Panasonic GX85 Black Body Compact System Camera
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Nearly half the size of most DSLRs, the DMC-GX85 delivers impressive large sensor performance in the most compact camera system ever designed by Panasonic LUMIX. Thanks to the elimination of the low pass filter, its fine detail resolving power is boosted nearly 10% over previous 16-Megapixel sensors. Image stabilization is top of its class with the complementary LUMIX 2-axis lens O.I.S. and a new 5-axis in-body I.S., available in either photo or video recording modes.
|Sensitivity||Auto, 200-25600 (Extended Mode: 100-25600)|
|Memory Card||SD/ SDHC/ SDXC Memory Card|
|Screen Size||3.0" LCD Screen|
|Power||1x Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery Pack|
|Dimensions||122.0 x 70.6 x 43.9 mm|
|Exposure System||Metering Range: EV 0.0 - EV 18.0|
|Shutter Speed||Speed: 60 - 1/4000 second|
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- "There’s so much to like about the Lumix GX85"| by CAMERA MagazineThe GX8 is the star of Panasonic’s Lumix G mirrorless camera lineup at the moment. As a complete package, it’s hard to beat and it certainly takes the fight right up to its closest Micro Four Thirds rival, Olympus’s retro PEN F. But it was also a big step up from the previous GX7 and, for many photographers, the latter model was the perfect combination of a portability and performance… and affordability. So the ever-responsive Panasonic is welcoming back the GX7, rebadged as the GX85 and incorporating many of the GX8’s upgrades. In fact, in Japan this model is actually called the GX7 II, but on the inside it really is closer to the GX8 so elsewhere in the world – including here – it gets the numerical link and is badged either GX80 or GX85.
Nevertheless, the body’s design and styling is very close to that of the GX7, albeit now with polycarbonate covers rather than magnesium alloy. Compared to the GX8, there’s no weather sealing, but it is quite a lot smaller and lighter, something that Panasonic is further emphasising by packaging it with the ‘pancake’ 12-32mm zoom lens (equivalent to 24-64mm) rather than the standard 14-42mm model.
Being derived from the GX7, the GX85 has a built-in flash – which the GX8 hasn’t – and a tilt-adjustable LCD monitor screen (with touch controls), but the built-in EVF is now fixed and doesn’t offer the handy tilting eyepiece which was introduced on the GX7 and continues on the GX8. It retains the former’s LCDtype fi eld-sequential panel rather than the latter’s superior OLED display, although the resolution and coverage are the same. The EVF is perhaps emblematic of the GX85 as a whole; it’s a lot cheaper than the GX8, but paring down of the bottom line has come at other costs, including some features that might just be worth paying a bit more for. There’ll be a few more examples of this as we progress through the GX85’s features.
The control layout is pretty much the same as that of the GX7 and is based around a main mode dial with front and rear input wheels, and a four-way navigational keypad cluster. The latter have various direct functions and there’s four other buttons (designated Fn1 to Fn4) which can be customised. As is the case on all the current Lumix G cameras with touchscreens, a set of additional ‘Fn’ tabs are available in the monitor – in this case numbered Fn5 to Fn9 – which can also be customised.
A single SD format memory card slot is provided and shares a compartment with the battery pack which can now be charged in-camera which is a first for a Lumix G camera (and an AC adapter is supplied rather than a charger). Some people don’t like this arrangement, others do, but it does mean the camera is out of action when a recharge is needed. The battery is the same as was used in the GX7 rather than the GX8’s higher-capacity unit. The connection bay moves sides on the GX85’s body and comprises USB 2.0 and micro HDMI terminals, but no stereo audio input which, of course, was added to the GX8 and is a pretty important feature for the serious video-maker (the rest of the camera’s video capabilities are covered in the Making Movies side-panel).
