Initially released in the spring of 2016, the Panasonic GX85, as it’s known in North America, marks the next iteration in Panasonic’s rangefinder-style mid-tier mirrorless lineup. It also goes by the name GX80 in Europe and GX7 Mark II in Japan. In many respects, it is the spiritual successor to the previously released Panasonic GX7. However, it is mostly a variant of the GX8, with a different form factor. It’s a camera Panasonic aims at the photographers, with its classic compact design. And it’s a camera the orient primarily as a street shooter.
Panasonic aims this camera to compete with Sony’s a6300 and Olympus’ E-M10 Mark II. In today’s post, we address it’s strengths, weaknesses, and answer whether or not it’s still relevant today.
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Panasonic GX85?
It features the same 16.0MP Live MOS sensor as the GX7, but now removes the Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF), making it the first Panasonic camera to benefit from the removal of this filter. Panasonic claims removing the OLPF has provided the camera with a 10% increase in resolution over the outgoing sensor of the GX7, and this claim is undoubtedly true. While it’s not the higher-end 20MP sensor featured on the GX8, this configuration allows the camera to provide excellent image quality nevertheless. And, surprisingly, the results deliver a distinct edge in sharpness and fine details, that now closely matches the higher-end GX8’s 20MP sensor, without it’s demanding price.
Typically, removing a camera’s OLPF makes it more susceptible to moiré patterns and false color in the light. However, Panasonic has tuned the new Venus Engine processor to combat these patterns to retain detail at the per-pixel level. Overall, removing the OLPF is a welcomed change, and the camera benefits significantly from it. It gives the feeling of a higher-end sensor, though it’s the standard 16MP variant and the long-standing working resolution for most Panasonic MFT cameras. For dynamic range, the images provide a good amount of range, though not class-leading. And the RAW files offer enough flexibility for post-processing.
It features the new L Monochrome profile, which delivers extra contrast, more punch, and smoother highlights compared to the standard Monochrome profile – a nice touch for those who enjoy shooting in B & W.
It provides continuous shooting speeds of up to 8 fps without AF or 6 fps with AF using the mechanical shutter. However, it can deliver up to 40 fps in the SH mode using the electronic shutter, with fixed focus and exposure settings. And it also provides a reasonable 13 shot RAW buffer and 100+ JPEG buffer.
Panasonic was one of the original pioneers to push 4K from the beginning, and this camera surely doesn’t disappoint. It shoots 4K UHD video up to 30 fps at 100 Mbps with a full pixel readout. And it also shoots 1080p full HD video up to 60 fps for slow-motion capture. It delivers this footage in both the MP4 and AVCHD formats, for better versatility. And the footage is on quite a high level with little flaws. It’s sharp; colors are accurate, and it’s free of any signs of aliasing or moiré. And its 100 Mbps data rate is enough for smooth gradations and avoids compression artifacts in most applications.
Thankfully, the camera also doesn’t suffer from overheating when shooting in 4K, a problem plagued by the competition. And it’s also worth noting that most of the competitors at this price lack for 4K UHD recording. While this feature isn’t necessarily new and revolutionary for Panasonic, it’s addition does deliver a distinct edge over competitors.
The camera provides a clean uncompressed 4K HDMI output for use with external recorders or monitors.
It offers zebras for highlight warning indication, and they’re also customizable. Users can choose two limits, one for 100% overexposure and another for 70% to expose for white skin—a rare feature in this class.
Low Light Performance
Low light performance is good for an MFT sized sensor. It provides a native ISO range from 200 to 25,600. And users can expect usable images up to ISO 1,600 and video up to 3,200. Surprisingly, even at 25,6000, the noise displays a pleasant grain-like effect, and images are entirely free of color shifts.
It features the same 49-point contrast-detect AF system as the GX8 and GH4 with Panasonic’s confident Depth from Defocusing (DFD) technology. With that, the camera delivers extraordinary single shot point-to-point autofocusing and is among the best in this regard in its competing lineup. The focusing performance is lightning-quick and rarely, if ever, hunts or hesitates. The system also brings along with it Face/Eye detection and tracking. And the continuous autofocusing is smooth and tracks subjects quite tenaciously, depending on the application and configuration.
With the addition of a touchscreen, users can customize the AF system for touch area AF, which works well and simplifies the complexity of focusing. And, in many respects, focusing works best when using touch, as the camera is responsive and delivers gentle transitions without any sudden distracting jumps.
For those who prefer manually focusing, the camera provides focus magnification and peeking to ensure precision.
