Panasonic Cheaps Out, Dumbs Down and Winds Back Professional Rangefinder-Style GX Camera Series with Lumix DC-GX9

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Panasonic has been scoring some especially impressive runs with its Micro Four Thirds stills photography and video cameras lately, the Lumix DC-GH5, the Lumix DC-G9 and most recently the Lumix DC-GH5S, so it is deeply disappointing watching them drop the ball, even hurl it over into an adjacent field, with yesterday’s announcement of the Lumix DC-GX9, supposedly the replacement for the Lumix DMC-GX8

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Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 with Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom lens, for “street photography”.

Perhaps “drop the ball” is too delicate an expression to describe the magnitude of what has occurred with the GX9 so I will borrow a phrase from Amazon’s DPReview and instead name it a fail.

More accurately, a major fail.

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Screenshot from a google search for the GX9.

The GX9 with either of its apparently bundled kit lenses may be a good entry-level camera and lens combination for those new to the Micro Four Thirds sensor format or to the GX9’s rangefinder-style form factor though it is a rather costly entry-level combo compared to, say, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85, also named the Lumix DMC-GX80 in some territories outside the USA.

The Lumix DC-GX9 comes with a kit lens, which one depending on where you live

In Japan, the Lumix DMC-GX80/85 is referred to as the Lumix DMC-GX7 Mark II with the Lumix DC-GX9 actually designated the Lumix DC-GX7 Mark III.

The camera known as the Lumix DMC-GX7 in Japan appears to be the same as the camera called the Lumix DMC-GX7 elsewhere.

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Image from Panasonic Japan’s Lumix GX7 Mark III aka Lumix DC-GX9 product page.

Panasonic Japan’s naming is at odds with the company’s convention everywhere else where, for example, GX8 denotes the professional, top-end version of a line of cameras, GX80 and GX85 denote the second-level version of the same line and GX800 and GX850 denote the third-level version of the GX rangefinder-style line.

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Top view of Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 Mark II on the Panasonic Japan website’s product page. The GX7 Mark II appears to be the same camera as the one designated GX80 or GX85 in other territories.

As my partner reminds me, former employer Canon follows a roughly similar naming convention for its cameras whereby its DSLR product range falls into three levels, DSLR for Beginners, DSLR for Enthusiasts and DSLR for Professionals though with the further complication of Mark I to IV and probably beyond thrown in for good measure.

Panasonic’s coming and current GX-Series rangefinder-style cameras

If we borrow Canon’s camera naming convention, then Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GX850/800 is their rangefinder-style camera for beginners, the DMC-GX85/80 their rangefinder-style camera for enthusiasts and the DMC-GX8 is the camera for professionals, which indeed it is in my experience and that of a number of other professional moviemakers and stills photographers of my acquaintance.

Three highly-esteemed photojournalists and one documentary moviemaker who use Panasonic Lumix GX-Series cameras

And then there is the Lumix DC-GX9.

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Lifestyle photograph from Panasonic media/press release image collection depicting Lumix GX9 with the pricey Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4 Aspheric prime lens.

Judging by the product itself, its specifications and its marketing material including product and lifestyle photographs, the GX9 is not aimed at professional cinematographers and photographers including those working in the fields of documentary and photojournalism, but rather at “street photographers”, beginners and enthusiasts, to borrow Canon’s terminology.

Professional users are conspicuously absent from the Lumix DC-GX9’s marketing material in contrast to that of its predecessors, the Lumix DMC-GX7 and Lumix DMC-GX8.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 with Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4 Aspheric prime lens

Magnum photojournalists Ian Berry and Thomas Dworzak were depicted working with the GX7 while Australian expatriate photojournalist Daniel Berehulak produced photographs and video footage in Cuba with the GX8.

In the GX9 press kit, the sole user image is that of an unnamed young woman holding a GX9 with optional though reportedly essential accessory eyecup and optional though reportedly necessary plastic hand-grip, sporting a Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4 Aspheric prime lens.

At time of writing, the GX9 apparently cannot be bought body-only but with the kit lens designated for the particular territory in which it is bought, and research to date indicates that may be one of three lenses, the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Aspheric Mega OIS collapsible zoom lens, the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-60mm f3.5-5. Aspheric Power OIS and the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 Aspheric.

B&H Photo Video currently has the GX9 with 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom listed at $US997.99 and the Leica Summilux 12mm f/1.4 priced at $US1,297.99.