The GX85 uses the same 16.84 megapixels ‘Live MOS’ sensor as the GX7 (and a number of other Lumix G models), but with one important change, namely that it no longer has an optical lowpass fi lter (LPF). This is another first for a Lumix G camera and, theoretically at least, it should allow for an improvement in definition sufficient to match that of the GX8’s (filtered) 21.77 MP sensor. Panasonic says the increase in resolving power over the previous 16.84 MP sensor is in the order of ten percent, but this may be a bit on the conservative side. Correction for moiré patterns and aliasing artefacts is now handled by the GX85’s new ‘Venus Engine IX’ quad-core processor which also delivers a number of other performance improvements over the GX7.
The effective resolution is 16 megapixels, giving a maximum image size of 4592x3448 pixels. The sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 200 to 25,600 with a onestop ‘pull’ to ISO 100. JPEGs can be captured in one of four image sizes with a choice of two compression levels. There’s also the choice of three aspect ratios beyond the standard 4:3, although obviously all – 3:2, 16:9 or 1:1 represent a crop of varying degrees. RAW files are captured with 12-bit RGB colour. The fastest continuous shooting speed is 8.0 fps – as per the GX8 and much faster than the GX7’s 5.0 fps – for a (quoted) burst of up to 100 JPEGs or 13 RAW files. At 8.0 fps, the autofocusing and metering are locked to the first frame, but with continuous adjustment the maximum shooting speed is still a reasonably snappy 6.0 fps.
Like both the GX7 and GX8, the GX85 has a sensor-based shutter to supplement its physical one (the latter confusingly always referred to as being ‘mechanical’, although it’s electronically controlled), and this allows for a top shooting speed of 10 fps, again with the AF/AE locked to the first frame. There’s also a 40 fps ‘Super High Speed’ mode, but the limitations here are a reduced resolution of around 4.0 MB and a duration of just three seconds (i.e. 120 frames).
Panasonic introduced sensor-based image stabilisation on the GX7, and increased its capabilities from two-axis correction to four axis on the GX8. The GX85 goes further again with a fi ve-axis shift system – bringing it into line with the latest Olympus MFT cameras – and, importantly, it’s available when shooting both 1080p and 4K resolution video.
The correction range for camera shake is now up to four stops, and ‘Dual I.S.’ operation is available when using the Panasonic Lumix G lenses equipped with optical image stabilisation (and, if necessary, the required firmware upgrade). While there’s clearly a step up in the sophistication of the GX85’s stabilisation, unlike Olympus, Panasonic hasn’t taken it any further with pixel shifting to generate ultra-high resolution stills.
The GX85 also has a new shutter which is electromagnetically actuated via dual solenoids – rather than using the traditional micromotors and springs – with the primary objective of reducing vibrations, although it’s also quieter. Panasonic says the reduction in shutter shock vibrations is in the order of 90 percent which is substantial.
We tend to think of camera induced vibrations as mostly a D-SLR issue due to the reflex mirror, but mirrorless cameras suffer from it too, and it’s especially problematic with longer focal length lenses. This obviously affects an MFT format camera ‘earlier’ than those with bigger sensors – and Panasonic now has its brilliant 100-400mm telezoom which is effectively a 200-800mm lens – so the need to minimise any source of vibration is becoming more urgent. Interestingly too, the GX85 has a shutter release delay timer – like the Canon’s EOS 5Ds duo, but obviously minus the need for mirror lock-up – which allows for any vibrations to die away before an exposure commences. The new shutter has a speed range of 60 to 1/4000 second (a stop slower than the GX8 or GX7) with fl ash sync up to 1/160 second.
The sensor-based shutter mentioned earlier has a speed range of one second up to 1/16,000 second, and also has the benefit of silent operation.
