Well, my friends, I have been enjoying the comparison between these two great cameras, and in this article I would like to present my opinions and findings regarding how they directly compare to each other in regards to performance and file output, once and for all (for my purposes, anyway). Here’s my disclaimer… I don’t work for Panasonic. I’ve always researched and purchased my own gear, and do these tests in an attempt to help others like myself see what I wish that I could have seen in cases before buying stuff. Enjoy and I hope this shows you something you’ve not yet seen.
I’ve been looking at the comparison from the angle of one who is curious about replacing my historically favorite micro 4/3 camera in the GX7, with it’s intended upgrade in the GX8. I’ve now had the GX8 for a couple months and have shot a few thousand images with it, so I have been able to get a good feel for how it handles, performs and how the files look when digging into them. With the GX8, Panasonic has given us an increase in size, resolution and features, which have all looked good on paper, and I’m now wanting to really see that come through in practice, which in most cases, it has.
Here is what I’ve seen, and what I’ve found…
I’ll be breaking this down into 3 parts as follows; 1. Resolution, 2. High ISO/Noise Performance, and finally 3. IBIS. There are more differences that I touched on in the first ‘on paper’ comparison HERE, but I’ll give a few thoughts in conclusion where I feel these cameras better the other as well as to round everything out with a few final thoughts from my perspective.
Grab a cup of coffee, or a beer, enjoy, and let me know your thoughts or findings in the comments below.
All comparison shots here are captured as RAW files, and converted in Aperture (which still works wonderfully, at least for these two cameras). The only modification for the example images, are converting to a resized JPEG for space and speed’s sake. In cases, I’ve resized to match pixel measurements as will be seen in the resolution comparison below to see apples to apples, but otherwise any other settings are listed, where applicable, and if you have any other questions, please feel free to fire them off.
Part 1 – Resolution
As we know, the bump in resolution to 20mp from 16mp is going to provide better, overall numbers as has been reported on. But, what does that really mean? Rarely will most any of us notice the benefits of a higher megapixel count for day to day use with two major exceptions. First, printing and secondly cropping while maintaining a higher resolution which also goes when compositing images. More pixels can enable more latitude in cases. 16mp is going to be enough for most applications, and one could even argue that most of us will rarely ever need more than 10 or 12, but with higher resolution comes the ability to more finely resolve detail when shooting the same subject, from the same distance, using the same lens as we otherwise would with a camera touting a lower total resolution. With the inherent crop from the 4/3 format, this in theory can certainly benefit those who tend to shoot distant subjects, like wildlife, sport, etc by providing a higher native resolution compared to shooting on a larger format and cropping to achieve the same relative image.
That said, there is certainly a sense that every system needs to keep step with what Canon and Sony seem to be doing to reinvigorate the mega pixel battle. Do any of us need 50+ megapixels? Probably not, but it won’t stop many out there from buying a camera with that kind of resolution. I’d be lying if I weren’t somewhat interested in seeing a few more pixels to push around on my screen, and with this new sensor, it has given the micro 4/3 system its first resolution bump in about 4 years. That, and it more closely resembles the files that I shoot with my other 21 and 24mp, full frame sensors when looking to composite, or shoot multiple bodies in conjunction.
For the first test, I want to see the same image taken by both cameras resized, both up to 20.2mp for the GX7 file, and down to 15.8mp for the GX8 to see what kind of difference we may or may not be able to tell when resizing the image, merely by splitting/adding, or removing pixels. The resizing technique I’ve used is a simple resizing in Photoshop from a 16bit TIFF file, created from the original RAW image files.
These two images were taken with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens from about 25 feet away, manually focused on the text, on the box, self timer used.
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Certainly not a huge difference when looking at resizing images. If looking at the detail in the original 100% crops (diagonally situated above) the resolution in the native 20.2mp GX8 image shows us more detail, and that holds true to an extent even when looking at the resized GX7 file crop. For many real world subjects, the resolution differences will be largely unnoticeable, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t actually a difference.
