Hands on: Panasonic Lumix G9 review

Meet the photographer-focused Lumix GH5

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Our Early Verdict

In the Lumix G9, existing users of the Lumix system now have a very tempting, feature-packed high-end model to aim for, without necessarily feeling they're paying for a load of advanced video tech they may not need.

For

  • 6.5-stop image stabilization
  • 20fps burst shooting
  • Large viewfinder
  • Dual UHS-II card slots

Against

  • ISO range could be broader
  • Reduced screen size compared to GH5

The new Lumix G9 is Panasonic's new flagship mirrorless camera, sitting alongside the Lumix GH5 in the range. 

Despite the GH5 being the company's most stills-orientated flagship camera, it's still seen by many as primarily a videographers tool that also just happens to have a wealth of photography features.  

The arrival of the Lumix G9, then, is designed to rectify this situation. While it has many of the same specs as the GH5 it offers more features designed to appeal to the stills photographer, while sacrificing some of the advanced video features that many users aren't likely to need. 

With Panasonic marking 10 years since it launched the world's first-ever mirrorless camera next year, could the Lumix G9 be the perfect way to celebrate?

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Features

  • Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor, 20.3MP
  • 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
  • 6.5-stop built-in image stabilization system

The Lumix G9 gets the same 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor as the Lumix GH5, which means that, as on the GH5, there's no low-pass filter. If 20.3MP isn't quite enough resolution for you the Lumix G9 also features a new High Resolution mode, which outputs files with an equivalent 80MP resolution. This works by combining eight images that have been taken in rapid succession, with small sensor shifts between each one, which means that, unlike with some rival systems, a tripod is a must when using this mode.

The sensitivity range remains the same as in the GH5, running from ISO100 to 25,600; this is a spec we'd have liked to have seen improved, as it lags a little behind rivals like the Fujifilm X-T2 and Nikon D500, but Panasonic believes image quality has been refined over the GH5 thanks to the inclusion of its latest Venus processing engine. 

The 5-stop in-body image stabilization (IS) system in the GH5 impressed, and the Lumix G9 takes things a step further with a class-leading 6.5-stop IS system. Panasonic has achieved this by using – wait for it – angular velocity and motion vector information from not only the gyro-sensor, but from the accelerometer and image sensor as well.

The Lumix G9 takes things a step further with a class-leading 6.5-stop IS system

The Lumix G9 features a large and bright electronic viewfinder with an impressive 3,680,000-dot resolution. While that number is the same as on the GH5, the magnification has been bumped up from 0.76x to 0.83x (35mm equivalent), while the display runs at a smooth 120fps. For action shooters, the feed is blackout-free when using the camera's burst shooting mode, while there’s also a night mode, plus an AF Point Scope integrated into the viewfinder design.

On the rear of the Lumix G9 is a vari-angle, 3-inch touchscreen display with a 1,040k-dot resolution – it's a bit smaller than the 3.2-inch touchscreen on the GH5, but it does feature a night mode for low-light shooting.

As you'd expect for a camera that's designed to appeal to a slightly different market to the GH5, the G9 doesn't have quite the same video capture credentials. That said, you can still shoot 4K video at up to 60fps – and that's Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160) too. 

The Lumix G9 includes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity, with the latter enabling a constant connection with your smartphone with minimum power consumption.

The G9 gets dual SD card slots, both of which support the UHS-II format for fast transfer speeds (as long as you've got a compatible card). 

Build and handling

  • Magnesium alloy body
  • Status LCD display
  • Splash and dust-proof

The design of the Panasonic Lumix G9 sees a slight change in direction from the GH5. It looks a bit more hunched-over in its proportions, which is likely due to the raised shutter button and grip, while the sharp-edged pentaprism sits a bit lower.

The most obvious change to the design, though, is the arrival of a top-plate status LCD – this feature is common on high-end DSLRs, but the pricey Leica SL is the only other current mirrorless camera to sport one. While mirrorless designs have largely shunned the top-plate LCD it's nice to see one on the Lumix G9, providing a spot where you can have a quick glance at all the key shooting settings.

The arrival of this LCD display means the mode dial has shifted over to the left-hand side of the viewfinder, with the drive modes now selected via a switch at the base of the mode dial.

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The rear of the Lumix G9 follows a similar control layout to the GH5; there have been some minor tweaks in terms of which button does what, but you're still furnished with a decent amount of programmable function buttons. There's also a useful mini-joystick for quick AF area selection. 

The Lumix G9 features a decent-sized handgrip, while the rear thumb rest is a bit more pronounced compared to the GH5, enabling you to get a comfy grip on the camera. The G9 also feels nice and solid thanks to the magnesium alloy front and rear frames, while it's also been sealed to make it splash-, dust- and freeze-proof. 

Autofocus

  • 225-area AF system
  • Customizable AF settings
  • 0.04 sec AF speed

The Lumix G9 gets the same 225-area AF coverage as the GH5, which covers the majority of the frame. Focusing is sensitive down to light levels as dark as -4EV, while the G9 also uses Panasonic's DFD (Depth from Defocus) autofocus technology. This tech has been improved over the system used in the GH5, increasing acquisition speed from an already speedy 0.05 sec to 0.04 sec, which should improve tracking performance. We didn't really get a chance to experiment with this in our brief time with the camera, but we'll be putting it through its paces when we get our hands on a final production sample.

There are plenty of focusing modes to choose from as well. Multi AF is fine for general shooting, but there's also a Custom Multi mode that enables you to freely select the AF-area group, and Zone AF, where the focus area group size and position can be customized.

As we've seen with the Lumix GH5, users can also set up four different profiles with adjustable sensitivity, AF area switching sensitivity and moving object prediction, depending on the type of subject they're shooting.

Performance

  • 20fps burst shooting with full AF
  • 4K and 6K Photo modes
  • Shutter release lag of 0.04 sec

The Lumix G9 is capable of shooting at a blisteringly quick 20fps with full continuous AF, while this can be stretched a staggering 60fps if you don't need to track your subject. That's quite a jump from the GH5's 12fps (9fps with AF-C), while it's also possible to use the 4K and 6K Photo modes to extract still images. These modes might have less appeal with the Lumix G9 capable of shooting at such fast speeds, but it's possible to extract single 8MP and 18MP images from 4K 60fps and 6K 30fps footage respectively.

Early verdict

At £1,499/$1,699/AU$2,499 body-only the Lumix G9 is competitively priced, and costs less than the GH5. 

Panasonic has made a sensible move with the Lumix G9. The GH5, for all its qualities, is still perceived, rightly or wrongly, as very much a videographer's camera, and in the G9, existing users of the Lumix system (and for that matter, Olympus users as well), now have the option of purchasing a feature-packed high-end model without necessarily feeling that they're paying for a load of advanced video tech they may not need.

We're looking forward to shooting with the Lumix G9 in the coming weeks, when we'll really be able to put it through its paces.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.