noise, and while ISO 3200 and even ISO 6400 should be OK for web and small prints, the top two sensitivity settings are very noisy and really for emergency use only.
Panasonic GX80: Our Verdict
With the GX80, Panasonic has made a camera that feels much more like the GX7’s spiritual successor than the GX8 ever did – impressive as that camera undoubtedly is.
Similar in size, design and layout to the GX7, it’s also attractively priced. Considering its effective dual image stabilization and 4K video recording, it’s a compelling option for enthusiast photographers who also have some interest in exploring the creative opportunities afforded by movie making.
In terms of design and styling the GX80 isn’t as charismatic as many of its direct competitors, but don’t let that put you off. It’s well designed and fits nicely in your hand, while being small enough to slip easily into a small bag.
The control layout works well enough, although personally I think that it’s high time Panasonic revisited its control interface to concentrate on easier viewfinder shooting.
But the GX80 is so customizable that any deficiencies of its default setup can be overcome, if you’re prepared to spend a bit of time setting the camera up to your own preference.
The tiny 12-32mm kit lens completes the package nicely, and of course the camera can accept any lens in the Micro Four Thirds range. This now covers practically every option, from relatively inexpensive primes like the Panasonic 25mm f/1.8 to big-but-pricey long telephoto zooms such as the Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 OIS.
Overall, I’d have to say the GX80 is probably Panasonic’s best-judged compact system camera for quite some time. The combination of small body, highly effective in-body image stabilization, and 4K video recording is unique. For photographers who are also interested in shooting video it’s a very compelling option.