Announced late last year, the Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 gives Micro Four Thirds shooters looking for a high performance stills-oriented camera another option. Previously, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II was more or less alone in its class, and remained unchallenged for over a year (unless you count the video-focused GH5 as a direct competitor). Even considering its age, the E-M1 II still fetches a $2000 body-only price, with the G9 undercutting it slightly at $1700 body-only.
So how do these Micro Four Thirds flagships compare head-to-head? Take a look at our feature-by-feature breakdown.
The G9 and E-M1 II both use a 20MP Four Thirds sensor, and it's fair to say they match up pretty evenly in this category. They do of course use different processors, which will make a difference, and Panasonic has made a lot of effort to refine the G9's JPEG engine since the GH5. But we'd expect them to perform quite similarly, and broadly speaking they do.
Analyzing each camera's performance in our studio testing, the E-M1 II produces slightly nicer JPEG sharpening and colors at base ISO, but the G9 pulls just ahead at high ISO. The difference is subtle, but it's one we noticed.
Both cameras offer a high-resolution mode, assembling a large file from multiple images taken while shifting the sensor slightly. The E-M1 II's JPEG output is rendered at 50MP while Panasonic chooses to output 80MP, but both produce an 80MP Raw file. There's some question over whether you really get 4x the resolution from this pixel-shift method.
If you're very picky and base ISO JPEG rendering is a priority, we think the E-M1 II holds a slight advantageThese modes are best suited for still life, but nevertheless Panasonic and Olympus have both made efforts to improve results for long exposures of moving subjects. Testing the G9 on some street scenes and the E-M1 II on a waterfall (the one from Twin Peaks, naturally), we came away with some decent results. In both cases you'll see artifacts if you look closely, but they're usable images for certain applications.
Differences in this respect are very, very subtle. If you're very picky and base ISO JPEG rendering is a priority, we think the E-M1 II holds a slight advantage. If it's the very best high ISO JPEG detail and color you're after, the G9 does a bit better in that category.
Panasonic is the better established player in the video game, but don't count the E-M1 II out just yet. Both cameras offer UHD 4K capture, but the E-M1 II also adds 24p DCI resolution, for a more cinematic aspect ratio. In DCI you also get a maximum bitrate of 237 Mbps, which generally makes for better capture of random motion in clips. Thus its 4K video looks very good, while we found its 1080p footage disappointingly soft.
If you need the very best 4K capture, we give a slight edge to the E-M1 IIThe G9 offers 60p UHD 4K compared to the E-M1 II's 30p UHD footage, but tops out at 150 Mbps. Both cameras provide video niceties like touchscreens that enable tap-to-focus and flip-out LCDs. It's worth noting that HDMI ports and headphone/microphone jacks are on the left side near the screen's hinge and can be slightly blocked when the LCD is unfolded on both cameras. The robust image stabilization systems on both cameras are also beneficial to video shooters. In our experience, they're both effective for handheld video and give a reasonably steadicam-like appearance to footage.
Again, neither camera has a huge advantage in this category. If you need the very best 4K capture, we give a slight edge to the E-M1 II. But for overall video quality, the G9 comes up with 4K/60p, and we think it's the better buy. Of course, those who very serious about video would want to look to the G9's sibling, the GH5, where you'll find 4:2:0 output that seems to have been withheld from the G9.
The G9 is just a hair faster when using continuous autofocus ? 20 fps with e-shutter / 9 fps mechanical shutter to the E-M1 II's 18 fps with e-shutter / 10 fps mechanical. But perhaps more impressive is the G9's near-infinite buffer depth: it will carry on shooting at 9 fps with mechanical shutter for over 600 frames. The E-M1 II is no slouch in terms of buffer depth, but we did find ourselves irritated with the camera locking us out of playback while the buffer cleared.
The E-M1 II does offer an interesting pre-buffer feature, however. Once you half-press the shutter Pro Capture mode is enabled, saving 14 frames from before you push the shutter. This makes it more likely you'll get the shot when your own reaction time might be too slow.
If you have a particular use case that demands a nearly bottomless buffer depth, we'd suggest leaning toward the G9. If you find yourself hitting the shutter button just a moment too late too often, that might shift things in favor of the E-M1 II. For all others, it's a wash.
The bad news for the G9 is that it only offers contrast-detect autofocus, but the good news is that it uses the most capable CDAF system we've ever tested. In continuous focus mode it performed admirably in our bike test, though the very slight 'wobble' inherent in its CDAF-based "Depth from Defocus" system made for a bit of a distraction and not-quite-tack-sharp images here and there.
