Review: Exploring the Panasonic DMC G85
Story & photo by Neil Wolkodoff, shot with a Panasonic DMC G85
I will admit to not being very good with cameras. As I write travel stories and pieces on gear, my wordsmithery has far outweighed my poor imitation of Ansel Adams. At least it did until now.
Thanks to much better camera technology, I might at least be up to the Ansel part. I have tried numerous cameras for travel pieces, and like you, the seasoned traveler, I like easy with minimal adjustments. My phone just won’t do all that is required. It takes at least a moderate level of sophistication and technology for travel photos to be subject-expressive and catchy.
When you have to travel with one camera and one lens, it has to do everything reasonably well and with a minimum of set up. And, unlike professionals who are paid to hang out to get the right light and the right shot, the rest of us have to take the photo where we are there, and light is less than optimal. Due to weight, I made the switch from a large DSLR to a Mirrorless camera. My choice of purchase was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G85 with their 12-60 mm lens. What drew me to the G85 was the excellent quality of still photos even with a 16 MP sensor, and the advanced 4K video features.
As I worked with the camera consultant at the local store, what really got my attention was the ability to take 4K video and freeze individual frames converting them to stills. Pretty difficult to have 250 people at a food festival freeze or ask the ocean for no motion. So, as the camera consultant went through brands and models, I keep coming back to this feature and Panasonic. And, I was not disappointed with the results from this feature. The photos viewed in this article were all taken with the G85, some in video mode and some in still mode. However, except for any apparent motion, difficult to tell which mode produced the photos. There is a slight learning curve to taking still shots out of the video, and that is a 10-15 minute process, but well worth it to not clog up the memory card.
One notorious drawback of cameras that aren’t 20+ MP or so is low light performance. The G85 actually performed better in those low light situations than my DSLR, and with pre-settings and not manual. And, none of the photos in this article used a flash, just the best setting for that environment.
That will come as a shock to photo purists, yet new cameras have nifty software that determines out what you need for the scene or subject. For example, the food setting is terrific for taking photos of restaurant plates, one of the most challenging things to do in low and less than optimal light. Yes, I still use manual, because it gives me ideas on how to tweak the presets for better results.
If there is one drawback of the G85, and this is true with just about any camera brand these days, there are more control options and pre-settings than you would ever use. So, a bit of time with the manual and trying things is in order. I was able to determine the five to seven settings or options I use in 95% of my travel photos.
And just to make sure, I would try the pre-setting, and then take the same photo in Manual, Aperture or whatever else might seem useful. Every traveler is different, so nice to have all those options with a simple change of the dial. And in both video and stills, the pre-settings produced the best quality the majority of the time. My most used pre-settings so far are Intelligent Auto (it’s pretty darn smart for a camera), Appetizing Food, Clear Sport Shot, Panorama, and Distinct Scenery.
For about $1K, you get an excellent and diverse camera with a lens with reasonable zoom and exceptional optics. A smaller, wide-angle lens, like the Panasonic Lumix 20 mm F1.7 might be all you need on a trip. And because you can take photos in RAW, you get excellent still image quality. As noted, the 4K video features are way above average. Another travel feature is the weather-sealed camera. It also has an advanced 5-axis stability system, which added stability to my photos. Probably made me look a little more like an f-stop genius.
Everyone builds a good camera these days. Mirrorless definitely saves weight during travel. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G85 is a great choice if you want good photos in a variety of light conditions with advanced 4K video morphing into much better than average still photos.
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Neil Wolkodoff, PhD, is a Sport Scientist in Denver, Colorado who has worked with golfers over the last 15 years. During the rare free times, he travels to exotic golf destinations to see how golf, culture and local geography mix in different locales. He has penned articles for Colorado Avid Golfer, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine. In his travels, he has golfed with royalty, tour professionals, the local duffer, and the occasional goat.