Bondi, Wednesday 8 November 2017 – after the launch earlier this year of the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 camera, you might reckon that Panasonic was finished with the high end stuff for the year. Well, it kind of has because today’s camera, the Panasonic Lumix DC-G9, won’t be available until January 2018. For still photographers, though, it might well be worth waiting.
Why? Two things I’d say. First, enhanced optical image stabilisation. Second, a new 80 megapixel high resolution mode. I shall return to both of those, but first some basics.
Whereas the GH5 launch was at least as much about that camera’s advanced video capabilities, this one refocuses (sorry) on still photography. Scattered around the launch were some stunning wildlife shots printed on A1 stock, all taken by photographers with early access to the G9.
The camera is of course part of Panasonic’s (and Olympus’) Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system. Panasonic has tweaked the 20.3 megapixel sensor from the GH5 to improve still performance. It’s coupled with the Venus Engine 10 which processes the raw data from the sensor into actual digital images – both JPEG and uncompressed, relatively unprocessed RAW formats are available.
Getting the light onto the sensor accurately is, as always, all important. Much of that is done by the use of good glass. We’re told that Panasonic alone has released thirty lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system which, it says, “is still the largest mirrorless system”. We’ll return to that shortly, because it has also released a very special new lens.
The other thing needed for accuracy is to ensure nothing’s moving while the shutter is open. That’s where optical image stabilisation is vital. You don’t need it if you have a tripod, but for hand held, especially with longer focal lengths, OIS can make the difference in a big way. The G9 incorporates Dual I. S. 2. Originally in the Panasonic system, all OIS was performed by the lens. With the GH5 Panasonic added it to the camera body and set up the system so that the two separate systems worked together to smooth out even more movement.
Hands on the camera with a very long lens – a 400mm telephoto zoom, 800mm in 35mm equivalent terms – the first thing I noticed was how as I settled my point of aim on a scene, the image through the viewfinder would snap into place, becoming dead still.
Panasonic says that it can provide 6.5 stops of compensation. To let the likes of me check that out, they had screwed a 10 stop neutral density filter onto a 60mm lens (120mm equivalent) to blow out the shutter speed to a full second, despite the bright Bondi sunlight. The lens looked like it had a sheet of black glass over its end.
My first shot was so so, but by the third shot, with controlled breathing, I was able to get perfectly presentable shots, despite the ridiculously slow exposure speed. Here’s a sense of the full picture:
Here’s the detail, cropped down to 1:1 resolution on many monitors. Hand held, remember, for a full one second exposure. Those buildings were about 850 metres from where I was, at the other end of Bondi Beach.
Of course, in real life you won’t be putting on a ten stop neutral density filter. Same position, hand held with the aforementioned 400mm (800mm equivalent) telephoto zoom, cropped down to 1:1 (1/1000 seconds, f/6.3, ISO 200):