Panasonic DMC-GF6 review
UPDATED: We had the best part of the day to use the camera in Vienna, so we've updated the Panasonic Lumix GF6 hands-on with our first impressions of the camera and its handling. We've also put some sample images up. Unfortunately, as the camera was pre-production and image quality won't be the same as from the final version, we can't use full-res shots or 1:1 crops.
Panasonic has launched the Lumix DMC-GF6 Micro Four Thirds camera. The successor to the Panasonic GF5, the camera is aimed at people that want a step-up from a compact camera or enthusiasts looking for something smaller to carry around.
We like the new look of the GF6 and think it's a bit more comfortable to hold than the GF5
Style wise, the GF6 is a little squarer than the GF5 and it feels a little chubbier, but that just makes it a bit easier to grip and makes it feel more secure in the hand. We like the new styling, with the silver and black case standing out more than the pure-black GF5; there's also a white version available. Looks-wise the GF6 looks more like the excellent Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1, which isn't being replaced.
Handling has also been improved, with a new Function Lever on the top around the shutter button. This can be allocated to a specific function, including zoom (lens dependent), exposure or aperture control. Combined with the thumb dial on the back, it means you've got easier manual control over the camera.
You can assign a function, such as aperture control, to the new Function Lever, giving you more control over shooting
PANASONIC DMC-GF6 SCREEN
The screen on the GF6 is a slight step up from the GF5 resolution wise: 1040K-dot screen compared to the 920K-dot screen on the outgoing model. While that in itself is unlikely to make too much difference, there are a couple of improvements that could.
If you like taking photos of yourself, the articulated screen will be perfect
First, the GF6 has a screen that can flip 180-degrees, so you can use it for self-portraits. The design of the hinge seems a little complicated to us, with the screen springing out of its housing and concertinaing backwards. While it will face forwards, popping out above the camera, it doesn't rotate down far, making overhead shots a bit trickier.
The screen's clever, but the mechanism is quite complicated
Likely to be more interesting is the new technology for the capacitive touchscreen. With In Cell Touch, the traditional air-gap in the screen has been removed and the touchscreen is integrated directly. Not only does it make the screen thinner, but it uses 25 per cent less power, increases colour reproduction by around 20 per cent and reduces reflections. It certainly looked sharp when we used it and the screen is responsive. Setting up the auto-focus area by dragging the box around the live preview was particularly easy, and you can just tap the part of the picture that you want to focus on.
Having a responsive touchscreen also means that the menus and settings are easy to navigate, so you can quickly get in and make the changes you want. Of course, you can still use the physical buttons on the back of the camera to do the same job. Overall, in our time with the GF6, being able to seamlessly switch between the controls and the touchscreen gave us the best of both worlds.
PANASONIC DMC-GF6 SENSOR
Panasonic has increased the sensor's resolution, moving from 12-megapixels on the GF5 to 16-megapixels on the GF6. That in itself isn't always a good thing, as it means less light falls on each pixel, which can increase noise and reduce low-light performance.
Panasonic is claiming that its new Live MOS sensor negates these threats, by minimising noise, while its Venus Engine image processor is designed to further reduce noise in images. The combination of the two allows the GF6 to shoot at ISO 3200 in Auto mode (you can set a lower limit manually) and ISO 25600 in Extended mode. It's hard to judge at this stage just how good the new sensor is, as the camera we used wasn't final; we'll have to save judgement on noise until we've had the camera in for review.
When it gets too dark, there's a small pop-up flash on top of the camera. It's neat and potentially useful for close-up shots in dark rooms or for front illumination when you've got direct sunlight to deal with.
The pop-up flash is neat, but it's really for close-up shots in rooms
PANASONIC GF6 NFC AND WI-FI
Panasonic has NFC built-into some of its new camcorders and compacts, but the GF6 is the first CSC to have the technology. Using NFC you can tap the camera to a compatible device, such as a tablet, and automatically transfer pictures. With NFC growing in popularity it's good to see it included here.
