Panasonic GX8 Review for Underwater Photography

Panasonic GX8 Review for Underwater Photography

Panasonic GX8 Review for Underwater Photography

by: Kelli Dickinson

The micro four thirds sensor cameras have become a staple for underwater photography, offering shooters a larger sensor than a compact camera with a body style and controls like a dSLR - effectively the best of both worlds, small camera with big sensor. The trend has always been that the Olympus cameras dominate the market, but Panasonic also makes the micro four thirds sensor and are currently leading the market with the innovative new Panasonic GX8 which takes this sensor format to the next level.

Building on the very popular GH4 video beast the new Panasonic GX8 is the next in their mirrorless line. It's the first m4/3rds camera to offer 20 mega pixels (all previously options have at most had 16 mega pixels). In addition it also offers in body 4k recording. Other improvements include advanced image stabilization with both body IS and lens IS (when available), an upgraded auto focus system and up to 8fps burst shooting.

Panasonic GX8 Specs:

  • Resolution 20 megapixels
  • Micro Four Thirds Sensor (17.3 x 13mm)
  • CMOS Sensor, Venus Engine Processor
  • ISO 100 - 25,600
  • 4 Custom White Balance Slots
  • 3" OLED Monitor
  • Electronic Viewfinder with 100% Coverage
  • Flash Shutter Speed Sync of 1/250th
  • Built in Wifi
  • Splash and Dust Proof design
  • Battery life approximately 330 shots
  • Weight w/ Battery 1.07 lb (17.18 oz)
  • Dimensions 5.24 x 3.07 x 2.48" (133 x 78 x 63mm)

GX8 vs E-M1:

The Panasonic GX8 gives the very popular Olympus E-M1 a run for its money thanks to improvements in resolution and video recording. It offers more megapixels and higher resolution video recording, but comes at a cost of a larger overall body. The GX8 body is definitely taller than the E-M1. It has a shorter grip, but due to the large electronic viewfinder the overal width is about the same. Both cameras are about the same length, and with the accessory flash attached they end up being similar in height. The E-M1 offers a few additional customizeable buttons on the body when including the unique 1:2 switch feature. The GX8 has more dedicated controls with 3 Fn buttons, a bracketing dial and focus control switch. Both cameras give you full professional style controls and weather proof security with dust and splash proof sealing.

GX8 vs GH4:

The Panasonic GH4 feels more like a mini DSLR with it's larger molded grip and built in pop-up flash. It features inline aperture and shutter speed dials making the body look more like a professional DSLR. Five customizeable Fn buttons allow for a truly personalized set up and a third control dial on the back of the camera gives quickly control on land (underwater housings do not offer control of this dial). The GX8 body is definitely smaller than the GH4, though with the attached accessory flash it is taller. The GH4 offers more dedicated buttons such as White Balance and ISO control.

GX8 Underwater:

The GX8 works great underwater, with the 20 megapixel sensor providing detailed images and great color reproduction. Keep in mind this camera does not ship with any flash, so to fire strobes you'll want to purchase a small accessory flash from Panasonic so you can use fiber optic cables.

Nauticam Housing:

Nauticam is the only one so far to produce a housing for the GX8 and just like their other micro four thirds options, it does not disappoint. With the larger camera body of the GX8 the Nauticam housing is reiminscent of the older GH3 housing. It does not include handles like some of the other high end mirrorless (such as GH4 and E-M1 housings), and has a rounded body style like the GH3 offered. The housing is great to hold in your hands with a large front grip and well placed thumb mold. All camera controls are accessible underwater, including the focus selector switch and bracketing dial. Aperture and shutter speed dials are easy to reach and can be controlled with one finger allowing for one handed operation.

The housing does have a compact style shutter, not the nicer extended lever that the housings with handles include. However it does ship with the stainless steel brackets for the Nauticam Flexitray and includes their Compact Shutter Release Extension in the box allowing for easier control when using a dual handle set up. The GX8 housing offers two bulkheads, both M16 and M14, though the M14 bulkhead is located in a spot that may cause interference with the camera controls if you use the strobe bulkhead or vacuum bulkhead there. The housing ships with the new viewfinder ring allowing for the use of the Nauticam Mirrorless external viewfinders. Like all mirrorless housings from Nauticam the GX8 housing includes their innovative port locking system which does not require any twisting or turning of the port to lock onto the housing. All buttons and dials are well labeled and the camera slides into the housing with ease thanks to the locking camera tray.

Lens Recommendations for Underwater Photography:

The GX8 has the benefit of being able to use both Panasonic and Olympus micro four thirds lenses, which give the photographer a wide variety of lenses to choose from. Here's are top recommendations for shooting underwater photos and video.

Panasonic 8mm Fisheye - this is my go to lens for wide angle, super sharp with an incredible 180 degree field of view you can easily create beautiful sweeping reef scenes, and photograph large subject. One caveat - is you have to get close. This lens is perfect for close focus wide angle shooting, wrecks, large animals you can get close to and all manner of landscape / reef shots.

Olympus 8mm Fisheye PRO - if you don't mind spending a little extra money the Olympus 8mm Fisheye is a little bit faster and a little bit longer. While the speed is not as important underwater, I've found the longer lens gives you more flexibility for positioning your strobes without accidentally getting glare off the dome port.

Sheephead Passing By - E-M1 w/ 8mm Fisheye, ISO200, F10, 1/100

Olympus 9-18mm - For those who want a little bit more flexibility, or desire a rectinlinear (non-fisheye) lens, this is a great choice for wide angle. 100 degrees field of view at 9mm allows you to take great landscape and reef shots. The flexibility to zoom in to 18mm (60 degree field of view), makes this a great option for when you can't get close to your subjects. This is also a great option for those who want to be able to zoom in and out and have some flexibility in thier lenses. Perfect for big animals and video shooting.

Garibaldi in the Kelp Forest - E-M1 w/ 9-18mm @ ISO200, F8, 1/125

Another great option for rectlinear wide angle is the Panasonic 7-14mm or Olympus 7-14mm PRO. These lenses offer a slightly wider field of view of 114 degrees, and are a little bit sharper overall. Since they come in at a much higher price point though, we still recommend the 9-18mm in general. 

Olympus 12-50mm - This is the perfect lens for those who want maximum flexibility, or a single lens set up. The 12-50 is typically used behind the flat port the benefit to this lens is the built in macro function. Together you can get a semi-wide field of view at 12mm and a great 43mm macro lens all on the same dive. (Note - currently only Nauticam offers a zoom gear for this lens that allows use of both the standard zoom and macro mode). This lens is great for video with the smooth electronic zoom.

Olympus 12-40mm PRO - This new pro lens has some serious glass and is very sharp and fast focusing. However underwater, the mid-range zoom is not great. I'd look at this lens only for fish portraits, fashion or if you have a specific need of a mid-range zoom lens. 

Olympus 60mm Macro - This is our top pick for macro lenses. Very quick to focus, with minimal hunting it offers a great 1:1 macro, and the long focal length means you get great magnification, this is perfect for macro and super macro as well as fish portraits (smaller to medium fish). 

A Pair of Nudibranch - E-M1 w/ 60mm Macro, ISO 200, F22, 1/320

Another great option for macro if you want a little more flexibility is the Panasonic 45mm Macro. This lens is much more expensive than the 60mm, but at 45mm you can shoot some larger subjects without having to be too far away. Both lenses are great options for macro.

GX8 Underwater Photos:

Underwater review of the Panasonic GX8 the first 20 MP micro four thirds camera with 4k video recording.