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: Hands on first look
After a busy start to the year with the launch of two full frame models – the Lumix S1 and Lumix S1R, Panasonic has returned to its G-series, releasing the successor to the Lumix G80. The all-new Panasonic Lumix G90 slots into the G-series below the Panasonic Lumix G9, with its target audience being enthusiast photographers and those who are after a comprehensive video spec for blogging and movie making.
You’d be hard pushed to tell the differences between this new model and its predecessor just from glancing at it from the front. The G90 features a 20.3-million-pixel Digital Live MOS sensor, Venus Engine processor and 5-axis Dual I.S. 2 system just as you’ll find inside the Panasonic Lumix G9. The control layout at the rear and on the top plate has changed slightly to make it more user friendly, and just like the Lumix G80, the body is dust and splash resistant to give users that extra bit of reassurance when it’s used in challenging shooting environments.
Compared to the Lumix G80, which arrived on the market at a very competitive price (£699 body only, or £799 with the 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS lens), the Panasonic Lumix G90 costs more and will hit the market at £899 (body only), £1,079 with the 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS lens, or £1,259 with the 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS lens. It’s not short of competition and goes up against some very good sub £1000 mirrorless cameras. One of its main rivals is the recently released Fujifilm X-T30.
The Panasonic Lumix G90 shares a lot of its innards with the larger Lumix G9. It adopts a similar 20.3-million-pixel Four Thirds sensor, which does without an optical low-pass filter to maximise resolution. Like the G9, the ISO range spans from ISO 200 to 25,600, with an extended lower setting of ISO 100 also available.
Like its predecessor, the G90 employs an electromagnetically-driven shutter unit. Shutter speeds range from 60 seconds to 1/4000sec using the mechanical focal-plane shutter, or 1 second to 1/16,000sec using the electronic shutter. Enable the electronic first curtain setting and you’ll find the highest shutter speed the camera can be set to is 1/2000sec. The advantage of using the electronic shutter is that the camera operates silently, however there is the added risk of distortion when shooting moving subjects due to the rolling shutter effect.
By pairing the sensor with a powerful Venus Engine processor, the G90 can rattle out a continuous burst at up to 9fps (AFS) or 6fps with continuous autofocus (AFC). This doesn’t beat the Lumix G9, which shoots at up to 12fps (9fps with AFC), but remains a respectable speed for an enthusiast mirrorless camera. Those who’d like to shoot faster have the option to take advantage of the G90’s 4K Photo modes, which allows users to extract 8-megapixel stills from 4K movie footage captured at 30fps. There’s also 4K Post Focus, which allows focus to be adjusted after shooting.
To aid with handheld shooting, the G90 inherits Panasonic’s 5-axis Dual I.S II image stabiliser that offers up to 5 stops of compensation to counteract camera shake when shooting stills or movies. It works just like the G9’s system in the way it combines 2-axis stabilisation from the lens with 5-axis stabilisation in the camera, however the high-resolution mode doesn’t make it into the G90 and remains an feature found on the Lumix G9 and Lumix S1 and Lumix S1R models.
Just like the G80, the G90 has a small built-in flash that pops-up out of the viewfinder housing. This can be used in TTL or manual modes, with first or second curtain sync, but can’t be used for wireless control of external units. Behind it is a hot shoe to take Micro Four Thirds dedicated flashguns.
As for autofocus, Panasonic uses its formula of contrast detection and Depth From Defocus (DFD) technology again. The G90 is capable of acquiring focus as quickly as 0.07 seconds and its low light AF mode promises accurate focusing in lighting conditions as low as -4EV. As well as Face/Eye detection AF, users get Touch AF to control the size and position of the AF point using the touchscreen.
On the subject of the screen, the G90 features a 3in, 1040k-dot vari-angle OLED screen at the rear, above which is a 2,360k-dot OLED electronic viewfinder offering 100% field of view and 0.74x magnification. Eye sensor AF, whereby the camera automatically starts focusing when you look into the viewfinder is available too as is Touch Pad AF, which lets you use the screen to shift the focus point whilst the camera is raised up to your eye.
Newly added additions to the G90 include a new Live View Composite mode, which is designed to allow those who shoot at night to clearly track the movement of stars against a pitch-black night sky. Each time the shutter is fired, a composite image is displayed, letting users shoot while confirming the results in real time. As well as introducing the L.Monochrome D picture style that creates deeper blacks and richer gradation to black and white images, the new AWBw auto white balance mode carries across from the Lumix S1/S1R, which is intended to create a warmer feel to portrait images.
Two other new creative functions are Auto Marking and Sequence Composition. The idea of Auto Marking is that it recognises motion or faces in a scene and sets a marker so that you can quickly skip to what the camera thinks are the best shots in a sequence. This is different to Sequence Composition, which allows you to combine up to 40 frames from a sequence together in camera to produce a creative and dynamic multi-exposure look to images.
