Panasonic’s SLR-style Micro Four Thirds camera follows on from where the Lumix G80 left off, but how does it differ? Michael Topham put it to the test
Panasonic Lumix G90: Performance
Autofocus uses Panasonic’s usual combination of contrast detection and Depth From Defocus (DFD). This arrangement promises high-speed lock-on in 0.07secs, with its low light AF mode promising accurate focusing in lighting conditions as low as -4EV. In real world use I found focus lock to be immediate in good light, while in poor light the bright orange AF assist beam does a good job of illuminating close subjects with only a slight reduction in AF speed.
In very dark conditions where the AF assist lamp is less effective at illuminating subjects at greater distances, the AF system is prone to hunting and struggles to the point that opportunities can be missed. Those who find themselves focusing manually will find they’re presented by a good selection of focus aids when the camera is set to MF and the manual focus ring is twisted. The focus scale and peaking displays are great to have, however it’s the magnified view that lets you inspect detail at up to 20x magnification that I found most useful.
Something the G90 isn’t short of are focus area modes. Pinpoint mode presents an enlarged focus box in the centre of the screen or EVF for when you need to be super precise with the positioning of the focus point, while Face-Detection AF doesn’t hesitate at recognising faces and eyes in the frame, albeit without the option to prioritise which eye you’d like the camera to focus on. Custom multi mode was useful for selecting a central group of 21 autofocus points, which in combination with continuous AF (AFC) and burst shooting resulted in some great action shots of a dog hurtling towards the camera at high speed, which were captured at 6fps.
While the G90 is very capable when it comes to focusing, it’s not without a few operational gripes. The two-button press on the D-pad (left, then down) to shift the AF point is slow and tedious. One of the first things users will want to do out of the box is turn Direct Focus Area on from the focus settings so that a press of any directional button instantly highlights and starts moving the AF point. Similarly, the way the AF point can sporadically be moved by your nose coming into contact with the screen as the camera is held to your eye is annoying. To get around this users can activate an option to disable AF point selection via touch.
Loaded with a SanDisk 64GB Extreme Pro SDXC Class 10 UHS-I card, the G90 had no difficulty rattling out a continuous burst of 263 full-resolution Fine JPEGs at 9fps before it showed any sign of slowing. This number dropped to 35 frames when it was switched to raw after which the buffer required a breather. Those who like to shoot in raw+JPEG can expect to fire off 28 consecutive images in less than 4 seconds before the buffer is filled. For an enthusiast camera at under £1000 this is impressive.
Those who regularly shoot JPEGs will find the G90’s default ‘Standard’ picture mode delivers pleasing results straight off the bat. The other picture styles are worth exploring too, with the option to tweak the contrast, sharpness, noise reduction and saturation to suit personal taste. Adjust any of these variables via the main menu and you get to see the affect they have live on the screen or EVF. Metering is another area where the G90 rarely disappoints. It reads scenes well and I found the Multi Metering mode very reliable.
Panasonic’s interpretation of colour has swayed to being quite cool in the past, but this has been an area of improvement in recent years, with a more neutral, natural looking feel to shots captured in the G90’s Auto White Balance (AWB) mode. Users always have the AWBc setting if a cooler result is preferred, or there’s the newer AWBw setting that retains a reddish tint for healthy, rosy looking skin colour.
To maximise battery life users will want to take advantage of the Power Save LVF shooting mode. A half press of the shutter brings the camera back to life. When the four-bar battery status indictor blinks red the battery dies soon after. Thankfully, USB charging is supported and lets you keep the battery topped up on the go. If you want to shoot for long periods, don’t have the time to recharge via USB, or intend to use the Wi-fi functionality regularly, having a spare battery to drop in at a moments notice is recommended.