1 Sep 2016

On names and choices: review of Lumix GX80 / GX85 / GX7 II

Fortuitously, the day before I started my holidays, my usual dealer received the first commercial units of the Lumix DMC-GX80 and it took me only an hour to visit their store and own one of them. It was my first camera purchased since the diminutive GM1, two and a half years ago, that was still fully functional. Why did I buy a new camera, then? Had I outgrown my previous cameras (the aforementioned GM1 and my first body, the GH3, bought a year earlier)? Was it simply GAS? Today, three months of intensive shooting later, I can answer those questions quite comprehensively and, along the way, I will present my analysis of the camera through my personal experience with it.

Seso, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Guests, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Nacimiento del Río Cuervo, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Río Aragón Subordán, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
It's somehow symptomatic that the only 2 camera bodies that I have had since I became more serious in photography, almost 4 years ago, were the smallest (GM1) and biggest (GH3) that the micro 4/3 system of cameras has ever had. I landed in photography from videography, which made the GH3 the logical choice at that moment (January 2013); for a year, I shot exclusively with that camera and that's how I slowly learned the basics of photography and started my journey. Since the camera is quite bulky (considering the system it belongs to) I only used it in the weekends, when I used to go out for photowalks to practice.

Hikers, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Bargain, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Cool shade, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Workers, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Workers and hand, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
A year later, as my understanding of the basic tools and my enjoyment of photography grew wider, I wanted a smaller body that I could carry wherever I went for more occasional shooting or for those situations where small size really mattered, and that's why I bought the GM1. From that moment on, I kept using the two cameras alternatively, depending on my needs. Eventually I started carrying both bodies and using them simultaneously, each one paired with a different prime (a wide and a short telephoto) so I didn't need to swap lenses. This became my primary setup until recently, when I realized that carrying two cameras at all times was not always that practical. Here's how the new Lumix GX80 came to be a new member of my photographic arsenal.

Parking, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Smoking area, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Laundry, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The Lumix DMC-GX80, GX85 or GX7II (in Europe, US and Japan respectively) sits between the GM1 and the GH3 in terms of size, so it is a medium-sized micro 4/3 camera, which is still small enough to carry in a handbag. Sure it is not pocketable but it definitely is more portable than the GH3, which makes it a better choice for everyday shooting since you will be more likely to carry it with you everywhere. And compared to the GM1, it offers much more versatility and direct control over the settings (viewfinder, small grip and double control wheels as prime examples). In my hands, it feels as the perfect balance between the former 2 bodies, to the point that, even though I didn't buy it as a replacement to either of them, it has actually ended up being exactly that. Using a Lord of the rings analogy, I could describe it as "a camera to rule them all", for its controlled size and its multiple options make it a great choice for a wide range of shooting scenarios, making it a great travel camera. It was the only camera I carried in my holidays through Spain and Italy and it was a great companion.

Cuenca, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Foro Romano, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Boltaña, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Abizanda, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
From a technical point of view, there is probably nothing I couldn't achieve with my previous cameras that the new GX80 would allow me to do; they all share very similar innards, so the decision to purchase it was not due to technical limitations (after all, it's the photographer that matters most). However, that is not to say that the newest model doesn't include new improvements and additions, and the 2 that were especially appealing to me, were:
1– In-Body stabilization that worked in conjunction with the lens-based OIS (none of my previous cameras had any sort of body IS), which would let me use longer shutter speeds, and that could potentially be a big deal in low-light photography to prevent ISO from getting to high, moreover opening the door for new creative possibilities, such as hand-held, longer-than-normal exposures.

Coliseum at night, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm (1/5 seconds, f1.8, ISO 200)
Red ghost, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm (0.4 seconds, f2.5, ISO 200)
Disproportion, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm (1/5 seconds, f1.7, ISO 800)
Calle Mayor at night, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm (1/5 seconds, f1.7, ISO 200)
2– Sensor without an anti-aliasing filter and a new shutter mechanism that promised to almost completely eliminate the shutter shock that had affected some earlier models. These two improvements promised images that would be a bit sharper and crisper and devoid of any blur, which seemed to be perfect for landscape photography, where every bit of detail counts.