Other features that see the G90 advance on the G80 include its ability to shoot ultra high definition 4K video at 30p/25p/24p with a bit-rate of 100Mbps and no recording time limitation. There’s support for 4:2:2 8bit output recording via micro HDMI and 4:2:0 8bit output in-camera. Switch across to Full HD definition (1920×1080) and there are a good number of slow motion settings available, including 120fps recording at 30p. Videographers and moviemakers will also approve of V-Log L being pre-installed, allowing wider dynamic range and superior colour rendering during the post-production process. Additionally, a 3.5mm microphone jack for high-quality audio recording is included, as well as a headphone socket.
The Lumix G90’s 290-shot battery life in its normal shooting mode isn’t particularly impressive, however there is a new power save LVF mode that automatically puts the camera to sleep after a set period of inactivity detected by the eye sensor. This can increase the battery life dramatically to around 900 images per charge. Elsewhere, the G90 can be charged on the go via USB, plus you get Wi-fi and low-energy Bluetooth for quick and easy sharing with mobile devices.
Build & Handling
Inspect the G90’s controls closely and you’ll notice a few differences. One minor change at the front of the body is the letter ‘L’ which has been removed from the lower left corner. Up on the top plate the movie-record button has been shifted slightly further back to accommodate new white balance, ISO and exposure compensation buttons. These are arranged similarly to those on the Lumix G9, but differ slightly in the way their height is staggered, with the white balance button protruding more than the ISO and exposure compensation buttons.
There isn’t space for a large top plate LCD like you get on the Lumix G9 so the mode dial and on/off switch accommodate the real estate to the right of the EVF. The rear dial sits a fraction higher than the G80’s, which like the front dial can be configured to individual preference. Press the button located within the rear dial and you’ll find it’s setup to change white balance from the front dial and ISO from the rear dial. Like the G80 though, it’s not the easiest of buttons to access. On the left shoulder you’ll find a drive mode dial, with direct access to 4K Photo modes, self timer, time-lapse and continuous shooting modes.
Buttons at the rear of the camera are positioned around a new wheel dial, again similar to that you’ll find on the Lumix G9. The Q.Menu button has been shifted down and the playback button is a fraction higher than it was before. The AF/AE button is once again encircled by the focus lever, but with no joystick, users are either expected to use the touchscreen to reposition the AF point, or alternatively the d-pad can be setup to move the focus area directly. As we’re used to seeing on Panasonic G-series cameras, the level of control the camera offers via its customisable function buttons is very good.
As for the build of the camera, the G90 has a magnesium alloy front-plate to give it strength and it’s deep sculpted grip provides a really good feel in the average-sized hand. With SLR-styling and a grip that’s clearly designed to be comfortable to hold over long spells of shooting, the G90 is a very pleasing camera to pickup and use. With all the important controls and buttons directly accessible from your right hand and a rubberised grip that extends all the way around to the rear of the body, you’ll find it can be used single handedly with lightweight lenses and balances well with long telephoto lenses too.
Those who want to improve battery stamina, add more depth to the camera or enhance the shooting experience in the portrait format have the option to buy the DMW-BGG1 battery grip. This is the same battery grip that the Lumix G80 uses. It matches the rugged, splash and dust resistant design of the G90 and costs £249.
The new Lumix G90 takes what we liked about the Lumix G80 and adds some of the advanced features and functionality from the Panasonic Lumix G9 to make it even better. It doesn’t offer everything you get on the Lumix G9 though and lacks an informative top plate LCD, PC socket, 6K photo modes, high-resolution mode, dual card slots for backup purposes, a larger battery and an AF joystick.
Those who feel that the above features are essential to their photography will need to pay a premium to get their hands on the G90’s big brother, however with cashback promotions at the time of writing bringing the cost of the Lumix G9 down to £999, the price gap between the G90 and G9 isn’t as big as you might think and currently stands at just £100.
For videographers, movie creators and bloggers who want to create high-quality footage, they’ll find the G90 manages to do a lot of what they want from a body that costs less than the Lumix GH5 and Lumix GH5S. Some users may find it useful for B-roll, or opt to have it in their bag as a very capable backup body should their main camera let them down. Having a 3.5mm headphone port to monitor audio will be very well received and as things currently stand it’s the most affordable camera on the market with V-Log L included.
The G90 might not have quite the same flare or retro design that some of its rivals offer, but its SLR-styling is good from a practical perspective and it’s a camera you could shoot with quite happily all day without any discomfort. The handling is excellent and it feels strong enough to put up with a bit of rough and tumble. From the short time I used the camera, I found the positioning of most buttons and dials to be good and easily navigated the menu, which seems somewhat basic after using the complex two-tier menu on the Panasonic Lumix S1R.
In the same way the Lumix G80 impressed, the G90 looks like it’ll be a fine performer for enthusiasts. It has some tough competition in the mirrorless market though, so we’ll have to wait until our review sample arrives to find out how it shapes up against its closest rivals. Watch this space!