Integrated Wi-Fi means that you can use the Image App to control your camera from your smartphone. This includes using your phone as a remote viewfinder, but also means you can GeoTag your photos.
Connecting to the camera is easy, once you've turned on its Wi-Fi and noted down the security code: you just have to join your phone to the camera's network and the app's ready to go. Being able to control your camera from your phone is brilliant, as it gives you more options when shooting, particularly if you need a remote shutter, such as for group shots.
PANASONIC GF6 SHOOTING MODES
There's no getting away from the fact that the GF6 is primarily a point-and-shoot camera for those people looking to upgrade from a compact. To that end, Panasonic now has 23 scene modes for intelligent Auto (iA) and 19 creative filters to automatically process your images to give them a look and feel.
Creative filters are all applied at the time of shooting and you can't post-process an image once it's been taken, which is a bit of a shame. However, all filters have a live preview on the screen, so you can get an instant glimpse of what the finished photo will look like. This is really useful, as it's often hard to work out how to process a photo once it's been taken, so being able to flick through the filters for instant gratification gives you a much better idea of what to use.
Quality varies between the filters and some felt quite tacky. Glistening Water (pictured below) and the Star Lights filter impose glowing star-lights on your photos, which just makes them look pretty tacky.
We can't imagine why you'd want to use the Glistening Water creative filter, as the results look a little tacky
We also found the Impressive Art filter a little strange, as it alters the colour palette, so that pictures look a little bit like they're hand-coloured Victorian Postcards.
Impressive Art just makes pictures look as though they're from a hand-coloured Victorian postcard
With so many filters to choose from, there are some that make a real difference to pictures and give you a different way of shooting your pictures. The Miniature filter is one of our favourites. Its primary goal is to make real-life look like a model, by blurring the image outside of the on-screen frame. However, it can also be used sparingly to bring part of a scene into focus, drawing the viewer's eye towards what you want them to see.
The Miniature filter can make objects look like toys (above) or simply draw focus to part of the scene (bottom)
Black and White mode is also extremely useful, as this can help bring out detail in a shot and give you a different way of looking at a scene.
Using Black and White can make the most of some settings and give you a better picture than colour would have done
The dedicated Panorama mode is good, automatically stitching together multiple shots into a super-wide-angle shot. It's pretty easy to use, although you'll need a bit of practice to get it down perfectly and you have to be careful where there are a lot of people moving, as the camera didn't always stitch the images together perfectly.
Panorama shots can be impressive, but the camera doesn't always stich the images together properly, as you can see from the guy in the middle
PANASONIC GF6 AUTO FOCUS
There's no denying that Panasonic's cameras are extremely quick to focus in bright light, but the low-light focussing has suffered with cameras spending a lot of time hunting.
With Night-shot AF, the company hopes to have solved this. It works by slowing down the AF system in low-light. Under normal lighting the camera uses 120fps for the Contrast AF; when it detects low light, it switches to 15fps, which improves performance over previous cameras, while retaining accuracy. It certainly seemed to work in our tests, with the camera focussing extremely quickly in all conditions.
PANASONIC GF6 14-42mm LENS
Being introduced with the GF6 is a new 14-42mm kit lens, which is smaller than the previous version. However, it's not particularly small and the slimline Power X 14-42mm would have been a better choice, helping keep the overall dimensions of the GF6 down and making it more comparable with a compact camera.
Still, we've got no complaints about performance in our testing, producing sharp results in our test images. It'll also focus at extremely close range, making it very versatile.
The 14-42mm kit lens lets you get up-close and personal with your subject
PANASONIC GF6 PRICE
The Panasonic GF6 will be available soon and will come with a single 14-42mm lens for £499 and with two lenses for £649. A trade-in deal will be available, so you can get up to £149 off the price by taking your old camera in. There's a fair amount of competition in this market, but the GF6 certainly feels like a decent step-up from the GF5 with better handling, improved controls and a higher-resolution sensor. We'll bring a full review as soon as samples are available.