30/07/2013 16:45 | By Dan Sung, contributor, MSN Tech

Panasonic Lumix G6 review

The sweetest spot between size and picture power?

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Panasonic Lumix G6

What is it?
The Panasonic Lumix G6 is the latest in the series of high-powered compact system cameras with tonnes of shooting options, changeable lenses and at a fraction of the bulk.

What’s great?
The improved swivelling touchscreen and viewfinder are excellent, the autofocus is super-quick and the creative filters give some real zing to your shots.

What’s not?
There’s so many different menus to access that it’s not always easy to find the settings that you’re looking for.

The bottom line:
This camera is a lot of fun. It’s got all the serious enthusiast-level settings to play with but wrapped up into a machine that anyone can pick up and enjoy. Buy it.

Panasonic Lumix G6 (© Panasonic)

Panasonic Lumix G6: Review

Fast focus, fun features and a full box of tricks in a smallish sized package is what Panasonic wants to sell you with the latest addition to its compact system camera range called the Panasonic Lumix G6.

The G-series was the first of the so-called Micro Four Thirds cameras to hit the market back in 2008 and the gist of what they’re about is that you get the versatility, control and lens-changing choice of a full DSLR camera but in a slightly smaller device thanks to the absence of a little mirror inside. In the case of the G6, what we're talking about is something that's 122mm in width and 355g heavy rather than a good extra centimetre or two on top of that and another 200g.

The trade off is that the image sensor - the part with the megapixels that does the job that photographic film used to - is a bit smaller, so image quality and performance in low light goes down a theoretical notch too.

Nonetheless, CSC cameras - and the Lumix G-series specifically - have been both hugely popular and excellent performers in the past. Does the G6 continue the good work or is it a compromise not worth taking?

Panasonic Lumix G6: Ease of use

The Panasonic Lumix G-series hasn’t changed much in terms of its build. It’s still a good sized camera. One always wishes it were a bit smaller - which is why the GF-series exists - but it seems to be at a sweet spot between power and portability. It’s not going to fit in your pocket but it’s not going to let you down either.

Where it has changed and developed and grown and evolved over the years is with the number of buttons, bells, whistles and settings with which you can fiddle away to your heart’s content; and with the G6 you can seriously fiddle.

There are a total of not one or two but seven function buttons that you can customise to switch on and off a whole list of tasks as is your want - and that’s alongside the usual dials and controls that one would expect. So, if you find that you tinker with the image stabiliser, the HDR, focus or metering modes; or the video recording settings all the time, then you can map them to a more convenient hard control on the rear.

At the same time, there’s the traditional menu to delve into to find what you need, a quick menu for an alternative way of accessing this and that, and also a whole different set of options available through the touchscreen. It’s actually quite overwhelming at times.

Fortunately, Panasonic has had the very good sense of putting an IA (intelligent auto) button on top of the G6 right in the middle of the three major control wheels. Any time you just want to forget everything you’ve been forcing the camera to use and jump to point and press photography, you just hit it, watch it turn blue and then know that the machine is in charge once more; very handy.

Panasonic Lumix G6 rear (© Dan Sung)

Panasonic Lumix G6: Touchscreen and Live Viewfinder

It’s a rumbling debate as to how useful touchscreens are in all lines of gadgetry and the G6 very much solidifies their position in cameras as “quite useful”. It’s easy to forget that this camera has a touchscreen at all when you begin to get to grips with it but it definitely comes into its own when you want to start choosing your own focus points or accessing settings that you’ve forgotten how to find elsewhere in the menus. It’s something of an iPhone of touchscreen responsiveness in the world of cameras.

The 3-inch monitor is probably slightly better for touch control in picture playback mode but, whether you wish to get your fingers on it or not, what’s very clear is that it’s bright, the colours are accurate and it definitely gives a good representation of whether or not you’ve got your shot.

The stunning improvement for the G6 is with the LVF or Live View Finder - the part you put your eye right up to to take photos instead of using the display screen. In the past, what’s seen down the LVF has been rather grainy but Panasonic has upped the mini view to OLED technology with an equivalent 1.4 million dots of information. Put together, that makes it as vibrant display of what you’re looking at as if using the monitor on the rear. Think LVF HD. With it also covering 100 per cent of the field of view, the only tricky part is trying to work out which method of photo composition to use – big screen or peephole.

