Anyone who says that your photography equipment doesn’t matter is lying. Having better gear doesn’t help with your technique, but it does make it easier for you to focus on your technique and produce better images. That’s really the whole point of the micro 4/3 platform. Quality images, without the bulk or cost of a larger sensor system.
In the past, I’ve owned and sold a few Olympus cameras, with my favorite being the E-M1. It was a solid performer, quick, and responsive with decent image quality. For a good year or more, it was easily the most responsive camera in my arsenal and for that reason alone I used it quite frequently.
I also shoot with a Fuji X-T1. Fuji has better image quality and nicer prime lenses than Olympus does, but the Olympus E-M1 had been more responsive. However, Fuji recently stepped up their game with the 4.0 firmware for the X-T1. Also, Fuji’s recent lenses are focusing and performing so well, that the speed of the Olympus E-M1 has been challenged. As a result, my Olympus gear was getting used less and less. The one downside of the Fuji system in comparison to Micro 4/3? It’s a heavier and bulkier due to the larger sensor size. The bigger the sensor, the bigger and heavier the lenses are.
As tiny and compact as the Fuji system is, sometimes you just want to pack light. The lightest option is going for a compact camera or cell phone. Unfortunately, none of the compact cameras nor phones impress me. I’ve played with the Sony RX100 Mark IV, the Panasonic LX100, the Fuji X20 and X30 (owned both for a short time), the Fuji X100S and X100T (also owned both), the Leica typ 113 (really upset with Leica for lying about the specs on that camera), but none of them were worth keeping. Also, they underperform the quality mirrorless cameras. Thus, Micro 4/3 have always been of interest to me.
Enter the Panasonic GX8 — more megapixels and better performance than any of the micro 4/3 cameras to date. It looks cool — I bought the black one. The camera body feels nice in the hands — although I wish it were a little taller. My little finger hangs off and dangles underneath the camera. It hasn’t bothered me on any of the aforementioned cameras, but I notice it with the GX8. The camera has great specs too. Furthermore, Panasonic offers Leica designed lenses which are priced at a fraction of the cost when compared to full frame Leica lenses.
After owning the camera for only a few days, I knew it was for me! I sold my Olympus gear, and have no regrets.
The funny thing about the camera is that it’s about the same size and weight as the Fuji X-T1. However, as I stated earlier, the lenses are smaller and lighter because of the sensor size. Ergonomically, it has easy to access controls, with convenient access to the most important features like ISO, white balance, aperture, shutter speed, picture style, focusing mode, and exposure compensation. It’s designed so well, I haven’t even looked at the instruction manual once! The EVF is the nicest that I’ve ever used! I even like the fact that the ETF tilts up! Initially, I thought a tilting EVF was stupid. However, it is so convenient, that I use it quite often. My only complaint? I prefer tilting LCDs as opposed to the kind that flip out like the GX8’s — personal preference, but not a deal breaker for me. At least it makes selfies easier.
Regarding lenses, I decided that if I’m going to own any micro 4/3 gear, I wanted the best of the best lenses. The better the image quality produced by my gear, the more likely I am to use it. That being said, without a doubt, the Leica designed Panasonic prime lenses are the best the system has to offer! So I initially picked up the Leica / Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 with my purchase (I already owned the 25mm f/1.4).
The Panasonic Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens
This lens is quick to focus, shoots up close, and has wonderful contrast and color rendition. These six images were taken with the 15mm and pretty much set to f/1.7 for all of these shots. Every shot, with the exception of the ladies on the sofa, are all out of camera JPEGs. The dynamic range on the GX8 combined with how the 15mm renders colors is just fantastic! Furthermore, this combo is quick to autofocus. Previously, on the Olympus side of things, I owned the 17mm f/1.8 and the 12mm f/2 lenses. While I really liked the 17mm, the 12mm left something to be desired and didn’t focus up close at all. The 15mm easily replaces both of those focal lengths, it’s faster, includes a lens hood (Olympus primes do not), and it’s sharp.
The Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.7 lens
Originally, I bought the 42.5mm f/1.7 lens because of the exorbitant cost of the Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 lens. The f/1.7 lens is OK, but nothing special. It focuses fairly close, is fairly quick, but I found the focusing not completely accurate. There were more than a few shots where it would front or back focus. Still, it’s better than the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 that I’ve owned in the past. Here are some images below shot with the 42.5mm — mostly at f/1.7, but there’s a few smaller apertures mixed in. As above, these are the JPEGs straight out of the camera.
Compared to the Leica 15mm above and the Fuji lenses that I own for the X-T1, the images produced by this lens are nice, but nothing special. I ended up returning it because I knew long term, this lens would not be one that I would use frequently since the images are nothing special. So, I decided to take the plunge and purchase the Leica version. I’m sure you’ll see the difference in image quality right away.
The Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 lens for Panasonic
Wow! Just look at these photos! These were all shot at f/1.2 and are straight out of the camera. It focuses fast, the bokeh is creamy, it has IS and works doubly well with the GX8’s in body stabilization. The GX8’s facial and eye autofocus is spot on, and these images look as good as my full frame camera (albeit with less resolution)! The lens hood attaches with a thumb screw, and all I can say is that this is THE best lens I have ever used for micro 4/3. Is it worth the cost? That is such a tough question! They are charging a premium for this lens, but there is no other lens for the micro 4/3 system in this focal length that compares. Is it worth it? If you have the money available, and will use this lens, then yes it is. I just wish it were less expensive. Needless to say, this lens is a keeper!
By the way, did you know the GX8 also shoots video? Really, it does. Personally, I don’t care too much about video on any camera, but it’s there, so why not use it? Bottom line, when it comes to video, run and gun use, audio quality, and fast autofocus, the GX8 is not the best. For that, I prefer to use a dedicated camcorder for running and gunning. However, it’s much easier to hit record on the camera in your hand than to drive home, grab your camcorder, drive back, set it up, and then miss the moment.
This first video was shot using the 42.5mm f/1.7 lens. It was raining most of the time during the shooting, and I had a plastic cover on the camera body. My face was jammed into the EVF, because of this, you can hear my breathing — bottom line, ignore the audio quality on this particular clip. I shot it in 4K. All I did for editing was to cut the pieces together. There was absolutely no post processing done to the footage other than that.
This next clip was shot at 1080 / 60P with the Leica 42.5mm lens at f/1.2. Again, there was absolutely nothing done to the footage at all. In fact, this was uploaded straight to YouTube. It’s been my experience that the camera’s autofocus performs better in 1080 / 60P mode. The 1080 has the same zoom factor as the normal view of the lens, where as 4k crops it.
There is no better micro 4/3 stills camera on the market right now than the GX8. It’s awesome! It’s light, produces great quality stills, works great, there are quality Leica designed lenses for it, and it looks cool too (not the most important, but it doesn’t hurt).
Another point is that the JPEGs and Video directly out of the camera look fantastic! I’ve always been a believer of getting it right in the camera and post processing as necessary. As a father, with a busy career, and being a karate student, I no longer have the time to process all of my images, nor do I enjoy doing a lot of post processing, so it’s important that the camera’s output looks good. I think the photos look great!
Three other major perks to consider. One — the camera’s facial autofocus is amazing! Most of the portraits above were shot with the camera’s face detect feature enabled. Two — the touch screen is responsive and very useful, plus it’s tap to focus feature is extremely handy! Three — the menu system is easy to understand and is organized well.
The last point I’d like to stress, is that if you’re going to spend this much on the camera, buy the Leica lenses.