Check this out…
To see the pixels up close and personal, how about resolving something closer to the camera on a congruous, yet textured background to make it a little easier to see. Here is an amazingly exciting shot of a dime which for those who don’t have a dime on hand, measures roughly 5/8″ in diameter (~16mm) and lifts off the surface of the sheet a whopping ~1/32″ (0.8mm). First the whole frame to give you reference, then a 200% crop with the AF Point overlay to give you an idea on how it was shot, and how the extra resolution makes a difference. Before you blame the focusing technique or difference of where that AF point fell, note that the shots were taken at identical settings using the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens (ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/2.5 sec from a tripod and self timer to avoid any vibration). If we’re seeing a razor thin difference in the depth of field at f/5.6 shot a couple feet away, we may actually be able to shut the FF fanatics up here. The sheet that the dime was placed on is a tight knit woven cotton/elastic blend that I use for all the camera type shots you see around this site. It doesn’t wrinkle which is why I use it, and to the naked eye, it looks very smooth, which is another reason I like to use it. It collects dust and sticks to specks like nobodies business, but normally I’m not shooting a dime on it for resolution purposes. Have at it:
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The AF hit. The dime is plenty sharp in both shots, but how about the detail in the sheet? Sure this is a 200% crop, but what is a comparison if we’re not to pixel peep a little bit? These were both shot RAW with default conversion settings in Aperture without any sharpening, contrast or saturation adjustments, whatsoever. While this will largely go unnoticed, and has for me in day to day shooting, we can’t continue to say that there is little to no difference in “real” resolution between the older 16mp Panasonic sensors, and this new 20mp sensor, in my opinion. Call it micro contrast, call it pure resolution. We wanted improvement, well, we got it here too.
Part 2 – High ISO/Noise Performance and shadow recovery/dynamic range
Below are sets of identical exposures, showing 100% crops from ISO 200-25,600 with the GX8 on the left and the GX7 on the right. For this I’m not going to resize, so that we can see these files as they come out of the camera. Single light source to camera left, with an EV 3 measurement at the point of focus which is image center, ISO as listed, and both cameras set with a manual incandescent white balance setting. The lens used was the Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2, set to f/5.6 for all shots, and identical 1 stop shutter speed adjustments for both cameras with each ISO stop, were made.
Click to see this in all its full sized glory.
Let me know what you see, but to my eye, up through ISO 3200, both look comparable, and actually very usable. At 6400, the GX7 starts to look a little less noisy, but softer, and both sets of files start to color shift with the GX8 shifting cyan and the GX7 shifting magenta in color cast.
Now, here is the same set of shots, looking at the right side of the image (in the Shadows, yes the Voigt Nokton was hiding back there!) with the exposure pushed two full stops to see what kind of shadow noise and info recovery we’re getting, as I find that often I need to bring up the exposure when shooting in low light, even when properly exposing for midtones or highlights, although rarely two full stops worth.
When starting to push a file’s captured, dynamic range, I think we start to really see where improvements have, or have not been made. Resolution is one thing, but a file’s depth, and in turn its exposure latitude, to me, is more important.
Again, click to see full sized.
Looking at these crops, the one thing I see that is impressive on the part of the GX8 is how much sharper details are when pulling info out of the shadows up through ISO 6400. Out of sheer amazement, I posted my findings on a singular, very underexposed file recently shot with the GX8 which backs this up for me. I didn’t have the GX7 at that time so I couldn’t compare in the wild, but you can see that article HERE (don’t worry, it will open a new page so as not to lose your spot here).
