Monday 11 December 2017

Pocket-sized multi-lens Panasonic Lumix is real step up from smartphone quality

Panasonic Lumix
Panasonic Lumix
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Ever pondered a decent interchangeable lens camera but baulked at the bulky size or the €1,000 price tag?

Panasonic is trying to make it easier for people with this dilemma. It has come up with a pocketable interchangeable lens camera that is capable of semi-pro results for those with novice-level skills.

The Lumix GX800 easily fits in bags or coat pockets. I found that the photos out of it are sharp, detailed and pretty frameable.

This is mainly because it inherits the same (really good, relatively large) 16-megapixel sensor used in Panasonic's previous high-end GX7 model as well as its current big brother camera, the GX80 (see independent.ie for review). It's like putting last year's MacBook Pro engine into a new budget laptop.

So because of this sensor, you're guaranteeing a minimum level of quality with each shot. The only real differentiator is the lens you're using.

The camera comes with a relatively basic 12-32mm kit lens (equivalent to 24-64mm in 'full frame' terms). It's a perfectly decent lens and I got plenty of good photos out of it, particularly at the wide-angle end.

It's a little basic in that its maximum f3.5 aperture means you won't get as much depth of field (blurry 'bokeh' in the shot's background) as with more expensive lenses.

It's also a bit plasticky (although this doesn't affect photo quality). The only thing I don't like about it is that you have to rotate it to turn it on, which makes the whole switching on process a little longer. It's a small disadvantage but you might miss a quick shot because of it.

Of course, if you find this lens too limiting, you have almost the entire 70-strong Panasonic and Olympus range available to you right up to exquisite, industry-leading models such as Panasonic's Leica 42.5mm Nocticron (one of the best lenses I've ever used for any camera). This is the big benefit to interchangeable lens cameras - once you have a decent basic camera body, much of the image quality variation comes from the lenses you add on. Granted, really good lenses cost a fair bit of money and this may not be the plan for someone buying the GX800.

All the same, if you want one reasonably-priced additional lens for something like a holiday, I'd recommend Panasonic's 45-175mm telephoto zoom (€389). I bought one of these some time back and have found it to be very versatile in getting shots that are way past the kit lens's reach.

The GX800 has a flip-out touchscreen that goes all the way above the top of the camera, giving you the option of using it as a selfie camera (or a 'vlogger' cam if you want to record video of yourself). The camera doesn't have a viewfinder but it does come with a flash, which is nicely tucked in.

As well as the 16-megapixel sensor, there are a number of things under the hood that make the GX800 quite powerful. Its autofocusing system is basically the same as more expensive models, meaning that it locks on really quickly and can track your subject if you want. It also has face detection.

It's a shame that many novices - which are probably the type to buy this cameras - probably don't get around to activating these features as they can really transform some of the photos you take, especially at sports events or weddings.

One other focusing feature worth investigating is the ability to set up touchscreen focusing, allowing you to hone in on your subject just by tapping on the screen.

The GX800 is completely proficient in video, all the way up to 4K ('ultra HD'). This, allied with the flip-up screen, makes it an incredibly cheap home video camera. I'm not really a video-recording aficionado on cameras, but I do like that the red video button is placed so handily for your thumb. The camera's '4K photo mode' allows you to pull 8-megapixel stills from 4K footage.

The only real downer this camera offers is its memory card slot.

Bafflingly, Panasonic has opted for a microSD card (like the type you put in some smartphones) rather than the standard SD card. This makes it awkward when you want to buy a new card on the go as microSD cards aren't as commonly available in shops. It also means you have to get (and carry) an SD card adapter if you want to transfer photos to a laptop or PC.

The other slight qualification on the GX800 is that it's harder to shoot manually than other cameras, because there aren't as many dedicated buttons or dials (it's initially set up to alternate between aperture and shutter speed on one of them).

On the other hand, I doubt this camera is made for those who want to shoot manually all the time.

The slightly retro styling of the camera's body is quite nice, being a mixture of metal, plastic and (what feels like) leather.

The colour combinations are nice, too, with a main choice of either black and silver or tan and silver.

In a nutshell, this is a good option for someone who wants to try a high-performing camera that can be expanded without handing over a grand.

The key thing is that the combination of the lens and camera is a noticeable step up from your iPhone or Samsung.

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