I’ve shot the Nikon D300 DSLR camera for years. It was actually my first DSLR, and it was a great, versatile camera. However, it weighs so much that sometimes it feels like I’m carrying a brick. The D300 also doesn’t do video, which is something I’m interested in exploring. Lastly, the D300 was getting long in the tooth, being a decade old. So, I started looking at a number of mirrorless cameras that were on the market, and settled on the Panasonic Lumix G85 (also known as the G80 overseas). The G85 is a very well-regarded performer when it comes to video, it is a relatively lightweight camera, and it was a bargain compared to, say, the Nikon D500, which is the successor to the D300. For more on the G85’s specs, click here.
Together with the 14-140mm Lumix lens, I put the G85 through its paces while traveling and photographing wildlife and an airshow. Questions in my mind was how the G85’s images, particularly in low light, would turn out. The D300 uses an APS-C sensor, which is cropped compared to a full-frame sensor, but the G85 sensor is significantly smaller than an APS-C sensor. Click here for a comparison of sensor sizes. Also, I wasn’t sure how I would like the electronic viewfinder compared to an optical viewfinder.
In general, I was very impressed with its video capabilities. It’s 4k capable, which helps future-proof the G85, and it has a fully articulating LCD screen. This is pretty much mandatory if you intend to vlog. Paired with a Rode compact microphone, the G85 is a beast at recording quality video.
It’s also a surprisingly nifty camera for photography. The Lumix 14-140mm F3.5-5.6 lens is a very versatile, “walking around” lens. It did a decent job at taking pictures of nearby sandhill cranes at the Simmons Conservatory in Omaha. Focus was tack sharp and the G85 nailed exposure.
Low light photography was also ok, especially compared to my old D300. However, although the G85 has an ISO up to 25,600, setting the ISO at 6400 or higher resulted in terribly noisy pics. ISO 3200 was just barely adequate.
Shortly after receiving the G85, I decided to try it out at the local airshow. Most mirrorless cameras, including the G85, are not known for fast focusing, given their reliance on contrast detection. Basically, this means that the camera initially sets focus at the point when contrast is highest in the photo, and it may hunt back and forth to precisely focus. The idea is that contrast is lower when the photo is out of focus. Contrast detection tends to be slower than the phase detection system used in DSLR cameras. So, shooting an airshow with the G85 would be a rigorous test of its autofocus capability.
Overall, the G85 did a really nice job at capturing action. It did hunt for focus occasionally, but, holding down the shutter button, the G85’s high frame rate and buffer (about 9 frames per second with a buffer of 50 shots if shooting RAW) increased the odds of taking sharp pics of the aircraft. I was quite happy when I captured a nearly head-on pass by the AeroShell Aerobatic Team planes.
Would I use the G85 over the D300 again? Definitely. The G85 trounces the D300 in image quality, frames per second, and almost every other way. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that the G85 is not in the same class as the Nikon D500 would be for action photography.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) in the G85 is bright, and immediately seeing zebra stripes indicating blown highlights was great. The EVF is also a nice perk in bright sunlight when the LCD screen on the back of my D300 would be useless. Its performance in shooting wildlife and at the airshow was not bad at all. I have gotten some great photos with the G85. That being said, I really wish its low light performance was better. The lens is stabilized and the G85 has in-body stabilization, but noise in the images can be excessive at the higher ISOs. I also am not a huge fan of its ergonomics. Nikon makes extremely ergonomic, great feeling cameras. Aside from comfort, I didn’t care for the placement of the buttons. I kept hitting the video record button when meaning to press the shutter…very aggravating.
Overall, I enjoyed shooting the G85 and highly recommend it to anyone needing a lightweight camera with strong video recording features. The G85 really seems to be a perfect blogging camera, and it will also make a nice travel camera.