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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.

Photo Acute Photography Software

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GX1 Beach Scene. Nothing to do with the post, I just like the image
GX1 Beach Scene. Nothing to do with the post, I just like the image

Every so often you come across a piece of software that redefines what you accepted as the rules of photography. Something that makes you think how on earth did they do that. Well I may have stumbled across such a software package and it’s called Photo Acute.

In brief this is a software package to blend multiple exposures together but it’s a little different to other packages of this type that I have seen. Yes it does HDR and yes it does focus stacking to achieve greater depth of field. It will remove chromatic aberration and it also does noise removal in a way that differs from standard packages.

What really grabbed my attention however is the way is can multiply the size of your image and pull in new detail by blending together multiple images. This isn’t however simply a resizing of the image, it actually generates additional detail – at least that’s what the blurb on the website says and it does present some strong examples. Interestingly, when I tried it the new image appeared to also be sharper than the original as well as twice the size in both dimensions.

Given the limited pixel count of some great compact cameras e.g. the LX5, this is a great way to enlarge your images.

To make the package work its magic you simply need multiple identical shots of a scene. They can all be the same exposure (unless you are doing HDR) and they can all have the same focus point (unless you are doing focus stacking). With between 2 and 8 images the blending generates a new resized image. The more images you blend the better the results but the longer the processing so try 3-4 images.

I haven’t posted an example here as I don’t have any multiple shot images that are good enough. There is however a free download of the software that you can try out on their website. When I am feeling better and I can get out again I will carry out some experimentation.

Why I Changed my Camera

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Haweswater in the English Lake District. Shot on a GX1 with 14-45mm kit lens from a GF1.

In the past I have received quite a bit of correspondence from people wondering why I changed my camera from the Sony NEX-5 to a GX1. There is also a fairly regular flow of people wondering what I think of the GX1 or the Panasonic system in general and is it worth investing in. Since I started publishing the Light Weight Photography blog in addition to my Lenscraft website the volume of enquiries has accelerated. It seems many people are considering going light weight but just have some doubts. I thought therefore I would take a little time to outline how my journey has brought me to the Panasonic GX1 in the hope that it will help anyone facing this decision. If this raises any questions, add them to this blog posting below and I will do my best to answer.

Firstly I would like to say that I won’t recommend anyone reading this make a decision based on what I like and what suites me. Selecting a camera is a very personal choice and one that each photographer has to make for themselves. I will however outline why I have made the choices I have.

My first serious “light weight” camera was a Sony R1. This had a 10Mpixel sensor and a fixed Zeiss lens which was the equivalent of 24mm-120mm. The camera produced good images that I was very pleased with but the resolution really became too small for what I wanted to do with my work (mainly stock and fine art). The sensor was starting to show its age with poor low light performance (due to noise) and the entire camera was still the size of a small DSLR. (By the way I still miss this camera.)

It was these limitations together with the launch of the NEX-5 that convinced me to sell the R1 and buy the NEX-5. My hope was that the NEX-5 would perform similarly to the R1 with a higher pixel resolution (14Mpixels), better low light performance, all in a smaller package with a more complete coverage of focal lengths. To go with the NEX-5 body I purchased the pancake wide angle prime 16mm lens, the kit lens which I think was an 18-55mm and the very large 18-200mm super zoom. At the time this was the entire range of lenses although there were regular rumours of new lenses.

The Matterhorn, Switzerland
The Matterhorn, Switzerland. Shot with a Sony NEX-5 and 18-55mm kit lens.

Initially I was happy with the camera and impressed with some aspects such as the excellent sensor and small size. I soon became aware however of new limitations and that my decision to purchase the Sony had been heavily influenced by the performance of the R1. I had reasoned that Sony had produced such a great camera in the R1 that the NEX-5 had to be better – but for me it wasn’t.

The body and kit lens together were still too bulky and the 18-200 lens was simply huge. The prime 16mm and kit lens whilst tiny suffered from diffraction and left my pictures a little soft (not a lot but enough to frustrate me). Corner focus on all lenses ranged from acceptable to dreadful and I was having my images regularly rejected by Stock libraries as a result. Worst of all for a landscape photographer was that the widest lens equated to 24mm on a full frame camera and I needed at least a 20mm.

For a while I considered a lens adapter with the NEX-5 but I still couldn’t get the lens quality and focus length I wanted in a compact, lightweight package. It was this that caused me to switch to a Panasonic GF1 which was starting to show its age at that time. This was a 12Mpixel camera and I purchased a 14-45mm lens, a wide angle 9-18mm (equivalent to 18-36mm) and 45-200 lens. This was a great outfit with quality lenses in the focus lengths I wanted, all in a small package. The image quality was good and I never had an image rejected from this camera.

Dovestone
Dovestone on the edge of the Peak District (near to my home). Shot on a GF1 with 14-45mm kit lens.

