Tim Coleman tests the latest compact system camera in Panasonic's entry-level range, which features a 16-million-pixel sensor, a newly designed tilt screen, built-in Wi-Fi and extra controls on its body. Read the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 review...
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 at a glance:
- 16-million-pixel four thirds CMOS sensor
- ISO 160-25,600 (extended)
- 3in, 1.04-million-dot, touch-sensitive, tilting LCD screen
- 1080i AVCHD video at 50fps
- Street price £499 with 14-42mm kit lens
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 Introduction
The Lumix DMC-GF6 is Panasonic’s latest entry-level compact system camera. It’s the smallest and lightest offering from the company, with a simple design that compact camera users are likely to feel at home with.
The Lumix DMC-GF6 is the fifth version of the model, yet it hints at a departure, being bigger than the preceding Lumix DMC-GF5. The GF6 is also the first in the line to have a shooting-mode dial, which is a welcome addition. In fact, although the Lumix DMC-GF6 still looks very similar to its predecessor, it bears a strong resemblance to the more sophisticated metal-bodied Lumix DMC-GX1, although its body is still made from plastic.
It’s not just the body that has been transformed. Until now, a 12-million-pixel sensor (approx) has been used in Panasonic’s entry-level models, but the GF6 features the same 16-million-pixel imaging sensor as used in the GX1. Despite this and some other new features, including built-in Wi-Fi and a tiltable LCD screen, the GF6 still has the lowest RRP in the company’s range, at £499 with the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. That said, the GF5 can now be picked up for around half this price, so the GF6 will have to show its worth as a successor.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 Features
To date, 16-million-pixels (approx) is the highest resolution for a micro four thirds sensor, so the entry-level Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 can stand tall among more expensive and sophisticated cameras. It has an ISO range of ISO 160-12,800, which can be expanded to ISO 25,600.
The sensitivity range of the GF series is continually being expanded. Two models ago, the maximum sensitivity setting was ISO 6400. Compared with the GF5, Panasonic claims that the GF6 has better low-light performance with an improved signal-to-noise ratio.
When using the auto ISO setting, the Lumix DMC-GF6 appears to take into consideration the focal length of the lens, adjusting the minimum shutter speed to ensure blur-free results. For instance, when fitted with the 14-42mm (28-84mm effective) kit lens, the camera uses a shutter speed of at least 1/80sec at the wider settings and 1/125sec at the standard focal length.
There is no option to set the minimum shutter speed manually, but auto ISO can generally be relied upon to choose the correct exposure settings – that is, as low an ISO and shutter speed as necessary to obtain the sharpest possible results.
Like Panasonic’s premium compact camera, the Lumix DMC-TZ40, the Lumix DMC-GF6 is Wi-Fi compatible. By default, the menu for Wi-Fi is accessed via the Fn2 button. Here, the user is presented with four options: remote shooting & view; playback on TV; send images while recording; and send images stored in the camera. Generally, Wi-Fi runs smoothly and its benefits are obvious. ‘Send images while recording’ is novel, although it can be a drain on the battery because Wi-Fi is continually activate. For general image sharing, I preferred to use the ‘send images stored in the camera’ option, which allows images to be manually selected for upload.
With such a wide variety of image-editing tools now available on smartphones and tablet devices, quick and rough edits can be done without a computer. During a one-day shoot, I took photographs of a windmill, uploaded my favourite shot to an iPad, used Snapseed to make adjustments to the image with the app’s filters before applying a border. I was then able to share the photo through Instagram – all within ten minutes while still on location. However, image editing in-camera is still fairly limited.
An interesting addition to the playback menu is the clear retouch mode. This enables objects to be removed from a picture by painting over the area (indicated with a red overlay) using the touchscreen. I tried to remove a variety of objects using this mode – litter in a landscape, a traffic cone in an urban scene and a lamp-post in a clear sky – and was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. However, clear retouch is not suitable for removing intricate details.
