Tech review: Panasonic Lumix G90
€1,279 with 12.60m lens (from Connscameras.ie)
As phones advance in camera technology, standalone dedicated cameras are becoming the preserve of advanced users or professionals.
Panasonic's new Lumix G90 is a relatively affordable version of a tool targeted at 'content creators' such as videobloggers and marketers.
It's an interchangeable-lens camera that's considerably cheaper than professional-tier models (such as Panasonic's own GH5S), but which achieves much of the same result for those who don't need the absolute top tier of professional video footage.
The mirrorless DSLR model succeeds the G80 model by adding unlimited video recording, a headphone socket and VLogL video support. This means that someone who wants to make a video of themselves can now check audio levels, 'grade' the video footage more comprehensively and not worry about hitting the usual 30-minute video recording limit most cameras have.
With a full flip-out (vari-angle) touchscreen to see yourself being recorded, Panasonic reckons that this 20-megapixel interchangeable lens model could amount to a baby GH5 or junior G9 for those who don't have the budget or advanced technical requirements of out-and-out professionals.
The G90 adds a few other handy little things that enthusiasts and vloggers might like.
One of the best new features is that it can be charged via USB, either switched off or when you're using it. This is an absolute boon for people who travel, where you can now rely on a regular €30 portable power pack to give it another two or three full charges as you're on the move.
It also now has ISO and white balance buttons right beside the shutter button, meaning you can adjust these a little quicker than before. And it now does slow motion at 120 frames per second in 1080p ('full HD').
(Its 4K video recording is at 24p, 25p or 30p, so doesn't quite push to the 60p levels of the G9 or GH5s.)
Ergonomically, it's pretty easy to handle, with a grip that makes it fit naturally in the hand. It's light, too, but not quite as compact as the GX models.
Because it's the same Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor system as Panasonic's other Lumix cameras, there are over 100 lenses available, from budget €149 models to Leica-designed professional glass that will cost a multiple of the camera body itself.
If you've never used a Micro Four Thirds camera (Panasonic or Olympus) before, it has advantages and disadvantages.
One advantage is that it's smaller and lighter than a 'full frame' DSLR or mirrorless camera because the sensor is smaller. This means that lenses are lighter, too, resulting in less hassle bringing them around. A smaller sensor also generally means better stabilisation, so you can still get sharp photos using slower shutter speeds (or without using a tripod) and you can often film things handheld without much shake or jitter being evident. The G90 is a good example of this, with excellent five-axis stabilisation built in.
However, one disadvantage is that smaller sensors generally don't perform quite as well in low light as bigger ones. They also need 'faster' apertures to achieve the same shallow depth of field effects (or 'bokeh') as bigger sensors. This is one reason why relatively few professionals use Micro Four Thirds cameras compared to 'full frame' formats. (Video professionals are an exception, with Panasonic's GH5 and GH5s models used widely for their excellent stabilisation and advanced video features.)
That said, Panasonic has always packed its G-series cameras with superb engine power. Even this mid-level model has very high-speed autofocus (0.07sec, according to Panasonic) while it shoots a respectable nine frames per second. It also has face and eye-detection autofocus functionality. And Panasonic still enthusiastically talks about features such as 4K photos, where you can shoot a short 4K video clip and then pick a frame as a still photo in an 8-megapixel resolution.
So the G90 looks like a well-specced mid-range camera. Feature for feature, it easily matches similarly-priced rivals such as the photo-centric Fujifilm X-T30 (whose only superior feature is a focusing joystick). It breezes past Canon's mirrorless APS-C range (like the cheaper Eos M50) because of its vastly superior lens range and video capabilities.
This looks like a camera you'd consider if you want to mess around with video, but still want something very solid (and relatively light) for photos using different lenses.
With all that said, with Panasonic recently following Nikon and Canon in launching full-frame mirrorless cameras (their S1 and S1R models have just gone on sale here) there are now questions over the industry's future commitment to Micro Four Thirds camera models. Olympus, for example, hasn't launched a new model in a full year. I pressed Panasonic executives hard on this question at the launch of the LUMIX G90 and they insist that the company is totally committed to sticking with the MFT format. When I asked about more new models this year, they declined to say but hinted that there would be announcements.
This is increasingly an important consideration for someone thinking of buying into an interchangeable lens system: you want to believe the company will still support the ecosystem in a couple of years.