It’s been a couple of month’s since I’ve picked up the Panasonic LUMIX GX85 and in that time I’ve put some miles on the camera shooting a couple of church events, my typical street photography, portraits, and tried some product photography to boot. In the GX85, Panasonic has created an ultra-compact, 16-megapixel, micro four-thirds camera that can not only handle 4K video but also has a no-compromises 5-axis stabilization system – something that puts its spec sheet in the class of cameras like the slightly larger (definitely more expensive) Panasonic GX8 and Olympus PEN-F. After getting acquainted, here’s what I’ve found.
The first thing that stands out about using the Panasonic GX85 is just how small it actually is. I don’t have extra large hands but it initially took some time to get readjusted to the smaller camera body (if you’ve been keeping up, I’ve been shooting with the Samsung NX1 and NX500 up to this point) and found myself searching for the rear command dial as my thumb was resting too far to the left. After a few shots things became a lot more familiar.
I can’t stress enough the compact size of the GX85; its small size definitely may be of concern to people with larger hands as things can get cramped but I’m genuinely impressed the shear number of Function buttons that are available to you. Going back to my days shooting with the NX500, I did miss the availablilty of physical buttons for certain actions over soft buttons (software buttons) found in the camera’s menu system. Best of all each of the 5 physical function buttons on the GX85 are customizable to provide you with shortcuts that better fit your workflow. At the time of this review I had changed the third function button to trigger WiFi sharing instead of the default Trash/Delete function – definitely would’ve preferred that WiFi had its own button by default.
Despite its deminutive size, the GX85 has a very comfortable faux leatherette finish that’s grippy without feeling like cheap plastic. It’s a design cue we’re seeing more and more in mid-range price point as it alludes to better materials and differentiates from more budget options. It’s worth mentioning that the leatherette finish has been a hit-or-miss touch depending on who you ask, personally, I’m a fan of it especially when it’s subtly used and enhances the overall look of the camera.
One of the most basic, bread-and-butter jobs most photographers find themselves on is a portrait shoot. If you’ve got a willing subject, decent lighting, and a big fancy camera – you’ve got a shoot! Well you can nix that last one, the LUMIX GX85 looks like an advanced compact camera like a Sony RX100 from afar but thanks to it’s larger micro four-thirds sensor and lens availability you have everything you need for a quick portrait session like this recent one with DJ Benhameen from the FanBros Show podcast.
We shot in the Ft. Green section of Brooklyn on a relatively bright and hazy day. Ducking into the shade provided by a tree-lined park, we got to work putting the GX85 through its paces. Even with its kit lens, a LUMIX G VARIO 12-32mm we were getting consistently sharp images across the focal length range with little focus hunting. In other words, although the LUMIX GX85 may not have been intended to be marketed or used as professional kit, thanks to its fast AF responsiveness, ability to produce good dynamic range – especially working with RAW files, and a strong lens selection thanks to its Micro Four-Thirds mount you may just find yourself carrying one around as a B camera.
Taking to the Streets
What I love doing the most is shooting life in New York City; I’m a bit biased but there’s no better place if you’re a street photographer and I love capturing the small moments of a large city. My personal style of shooting leans towards candid shots of daily life so you’ll probably never see me walking around with a Canon 1DX and 85mm lens (though they have their place); I prefer keeping my gear bag light opting for a small body with one lens. The GX85 gives me the chance to keep things light and minimal without having to sacrifice image quality or being constricted to one focal length like with many advanced point-and-shoot cameras.
These days a lot of my street shooting is done with the GX85 and Olympus 25mm f/1.4 giving me a 50mm full-frame equivalent focal length and what many consider the human eye’s natural field of view. There’s a reason this combination is consider an all-around allowing me to get up close or disappear into the scene as needed. Anecdotally, New Yorkers don’t mind seeing photographers all around them but no one likes the barrel of lens in their face; going smaller has allowed me to keep a very chill appearance and in return my subjects have been a little more at ease around me and the camera. Again, for my slice of life style of shooting street images, the GX85 fits neatly into my every day commuter bag, adds no bulk or much additional weight – put simply it’s a pleasure walking around with it.
WiFi Transfer and Remote Control (and other features)
As any modern enthusiast level camera should, the Panasonic LUMIX GX85 has the ability to transfer images (JPEG only) and the ability to be used remotely via an ad-hoc WiFi connection and the Pansonic Image App (iOS and Android). These days I consider this less of a feature and more of a standard item – we’re not printing photos as often these days (we should though) and sharing a whole lot more. The camera allows you either transfer to your phone or if connected to a WiFi hotspot, directly share using Panasonic’s software.
On the video side, the GX85 allows you to capture 4K Ultra-HD footage in standard MP4 files. Granted you’ll definitely want to get a large capacity Class 10 SD card and you will be longing for a dedicated 3.5mm mic jack, but for the intended user the GX85 offers the Ultra-HD standard at a camera priced well below $1k USD. Easily one of my favorite features is the ability to shoot 4K photos – a 24 frame-per-second video clip that allows you to select the best image from the 24 frame burst. If you’re looking to capture a candid moment or ensure you nail the focus on some quick action, the 24 8-megapixel JPEGs offer you the ability to ensure you get your once-in-a-lifetime shot.
The Panasonic LUMIX GX85 was my return to the Micro Four-Thirds format system, one who’s primary appeal is the lightweight and small footprint of the cameras and lenses while still being able to deliver great results. In picking the LUMIX GX85 I was mostly looking for a blogging camera that can go to press events and record some high quality video. I mostly got what I was looking for but the truth is if you’re looking for something that can handle video primarily, you’re better off spending a little more cash for the GH4 or similar as they include a dedicated mic jack That said the GX85 performs fantastically as a stills camera and is ready for wherever your travels may take. If travel or personal photography is what you’re into, the GX85 will tick off many of the same boxes that the Olympus PEN-F does without having to spend over $1,000 USD.
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