Like the TZ40, the GF6 also features Near Field Communication (NFC), which sends information over short distances using radio signals. It’s a technology also seen in bank cards to enable wireless payments to be made. Touching an NFC-compatible smartphone or tablet against the camera initiates a connection, skipping the more arduous manual process of standard Wi-Fi connection.
Overall, I had issues connecting to a Motorola smartphone wirelessly, but no such issues when using the standard Wi-Fi connection to connect to an iPhone. If this camera’s Wi-Fi technology is a key part of its appeal, I recommend going to a camera shop to test that it works with your own phone before buying.
There are plenty of shooting effects to be found in-camera, and these can be recorded in both raw and JPEG format. However, there is no bracketing function to record a number of picture effects simultaneously, which I would like to see.
Creative control offers 19 effects, including dynamic monochrome, high key and cross process, along with less conventional ones like sunshine and fantasy. There are even 23 different scene modes, some having cringeworthy names like sweet child’s face and cute dessert, through to more familiar-sounding fare such as clear nightscape and vivid sunset glow.
The shooting-mode dial also offers a panorama mode, which proved to be a bit hit and miss. It worked well at times, but could be fussy with the speed of sweep motion or even stop recording part-way through a pan.
Continuous high-speed shooting is possible at up to 4.2fps for an eight-frame burst in raw or a 30-frame burst (approx) in JPEG. In the medium 3fps burst mode, JPEG capture is possible for an unlimited burst, which is impressive. A 20fps super-high drive mode is available in JPEG only and without control over exposure or focus, for a 39-frame burst.
Remote control shooting
While the GF6 does not have a port for connecting a cable release, the fact that the camera is Wi-Fi-enabled means that remote shooting and live view are possible via a smartphone or tablet. Not only are they possible, but through the Panasonic Image app (downloadable for free from the Apple and Android stores), there is wide range of shooting controls available via a smart device.
The range of exposure settings that can be adjusted remotely include AF mode, white balance, touch shutter, touch AF, colour modes, picture effects and even the drive mode. There is no manual override of the shooting mode dial, so one must select the shooting mode wisely if the camera is being placed at a distance. Thankfully, the camera’s response to remote changes is near instant, making the GF6 suitable for remote wildlife shooting or sports, where a quick response is necessary to capture a moment.
Build and handling
Image: The GF6 is the same size as a compact camera, so it is all the more easy to go unnoticed when capturing street scenes. The image has been wirelessly uploaded to a tablet device and then edited using the (free) Snapseed photo-editing software – all achieved on location during a break
Like its predecessor, the Lumix DMC-GF6 is a low-cost, entry-level model, with a solid plastic, rather than metal, body like that used in the GX1. The camera is equally compact in height and width, but is a little deeper on account of its new tilt LCD screen. Yet while the difference in depth is noticeable, it is minimal, and the tilt function is well worth the extra bulk. With a pancake lens like the 14mm f/2.8 attached, the camera is similar in size to the company’s Lumix DMC-LX7 compact camera. Thanks to the use of the four thirds format, available lenses are typically much smaller than those designed for use with APS-C-format CSCs. In short, the camera and its lens system are compact.
The form and button layout of the GF6 is very similar to that of the GF5. The most obvious difference is the addition of a shooting mode dial, which certainly enhances its handling. Through the dial, there is direct access to the creative control modes, scene modes and panorama mode, as well as the manual exposure control modes. The iAuto shooting mode is still activated via a dedicated button and overrides the current shooting mode.
A built-in flash is placed centrally above the lens mount, and a manual release catch pops it into place. In its elevated position, the clearance of the flash above some larger lenses is not quite great enough, so the lens can obstruct the flash illumination in the lower part of the frame. For example, with the new 14-42mm lens in place (which is smaller than the last version of the lens but still longer than the collapsible ‘X’ version), and with its lens hood attached, a significant portion of light from the flash is blocked. Without a hotshoe port, there is no option to attach an external flash unit, so flash photography is limited with the GF6.
