11.29.2018

My final assessment of the Panasonic G9 versus the Fuji X-T3.


Zach Theatre.

Earlier this year I bought two Panasonic G9 cameras to supplement my little collection of GH5 variants. The GH5 & GH5S are still the best hybrid video and still cameras on the market for actual, day-in-day-out video productions. The new stuff from Nikon (Z7), Canon and Sony is all flawed in one way or another when it comes to video but that's another story and one that will change soon. 
The G9 is the best handling of the family. The grip fits my hand perfectly, the camera is an extremely stable platform and the image stabilization is amazing; especially when using lenses that are supported by Panasonic's dual I.S. system. The capper is the wonderful EVF on the G9. In many respects it's a perfectly designed photography tool. 

I should have left well enough alone because the system is fun to shoot with, produces really pretty files and very, very nice photographs. Coupled with Panasonic's best lenses and a few of the Olympus Pro lenses the whole system should provide P.R. photographers, event photographers and art photographers with an amazing assemblage of powerful imaging tools. But then, there is a natural curiosity that seem to only be assuaged by hands-on experience, and so, I fell into the Fuji trap. 

I call it the "Fuji Trap" because it's set up with lures and encouragements to just dip one's toe in and give it a try. The constant marketing mantra is just how wonderful the color is in the files and how beautifully Fuji cameras and lenses render skin tones. 

Now that I've put 6,000 exposures through the X-T3 and have spent like a drunken trust funder on their lenses I think I can pen a few thoughts on which system I like best and which one I'll keep. 

Here are the arguments for each camera: 

Panasonic G9:

Perfect ergonomics. Which means that camera handles better than most and every button and control is intuitive and well placed. It may be the most sensible camera layout I've come across.

The electronic viewfinder is large and lovely to look through. 

The camera is very responsive. Using fast, V90 UHSII cards means the buffer clears quickly and the camera never slows down in use. 

The camera's AF is constantly an issue with writers and v-loggers, existentially. Most have bought into the religion of CD-AF being vastly inferior to PD-AF but my experience doesn't bear that out. In all but the lowest light the camera focuses quickly and accurately. Certainly, one of the bigger DSLRs, optimized for sports shooting will do better, lock on quicker and follow a moving subject better but for most photographers the G9 gets it just right and works well. In the studio, under good modeling light or LED panels I've never had the camera hunt for focus. The opposite side of the whole religion of phase detection is that the G9 is consistently more accurate in its focusing. If you've got the little square in the right place and it lights up green you never need to second guess that you'll get a sharply focused image with the nexus of sharpness precisely where you need/want it. 

The smaller image sensor has several benefits. In video use it doesn't generate as much heat as a larger sensor so the image are less subject to thermal noise. The second advantage of the smaller sensor is that its lower mass and smaller geometry make its image stabilization very effective. Much better than anything I was ever able to get from a full frame Sony camera, for example.

The one area in which all arguments end up is about the size of the imaging sensor. It's a micro four/thirds sensor and not an APS-C or full frame sensor. For some people this may be a deal killer. My experience is that in decent light and with great lenses the system holds its own for nearly every use imaginable. It will give up ground to bigger sensors as the ISO goes up and the light goes down. That's the ONLY trade-off for this camera. 

So, what about the Fuji system?

The Fuji X-T3: 

The X-T3 is interesting. The only parameter in which it beats the G9 is in the sensor technology. The sensor has twice the real estate and because of this can handle high ISO noise a bit better than the G9. In a raw to raw comparison there is little difference in the color; a skilled post processor can make either camera look like the other and so the only real imaging advantage beyond high ISO noise handling is one of preference: Do you like Fuji's Jpegs (SOOC) better than those of the competitors? The Jpegs are very nice. With much effort you can get the G9 Jpegs close but for the rest of us the X-T3 does it effortlessly and that's a nice thing to have if you are predominantly a Jpeg only shooter. I'll confess that part of my obsession with getting exposure and white balance as accurate as possible is my desire to use Jpegs for as much of my work as possible. I resist spending too much time fine tuning images. My early experiences with color photography mostly revolved around slide film and medium format transparency film where color accuracy and the exposure were locked in and unchangeable by the photographer once processed. It worked for us then by freeing up our time. 
It can work for us now for the same reasons.

While I like the retro controls on the X-T3 I think anyone would have to admit that the controls feel more cheaply made and more plasticky than those on the G9. A better made control interface may not affect imaging but it sure adds to one's comfort level with a camera and one's confidence that it will be reliable. 