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Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 Aspheric prime lens

I suggest that this pairing of the GX9 with the Leica 12mm f/1.4, the lens costing far more than the camera plus kit lens much less camera body only, is a highly unlikely choice for the camera’s apparent user base, whether beginner, enthusiast or street photographer.

The two kit zoom lenses are more appropriate choices priced well in line with that user base, with the Leica Summilux 15mm f/1.7 prime lens a more appropriate choice for a street photographer, however that is defined, with something of a purist’s attitude to lenses.

I own a Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Aspheric Mega OIS zoom lens bought as-new secondhand from an eBay seller whose camera came with it as kit lens.

The collapsible 12-32mm is a perfectly fine, sharp and well optically-corrected lens despite its tiny size and pancake prime lens dimensions that I bought for use when photographing in the middle of daylight outdoor events where I need to be as discrete, as near-invisible as possible.

In other words, classic photojournalism, documentary and breaking news situations.

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SmallRig Cage for Panasonic GX8 1844, the camera cage I use when shooting documentary video with my Lumix DMC-GX8. Even with accessories attached, the GX8’s form factor and tilting EVF allows me to work right in the middle of crowds of strangers at public and private events.

The Leica Summilux 15mm f/1.7 might be a useful choice for those purposes, too, but I find it an odd focal length almost halfway in-between my two preferred prime lens choices, 14mm and 17mm or 17.5mm, though I may change my mind if I manage to borrow one for some extended real-life testing.

I would choose none of these kit lenses, 12-32mm, 12-60mm or 15mm for shooting video though the latter may be appropriate if attached to a drone camera.

Documentary video requires the use of lenses with good manual clutch focus, or linear focus-by-wire or fully manual lenses for fine control of focussing as a graphically creative and emotive storytelling element, and my preference is Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro prime and zoom lenses while cinematographer Rick Young carries a large set of upper-end Panasonic Lumix and Leica lenses.

The Panasonic marketing staff’s apparent confusion over the Lumix DC-GX9’s naming, user base, best choice of lenses and indeed overall message is reflected in their marketing materials and website content.

If going by the press kit user photograph then I would give them benefit of the doubt and assume their main GX9 user base is street photographers.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5 would have been best choice if going small for street photography

I make no claim to the title street photographer though I do keep my eye and hand constantly exercised by carrying a camera every day and making storytelling urban documentary photographs so I have some well-qualified thoughts on best cameras for street photography.

Were Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GM5 still in production, I would choose it due to its tiny size, good-enough 16 megapixel sensor and for looking as little like a serious camera as possible while delivering excellent quality results.

Even better, the cigarette pack-sized GM5 was made in three colourways, all black, red and black, and silver and green, the green and red being, one hopes, fake leather.

Street-bound members of the public glancing at a street photographer equipped with one of these would be even more oblivious to the presence of a serious photographer than if spotting somebody with a GX9.

Panasonic’s DSLR-style stills camera solutions, the Lumix GH5 and Lumix G9

If that photographer were toting a DSLR-style camera of any size and brand with prime or zoom lenses of any size and shape, I can guarantee the street photographer in question would be noticed and their presence would adversely affect the images they produce, no matter how terrific the camera.

There is one feature that the GX7, GX8 and GX9 can boast and that remains unique amongst contemporary digital cameras and that is their tilting electronic viewfinders.

It also tilts, as it were: the Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex

I value my Lumix DMC-GX8 for many things but foremost is for its tilting EVF, the closest thing I have nowadays to the tilting or upright magnified viewfinders of one of the finest analog cameras for unobtrusive, fly-on-the wall documentary photography and photojournalism.

As with the Rolleiflex and its telephoto and wide-angle variants, the Lumix DMC-GX8 with its tilting EVF and fully-articulated monitor is a brilliant solution for those two forms of photography as well as portraiture where you need your sitters to rapidly relax on being confronted by the top of your head rather than staring down the barrel of a sniper rifle-like DSLR.

The Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 is to be released on April 1st, 2018, which would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Panasonic, please give us the fully up-to-date GX8 successor we need right now and well deserve, and stop trying to fob us off with this aptly also-named Lumix GX7 Mark III waving the false flag of “GX9”.

There is no substitute.

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Image Credit

Header image concept and quick hack by Carmel D. Morris.

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  • Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera with 12-60mm LensB&H
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