Very small. Tilting touch LCD. Fast focus. 5.7fps continuous shooting. 30fps capture in 4K Photo mode. Built-in flash. Includes retractable zoom lens. 4K video. Wi-Fi.
16MP sensor is a bit dated. MicroSD memory easily lost. No EVF, hot shoe, or mic input.
- Bottom Line
The Panasonic Lumix DC-GX850 is one of the smallest mirrorless cameras you can buy today, and while its 16MP sensor isn't cutting edge, it's a solid entry-level model.
The Lumix DC-GX850 ($549.99 with 12-32mm lens) occupies the entry-level spot in Panasonic's mirrorless line. It hits the same marks as other starter models, omitting the EVF and hot shoe that more advanced photographers love, but keeping the size down and incorporating a titling touch screen, a big plus for newbies used to shooting with a smartphone. We like the size, and while the 16MP sensor isn't cutting edge, it's a good performer. The Canon EOS M100 is a bit stronger for entry-level buyers, however, and the Sony a6000 has features that appeal to more seasoned photographers.
The GX850 is quite compact, at 2.5 by 4.2 by 1.3 inches (HWD) and 9.5 ounces without a lens. Panasonic bundles a compact, retractable 12-32mm zoom. It adds 2.5 ounces and protrudes from the body by about an inch when set to its collapsed position. The camera is available in black or silver, each paired with a matching lens.
The camera can fit into some pockets, but it's not as amazingly tiny as Panasonic's GM series. The GM1 and GM5, both discontinued, were closer to point-and-shoot size. The GX850 is still perfectly portable, ready to slide into a jacket, small bag, or purse without issue.
Despite being aimed at entry-level buyers, the GX850 incorporates a good number of physical controls, though perhaps not enough for fans of full manual adjustment. Up top you'll find Fn3/Post Focus at the far left. It's a programmable button, but by default it switches the GX850 to Post Focus mode.
Post Focus is a setting you get on Panasonic cameras. It leverages the 4K video system to shoot 8MP JPG stills at high speed, up to 30fps, each with a different focus point. You can combine these using desktop software to get more depth of field for macro shots, or simply pick the image you like the best. If you want to shoot a portrait, but are not used to ensuring focus is locked on your subject's eyes, you can use Post Focus to guarantee that at least one of your images will be locked on to your subject's gaze.
The pop-up flash sits in the middle of the top plate, with the mechanical switch to raise it positioned behind and to its right, on the rear above the top bezel of the LCD. The flash sync is a little slow, 1/50-second, compared with other mirrorless models that sync around 1/180-second.
The right side of the top plate, which is positioned a bit lower than the left, is where you'll find the Fn1/4K Photo button, the combined shutter release and On/Off switch, and the Mode dial. 4K Photo uses the same capture system as Post Focus to shoot at 30fps, but locks focus for the sequence. It's useful for capturing fleeting action, as long as your subject isn't moving toward or away from the lens.
The movie Record button is nestled in the right corner, on top of the rear thumb rest. Below the smooth rubber rest you'll find Delete/Q. Menu, Display, and Play buttons, along with the GX850's lone control dial. It's a flat dial, which turns comfortably, and incorporates four directional button presses (Drive, EV, Focus, White Balance), along with the center Menu/Set button.
Physical controls are supplemented by the Q. Menu. It's an on-screen overlay, so it doesn't obscure what the lens is seeing, and is navigable via touch or the rear control wheel. From it you can adjust the picture output mode, image size and quality settings, and video frame rate and resolution, as well as the autofocus mode, metering pattern, and continuous drive settings.
The LCD is a 3-inch panel with a 1,040k-dot resolution. It's bright and offers solid viewing angles, along with a responsive touch interface. It's easy to tap on any part of the screen to set the focus point. The screen flips up and faces all the way forward selfies. When you tap the screen to take a selfie it initiates a three-second countdown timer so you can get ready.
The GX850 supports in-camera charging via its micro USB port, and it also has micro HDMI to connect to a TV. You get a micro USB cable and USB-to-AC adapter with the camera, but not an external battery charger. If you're the type of person who likes to keep a charged, spare battery handy, it's a good idea to buy an accessory charger too. That way you can charge two simultaneously (one in camera, one out) after a long day of shooting. The GX850 is rated for about 210 shots per charge by CIPA, which is on the low side.
The battery and memory card slot are in the same compartment, accessible via a door on the bottom. The memory card is microSD, not the more common full-size SD, which isn't something I'm a fan of for cameras. microSD cards are so, so small that they're too easily lost or misplaced, and while most computers have integrated SD card slots, you don't see any with microSD slots built in.
You can offload images via Wi-Fi to your Android or iOS device using the Panasonic Image App. It's a free download, and also supports remote control. The remote works well; it shows a smooth view from the camera's lens on your phone's screen. You can tap on the phone screen to set focus, just as you would the camera LCD, and full manual control is available.