As the GX85 joins Panasonic’s growing list of Lumix cameras capable of recording 4K video, it also has the ‘4K Photo’ modes which were introduced with the G7 and are also available on the GX8. These modes record 4K video at 30 fps, but are designed for photographic applications, most notably sports and action where such a high shooting speed is a real advantage. A still frame from 4K video footage is 8.3 megapixels in image size so there’s sufficient quality there for a variety of applications. The three ‘4K Photo’ modes are called ‘4K Pre-Burst’, ‘4K Burst’ and ‘4K Burst Start/Stop’. In the Pre-Burst mode, a sequence of 60 frames is captured in two seconds, but specifically 30 are recorded before the shutter is fully released and 30 after so there’s a better chance of capturing the ‘decisive moment’. The Burst mode is more conventional and will shoot at 30 fps for as long as the shutter button is held down… up to a duration of 29 minutes and 59 seconds. Alternatively, the Start/ Stop mode does the same thing, but one press of the shutter button starts the sequence and a second press ends it.
The GX85 has a brand new ‘4K Photo’ function called Light Composition which again records at 30 fps, but only registers the brighter new pixels in each frame. These are subsequently combined into a single image and the process is primarily designed for subjects such as fireworks or star trails.
Additionally, the GX85 has Panasonic’s ‘Post Focus’ function which also records a high-speed sequence of 4K video frames, but this time covering all the possible focus points – actually 49 in this instance – so you can subsequently select the one with the desired plane of focus. You simply touch – on the monitor screen – the subject matter in the image that you want to be in sharp focus, and the camera then finds the corresponding frame. Bingo! Alternatively, you can have multiple versions of an image with different focus points… it’s all pretty clever, but again the image size is 8.3 MP. Should you want the full 16 MP resolution, then the GX85 offers a new focus bracketing function which can be programmed for up to 999 frames, the focus shifted in each in one of five preselected step sizes. This is pretty nifty too, but wait, there’s more. Another new bracketing function changes the aperture – but not the focusing point – so that the depth-of-field can be varied over a sequence of frames. This is only available in the aperture-priority auto or manual exposure modes (so the starting aperture can be selected), and the sequence can be set to either three or five frames. Alternatively, if you select ‘All’, the sequence will be as long as the available aperture range.
Thanks to the new auto bracketing functions, there’s now a bracketing menu which includes the standard exposure and white balance options with the appropriate sub-menus for set-up. The GX85 is pretty close to the GX8 in terms of its focusing, exposure and white balance control options. The AF system uses sensor-based contrast detection measurements, but is ‘turbocharged’ via Panasonic’s ‘Depth From Defocus’ (DFD for short) processing which uses the lens’s out-of-focus characteristics – derived from grabbing two frames in quick succession as the lens is focusing (the actual speed is 240 fps) – to determine the subject distance. The lens is then driven pretty well directly – and continuously – to that distance with only minor fi ne-tuning required at the end so the focusing speed is on a par with that of a phase-difference detection system. Panasonic claims an autofocusing speed of just 0.07 seconds which is the same as the GX8. The low light sensitivity extends down to -4.0 EV and the GX85 also has the ‘Starlight AF’ facility – introduced on the G7 – which employs a much smaller focusing point and so is primarily designed for astrophotography.
The GX85 continues Panasonic’s fine form in logical and efficient user interfaces, especially its menu design. Like the other higher-end Lumix G bodies, it can be virtually entirely operated via external controls, the touch controls, its menu system, or any desired combination of each. The missing focus mode switch, means a visit to the menu is required, but if you select the auto-switching ‘AFF’ option, you don’t need to go there again. The four ‘hard’ customisable ‘Fn’ buttons each have 14 menu pages of possible functions (so there are over 50 options in each case), while the soft keys each have 13 pages. While it may all look a bit daunting at first, set-up is pretty straightforward and it allows you to make the camera work in the most effective and comfortable way for you.
Like its siblings, the GX85 has a ‘Quick Menu’ control screen which provides an alternative to using the standard menu pages and allows for the selection of both functions and settings via either touch or conventional navigation. The Q.Menu is also extensively customisable so, for example, it can be configured to only show the most frequently used capture related adjustments or functions which means that there’s less visual ‘clutter’ on-screen.
The live view screen can be configured with a variety of display elements, including a dual-axis electronic level, an exposure meter (with aperture and shutter speed sliding scales), a real-time histogram, guide grids (selected from a choice of three), one of two zebra patterns (to indicate areas of overexposure) and a centre marker (particularly useful when shooting video). The histogram can be moved around – including by simply dragging it across the monitor screen – and positioned anywhere in the frame while one of the grid options allows for the grid lines to be moved around by touch as well.
