5.30.2020

Another mini-review of a now "ancient" digital camera: the Panasonic GX8.

A liberal's BBQ placemat. 

The GX8 almost fell through the cracks. I bought it just after I started my process of really coming to grips with the Sigma fp camera and that seemed to overshadow any immediate interest I might had in the used and inexpensive Panasonic. But more and more lately, even after the recent re-purchase of a better spec'd G9, I reach for the GX8 when I'm heading out the door without a specific photographic intention. I wondered why that was.

If you want to know more about the nuts and bolts and specifications of the GX8 just head over to Digital Photography Review and read their review from three years ago. They liked it except for some stuff that's more or less been fixed in firmware. One big issue was what is called "shutter shock" in which vibrations from the mechanical shutter in this camera caused a degraded sharpness in files shot at certain (much used) shutter speeds. Panasonic incorporated an electronic shutter setting which eliminates the issue and also a EFC (electronic first curtain) shutter that also seems to deal with the problem.

What you are getting in the GX8 is a m4:3 camera with a good, 20 megapixel sensor, a rangefinder body design - with the evf over to the left side as you use the camera, and a big enough camera to hold onto without having to do some wacky compromise handhold. Add to that the fact that the finder can be rotated up by 90 degrees and you basically have a good idea of the whole package.

When it was introduced the whole delusional mania of the moment was that this particular model was too big. That, of course, was nonsense for normal, rational people. In fact, the camera is well proportioned and perfectly sized for people who actually go out and use cameras. It's much smaller and lighter than the G9, or the GH series cameras, and positively tiny and weightless when compared to the full frame, Panasonic S1 series cameras.

The camera features dual I.S. which uses the body I.S. and the lens I.S. together to leverage better stabilization performance than either could provide separately. It's not in the same league as the G9 with a dual I.S. enabled lens but it's very usable and, along with the electronic shutter setting it's quite enough for most applications.

I bought this camera, used, in 2020 but it was first released in 2015. It's currently holding its value well on the used markets. A cursory check today shows that it still commands a price of about $500 to $600 used and in excellent condition. About half its new price which is actually quite good for any digital product.

I bring this camera along with me when I'm not on some self-styled mission to get a particular kind of photograph because in a addition to being small and light it also has good high ISO performance, uses the same battery as my Sigma fp, and it very unobtrusive.

There are a few downsides that weren't deal killers in 2015 but might give one pause in 2020 if this is intended to be your sole camera and if you are ready to do some work in video. There is no built in flash, the buffer clearing can be a bit slow, and the camera has a single card slot (which is adjacent to the battery at the bottom of the camera body). In video there is no mechanical I.S. in 4K capture, there are no high data rate settings in 1080p and, for some insane reason, the microphone jack is an odd 2.5mm size which will require an adapter in order to use it with any consumer microphone or audio interface. There is also no headphone jack. I'm not interested in using the GX8 for video but I can see pressing it into use in a pinch because of the rotating rear screen (V-logger friendly) and the very decent 4K output. But I have cameras that are much, much better equipped and optimized for high quality video capture.

But I would say that this camera was clearly intended to be a pleasant and competent photography camera and that video was a familial afterthought on the part of Panasonic.

Since the camera uses Panasonic's previous (to the G9 and S1 series) Jpeg motor those files from the camera aren't quite as good as Jpegs from more recent Panasonic cameras. The G9 is generates some of the nicest files I've worked with of all the cameras I routinely shoot with. But! If you shoot raw so much of the heavy lifting (in terms of color science and file glorification) are done in post so if you are using the latest version of the Adobe products or even Luminar 4.1+ you'll get a lot of control with color and tonality from the GX8 files. It's a classic case of improvements in raw processors lifting all boats. Even those launched five years ago.

My take on the GX8? I was able to purchase my very clean model for around $350 a month or so ago and I keep my eyes on the market to see if I can acquire one more in the same price range. They are well made, weatherproof, fun to use and even more fun to carry around. All the dials and buttons seem to be perfectly placed and the menus are easy to learn. If I was shooting with these as my primary cameras I'd be reticent to upgrade. Seems like color performance (Jpeg) in newer cameras gets tweaked but not much has really advanced, sensor-wise, and some of the models following the GX8 have compromises (lesser EVFs, smaller, fiddly-er interfaces) that don't really make them "better" for my kinds of shooting.

And now, a quick and odd assessment of an overlooked lens: I've shot all of the attached photographs with one lens. It's a tiny, collapsible 12-32mm f3.5 to f5.6. I thought of it as a throw-away toy when I got it last year, bundled with a GX85 kit. On a lark, last week I put it on the GX8 and started shooting. I liked the focal length range and it gave me a finder image that was sharp and snappy. I saved judgement until I could view the results in PhotoShop on a 27 inch, 5K screen. While the lens has some obvious barrel distortion when used around 12mms I don't really find it objectionable, and with a little elbow grease in my Adobe products I can correct it, for the most part.

