Updated 11 April 2019
Panasonic’s G85 (G80/81 in Europe) is the best mid-range camera for low budget filmmaking and video. At under $700 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.
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 us who use old vintage prime lenses.
The G85 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? Add a battery grip, which lets you shoot for longer, and makes the camera 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.) It can also display zebra stripe overlays to warn of overexposure, and focus peaking to show which parts of the image are sharp.
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 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 really 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 bought some spares and a battery grip. The genuine Panasonic DMW-BGG1 grip costs nearly $350; I bought a cheap non-weathersealed copy for around $50 that does the job. I find that the grip also makes the camera easier to handhold.
Like many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, the G85 doesn’t have a headphone socket, though you can use a micro HDMI to VGA plus audio adapter (Amazon affiliate link) to connect headphones while filming.
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.
You can buy the G85 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.
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. I’ve been using one as my main camera for over a year and I’m very satisfied with it.
Update: Panasonic have recently announced the G95, a higher-spec alternative to the G85. The main features for filmmakers are V-log (a video profile designed to make colour correction and grading easier) and a headphone socket. But it’s much more expensive, and it has a higher ‘crop factor’ than the G85 when shooting 4K. I think the G85 is much better value.