Panasonic G80 review: The best sub-£1,000 CSC … for now

Panasonic G80 review: The best sub-£1,000 CSC … for now

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The Panasonic G80 is the seventh generation in a line of cameras that stretches back to the first ever compact system camera (CSC), the Panasonic G1. These models have risked getting a little lost in the Panasonic line-up, crowded out by the flagship GH series, the stylish, gadget-laden GX, the svelte GM and the budget-friendly GF.

However, it’s often the more unassuming cameras that offer the best value. The previous model, the Panasonic G7, hit all the right notes with dependable image quality, elegant controls and ergonomics, nippy performance and a superb 4K video mode. It was the perfect camera for budding video producers on a tight budget, and stood up to stiff competition for photos, too.

The G80 looks remarkably similar to the G7, both in the flesh and in its headline specifications: 16-megapixel photos, 4K videos, a 3in articulated touchscreen and a 2.4 million dot electronic viewfinder. It’s a little disappointing that the G80 costs £120 more than the G7 did at launch, but the new kit lens makes this easy to justify. Its 12-60mm focal length is a big step up from the G7’s 14-42mm kit lens, equating to 24-120mm on a full-frame camera. The lens is weather-sealed, and so too is the G80 itself. This is unusual on a sub-£1,000 camera, and a sign that Panasonic is aiming this model at a more demanding type of photographer.

READ NEXT: The best compact, CSC and DSLR cameras of 2017 – our pick of this year’s best snappers

Another sign of the G80’s upmarket status is the availability of the DMW-BGG1 Battery Grip as an accessory. This costs £250, provides an additional battery compartment, which will cost a further £50 to populate with a battery, and includes a second set of top-plate controls for more comfortable portrait-orientation shooting. Again, this is a common feature among upmarket CSCs and SLRs but a rare find at this price.

On other key feature to note is that the camera includes the sensor-shift optical stabilisation from the GX80 but that was missing from the G7. When a stabilised lens is fitted, the camera uses both sensor-shift and in-lens systems in tandem to help cope with shaky conditions or extremely slow shutter speeds.

Panasonic G80 review: In use

CSCs are typically marketed as being smaller and lighter than SLRs, but the G80 is about the same size and weight. The upside is that there’s a chunky, comfortable handgrip and plenty of space for buttons and dials. Unlike on the G7, the card slot now has its own compartment at the side, which means easy access when using a tripod. It’s significantly quieter than the G7, with a redesigned shutter mechanism that Panasonic claims also reduces camera shake from the shutter.

There are five customisable buttons dotted around the camera, plus five further virtual ones on the touchscreen. Buttons labelled Fn aren’t as quick to learn as those labelled with specific functions but it does give more flexibility to set the camera up to your liking, and you can always apply your own stickers.

Panasonic G80 dials

In addition, you get dedicated buttons for ISO speed, white balance, autofocus mode and AF/AE lock, plus a lever for toggling between single auto, continuous auto and manual focus modes. The AF/AE lock button can be assigned to either or both of these functions or to AF ON. This triggers the autofocus and by disabling autofocus from the shutter button you can choose when to focus and when to shoot. The AE/AF button is a little too far to the left for my liking, though, particularly since I use my left eye for the viewfinder.

There are two chunky command dials on the top plate for direct access to shutter speed and aperture in manual exposure mode. Exposure compensation is accessed by pressing the Fn1 button on the top plate and then spinning the rear command dial. I found this a little awkward so I assigned it permanently to the rear wheel. It still reverted to shutter speed in manual exposure mode, though, with the front command dial assigned to aperture.

Panasonic G80 review: Drive modes

Over on the other side of the viewfinder hump there’s a dedicated drive mode dial, which includes the usual single, burst and self-timer options, plus three more unusual ones. The first is Interval mode, and this gives access to Panasonic’s time-lapse and stop-motion animation modes: in time-lapse, the camera supports capture rates of between one frane per second all the way up to one every 99 minutes; the stop motion mode will capture automatically at intervals of up to 60 seconds but it does allow the frame to be advanced manually, either on the camera or over Wi-Fi with the companion app. It also supports onion skinning, where the previous frame is overlaid to help with animation. Both modes can convert sequences of frames to 4K or 1080p video at the end of capture.

The seond mode is 4K Photo, which takes advantage of the 8-megapixel resolution of each 4K video frame to deliver a 30fps burst mode. A video is recorded for the duration of the burst and you can go back and select a frame to save as a photo after the event. You’re not limited to widescreen capture  – videos are recorded at whatever aspect ratio you select – but output is JPEG only, with shutter speeds down to 1/30 and ISO speeds up to 6400.

