The Panasonic G85. My choice for an all around fun camera under $1,000.

Austin, Texas. I'm always interested in new gear that solves problems in different ways. The latest cameras from Olympus, Panasonic and Sony all have fun stuff in common; stuff that wasn't all readily available in a single camera body until recently. Those features include the combination of really good, 4K video capability, five axis image stabilization and good performance. I was narrowing in on the Sony a6500 as a good addition to the cameras I already own; it would provide a higher level of image stabilization and state of the art 4K video, but I wanted to shop around and see what else was available.

Two things about the Sony a6500 gave me reason to drag my feet: that camera has a reputation for being prone to overheating when operating in 4K video, and a large part of my desire to own the camera was to take advantage of the high quality video. The second thing that dampened my desire was the nearly universal assessment that the while the 4K video is nearly perfect the 1080p (HD) video is soft and lacks detail; even compared to a similar camera (the a6000) that is two generations older. Not every project needs 4K video, many documentary exercises are better solved with HD.

I looked at the Olympus EM-1.2 but I wasn't ready to spend $2,000 on a secondary camera that didn't fit into my collection in a rational way (not saying that rationality holds much purchase in my office...).

The first two cameras led me, in comparative reviews, to a camera that I must say might be the Goldilocks camera of the category, the Panasonic G85.

While the G85 lacks the resolution of the Olympus and Sony candidates (it is only 16 megapixels) it does get high marks for both its 4K performance and the prowess of its five axis image stabilization. With several current lenses the Panasonic is also able to provide even more enhanced I.S. performance by making use of the lens I.S. in conjunction (and in addition to) the I.S. in the body. Additionally, the G85 also scores well for its basic, 1080p, HD video performance.

While the Sony a6500 is about $1400 without a lens and the Olympus is nearly $2000 without a lens, the Panasonic G85 can be purchased new with a fairly nice kit lens; the 12-60mm f3.5 to f5.6. A nice 24-120 equivalent zoom. In the kit format the bundle of camera and lens is right at $1,000. With a current rebate in place the total price drops to $899.

Considering that the lens currently sells for about $500 on Amazon the price of the kit, with rebate, essentially means that one is getting a really good camera body for about $400. Not a bad deal. Of course, it remains to be seen just how good the lens is. Various reviews range from "great for the range and price" to "slightly soft." But, as usual, the only way to really know what a piece of gear can do it so use it in your own processes and weigh your own results.

I bought this camera and lens for two fairly specific reasons. First, I wanted a camera and lens system that I could use to shoot very high quality, hand-held, stabilized 4K video. I'll test extensively but I think this is a good combination. It would also be the small system that I'll attach to a cart for dolly work, or use on a small, portable slider as a supplement to my primary camera.

My second reason for giving the camera a fair trial is that after selling off the GH4s, well over a year ago, I've missed having a good platform for my collection of ancient Pen FT lenses. The 40mm f1.4 and the 60mm f1.5 in particular have been calling out to me from the confines of the equipment cart.

A year ago I would have passed on this camera simply because it lacks a headphone jack. That would have disqualified it in my mind. But once I figured out that I could hook an HDMI monitor to a camera and have a great monitoring source for audio via the monitor I took that argument off the table.

The combination of the fz2500 and the G85 should make a good, low profile team of features and performance for those times when I want to travel light and still come home with great stuff. It's an alternative to both the full frame A7 systems and the one inch RX10 systems. A different choice for different uses. One wonderful note is that the G85 uses the same batteries as the fz2500. No new batteries needed at this juncture.

As far as still images go I've read DPReview's conclusion and am expecting good overall imaging performance; it's perhaps more of a RAW shooter than a Jpeg savant. But with a little manipulation of the profile parameters I'll bet we can get pretty close to what I usually like to see in a file. That's been the case with its sibling....

You can buy one at Amazon with the link below or you can get in touch with Precision-Camera.com and you can order one with a rebate (yes, USA warranty) for about $100 less.


Ash said...

hi Kirk, its a consumer feature but have you tried out the 4K PHOTO feature?

Someday, video frame rate capture will became the go-to photographic toool for family/hobby photographers.

David said...

So it does look like the fz2500 was your gateway drug back to Panasonic. Lets see by the end of the year if you have 2 GH5s.
For the G85, I fully agree. To me seems better than what Olympus is offering. It may also focus 43rds glass just as fast as the Em1s. I was surprised that even the Gm5 focus 43rds glass as fast as my E3 and even more accurately. The Gh5 seems to focus the best for 43rds lenses if you still have an f2 zoom lieing around. Although now people use the sigma f1.8 zooms with canon metabones adapter for the most light. The 50-100mm f1.8 seems quite amazing, but very large.

