The G85 is a woefully under-appreciated camera. Coupled with the right lens it can be superb.

I bought the G85 on a whim. I'd purchased the FZ2500 and had been impressed. There were older Olympus lenses in my office (the Pen half-frame lenses) that had been more or less orphaned when I sold off the last of my GH4 cameras and Olympus EM-5.2 cameras several years ago. While the lenses worked okay on the A6x00 series Sonys they just didn't feel right. I bought the G85 in part to use those lenses and then also out of curiosity. 

As someone wisely pointed out this was the "gateway" camera back into the Panasonic system, and, indeed, back into the whole m4:3 ecosphere. I used the G85 with the kit lens (12-60mm) for a while, shot some 4K video that surprised me with its quality and then, with the arrival of the twin GH5s, it got relegated to the bleachers. 

Lately I've been interested to see just how I like the essence of the camera. That would be the look, feel and personality of the files. But not in the way that seems commonplace in the mainstream appraisal; not by a measure of how much resolution the camera has or how quickly it can focus on someone rushing toward me on a turbo-charged unicycle. My measure of value for camera files is how smooth and mellow the tones can be, how accurate the color seems to me, and whether it makes photographs that look like the thing being photographed (good) or photographs that look like hyper-real photographs of the thing being photographed (bad). 

Most people doing a cursory flirtation with smaller sensor cameras get all caught up with the idea that depth of field control is somehow hampered. When I left the house today I decided to remove depth of field from the equation as much as I could so I could concentrate on how real the images seemed to me. How well did the camera and lens translate the three dimensional, color rich world we see with our eyes into files we can evaluate on screen. 

My lens of choice today was the older, Contax Y/C  Zeiss 50mm f1.7 lens, with an adapter. I shot almost everything at f2.0. Once in a while I went to f2.8 just to stay within the range of the mechanical shutter. I used the camera's auto white balance, its standard profile and its large Jpeg setting to do my fun art. The camera has in-body stabilization that works well with non-dedicated lenses. You have to enter the focal length of the lens you are using but I made it easy on myself by only using one lens. Set once and forget. 

In my opinion Panasonic has gotten their interpretation of color and tonality nailed down perfectly. The 16 megapixel sensor in this camera is mature technology and renders images with a neutral grace. If I ignore the implied benefits of the newer, higher resolution sensor of the GH5, as well as the advanced video features of the GH5 and just look at the emotional/perceived quality of the frames then I would have to say that, just by a small margin, the combination of the G85 and this particular Zeiss lens gives me an photographic file that's more pleasing. Not by a huge margin; just by a whisker. 

It's a file that seems less processed and at the same time more organic. And the files have an impression of depth. Very nice depth. Pretty amazing to me just how nice a file one can get with a camera and lens that together cost less than $800.  It's okay to tell me that the A7rii or the D850 is much more detailed (when enlarged past a certain size) but that really doesn't make a difference to me. This (the G85) has a look I like very much. I'll just remember not to blow it up too much. Nothing past say, 20 by 24 inches. 


MO said...

Hi Kirk

I got 2 gx80/85. its the same iq formula as g85 and im right in there with You ;) The look of the files seem more organic and i can match the colors and look up well with my old canon 1d III. A part of the tech that i dont think has improved since the 1d III or the s version for that matter is the look and colors of the files. But the panasonic does a decent job with minimal work. Many newer cameras tend to get a bit plastic in there output even if the noise is less in the higher isos. Mostly i can save it with going black and white. But i do prefer a little noise over the plastic look.

Marriott said...

Your post warms my heart. I ditched my Nikon gear years ago for m4/3 and haven't looked back. The G85 I bought a couple of months ago gives me the same feeling you've described. It feels so nice in hand and I love its gentle shutter sound. I often take it out with a Nikon 85 1.8g attached. I'm sure many would think this is an awkward length (170mm), but I've always been kind of a particularist, seeing little frames within the wider world. With peaking, PIP and IBIS, it's easy to manually focus at any aperture. At night I enjoy the PL 25 1.4 which I can handhold consistently at 1/10 when walking around old Riga and shooting its shiny wet cobblestone streets. Thanks for making my Sunday morning an even more cheerful one!

tom morgan said...

Love it when you go for a walk and one lens and post your thoughts. I have the G85 as well...what a great camera and is even affordable.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Nice results Kirk! I've kind of "answered" this article on my own blog, with a walk with my OM-D E-M10 (Mk1) and the 45mm/1.8 lens. So read that "answer" here if you're interested.

Thanks for another nice blog article!

Eric Rose said...

My G85 has made two trips this year to Guatemala as the main camera for video and still production. I have been extremely impressed with the results and echo Kirk's opinions 100%. In some situations I wished for a little bit better low light performance but most of the noise etc. could be dealt with in post. I use a combination of Nikkor, Leica M and Panasonic lens. When needed the IBIS is a strong asset in the field. I have flirted with picking up a GH5 when the price comes down but even then, for me at least, the cost/benefit ratio is just not there for my needs at this time. That may change in the future but for now the small size and performance package offered by the G85 fits the bill.

Brandon Scott said...

Kirk, my photography is completely different from yours. I am an amateur who shoots mostly birds, wildlife, flowers, landscapes. Hardly ever people. Never video, although I'm interested. For birds I use a Nikon D500 with 500mm f4 lens. The D500 autofocus is quite remarkable and the files are easy to work with.
I have followed your blog almost from the beginning and always enjoy your comments even when I disagree, which is not often. In your earlier flirtation with micro 4/3s you praised the Panasonic G3 which I bought and loved. I really liked the lens from both Olympus and Panasonic and over time have built a nice collection. I then got the GX7 which I liked even more than the G3. This became my travel camera of choice, frequently reached for this camera for bugs and flowers. I find myself using the D500 for birds and wildlife, but the Pany for everything else. As much as I like the D500, it will never be my all around camera.
Now the GX7 is showing its age and I can't decide what to do. I like the look of the Olympus 300mm f4 and I think that by the next generation micro 4/3s will be the perfect birding and wildlife system. But not yet. I like the feel and menus of the Panys, but think Olympus is ahead on solving the continuous autofocus. I'm divided between the OMD 1 Mk2 and the GH5, but then I think I really should just get G85 and wait for the next generation to make the complete move to micro 4/3s. I have probably bought my last Nikon camera and I have shot Nikon since 1969. The D850 looks like a great camera, but it is way more camera than I need or want.
In a quandary. As always enjoy your blog and look forward to your continuing search for the non-existent perfect camera system. Brandon Scott