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The Panasonic G85 (G80/G81) for video and low budget filmmaking

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Panasonic’s G85 (G80/G81 in Europe) is the mid-range camera I recommend for low budget film and video. At under $1000 (£800) with a 12-60 lens, it’s excellent value. It shoots sharp 4k and 1080p video and has outstanding image stabilisation.

Like the popular, inexpensive Panasonic G7, it can shoot Full HD (1080p) with slow motion, and 4K Ultra HD. But it has a more ergonomic, weathersealed magnesium alloy body.

Stabilisation

For me, the key feature is the remarkable in-body image stabilisation (IBIS), which the G7 lacks. This lets you handhold where other cameras would need a tripod. It works best in conjunction with the optical stabilisation in ‘dual IS compatible’ Panasonic lenses.  But it also works with non-stabilised lenses, which is great for those of use who use old vintage prime lenses.

The G85/G80 is relatively affordable and easy to use. It’s a good camera to start with, but it’s also a camera you can build on. Travelling light? Use it on its own with the kit lens. Want to use it for more serious work? You can add a battery grip, which lets you shoot for longer and also makes it look more professional. And unlike the G7, it has ‘clean HDMI out’, so you can output ‘4:2:2’ video to an external recorder. (4:2:2 video has more ‘colour information’ so it should be easier to adjust and correct at the editing stage – it’s a requirement for some broadcasters.)

The articulating screen makes it useful for vloggers, though its face tracking autofocus is slower than the Dual Pixel AF in Canon’s 80D. Autofocus is also slower in 4K than when shooting 1080p HD – but then most Canons can’t shoot 4K at all.

I think the G85/G80 video looks really good: it’s crisp and punchy at both 4K and 1080. But the smallish MFT sensor means that it’s not great in low light, though it’s better than older Panasonics.

Otherwise I haven’t found much to dislike about this camera. Battery life isn’t great (it does have an economy mode), so I’d carry spares. And like many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, it doesn’t have a headphone socket, though you can use a micro HDMI to VGA plus audio (Amazon affiliate link) to connect headphones while filming. Also, HDMI, microphone and other connections are behind covers on the left of the body where they can interfere with the swivel screen , though that’s a fairly minor inconvenience.

Lenses

You can buy the G85/G80 as body only, or with Panasonic’s sharp (though slow) 12-60 f/3.5-f/5.6 kit zoom lens. I’d get the 12-60 as it’s excellent value as part of the kit. You could add a fast prime lens like the 42.5mm f/1.7 – or get the body and the premium 12-35 f/2.8 zoom – if you need to shoot in low light.

Which lenses to buy for filmmaking with Panasonic mirrorless cameras

Conclusion

In some ways this mirrorless camera combines the best features of camcorders and SLRs. Like a camcorder, it has an articulating screen, excellent image stabilisation and an eye-level viewfinder. But the MFT sensor and interchangeable lenses give it much more creative potential. After testing it for a fortnight (full review soon) I’ve bought one myself.

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