Panasonic has done well to progress the hybrid market bringing industry leading video features to remarkably affordable price points over the years. The GH line has always pushed into new territory with budget oriented motion shooters compared to all else available on the market. Along with cutting edge video features, they’ve also done well to provide competent still shooting devices incorporated into these wonderful, little mirrorless cameras. The GF and GX lines have historically incorporated a more still shooter driven skill set in a smaller, rangefinder style body while adding admirable video features as well.
There’s been no hiding my love for the GX7 over the past few years. In my mind, it has been the best balance of quality, size, feature and price yet available in the mirrorless landscape, playing to all of the benefits of a smaller format, mirrorless construction and very high end lens availability through the system partnership with Olympus, and third party collaboration and support from companies like Leica, Sigma, Voigtländer and many others.
With the GX8, Panasonic has brought us a newer, more beefed up version with the m4/3 system’s first 20mp sensor, dual IS feature and various 4K video and still modes in a camera that, while a bit bigger, can still fit into a large pocket with the right lens. A great machine, but is it truly a step forward in all ways? Having been shooting this camera extensively for the last month and a half, I feel comfortable giving my opinions and comparisons between the GX8 and it’s predecessor. C’mon in…
This first of a two part article will look at how these two cameras stack up on paper, along with a little insight from my experience. I’ll look at and provide more examples of their respective performance in part 2. I’m not going to scientifically tear these two cameras apart, but rather look at them from the angle of a system user who really wants to see this system expand and succeed. Those of you who read my reviews know I’ll speak freely with both praise and criticism, and believe me when I say that my opinions are far from universal, but I’ll do my best to preface any opinion as such. I’m all for disagreement and criticism, but if you’re going to tear me a new one, at least have the decency to buy me a drink first, and then point us to your website where you’ve been able to prove what it is you’re saying that totally disproves my findings. Thanks.
You can now see the more in depth performance comparison in part 2 HERE (will open in a new window).
Let’s get to it, shall we?
I – Ergonomics/Construction
One of the most immediate differences between the GX8 and its predecessor, is the size. Obvious as soon as you pull it out of the box, it is larger and heavier in the hand. But, aren’t Mirrorless Cameras supposed to be ridiculously tiny? No, no they’re not. They CAN be, and that is cool, but we’re way beyond the need to under-compensate for our larger than average genitalia by carrying around the smallest cameras available. No, we may want and need a bit of girth to be able to hold onto. For this system to be considered a legitimate, professionally capable system (which it absolutely is) it needs to provide tools that can be used comfortably as such. I’ve gone on record in the past saying that I feel the micro 4/3 system does the best job at balancing size reduction of both lenses and cameras along with maintaining image quality. I still feel this way. The system is remarkably diverse in this respect, both by way of camera bodies, and lenses. If we want a small camera with a small, fast lens, the micro 4/3 system provides them. If we need a larger camera and optic that is going to provide the proper tool for perhaps a more serious or demanding application, well, we have those too. Can we please get over it? Nowhere else does a system provide this ability to both go absolutely tiny and pocketable, while being able to use the same system to get a professional still or video rig while maintaining the same sensor size. Pretty amazing, really.
The GX7 and GX8 measurements are as follows:
GX7: 4.8″ x 2.8″ x 2.1″ (123mm x 71mm x 55mm) 14.2oz/402g w/card + battery
GX8: 5.2″ x 3.1″ x 2.5″ (133mm x 78mm x 64mm) 17.2oz/487g w/card + battery
The GX8 also boasts a far more aggressive environmental seal rating, and while there are very few, truly environmentally sealed lenses (which are required if you want to benefit from this “weather sealing”) it is still nice to know that if out and about in the elements, more sealing is always better than less.
The GX8 has a similar solidity in the hand compared to the GX7, but has a slightly more textured surface on the non rubberized portions. The rubberized grips are near identical in tactile feel to my touch. They are nice, and grip well.
