Panasonic Lumix G85 Digital Camera Review
A Lumix that's ready to shoot 4K in rain or snow.
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Finding a fully-featured, enthusiast-grade mirrorless camera that shoots 4K video just got a little easier. Panasonic's latest 4K hybrid camera, the Lumix G85 (also known as the Lumix G80, $899.99 body-only, $999.99 with 12-60mm kit lens), fits in between the great Lumix G7 and the professional Lumix GH4. Sporting a beefed-up DSLR-style body, full weathersealing, an OLED viewfinder, and more video features that you can shake a stick at, there's little more we'd want from it.
What's even better is the addition of Panasonic's 5-axis in-body image stabilization, which means that the G85 easily one-ups Olympus's retro-cool OM-D E-M10 Mark II, for only a bit more money.
Save for a few intentional shortcomings to keep this from eclipsing the upcoming GH5, the G85 should be on your list alongside other interchangeable lens cameras. Especially if you buy it with the very decent 12-60mm weathersealed kit lens, the G85 is a go-anywhere, do-anything Micro Four Thirds camera.
Design & Handling
A well-balanced, grippy camera with the controls you want
The G85 looks a lot like a restyled G7, which isn't a bad thing. It's like Panasonic took a sharp knife and made it even sharper. Thanks to a metal unibody front build, plus some weight-saving plastic parts, and a substantial front grip, this Lumix feels well-built yet easy to handle. True to its DSLR-style form, this Lumix has a vari-angle camcorder-style display that is awesome for video, but also includes a sharp, responsive OLED electronic viewfinder.
The controls are essentially the same as the G7, and we like them just as well on this upgraded model. Translation: the G85, with its dual control dials, easy-to-reach focus selector, and secondary burst mode selector is as good for enthusiasts as it is for beginners.
Where the G85 stands apart from the G7 is when it comes to weather sealing. The G7 wasn't sealed at all, and this is fully sealed against dust and moisture. You also get a design feature that puts this camera above consumer-grade options—a separate flap for the memory card on the side of the camera. It's a little detail that makes taking the memory card out that much easier.
Additionally, you get the option of attaching a vertical battery grip, something that competing advanced Micro Four Thirds models offer. If you're mounting longer lenses like Panasonic's Leica-branded 100-400mm, this'll be a must-have accessory. The only drawback is that the battery grip for the G85 has a rather high $350 MSRP, so you'll be spending a lot to get it.
5-axis IBIS means there's not a whole lotta shakin' goin' on
At first glance, the G85 doesn't stand out from the rest of the Lumix bunch very well. It has a standard 16-megapixel sensor, a body that's the spitting image of the cheaper G7. There are only a few changes that make this camera pop, for instance the redesigned shutter and the addition of weather sealing. Other than that, Panasonic gave the G85 a real leg-up on its stablemates by including in-body image stabilization.
This feature was rolled out recently in cameras like Panasonic's seriously good GX8 and affordable GX85, but this is the first DSLR-styled Lumix with the capability. That means that if you have Olympus lenses, you'll finally get more or less the same protection against shake in low light that a Panasonic Thanks to the camera's Dual IS functionality, you can get up to 5 stops of shake protection with the right lens. That almost puts this up there with Olympus's OM-D E-M5 Mark II, which is one of the best cameras with 5-axis IBIS on the market right now.
What the G85 can do that few Olympus cameras can manage is 4K video. Panasonic is known for its awesome video technology, and the G85 gives you most of the quality of a GH4 in a smaller, lighter package. Video quality is limited to 4:2:0 8-bit internally, with no option for higher bit rates with an external recorder (you get 4:2:2 chroma subsampling externally, however). The only feature you won't get in this Lumix is a headphone jack, which means that it's best suited for use as a B-cam or in shoots where you don't need to monitor the camera's audio.
Of course, from 4K Photo to DFD autofocus to focus stacking and post-focus, the G85 bears all of Panasonic's latest features that we've sampled and tested before. WiFi and NFC are aboard, too. Advanced video functions include zebra patterns and you also get a couple different Cinelike flat color profiles that can help if you want to do light color grading. It's not as good for serious videographers as the GH4's V-LOG profile, but the Cinelike options are definitely better than nothing.
A solid sensor, but not the best in Micro Four Thirds
The 16-megapixel sensor inside the G85 is just about identical in performance to what we've seen from other cameras like the GH4 and GX85. Don't expect better performance than other similarly-equipped Lumixes. Things like noise reduction, white balance, and color are all sorted at this point, and Panasonic knows how to get terrific-looking shots from this sensor.
I was blown away by the solid burst performance of the G85, which is fast and backed up by a beefy buffer. I was able to get very close to the camera's rated 9 fps speed with AF and AE locked. What's even more impressive is that I was able to eke out more than 100 JPEGs when shooting before the buffer filled up. RAW was a slightly different story, capping out at around 40, with around the same number of RAW+JPEG files with pretty consistent 7-8 FPS speeds for the more intensive file types. The on-camera counter had a relatively accurate display of how many shots I had left, erring on the side of estimating too few shots remaining.
Just like other 4K-capable Panasonic cameras, you can expect reasonably sharp video from the G85. In our two major video sharpness tests, the G85 stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the GH4, GX85, and G7. In bright light, we measured around 1500 line pairs per picture height in horizontal and vertical when shooting 4K/30p at its maximum quality. In a dimmer lighting situation, we were able to get around 1300 lp/ph. Faster, sharper lenses might let you eke out a little bit more quality, but this is on-par with consumer-grade 4K these days.
One area that's a little concerning is the CIPA-rated battery life. While shooting, I never felt like the G85 was going to run out on me, but compared to other models, the battery capacity is just a little bit low. At 310 shots-per-charge, the G85 is barely keeps pace with the E-M5 Mark II. When you look at the 500 shots the GH4 is rated to, you can see the disparity between the top-end Lumix and this advanced enthusiast option. Thankfully, the first-party battery grip can double the runtime, but it's not a cheap extra.
Another high-performing, high-value Lumix
Panasonic has made a name for itself in the past year not only on its solid technologies, but also for offering up very competitive cameras. The Lumix G85 is another great camera, one that gets better if you buy with its 12-60mm kit lens. This new kit option is also weather sealed, making the full camera ready to shoot in the rain. That's almost unheard-of at $1,000, especially in the mirrorless camera world. You'd have to pay significantly more to get the same performance and weather resistant build from Olympus.
Other interchangeable lens cameras at the same price just can't or won't do what this Panasonic pulls off. For instance, the enthusiast Canon Rebel T6s kit sells for $50 more than the Lumix and doesn’t have either weather sealing or 4K. Nikon's D5500 is one of our favorite consumer DSLRs for video, but even it doesn't have 4K capabilities (and don't think about taking it out in the rain or snow). Even Sony's formidable Alpha A6300, which set a high bar for mirrorless autofocus and burst, leaves out in-body stabilization, 4K, and weathersealing.
With the G85, you might be missing out on the iconic design and premium build of an Olympus OM-D, but you're getting excellent 4K video without giving up surefire still image quality.