Craig Yuill said...

I was looking at picking up one of these a few months ago, except that it wasn't yet available in my area. I decided to instead purchase some accessories I could use with my current gear. That said, I consider the G85 to be one of the better values in new mirrorless-system cameras. I rather like the samples of 4K video and video stabilization I have seen so far. I will be very very interested in reading your experiences with this camera.

Thomas F. said...

It looks like a nice camera.
However, personally, I just can't get beyond the fact that it's heavier and more expensive than an entry-level APS-C DSLR.
Anyway, I suppose it's mostly a matter of priority.
I hope you'll enjoy it.

HowardH said...

I picked up its sibling - the rangefinder-styled Lumix GX80 (GX85) - for just £280 with 12-34mm kit lens after a whopping £200 cashback during 2016/17 festive period promotion. Same 5-axis stabilized sensor and very similar feature set for stills and video (although doesn't have a mic input). It's a great coat-pocket-sized go-everywhere camera - especially paired with the Lumix 20mm f1.7 (originally purchased with my GF1).

Frank Grygier said...

Hi Kirk,
This is a great resource for the G85.
Great camera for the price.

tnargs said...

Nice post Kirk, but what is your goldilocks all round fun camera under $1000 when video is not needed?


Eric Rose said...

the G85 worked flawlessly while I did my shoot in Guatemala. Great HD video and the stills were nice and juicy. I would be very interested in how you setup your camera. I'm going back down in July to finish up my project and will be putting the G85 through it's paces once again. The only problem I had was lousy weather sealing on the Panasonic lenses. Nothing I haven't experienced with older film lenses so was prepared, although somewhat surprised. Getting up to speed on the monster that is Final Cut Pro X now. I have always used PC based video editing software so my major challenge is just finding what I need in FCPX.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Eric Rose, I've found the tutorials on Lynda.com for FCPX to be very, very good. I review them (in spots) when I am about to start editing a big project. Kind of a refresher. I learn something new every time.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

tnargs, that would be my ancient Leica M3 with dual range Summicron that I bought for $250 in 1981. Oh, and Tri-X

Eric Rose said...

I just completed a course at UDEMY.com on FCPX. I was a good beginners course. I'll check out the Lynda.com ones as well.

Thanks, Eric

mikepeters said...

Two G85's have been my daily pro shooters since December. I sold my GH4's and my GX8's get to take a rest. The IS combined with a whisper quiet shutter make it a great platform for events. And the IQ is more than sufficient, easily as good as the 20mp sensor in my GX8's.

Rufus said...

My choice at this price would be a Fuji.

Don't bother with the video. If that is the idea, choose something else.

But for stills there really isn't much better. I love, love, love the film simulation modes. Fantastic JPEGS.

They even have "film bracketing", allowing you to take a shot and have it in velvia, astia and acros at the same time. It is damn good fun. The in camera processing is terrific.

Wally said...

Interesting that Panasonic in spite of the mirrorless camera sales issues keeps iterating good all around affordable cameras in addition to their high-end offerings. I have a Panny GX 7 with X Vario power zoom which fits nicely in a briefcase for use when traveling on business! and the cost was reasonable for what you get makes great images and is portable too!

Michael Meissner said...

I've been shooting Olympus cameras since 2001 (D-520Z, C-2100UZ, SP-550UZ, D-40Z, E-1, E-510, E-3, C-8080WZ, E-5, E-P2, E-PM2, Stylus-1, E-M5 mark I, and E-M1 mark I) and most of them are great, some not so great.

However, all of my Olympus non-DSLR cameras with viewfinders have a 'feature' that I have come to dislike. All of the viewfinder cameras (Stylus-1, E-M5 mark I, and E-M1 mark 1, plus the VF-2 viewfinder) use a TFT LCD display for the viewfinder. The problem is in landscape orientation, you get polarization effects if you look at the EVF with polarized sunglasses. The VF-2 is completely opaque with polarized sunglasses, while the other 3 have spots that I can't see with polarized sunglasses on, but I can generally see well enough to frame the shot, and let auto focus do the shot. OLED viewfinders however don't seem to have this problem.

Unfortunately, I suffer from migraines, and I find I need to wear wrap around polarized sunglasses when I'm out in daylight. Back in the fall, I was planning a major vacation in Hawaii, and I started looking around for a solution.