So, the lens is sharp, contrasty, yields detailed files and also provides the second dose of image stabilization when used in conjunction with the body stabilization. Counterintuitively I am really enjoying using this lens on the GX8 as my take anywhere lens. I also have the 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 Leica lens but I haven't felt compelled to put it on the GX8. Maybe that's because the little 12/32 is doing such a sweet job and it so small and light...

The rest of the review is totally visual. It's in all the images included with this post. Just scroll through, pop open in a bigger window. Click to enlarge and have a good look. I can't tell (except for the geometric distortion) that they weren't done with an expensive lens but maybe you have more refined visual perception than me. As essentially a free addition to a kit I'm certain the lens is a valuable keeper.

In conjunction with the GX8? A winning, relatively modern point-and-shoot configuration with all the needed bells and whistles for a street shooter or avid artist. Maybe not a sports camera... Most of these images were done in Program mode using Auto ISO. I tweaked where I felt necessary with the fabulous compensation dial that is concentric with the GX8's mode dial. Easy and fun.

In Texas, it isn't BBQ without some white bread to go with it. 
From the Salt Lick BBQ.

Wine for BBQ.


My chef/friend Emmett Fox. Curator of the BBQ dinner last Saturday.


Emmett at home in Dripping Springs, Texas.

The country roads around Dripping Springs are perfect for those
Socially Distanced walks. The GX8 and 12/32 are perfect for same.


Surprised by just how good the files shot at 1250 and 1600 ISO look. 









One message one week, an opposite message on another week...





Concave exhibitionist mirror.



This image really shows of the lens distortion.
I think it looks sweet.












8 comments:

Yoram Nevo said...

The BW photos are especially good !

JC said...

I just got finished writing a comment about favorite m4/3 lenses for Mike Johnston's TOP blog, in which I mention that I enjoy making portraits with my manually focused, f0.95, 42.5mm Voightlander m4/3 lens...with my GX8s. (I have two of them.) As I was writing that, it occurred to me that while I do enjoy the Voightlander, I'm not really that good at portraits. They too often come out looking like snapshots, and an interesting lens isn't enough to save me. I need technique. I also need gear, and if you have time, sometime, I'd really love to see a column on exactly what an interested amateur might buy for a minimal one-man art-portrait setup. I guess I'd be talking mostly about light modifiers. Or would "Minimalist Lighting" do it? Or "LED Lighting?" It looks like they're both still available on Amazon.

Raining like crazy here in the high desert.

Anonymous said...

The barbecue and bread look absolutely great.

I also like the smiling portrait. (so many portraits end up looking gloomy).

Are you HDRing some of the city photos? They're looking weirdly Sci fi, but maybe that's just to my cloud adjusted Wales based eyes... Although we've just come through the sunniest spring on record... And it's glorious outside again today.

Time to spend some time in the garden.

Mark

CWM said...

I have mostly moved to a full frame Sony A7R4, but I still shoot Micro 4/3 because of one lens ...the Panasonic 45-175. A true sleeper. Nobody seems to know about this lens. It is amazingly sharp and very compact. Truly the reason I still use Micro 4/3 bodies. Anyway, the GX-8 is a great camera. I never NEVER had an issue with the shutter. I bought the camera when if was released and immediately went on a trip to Portland with it. Never experienced the issues that the internet suggested. Just lucky, I guess. Anyway, what a great camera. I also have a G9 ...don't like the viewfinder because it stretches and contorts and is not at all like a parallel viewfinder. I want the perfect rectangle or square when I look thru the viewfinder.
Love the GX8!

Gato said...

Still loving my GX8 -- have thought of buying a second one, and would if I saw one at the right price. I like the form factor, partly because it keeps my nose off the touch screen, partly just because it does not look like all the other cameras out there.

For walkin' around I often pair it with the 20mm 1.7. Have grown to really like that focal length. My GX8 is silver and I found a vented lens hood on ebay that looks a lot like the old Leica jobs to complete a retro look.

For "serious" photography I use the Olympus 12-100 -- definitely the finest zoom I have owned in 50 years of photography.

I've never had a problem with shutter shock, but I wish they would do an upgrade with a smoother sounding shutter, and maybe update the video (and a standard mic jack).

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Mark. No HDR just a bunch of cityscapes while the weather was on the edge of making up its mind about rain. Early evening.

Peter E. said...

I’ve lost track of the many cameras I’ve owned but the GX8 is a favorite. With a walking disability,I can’t lug full frame cameras any more so the GX8 is perfect for me.

Jason Hindle said...

Nice set of photos. I have the strange, in between, GX9. So, latest sensor and JPEG processing in a GX85 body. I like it. I love the JPEGs, though they (seem to) give less control over shadows and mid tones than my Olympus bodies with the same 20MP sensor. Oh, and I’m the contrarian one who thinks the EVF in the GX85 and GX9 is the best thing ever - works great with my underused sun-specs.