Panasonic Lumix GF6 £449

13th Jun 2013 | 10:45

Panasonic Lumix GF6

Beginner-friendly compact system camera gets an overhaul

TechRadar rating:

5 stars

Like:

Excellent screen; Digital filters; Built in Wi-Fi;

Dislike:

Tricky to use Wi-Fi; Can't use filters in PASM; Bulkier than predecessor;

Introduction

Panasonic is known for quickly refreshing its cameras lineup, especially those at the budget end of the range. The GF series, which is the company's beginner option, was last upgraded roughly 12 months ago, so it's no surprise to see the replacement Panasonic GF6 making an appearance now.

However, Panasonic says that although the GF1 was incredibly popular, the GF series hasn't seen the same level of popularity with the GF3 and GF5. Perhaps this is due to increased competition both within the company - from the likes of the Panasonic GX1 - and outside it, with more companies now entering the compact system camera (CSC) market.

On the other hand, perhaps it's because the GF line never really found its audience, being a little too simple for the more advanced photographer, and too complicated for those stepping up from a compact camera.

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

Panasonic has therefore given the new Lumix GF6 a more complete overhaul than it has given to other cameras on previous upgrades.

It now includes a 16 million pixel sensor, which is the same device that we found in the Panasonic GX1. The GX1 is scheduled to carry on for the foreseeable future, which may be a disappointment to those who had expected to see a replacement by now.

Along with the sensor is a brand new Venus engine, and most noticeably a new tilting 180-degree touchscreen and a mode dial on the top of the camera.

Panasonic GF6 review

The Panasonic GF6 includes inbuilt Wi-Fi technology, something that only the high-end GH series had featured previously. Furthermore, it is the first Panasonic interchangeable lens camera to include Near Field Communications (NFC) - a technology that looks set to be making an appearance on more devices in the next few months.

This is the same technology that you currently find in contactless payment systems and in several smartphones and tablets (Apple is conspicuous by its absence). It enables you to touch two devices together to instantly share images/videos, without the need to add in passwords or other laborious means.

Keen to appeal to the beginner audience, the camera includes even more digital filters than before. These are likely to find favour with the Instagram crowd, boosting the GF6's offering up to 19 different effects.

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

Interestingly, these filters are now also available on Creative Panorama shooting mode - a feature that first made its appearance on Panasonic's latest set of compacts, and now finds its way onto its compact system cameras.

A new retouch function enables you to do some editing-in camera, with the ability to remove distracting elements such as branches or strangers in the background.

Like other cameras in Panasonic's lineup, the GF6 boasts "Light Speed AF". Both Panasonic and Olympus, its Micro Four Thirds cohort, have claimed the quickest AF speeds in the past, but it's likely to be microseconds of difference. Either way, the contrast detect system that the GF6 uses claims to provide near-instant autofocusing speeds.

Panasonic GF6 review

Although the Panasonic GF5 also had a capacitive touchscreen, that was a fixed device, unlike the Panasonic GF6's 180-degree tilting option. Although not fully articulated, it's been designed to help with shooting from awkward angles, while Self Shot mode comes into play with the screen tipped to the full 180 degrees to face forwards.

All of these improvements don't come at a price premium, launching at £494.99 / US$599.99 (around AU$630) with the new 14-42mm kit lens. This is significantly cheaper than the £579 / US$749 / AU$849 asking price that the Panasonic GF5 launched with, although it's worth pointing out that the standard kit lens included here is not a power zoom, but instead a new manual zoom option.

Build quality and handling

The first thing you notice about the Panasonic GF6, when compared with its predecessor, is its chunkier exterior. This enables it to fit in the mode dial at the top of the camera and the flip screen at the back of the camera.

Some may appreciate these added benefits, but it does mean you'll need extra space in your pocket. Because it comes with a standard 14-42mm zoom, rather than last year's ultra slim power zoom, this camera looks more similar to the Panasonic GX1 than the Panasonic GF5.

However, the addition of this extra dial on the top of the camera makes it much easier to access the different modes of the Panasonic GF6. Previously you needed to venture into the menu in order to gain access to different shooting parameters.

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

To activate fully automatic mode, there's a dedicated button just next to the shutter release. This makes it quick to switch from the more complicated modes to fully automatic, and has the added bonus of activating a blue LED light around the button to make sure you're aware that you're in the correct mode.

The mode dial features fully automatic mode, semi-automatic modes (such as aperture priority and shutter priority), scene modes and digital filters mode. There's also space for up to two groups of custom settings, which is useful if you often find yourself shooting with one particular setting, such as high sensitivity or monochrome.

