Compact Camera

Panasonic GM1 First Thoughts – part 2

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GM1 paired with the Olympus 9-18mm lens
GM1 paired with the Olympus 9-18mm lens

In my previous post I looked at the size of the GM1 in comparison to the LX7. In this post I will look at my thoughts around image quality. Right up front I should say that this camera is in another league when compared to the LX7, but then you would expect it to be. And to be entirely fair to the LX7, I have been producing some very detailed and high quality A2 prints from it recently.

In the following image you can see a shot of cracked paintwork which was captured on the GM1 with the 12-32mm kit lens at 18mm with the ISO set to ISO 125 which is the expanded ISO, base ISO being 200. It’s very difficult for you to see the image quality in this other than perhaps the colour rendition.

2014-05-10 RWhalley_GM1_2014_05_1000351

The next image shows the central part of the frame zoomed to 100% magnification.

Image section at 100% magnification
Image section at 100% magnification

This is an exceptionally sharp lens and camera combination and I would put it on a par with the Olympus EM5 paired with the Panasonic 14-45mm lens (which is excellent). What I have noticed though is that the lens starts to soften in the corners as can be seen in the next shot.

Corner section of the image at 100% magnification
Corner section of the image at 100% magnification

This softening isn’t too bad but you can also see some light fall off. I was finding that when shooting something near to me I was needing to stop down to about f/6.3 in order to bring the corner sharpness up to a level where I could add additional sharpening later. Being fair to the 12-32mm lens, it is an excellent performer and is never going to compare with the likes of the Olympus 25mm or 45mm primes. If you are shooting more distant subjects or those that don’t demand exceptional corner sharpness, it is ideal.

What is also noticeable about the images above is he colour rendition in the GM1. I have found the images on a par with the Olympus EM1. The RAW files are a pleasure to work with and I seem to be able to achieve great results.

Now one area I don’t usually like is shooting at higher ISO. If I have to push my camera to anything over ISO 400 I start to fret that I am losing image quality. So occasions where I have to shoot handheld in low light are something that I hate. Take a look at the following image where I had to shoot at ISO800.

 

Low light image shot handheld at ISO800. Processing in Nik Silver Efex Pro
Low light image shot handheld at ISO800. Processing in Nik Silver Efex Pro

Now take a look at a section of the unprocessed image at 100% magnification.

Section of the image at 100% magnification prior to processing.
Section of the image at 100% magnification prior to processing.

I have applied a very small amount of noise reduction to the image but it’s hardly noticeable. The low light performance appears to be on a par with or even slightly better than my Olympus EM5, something that surprised me as Panasonic have always produced images that are noisier than their Olympus competition. I would certainly have no problems printing this image at A2.

One odd thing that I noticed about the camera when shooting in low light was that it performed better with the 12-32mm lens than any of my primes. Neither the lens nor the body have any form of image stabiliser but I could consistently shoot clearer images. Use the 25mm and the shake would be very evident. I can’t explain that one.

In summary, put a good lens on this camera and it really performs in terms of image quality. And if you only have the 12-32 lens, it’s still a good performer if you are not ultra fussy about corner sharpness or know how to overcome this. It really is a superb quality pocket camera.


As someone has kindly pointed out since I made this post, the 12-32 lens is stabilised, so that sorts out my confusion. I even have to admit to having looked at the front of the lens to see if I could see OIS and I completely missed it. Time for new glasses I think.

 

Panasonic GM1 First Thoughts

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As regular readers will know, I recently splashed out on the purchase of a Panasonic GM1 camera. If you are not familiar with the GM1, it is possibly the smallest Micro 43 system camera that you can buy. My thinking was that I would use it as a backup to my main Olympus EM5, a lightweight travel camera, possibly pairing it with my GX1 infrared or as a replacement for my LX7 compact camera. The LX7 is a lovely camera and I really enjoy using it but there are times when I want better quality and a higher pixel count than its 10Mpixel sensor will give me. If the GM1 is a nice pocket camera it might replace the LX7.

So, I have been using the GM1 for a couple of weeks now and am starting to get a feel for how its specification translates into real life shooting. I know quite a few of you are keen for me to share my experience (as you keep writing to me) so here we go. First off, let’s compare the size of the GM1 to the LX7 which is a compact camera and which fits quite nicely into my pocket.

The GM1 that I purchased came with a 12-32mm f/3.5 – 5.6 lens. The neat thing about this lens is that is collapses down when not in use. This makes the lens and camera together roughly the same depth as the LX7 which also has a lens that retracts. Here you can see the two cameras side by side from above with UV filters in place. Notice the depth of the GM1 body (which is on the left) is less than the LX7 although the lens is deeper.

GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left
GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left

When viewed from the front you can see the GM1 is actually smaller than the LX7 both in terms of width and height.

GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left
GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left

This is even clearer to see when the camera is viewed from the rear (GM1 is on the left). Despite this reduction in size the screen area is the same size as the LX7. I know this as I fitted a screen protector from the LX7 to the GM1.

GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left
GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left

Once both cameras have their lenses extended for use they are still roughly the same size.

GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left
GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left

One aspect of the GM1 that some users may find annoying is that there is no hotshoe to fix an external viewfinder to so you are limited to the screen display. Personally I haven’t found this an issue and the screen has been easy to see even in quite bright conditions.

What I really like about the GM1 is that ability to attach other high quality Micro 43 lenses to the body. Here you can see the Olympus 45mm prime in place.

GM1 with an Olympus 45mm prime
GM1 with an Olympus 45mm prime

And also the Olympus 17mm Pancake lens.

GM1 with an Olympus 17mm prime
GM1 with an Olympus 17mm prime

With the pancake lens in place the camera is a very small package that fits easily into your pocket.

But size isn’t everything, even with small cameras. You need to know how the camera handles. So far I have tried the GM1 with the 12-32mm kit lens, Olympus 9-18mm wide angle, the primes you see above, the Olympus 25mm and Olympus 60mm macro lens. The 60mm macro lens is actually quite large and is possibly where the camera starts to feel unbalanced but is still perfectly usable. Using the camera with the 12-32 is very enjoyable and is probably the ideal partner for it.

In conclusion, this camera is a good substitute for my LX7 in terms of size although the 12-32 lens (equivalent to 24-64mm) is less flexible than the LX7 which has a 24-90mm equivalent lens.

In my next post I will look at the quality of the GM1 in comparison to the LX7.

The Need for Enjoyment

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Reflections in Leadenhall Market. Panasonic LX7 compact camera.
Reflections in Leadenhall Market. Panasonic LX7 compact camera.

So, here I am in London with a couple of friends for the day and our sole purpose is to enjoy ourselves taking pictures. But I wasn’t. Not because this isn’t a great city or I wasn’t happy being with my friends, I just wasn’t inspired. I was taking photographs but I wasn’t creating photography. My mojo had gone and I just couldn’t stay enthused.

I was used to this dip happening around early afternoon but today I just hadn’t got into gear and now it was mid afternoon.

What snapped me out of this was finding a puddle in Leadenhall Market. The market itself had been decorated with flags and whilst pretty wasn’t very interesting. It was only when I found a puddle that showed their reflection that I began to feel interested. I ended up slaving over trying to create the image above for around half an hour without much luck.

Ultimately I decided to put away my main cameras and just work with the little Panasonic LX7. This is where everything just clicked into place and I started to create photography. That little camera is a joy to use. I love the control it gives me and the quality is very good. I have since printed some of my shots at A2 and they look super (but more on that at a later date).

After this switch of equipment I started to feel enthused again and everything came together. I even switched back to shooting with my other cameras to vary things and it worked well. This just goes to show the importance of enjoying yourself when taking photographs.

I have no will power

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Whitby, captured on the Sony RX100 with 0.6 ND graduated filter. Post processing in Nik Color Efex and Viveza and a tweak in Photoshop.
Whitby, captured on the Sony RX100 with 0.6 ND graduated filter. Post processing in Nik Color Efex and Viveza and a tweak in Photoshop.

A couple of weeks back I was out with my friend Steve (who is also an Olympus EM5 owner) and we were discussing just how good this camera is. At the time we agreed that we didn’t want for anything so would stop all this chasing around after new kit and just work with what we have. Just two weeks on and I have ordered a Panasonic GM1. I just had a gut feeling that I needed one – I don’t know where the feeling came from but I tend to listen to my hunches.

But hear me out (I need to justify this for my own piece of mind).

I currently have two compact cameras, an LX7 and a Sony RX100. I like and am impressed by both but neither is perfect. Of the two, I would say I am least happy with the Sony and want to replace it. It’s not that I don’t like the Sony it’s that I just don’t love it. My intention with the GM1 is to use it as a replacement compact camera and potentially as my travel camera.

I am hoping that by pairing up the GM1 with some of the great (small) lenses that I already own I can have a great compact kit. I will need to see how well this works before deciding to sell the LX7 (as I do love that camera) but the RX100 is going on eBay.

Watch this space for my future experiences once I get the GM1 – it has just been reported to me as being out of stock.

