Panasonic GX80/GX85 review

Panasonic's latest gives you an electronic viewfinder and lots more, in a compact rangefinder-style body

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The Panasonic GX80 is a fairly compact 122 x 70.6 x 43.9mm (4.80 x 2.79 x 1.73 inches). It feels surprisingly solid and substantial in the hand, although it only weighs 426g (0.94lbs) with battery and SD card. Add the small and light 12-32mm kit lens and the weight is still a very reasonable 493g (1.09lbs).

To me it feels noticeably more substantial than, say, the Fuji X-T10, even though the respective weights and measurements tell you the difference isn't that great.

Overall it feels well made and, although obviously plastic, it doesn't seem in the least bit fragile and has a smart leather-effect finish. I did, however, find myself wishing this finish was a little more textured, or at least the grip a little more pronounced.This isn't so much of an issue with smaller lenses, but when using larger lenses, I found my grip was not as firm as I would like, with the camera slipping down to the left rather. And the lens mount is placed quite far to the side of the camera, which exacerbates the issue.

Panasonic GX80 review

The shutter button is well positioned and has just the right amount of resistance. The electronic shutter makes a particularly pleasing and gentle noise, with the option for a silent mode, and the new electromagnetic shutter drive, although a little less quiet, certainly seems smooth and vibration-free.

A front dial surrounds the shutter button, and enables you to change the aperture, shutter speed and menu items, according to your preferred setup. At first this dial feels a little on the loose side, but you get used to it after a while.

In contrast, the mode dial to the right of the shutter button is very stiff to operate; while it's good to know that you're not likely to change modes accidentally, it feels a little too resistant. The on/off switch is to the rear of the mode dial; again this is perhaps a little on the stiff side but, once switched on, the GX80 starts up instantaneously.

It's worth noting that if you're using the optional 12-32mm kit lens, you also need rotate its zoom ring to extend the lens and start shooting.

Panasonic GX80 review

I noticed a very gentle whirring noise inside the camera after turning it on, presumably something to do with the image stabilisation. With the camera off, you can hear something moving inside if you give the camera a little shake.

A small, recessed video button is also found on the top of the GX80. This is easy to access and is well designed and positioned, with no likelihood of you pressing it accidentally. A hot shoe and tiny but reassuringly solid pop-up flash complete the top panel of the camera.

The tripod socket is positioned directly underneath the lens mount, and enables you to attach a quick-release plate without interfering with the battery/SD card compartment. The HDMI and charging sockets are on the side of the camera, protected by a hinged door that's somewhat hard to open.

A further control dial is found on the rear of the camera at the top-right, which, like the front dial, feels a little loose in operation. I also found its position to the extreme right a little bit awkward, with my index finger naturally sitting right up against the dial. I did, however, appreciate the facility to use this dial as a button to access exposure and flash compensation, as well as bracketing; it's worth noting that you can also program either the front or rear dial to operate exposure compensation.

Panasonic GX80 review

The 3-inch touch-sensitive, 1,040,000-dot tilt screen is a joy to use, and feels very solidly built. It's detailed and clear to view, responsive to touch and, even in bright sunlight, easy to view if you apply a little tilt.

My preferred option when shooting into the light, though, was to use the excellent EVF. The 2,764,000-dot resolution really does pay off; the detail is superb and it copes well in changing light. Being able to change the focus point via the screen, while looking through the viewfinder, is also a really great feature; it's quick and easy, even without the screen being fully articulated.

As a glasses wearer, I found that I needed to shield the top of the camera with my other hand while shooting into the sun, to stop any stray light coming in, although given the small size of the viewfinder this is inevitable.

My one, very minor complaint, would be that the same scene appears slightly more saturated when looking through the EVF than it does on the rear LCD, but this isn't really an issue in real-world use – just be aware that the resulting image will resemble the colours of the rear screen rather than those of the EVF.

Panasonic GX80 review

An eye sensor is situated to the right of the EVF, and facilitates automatic switching between viewfinder and rear screen. At times, when operating the touchscreen I found the movement of my fingers inadvertently switching the GX80 to EVF view but, again, I'm sure this is something you get used to.

The rest of the rear of the camera is taken up by a four-way navigation pad, AF/AE lock button, flash, display and playback buttons and four customisable function buttons, and these are all well positioned and easy to operate. Crucially, I never found myself accidentally pushing the buttons with the base of my hand, something that can be an issue with smaller cameras. The AF/AE lock button is well positioned and can be programmed to suit, including for those who prefer to use back-button focusing.

I don't find the Panasonic menu system to be the most intuitive, even if the excellent touchscreen technology does enable you to access many of the key functions quickly, and to scroll through each menu section page by page. It can take quite a while to find some items, although with careful programming you should be able to set up the camera to suit your shooting style and not need to delve too far into the main menus. Helpfully, the Quick menu is also customisable, although the steps required to do this are overly complex.

Panasonic GX80 review

Wi-Fi functionality is included, and Android users also benefit from NFC technology, enabling quick connection via the push of a button. For iPhone users the process is rather more complex, particularly as you have a different connection option for remote shooting/viewing and transferring images. It's frustrating that if you connect through the option to transfer images to your phone, you can't then automatically switch to remote shooting. However, once you do connect, the Panasonic image app works well, and is fun to use.

As with any purchase it's a good idea to try handling a camera before making a decision as to what suits your needs best. Competitors such as the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mk II may appeal to the more style-conscious, and its better ergonomics may also tip the balance. Buyers might also consider the Fuji X-T10, which is that little bit smaller and lighter, and a little simpler to use, though less feature-packed.