I will talk in more about the LCD screen later, but it’s worth noting at this point that the screen greatly enhances the handling of the camera. Overall, the camera is great to use and certainly a noteworthy improvement over the GF5.
Like most systems, the GF6 offers multi-pattern, centreweighted and spot metering options. The 1,728-zone multi-pattern metering is very good – exposures in bright conditions were spot on in every image I recorded. In overcast conditions, exposures are a tad on the bright side, which means midtones are well exposed but at the cost of clipped highlights.
The fact that spot metering is achievable by touching the screen anywhere in the frame is a boon for everyday shooting where time is of the essence. Other systems that are navigated using a rear control pad are considerably slower and less sutiable for day-to-day shooting. Furthermore, the size of the spot can be adjusted using a pinching action on the screen, which is quick. With speedy handling of spot metering and the iDynamic options (more on this in Dynamic range), I rarely found it necessary to use exposure compensation.
Image: Despite trying a few different AF modes, the camera did not focus on the bluebell in this image at all. Therefore, manual focus had to be employed instead
Most compact system cameras use a contrast-detection AF system that works best when good (contrasty) light is available. Indeed, in daylight the AF speed of the GF6 is near instant. Users of a camera like this would tend to rely on the multi-area focusing for general shooting, and in this case its a 23-area system. However, I am a fan of using the touchscreen for single-area touch AF too, and found this to be just as quick. It is an intutive method of focusing.
For some precise subjects – for example, picking out a single bluebell flower – even spot AF may not pick up the subject, focusing instead on the background. Manual focus works better for occasions such as these, and MF assist handily magnifies the detail on the rear screen to make it easier to check whether the subject is sharp.
Continuous AF is possible, which is particularly useful for video recording, and on the whole this proved smooth in operation. Also, subject-tracking AF seemed to cope well with moderate movement. All in all, the GF6 has numerous AF modes that between them cover day-to-day shooting.
It’s in low-contrast light that contrast-detection AF can struggle a little. According to Panasonic, slowing the GF6‘s AF readout from 120fps to 15fps when low light is detected improves its sensitivity by 8x. In practice, I was pleased with the performance of AF in low light – it is certainly quicker than I have come to expect contrast-detection systems to be. In really low-contrast light, the AF assist lamp kicks in, which, of course, helps focusing on close-range subjects too. Overall, the performance in low light does not match that of the systems found in enthusiast and pro-level DSLRs, but for a camera of its type, the GF6 is still up there with the best of them.
Image: In this overcast scene, the evaluative metering has recorded and exposure just right for the midtones. However the limited dynamic range of the camera means that highlight detail has been lost
Featuring the same sensor as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1, the Lumix DMC-GF6 has a similar dynamic range, which is approaching a rather modest 11EV. Indeed, when shooting in a standard mode without iDynamic or HDR settings applied, the camera struggled to capture a wide range of tones. This was most notable with overcast scenes where the sky was bright white and the landscape dark. In this situation, the sky could appear as a solid white mass (highlight clipping). Systems with a dynamic range closer to 13EV would show some detail.
Applying iDynamic (auto is fine) made some highlight and shadow detail more obvious, and after shooting for a day and then reviewing my images, I opted to keep the iDynamic activated to gain that little extra tonal detail. Of course, HDR mode extends the dynamic range greatly and this now has its own place in the main menu.
It’s available when shooting in JPEG format only and does not offer manual control over its strength. Essentially, it records three consecutive frames and blends them for a wider tonal range. Even though the camera can be heard recording the three frames one after the other, it blends the images together very well and for the most part a tripod is not necessary to achieve crisp results.
As the sensitivity rised, the dynamic range is further compromised, so don’t expect punchy, exciting images when using ISO 800 or above.