RX100 V’s LX5 and LX7 – Part 2

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Death Valley Sand Dunes - RX100
Death Valley Sand Dunes – RX100

Continued…

Sensor quality – Here I would say I am interested in producing natural colours and smooth images (free from noise). The LX7 is better than the LX5 but neither can touch the Sony. The Sony has smooth images with very limited noise that doesn’t get exaggerated when the images are processed. The colours from the Sony are also very lifelike. I have often thought the Panasonic colours, especially Green, look a little unnatural. The ISO performance of the LX7 is better than the LX5 but the Sony is much better than both of these. As I shoot most of my work at base ISO and hardly ever go above ISO800, the LX7 and RX100 are fine. The LX5 struggled above ISO400.

Pixel Count – This only becomes important if you are going to be producing large prints and by that I mean above A3+. The Sony will produce a slightly larger than A3+ print at 300dpi without any enlargement whilst you will need to enlarge the LX5 or LX7. What is interesting is that some of the LX5 or LX7 images enlarged appear sharer and more detailed than the Sony. If you go to A2 printing the LX5 and LX7 can achieve this is you take care whilst the Sony can be enlarged to this easily but it can reveal the soft corners (I said it was irritating). If you are only going to share your images on the Internet then any of the cameras will be fine.

Filters – I shoot landscapes so I need to be able to attach square filters such as ND Grads. All three cameras allow this but the LX5 requires a bulky tube to be attached. I hated this as it stopped the camera fitting easily in my pocket. The LX7 uses a screw in adapter which I like but I can’t leave the filter adapter ring attached as it jams the lens when it retracts. It also causes vignetting at the 24mm end when shooting 16:9 format (which I do alot). The RX100 filter adapter is a stick on affair which is very slim and works well but it’s expensive.

Handling – I find the RX100 small to handle but it is improved by the addition of the Sony leather half case. The layout and dials are good on the RX100 as is the front aperture ring which can be switched to other purposes such as focussing. The LX7 has a great aperture ring and I love the format switching ring. The LX5 is similarly good but lacks the aperture ring. If pushed I would say the LX cameras are easier and faster to work with than the RX100. If your bag is street photography then I think the LX cameras are probably better to work with.

What this all means is that for me, none of these cameras is perfect but all will perform well and achieve the results I want. I suspect (unless you see something above to convince you otherwise) that they would also serve you equally well. The best advice I can give is what I started this blog with – understand what features are important to you and why before investing.

If I had to use just one camera it would actually be the RX10. It has the great sensor of the RX100 but the lens is amazing. Its failure (if you can call it that) is that it’s significantly larger than the others and won’t fit in your pocket. Surprisingly my Olympus EM5 is quite a bit smaller than the RX10 and produces the best image quality of all the cameras – I still can’t fit it in my pocket unless I am using prime lenses.

Remember, no camera is perfect for all tasks.

RX100 V’s LX5 and LX7 – Part 1

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Death Valley dunes - RX100
Death Valley dunes – RX100

It’s funny how the same questions keep coming up in photography and this is one of them. Which is the better camera the RX100 or the LX5/LX7? I see people arguing on forums, it comes up as a search term in the traffic stats for this sight and I even receive emails asking this. I thought therefore it would be good to post a blog on the subject as I can understand people’s confusion.

At the outset I should say that I have owned all three of these cameras and currently still own the RX100 and LX7. Initially I had purchased the LX5 some 3 years back and was delighted by its performance. My only niggle was that I wanted more megapixels. When the RX100 came out I purchased that also and in time found I was using my LX5 less and less, so I sold it. Just before Christmas this year I found myself buying an LX7 as I was missing the LX5 and finding weak spots in the RX100 performance (but more on that shortly).

The first important point is to realise that you can’t expect to compare cameras based on specification alone. If it were that simple we would all be buying the same cameras (providing we could afford them). Buying a camera is a personal thing so you need to understand what is motivating you to make a purchase and what your expectations are. Most people overlook this point and as a result waste money, often being disappointed in the results.

What follows is my comparison using the points that are important to me. What’s important to you may be considerably different.

Wide angle lens – Ideally I want a 24mm equivalent lens at the wide angle. Both the LX5 and LX7 have this but the RX100 is 28mm. It may not sound like much but it is if you shoot landscapes. For me though this isn’t a deal breaker, but it is important and something I find frustraiting when using the RX100.

Long lens capability – Ideally I want 150mm at the long end of the lens or more. The LX5 and LX7 have a long end of 90mm and the RX100 of 110mm (I think). In practice there is little difference and neither gives me what I want here in order to be truly versatile. Again though, this isn’t a deal breaker.

