Review: Panasonic G9 II
The latest release from Panasonic’s Lumix camera division is its new flagship Micro Four Thirds (M43) mirrorless camera, the Lumix G9 Mark II.
Remarkably, it has been six years since the original G9 was released, and it’s exciting to see just how many technical advancements have taken place in that time. Today, our expectations for our cameras have never been higher.
I was an early adopter of the G9, and as much as I loved it, it had begun to feel like a bit of a dinosaur when compared to other cameras on the market, especially so with the release of OM System’s flagship OM-1, which really pushed the M43 format forward.
So with a new body design, a new autofocus system, and a new sensor, on paper at least, the updated G9 II ticks a lot of boxes on my wishlist for a M43 camera.
I've already written a first look on the G9 II here if you want some background, but otherwise, let’s look at what sets the G9 II apart.
The changes with the G9 II start with the body, which is marginally narrower but slightly taller than the original G9 (134 x 102 x 90mm vs. 137 x 97 x 92 mm). Visually, it’s very similar to the S5 II, although there are some differences – the G9 II doesn’t have a cooling fan in its viewfinder housing, so is a little lighter, and the smaller M43 mount creates space for a second function button on the front – but overall, the two cameras are almost identical.
Panasonic made a wise choice here for users familiar with the S5 series, or who want to swap between the two models. However, it’s worth noting that while a bigger body is to be expected on a full-frame camera like the S5, for a M43 camera many users expectations are a bit different and some may be looking for something a bit more compact than the G9 II.
That said, to me the G9 II feels well sized and balanced in my hands. The body is dust, splash and freeze resistant, features the same 3.68m-dot high-resolution OLED viewfinder as the original G9, a higher resolution 3', 1.84-dot vari-angle screen, and an improved 8-way joystick design that now supports diagonal movement.
The Lumix G9 II is a camera that is unashamedly geared towards action and wildlife photography. One distinct advantage that the M43 system has over full-frame cameras is the size and weight of the lenses.
Being that the sensor is smaller, the image projected onto it has a 2x crop factor which effectively doubles the focal distance of the lens.
That means that my 100-400mm lens, which itself only weighs 1kg, has the equivalent full-frame focal distance of 200-800mm. That’s a whole lot of lens in a very small package.
On the flip side, M43 sensors do not typically handle low light and dynamic range as well as larger sensors do.
The G9 II contains a new 25.2 megapixel sensor with an improved processing engine, but at the time of writing this review there was no RAW support for the image files so I was working purely with JPEG.
That said, the quality in the fine detail is good and I would be comfortable shooting up to ISO 3,200, but for action shots I think you could push further, which is not something I would have done with the original G9.
Noise reduction software is also getting really advanced, so the results would be acceptable if a higher ISO is needed to get the shot you are after.
That said, whilst the detail holds up well at 6400-10000 ISO, if you pixel peep you will notice some strange artefacts, which I assume is the in-camera noise reduction at work.
I am very keen to examine the RAW files once Adobe adds support for them, as I suspect Lightroom will process the files better than the G9 II's internal processor.
The G9 II implements the same Phase Hybrid Autofocus system as first seen in the Lumix S5 II, and it's a hugely welcome addition. In fact, I'd go as far as to say this new autofocus system alone is a valid reason to upgrade to the Mark II.
It is fast, accurate and very dependable, and wildlife and action photography is much easier with the new AI tracking modes. The system is capable of recognising motorcycles, cars, humans, and the eyes of many animals.
As well as taking plenty of bird photos, to test the vehicle tracking modes I took a trip down to Sydney Motorsport Park to photograph classic motorcycles at a club race event.
These bikes were passing me at close to 200km/h and I was able to pan along with them, holding focus on the bikes with 99% accuracy - I was very impressed.
Another feature that makes this the perfect fit for an action or wildlife photographer is the high-speed capture capabilities.
The G9 II can shoot up to 60fps with continuous autofocus or 75fps in AF-S. In addition, a large buffer memory allows you to capture image sequences of three seconds or more – that’s a lot of images!
One of my favourite features in this camera is pre-burst. it can capture up to 1.5 seconds before you press the shutter button.
This mode is a game-changer when it comes to photographing birds or unpredictable subjects. I used this mode to capture fruit bats flying across a full moon - I would never have had the reaction time to capture this without pre-burst.
The only downside is that in using this mode it is easy to overshoot and fill up your cards quickly.
Did I mention cards? One of the great features of the G9 II is it allows the use of an external solid state hard drive to capture both photos and video.
This is great news for a few reasons: SSDs have a large capacity, fast write speeds, and are relatively affordable.
And in case you're wondering how you use the camera with an SSD attached, the secret is to get a cold shoe holder for about $30 that'll lock the cable in too - very trick.
The G9 II has an updated five axis image stabilisation system which offers up to eight stops of shake reduction. The improvements are especially obvious when shooting video as you can maintain a steady shot even when walking or running, and there is no noticeable corner warp when using a wide-angle lens.
This system also allows you to shoot handheld photos at lower shutter speeds, even in high-res photo mode.
This mode uses pixel shift technology and combines eight images to output a whopping 100 megapixel file – handy for the occasional landscape.
As a full-time video producer, I am always interested in video specs. I'm pleased to say that while the original G9 had impressive video capabilities, the Mark II does not disappoint either.
The formats and codecs are professional grade with capture up to 10-bit 5.7K 60/50p in Pro res and all-intra file formats.
In addition, the built in V-Log picture profile boasts 13+ stops of dynamic range and a custom LUT can be recorded directly to camera using the ‘Real-time LUT’ feature.
Panasonic's Dynamic Range Boost mode reduces noise in the shadows while retaining information in the highlights to capture a vibrant image in any lighting condition.
Another feature worth noting is the high frame rates of up to 120p in 10-bit 4K with no sensor crop.
Six years is a long time in the photography world, but it's been worth the wait with the Panasonic G9 II.
If you are a fan of the original G9, then the Mark II will not disappoint. It brings with it a much more reliable autofocus system, faster capture rates, a better sensor, and low-light capabilities.
Combine this with handy features like pre-burst, and you have a camera that is a real all-rounder, something you could never say about its predecessor.
The result is a feature-packed camera that really sets a benchmark for the M43 system. The G9 II is a no-brainer for any action or wildlife photographer looking to add a M43 system to their kit - I recommend it highly.
Handling ★ ★ ★ ★
Features ★ ★ ★ ★
Auto Focus ★ ★ ★ ★
Image Quality ★ ★ ★ ★
Value for money ★ ★ ★ ★