Demerits for the X-T3 include: a less logically laid out menu and a kludgier interface altogether. A pixie size battery which definitely limits shooting time with stills and even more so in video. Where the G9 can shoot well over thousand frames without breaking a sweat the Fuji is probably best coupled with a battery grip. There is a reason the Fuji engineers made a grip that keeps the camera battery in the camera and then adds not one but two additional batteries in the grip. You'll want them.

Much has been written about the Fuji lens line up and Fuji users absolutely gush over their favorites. I'll agree that every Fuji lens I've tried so far is great but the line up is fallow just in the range where I wish it was lush. With the luxury, all purpose, standard zoom you get a nice, wide 24mm (equivalent) starting point but the lens only extends to the equivalent of 82.5 mm. For a portrait or lifestyle photographer one would hope for something that extends out at least to 105mm (equiv.) like the venerable Canon 24-105mm L lens, or even better, to 120mm like the Nikon version of the all purpose zoom. 

I could live with the limitations of their luxe zoom if they also had a portrait lens that hit the sweet spot around the (equiv.) of a 90mm to 100mm. In actual focal lengths I'd relish a 60-65mm or a 70mm with an f2.0 or faster aperture. But they don't have one. And I haven't found a good third party alternative that hits the range I want. Sad, because it would make a nice extension to their f2.0 primes to have a sibling that works for those of for whom shorter is not better. They do make a 60 macro but by almost all accounts its first generation pedigree delivers a slow and iffy AF performance. There are both an 80 and a 90mm (actual) lens but they are very expensive and just a bit too long. There is a reason why the traditional companies had lenses in the angles of view which photographers loved. They delivered; experienced photographers proved those focal length to be task perfect. 

So, in essence we have a camera with a great sensor, great colors, really wonderful files that by my estimation match the quality of full frame sensors and we also have a bunch of great lenses in some focal lengths (I could argue with myself that I should just skip the portrait primes and get the 50-140mm f2.8 but....... why can't I have both?) but we have a body with plasticky dials and wheels, parsimonious battery life and some weird interface issues (not insurmountable). 

Does the quality of the final files make up for the less lovely parts the equation? I'd say the raw files are just a bit more detailed and less fragile than the G9 files. You'll see a difference when you're operating at the edges of the envelope. Your choice is to get stuff really right in camera with a G9 or take advantage of the extra margin of safety with the Fuji. Used well the Fuji can really sing in making portraits. 

My take? For sheer usability, reliability and lens selection (across both Olympus and Panasonic), as well as great battery life and great ergonomics, the G9 wins hands down. If you need a robust camera system that can deliver great video and really good stills then the G9 is perfectly sorted. 

So, why would I want the Fuji? It's a slightly better portrait camera. One can see that Fuji's core market is portrait workers and they've worked to optimize the look and feel of their files to make photographs that make people look good. While the 55mm f1.2 is just a bit short for a portrait lens it is highly usable at f2.0 and makes gorgeous images. Used in a square format orientation it's just beautiful and this is the one area in which it just pulls past the G9. The extra pixel diameter, lower noise and wider dynamic range, coupled with Fuji's famously good color expertise tips the scales in its favor when it comes to making people look good. 

When it comes right down to it I can't decide which system to give up so I'm keeping them both. I've processed tens of thousands of Panasonic files this year and they've finally got the color really dialed in with the G9. It's the best color photography camera the company makes and part of the reason people prefer the Fuji is that the Panasonic is more (too) accurate. People like a richer, warmer and more flattering files and that's what the X-T3 delivers. I'll keep both systems. 

strange twist: I knew that cameras could be very lens dependent but the Olympus Pro line of lenses and some of the Panasonic/Leica lenses illustrate to me how much this aids or diminishes the look a camera system can deliver. I've always found the look of the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro to be special and highly detailed, in a very convincing way. Recently, I've been playing around with the same company's 45mm f1.2 Pro lens and find it spectacular. Funny that the right focal length and the right designs of a lens can make such a profound difference in whether one likes or dislikes an entire system. 

So far, I've only found a few lenses that deliver this for me in the Fuji line up and, interestingly, they are the three f2.0 primes I wrote about earlier today.

In my estimation the G9 stays as my all around system. The Fuji earns its place as my studio and environmental (fair weather) system. 

That's where I am on the two systems now that I have over 5,000+ examples from the Fuji to ponder and maybe 20,000 from the G9. Take it all with a grain of salt; I might warm up more to the Fuji after we get into five figures worth of experience. You never know. 

