Panasonic Lumix GX85 Review, Part 1

The Lumix GX85 sort of defies immediate conclusions, but not in a bad way. To be sure, there are observations that can be made at once: the shutter is magnificently quiet. The camera feels very solid and surprisingly heavy for its size. I liked it upon first picking it up, not least due to the fact that it feels reassuring, as a proper tool should. But I still can’t quite tell you what I make of it.

My other camera (as the bumper sticker says?) is also a Lumix, the diminutive GM5. It’s a different sort of camera altogether, a micro machine that is lighter on features but has the core of what makes a good camera: good image quality, great build quality, easy access to controls. It will probably stay on my gear list for a long time, as there’s simply nothing like it as a second body that takes the same lenses.

The GX85 replaces my previous “main” camera (though you’d be surprised how often I’ve been taking the GM5 by itself on trips or when out and about lately), the Olympus OM-D E-M10 (mark I model). Primarily I will be making some comparisons to that camera.

Upon first picking it up, the GX85 is both a bit heavier and a bit more compact than the E-M10. Due to the lack of SLR-esque viewfinder hump, it has a sleeker appearance and slides out of a big pocket or a bag more easily. The grip is also more substantial and fits better in my hand. I know some people complain about the shortening of the GX85 grip from the prior GX7, but I actually like this one better, and it looks quite a bit better than the GX7’s odd mound of rubberized plastic as well. The EVF is lower-profile than the E-M10, since that camera has a fairly large rubber eyecup while this one lacks it (though you will probably be able to add one at some point if you wanted to).

One detail that has generated some buzz leading up to this camera’s release is Panasonic’s decision to use plastic for the frame and top plate, unlike the previous GX7, my GM5, or the E-M10, which use metal, usually magnesium alloy. Indeed, at least a metal top plate seems to be de rigueur these days, and I was quite surprised to see Panasonic switch to plastic, when the top-end GX8 and the previous GX7 both use extensive metal on the exterior, where it can be touched. I’m certain Panasonic employs metal in the camera chassis, and in all reality there is nothing to be concerned about in the build of the GX85. Some of us, myself included, like the feel of metal better than plastic in the hand, but it’s as if the GX85 set out to prove us wrong by how hefty and sturdy it feels. I chose the black model, particularly to reconcile myself to the initial shock of plastic, so to speak, since the finish feels exactly like my eighties-era Konica SLR, the FS-1.

In summary, I would describe the GX85 as a serious tool that portrays itself as such. Most recent models within the Micro Four Thirds stable have at least some retro influence – Olympus goes all-out retro, while the GM5 and GX8 from Panasonic have retro cues as well. The GX85, by contrast, seems no-nonsense. It scoffs at the retro edges of the EM10. It looks good, better than the GX7 with a more streamlined design, and it is compact and handles very well. But after all is said and done, it is a blacksmith’s hammer for the creation of images.

More to come as I continue with this camera in the field.