A compact system camera is a mirrorless camera with creative controls and interchangeable lenses. And, as the name suggests, it’s compact in size. Well, that’s most of the time anyway. Because Panasonic’s latest GX8 belongs to a small number of high-end CSCs that take on a larger build for a more luxurious feel. It’s styled around the film cameras of yesteryear, but don’t be fooled by its retro looks, as the GX8 is packed to the battery door with state-of-the-art technology. Building on the features of the two-year-old GX7, the GX8 boasts a larger articulating electronic viewfinder (EVF), a brand new high-resolution sensor, faster focusing and 4K video recording. But at £1699 with a 12-35mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S lens you really pay a premium for it. To find out if the GX8 is worth its serious asking price, we got our hands on one.
Features & Build
There’s no better place to start than the GX8’s chunky physique. Measuring 133.2x77.9x63.1mm the weather-sealed, magnesium alloy body is comparable in size to a Leica T or Sony A7R II camera. Even Canon’s 100D DSLR feels similar in size.
The GX8’s 20.3Mp resolution may sound rather pedestrian when you consider DSLRs have been exceeding this for years. Yet it boasts the highest resolution of any Micro Four Thirds camera to date, outputting JPEGs and RAWs at a maximum of 5184x3888px.
Dual Image Stabilisation (I.S) is also another first for Panasonic. The already-stabilised sensor can be used with stabilised Panasonic lenses to further counter camera-shake.
The top looks remarkably similar to its predecessor with an articulating 2360k-dot OLED Live View Finder on the left and a hotshoe alongside. The pop-up flash found on the GX7 has been replaced altogether by a Mode dial with MASP modes and an Exposure Compensation dial underneath it. There are also two sizeable command dials, and a video record button to start/stop the recording of 4K movies.
Much of the space on the back is taken up by the large 3in 1040k-dot OLED screen. The screen can be flipped out to help compose shots in awkward positions, and its touchscreen interface means you can flick through images or tap it to set the AF area. Above the screen you’ll find the AF mode selector switch which can be set to AF-S/AF-F, AF-C or Manual Focus modes.
Panasonic’s latest Venus Engine processor handles the huge data requirements of 4K video and delivers a top stills burst rate of 8fps. There’s a shutter range of 60secs-1/8000sec, which is expandable to 1/16,000sec using the electronic shutter. There’s also a Bulb mode for longer exposures. The ISO range of 200 to 25,600 can be expanded to a setting of 100. Wi-Fi and NFC are also on-board allowing pictures to be shot remotely when paired with a smartphone or tablet.
At 487g the GX8’s body is similar in weight to an entry-level DSLR, and feels slightly back-heavy with the lightweight 12-35mm f/2.8 lens attached. The 12-35mm lens sports large, grippy zoom and focus rings as well as a switch to activate the O.I.S. We’d have liked an AF/MF switch on the lens too, as the AF selector switch on the camera’s back often required taking your eye from the viewfinder to change it.
The GX8 uses contrast detection to track down its subjects. You can set the AF area anywhere on the screen just by tapping it with your finger. You can also pinch or pull the active AF area via the touchscreen to resize it – a feature we found very useful. Depth From Defocus (DFD) technology and Light Speed AF are new features and the latter lives up to its name, locking on to subjects swiftly.
The GX8’s 1040k-dot screen may have an identical resolution to the GX7 but it boasts new OLED technology. This requires less power to run and makes motion much smoother – particularly useful when recording movies. The touchscreen is responsive and the interface is very user friendly – rarely were we left scratching our heads to find particular settings.
The EVF has a resolution 15% lower than the previous model, though the OLED technology is featured here too, making it one of the smoothest and most realistic ‘finders we’ve used to date. A motion sensor activates the EVF when brought up to the eye. There’s a small amount of lag for the EVF to burst into life but it’s still very usable. The main screen blacks out when using the EVF but can still be tapped to set the AF – you just have to take care not to brush it with your nose!
Write times were impressive with 0.7sec single JPEG and 1.4secs to clear a single RAW. The buffer never filled when shooting continuous JPEGs, and a RAW burst slowed after 32 shots, taking 21.5secs to write to card.
Value for money
The GX8 has an body only RRP of £999 – £180 higher than the GX7 at launch. With £1000 to spend on a CSC it’s worth considering Sony’s year-old A7 which has a huge full-frame sensor and retails for £819. There’s also Fujifilm’s retro-styled X-T1 which has an APS-C sensor, priced at £849.
Similarly priced DSLRs include Nikon’s D7200 (£849), but none of these offer the 4K capabilities offered by the GX8.
With so many upgrades built into the GX8, it was hard to mark it down for features and build. The 20.3Mp sensor is groundbreaking, the weather-sealed body is sturdy and the 4K video and image stabiliser is the icing on the cake.
The GX8 delivered a strong performance – the screen and EVF are up there with the best on the market and write times were admirable too. Its fast Contrast AF and silent shooting make it a real contender so it’s five stars here too.
The GX8 delivers great images on sunny days, but it’s as refined for shooting in low light conditions. Its value is hampered too, as there are CSCs on the market that give better image quality at a lower price point. Overall, the GX8 is a well-built camera that’s packed with great features but at the moment it’s on the pricey side.
- Price: £599 body only (As of June 2016)
- Resolution: 20.3Mp (5184x3888px)
- Format: RAW & JPEG
- Sensor: Micro Four Thirds
- ISO: 200-25,600 (100 expanded)
- Shutter: 60-1/8000sec & Bulb mode
- AF system: Contrast detection
- Focusing modes: Manual, Single AF, Flexible AF & Continuous AF
- Metering: Multiple, Centre Weighted & Spot
- Burst rate: 8fps
- Monitor: 3in, 1040k dot rotatable touch OLED screen
- Viewfinder: 2360k-dot OLED Live View Finder
- Pop-up flash: No Hotshoe: Yes
- Video: 4K 3840x2160 @ 24/25p
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi and NFC
- Write speeds: 1.4secs RAW, 0.7sec Fine JPEG
- Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Weight: 487g (body only)
- Dimensions: (WxHxD) 133.2x77.9x63.1mm
- Visit: www.panasonic.com/uk
This review was first published in the November 2015 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.