Panasonic has expanded the range of digital filters available on the GF6. Unfortunately, however, these can only be accessed via the dedicated filter mode, meaning you lose control over other shooting elements such as aperture or shutter speed. Olympus cameras enable you to use art filters with P/A/S/M modes, which is a more flexible option.

Panasonic GF6 review

On the plus side, however, digital filters can be used while shooting in raw format, meaning you can keep a 'clean' version of the file if you change your mind down the line.

Like the Panasonic GF5, the Panasonic GF6 features a touchscreen, and this can be used for a variety of functions including navigating through the various settings and handily changing the autofocus point and firing off the shutter release if you want it to.

As with the other G series of compact system cameras, most of the commonly used settings can be accessed via a Quick Menu. Here you have the choice to use either the touchscreen to navigate through the different settings, or, for those who prefer it, the arrow keys on the back of the camera.

Panasonic GF6 review

Panasonic has also found room to add an additional function button at the back of the camera, which you can assign a number of different parameters to.

Much of the rest of the navigation of the camera remains the same as previous GF series cameras, with a sensibly laid out menu that's easy to scroll through to find the options you need.

The front of the camera has a grip attached to it, which is moulded to the shape of a finger gripping it. This makes it feel very comfortable and secure in the hand, especially when shooting one-handed.

Panasonic GF6 review

At the time of launch, the Panasonic GF6 is the only interchangeable lens camera to feature NFCconnectivity. This means that you can touch the camera to an NFC-compatible device - such as some smartphones or tablets - to have images and videos instantly transfer across. You can also use a smartphone or tablet as a remote control in this way.

As it stands, Apple doesn't have any products equipped with NFC, but the Samsung Galaxy S3 - the world's best-selling smartphone - does.

One of the most appealing features of the Panasonic GF6 is its new flip screen. Although it doesn't offer the same flexibility as a fully articulating device (such as the one on the Panasonic G5), it does keep the overall size down. When the screen is flipped 180 degrees to face the front, it is useful for self-portraits, and by doing this to the screen, the camera will automatically activate self-portrait mode.

Panasonic GF6 review

Self portrait mode basically activates the self-timer, and enables the Soft Skin function, although you can turn this off if you'd prefer. Another option for switching on the touch shutter appears on the screen too while in Self Portrait mode.

The Panasonic GF6 will come bundled with a new 14-42mm optic, which is smaller than the old manual 14-42mm lens that used to come packaged with G series cameras. It keeps the overall size of the camera down, but if you've got extra money to spare, we'd suggest you think about investing in the X power zoom lens, to make this closer to being a pocketable device.

One of the new features of the Panasonic GF6 is the introduction of Wi-Fi functionality. This gives you a number of useful options including the ability to remote control the camera via your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, and upload images to various web services, such as Facebook.

Panasonic GF6 review

Setting up the Wi-Fi to use with your smartphone or tablet is relatively pain-free, while the free app that is downloadable for iOS and Android devices is easy to use. However, if you want to upload images straight to web services from the camera itself, you might find yourself quickly becoming frustrated with the device.

In order to upload directly to Facebook, Twitter and the rest from the Panasonic GF6, you need a Lumix Club account, which you can sign up for from the camera itself. However, you then need to access the Lumix Club website separately to activate various social media accounts.

Once you have done this, there's very limited functionality for uploading - for instance, you can't include a caption and there is a tendency for portrait orientation images to be uploaded in horizontal format.

Performance

Since the Panasonic GF6 features the same sensor as found on the Panasonic GX1, we had pretty high hopes for Panasonic's entry-level CSC. It's good to see the company using technology from higher up its range to boost the appeal of its beginner cameras.

Considering that the sensor is matched with an improved Venus engine, performance from the Panasonic GF6 should be better than from the Panasonic GX1. The fact that it has 16 million pixels also makes it more competitive with the likes of the Sony NEX-3N.

Happily, we've been very impressed by the image output of the Panasonic GF6. Images are full of detail, while colours are bright and punchy without being overly vibrant.

Panasonic GF6 review

Automatic white balance does a very good job of accurately judging the scene to provide spot-on colours, even when shooting in mixed or under artificial lighting. Similarly, all-purpose metering is a good performer, helping to produce balanced exposures in the majority of conditions - even when confronted with a high contrast situation.

One of the most appealing things about both Olympus and Panasonic cameras is the speed at which they are able to focus. Luckily, the Panasonic GF6 is no different, very quickly and accurately locking onto the relevant subject with ease. The fact that the screen is touch-sensitive is also a huge bonus, since it means you can speedily change the point you want to use.

Speaking of the touchscreen, it is very responsive to use, being a capacitive device, and soon becomes an integral part of how you use the camera. That said, if you prefer physical buttons, the Panasonic GF6 has enough of those to keep you satisfied too.