Display & Viewfinder
It features a 3.0-inch tilting TFT touchscreen with a resolution of 1.04M dots. The screen auto-adjusts its brightness when shooting outdoors, and it’s bright enough for composing in even the brightest conditions. Viewing angles are also superb, and the screen doesn’t suffer from distracting reflections. With it being a touchscreen, it supports menu navigation, touch shutter, and touchpad AF.
It also features a high-resolution Live Viewfinder with a resolution of 2.76M dots and 100% coverage of the sensor.
It features standard Panasonic menus and user interfaces, which remain clear and well-organized. New users and existing users alike will have no issues navigating or mastering the layout.
It provides a custom shooting mode (C) on the Mode Dial for quick access to a preset shooting configuration.
It delivers extraordinary customization over its physical layout. In total 9 of its buttons, which include the touchscreen, provide full customization.
It provides the customizable Quick Menu.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
It features dual adjustment dials to control aperture and shutter speed. And, interestingly, the back dial can be pressed, increasing its functionality.
It features a dedicated video record button, which works in virtually every mode to start recordings. The shutter button can also pull stills during video recording, and how it does so is also customizable.
Upon first glance, it looks most similar to the outgoing GX7. But, upon picking up the camera, you will immediately notice that it’s quite a bit heavier and more substantial in hand, especially considering its apparent small size. The camera now weighs 383 g body alone. However, this increase in weight has created a more stable shooting platform, which couples with its stabilization to provide confidence when shooting at slow shutter speeds.
Otherwise, the camera maintains its pragmatic and functionalist design, which is both minimalistic and simple. Sure, it lacks the wow factor of some of the competitors, but it’s undoubtedly capable.
It now features 5-axis in-camera image stabilization, making it the first Panasonic camera to obtain this feature. With this release, Panasonic now joins Olympus as the initial pioneers of this technology. Previously, the GX7 only offered 2-axis’ stabilization, and users had to choose between in-camera or optical stabilization. But now, with full 5-axis support, it takes this technology to the next level and offers the best between traditional optical and sensor-shift stabilization. And this is one of the notable and key selling features over the predecessor. The results it provides are excellent, mainly when doing manual pans, tilts, or zooms, where it creates gimbal-like effects. The only slight drawback is it results in a slight crop during use.
It inherits the full breadth of Panasonic’s 4K modes, with a few exciting additions. 4K burst shoots a 4K video at 30 fps, in which you can pull 8 MP stills. Post Focus takes a series of images, combined in-camera, then allows users to change the focus after the fact. This feature is an excellent option for macro photography or to create focus stacks in-camera. 4K Pre burst records 1 second into the buffer at all times, then records an additional second after the shutter is depressed. This mode captures 60 frames, ensuring you never miss critical moments. And lastly, 4K Live Crop, which allows users to perform 20-second digital pans or dolly zooms using the 4K video. And the camera exports the footage as a 1080p clip, simulating what you may do at home in video editing.
It features in-camera RAW processing, and you can also crop and resize images in playback.
It features a full suite of bracketing modes, including focus, aperture, and exposure bracketing.
It offers multi-exposures.
It features a built-in panorama.
It offers built-in time-lapse.
It offers stop motion animation.
It features a re-designed electromagnetic drive shutter, as opposed to the more traditional mechanical drive. This change promises, and delivers reduced vibrations, eliminating shutter shock by 90%. Fewer vibrations mean the camera creates a more stable platform when shooting at slow shutter speeds, preventing blurry images. And combined with its heavier weight, it’s a much more stable camera, significant improvements over the G85 and GX7.
With the electronic shutter, the camera offers completely silent shooting and shutter speeds up to 1/16000 second.
It has built-in Wi-Fi. When connected to a paired device, you can wirelessly transfer images and remotely control the camera in both photos and videos.
It supports USB charging.
It has a built-in pop-up flash.
It lacks the advanced video-centric features from the GH4, such as Cinelike profiles, V-Log, vectorscopes, and waveforms catered towards advanced users. Thus, you will have to use the standard picture profiles, which do not increase the camera’s dynamic range. If you want these features, look at the G85/80, GX8, or GH5 cameras instead.
Compared to 4K, the camera’s 1080p footage looks rather uninspiring, with much less detail and an overall soft look. Granted, this is the case with most consumer 4K cameras on the market. Thus, to maintain detail, it’s best to always shoot in 4K, then downsample to 1080p, rather than shoot 1080p alone.
When shooting in 4K, there is a small crop of 1.25x into the frame. However, considering this is rather small and doesn’t affect viewing angles significantly, it’s not a big deal.
