I tried to resist the temptation of purchasing the recently announced Panasonic Lumix G9 Compact System Camera (CSC) but it seemed to offer several significant refinements over earlier models that I would find beneficial with my photography.
I have produced some great images using both the Lumix G80 and GH5 over the last 18 months and, indeed, the G7 and GX8 before that. Each new model has included refinements and new features have been added which are designed to help the photographer. The GH5 (and earlier GH cameras) have been positioned as hybrid video cameras as they have all the broadcast quality capabilities needed by professional filmmakers, but are also excellent for stills photography. The G9 has been introduced primarily as a stills camera to rival professional DSLRs although it still has most of the video capabilities of the GH5. Unless some of the more advanced video features of the GH5 are needed or some of the impressive refinements of the G9 for stills are required, then either camera would be equally capable for the majority of people for both video and stills.
However some of the headlining features of the G9 that attracted me when compared with the Lumix G80 and GH5 were the improved continuous autofocus, better image quality at higher ISOs, a higher resolution and brighter electronic viewfinder (EVF) and better handling and ergonomics. I may find uses for some of the impressive “nice-to-haves” (such as 60 RAW frames per second burst mode, classic DSLR LCD panel on top of the camera, 6.5 stops of image stabilisation and 80 megapixel high resolution mode) but these are less useful for the type of photography I normally do.
Frustratingly the weather hadn’t been ideal for putting the G9 through its paces at local nature reserves, in particular capturing birds in flight. When the sun unexpectedly came out last week and was forecast to remain for the rest of the afternoon. I grabbed the opportunity to gain some practice with even faster subjects than birds! I visited nearby RAF Coningsby, home to several RAF Eurofighter Typhoon squadrons and also the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF).
It was a very busy afternoon in the air with around 12 Typhoons taking off and many doing multiple passes on their return, the new RAF Typhoon Display pilot was practicing for 2018, and there were some wonderful opportunities to enjoy the BBMF’s Dakota. They provided plenty of opportunities to enjoy the sunshine and put the camera through its paces, taking well over 2000 images (mostly at 9 fps rather than 60!) with particular emphasis on trying various focusing strategies. In summary the G9 worked beautifully and meets all my requirements … and the aircraft were amazing too!
In a little more detail, very few of the shots were out of focus. Once focus was acquired on a distant subject it stayed locked on as I tracked. Occasionally during some bursts, focus was lost for a single frame and then immediately reacquired. One of the improved features is that the EVF does not blank out at high burst rates which is common with many mirrorless cameras allowing a moving subjects to be framed and tracked more easily and continuously … very useful with very fast aircraft flying unpredictability as with the Typhoon display and, hopefully soon, with birds flying erratically. I have a lot more to learn about the autofocus capabilities of the G9 but this was a very encouraging start.
The EVF is incredibly bright (and can be magnified at a touch if required) which also helps with tracking moving subjects. All the Lumix camera I have used over the last few years have had great EVFs (long gone are the days when CSCs had small, pixelated, dull and slightly laggy viewfinders) but that on the G9 is better than any traditional (i.e. prism and mirror) DSLR I have used.
It was a bright day so I wasn’t obliged to use high ISOs as fast mechanical shutter speeds were easily obtained - 1/4000 second was easily obtainable, although 1/32000 is available with the electronic shutter if needed. Image quality at ISO 800 (the highest I used) was excellent and review images I have seen have shown great IQ at much higher ISOs. This is something I will need to test further when it isn’t quite so bright!
The G9 is a little larger than many CSCs but not too large, sits well in my hands and feels well balanced coupled with the Leica 100-400mm lens I used throughout the afternoon. Ergonomics, despite some dials and buttons having moved from earlier models to accommodate the LCD screen on top of the camera, were absolutely fine and allowed easy progression from earlier Lumix models.
Using the lens and body stabilisation in combination and being able to get sharp hand hold shots in low light at 1 second or longer is impressive … I’ve tried it and it works! However it is of limited benefit to most of the subjects I photograph which tend to move, even plants blowing in the wind, which would result in blurred images. For most of the time I kept the vertical stabiliser off for panning.
In conclusion I have great deal of confidence that the G9 will prove to be the perfect camera for wildlife and action photography. The camera takes care of the technical aspects (well, the photographer has to fully understand its capabilities and then coax it a little :-) ) allowing the photographer to concentrate on producing great images!