Price (RRP): $1699 (as tested)
This year sees the launch of Panasonic’s latest line-up of Lumix branded cameras. The first one I’ve gotten my hands on is the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-G85, an interchangable lens model one step down from the flagship Lumix DMC-GH5. It came with a weather-sealed 12 to 60mm, f/3.5 to f/5.6 zoom lens, recommended retail price $1699.
Panasonic’s interchangabe lens cameras all use the Micro Four Thirds system it co-developed with Olympus a few years ago. This features a sensor around a quarter of the size of a 35mm frame in a 4:3 aspect ratio, somewhat squarer than most formats, and which is smaller than most DSLR or indeed mirrorless formats. That allows for more compact camera bodies. The DMC-G85 body is in fact quite compact. With battery and SD card, the camera body weighs 505 grams. The included lens brings it up to 715 grams.
It is a solidly built, thanks in part to the magnesium alloy frame. Designed to be “weather-sealed”, Panasonic doesn’t mention any IP ratings but says that “the camera’s weather-sealed splash and dustproof design protects all joints, dials and buttons against extreme conditions.” So I guess that you could be confident when it comes to a brief rain showers. Of course, weather-sealing the camera doesn’t automatically confer similar protection to the lens, so you should keep which lens you’re using in mind if rainy conditions threaten.
Most Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system cameras use a 16 megapixel sensor, as does the DMC-G85. It is compatible with all MFT lenses, including those from Olympus. Arguably more so than in the past. For some reason, Panasonic adopted the practice of building its optical image stabilisation into its lenses, while Olympus built it into its bodies. So Olympus lenses typically lack OIS, meaning that you’ve needed a steadier hand to use them with a Panasonic. No more. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G85 has a five axis OIS system built into the body. The supplied lens also has optical image stabilisation.
MFT is also a mirrorless system. Instead of a mirror reflecting the image from the lens up to the viewfinder, the image sensor sends what it’s about to capture as an image to a tiny 2.3 megapixel OLED display in the viewfinder. Dioptre adjustment is provided so that you can focus clearly on the displayed image.
Likewise, it is displayed on the rear monitor, a one megapixel TFT LCD touch sensitive display. This can swing out from the camera body, hinged at the left, and rotate through about 240 degrees so that you can use it as a viewfinder while sitting in front of the camera, while holding over your head, or looking down on it from above.
The advantage of mirrorless is quieter and smoother photo taking, since there’s no need to flip a mirror out of the way. The shutter itself is much quieter than that of the Panasonic Lumix DMC -GH4 which I normally use, and the GH4 is pretty normal in level. You can also switch to silent mode – which means no shutter at all, just capturing the image from the sensor for a specific period. The physical shutter can also work in “Bulb” mode for up to two minutes (ie. you can hold it open for low-light effects).
If you still think in 35mm film terms as I do, the Micro Four Thirds system makes mental conversion of focal lengths easy: you just double the number to get the 35mm equivalent. So the supplied lens can zoom from a decently wide-angle 24mm to a decent telephoto 120mm, a nice practical 5x range.
This camera is seriously chock-a-block with features. For example, there’s built in WiFi so you can use Panasonic’s control app – available for iOS and Android, of course – to view what the camera’s seeing from a distance and remotely trigger it. Or upload photos wirelessly. 802.11b/g/n is supported, along with direct connections with portable devices.
As for photography-focused features, there are all the normal things that you’d expect, including support for RAW image capture (ie. unprocessed by the camera’s “Venus” processor), exposure compensation, exposure bracketing, autofocus, manual focus, adjustable ISO (up to 25,600). And basically everything you’d expect.
Plus a bunch of stuff that’s new or advanced. Take ISO again (ISO traditionally was a measure of the speed of the film). Obviously the default mode is auto, and this adjusted within a reasonable range to give a good balance for quality without excessive noise. But if you’re distrustful, you can set a limit to how far it will be adjusted.
Also, take bracketing. I’m jealous. My GH4 has highly effective and adjustable exposure bracketing. The DMC-G85 has that, plus aperture bracketing, plus white balance bracketing, plus focus bracketing, also known as focus stacking! It can take up to 999 continuous shots with the focus adjusted slightly across a range. Perfect for creating composite photos with virtually infinite depth of field with Photoshop or other software.
Perhaps you’re not sure what depth of field you actually want. Aperture bracketing allow up to five shots to be taken at different apertures.