Panasonic Lumix GX850 review: Software boosted selfie shooter
The Lumix DMC-GX850 might look like a classic camera, but it's actually a snapper for the selfie generation. With a flip-up screen, versatile lens and variety of shooting modes, the mirrorless camera has all the tools to improve your social feed. But does it do enough to justify carrying a camera and a phone?
Punching above its weight
The first thing that jumps out about the DMC-GX850 is just how compact it is. With a body measuring 106.5 x 64.6 x 33.3 mm (4.2 x 2.55 x 1.32 in), the camera weighs just 269 g (9.5 oz) without the lens, and should slot comfortably into bigger pant pockets or handbags without trouble – even with the lens attached.
Its light weight and slimness make the camera easy to transport, but the retro-styled leatherette-style texture is surprisingly slippery. With no hand grip, and not a lot of lens to grab hold off, the neck strap is a must for anyone with a hint of clumsiness in their DNA.
Touch, twist and push
As you'd expect of a modern compact, the 1040k dot three-inch display on the back of the camera is a touchscreen. It can tilt 180 degrees upwards so you can conveniently frame your selfie. Touchscreen control can be used to scroll through menus, select focus points, or as an electronic shutter release.
Meanwhile, the top of the camera is home to a mode dial and a dedicated button for switching the camera into 4K burst mode. The back, right-hand side of the camera is home to a small video record button, and the same basic control layout you'll find on the rest of the Lumix range.
These controls will make sense to anyone stepping up from a point-and-shoot camera, but the compromise of such a compact package is a slightly cramped layout. Using the flash release switch is a bit fiddly, too, although its position above the screen does remove any chance of accidentally popping it up at the wrong moment.
Sensitive, focused, a bit unstable
The sensor in the latest Lumix is a 16-MP CMOS unit with a maximum ISO of 25,600. It has been hooked up to a Venus processor for 5.8 fps shooting with focus and exposure locked, or 5 fps with continuous autofocus and exposure metering. Panasonic is relying on the 12 - 32 mm, F3.5 - 5.6 lens for stabilization, with no room for a shake reduction system in that tiny body.
The picture quality is generally impressive, and noise reduction means higher ISO shots in low-light are usable, but the Lumix can't keep pace with bigger DSLRs when things get really dim.
Where Panasonic has tried to make the DMC-GX850 stand out from the crowd is software. Along with the same range of Silky Skin, Backlit Softness, Scenery and Food modes you'd find on the rest of Lumix lineup, there are sliders that allow image-conscious selfie lovers to make their face softer and slimmer. There's also a creative background defocus mode, designed to deliver the shallow depth of field you get with a wide aperture on a telephoto lens.
All three work as promised, although that might not be a good thing depending on how soft and/or skinny your face already is. The camera has trouble distinguishing between the background and your features in defocus mode, and cranking the slimming effect up to 10 leaves faces looking awkwardly elongated and horsey. If you absolutely must artificially augment your looks, we'd recommend keeping the sliders below five – even if most in our office need all the help we can get.
There's more going on than just skin-softening smarts, because Lumix has developed a 4K photo burst mode for better photos of quick movement. Triggered with a button above the flash release switch, it takes a quick burst of 4K footage and allows the user to choose the frame they want as an 8-MP still.
The camera also offers a post focus mode, where it takes a burst of pictures at different focal lengths and allows the photographer to select the image they want later on. For anyone taking their first crack at artistic (or macro) photography, being able to compare the same photo (taken with different focal points) is a fantastic way to learn how playing around with focal lengths affects an image.
Storage wars and connectivity
Given the snap-and-send functionality offered by smartphones, Lumix has made sure its selfie-snapper is geared for quick photo sharing. Inbuilt Wi-Fi allows photos to be sent from camera to smartphone instantly, and Panasonic has chosen a MicroSD card for storage. For anyone with a Samsung phone, that means the card can be slotted directly into the phone for file sharing.
Rather than forcing people to carry a dedicated charger for the 680-mAh battery, Lumix has made the switch to MicroUSB charging – useful for cutting down the number of cords or chargers you have to carry while traveling. Given the battery is only rated for 210 shots, you're going to be using that charger a bit.
Worth the price of admission?
That depends. The DMC-GX850 retails for US$549 (AUD$799 in Australia) with the 12-32 mm lens, and is sold as the GF9 or GX800 in some markets. Is it worth carrying a camera and a phone, given the selfie-focused nature of the GX850? It all comes down to your priorities.
There's no doubt that the Micro Four Thirds CMOS sensor and 12 - 32 mm lens on the Lumix deliver great photos. The Micro Four Thirds lens mount is also incredibly versatile, with a huge range of lenses for beginners to choose from as their photography advances.
But as something geared towards to snapping better selfies, the added bulk (and complexity) involved in carrying a standalone camera may not appeal to everyone. The in-camera software is fun to mess around with, but its also up against a huge array of "beautification" and photo editing apps available on iOS and Android.
If you want to improve your photos without the bulk of a DSLR, this a great option. But if acting like you're in a Tokyo photo booth or snapping and instantly putting your images on Instagram is the goal, then stick to the smartphone.