Two years ago I was allowed to own a Panasonic GX-7 camera with a 20mm lens for a week and was extremely impressed with the combination. It was an ideal choice for a genteel but thoroughly capable mirrorless camera. The glimpse that I got of the manufacturing processes of the company involved boosted my confidence in the whole concept of the micro 4/3 sensor in a camera.
Panasonic never rest on their laurels, so after a suitable interval they issued the GX-8
...capitalising on the design of the 7 but improving the sensor and adding a number of internal features. I am happy to report that the improvements are discernible and desirable. I took one in to the studio for a spin this week to see what it could do.
Note: I forgot to grab a 20mm f:1.7 Panasonic lens when raiding the shelves for the illustration, but as the Micro 4/3 cameras share common lens mounts, a kit zoom from one of their competitors could bayonet onto the body and we were good to go.
The first detail I noted was the change in grip from that of the GX-7. I was leery of this as the 7 had one of the best grips for a medium-sized hand that I had ever encountered. The new camera sharpened the angle of the body in the spot where your fingers curl into it.
Good? Bad? Better? Worse? I am of the conclusion that for some people it is actually better. The fingers grip tighter in the crease and this factor coupled with the resistance in the ball of the thumb gives good stability to the body while freeing up the thumb and forefinger more than before. The shutter button and adjustment wheel are still in perfect positions.
Your focus choices are also placed very conveniently. I use AF out and about but MF in the studio - it is good to be able to switch rapidly without using a menu.
The main command panel has shifted the controls somewhat, with the addition of a compensation dial concentric with the mode dial. Good choice of spot, as it is hard to accidentally twirl it out into the wrong setting...Of course there are front and back thumb and finger dials for important adjustments. The only regret I have is the shift of the on/off button to a front rather than back position.
As an aside, I wonder if the design department that deals with new cameras is divided up into "Thumb Team" and "Forefinger Team" to lobby for the position and importance of their controls. Think of it: ten earnest Japanese men sitting around a table trying to gain prefer for their digit over that of the others...
I was pleased to see that the innovative tilting viewfinder was maintained. it is one of my favourite features for low-level shooting. Of course the camera has touch screen on the tilting LCD panel but this is no substitute in bright sun for being able to put your eye right down to the viewfinder. That said, I do like the fact that you can touch-focus on the LCD screen to shift the AF point. I am always a little clumsy with touch screens but this one does have some merit.
So how does it all work in practice? I grabbed a '56 Chevy Nomad (Car Of The School Teachers) and turned on the new IKEA mini stage lights and tried it out.
The depth of field for the micro 4/3 cameras is superb - probably the best compromise between sensor size and focal length there is for medium-sized tabletop subjects. If you have a hankering to do it in one shot rather than a 2 or 3 stitch, this may be the camera for it. I should imaging a 17mm to 25mm focal length would be the sweet spot of the optical geometry.
The day was also a success with the trials of the IKEA lighting. If course you need to make sure that you measure the colour temperature and set a custom white balance, but after that it is just a matter of movie the light heads on their gooseneck tubing to set the positions. It is going to make car interior shots so much easier.
PS: I want chrome strips on the back of my hatchback too, but the car agency man just sniffs and pushes me out the door.See the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Mirrorless Camera online here