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

Because the camera has a new Venus engine, one of the key improvements we were looking for was in low light performance. Although noise does begin to appear at mid-range sensitivities, such as ISO 800, it is very fine noise and not too intrusive on pictures, unless you're viewing them at 100%.

As the sensitivity range increases, naturally, more noise starts to creep in, but again images remain useable up to around ISO 3200. After this point, image quality does start to reduce significantly, but it's certainly better than not being able to get the shot at all, and if you're keeping images to very small printing or web sizes, then you can still use them pretty adequately.

The Panasonic GF6 is bundled with Panasonic's SilkyPix software, which enables you to get more out of raw format images, should you need to. Although this program is not as flexible or useful as others, including Canon's Digital Photo Professional, it is useful to use if you want to apply your own noise reduction, for instance if you're shooting something with a fine texture.

Panasonic GF6 review

As standard, a 14-42mm manual zoom lens is bundled with the Panasonic GF6, as opposed to the Power Zoom X kit lens that came with the Panasonic GF5. This does increase the overall size of the camera somewhat, but also helps to keep the cost down.

The 14-42mm lens is a new version of the old kit lens, which is smaller than the previous version. With an equivalent focal length of 28-84mm, there's plenty of flexibility here for shooting a wide variety of subjects.

By shooting at mid-range apertures, such as f/8, we can assess the sharpness of the lens and how it performs with the Panasonic GF6's sensor. One of the claims that Panasonic makes about its Micro Four Thirds range of cameras is that edge-to-edge sharpness is better than from APS-C equivalents.

Panasonic GF6 review

Happily, those claims seem to be well-founded, since our images show a good level of sharpness right the way across the frame, even in the far corners. This is evident even when shooting with the standard kit lens.

For the Panasonic GF6, and Panasonic G6, the manufacturer has introduced some new digital filters that will likely further appeal to the likes of the Instagram generation. New filters include Bleach Bypass and Sunlight mode.

While some of the filters are of course better than others - mostly down to personal preference - we think that Panasonic now has the best range of filters currently available on the market. If only you could shoot these filters while in manual or semi-automatic modes, we'd be extremely pleased.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic GF6, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Panasonic GF6 is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

Full ISO 160 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 160, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 800, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 3200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 6400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 12800, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 25600, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 160, score: 26 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 200, score: 26 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 800, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 1600, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 3200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 6400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 12800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 25600, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Panasonic GF6 with the Panasonic GX1, Sony NEX-3N and Olympus E-PM2. The GF6 has the widest sensitivity range of all the cameras here.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Panasonic GF6 review

These results show that the Panasonic GF6's JPEG files contain the strongest signal to noise ratios of the group at ISO 160-400. The GF6's JPEGs are overtaken by those from the Sony NEX-3N at ISO 800, though, which show greater signal to noise ratios for the rest of the sensitivity range, except ISO 6400, when the GF6 is slightly stronger. JPEGs from the GF6 show stronger signal to noise ratios than JPEGs from the Olympus E-PM2 at ISO 200-800 and at ISO 3200, but at ISO 1600, 6400, 12800 and 25600 the Olympus's JPEGs are better. The GF6's JPEGs are stronger in their ratios than the Panasonic GX1's at every sensitivity setting but ISO 1600.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Panasonic GF6 review

The Panasonic GF6's TIFF images (after conversion from raw) contain weaker signal to noise ratios than TIFFs from the Panasonic GX1, Sony NEX-3N and Olympus E-PM2 at every sensitivity setting, with the GX1 producing the most similar results.

JPEG dynamic range

Panasonic GF6 review

JPEGs from the Panasonic GF6 contain greater dynamic range than those from the Panasonic GX1 at every sensitivity but ISO 1600, when the two cameras' images score similarly. The GF6's JPEGs show weaker dynamic range than the Olympus E-PM2's at every sensitivity setting, though. The GF6's JPEGs have greater dynamic range than the Sony NEX-3N's JPEGs at ISO 200, 400, 6400 and 12800, but at ISO 800-3200 the Sony's JPEGs have the more impressive dynamic range.

Raw dynamic range

Panasonic GF6 review

This chart indicates that TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Panasonic GF6 contain a smaller dynamic range than TIFFs from the Sony NEX-3N and Olympus E-PM2 at every sensitivity setting. The GF6's TIFFs have slightly greater dynamic range than the Panasonic GX1's at ISO 160 and 12800, but the GX1's images are stronger at the other sensitivities.

Sample images

Panasonic GF6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Here we can see the Panasonic GF6 has coped well in a situation that has high contrast, all-purpose metering working well to produce a balanced exposure.