Now, just because it’s bigger, does not mean it’s better ergonomically and in fact I feel that the GX8 is a bit of a step backward from the GX7 in terms of grip and comfort. The GX7’s grip, while a tad too short in my opinion, was, and is superior in the hand. The GX8’s flat, straight bump, while deeper, sits poorly in my large hands by comparison. The GX7 allowed the middle finger to grip, and curve down to comfortably secure the camera. The GX8 seems to be designed with “retro look” as a higher priority, which is a damn shame. The GX8 provides a better finger tip grip, handy perhaps when carrying the camera at your side, but I find it less comfortable when shooting, comparatively. That said, I’ve gotten used to it, and while I do wish the GX8’s grip included some type of topographical indentation just below the shutter button for our middle fingers to further secure the camera in hand, that is not my biggest gripe with the grip…
Can someone at Panasonic please explain to me who’s idea it was to place a custom function button on the front of the camera, EXACTLY where the shooter’s middle finger rests? Seriously, I’ll wait. I really like the idea, I do and after over a month of shooting, I’ve learned to entirely adjust my grip to position my fingers more vertically to avoid CONSTANTLY pressing it, but c’mon. Place this little gem about a quarter inch higher, near where the leatherette meets the top plate. It would be easy enough to find by touch, but entirely out of the way of an idle grip. That would also place it slightly further from the lens mount which would be good when using the larger lenses like the Nocticron where our fingers are going to have a little less room to exist in there as it is. If this relocation is impossible due to internals, then I’d suggest retooling it the next go around, or removing it. Luckily, we’re able to essentially disable it by setting it to “Zoom Control” in the Custom Fn menu which has worked for me, but I also don’t use too many zoom lenses that would be affected by the pressing of this button. Unfortunately, for me, it is a lost cause, and provides a hinderance, not any help.
I do hope that we’ll see an option to entirely disable any given Custom function button for this reason, as there are a total of 13 customizable buttons on the GX8 (great!) but often I’ve accidentally pushed a button and not known what the hell I’d done. 13 custom function buttons are nice, but I’d at the very least like to be able to disable them if and when I didn’t need them to function in a custom manner.
To be fair, the GX8 does not feel crowded at all. Buttons are similar to all previous Panasonic GX cams in that they give a good tactile resistance and feedback when pressed. A noticeable “click” when pressing, as opposed to the muddier buttons on some other m4/3 cameras.
The GX7, by comparison has 9 customizable function buttons, which I never felt left me wanting. Too many customizable Fn buttons start to smack of Olympus’ approach which to me is far too jumbled, and poorly implemented for the average shooter (myself included). There is beauty in simplistic functionality. While there are legitimate needs to customize a camera, I don’t want to have to draw myself a fricken map to remember what everything does, nor waste time between shots trying to remember or figure out what I’m trying to do, or have done by pressing one of the buttons. I have two young kids, and I haven’t slept for more than 4 straight hours in about 6 years. My brain is mush as it is. I want a button to say “ISO” or “WB” which in Panasonic’s defense, they do a great job at balancing dedicated function buttons and assignable custom functions, so really all I’d like to see change, is the ability to disable one or more of the multi function, customizable buttons when shooting so that I’m not wondering why the spot meter was initiated, and then have to chimp my way through the buttons to figure out which one I accidentally pressed in an attempt to disable it. This is the first time I’ve had this experience with a Panasonic camera (and one major reason I have yet to buy another Olympus camera). Read into that what you will, but rare is the situation where I’ve ever felt, through the many situations I find myself shooting in, that I’ve felt I needed MORE customization in my camera. It doesn’t happen, and in my opinion should not be added in exchange for a poorer user interface and general operational interaction.
II – Sensors
Here’s the second thing most of us are probably looking at. The GX8 boasts the first resolution bump in years for the system, pushing up beyond the 20mp threshold from the previous topping out at 15.8mp and 15.9 for the Panasonic “16mp” and Sony/Oly “16mp” sensors respectively. Measuring in at 5184×3888 pixels at full size (20.2mp) the GX8 produces a noticeable increase when really digging into files.
This could be an entire article unto itself. On paper, and at first glance, we’re certainly able to notice the increase in pixels. While not a huge gain, and as has been discussed on various sites, there isn’t a remarkably noticeable difference in resolution, I’m seeing some differences characteristically between the two. Again, I’ll provide more in depth comparisons in part 2, but here are 100% crops from the GX7 and GX8 taken with the Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, set to f/5.6 at base ISO of 200. Click on the image below to see these at full size, in all their glory.
Obviously, there is a noticeable difference in total pixels captured when cropped to 100% with the higher resolution GX8 sensor showing a boost, but other than that, they both look good. The higher resolution GX8 also seems to add some mottled artifacting, especially in areas where the depth of field renders the image out of focus, but I’ll resize images to match resolution and see how these two different sensors stack up against one another, soon.
III – EVF and Screen
The GX7 and GX8 both have a wonderful 3″ touch screen with a 1.04million pixel resolution. The GX8 however, has moved from a more traditional LCD (liquid crystal display) as was found on the GX7, to an OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen. What does that mean?