White balance and colour
I largely kept the GF6 in its standard colour mode and in AWB, and was pleased with the colour rendition in most situations. In sunny weather, images were punchy without being too saturated, so there was little need to employ the vivid setting in this instance. For times when the colour rendition was a little off – for example, single dominant tones usually trick AWB into compensating for the opposite end of the colour axis – a custom reading was quick and simple to take, to ensure the rendition was correct.
Colour modes are found in the photo style menu, where tweaks to contrast, saturation, sharpness and noise reduction can be made. I would like to see some colour filters added to the monochrome photo style, such as green and red, because these filters can really add impact, such as darkening the sky or adding tonal depth to portraits.
Noise, resolution and sensitivity
Image: This night scene has been recorded at ISO 3200. In the version with no NR applied at all, we can clearly see luminance noise, and colour noise is evenly scattered too. Colour noise is dealt with easily, but once luminance noise reduction is applied, the image becomes less crisp
Full-resolution files are 4592×3448 pixels, which means prints at 300ppi are sized 15.3×11.5in, or 19.1×14.4in at a perfectly acceptable 240ppi. In short, the GF6 produces pictures around A3 in size. View pictures at this size, and the GF6, with its kit lens, is capable of rendering crisp detail. This is certainly the case in good-contrast light and for close-range subjects like a head-and-shoulders portrait.
As it uses the same sensor as the GX1, it comes as little surprise that the GF6 also reaches the 26 marker on our resolution chart at ISO 160, using the kit lens set to its 50mm (equivalent) focal length. For an entry-level CSC, this performance is good and matches many other cameras with similar pixel counts. At higher sensitivities, resolved detail is still respectable, reaching the 22 marker at ISO 6400.
The four thirds sensor of the GF6 renders detail that, on the whole, feels a little flatter than that produced by larger full-frame and APS-C-format cameras. A similar level of detail is present, but does not appear to be quite to the same depth. Also, although resolved detail is pretty good, it becomes a little smudgy at higher sensitivities – a result of noise reduction being applied to smooth-out luminance noise.
I would still happily use the camera up to ISO 800, and in overcast conditions, but beyond these settings the critical user might start to take issue with image quality. Of course, using any one of the available prime lenses rather than the kit lens will also enhance the quality of detail. The 25mm (50mm equivalent) f/1.4 lens should be on the shopping list of anyone considering the Panasonic Lumix G-series system.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 14-42mm lens set to 25mm and f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
LCD, viewfinder and video
One of the most obvious improvements to the GF6 is its rear LCD screen. The GF5 has a fixed LCD screen, while the screen in the GF6 tilts down 45° and up 180°, which means the screen can be viewed from in front of the camera. This works well for images such as handheld self-portraits. In fact, an auto self-timer is activated when the screen is at its 180° position.
The screen’s trump card is that it is touch-sensitive, with touch AF, metering, shutter and even menu navigation on offer. Panasonic got the functionality of its touchscreens spot on a while back, and the screen enhances the camera’s handling no end. There is no quicker way to use spot metering and focusing than with a responsive touchscreen.
The screen is still 3in, but its resolution has increased to a class-leading 1.04 million dots. Its bright display can be viewed comfortably even in bright light, thanks in part to the minimal use of glass in front of the LED panel. Panasonic has built the touchscreen technology into the screen itself, rather than it being on a separate layer.
Tilting the screen not only broadens the viewing angle – I found it very useful for shooting at high and low-angle shots when in landscape mode – users can also shift its position to reduce reflections for clearer viewing. This is essential because the GF6 does not have a built-in viewfinder, or even the option to add an external unit. Although Lumix DMC-GF2 featured an accesory port for attaching an EVF, I am not surprised by its absence here. The GF6 is a low-cost option and an EVF costs around half the price of the camera, and most owners will probably not want one.
Full HD 1080i video files can be recorded at 50fps with stereo sound, although there is no option to attach an external microphone. A separate menu for video recording makes for easy navigation.