I considered the Olympus Pen-F, and the E-M10 mark II, both of which have OLED viewfinders. However, rain happens, particularly on some of my vacations. I had been using the E-x cameras and E-Mx cameras, shooting in very wet conditions, and I didn't really want to go back to having plastic bags to protect the poor little precious thing from rain. I personally felt that the Pen-F was too expensive for a camera without being splash proof, so I was going to settle for the E-M10 mark II to use in sunny weather and the E-M1 to use in wet weather.

Then I discovered the G85, and to my way of thinking, it is the goldilocks camera. It is splash proof, has an OLED viewfinder, it has sensor based stabilization, and it takes my existing micro 4/3rds lenses. Sure there are some things I prefer in the Olympus space, and some things that I think Panasonic does better than Olympus. But for stills, both produce fine images.

When I bought the G85, the store I frequent was having a store wide sale, and the Olympus rep was showing off the E-M1 mark II. It is an impressive camera, but frankly, I don't need most of the new features. And it has the TFT LCD viewfinder like the E-M1 mark I. So no sale, and it is less time to pay off the camera. Since I bought the G85, I learned that the G-H5 also has a TFT LCD viewfinder. I suspect it is due to the high frame rate that those two cameras run the EVF at, and OLEDs seem to be slower than TFT LCD. Also, from what I've read, the color rendition in the TFT LCD is more 'natural', while the OLED tends to 'brighter' colors, and the target market for the E-M1 mark II/G-H5 probably prefers colors to be more natural.

kivis said...

have the GX8 (got it before the G85 came out) Supremely happy all the way around, plus the kit lens has not failed me yet. This rig is almost as good as my ancient Nikon F (meterless) camera and the Nikkor 50/1.4 glass.

Nigel said...

I agree with HowardH - the GX85 deal at the beginning of this year was just too goos to pass up.
Sold the kit lens, and have a replacement for my much loved GX7 for £200. Panasonic will still do OK out of this loss leader, as I'm looking at various lens purchases...

MikeR said...

Rats. There goes my 2017 decision that I already have enough cameras.

Anthony Collins said...

Sold as the G80 in UK I have been using it in preference to my EM1 mk1. All of my Panasonic M43 cameras have been trouble free. My Olympus had to be returned for a stuck shutter which others have reported and rear dial failures and viewfinder burn out are also known to occur. No complaints from me about the kit lens.

Derrick said...

Tsk, Tsk. Even I can hear the GH5 calling your name from here :)

Pseudo Boethius said...

Of all the cameras released in the past year, the Panasonic G85 (really, it SHOULD be called the G8), has been the most interesting one for me personally. When you look at it's build and feature set, it's actually a very nice cross of the Olympus E-M1 and E-M5 families, at the E-M5's price point, in a Lumix body. And the feature I like the best, was the one you mentioned: that nice little 12-60 zoom! What a fantastically useful range, and if you need to get to the level of "nanoaccuity" that everyone is pursuing lately, there is an upgrade path to the Panasonic/Leica 12-60 f/2.8-4.

I've been extremely impressed with the offerings by both Panasonic and Olympus lately, and I don't understand why they aren't more popular than they are. The lens offerings for micro43 alone are just incredible.

Just wanted to mention an extremely important feature of the G85 and GX85 that few people seem to pay attention to: both have an a very unique electromagnetic shutter that COMPLETELY ELIMINATES all shutter-shock, that evil little demon that has plagued mirrorless shooters of all brands. For me, that little feature alone would be worth the purchase price.

Enjoy your newest camera! I think you are going to find that it punches far, far above it's weight.

Hal said...

Hi Kirk,

Thanks for your updates about the G85 and for the positive feedback about the good folks at Precision Camera in Austin, TX! Since I don't have a good local camera store in my community and thanks to your recommendation, I took my business to Precision Camera online and I'm extremely happy with both my new G85 and with my buying experience at Precision Camera. Upon my request, they price matched a competitor and offered truly excellent customer service.

But like Derrick said, I too see a GH5 in your future! I'm loving both my G85 and my GH5. They go really well together as a two body kit with similar ergonomics, as well as photo and video outputs. I just started putting my GH5 through its paces this past weekend and the slow motion (in my case, the 120 fps variable frame rate conformed to 24 fps) video quality is so much better than the fuzzy and grainy 96 fps from my old GH4. Honestly, the slow motion and focus transition features alone are almost enough to justify the GH5 upgrade. All of the other improvements are just a bonus (e.g., better EVF, AF joystick, nearly 20 physical and digital FN buttons, quieter shutter with virtually no shock...even though it is not the electromagnetic version from the G85).

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