That is a good question.
In theory, an OLED is more efficient and capable of performing better in adverse situations (bright light, etc) but what I’m very excited about is with an OLED screen, I can still see it when wearing polarized sunglasses when positioned in portrait orientation, where with an LCD you lose the image on an LCD screen when viewing it in portrait orientation. That is a small, but great feature to me.
The GX7 used a simple tilt screen while the GX8 uses a swivel screen. I, for one, entirely and whole heartedly prefer the more simple tilt screens, as is found on the GX7. The swivel screens seem far more fragile, are awkward to constantly have to flip out and around when wanting to shoot stills, and aside from flipping it around and hiding the screen entirely for protection (and probably video or selfies by flipping the screen to face forward) or positioning the screen when close to the ground and shooting in portrait orientation, I see no real benefit, but quite a bit of drawback to the way I shoot.
I LOVE the tilt screens when wanting to quickly shoot as an easy to see and use, waist level finder. It also doesn’t disorient me by taking my visual focus entirely off the axis of the lens as is the case with the swivel screens. In my personal opinion, the tilt screens are more solidly built and better for most still shooting applications, and while I prefer them, this is an entirely first world problem to bitch about, so feel free to slap me around on this. Having an articulating screen in any flavor is so vastly superior to a fixed screen that I’m happy to have whatever, but dammit, gimme back my tilt screen next time, Panasonic and leave the swivel screen for the more video-centric DSLR style bodies.
There were some grumblings about the EVF on the GX7. I never found it to be bad, and in fact, felt is was a great step up from the previous generations from my experience with the G3 and OMD EM5. The GX8 however has addressed any issue folks had with the GX7’s EVF, and I will say that the GX8’s finder is great, and a sizable step up from the GX7. Larger, brighter and truer to my eye. Better in bright light, and the larger, deeper eye cup help a lot. Folks with glasses should also enjoy shooting the GX8 comparatively too.
The EVF specs are:
GX7: .7x mag, 2.76million dot LCD, 17.5mm eye point distance
GX8: .77x mag, 2.36million dot OLED, 21mm eye point distance
While the GX8 has a lower resolution, the combination of the OLED (vs LCD) higher magnification and further eye point distance, makes for a much better overall viewing experience. I never had any major issue with the EVF on the GX7, even though it was criticized for the rainbow tearing, and wasn’t great for those with glasses, the GX8 seems to have remedied this. While I do not wear corrective lens glasses, I’m sure the better magnification and deeper eye point distance, along with a ratio change to 4:3 from the odd 16:9 that the GX7 employed, makes for a much better overall implementation.
One very cool function of a tilting EVF is the ability to keep my nose off the screen. I’ve heard quite a few folks ask why Panasonic has created a tilting EVF, seeming to only see it as an awkward way to stare down into the camera from above, which hey if that floats your boat, go for it. For me, this singular feature is justification for its inclusion, and I love it. The other use for this feature, is to flip the EVF up vertically and out of the way when the camera is on a tripod. If you’re using the screen to change features via the awesome touch screen while composing, or when shooting from waist level to keep from engaging the auto switch sensor, effectively turning off the screen, flipping the EVF vertically takes care of the frustration I find with other, fixed EVFs in the other cameras I own or have owned.
Remember that while it may seem backwards, EVFs use battery power up more quickly than the rear screens, and if you’re someone that may wear a camera on a neck/shoulder strap, and have the auto switch EVF/Screen engaged, you’ll drain your battery more quickly than if you just kept the screen on. Constantly switching between the two (if the camera bounces off your chest while walking, etc, will keep the feed on, and drain the battery quickly as it is constantly switching between the finder and screen. Flipping the EVF up will take care of that.
This is a very handy fix for potentially frustrating, albeit somewhat isolated issues, and I’ve employed it both with the GX7 and now the GX8 many, many times. By contrast, using the OMD EM5, and more recently the Sony a7II in a similar fashion has driven me batty when going to quickly compose and shoot a shot from the hip and the screen shuts off because I’m within 6-8″ from the EVF’s proximity sensor. It’s a simple feature that in my opinion is very understated, and I really appreciate having the tilting EVF for these reasons.
IV – Video and 4K Still Modes
Hey, video shooters, how about a solid 4K system camera for under $1200? (okay, the Lumix G7 provides much of the same, cool 4K feature set at under $750, but let’s not get sidetracked).