I have to admit that I loved this camera due to its design, build and size (my daughter now has it). The limitation was that the sensor wasn’t quite as good as I would have liked. I could see a little too much noise and at 12Mpixel it was still a little too small. It was these limitations that encouraged me to purchase the GX1 body with its 16Mpixel sensor. The lenses I have kept because I think they are excellent in terms of image quality, build, size and weight. The 9-18mm in particular is amazing.

I think the GX1 produces great pictures but it’s probably not the end of my journey. Ideally I want a 20Mpixel sensor with better low light capabilities. I also find the GX1 sensor still has a little too much noise for my taste (you may think otherwise) so I often apply light noise reduction even at ISO100. I should mention to put this in perspective that I can often see noise patterns in my 5D MKII even at ISO100. The size and lenses are however spot on and I can only see myself adding to these. In fact I have also added the Panasonic 20mm prime and Olympus 45mm prime which are both first rate.

I think my view has now shifted to make lenses my most important factor when choosing a camera system (providing its small and light) and I accept that I will upgrade my camera body from time to time. I hope from this explanation that you can see my journey and reasoning and that it will help you. As I mentioned above, if anyone has any questions post them here and I will do my best to answer.

The Small Sensor Advantage

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The other night I received a number of emails that reminded me how people involved in Landscape Photographers are failing to move with the times. It used to be that you would start photography using a 35mm film camera and in time, if you were interested in Landscape Photography you might move up to a Medium Format camera. Finally, if you were taking your Landscape Photography seriously and ultimately wanted to turn pro, you would use a large format camera which gave a number of benefits such as image size and camera movement. In truth for many, the camera movement was mainly necessary in order to get proper depth of field and stopping down the lens to a small aperture e.g. f/64 just wasn’t sufficient.

What prompted me to think about this last night were a number of emails I received showing relative newcomers to Photography posing next to their new large format cameras. This caused me to wonder if they had a specific reason to migrate to the large format camera or if they were just following the well trodden path of landscape photographers in the past.

In the past, large format equipment meant exceptional image quality and detail together with huge depth of field; all the things the landscape photographer needed. It still does equate to these things however there are other routes to achieving great landscape results. I can show you images that I have shot with my GX1 using a 28mm lens set to f/7.1 where the rocks at my feet are sharp and detailed, as are the distant hills. This is one of the advantages that having such a small sensor brings; incredible depth of field even at quite wide apertures.

As for the question of detail and resolution, I can upscale my prints to 30 inches and it’s got just as much visible detail as the file printed at the native size. Why, because the printer is the limiting factor. If I can see the barbs on a barbed wire fences when I view the image at 100% on screen, then I might need to print the image at double its current resolution or more before I can see the same barbs in the print. The limitation is therefore the quality and resolving power of the lens and the ability of the printer to print the detail.

I should stress that there is nothing wrong with large format cameras and that a micro 4/3 camera can’t compete with the image resolution from a large format camera, but do you really need all that extra cost, weight and time investment if you don’t print larger than say A3+?

I will however admit however that it doesn’t look quite the same when I am posing for a promotional shot with a tiny GX1 as opposed to a large format camera.

The Lightweight Photographer Begins

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Image

It might just be my advancing years but I have become a huge fan of Lightweight Photography. By Lightweight, I mean trying to minimise the size, weight and amount of equipment I carry when going out on photo shoots. Call it a minimalist approach to photography if you like, but I think it goes beyond being minimalist.

With a minimalist approach I would likely place constraints on myself around the type of images I capture, for example I might only carry one lens with a limited zoom. No, what I am talking about is being able to still make the same images as I would with my full SLR kit, without compromising my work. This is about minimising the weight and bulk of my equipment without constraining myself.

So this blog begins. It’s about my experience, findings and frustrations in trying to make this lightweight approach work for me.

If you are wondering why someone might follow such an approach when they already own a top quality SLR with a full set of pro spec lenses, there are a lot of advantages. I won’t list the advantages now, that’s for a future posting. What I will do however is share my key reason for choosing this approach which is convenience.

I like to do a lot of my photography in the outdoors, often up mountains or when I am out on long treks. Whilst I could and have in the past taken my SLR and lenses with me, I find the extra weight limits me in a number of ways:

  • I don’t want to spend 4 hours walking to arrive on location so tired that I can’t be bothered to make any photographs.
  • The weight does slow me down and can limit the time I have available for photograph.
  • Exhaustion and photography are not a good mix and it shows in my work.
  • I am limited on how much additional non photography equipment I can carry e.g. Winter Gear, which places other restrictions on where I can go with the camera.

If I could find a way to deal with this problem and remove these limits I should find that my photography will improve as will my enjoyment of the experience.

Visit again to read how I fair and also share your own thoughts and experience with me.