Panasonic G9 vs Fuji XT3: Comparing Image Quality
For the past four years I’ve been using Fuji XT cameras for my landscape photography. Initially it was the Fuji XT1, but I quickly followed that with the XT2 and then an XT3. I decided not to upgrade to the Fuji XT4 because I don’t think there’s sufficient new features that would benefit me. Instead I’ve purchased a Panasonic G9 micro 43 camera, which a lot of people consider to be a dying format.
I won’t go into the details of my decision here, but I do want to address the question of image quality. I often hear photographers criticise micro 43 cameras, saying that “they can’t be used for landscape photography”. And since purchasing the Panasonic G9 a lot have asked how well the G9 compare with the Fuji XT3 for image quality.
But before I share my findings, here’s a question with a 50% change of your being right. Which camera did I use to shoot the following photo? Was it a Panasonic G9 or a Fuji XT3?
The answer is a Panasonic G9 but in all honesty, you have no way of knowing. If you’re only putting your work on the internet or sharing low resolution images, you won’t see that one camera is better than the other. But does this hold true if when it comes to printing or shooting stock photography?
Comparing Camera Image Quality
Comparing the image quality achieved by the Panasonic G9 with the Fuji XT3 sounds easy but it isn’t. Let’s look at some of the difficulties as well as what we consider to be image quality.
The first reaction of most photographers when comparing camera image quality is to look at the image sharpness. They place two images side by side then zoom in to 100% magnification. It’s then easy to see which camera captures the best detail. Except, what you’re looking at isn’t a function of just the camera. It’s a combination of the camera sensor performance and lens sharpness. This means that we could easily arrive at a wrong conclusion because of the lens or lenses we use.
One alternative to examining the image detail is to consider the sensor technical specifications for both cameras. The only problem with this approach is that it’s difficult to arrive at trustworthy data to make comparisons. Some of the best sites for sensor performance based on testing (like DxO Mark) don’t hold data for both the Panasonic G9 and the Fuji XT3. And in any case, technical specs and scores don’t always translate well into real world performance.
Comparing Image Qualities
Instead of using hard technical facts, this review uses something less scientific. What I’m going to share are the image qualities that I’ve noticed when working with the RAW files from both cameras. Whilst this is subject and open to interpretation, it’s what most photographers ultimately rely on when they say that the image quality from camera X is better than camera Y.
The key areas of difference that I’ve noticed between the G9 and XT3 are in:
- Colour handling
- Shadow and highlight recovery
- RAW processing requirements
Whilst camera resolution doesn’t dictate image quality, there is a link. If an image doesn’t have enough pixels for its intended purpose, the image quality suffers. An example of this is if you want to make a 30-inch print from a 12Mpixels camera. It’s quite likely the print won’t stand up to close inspection. That said, we now have some amazing software solutions like Topaz Gigapixel that allows us to create huge enlargements from low resolution images. I’ve used this to produce superb A2 prints (and larger) from old 6Mpixel RAW files.
Closely related to image resolution is sensor size. If the camera manufacturer packs too many pixels onto a small sensor it can negatively affect the image quality.
The Panasonic G9 is a micro 43 camera with a smaller sensor than the Fuji XT3, which uses the APSC format. The G9 has 20Mpixels whilst the XT3 has 26Mpixels. Neither of these is a particularly high pixel count for the sensor size. It should be (and is) possible to make large prints of 30- or 40-inches using files from either of these cameras.
But there is something else when it comes to resolution. The G9 has a high-resolution mode. Using this is like shooting with a 40Mpixel or 80Mpixel camera (it has two different modes). It achieves this feat by shifting the camera sensor whilst shooting a series of images and then stitching these together. The result is a single RAW file with huge resolution, and which is extremely clean and detailed. If large images are what you need, the G9 may beat out the XT3, providing you can work around the limitations of the high-resolution mode.
Here is a high-resolution image shot using the 80Mpixel mode of the Panasonic G9.
The native RAW file has a pixel count of 10,368 x 7,776 when using this mode. And here is a small section from the centre of the image at 100% magnification.
When you use this feature correctly the results can be spectacular.
Now let’s consider the colour handling of the two cameras.
Colour Handling in the G9 Vs XT3
The following example should help to demonstrate the difference in colour handling between the G9 and XT3.
These are both unprocessed RAW images in Lightroom using the Adobe RGB profile. I captured the two images less than a minute apart. Whilst the cloud was shifting fast and the two images use different focal length and exposure, there is a significant difference in the colour rendering. The Fuji XT3 tends to produce more vibrant colours, especially blues and pinks. This may explain why I’ve found it such a great camera to use during the “blue hour” for photographing landscapes.
In contrast the G9 doesn’t seem to produce strong colours unless you apply a lot of adjustment. Unlike the Fuji, the Panasonic seems to favour warmer colours like red and orange, but even then, the colours can be quite weak. I have some examples of rainbows photographed using the G9 where you can barely make out the rainbow, despite it appearing strong to the naked eye. Compare this to the Fuji, and the colours appear strong, even in the unprocessed RAW file.