I, for one, do very little in the way of video aside from the random family movie clip or poorly executed video for the blog here. I guess, with 4K I’m a little closer to being future proof when wanting to watch my kids blow out their candles later in life, but by that time, I’m sure we’ll have three dimensional hologram VR servants to beam those images directly into our ocular enhancement viewing apparatuses seeing as our eyes will no longer be able to resolve enough detail to take advantage of the Über HD of the future on their own, so I see it as mostly a space hog on the hard drive. I don’t have a 4K TV (yet). I don’t have a 4K computer screen (yet), but like many things I’ve seen as surplus to need in the past, only to find use for them later on in life, I guess I’m not too worried about it as I’ll just record in 4K now, and figure out why that makes sense later down the road.
If you are a serious video shooter, and invested in the micro 4/3 system, you’re already shooting with a GH4 I’m sure (as you should be), so unless you need the still capabilities, IBIS (which doesn’t work in 4K video modes, only 1080 and lower) or size reduction of the GX8, you’re probably good.
One feature, as a still shooter, that does have a very interesting upside though is the 4K still frame modes.
4K Burst, 4K Burst (S/S) and 4K Pre-Burst are all very intriguing. Think if you will, a photo shoot where an 8mp JPEG will be ample (the 4K burst modes only record in JPEG, and produce a series of 3328 x 2496, 8.3mp files… as seen in the shot above). Photojournalism, dance recital, soccer game, small print/online editorial or shoots of a subject or subjects where it may be tricky to get everyone’s eyes open and facing the camera are situations that come to mind…okay, taking shots of your kid or your pet totally apply here too. The possibilities are interesting. As is, selecting the frame to save is done in camera and then saved as a JPEG, separate from the video file. You can save one, or multiple files from the 30 frames you’ll get per second in these modes. The full bursts are saved as 4K video files, and if using the S/S mode, sound is also recorded.
4K Burst and 4K Burst S/S are similar in that they capture 4K video when the shutter button is pressed. Where 4K Burst only records while the shutter button is pressed, 4K Burst S/S (start/stop) starts recording and continues until the shutter is pressed again. If you think you’ll enjoy keeping the video file around, I’d suggest using the S/S mode as it will enable sound, and is easier than holding your finger on the shutter button. The depth of the video file is lesser than when using the actual 4K video mode, but that may be beneficial for file size when capturing moments that might not be intended to be cut into the next Star Wars film.
4K Pre-Burst is a little different, in that it operates like the 4K Burst mode, but records one second before and one second after the shutter is pressed and released. How? Not sure, probably magic, but I’d imagine that when in this mode, it is constantly providing a 4K video feed, and dumping the feed longer than a second prior until the shutter button is pressed, and it reserves that previous second prior to the shutter being engaged as well as the second afterward. Cool, but it states that if and when the camera overheats due to this feature, it will automatically switch to the more simplified 4K Burst mode (ie: buy more batteries if you want to use this sucker a lot, and keep an eye on overheating).
V – IBIS
The GX8, like the GX7 before it has an in body, on sensor image stabilization mechanism. I’ve found the results in the standard in body stabilization to provide between 2-4 stops of hand held compensation, depending on the focal length, and technique I’m able to employ. Where it gets interesting with the GX8, is that it is the first Panasonic camera to incorporate what they call Dual IS, which uses the IBIS and OIS (optical image stabilization) from Panasonic’s OIS lenses in concert.
Unfortunately, Panasonic has provided somewhat minimal support for Dual IS system by way of their OIS lenses, overall. Currently, the only lenses supported in the Dual IS feature are as follows:
- Lumix 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS
- Lumix 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II ASPH Mega OIS
- Lumix Macro 30mm f/2.8 ASPH Mega OIS
- Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH Power OIS
- Lumix X 35-100mm f/2.8 ASPH Power OIS
- Lumix/Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH Power OIS
Good news is that Panasonic has stated that they plan to update firmware for all OIS enabled lenses by Spring 2016 with the exception of the Original 14-45mm kit zoom, the budget friendly 45-200mm zoom, and very oddly the 100-300mm zoom. I guess the latter is just making way for them to sell more of the yet to be released Leica 100-400mm zoom, but I’m surprised, and disappointed by that exclusion, as I’m hoping that Dual IS finds its way into many Panasonic bodies moving forward, and any hindering of compatibility seems lame.