Panasonic G80 top

The third mode on the dial is Post Focus, and this works in a similar way, recording a video as it sweeps through the focus in a scene. After capture, you can tap the screen to choose which part to focus on. The G80 takes this one stage further, with an option to combine the shots using a technique called focus stacking so a larger area or the whole scene is in sharp focus. While the ability to choose what to focus on after the event is a bit of quirky fun, the ability to make everything sharp has a lot of potential for macro and product photography. It produced slightly odd results when selecting a range of areas to keep sharp, but the Auto mode that keeps everything sharp worked extremely well. Again, it’s limited to 8-megapixel JPEG output with the same exposure limitations, as the photos are drawn from a 4K video file.

Panasonic G80 Post focus

^ I’ve picked the white cup to focus on for this shot…

^ …whereas here the camera has used a technique called focus stacking, combining multiple shots to keep everything in focus

Panasonic G80 review: Autofocus and performance

The electronic viewfinder uses a 2.36-million dot OLED screen, but it’s bigger than on the G7, with 0.74x rather than 0.7x magnification. The LCD screen switches off automatically when the camera is raised to the eye but it can still be used as a touchscreen to move the autofocus point. This feels natural and is extremely quick, and it’s only slightly upset by accidental nudges from the nose. Helpfully, though, there’s a menu option to switch it from Exact to Offset mode, where it behaves more like a laptop touchpad than a touchscreen. As a result, accidental nose prods merely wiggle the autofocus point rather than sending it veering off course.

After moving the autofocus point, the command dials can be used to adjust the autofocus area size, which varies from a tiny point to almost the entire frame height. This flexibility is helpful generally, and particularly so in very dark conditions where the camera might struggle to focus on a very small area. What’s also useful is that face detection focuses on eyes rather than faces and the accuracy of both face detection and touchscreen-powered subject tracking is as good as I’ve seen from any camera. Panasonic is unusual in that it doesn’t include phase-detection autofocus points on its sensors but that isn’t a problem when it delivers one of the fastest, most versatile and most reliable autofocus systems of any CSC.

Panasonic G80 back

Fast autofocus performance also contributes towards an impressive turn of speed in normal use, with the G80 taking 0.8 seconds from powering up to capturing a shot and 0.4 seconds between subsequent shots. Burst shooting was at 9.2fps in my tests, the buffer is good for over 100 JPEGs, and it showed no sign of filling up. Switching to RAW mode, slowed it down to 7.1fps and this rate slowed significantly after 47 frames. After enabling continuous autofocus, it ran at 6.2fps for JPEGs and 5.4fps for RAW. There are faster CSCs, such as the Sony a6300 and Fujifilm X-T2, but they’re also more expensive. The G80 is fast enough for most purposes and the generous buffer means it has stamina as well as speed.

All in all, the G80’s controls don’t have the refined luxuriousness of the Fujifilm X-T2, but there’s more of a Swiss Army Knife effect: practical, comprehensive, a little complex at first but it doesn’t take too long to get to grips with.

Panasonic G80 review: Video mode

Panasonic has lead the way for video capture in recent years, and the G80 continues this tradition. It records both 4K (3,840 x 2,160) and 1080p videos, both of which are packed with crisp, fine details. Sensor-shift, lens-based and electronic stabilisation can all be employed simultaneously to deliver impressively smooth handheld footage, which is effective enough to use while walking with the camera.

Unlike Panasonic’s cheaper G-series cameras, it also includes the Cinelike D colour profile. This produces flat colours, which make a good starting point for colour grading. There’s also Zebra stripe peaking, which shows the parts of the frame are over-exposed. You get a 3.5mm microphone socket, too, but sadly there’s no headphone socket for monitoring. There are no slow-motion modes, but the camera’s 1080/60p videos could be slowed to 25p in editing software.

Video autofocus is excellent, with the same superb subject tracking as per photos and decisive refocusing when the subject or camera moves. However, it’s not so decisive that I’d rely on it when aiming for professional production standards as there’s still some focus hunting and the occasional error. Canon leads the field here with its Dual Pixel sensors but with its 4K range starting at £3,500 with the 5D Mark IV, it’s not really competing with the Panasonic G80. The EOS M5 is generally pretty similar to the G80 and has a Dual Pixel sensor, but it’s much pricier and limited to 1080p.

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