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9th April 2013
Panasonic DMC-GF6 hands-on preview
by Ian Burley
9160: Panasonic DMC-GF6 hands-on preview

This article has been syndicated from our specialist Four Thirds User site

Here are our first impressions of the DMC-GF6 (pre-production)

DMC_GF6a-5.jpg

UK pricing: 499 with 14-42mm II kit standard zoom, 649 with 14-42mm II kit standard zoom and 45-150mm kit telephoto zoom. Expected availability: end of April.

Panasonic Lumix has unveiled the replacement for the ultra-compact DMC-GF5 - unsurprisingly called the GF6 and we have had some time to get to know what is actually a radically different camera compared to its predecessor. We also have a small selection of downloadable GF6 image samples taken at night to test low light performance

The GF6 is an important model for Panasonic because it is likely to its highest volume seller in the range. It's at the low end of the range in terms of price but not in specification. It's also the first entry-level Micro Four Thirds camera to include wifi connectivity.

Key features:

  • Same 16MP GH2-derived sensor as the G5
  • Venus Engine processor from the GH3
  • Up to ISO 25600 sensitivity
  • Up/down tilt articulating LCD screen capable of front display
  • Capacitive touch interface with multi-touch control
  • NFC (Near Field Communication) capability
  • Wireless LAN (wifi) capability
  • No GPS but ability to geolocate via wifi connection to smartphone/tablet
  • Remote shooting capability with wireless remote control and viewing via tablet/smartphone
  • Improved low light focusing capability
  • 19 Creative shooting effect modes
  • Stop-motion animation mode
  • Creative panorama function
  • Clear Retouch in-camera image editing using touch-screen

Design

The new GF6 is on the left and smaller GF5 it replaces is on the right

There is no getting away from the fact that the GF6 is both larger and heavier than its ultra-light and compact GF3 and GF6 predecessors thanks to the inclusion of an impressive articulating touch screen. However, the GF6 remains satisfyingly small for an interchangeable lens camera and is more compact than say, the Lumix GX1 thanks to its sloping shoulders. However, the GF6 - like the GF3 and GF5 before it - doesn't have a flash hot shoe. While there is a pop-up flash built in to the GF6 the lack of a hot shoe also means there is no avenue for fitting an optional eye-level electronic viewfinder.

With a bit of mechanical ingenuity the screen can flip forward and high enough to face you for use in self portraits

This screen can be tilted and shifted enough to afford a front-facing view over the top of the camera for handy self-portraits, even when mounted on a tripod. A nice touch is that the controls for self-portrait shooting automatically appear when the screen is faced forward.

Capacitive touch is now featured on the GF6, following the example set by the GH3. The makes the screen a little clearer and means multi-touch pinch to zoom is now possible and the genera fluidity of the touch interface is much better than with previous Lumix models that made do with a resistive touch screen.

There is a welcome reappearance of a mode dial on the GF6, which was omitted in the designs of the GF3 and GF5. In addition the GF6 gets the function lever collar to the shutter release that we saw earlier on the G5, definitely another plus.

Sensor

Although now nearly three years old, the 16MP sensor from the GH2, which is also used in the G5, now finds itself inside the new GF6. Although no longer cutting-edge, the sensor has been praised in the past for delivering appreciably better image quality compared to Panasonic's original 12MP sensor. It remains to be seen whether RAW file quality from the GF6 lives up to this reputation because one of the technical aspects of the version of this sensor has been dropped in order to reduce costs. Previously the analogue to digital conversion was performed on the same silicon as the sensor, maintaining signal quality. On the GF6 the analogue signal is piped off the sensor to an external converter and this usually means some signal loss.

On the other hand, Panasonic has borrowed the latest generation Venus Engine image processor from the pro-spec. GH3. This enables the GF6 to run a new dual-pass noise reduction process in the JPEG engine to manage noise in high ISO images.

Very early indications are that in-camera JPEG images produced by the GF6 in very low light are very respectable indeed. At ISO 3200 noise smoothing is very effective without excessive loss in sharpness.

The new Venus Engine processor is also used to improve low light autofocus performance, identified by Panasonic as an area it could improve on in previous models. The solution was rather simple; while Panasonic has concentrated on making normal light AF as fast as possible, in low light the ability to find a focus lock on the subject is significantly improved by slowing the focus system down. In our hands this did seem to work and in very low light we were content to have a more leisurely AF system that worked rather than a super-fast one that often didn't.

New operational features

One of the most interesting new features of the GF6 is its wifi capability. This is largely centred around connectivity with smartphone and tablet devices. Although we haven't yet been able to try it out for ourselves yet, we're promised that you will be able to remotely control your GF6 wirelessly and that includes a live view feed to your device. Although there is no GPS capability built in to the GF6 it can obtaining geolocation data from a smartphone or tablet.

Another interesting feature is support for NFC (Near Field Communication). NFC allows devices to signal each other when they are in very close proximity. NFC is a rapidly growing feature in smartphones enabling you to 'touch' your phone with another similarly-equipped device and the NFC system will then automatically pair the two devices and enable wireless data transfer, which of course means photos and videos in the case of the GF6 - ideal for fuss-free transfer of photos from your camera to social media sites via your phone.

Initial conclusions

Importantly for Panasonic from a marketing point of view the GF6 now moves their Micro Four Thirds offering up from 12 megapixels to 16 megapixels across the range. The GF6 is larger and heavier than its GF5 predecessor but not to the point that the GF6 can't claim to be very small and light - I just wouldn't use the term 'ultra' small and light any more. The new touch screen interface and tilting screen are big improvements over the GF5 although I did find it a little unintuitive when searching for Creative modes. It also takes some time to find ISO settings and exposure compensation controls in some modes. Low light focus does seem to be more positive and we were generally pleased with low light JPEG image quality. So far, so good - we have more time booked with the GF6 and will be publishing follow-up articles soon.

For now, see our hands-on photo gallery of GF6 product shots and our gallery of initial GF6 low light downloadable image samples.

 
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