Panasonic GF6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Images straight from the camera are bright and punchy without being overly vibrant.

Panasonic GF6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

There's plenty of detail captured by the Panasonic GF6, with images also displaying a pleasing drop-off in focus when using wider apertures.

Panasonic GF6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The bundled 14-42mm kit lens is capable of producing sharp and detailed images, with plenty of detail right up to the corners of the frame.

Panasonic GF6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

At its widest point, the standard 14-42mm kit lens offers an equivalent focal length of 28mm.

Panasonic GF6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

This rises to 84mm at the telephoto end of the optic, making it a flexible option to start with.

Panasonic GF6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The Panasonic GF6's tilting touchscreen is extremely useful when you want to compose images from various different angles.

Panasonic GF6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

There are a few new digital filters to experiment with on the Panasonic GF6. These can be used while shooting in raw format, leaving you with a 'clean' version of the image to work with if you prefer. This is an example of the Sunshine mode, which adds a burst of sunlight to the image. This can be moved around the scene, pre-capture, for maximum impact.

Panasonic GF6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Another one of the new digital filters is Old Days, which adds a sepia-style toning to images.

Panasonic GF6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Bleach Bypass is another of the new filters, creating a muted palette in shots.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Pansonic GF6 review

Full ISO 160 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Pansonic GF6 review

ISO 160 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pansonic GF6 review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pansonic GF6 review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pansonic GF6 review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pansonic GF6 review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pansonic GF6 review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pansonic GF6 review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pansonic GF6 review

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pansonic GF6 review

ISO 25600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 160 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix GF6 review

ISO 25600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Verdict

We were initially very impressed by the concept of the Panasonic GF6 when we first saw a pre-production sample, and we hoped that the real deal would live up to our own hype.

Happily, it has done that - and then some. Although the overall size of the Panasonic GF6 has increased fairly dramatically from the Panasonic GF5, it comes with improvements that make the bulk up worthwhile - most notably the tilting touchscreen.

Because there's no viewfinder - and no way to attach one - having a highly flexible and responsive screen is extremely useful and solves the problem of awkward angles preventing you from capturing the shot you want to get. It's also very handy if you want to take self-portraits or film videos of yourself, since you can see exactly what you're doing.

We'd expected image quality to be good, because we've previously been impressed by the sensor onboard the Panasonic GX1, and again we weren't disappointed by the performance the Panasonic GF6 put in. Images are very pleasing, and if you're shooting in good light the majority of time then you'll probably never have any cause for concern with this camera.

In lower light conditions, where you're forced to shoot at higher sensitivities, such as ISO 3200, you might find that images are of a lower quality, but if you're using them at smaller printing sizes then they're still more than useable.

With the largest proprietary lens range available for the Micro Four Thirds system, investing in a camera from Panasonic or Olympus is a more flexible option than their counterparts from Sony, Nikon or Canon. With added flexibility coming from the fact that Olympus and Panasonic both use the same lens mount, anybody who has previously used a camera from either brand before will be able to bring across any optics already acquired.

One of the biggest let downs of the camera is the Wi-Fi functionality. While it should be a nice addition, the operability of sharing images and videos to sites such as Facebook is far fiddlier than it should be. Using your smartphone as a remote control is much easier, but Panasonic should take a look at some of Samsung's products, such as the NX300, to get a better idea of how to successfully incorporate Wi-Fi sharing tools.

We liked

Image quality is excellent, while the flexibility of the screen is useful for capturing images from awkward angles. The fact that there's no viewfinder is almost made up for by this screen, which could only have been improved by being fully articulating. It's a bonus though that it flips up 180-degrees to face forwards for self-portraits.

We disliked

Fortunately there's not too much to dislike about the Panasonic GF6, but the Wi-Fi functionality could seriously be improved to make it much more useful. It would also be nice to be able to use the digital filters while shooting in manual and semi-automatic modes.

Initial verdict

The Panasonic GF6 is one of the best compact system cameras currently on the market, especially for the beginner user.

Although it is the next in line after the Panasonic GF5, it's perhaps elevated slightly above that, being a little more comparable to the Panasonic GX1, with which it shares its sensor.

Image quality is fantastic, while usability, thanks in part to the touchscreen and sensible menu system, makes it one of the more pleasurable cameras to shoot with.

Unfortunately, at the moment its higher price is its only letdown. For a good chunk less than the price of the Panasonic GF6, you can pick up a Sony NEX-3N, so it seems that Panasonic will have a tough job convincing consumers to snap up this camera in bulk.

If however in the next few months, as is prone to happen with cameras, we think this be our top recommendation for those looking for an entry-level compact system camera.

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