Panasonic Lumix G6: Creative control

Apps like Instagram, Hipstamatic before it and now a host of others including Snapseed and such have and are proving that people love to apply filter effects to their photography. You may have noticed that proper cameras - compacts and big ones - have been letting people do this kind of thing for a long time. Unfortunately, many of the in-camera experiences available are a bit rubbish; but Panasonic is really onto something with its Creative Control that you’ll find in most of the Lumix devices.

A quick twizzle of the control dial and you get the likes of Impressive Art, High Key, Low Key, Expressive, HDR, Toy Effect, Fantasy, Cross Process and many more to play with. There are 19 in total, the majority of which can even been used when capturing video too. Twinned with the shooting power of the G6, you can very quickly turn a pretty dull looking shot into something really quite special, and that’s all before you drag the file into Photoshop and see what more you can squeeze out of your skill there.

Once you master these filters and begin to use the touchscreen to alter the strength or colour of each effect, you really start to appreciate what a flexible and enjoyable tool this camera really is.

Panasonic Lumix G6 (© Dan Sung)

Panasonic Lumix G6: Speedy snapper

If you hold you finger down on the shutter release - or just press and hold on the screen - the effects can be quite alarming. So long as your 16.05-megapixel G6 has not been set to capture RAW files (not something you need to worry about unless you do a lot of post production), the camera will fire off a continuous burst of shots at 7fps. So, it will keep on taking 7 pictures every second until you run out of SD card space or you let go. It feels a bit like pressing the trigger on a machine gun to the point where the rifle takes control.

You might have a lot of editing to do but the upshot is that the G6 will ensure you get what you want - in decent light, that is. Start taking the ISO level up to 1600 and beyond - something you might notice the camera doing automatically if you watch out on the display - and you notice a dusting of noise creep into your pictures.

Even at high action speeds, the G6 performs well. You won’t get pin sharp with automatic shooting but take the time to adjust the settings yourself to maximise shutter speed and you will be able to feel like you’ve stopped time. The same is true with the movie mode which is generally very good. If you entrust it to do all the auto-focusing yourself, it won’t always give you the best results for a moving subject.

Panasonic Lumix G6: Wi-Fi and NFC

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - most camera companies haven’t got all this wireless transfer of images sorted yet and Panasonic is no exception. The G6 is so smart that it offers both NFC and Wi-Fi possibilities. Both are quite useful out in the field when there’s no home network to piggyback or a computer to shove your SD card into. Wi-Fi Direct means that you can set up your own little Wi-Fi connection between you and any smartphone or tablet wherever you are. NFC offers very much the same. The bad news is that it still relies on downloading and installing the relevant Lumix app and that’s all too tedious.

One other curious incident that’s worth mentioning is just because a device is super-smart, it doesn’t make it any easier to do any of this wireless work. We found ourselves in an interesting situation in test when both the G6 and a Samsung TV, upon which we were trying to do a slideshow, spent the whole time tussling for control of the connection. They were just too clever for each other and the end result was some kind of IT nightmare. Had we a Panasonic Viera television, doubtless the operation would be seamless, but rarely have we seen a household with just one tech manufacturer featuring throughout.

Panasonic Lumix G6: Verdict

There’s very little to dislike about the Panasonic Lumix G6 at all. To some, this CSC camera simply won’t appeal because of its form. It may not be a DSLR but it’s still a long way off being called anything like compact. If you can stomach the size, however, what you get is an incredibly powerful camera with everything but the highest of picture quality to boast.

The touchscreen control and viewfinder are excellent, the creative picture taking options superb and the speed of focus and shooting are unreal. Sure, it can be a little confusing at times as to which control can be found where but the bottom line is that this camera is a lot of fun to use. At the current street price, we highly recommend it.

5 stars

Panasonic Lumix G6: Available now – £549/£619 (body only/with kit lens) - check the latest prices on Bing

See also:
OMG Life Autographer hands-on review
Sony Cyber-shot WX300 review