REVIEW: Panasonic G9 mk2- in your phase

Published: Saturday December 30 2023

Important note – this Panasonic G9M2 camera and Panasonic-Leica 100-400mm II lenses are both pre-production and they may well be changed, modified and updated for the actual release models.
Brad and Tim sweeping through the corner on SS3 Experts Cup 2023.

TL/DR: The G9M2 appears to address many of the issues that I have had with earlier Panasonic Lumix mirrorless bodies (G3, G85s and GX9) while still keeping the wonderful compactness and menu/screen structure that I know and love – the phase-detect and tracking is fantastic and I didn’t want to give any of the gear back.  

 Intro and thanks.
I would like to thank Camera Electronic and Isabelle for letting me try the G9M2, the updated  100-400mm lens, and the Panasonic-Leica 12-60mm f2.8-f4 lens.  I had them for 3 ½ days of active motorsports photography around a track and in the dirty and dusty environment of a rally.  So relatively short time.

Before I collected the camera from Camera Electronic, I wondered how big the camera was going to be, after having seen a number of different places and comments on forums around the internet regarding the size and shape of it, but oh boy it felt much better than my G85. 

Are you comfy?
The grip girth/width? Is better shaped for my hands and fingers, and my right-hand ‘ring-finger’ didn’t suffer from having to press so hard into the camera body. ( An ergonomic issue possibly for me only.)
The viewfinder is big and bright with the eye-piece rubber going all the way around the viewfinder, and not attached with two screws which give, to me, a weak point on the eyepiece (such as found with the G85).  The viewfinder was great with glasses too, but possibly not quite as good as the G85 in terms of eye-relief but the refresh rate was fantastic.  And while I internally went ‘Grrr’ at Panasonic for changing the location of the ‘play’ button, I can understand why they have put it where they did, and after the 3rd day using the camera, I was getting used to the position of it.  2 months later I see that Panasonic is now matching the placement such as found with the EM1X and Canon EOS 5Dmk3.

But then, if I really didn’t like where it was, I rather suspect that I could have moved the button – from what I could tell from the menu-settings controls, they were all customisable, similar to my EM1X.   You can even duplicate the buttons into the Q.Menu controls as well, if that matches with how you like it.

While I did like where I did put various choices,   I would have loved more time with the gear to get a better feel for what controls worked best and what settings I frequently needed to change.

What I did really like was the new (to me) buttons on the front of the G9M2 (I have never used and only handled the G9 ver.1, so I have no qualifications with usage on it) and those were selected to use the new (to me) ‘Near focus/Far focus’ of this body.   This would allow me much greater accuracy in focus control when required.

Do I have your attention?
Speaking of ‘focus’, one big big big feature with the Panasonic G9M2 is phase-detect auto-focus.
And. Dang. It. Works. 

I have almost cried at the number of times that the contrast-detect AFC on the G85/GX9 has let me down.  On this?  Not even close to crying.  I would have loved at least another 3 weeks with the camera to nail the settings properly for both cars (and bikes!) and people.
It was pretty-durned good as it was though. And watching that green-focusing box still tracking the vehicle with trees and objects in the way while waiting for the right time to press the shutter while back-button-focusing?  Happy smile.  

When using the AI tracking feature for people, there was some hesitancy, and occasionally the focusing would change when tracking cars (coming towards the camera) but I rather suspect that was down to non-tweaked settings for my preference, potentially also due to the camera (and 100-400mm lens for that matter) not being production release.
And the focus area?  Edge-to-edge.  Actual edge and not ‘almost there’.  Good stuff.

Caveat Fabricatio.
Remember that notice at the start about pre-production camera?  Two major issues that occurred during my use were the shutter-release and the joystick controller.  The issue with the shutter release was, well, I don’t know.  It was working one day and not the next.  All the other buttons appeared to work except the shutter would not release.   A full camera reset resolved it, but it wiped every other setting and this was minutes before I was due to start photographing an event.

The other issue was with the joystick – it seemed to move hesitantly at times and confidently at others, even when ‘inputting’ the same vector of adjustment.   Apparently Panasonic knows about the shutter issue but may not know about the joystick issue. I reckon that camera will be pulled apart to double-check it was not dust from the rally.

Panasonic – I would really love to know why that happened. 

 I prefer using the joystick for focus point selection, because with the G85, even with the screen mode selected so that only half is active for thumb-focus selection, most often a large facial feature would cause the focus area to not be where I wanted it to be.  Nose-focus-detect anyone? 