When comparing the Panasonic G9 and Fuji XT3 RAW files, you would expect the G9 to have higher levels of noise. Afterall, the G9 has the smaller micro 43 sensor than the XT3’s APSC sensor. And this is exactly what we see, except the levels of noise between the two cameras is higher than I was expecting.
Here’s an example from the Panasonic G9.
This image section is magnified at 200% and clearly shows noise in the sky. I shot the image at ISO200 which is the base ISO for the G9. I’ve also turned off the noise reduction but left the sharpening at the Lightroom default settings. There are clearly high levels of both colour and luminance noise here.
Now compare the Fuji XT3.
This also shows a section of a photograph magnified to 200%. As with the G9 sample I’ve turned off the noise reduction but left the sharpening set to the same Lightroom default. The image is noticeably cleaner, and the difference between the two cameras is greater than I was expecting to see. But before jumping to any conclusions, we need to consider shadow and highlight recovery.
Shadow and Highlight Recovery
I believe that I’ve noticed a difference in the way the two cameras handle dynamic range which may also affect the noise levels. The Fuji XT3 feels to have greater latitude for recovering shadow detail than the Panasonic G9. If you like to shoot at the default exposure or even underexpose slightly before recovering shadow detail, the Fuji XT3 may be better. Shadow recovery feels easier and lightened shadow areas don’t exhibit a lot of noise. Compare this to the Panasonic G9 and you find that opening the shadows reveals higher levels of noise.
If you look at these two images, the image on the left is the unprocessed RAW file. The image on the right has shadow and highlight recovery applied. Although I only applied limited shadow recovery to the RAW file noise was obvious in the shadows. Had I photographed this image using the Fuji XT3 I probably wouldn’t have seen any noise.
But now look at the sky. It appears completely blown out in the image on the left. But by using the Highlights and Whites sliders in Lightroom I was able to recover the sky to a level that I didn’t think was possible. Had I photographed this with the Fuji XT3 I seriously doubt that I could have done this.
Overall, the Fuji feels to have a greater dynamic range than the Panasonic but there isn’t much in it. What’s much more noticeable is the difference in how they achieve that dynamic range. With the Fuji I would try to avoid highlight clipping and as I’ve mentioned in a recent video, I probably wouldn’t bother exposing to the right. Instead I would rely on shadow recovery. But when photographing using the Panasonic G9, exposing to the right appears to be a valuable technique to reduce noise and improve image quality.
RAW Processing Considerations
A further difference that I’ve found between the Panasonic G9 and the Fuji XT3 is how you need to process the RAW files for quality. In this comparison, the Panasonic G9 images are possibly easier to work with despite the points I’ve mentioned.
Something that I’ve highlighted in several past articles is the variation in image quality between different RAW converters. Some RAW converters make a poor job of some types of RAW file.
In this article I’ve used Lightroom to compare the G9 and XT3 RAW files. Lightroom makes quite a good job of processing the Panasonic G9 RAW files as you can see here.
This is a section of an image magnified at 100%. The image is packed with fine detail and has a realistic feel. Compare this to a similar section of an image shot using the Fuji XT3 (try to ignore the different colour rendering).
This image doesn’t appear as sharp or to have as much detail and realism. This is because the default processing in Lightroom doesn’t seem to work well with Fuji XTrans RAW files. When we magnify this image to 200% you can see the problem more clearly.
The image is sharp, but the detail is somehow smeared and lost. It doesn’t have the realism you get when processing the G9 RAW files in Lightroom.
The same story is true across a range of RAW converters that I’ve tried. With the Panasonic G9 my favourite is DxO PhotoLab which produces excellent results. But PhotoLab doesn’t support the Fuji XTrans sensor and many other RAW converters struggle as Lightroom has. So, if Lightroom is your RAW converter and image library manage of choice, you will need to find a solution to the problem of processing Fuji XTrans files. If you don’t, you may find yourself frustrated by its processing of the Fuji files.
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In this article I’ve tried to explain some of the image quality differences of the Panasonic G9 Vs the Fuji XT3. Despite these differences, both cameras do produce excellent image quality when used with good quality lenses.
Having read this article, you may find yourself favouring one camera over the other. Perhaps you will find the colour handling of the Fuji XT3 more suited to your work. Or perhaps the high-resolution mode of the Panasonic G9 gives it the edge. Then again, maybe the poor processing of the Fuji RAW files in Lightroom is a deal breaker for you.
Given that I own both cameras you may be wondering which of them I prefer. My honest answer is that I don’t know, and I can’t make my mind up despite weighing them up for some time. On the grounds of purely image quality I’m happy to use either camera. I am more inclined to take the Panasonic G9 on a hike and use it handheld up mountains where with the Fuji XT3 I like to shoot from a tripod. At the end of the day, most of my preferences come down to the size, weight, and ergonomics of the camera as well as where I’m going to use it.
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