The image review screens a highlight warning, a thumbnail accompanied by a full set of brightness and RGB histograms or a thumbnail with a detailed set of capture data. The playback functions include thumbnail pages of 12 or 30 images, a calendar thumbnail display, zooming at up to 16x and a slide show with a choice of transition effects.
There’s a selection of in camera editing functions, including resizing, cropping, image titling and – new, compared to the GX7 – RAW-to-JPEG conversion. There’s also the ‘Clear Retouch’ editing function which is designed to work along the lines of another Photoshop tool, namely Spot Healing, and allow images to be retouched in-camera. In practice, however, it proves pretty tricky to be accurate when selecting an area – which is actually done by touch – even with the image scaled up.
The GX85 has built-in WiFi, but reverts to a QR code for connectivity rather than the more convenient NFC. The Panasonic Image App works with both iOS and Android devices, and allows for file transfer and basic remote camera control from a smartphone or tablet.
Loaded with our reference 128 GB Lexar Professional SDXC UHS-II/U3 (Speed Class 3) ‘2000x’ memory card, the GX85 captured a sequence of 110 JPEG/large/fine frames in 13.721 second which represents a shooting speed of 8.01 fps. That’s right on the money as far as the quoted speed is concerned, and slightly exceeds the specification for burst length. The typical test file size was 6.7 MB.
Panasonic’s ‘Depth From Defocus’ autofocusing continues to impress with its speed and accuracy. It really is the best there is in contrast-detection systems and on a par with any hybrid system. The low light capabilities are also very impressive and the tracking is much more reliable than was the case with the GX7.
The imaging performance is also significantly improved over the GX7 with the best-quality JPEGs exhibiting noticeably crisper edges, smoother tonal gradations and higher contrast.
Moiré appears to be generally well handled by the GX85’s processor and aliasing artefacts were only occasionally in finer patterns. The colour reproduction is better too, especially in the yellow-to-orange range. Noise levels are low up to ISO 1600 where the increased definition is still evident and the colours remain nicely saturated. Some softening (as the result of noise reduction processing) starts to become evident at ISO 3200, but the image quality still holds together pretty well overall and you could shoot at this setting and have useable files. The softening of details and reduced colour saturation increase progressively at the highest ISO settings, limiting the size that these images can be reproduced, but it has to be said that the GX85’s performance here is still very commendable. Both Panasonic and Olympus continue to squeeze more performance out of their Micro Four Thirds sensors – with the help of on-going refinements to the data processing algorithms – and so the latest models are all holding their own with their ‘APS-C’ rivals. Removing the optical low-pass filter from the long-serving 16 MP device has certainly given it a new lease of life.
There’s so much to like about the Lumix GX85, especially its combination of compactness, features and performance which carries on where the GX7 left off and then some. However, the GX8 is such a powerhouse, it’s hard to see the really serious photographer not digging a bit deeper to have its extra goodies, especially the better EVF and the weather-sealed metal bodyshell. That said, the GX8 is definitely more of a ‘first string’ camera for someone who is fully committing to the mirrorless route, whereas the GX85 makes a huge amount of sense as a more compact alternative to a D-SLR kit for the times when you want to travel light. Its affordability is a big plus here too.
Yet the GX85 ticks so many other boxes, there’s little doubt you could happily live with it on a daily basis and, if the GX8 didn’t exist, we’d be hailing it as an absolute triumph. As it is, it is going to have to live a little in the shadow of its big brother, and so jump up and down a bit harder to be noticed… this is where the excellent image stabilisation, image quality and the new features such as focus bracketing will definitely help its cause. Take the GX8 out of the picture, and the GX85 is another hugely capable Panasonic mirrorless camera jammed solid with a huge list of features – including the surprisingly useful ‘4K Photo’ modes – and a performance that ensures it punches well above its weight.
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