Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Digital Camera Review
Middleweight champ or middle child?
It seems hard to believe now, but a few years ago the very concept of a pro-quality mirrorless camera didn't exist. Then the Olympus OM-D E-M1, Panasonic GH4, Fujifilm X-T1, and Sony A7 all happened. Lost in the shuffle among these fantastic flagships was the excellent, smartly priced Panasonic Lumix GX7.
The GX7 was a great camera with a wonderful rangefinder-inspired design and some cutting edge features that was completely overshadowed by the new class of top-tier mirrorless cameras. As good as the GX7 was, it was a victim of its time. Now its successor, the Panasonic Lumix GX8 (MSRP $1,199.99 body-only) is here to earn the GX series the respect that it deserves.
But while the idea of a pro-quality mirrorless camera is no longer in doubt, the value of a $1,200 (body-only) mid-range one still is. Sitting at a price point barely below cameras like the GH4 and on par with entry-level full-frame DSLRs like the Nikon D610 and Canon 6D, the GX8 has a lot to overcome.
After spending more than a week shooting with Panasonic's new baby, however, we're confident it'll do just fine. With 4K video, an upgraded 5-axis image stabilization system, a more streamlined design, and the highest resolution Micro Four Thirds sensor to date, the GX8 isn't getting overshadowed by anyone.
Design & Handling
It looks like the GX7 hit the gym
When you first take the GX8 out of the box, there's a certain familiarity to the camera's brick-like body. Halfway between an SLR and a rangefinder, the GX8 is a shade smaller than my old Zenit 122 with a brawnier build that feels very much like a smaller GH4.
It still features the hallmark of a rangefinder design though, squeezing a tilting EVF in the top-left corner. It is much taller than the GX7, with a squared off grip that has deeper recesses for your fingers to latch onto. It completes the look with a faux leather coating and matte black, die-cast magnesium alloy frame. Compared to the curvy GX7, this is a more straightforward, grown-up camera—like trading your favorite hoodie for a freshly pressed suit.
The grip is slanted on top, providing enough room for Panasonic to include a control wheel and shutter release. The top of the camera is home to a re-imagined set of controls, including two control wheels, two programmable function buttons, a power lever, and a mode dial sitting atop an exposure compensation wheel. A hot shoe lives in between the EVF and the mode dial, and a fleshed-out focus mode selector is located right below.
All these controls make it very easy for advanced photographers to dial in the perfect settings, but the GX8 will be a little overwhelming to first-time users. Still, shooting with the GX8 is relatively simple thanks to the inclusion of several automatic modes and controls, not unlike your typical point-and-shoot. There's still a bit of a learning curve, but this is a good camera for aspiring photographers.
The GX8 is also flexible when it comes to lining up your shot. You can use either the articulating 3-inch, 1.04m-dot LCD or the 2.36m-dot tilting electronic viewfinder for framing. Both of these options are great for different reasons: the LCD is perfect for shooting at odd angles and for videographers, while the EVF is your best option for shooting in bright light. I personally wound up using the EVF almost exclusively, though it's great to have options.
In my time with the GX8, I found the controls to be quite rewarding. I'm especially fond of the ability to use the rear touchscreen as a focus selector while framing with the EVF. It's very simple to use—you just drag your finger on the screen while you look through the EVF—but it's powerful, letting you quickly adapt to your subject without having to actually take your eye off the shot.
It's not all roses, however. While the extra control dials are useful—especially the exposure compensation dial—the rest of the buttons are extremely low profile, making them sometimes difficult to hit. It's a small complaint, but it's one we don't have with most of the other cameras in this class.
More horsepower means more fun features
Taking a peek inside, the GX8 is built around a new 20.3-megapixel Four Thirds sensor with no anti-aliasing filter. It's backed up by a new quad-core Venus Engine processor that enables many of the camera's more cutting-edge features. That's a seriously potent combo that is only enhanced by Panasonic's new implementation of image stabilization.
In the past, Panasonic opted to put its optical image stabilization in its lenses, meaning any Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera would need Panasonic lenses in order to enjoy IS. When the GX7 hit the scene, it brought in-body image stabilization that worked even when using lenses—like these from Olympus—without image stabilization. On the GX8, it's even better: while the camera offers in-body image stabilization, it can work in concert with OIS-enabled Panasonic lenses, for a total of five stops of stabilization (per Panasonic).
If you haven't used a Micro Four Thirds camera in some time, it might shock you to see how powerful and responsive they've become. Not only can the GX8 take 7+ JPEGs per second, but the buffer for shooting RAW+JPEG will let you take about 30 shots at the fastest (non-reduced res) speed before petering out in about three seconds and change. While that's not even close to something like the Nikon 1 J5, it's easily ahead of many DSLRs.
On top of that, the boosted processing power allows you to shoot in 4K at 30 or 24 frames per second—though you may need to get a faster SD card. If you're shooting a particularly tricky subject, the GX8 comes equipped with the 4K photo features found on Panasonic's G7 and GH4. This lets you take 4K-sized (8MP) stills at up to 30fps, picking out the exact frame that you want after the fact.