Added 12/30/2018: I found this video on YouTube which is also a comparison between the two cameras. His take is slightly different than mine but it's well done and I've enjoyed other reviews presented: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEAztipqsmE

33 comments:

  1. You keep writing Fuji 55/1.2, it's actually a 56/1.2

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  2. Naw, the one I tested was 54.6mm. But seriously, is it really 56? Why? Who thought that was a good number?

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    1. Probably to match the 85mm portrait lenses on FF. 56mm x 1.52 crop factor = 85mm.

      Do give the Fuji 60/2.4 a try. It is not too slow on new Fuji bodies. People rave about its bokeh. While not an exact match for Oly 40-150/2.8, the Fuji 55-200 f3.5-4.8 lens is lovely.

      Fuji is also coming out a 16-80/4 next year.

      Delete
  3. Kirk:

    Just curious. How do you find the G9 functions in terms of moire?

    It's my understanding it has no AA filter.

    Would you use it for a wedding?

    Dale

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    Replies
    1. Hi Dale, it's a trade off these days. No AA means sharper files and more detail but ocassional moire. There is a setting in the adjustment brush in ACR which lets you brush away moire with few, if any, side effects. I don't do weddings but occasionally an exec will wear a shirt that is made of some strange, artificial fabric which moires like crazy. The adjustment brush is my go to.

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  4. 56 x 1.6 = 89.6 mm. So I guess it's their 90 mm equivalent lens.

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    1. So, one commenter has the crop factor at 1.52, you've got it at 1.6, and Digital Camera Database has it at 1.53. I'm sure all of you know that lenses can vary in their actual focal lengths.... right? I'm using 1.5 as the multiplier because it's simplest. Who knows what the actual numbers are on any of this stuff?

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  5. Cos if it was 55 then the FF equivalent FL would have been 82.5
    Try the 60. It's 2.4 which is pretty close to 2. Yes the AF is hunty but if using it for studio portraits you may be able to get away with it

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    1. I don't want to "get away" with stuff. I want stuff that works well. I'm betting Fuji will replace the 60mm in the next year. I'll look at the new one.

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    2. A refresh of the 60mm is doubtful. The current lens maps shows the 33mm F1, 16mm F2.8, and the long awaited 16-80mm F4. I don't think Fuji has ever deviated from their published road map in the past.

      http://www.fujifilm.com/news/n180720_03.html

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  6. Funnily enough Kirk, I’ve just returned from a month visiting the USof A. (Didn’t get to Austin, unfortunately). Took both the G9 and Xpro2. Which camera was used the most? My iPhone 8, and by a considerable margin.
    Max from Down Under

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  7. Smiles. It’s fascinating that it keeps coming back to the lenses. When you hold it in your hand for long periods of time it is worth having one that feels just right. I get annoyed when one doesn’t work like the other one I love. I have been looking forward to this post. Congratulations on so many posts. Thank you.

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  8. There is also the new Sigma 56mm f1.4.

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    Replies
    1. Saw that. We'll see how much and when it get into stock.

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    2. I handled it here in Japan a few days ago. Already available in the stores. Same length as the 60mm f2.8. Weight close. Diameter a bit bigger, of course. Costs about $410 here.

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  9. "When the tools fit the job, your mind can focus on what matters most."
    From https://9to5mac.com/2018/11/29/ipad-pro-creative-workflows-tips-stories/

    Balanced, honest, with plenty of factual examples. Thank you.

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  10. Sigma make a 56/1.4 for APS-C format cameras, so it's not just Fuji.
    As far as I can see they're trying to make an 85mm equivalent protrait lens.

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  11. As a quick note, I have found the 20mp sensor in m43rds has better highlight recovery, but noisier shadows than Fuji... So I am not sure there is a DR advantage for the Fuji, just a different spread of the range.

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    1. I think some of the difference in the files comes from the fact that Fuji originates their raws at 14 bit while Panasonic's G9 is 12 bit.

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  12. I'm surprised you didn't mention and apparently don't already own the Fuji 56 1.2. Seems like the perfect lens for someone who does a lot of portraits.

    Also, you lament not having a 60-70mm lens which would be 90-105 in FF terms. To me one of the greatest advantages of having an APSC sensor vs m43 is the cropping ability. If you have an APSC sensor in your camera you also have a m43 sensor I there too. Take their 50 2, crop it to the size of a m43 sensor and you have a 100mm FOV. Or better yet get the 56 1.2 which to my way of thinking can do anything the m43 45 1.2 can do with more versatility.