Lens quality – I want a lens that is sharp from corner to corner and displays little chromatic aberration. Detail should be well resolved and appear nice and crisp in the final image. If I chose to resize the image I want to have confidence the image will look good. Both the LX5 and LX7 have great lenses and produce corner to corner sharpness. I would say if pressed that the LX5 lens on the camera I sold was better than the LX7 I now have, but it’s marginal. The RX100 lens is great in the centre but the corners are soft at the wide end and it drives me mad. Also, under some conditions the corners of images from the RX100 can also take on a red tint. These “features” may not worry you but I find them very irritating.

Image quality – This means the ability to shoot RAW (which all three cameras do) but I find the Panasonic RAW files easier to work with than the Sony files. This may just be my personal feeling.

To be continued…

Why you dont need a DSLR

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Captured on a DSLR - a 10 Mpixel Canon 400D (just to prove I'm not biased). This makes a great A2 print.
Captured on a DSLR – a 10 Mpixel Canon 400D (just to prove I’m not biased). This makes a great A2 print. Processed in Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex.

One of the great things I love about my blogging platform is that it allows me to see how people have found my site. Recently I have seen a lot of traffic coming from forums where people have considered switching from a DSLR to Micro 43. Typically someone with a good DSLR such as a Nikon D800 or Canon 7D will poses the question to gather the thinking of others and make a decision.

Often the reason they give for considering such a switch is not because the images are higher quality but because the Micro 43 cameras are more practical. Try carrying a full sized DSLR and 3 lenses up a mountain (with all your other gear) and you will soon understand the problem. Micro 43 is also more flexible than a bulky DSLR and people are now waking up to this fact.

The typical response I have seen to this question are dozens of replies from people suggesting they will regret it and will miss the quality of the DSLR. Clearly a lot of these answers will be based on what people have read in the photography magazines and not on personal experience from using the equipment.

So far I have resisted pitching in to these discussions as my voice and opinion will probably be lost in the noise. I thought therefore that I would post some reasons why you may not need that big DSLR (having made the switch myself) in case it provides help for someone grappling with this problem.

  1. If you are happy with your DSLR at the moment then don’t bother switching. You should only really consider this if you are at the point where you need to replace the DSLR or you have sufficient money to invest in dual systems. You are unlikely to achieve a noticeable improvement in performance unless your current lenses are poor quality (micro 43 lenses are typically better for their cost) or your camera is poor in which case you are back to needing to replace it.
  2. Do you really have the need for something smaller than a DSLR? I am a huge fan of Micro 43 and high quality compact cameras as they give me freedom to shoot in ways that DSLR owners would find difficult. But not everyone finds themselves in this position. Be sure you understand and need the benefits a smaller camera format would offer before you make the switch.
  3. What do you do with your images? If all you are doing is putting them on the internet to share with others then your typical dimensions are going to be around 1000-1500 pixels on the longest side. Even my camera phone does more than that. If this describes you, you are wasting all that extra resolution and lens quality. Why spend £1000 on a lens that is super sharp and largely free from defects only to reduce the image resolution to a point where the benefits can’t be seen.
  4. The last point also leads on to printing. Do you print your images and at what size? If the largest print you make is an A3+ then a quality compact camera is going to be able to do that just as well as a DSLR. It doesn’t matter that you may need to enlarge the image to make the print, you won’t be able to tell. Printers can’t resolve anywhere near as much detail as you can see when you view your image at 100% on a monitor. And if your thinking that you need the image to look sharp and detailed when viewed at 100% on screen, your back to the argument that says you will be reducing the image resolution in order to view it. We don’t view images zoomed in. We view them at a resolution where we can see the entire image on screen at once.

The recurring argument that people seem to trot out on these forums is that you will notice the reduction in quality when switching from a DSLR to a Micro 43. My response to this is you might. If you are viewing your images at 100%, full resolution on the screen and you have a D800 or similar then yes you will notice there is a larger print with more detail than my Olympus EM5. If however your reducing your resolution down to 1500 pixels to share your images on the internet, no you won’t.

Equally, if you are printing your images then you will need to be printing at larger than A2 from an image made on a top of the range DSLR, using a great printer (with good technique) in order to distinguish any difference to my Olympus EM5. Oh yes, you would also need to have good, young eyes with the print viewed close up.

If you want stunning results, it’s not the equipment that will make the difference it’s knowledge and skills. That’s where you should invest your money and not buying into all the marketing hype spawned by camera companies and perpetuated by the magazines that need advertising revenue (you can’t blame them) to survive.