 Still going with the ergonomic thread, I feel there could have been a slight variation on the haptics of how the right thumb felt or moved some of the control buttons.  Maybe the AF button every slightly more pronounced?  And I am not a massive fan of how the switch and the button was for the focus system and AFC/AFS/manual selection was.  Mind you, I am not happy with how the same buttons/switches are on the G85 are either. <shrug> 


Release the shutters.
The front and rear dials were wonderful, as was the shutter release itself (which has a very different sound to the G85, GX9 G3) – it looks like a different internal mechanism and that is probably because of the 8! stops (CIPA rated) of image-stabilisation, that this camera is apparently capable of.   (I don’t have testing methodology for this though, but the IS appeared really good to me:) )

I don’t know that much has been made mention of this, but when using the electronic shutter on the G85 and panning, there is an obvious slope where there are vertical lines.  They are still there to a lesser degree with the EM1X.  On the G9M2, wow – what magic mix have they merged into the marginal motion of vertical lines; the sloping verticals are still there but minimised to me.   This may even be improved upon with a production version.  I was still getting used to the shutter speed range restrictions of the Electronic First Curtain shutter and this still needed more testing with.  I also don’t think I reached 1/32000! of a second with the e-shutter.

Like the G85, it seems that when lenses are equipped with image-stabilisation designed to work with the IS of the camera, that the IS is on all the time.   I checked this with my Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 lens; you can hear the IS come on when half-pressing the shutter.  Sorry Panasonic, I think I like Olympus’ setup (with the EM1X) where there is no IS active until the shutter is half-pressed and then the image-stabilisation activates and steadies the image through the view-finder.  This might be able to eek out the battery life that little bit more.

And that battery, by itself, did about 5 hours of work.  I didn’t check the shutter releases.  After the first day, and because I only had the one battery, I made sure to keep the camera charged up with a powerbank via the USB-C port.  And from empty to full, the battery took only 2 hours to charge.  I do like that, but I would really like another two batteries, and an external charger just to be sure, for motorsport events.  A battery grip could fix that and make the camera easier to handle in my hands.  But definitely more than the 390 images that DPreview shows on their website; probably even 3x that many images taken, based on my image file names.   (Panasonic, I don’t understand your file name structure with this camera).   While talking about the files, with the G9M2, you can load your copyright information camera and make a small name-edit to the filenames to assist with whatever job you are doing.  

Emptied in 60seconds?
SD card write-speed is important with this camera; it turns out that I made a bit of a boo-boo here by having cards that were too slow to get the best out of the G9M2. 

After multiple high-speed capture shots with the 60fps mode, (I was using AFC), the camera buffer took a long time to clear; I think it would have been nearly 2 minutes before I could properly switch off the camera.  I was using Samsung Pro-plus 128gb SD cards, (UHS1) and really, UHS2 cards will allow for the buffer to clear that much faster.   

Considering that the buffer is what, about 200 images and up to 25mp per image? Crikey, that is a lot of data to transfer.  (and I was recording both raw and jpg). 
In my opinion and based on the potential amount of data to clear, I think at least one slot of the G9M2 should be CFexpress – this in turn then should allow you to get that data off the camera (and into your laptop or PC for editing) so much faster than a plain SD card will.  Since Panasonic have a CFexpress slot in their Lumix S1, why shouldn’t it be here?  

I didn’t want to sit waiting for half-an-hour uploading/ingesting one card at a time onto an M2 SSD, even when plugged into a USB3.2 port, before finally getting a chance to preview and cull.
Maybe Panasonic will do this with a genuine performance camera in a year or two with this phase-detect technology? 😀 

‘Thumbs up’ to the dynamic range/booster range/ISO settings too.   Being able to shoot ‘down’ in the extended range of ‘ISO50′ was wonderful and cleaner looking images appeared than when shooting the GX9 or G85 at only ‘ISO100’.  There appears to be more leeway in developing the images with lots of white in them.  Even at ISO3200, in my opinion there was a big improvement in image quality over the GX9 20MP sensor.  (I used both Silkypix 8.0SE updated for the G9M2 (as a raw .rw2 editor) and Adobe DNG converter to get DNG files so that I could edit in Capture One 22 Pro.  Adobe Lightroom is already updated with the information needed to edit the raw files, whereas PureRaw3 didn’t update until near the end of December 2023.   I did get a chance to play with some of my STC clip-in filters – they appear to work well (phew!) and I didn’t notice any picture quality issue. 