The GX7 holds its own, certainly, but not to the level that the GX8 does when looking at recovering and resolving detail in the shadows. While the GX8 gets really messy beyond 6400, the GX7 isn’t hugely better, but to be fair, does a better job at retaining what resolution it can in recovered shadow areas where the GX8 falls apart. I would say, for my use, either camera is going to be great through ISO 1600, at ISO 3200 and even at ISO 6400, the files are very usable. Don’t believe me? Check out the ISO 6400 files after I run them through Topaz DeNoise:
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Not perfect, but for an ISO 6400 file, that is not too shabby. It’s rare that I ever shoot any of my cameras, micro 4/3 or full frame above ISO 3200, but knowing that I comfortably can in a pinch is great.
The higher resolution sensor in the GX8 gets a little noisier at and above ISO 6400, but does a better job to my eye at retaining resolution up to that point. Above 6400, the GX8 starts to get messy, and while I’d not consider the GX7 files usable, they maybe look a little better, but a little bit softer too. So, a 25% increase in pixel count without much of a step backward in high ISO/Noise performance… Sweet.
Part 3 – IBIS Comparison
Here is where things start to get a little strange. In the first article, I did a quick comparison between the GX8’s Dual IS feature and the OIS on the only Dual IS compatible lens I own, in the Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2, from which I saw better performance on the pure Optical IS side. I’d excused it as an anomaly, and perhaps it is because Dual IS should out perform simple OIS, right?
Immediately below is the original test I posted, followed by another test using the Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, where on the GX7, it disables the IBIS, and defaults to pure OIS (optical, in lens) and on the GX8, it couples the Optical IS with the IBIS to create what Panasonic calls Dual IS. Click any of the following to see larger, and I do apologize that on this original test, I placed the GX8 on the left, where with all other tests below, I placed the GX7 on the left (sorry), but as long as you read the header, it should be obvious.
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And, here is the more recent test where I took three shots at each setting, and chose the best of the three from each camera, at each setting. For this one, I cropped into the original image as framed on the top, first image, and that is why you’ll notice different sizes of that 100% crop with the GX7 on the left this time, and the GX8 on the right.
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What is interesting is that this can be looked at one of two ways. First, the Dual IS when using the Nocticron does really well up to about 4 stops, which is great. Secondly, and more impressively, the OIS on the PL 42.5/1.2 kicks the Dual IS’s ass at just about every increment. Again, I’m not sure if this is congruous with all other Dual IS compatible lenses as the Nocti is the only Dual IS compatible lens I own, so take that to heart here. I hope that we’ll see an improvement and better marriage between the IBIS and OIS blended Dual IS via a future firmware update if it is in fact similar across other Dual IS compatible lenses, but through the tests I’ve done, I’ve found that the OIS for this lens at least, bests the Dual IS in the GX8 handily.
Now, not to be outdone, the GX8 picks up ground when relying entirely on the IBIS when compared to the GX7. Below, I used the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens which would engage the IBIS in both cameras, solely. No OIS, no Dual IS, just purely sensor based stabilization here. Just the 100% crops on this one. Have a look:
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Okay, this is what I was hoping to see. You may remember my views on the measly 2 axis IBIS in the GX7. I thought it was grossly underrated, and still feel it does better than it gets credit for, but how about this? When relying purely on the IBIS on sensor stabilization, the GX8 goes frigging nuts. I ran out of exposure room on this test as I never figured I’d be comparing results beyond 6 stops, hand held at 1 second. No, you did not misread that 1 SECOND HAND HELD. I know, I’m questioning myself here too. Surely this will be challenged, and perhaps my hand held technique just really jives with the Panasonic IBIS systems as I seem to have been able to squeeze more out with the original 2 axis, but I don’t really care if it is challenged. I like this. I like this a lot.
How about that? Sure, that 1 second exposure isn’t tack sharp for the GX8, but its close, and I’ll take that any day of the week. I took an extra few shots with the GX7 in an attempt to try and get a better result (6 shots at 1 second in total) but that was the best I could muster. With the GX8, I took three shots at 1 second, and two of them looked just like that. One was more blurred, but still wasn’t as bad as the best the GX7 could pull off.
