Long-term Thoughts on the Panasonic Lumix GX85

Since I have now owned the Panasonic GX85 for almost a year, I have grown quite comfortable with it. One of the problems with our common obsession with gear as photographers is that we often don’t use a camera or lens long enough to become truly comfortable with it. I have been guilty of this myself in the past, but with the GX85 I have consciously determined to use it and be satisfied with it, and it has rewarded this determination nicely.

As a smaller camera the GX85 is not the most comfortable ergonomically (though it is one of the best smaller camera bodies I have used in this respect). I usually like to add some sort of grip accessory instead of buying a larger camera, since it allows me the flexibility of larger or smaller depending on whether I have the grip installed. Thus far, incidentally, the only camera manufacturer that has realized this is Pentax, whose latest APS-C DSLR camera has three different-sized grips included in the box which can be changed out with a screw. But for the GX85, I chose the Gariz half case in dark brown. It is a very nice case, with a sleek steel base plate which gives instant access to the SD card/battery slot and adds a new tripod mount. The leather is beautifully finished, however, I found it to be a little slick. I remedied this by distressing the leather a little bit. This is easy enough to do, by first coating the leather with a generous wipe-down of rubbing alcohol, and then taking a stiff brush to it until you get the level of roughness you want. I protected the leather afterwards with a coating of saddle soap (boot oil) and it is now a bit grippier and looks better as well. Since it is very high quality leather it will only look better as it ages, weathers and gains color from skin oils and salt from perspiration.

As a grip, it adds both height and girth to the default grip, and the camera now fits perfectly in my hand. In addition, I added a small, cheap thumb grip which slides into the hot shoe. These types of thumb grips change up the way I hold the camera a little bit, but I found the way it shifts the camera in the hand makes it more stable when I have the EVF at my eye, and tires the hand less when carrying it for an extended period of time. Which I do, since I don’t like straps.

The lens which has spent the most time on my GX85 lately is the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II. It’s one of the earliest Micro Four Thirds lenses, but has gained an almost legendary reputation, for its good points and bad points alike. It’s one of the sharpest lenses, even from the widest apertures, and in standard photographer terms the “rendering” is beautiful. What most folks don’t like is the focusing speed, which is glacial by comparison with the latest and greatest lenses in the system. I have expressed dissatisfaction with this myself in the past, though I have come around somewhat. I’ve found that the DfD focus technology in the GX85 has noticeably improved performance by lessening the amount of time this lens hunts for focus. The way the DfD technology works is to use the characteristics of the out of focus parts of the image todetermine which direction the camera needs to move to acquire focus. Because the focus motor in the 20mm lens is the slow part of the lens, it minimizes the amount of time that motor is moving the focusing elements.

There have been a number of cameras made by Panasonic which pair very well with the 20mm lens in terms of overall size, starting with the GF1, then notably the GX1 and GX7, which are the previous cameras in the same genreof camera style as the GX85. It’s a small and fast package that is easy to pick up on my way out the door. Manageable gear is important, as it determines when you will have it with you.

This update is meant as a follow-up to some of the previous entries I have written on the GX85. I am still very happy with the camera, and perhaps one of the best things that can be said about it is that it has outlasted the typical time that new gear feels “new” and exciting. Partly this comes down to a resolution to be happier with what I own instead of lusting after the latest and greatest, but it’s also a testament to what a good job Panasonic has done all around with this camera.