If you own any of the lenses listed, you’ll need to make sure they’re running the most recent firmware to be capable of taking advantage of the Dual IS feature.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ll go deeper into the IBIS performance and comparison between the GX7’s 2 axis IBIS and the Dual IS in the GX8 in part 2 (you can read Part 2 HERE), but for comparisons sake, here is a quick setup where I’ve shot the Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 on both the GX7 and GX8 where on the GX7, it utilizes solely the OIS (because OIS disables the GX7’s IBIS) and on the GX8, it does in fact incorporate the dual IS. I rounded the shutter speed down to achieve the 1/focal length, but this still shows me that both approaches are pretty damn nice. Click to see the whole chart larger:
Yes, this is a quick and simple comparison, but shooting as I would out and about, I see no real benefit at this stage through 5 stops from the Dual IS over the standard OIS in the lens itself. Either way though, we’re looking at 4-5 stops in either situation here, so that’s pretty great.
Stabilization while shooting video on the GX8 is interesting. When shooting at 1080p, with a “dual IS” compatible OIS enabled lens, the camera goes into “5 Axis Hybrid” IS mode, which is pretty nice. When shooting 4K, the in body, on sensor stabilization does not work (certainly due to the excessive heat that the two features would create together) and for stabilization, requires the OIS, which will work as it does on the GX7, or any other non IBIS camera body.
VI – The rest of the bells and whistles
The GX8 has upped the game in most every other way, compared to the GX7 beyond what we’ve already walked through, less a couple interesting features. It doesn’t lose any notable feature that I’ve found yet, but adds or improves upon a few more features from the GX7. Most notably:
- a 2.5mm mic input on the GX8, a feature loudly lamented for being excluded from the GX7.
- 10 fps burst rate at 20.2mp on the GX8 vs 5 fps at 15.8mp on the GX7 (both with fixed AF)
- 30 fps burst rate at 8.3mp (jpeg) on the GX8 vs 40 fps burst rate at 3.9mp (jpeg) on the GX7 (both with fixed AF)
- the GX8 has excluded an on body flash and has a slower flash sync speed of 1/250 sec, versus the 1/320 sec of the GX7
- WiFi user interface on the GX8 is improved over the GX7
- The GX8’s larger 1200mAh battery vs the 1025mAh battery on the GX7 is welcome, although not immensely better (I’d say I probably get about 15-20% more frames per full charge on the GX8 which is nice)
While the backward movement on the flash sync on paper is disappointing, it will largely go unnoticed to most anyone shooting these cameras in studio. Having any advantage and latitude to play with when using strobes is always welcome, this will affect very few folks as we’re going to be needing to use ND filters to eat light when shooting outside, and 1/320 isn’t going to be a hugely deciding factor for high speed action freezing anyway, rather requiring a high speed sync setup.
Outside of trying it once, I never found any real use for the 40 fps feature on the GX7 considering we’d end up with pretty small, 3.9mp files, but with 8.3mp frames at a whopping 30fps, this is much more interesting and as seen in the 4K still modes, opens up situational benefits.
I’ve used the intervalometer on the GX8, which enables you to shoot 20.2mp RAW files (pretty unnecessary for timelapse, but could have a use), and does require the combination of these frames later in software, after the fact. One thing I’d like to see is an implemented and dedicated app, like we see on Sony’s cameras where it does it all in camera and spits out a beautiful timelapse video file, straight out of the camera. Say what we will about Sony, but app integration is a great feature that other companies need to start copying.
On paper, the GX8 ticks most all of the boxes, and is a worthy upgrade to the GX7. Initially, I wasn’t convinced, and had I written this a couple weeks into using this camera, I’d probably not be very kind to the GX8. That said, as I get more used to the ergonomics and layout, and have worked through a few thousand images, I’m liking it more and more.
If you’ve got questions, fire them off in the comments below and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.
You can find the GX8 through my affiliate links below. If you do buy through my links, thank you very much. It costs you the same, but I get a small kickback from Adorama or B&H for referring sales. Know that any money I make from the blog, goes right back into buying gear to review on the blog, hungry kids be damned:
Next, I’ll tear deeper into the nuts and bolts of these two cameras. I have seen some interesting characteristics with the new sensor that I want to more intimately explore, comparatively. Along with the sensor resolution, I’ll look more closely at the IBIS differences, high ISO performance and image file qualities, so stay tuned. If you’d like to see the more in depth, performance comparison article, that is now up in part 2 HERE.
I get asked quite often about the camera straps I use and show in these articles. Turns out, I make them, and would be happy to make one for you too! You can see all the different straps I hand build HERE.
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