Aguas Tuertas I, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Aguas Tuertas II, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Summer pastures, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Guarrinza, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Every new camera has its idiosyncrasies and requires some adjustments to find the way in which they work better for us, so after the initial trial and error period, we came to terms with each other and the shooting experience became much smoother. This is how I ended up configuring it:
1– I assigned the AE/AF button to act as a back-focus button, removing that functionality from the shutter-release button altogether. This way, the shutter-release would only shoot, skipping the re-focusing that happens every time you press it in autofocus mode. This is a perfect middle ground between autofocus and manual focus, because it lets you pre-focus at the desired distance and then shoot as many times as you want without any change of focus distance, which works great for street photography, for instance, where there is no second to lose with adjustments (granted, zone focusing with manual focus would be better, but since none of my cameras has distance scale marks I found this to be a good workaround).

Streets of Rome, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Girl with a fan, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Under construction, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Yellow and blue, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Overprint, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
2– I assigned the back control dial to directly adjust the exposure compensation (rather than doing so after clicking it, as it is set by default), so I didn't need to waste one step every time I wanted to adjust the exposure compensation; since I use aperture and shutter priority modes most of the times, depending on the depth of field or motion blur that I want in my images, this was the optimal solution because it assigns the front dial to control that parameter, while the back dial adjusts the exposure compensation. This combination has been of great help in architectural and geometrical photography to adjust to situations with challenging dynamic range.

Museo de Arte Abstracto Español (Cuenca), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
St. Peter's Dome Reflection, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Vatican Museum I, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Vatican Museum II, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
3– I set the fn1 button to control the metering modes, so I could quickly change between multi metering or spot metering. Finally, I kept the fn2 button as the quick menu, but I assigned the first option to control the focus modes. It's not as fast as having a dedicated focus mode dial (the thing I miss the most from the GH3 and GM1), but at least it lets you change between auto focus and manual focus fairly quickly in the lenses without a focus mode switch. This way I could be more precise with what I wanted in focus in those instances where autofocus would fail, such as through fences or foliage, or when I wanted to focus in very small and specific areas of the image.

Botijo, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Tyre frame, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Yellow and green, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The remains of the wall, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I always shoot RAW and process my images in Lightroom one by one without applying presets, so I can't comment on the quality and tonality of the .jpg files straight out of the camera; still, there is an option that I had never used before in my previous cameras that has turned out to be very useful: Panorama, which is accessible directly in the mode dial on top of the camera. Granted, the resulting file will be a .jpg, so you will lose flexibility and latitude for post-processing but, if done carefully, the images produced are very detailed.

Aguas Tuertas Panorama, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Boltaña panorama, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Foro Romano panorama, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Colisseum at night panorama, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
All in all, what more clearly summarizes the good opinion I have of this camera is that, since buying it, I have never used any other camera and, more importantly, I haven't missed anything from my previous models, which speaks volumes about the versatility of the GX80. Sure, every camera has its weak points, and in the case of the GX80 two are the most glaring ones for me (a limited battery, that definitely requires you to have a spare or two at all times; and an average viewfinder, a bit small to be comfortable for people wearing spectacles such as myself). On the other hand, the GX80 has some strong points that have been decisive for me, and those are: RAW images that are a bit crisper and sharper than previous models (which has forced me to reduce the default sharpening I apply to all files in LR upon importing), and a package that is small enough yet versatile at the same time, achieving almost anything necessary in a very balanced and comfortable design.

The end of the road, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The clouds above, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Boltaña's castle, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
St. Peter's Dome, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Vatican Museum spiral staircase, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm

17 comments:

  1. Hi Gonzalo,
    I am also looking for one camera to rule them all?! I found it.
    Advantages are: It`s small, simple to use, it has a brillant focusing system easy to use with glasses and a view finder which is a range finder.
    Disadvantage is a fucking high price for body and lenses. Yeah, your think right, it`s Leica.
    I borrowed a M240 2 months ago from a shop in my hometown over the weekend and it was love on the first side. I was impressed of the range finder and it`s way of focusing as well as by the price...So, up to day where I maybe realize my one to rule them all, I will still love my GH2.

    Cheers, Ralph

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    1. Hello Ralph! If photography is our hobby, the most important thing is to enjoy it, and what can be more enjoyable than using a camera that we like? I have never used a Leica camera before but I'm sure they are fantastic tools, so I'm glad you found the camera that gives you so much energy and confidence, use it a lot!

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    2. Gonzalo, before I use a Leica, I have to buy one...
      But up that I handle my photography it you said: I enjoy it!
      Digital with my GH2/20mm and because I love shooting film, I mainly use my Olympus OM1/50mm and my Nikon FM2/21mm.
      Stay healthy,

      cheers

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    3. I thought that you could not resist the temptation and finally bought it after renting it! ;) Film is something I would like to experiment with at some point, since I have never tried it, so that might be a new thing to try in the future!
      Happy shooting!