The GX850 starts, focuses, and captures an image in as little as 1.6 seconds, a solid mark for a mirrorless camera. Its autofocus system is quite quick, locking onto subjects in 0.1-second in bright light and 0.3-second in very dim conditions. The autofocus system is purely contrast based, which is true of all current Panasonic cameras, but is quick and accurate.
The GX850 has two shutter modes, mechanical, which is a traditional physical shutter that opens and closes in a set time period to capture an image, and electronic, which simply reads data off the sensor for a certain duration. It auto-switches between the two by default, but can also be set to use either exclusively.
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The mechanical shutter can fire as quickly as 1/500-second, while the electronic shutter supports exposures as short as 1/16,000-second. Pros will find this a bit limiting—most mechanical shutters in mirrorless cameras are good to 1/4,000-second. For most shots, using an electronic shutter for capture isn't any different than a mechanical one; it's a technical concern you shouldn't worry about.
But if you're photographing fast-moving action, with a subject that is moving from one side of the frame to the other as you shoot it (think auto racing or a passing train), you'll want to keep the shutter at 1/500-second or longer. The electronic shutter doesn't read data from the entire frame at once, instead using a rolling readout from top to bottom, which can create the skew effect in photos. This is when moving subjects appears at an angle, as if part of it is advancing through time faster than the rest.
The burst rate is also dependent on the type of shutter used. The GX850 fires full-resolution shots at 5.7fps with the mechanical shutter, but at 10fps with the electronic one. If you shoot in Raw or Raw+JPG format you're limited to 24 or 17 images (respectively) before the camera's shooting buffer fills up, but you can fire continuous images in JPG format without worry of slowdown.
If you want to track moving subjects, the GX850 can do so at 5fps in its AF-C mode. It's not the fastest mirrorless camera out there, even in this price range—the Sony a6000 tracks and fires at 11fps—but it's by no means slow.
Image and Video Quality
The GX850's 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor seems a bit dated in resolution, especially when competing models like the Canon EOS M100 and Sony a6000 have physically larger, higher-resolution 24MP APS-C sensors. But it's still world's better than a smartphone or point-and-shoot.
Shooting in dim light is where large sensors enjoy a significant advantage over smaller ones. I tested the GX850's image quality at each of its ISO (light sensitivity) settings in Imatest, ranging from the lowest ISO 200 up to the top ISO 25600 setting. The camera scores well on the noise test, keeping it under 1.5 percent through ISO 6400. All cameras perform noise reduction when shooting JPGs in order to remove grain from photos.
A close look at our test shots shows that the GX850 maintains its best image quality through ISO 800. There's some very slight smudging of detail visible at ISO 1600, and while the effect strengthens at ISO 3200, image quality is still quite good. The smudges are a bit strong for my liking at ISO 6400, but photos are still usable for web sharing. The output is noticeably blurred, even at smaller magnification, at ISO 12800 and 25600.
Devoted shutterbugs looking at the GX850 as a small, take-anywhere camera are more likely to opt for Raw capture format. Shooting in Raw gives you more flexibility to edit images, and it leaves noise reduction to desktop editing software like Adobe Lightroom Classic CC instead of the camera's image processor. Raw images show strong detail through ISO 6400, although there is some noticeable grain when you push the camera that far. Output is rougher at ISO 12800 and 25600, but it's still usable if you don't mind a grainy look.
Panasonic cameras are typically strong performers in the realm of video. The GX850 supports 4K capture, which isn't yet common among entry-level models. It can shoot 4K at 24 or 30fps, but you can push the frame rate to 60fps if you drop the resolution to 1080p. Video quality is strong overall, especially with the resolution that 4K delivers. You are limited to using the internal microphone; it picks up voices close to the camera clearly, but is also prone to recording background noise. If you're serious about video, opt for a camera that lets you use an external microphone.
The Panasonic Lumix DC-GX850 is an appealing camera, especially for family photographers who simply want high-quality snapshots from something small and easily packable. It delivers good, although not class-leading, image quality, has Wi-Fi so you can send images to your smartphone for social sharing, and a touch screen that flips forward for selfies. More importantly, it doesn't skimp on autofocus speed, so you don't have to deal with the disappointment of missing a shot because your camera wasn't fast enough, and it offers burst shooting and a 4K Photo mode to capture those really fleeting moments.
There are reasons for enthusiasts to think about the GX850 too, especially if they're already invested in Micro Four Thirds. It's small, quick, and has enough physical controls to make adjustments to photos. But there are some things that will turn off serious shooters, including the lack of an EVF and the single control wheel. The Sony a6000 is still our Editors' Choice for entry-level mirrorless cameras, and the Canon EOS M100 is a stronger option for casual shooters. But the GX850 is a solid entry in its own right, and appealing if you already own a few Micro Four Thirds lenses.
Other Panasonic Digital Cameras
About the Author
Jim Fisher Senior Analyst, Digital Cameras
Senior digital camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at re… See Full Bio
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