Here is another IBIS test as asked for in the comments when looking at super telephoto focal lengths. Here are shots taken with the GX8 and an adapted 400mm Canon FD 400mm f/4.5 SSC lens, shot from about 20 feet away, with the focal length manually set in camera to 400mm in the Stabilizer menu. Have a look:
For this type of focal length, I’m impressed by the three solid stops of handholdability. The fourth stop could still be useful, but isn’t tack sharp, and then beyond that I wasn’t able to get usable results. Where I feel the 5 axis or Optical IS systems are beneficial here, is in stabilizing the live view which at an 800mm field of view, things bounce around even when on a tripod, so hand holding can be a bit of a challenge. That said, by bracing myself, I was able to keep the shot more or less framed as I’d wanted it, and was able to manually focus the lens to my liking, but it sure would be useful to have full time stabilization of the live view feed, and a place where I feel Panasonic can continue to improve this otherwise killer IBIS setup.
Again, I’m sure that the Sony or Olympus 5 axis IBIS will naturally get credited as better because 5 is better than less than 5, right? Well, I’m not buying it on the marketing alone, as I can’t remember getting a solid 1 second exposure with the Oly cams when using a 90mm (equivalent in the m4/3 case) lens, nor the Sony for that matter, and I will do a more comprehensive side by side between the GX8 and Sony a7II at some point down the road to see. If someone near me has one of the newer OMDs to test this against, let’s get together and see what we each come up with comparatively too! Regardless, good job Panasonic, and most importantly, another good solid bump in performance compared to the previous IBIS offering. Just do us a solid and figure out what the hell is going on with the Dual IS though, okay?
Alright, here’s the rehash, and my thoughts moving forward.
While it will go unnoticed in many cases, there’s no denying that the new sensor in the GX8 is the best sensor I’ve seen for the system, hands down. To really see the difference, one must do a little pixel peeping, but really to see any real resolution difference between sensors, one needs to do that.
Solid Advantage GX8
2-High ISO/Noise and Dynamic Range
This is a little closer, but considering the 25% resolution bump, and no negative difference below ISO 6400 to my eye, I see this as another win for the GX8. The shadow recovery and resulting dynamic range that is able to be pulled out of a file in detail and overall resolution on the part of the GX8, while not hugely different, is still another progression.
Advantage GX8, with the caveat that at ISO 12,800 and 25,600 the GX7 handles the noise better.
3-IBIS and Dual IS
This is somewhat split. On one hand, I’ve seen a substantial performance bump in the IBIS inside the GX8. That is a big win in my mind for the newer camera. Where I’m a little confused is in the Dual IS compared to the pure lens OIS where I see the Dual IS suffer comparatively. Again, it may be lens specific as I’m only currently able to test the Dual IS with one lens, but with that one lens, it is eclipsed by that lens’ included OIS on its own. Still, Dual IS aside, the GX8 has improved upon Panasonic’s first foray into the IBIS world from the GX7.
In conclusion, I wanted to see if the GX8 was a good upgrade from the GX7 for me. I love the GX7, and have been a supporter of it over the last couple years. I still feel it is a wonderful camera, but I need to give the GX8 credit. If you can accept the slight increase in body size, and (in my opinion) step backward in ergonomics, it is in most every other way a better machine. It provides better environmental weather resistance, it feels more solidly built, and aside from losing the pop-up flash, it hasn’t really overlooked anything that the GX7 had brought to the table.
While it has been a wonderful couple of years with my GX7, I feel that the torch has successfully been passed. For me, the combo of the GX8 and the GM1 (which will stick around for a while longer as my compact, 2nd body) will provide me with the best 1, 2 punch for the system as I need it to function. The new 20.2mp sensor is a solid upgrade in most every way and while it hasn’t necessarily been seen as such by many reviews I’ve read, I feel that I didn’t really start to see the advantages until I really dug in and explored the files in varying situations.
Panasonic, I tip my cap. Aside from the weird custom function button on the front of the camera and old style grip, I think you’ve really improved an already wonderful camera.
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