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  2. Hi Gonzalo. You have a cool blog and nice set of travel pictures. I'm very pleased by the quality of your photos.I just bought myself a small gx80 too, mainly for family videos. Regarding the photos, I m not much seduced yet, I feel I get more "wow" effect when looking at the Jpeg of my Fuji XT-1 or Sigma DP Merrill. I should give RAW a try as I was thinking this flat rendering was a bit due to the 12-35 kit lens but what you got is awesome. Then me and or my workflow are the culprits ones :) BTW, it looks like the 15mm is awesome. Cheers.

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    1. Thanks a lot Laurent! You mean the 12-32 kit lens? That's not as good in the corners as the 12-35 (being also slower) but considering the size, it's still a great tiny lens. I never shoot jpg so I really can't comment on their quality, but the RAW files are very detailed and full of contrast. Panasonic jpg rendering has never been specially appealing compared to other manufacturers such as Fuji or Olympus, but it's a great video camera and, as I said, the RAW quality is very competent. I really like what Fuji is doing with their trans technology, but at the end of the day I always prefer smaller gear, and that's why I think this camera strikes a good balance between compact size and quality. It's a question of preferences and priorities, I guess!
      Oh, and regarding the 15mm lens, it's definitely my number one lens since I bought it, nothing beats its size and rendering in micro 4/3 at this focal length!

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    2. Sorry Gonzalo, I've mistaken, the kit lens I have are the 2 cheap and tiny ones : 12-32 and 35-100 which are OK for daylight and their size and weight are just amazing. I'm gonna look seriously after the 15mm 1.7 and will keep an eye on your site. I just bought a 2nd hand Sigma 30mm 2.8 and I'm waiting for the same in 19mm. Thank's a lot for your quick reply. Kind regards from France :)

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    3. No worries Laurent! I've read many good things about the Sigma 30, I might try it out if I have the chance. Greetings!

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  3. Спасибо за обзор!

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  4. Hi Gonzalo,

    I enjoy reading your blog, quite informative and nice pictures. I own several Lumix cameras -- interestingly the same models as you -- the GH3, the GM1 and the GX80 (since May 2016), which I used for a 2 month bicycle trip from Canada to Mexico this summer. Tip: Charging the GX80 via USB and an external power pack on that trip was quite convenient and nicely extends the limited battery capacity.

    POST PROCESSING IN LR
    I shoot mostly RAW and process my pictures in Lightroom, thus I'm interested in your specific/common setting in LIGHTROOM for SHARPENING and NOISE REDUCTION settings when processing GX80 raw files (no aliasing filter) in comparison to your typical settings for the GH3 and GM1 (with aliasing filter). Would be great if you could write a post about your post processing in your blog or provide a detailed reply. Thanks again!

    Cheers,
    Lumophil

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    1. Hello Lumophil,
      Thanks for your comments, and it's funny to know that he have purchased and used exactly the same cameras, isn't it? Each of them has had a particular role to play in my photographic development and all of them have their own strenghts that make them very useful in certain circumstances. All this said, since I bought the GX80 I have nver used any of the other 2 cameras, becoming my only and everyday body since then, for it combines what I liked best about the other 2 cameras: portability, and versatility.

      As for my RAW processing, I applied some default settings upon importing all files from the GX80, and those are +70 sharpening and +25 noise reduction. later on, I adjust all the settings individually for each picture, so if I have used a high ISO I can increase the noise reduction, but I rarely (if at all) g higher than +70 in sharpening since that is sharp enough. Actually, +60 can be already enough in some images. All the rest of the parameters I adjust on a picture per picture basis, and I never apply any presents. I have found this is a good workflow for me, but it won't necessarily be the best for other users, it depends on what kind of default look you like in your files. Hope this helps!

      Feel free to share your usual settings if you want and comment on any tips that you find useful.
      Best regards!

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  6. what a great article. very informative. cheers

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    1. Thanks a lot Jeff, I'm glad it was helpful!

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  7. Hi. What would you recommend for me. GX80, a6000 or used first model of A7 ? I mostly care about IQ but good video is a nice bonus.

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    1. Hello Adam! Unfortunately, I have never used a Sony camera so it's hard for me to recommend any since I don't have any real experience with the a6000 or the A7, sorry.

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