The E-M1 II offers 121-point phase detect autofocus, and is capable of seriously impressive results. However, we were disappointed by a tendency of the camera to jump from a subject to the background, in continuous autofocus mode. We found C-AF to be very good at tracking subjects for candid portraiture in single shot drive mode, but not quite reliable enough to compete with industry-leading continuous AF systems.
It's worth noting that the G9 requires Panasonic lenses to utilize Depth from Defocus, and thereby unlock its best AF potential. If you have a stash of Olympus lenses already, you'd be better off sticking with the E-M1 II. If that's not a limiting factor, we'd recommend the G9 for fast action if you can live with the occasional, slightly less than razor sharp image. If your AF needs are less demanding, we have found the E-M1 II's AF to be better suited for casual use.
Sensor-shift stabilization is a standout feature on both of these cameras. Both offer a 5-axis based sensor-shift system with nearly-physics-defying 6.5 ****-rated stops when coupled with a compatible lens using optical IS. The G9 claims 6.5 stops with the 200mm F2.8 IS attached, as well as at wide focal lengths on non-stabilized lenses. The E-M1 II should be good for 6.5 stops with the 12-100mm F4 and 300mm F4 Pro lenses; with all other lens combinations Olympus claims 5.5 stops.
These two cameras have among of the best stabilization systems on the marketIn our testing, the G9's stabilization provided slightly better results than the E-M1 II's. At 200mm the G9 gave us 5 2/3rd stops; the E-M1 II provided 5 stops. In our shooting, that translated to getting some sharp shots down to 1/5sec. At 24mm, the G9 gave a 3-stop advantage; the E-M1 II provided 2.5-stops. Not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless.
It's good news all around in this category ? these two cameras have among of the best stabilization systems on the market. The G9 came up slightly stronger in our testing, but the differences are slim indeed.
Panasonic paid a lot of attention to the EVF in developing the G9. That effort resulted in a 3.68M-dot OLED panel with both 60 fps and 120 fps refresh modes. The E-M1 II's EVF is also an OLED and plenty nice, but it offers a lower magnification (0.74x to the G9's 0.83x) and lower resolution (2.36M-dot).
We're confident in calling the G9's EVF superior. If that's a major consideration in your purchase, chalk one up in the Panasonic column.
Operation & handling
If there's any category that comes down to personal preference more than anything else, it's this one. The G9 is a larger, slightly more DSLR-shaped camera. It offers a top panel status LCD, which is quite rare in its class. Both cameras are weather-resistant, highly customizable, and provide those lovely aforementioned flip-out LCDs.
Here's where we'd strongly encourage you to get to your local camera shop, hold both of these cameras in your hands and see which one feels better. Some of the DPR staff find Olympus cameras onerous to set up and prefer Panasonic's Quick Menu screens. Some of us love Olympus' interface and consider that it's worth the trouble setting it up. To each their own.
There are enough similarities between these cameras that it's reasonable to choose one over the other based on a spec that stand out to you. Does the G9's top-panel status LCD speak to you? Does the E-M1 II's excellent DCI 4K capture meet your specific need? Either camera will get you good image quality, industry-leading image stabilization, strong autofocus, and excellent customizability.
For our money, the E-M1 II feels like the better buy for the stills shooter, and the G9 better for someone who wants a stills camera with an excellent video feature set (with a hat tip to the E-M1 II's DCI 4K, of course). We felt the E-M1 II's AF wasn't as strong for fast moving subjects, but performed admirably in a host of casual shooting situations. It's also the smaller of the two, so anyone looking for a light, always-at-your-side everyday camera would be pleased with the E-M1 II.
The existence of the G9 can only mean good news for Micro Four Thirds shooters The G9 is just a little bigger and bulkier, which some shooters will prefer, and in our testing we thought it did a bit better keeping up with fast moving targets if you can deal with the DFD system's inherent wobble. That lovely big EVF will be a revelation to some users who thought they'd never love an EVF.
in either camp
Really though, we're splitting hairs. There's very little to separate the two, and if you already have either brand's lenses, you'd do just fine to stick with that brand's stills flagship camera.
And the truth is, the existence of the G9 can only mean good news for Micro Four Thirds shooters in either camp. More competition means better products in the future, and that's a win in our book.