Like many mirrorless cameras in this class, it too suffers from rolling shutter when panning in 4K.
It doesn’t offer focus magnification during filming. Instead, you’ll have to rely on peeking and the displays alone.
The autofocusing performance slows when shooting in dim or low light conditions. The camera excessively hunts and takes upwards of 2-3 seconds before locking. Granted, this is a problem faced by most cameras in this class, so nothing particularly new here. But something unfortunate is the camera’s face and eye detection. Overall, the continuous AF performance, even with these enabled, isn’t great. The camera drifts periodically during video recordings and isn’t consistent enough for professional use. Manual focusing is best during video recordings as the camera will often get confused by backgrounds.
Battery life is poor and below average for a mirrorless camera. Panasonic rates the battery to deliver 290 shots per charge, and this is well below the 350 shot industry-standard. You will need an extra set of batteries for a long day’s shoot.
The rear screen doesn’t fully articulate. While the tilting articulation is helpful, it isn’t the ideal choice for maximum versatility in all shooting conditions.
While the viewfinder delivers extraordinary resolution, the viewfinder itself doesn’t provide great eye relief. This is particularly an issue for those who wear glasses, the viewfinder is on the smaller size, and can be quite difficult to compose. The viewfinder remains the same as the predecessor. And unfortunately, while it gives the perception of added resolution but struggles in strong contrast scenes or backlit. And it also doesn’t tilt like the GX7 or the GX8.
The camera is not particularly well-suited as a travel-friendly companion considering its weight. While it looks small, it’s a bit on the bulkier side. And considering its weight, the grip is much too small and shallow, making the camera slightly uncomfortable for those with larger hands. Compared to the predecessor, the camera has notable downgrades in ergonomics. Long periods of use will create quite a bit of strain, so consider picking up the battery grip for this camera.
It lacks a dedicated AF/MF selector, an element found on the predecessor but strangely missing here.
The On/Off switch is in a strange position tucked behind the mode dial. Its placement will take some familiarization for long time shooters.
It lacks a microphone input.
It lacks a headphone input.
The camera lacks weather sealing.
Is this a good beginner camera?
Yes. It’s an excellent beginner’s camera, though it does have a few notable drawbacks for those looking for a hybrid shoot for both stills and videos. Most notably, its lacking headphone input. Thus, it makes a better beginning stills camera than a video camera. But, considering the quality of the footage it offers, it’s a strong choice for the casual videographer or those who are willing to use an external recording for audio capture.
Is this a good camera for you?
For macro and still life photographers, this camera is an excellent choice with its re-designed shutter, 5-axis stabilization, and heavier body. These features create a powerful contender for shooting small detail work.
For sports, wildlife, or photojournalists, this camera is also reasonably capable here, though it doesn’t provide a deep RAW buffer. If you’re okay with shooting in JPEG, the shooting speeds and versatility in it’s 4K and electronic shutter modes make it a compelling choice.
For aspiring videographers or filmmakers, know this camera is capable. Some have even touted this as an incredible video camera. But, its ultimate Achilles heel is the lack of headphone and microphone inputs, which castrates this camera towards a small demographic of users. Also, its weak continuous AF and its screen articulation don’t do it justice either. Thus, this camera is best as a b-camera to an existing setup or second angle. That is unless you’re willing to use an external recorder, which frankly isn’t 100% ideal for beginners in this space.
In the end, this is ultimately a still-centric camera, with casual video capabilities thrown in. For photographers, this camera delivers several wins. Firstly, it offers excellent stability. And secondly, it offers image quality that’s on par with the higher-end GX8, at a fraction of its current price, in a smaller form factor.
Nevertheless, the GX85 is a well-built camera and a competent all-rounder. While it doesn’t provide a single ground-breaking feature that fully sets it apart from the competition, it delivers an incredibly diverse feature set. And most of Panasonic’s higher-end features have made their way down into this more budget-friendly offering, which is quite a rarity to see at this price point. And it also delivers excellent picture and video quality to boast. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it is one of the better Panasonic cameras in their mid-tier lineup. And as a stills camera, it represents a variant of the G7, with a different form factor. Overall, it’s an excellent entry-point into the MFT and Panasonic ecosystem. And it provides a compelling package that goes much further than the competition.
The GX85 delivers several key wins as a still-centric camera, and, in many respects, it provides much of the performance of Panasonic’s higher-end GX8 at a fraction of its price. While it doesn’t offer a single ground-breaking feature, the sum adds up to a well-built package that the competition will find hard to match. And it’s quite a competent all-rounder