End of rant. I have probably blown any chance of sponsorship from a major camera manufacturer.

Return of the LX

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LX7 landscape shot from the Peak District, UK
LX7 landscape shot from the Peak District, UK

Regular readers may recall my decision a few months back to sell the Panasonic LX5, as I wasn’t using the camera. Most of the time when I needed a compact camera I was taking the Sony RX100 which is a great little camera and much more compact than the LX5 (when the filter adapter was fitted).

I don’t know why but I recently had a rush of blood to the head and found myself missing the LX5. I think it was on processing and printing some images I shot in New York where the A3+ prints were simply amazing.

LX5 New York image.
LX5 New York image.

Anyway, I have now purchased an LX7 to replace the LX5. I was about to write that it’s still limited by its 10Mpixel sensor but stopped myself. This doesn’t matter. It will produce great A3+ prints so why do I need more pixels.

In terms of sharpness and image quality the LX7 seems pretty much on a par with the LX5 although the noise at higher ISO settings is reduced. The other nice feature is the filter adapter which screws onto the outside of the lens. This makes it much more compact and it will now fit easily in my pocket.

Had I traded in the LX5 to buy the LX7 I would have been disappointed as I don’t think it justifies the additional cost. Having sold the LX5 I somehow feel the purchase of the LX7 is OK and that I haven’t traded one for the other. It’s early days yet but this camera feels like the return of an old friend.

Broken Link in Silver Efex Book

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New York in the Evening. Captured on a Panasonic LX5.
New York in the Evening. Captured on a Panasonic LX5.

I was recently contacted by someone who had purchased my Nik Silver Efex book but was having problems. I mention in the book that Nik provide a number of useful presets on their site which are free to download. These include a good Landscape preset and a faux infrared preset which is quite dramatic. There were also links to download a number of additional presets for the Color Efex software. When trying to access the link I provided this person was being redirected to a new Google/Nik site.

The bad news is that Google, despite all the improvements they have made to the Nik software, has removed the presets. I spent quite some time trawling their site and archives and can’t find the presets anywhere. Whether or not this is temporary  I don’t know.

The good news is that I have been able to locate the presets using the “Wayback Machine” website. Here is the link for anyone wanting to access these.

http://web.archive.org/web/20130203200623/http://www.niksoftware.com/addons/index.php/presets/index?lc=en

In case you are wondering, the image above didn’t use any presets. It was shot with a Panasonic LX5 from the top of the Empire State Building in New York shortly, after sunset on a rather dull day. But more on the LX5 in another post soon.

Learning to Love your Location

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View above Delph in Saddleworth
View above Delph in Saddleworth, England. Click to view larger version. Captured with a Panasonic Lumix LX5

One of the things that I love about compact cameras (aside from the great quality you can now achieve with some of the “Pro” models) is that they are easy to carry. They are light and fit easily into your pocket or bag. This makes them the ideal photographer’s tool to have ready to hand at almost any time. It also means you can take a good quality camera with you, just in case when you are out and about. This is one reason why I first invested (a few years back) in the new breed of compacts and bought an LX5.

At the time I had heard good reports about the LX3 and LX5 but had decided not to invest as I was concerned about image quality. Once I saw some images and processed some RAW files for myself, I was convinced. This was also the ideal camera for me to take out when I was walking locally.

I am sure many of you reading this also have or would like compact cameras that allow you to capture images when you are out and about near to home. If that is the case, let me ask you, how often do you actually do/would you do this and what do you do with the images after?

The reason I ask this is because I don’t think that I take my camera along often enough. If I am out for a walk locally, I often don’t feel the landscape (I am after all a landscape photographer) is worthy of taking photographs. This is odd as I know people who travel to where I live to take picture and I have even seen magazine articles. Strangely I just can’t see it and can’t enthuse over the landscape. I think I have become blinded by familiarity and often find myself travelling for an hour or two to areas that I feel offer more potential.

Last night however I was working through my huge back catalogue of images that are yet to be processed, looking to delete some when I came across the image here. I have never really paid any attention to the images I have snapped locally but I found last night that I actually quite like this one. It’s not earth shattering but it gives a pleasant view of one of the villages where I live.

The village you see in the picture is of Delph in Saddleworth and I am on top of the hill above Dobcross. You probably haven’t heard of either of these but both have been used as Film and TV locations. Dobcross was used in the film Yanks amongst others whilst Delph appeared (briefly) in the Film Brassed Off. They must have been chosen for a reason.

What I think I need to do is to open my eyes to the beauty of the location where I live and not go out with a pre-conception of the type of image I want to capture.