    Fuji has often tempted me, but already having m43 and Canon gear I could never justify jettisoning everything to try it. I appreciate the comments on the G9 as it looks like a very capable imaging machine that I may add to my m43 gear.

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    1. Reading again it appears you own the 56 1.2. I was a bit confused whether what you wrote about it was first hand or not.

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    2. I don't own the 56mm f1.2 but borrowed and used one for a bit. It's nice but too big and expensive for a focal length that's kind of a wander in the wilderness for me. Cropping a frame because you can't buy the right lens is a less than perfect solution; especially when you have a high throughput of images on a tight schedule. That's almost like telling me to get a wide angle lens, put it on a 100MP Phase One and then just crop as needed all the way out to telephoto. One lens and one camera for everything. Except people's brains don't work that way when they actually shoot. They tend to want to have a frame to fill and boundaries to ground their vision. Let's just continue to ask Fuji for a 70mm f2.0 lens for around $500... That would work better for me.

      Delete
    3. In the early days, I acquired the 3 original Pentax DA limited primes. The lovely and compact 70mm 2.4 cemented my preference for ~105mm equiv FOV for portraits.

      Now I split the difference on m4/3 with an m.Zuiko 45mm 1.8 and an adapted Super-Takumar 55mm 1.8.

      I'd be curious to learn more regarding your experience with the 45mm 1.2 Pro.

      Delete
  13. Perhaps you are thinking 55mm because the "rule" for portraits is to have an odd number ?

    Rick

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    1. Or maybe because I've owned a couple of Nikon 55mms and the number just gets lodged in some part of my brain...

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  14. Kirk
    Great post. As is often the case, I learned so much from your real world experience. I find that I enjoy switching from system to system, it just makes photography new and fun. I feel while you seem to feel the two system are all you need currently. What event by either Nikon, Canon, or Panasonic would likely change your mind and look at another system.





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  15. Kirk...may be a silly question but would an Oly OMD-1mkII be better for portraits than the G9 or jpegs if you want the warmer color?

    I know you made comments about the menus before...but was curious...because then you could keep all the good m4/3 glass.

    Just curious.

    Great article. Cheers

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  16. Just out of curiosity, how would you compare the Panasonic's 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 zoom to the Fujinon 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0? They have an identical aperture range and similar range of effective focal lengths. Do they produce similar results on their respective bodies, or do you prefer one over the other?

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  17. In another life I might have chosen Fuji - indeed if the X-Pro 1 had appeared just a year or so earlier I might well have done - but I transitioned from FT to mFT, and I don’t make any money from photography, so I stick with what I’ve got. One day I hope to reach 50% of the potential for still photography with my favourite E-M5ii. Then maybe I’ll look at this new-fangled video stuff, although I think that’s maybe best left to Hollywood. But... I’m more and more intrigued by this G9 as a stills camera. I’m just wondering how much I’d be compromising with my almost all Olympus lenses. The dual IS of the E-M5ii and 12-100 is strong argument against the G9, but I am beginning to think that Panasonic have got their act far more together than Olympus these days....

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  18. Have you tried the 90 f/2? A bit longer than you seem to want, but according to the blogosphere, it's the "best" Fuji portrait lens.

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  19. [I Lost the first attempt to comment.]

    Thanks (I think) for your take on good and less than good aspects of each of the two cameras. Thanks also for the link to yet another review of the two.

    I've come close to checking out the G9, but keep resisting for the sole reason of the smaller sensor, which I know is not valid. I also think that having IBIS would be a great advantage to me, but I need to prove that to myself, too.

    Regarding lenses, the Oly/Panny choices make me dizzy. Fuji, on the other hand, lately seems to bent on making high-end high-cost choices for high-end users, which I ain't. I'm also not a user of prime lenses, of which Fuji has a plethora.

    Again, thanks for the even-handed review, that while skewed (as it should be) toward your particular uses and experiences, I found very informative and useful.

    Cheers

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  20. To further confuse the issue, Kirk could use his 42.5 f1.7, crop in camera on the g9, and get a viewing angle of about 17.5 degrees. Which is between 115mme and 120mme. For that matter, he could use the gh5s and get really great jpegs according to a couple of reviewers.

    Jay

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  21. I wonder if you could explain a little further your comment that for the G9, you've ..... 'got the color really dialed in". Does that mean that you know what the typical Ps or Lr adjustments are to the G9's RAW images that yield the white balance you want? Or something further than that?

    ReplyDelete

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