What didn’t I do?
What I didn’t get the chance to really do was play with the 100MP handheld high-res mode, really do anything with video (because I am not a video guy) and play with the LUT setup – I had two .CUBE files ready to go and just plain forgot to do that.  I also didn’t play with a flash to see what the maximum shutter speed was and (I kick myself in hindsight) I didn’t try out the Olympus 12-40m or 40-150mm PRO lenses on it just to see what the images were like.  I would have loved to have tried this camera out in all sorts of conditions to see where it’s weather and dust-sealing capabilities work well or not.  The rally I photographed at was ‘okay’ when it came to fine dust and grit, but I don’t think the camera really got a workout – I did keep a bulb-blower with me, though, to assist with keeping dust away from the shutter-release and off of the lens.  I also didn’t take the camera out of Auto White Balance, as I really wanted to see how the camera interpreted different colour conditions.  Bright sun, late afternoon into evening, fluorescent tube lighting and more.  Pretty darned well as it turned out.

I do also feel like I need to qualify an opinion/statement here (of mine) during a recorded interview with Howard of Camera Electronic.  I think I mentioned something about the ‘Leica-look’ and it bugged me while I was returning home.  See, I had not played with Leica cameras or lenses up until then.  In some way, I was parroting various videos online about Leica, and seeing imagery from various photographers using Leica gear.  But in thinking further, over the trip home and over the last few days, I think that the Panasonic Leica 12-60mm and Panasonic Leica 100-400mm (version 2) bring something (organic?) to the system.  Something similar to DMC-G3 ( images but gone with the G85 and GX9.  I used the two loaned PL lenses and my own Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 lens and I prefer the ‘look’ with the other two, even when using my 42.5mm at f1.7!  This may have also be improved again when I was using the built-in Leica Monochrome live-view feature of the camera (which to me looks pretty darned nice) But that is all subjective rather than objective. 

Leica Monochrome Experts Cup service park

I can see you.
A brief note about the lenses; I quite liked the 100-400mm ver.2 that I was loaned and while it was marked as ‘prototype’ or ‘magazine’ on the box and manual, it had smoother motion than I recall of the previous model.  There is the potential for extra-tricky zoom-imagery to occur but not for me. A feature of the 100-400mm lens that I find a complete pain in the, ah, ‘hand’ was the tripod foot-plate.  I understand that the shape assists with keeping the compact feel, but I couldn’t put my thumb or fingers properly between the foot and the lens-body-proper. 
It makes it cumbersome to use even though I did love the optics feel and the motion, the lens-lock and the reach.  The lens only is able to rotate 90degrees (care of the foot-plate mount) so that didn’t really change anything.  “Why not remove the foot?”  I had it mounted to my Blackrapid sling at that location.  And the foot itself felt quite ‘sharp and edgey’ to me when handholding it.  I would take a file to the edges of it to round it down, just to make it more comfortable.  

But, this is purely my take on the lens and this still doesn’t take away from the ‘reach’ that you get with this lens – I mounted the PL 100-400 II lens on my EM1X at a local reserve, trying it out on some birds.  I then see that a nearly-full moon was up, with ‘bin-chickens’* flying in front of it.  I then noticed a teeny-weeny plane in the distance, which I have since found out was about 35-40km away.  Wow and golly-gee.  (your choice of expletive may vary.)
jet plane flying blue sky over huge moon

If you get this lens, then I reckon the natural partner to it is the Panasonic 35-100 f2.8 version II – there were just too many instances where I wanted to shoot wider than the 100-400 would allow, and further than the 12-60mm would go. 

My pick of the borrowed glass though was the wee Panasonic-Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4.0.  So much better than the standard Panasonic 12-60mm f3.5-5.6.  Faster focus (it seemed), smoother zoom-motion, faster focusing (oh, I said that already), much better light capture and slightly shallower depth-of-field.  But it was feel of the zoom mechanism that also helped too.  

That is it. Some of my thoughts of the upcoming (now released) G9M2 and some of my biggest gripes.  Another ‘gripe’ is the variety of motorsport that is occurring near Perth, Western Australia – in the space of 2 weekends, two days of action at Carco Raceway, excluding two days of practise for a National event at same; the final round of the state Rally Championship at Collie, the start of the WA Drag Racing season, a round of Speedway, a start of the summer season of Tarmac West Rally-sprints then a major round of rally-sprints in Bunbury. So much to see and do!

And my biggest gripe of all?  That I don’t have a new Panasonic G9 version 2 right now.


*for those of you reading this who are not from Australia, a ‘bin-chicken’ is a Royal Ibis.