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Updated 16 March 2022
Panasonic’s G85 (G80/81 in Europe) is the best mid-range camera for low budget filmmaking and video. At around $700 with a 12-60 lens, it’s excellent value. It shoots sharp 4k and 1080p video and has outstanding image stabilisation.
It can shoot Full HD (1080p) with slow motion, and 4K Ultra HD. It has a weathersealed magnesium alloy body.
The G85 has very good in-body image stabilisation (IBIS). 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. 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 Canon’s Dual Pixel AF. Autofocus is slower in 4K than when shooting 1080p HD.
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.
For streaming or extended recording, I use a dummy battery and adapter to power it from an external USB battery pack.
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 use one as my main camera, and I’m very satisfied it.