Three cameras provide the stiffest competition to the GF6: the Olympus Pen E-PL5, Sony NEX-3N and Samsung NX300. The Panasonic and Olympus cameras use the four thirds format, while the Sony and Samsung models are APS-C format, with the Samsung camera featuring the highest-resolution sensor at 20-million-pixels, compared to the 16 million pixels of the others.
All three cameras are compact and light – weighing between 269g and 325g (with battery) – and are virtually identical in size, except for the Samsung NX300, which is slightly bigger. All have tilt LCD screens, though only the Sony NEX-3N is not touch-sensitive. The Panasonic GF6′s screen has the highest resolution, but no optional viewfinder is available, unlike for the Olympus and Sony models Meanwhile, the Samsung cameras is the only one without built-in flash, though its hotshoe will take an external unit. Overall, the Olympus camera feels the least ‘entry-level’.
Image: The panorama mode can be a bit hit and miss. Here, it has worked well and recorded to its maximum angle
For its target audience – those stepping up from a compact camera, first-time buyers of an interchangeable-lens camera, or even those that want a backup to a DSLR – the GF6 is an excellent option. It is lightweight, compact and handles well, with a good range of lenses.
The camera may not offer a viewfinder, which is understandable for a model of its size and price, but its tiltable screen can be viewed clearly in most conditions. The ability to control the camera through the buttons or touchscreen works well, with the touch metering and AF particularly pleasing. Likewise, controlling the camera wirelessly through a smartphone is at times genuinely useful, as is the ability to share images while on the go.
When it comes to image quality, the GF6 is a capable camera, especially considering the excellent lenses that are available in the Lumix G system. All in all, the GF6 is quick to get to grips with, handles intuitively and speedily, has an impressive feature set, and can record good-quality images.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 – Key features
The sort of information that can be displayed on the LCD screen includes live histogram, guide lines, record area, and exposure settings.
Underside of the camera
The tripod bush is central to the lens mount, while the battery and SD memory card slot are accessed through the same door under the handgrip.
On the top-plate next to the shutter release is a button that switches directly to movie recording.
On the right-hand side of the camera, HDMI and AV/out ports can be found underneath a firm plastic door.
The NFC chip is placed on the left-hand side of the camera, which is where NFC devices need to be held to make an NFC connection.
Other Fn controls
Through the touchscreen menu there are two further function buttons, both of which are customisable.
Quick menu/Fn1 button
Most key exposure controls – 13 in all – can be accessed via this quick menu, so expect to use this button a lot day-to-day.
By default, this button is set to access the Wi-Fi menu. A four-digit password can be activated to prevent unauthorised access to the Wi-Fi menu.
Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels, 50i AVCHD 25fps (PAL), 1920×1080-pixel MPEG-4 (30fps)
Auto, 5 presets, 2 custom, Kelvin, all with fine-tuning
Yes, GN 6.3m @ ISO 160 (5m @ ISO 100)
SD, SDHC, SDXC
4592 x 3448 pixels (15.8 million pixels)
3in, 1.04-million-dot touchscreen LCD
100% on LCD
23-area and touch-focus anywhere in the frame
16-million-effective-pixel Live MOS
280g (body only), 323g (with card and battery)
Program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, iA+, 24 scene modes
JPEG, RW2 (raw), raw + JPEG, MPO (when attaching 3D lens in micro four thirds-system standard), AVCHD, MPEG-4Compression
Adobe RGB, sRGB
20fps at 4-million-pixel resolution, 4.2fps with AF, 3fps with live view, 7 continuous shots in raw, unlimited JPEGs
£499 with the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens
±3EV in 1/3 steps
Micro four thirds
Single, continuous, manual, face detection, AF tracking, 23-area, 1-area, pinpoint, touch
111.2 x 64.8 x 38.4mm
Yes, with shutter speed simulation
1728-zone, multi-pattern sensing system with options for intelligent multiple, centreweighted, spot
Mini HDMI, digital/video out, remote release