The viewfinder is extremely rewarding to use, as it puts a ton of information front and center, right in the miniature display. Unlike an optical viewfinder, the EVF can display just about anything you'd normally find on the rear LCD—meaning things like zebra stripe over-exposure warnings, focus peaking, manual focus assist windows and more can be easily used on the fly.
Like most modern cameras, the GX8 comes loaded with connectivity options like onboard WiFi and NFC pairing. With Panasonic's Image App, you can port pictures from your camera to your smartphone, or even use your mobile as a remote complete with live view. The camera will also lean on the smartphone for GPS data, and there are a few more options you can mess around with baked in. The GX8 does struggle to connect when the battery is low, so be sure to juice your cells as often as possible if you're using WiFi.
Color us impressed
Considering the GX8 is sold body-only with no kit option, it's abundantly clear that Panasonic views this camera as an enthusiast-first body. As we noted in our first impressions of it, this is a camera designed to compel existing Micro Four Thirds shooters to upgrade. Given that this model comes without a lens, we paired the GX8 with a few common lenses—like the X Vario 12-35 f/2.8 to see what it could do.
For starters, the camera is sharp as a tack when paired with the right glass, thanks to the new, high-res sensor. Though by default it applies a decent amount of software oversharpening to JPEGS, you can easily tone it down (or ramp it up) in-camera by using the bottom function button. If you do that, you'll also be able to use fine controls for saturation, noise reduction, and contrast.
The GX8 renders colors very accurately in most situations, provided you have the correct white balance. If you're in daylight or mostly-sunlit scenes, you can just leave your white balance setting in auto and you'll be fine in this regard. Occasionally you'll notice a slight orange tinge to shots taken in incandescent light, and a slight green hue to those taken under fluorescent light, but a custom white balance or shooting in RAW will fix that.
One of the concerns with the new 20-megapixel sensor is increased noise. We found that wasn't much of a concern, though, as the GX8 held onto dynamic range surprisingly well. After opening up the extended ISO range, you'll be able to move base ISO to 100 instead of 200, and with that we recorded up to 12.7 stops of dynamic range. This results in a fantastic level of detail in shadows and highlights, even if you get a little playful with contrast.
Where smaller sensor cameras typically fall a little flat at about ISO 3200, the GX8 also does well through ISO 6400 or so. In fact, its performance in this regard is eerily similar to that of the GH4. Combine that with the improved base ISO image quality (and the increased resolution) and it's clear that Micro Four Thirds sensors have taken another step forward.
Video performance is also quite impressive, though like the Panasonic G7, the GX8 offers 4K video only at 100Mbps, with 8-bit export over HDMI to an external recorder. That leaves it slightly behind the GH4 and the new GH4R, which can output 4:2:2 10-bit video via HDMI.
If all those numbers just went over your head, don't worry. Video in HD or UHD are similarly sharp, though you'll need a decently wide aperture and a fairly well-lit scene to get the best results. Clips are sharp, smooth, and relatively free of artifacts—perfect for everything up to commercial work.
Panasonic has a winner on its hands
As good as the GX8, it's hard to overlook its $1,200 body-only price tag. That kind of price invites some serious competition, including entry-level full-frame DSLRs from Canon and Nikon and a slightly aging class of flagship mirrorless options. But the GX8 puts together an enviable collection of still and video features in a compact package powered by the best Four Thirds sensor we've seen to date.
In all our time with the GX8, none of our camera staff had anything truly negative to say about it—and we're professional critics. It's a rock-solid, complete camera with no notable flaws. It's fast, accurate, sharp, shoots great video, has loads of customization and manual controls, and it's compact enough to travel anywhere when paired with the right lens.
Perhaps the biggest knock against the GX8 is that it isn't highly specialized. If your primary focus is shooting video, the Panasonic GH4 (with the YAGH unit) or Sony A7S is a better option. If your focus is on certain stills—where the look of a full-frame camera is more desirable—go for the Sony A7R II, or the Nikon D610. And if you shoot sports or often find yourself in inclement weather, something like the Canon 7D Mark II or Samsung NX1 is probably more appropriate. But every single one of those cameras is more expensive than the GX8, and require stronger forearms to lug around—they're not only heavier, but use bigger lenses as well.
For a generalist who has feet equally in the realm of stills and video, or someone who just wants a damn fine camera that can do it all, the GX8 hits all the right notes. You'll need to shell out close to $2,000 to equip it with the kind of glass that'll push it to its potential, but it's worth it.
If $1,200 is just too rich for your blood then there are a few options. If you can live without the tilting EVF and some of the more advanced features, the Panasonic G7 isn't far off from the GX8 and costs quite a bit less. If you couldn't care less about video, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 mark II and OM-D E-M10 mark II provide similar quality at much lower price points.
If you do pick up the GX8, you'll be rewarded with a camera that is among the best examples of what a high-end mirrorless camera can be. While other cameras are bound to come along and surpass it, for the time being the GX8 is a standout member of an increasingly impressive collection of Micro Four Thirds bodies. The GX7 may have been a wallflower, but the GX8 is easily among the best in the class.
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