Category Archives: Approach

Why I Changed my Camera

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.

Is this the biggest compact camera advantage

View from the Summit of Kidsty Pike

Some years back I made a startling discovery. I was finding that when presented with the same location, photographers with compact cameras often produced better photographs than those with expensive SLR’s. At first I dismissed this as a fluke but then I started to notice this scenario again and again at all sorts of locations.

Now when I say better, it would be easy to dismiss this as being personal preference. Yes there might have been some of this at work but others also seemed to agree. It’s also worth me pointing out that when I say better photographs I am not referring to qualitative such as sharpness of image or colour rendition or noise free images. What I am really talking about is composition which after all is the cornerstone of photography. People with compact cameras were regularly finding better compositions than photographers with more expensive equipment and quite often years of experience.

There are a couple of factors that I think might have been at work here:

  1. Experienced photographers who often have “superior” equipment can restrict their creativity by thinking the image that would be produced will be of an inferior quality so they don’t try the shot. The less experienced photographer just takes the shot because they like the image and quality is a secondary (if that) consideration. They just want to take a nice photograph.
  2. The way you use a small compact camera is very different to the way you use a DSLR. With the compact camera you hold it away from you and view the image on the LCD. This gives you great freedom of movement and you tend to move in towards the subject so that it fills the frame. You also tend to twist and turn the camera easily until you find the most appealing composition. With the DSLR you hold this to your eye which is often held at eye level and further away from the subject. Holding the camera to your eye also steadies it but tends to restrict the movement because it requires you move your head and entire body. I believe this limits the compositions you will try and chances are, prevent you from finding the best one.

Back in the “olden days” of film we often used cards with windows cut into them to explore composition but I haven’t seen anyone do this for a long time. If you are a hardened DSLR user you might want to consider using a compact camera as a compositional aid.

As for the image here, it was shot on my GX1 with an Olympus 9-18 lens and shows the view from the summit of Kidsty Pike in the Lake District. Had I been using a DSLR I doubt I would have moved in quite so close to the foreground rocks and I doubt the image would have had quite so dynamic a composition.

I should also have said to click on the image and zoom in. I have posted a slightly larger file than usual. When you view it a full size it gives a greater feeling of depth.

My Top 5 Reasons to go Micro 4/3

Panasonic GX1 14-45mm
Copyright 2012 Robin Whalley

I have done a number of camera club presentations recently and it’s very clear there are a lot of people who really get the concept of Lightweight Photography. I have to say that it’s usually the women who appreciate this most and appear much more accepting of this new approach. Many of the men seem to be stuck in the paradigm of using an SLR for ultimate quality (sorry chaps, but you need to wake up and smell the coffee).

Much of the resistance to the idea of using lightweight equipment is that the quality isn’t there but this is a myth. I easily dispel this by showing some of the prints I have made from Micro 4/3 cameras and asking people to comment. Somehow people seem to equate heavier SLR cameras with quality and distrust anything that is lightweight, even when the evidence is in front of their eyes.

I thought therefore that I would share my top 5 reasons for using Micro 4/3 cameras:

  1. Size – these cameras are much smaller than SLR’s and consequently much more portable. It’s easy to hold and shoot with such a camera only inches from the ground or high above your head. It’s easier to experiment and be creative with these in comparison to using an SLR. Interestingly small also equates to less of a threat in the minds of the public. People tend to ignore me when shooting with a small camera but point an SLR in their direction and they react – something you don’t want.
  2. Weight – these cameras are much easier to carry around so you are more likely to take them places and more importantly use them. It also makes them much less tiring to use which should be reflected in better and more enjoyable photography.
  3. Depth of field – because the sensor size is half that of a full frame camera, the depth of field that can be achieved is greater. Try it out and you will be amazed by how wide the aperture can be and still allow you to achieve a full depth of field in your image. I now regularly shoot at between f/5.6 and f/7.1 and seldom need to stop down beyond f/11.
  4. Quality of image – this is related to the previous point. Not needing to stop the aperture right down helps me avoid diffraction which can lead to soft images. Having a wide aperture keeps lots of light entering the lens, the shutter speed fast and the aperture within the area of best performance. Also it allows me to shoot handheld and still keep the ISO low. All these points add up to great quality in the final image.
  5. Price – I am sure this will change as there is a shift to these cameras, but the cost is generally lower than equivalent SLR kit. At the time of writing I can by a 16Mpixel GX1 for less than £400 which is about the same as an entry level SLR. For around £150 I can buy a 14-45mm lens which is superbly sharp. Then there is the 45mm Olympus prime which is under £300; to get anything like this for the Canon 5D would cost 3 times as much if not more.

There are other benefits to the Micro 4/3 camera but to stop you from dumping all your gear on eBay right now I will stop there. If however you have your own reasons for loving Micro 4/3 that I haven’t covered, why not add a comment to share this.

Out for a Walk

Whilst I love photography, one of my other passions is hill walking. I can’t think of anything better than being out in the mountains with the exception of being out in the mountains with a camera. And that’s where I was at weekend, up in the mountains of the Lake District. Unfortunately I didn’t get too many pictures as for most of my walk the visibility was less than 10m – thank goodness for my map, compass and GPS.

At the moment I am trying to put in some serious miles as I have an Alpine trek coming up where I am trekking from Monte Blanc to the Matterhorn at altitude. The other Saturday was therefore spent completing a 20Km walk around the Newlands Horseshoe taking in Maiden Moor, High Spy, Dale Head and Hindscarth and extended by including Catbells. Despite only being 20Km it was quite demanding with a good amount of ascent and decent so the day stretched out to 8 hours (not helped by the thick fog reducing visibility to less than 10m).

As I said above I can think of nothing better than taking pictures on these treks so I took my lightweight kit with me which consists of a Panasonic GX1, 9-18mm Olympus lens, 14-45mm Panasonic lens and 45-200mm Panasonic lens. Reducing my equipment down to this level makes my backpack much lighter and the walking much more enjoyable. There is also a further benefit of this lightweight equipment that I wanted to highlight and that is the carrying of the camera itself.

I tend to like my camera hung around my neck as I walk or sometimes slung around my neck. Over the years this has actually caused me a lot of neck problems and I know of a lot of others who also suffer because of this. The lightweight camera gear I now use is much more acceptable to carry in this “always ready” way and I now notice how much better my neck and back feel the day after a walk.

So my plea is to those of you who are reading this and are young enough to think this problem will not affect you. I want to tell you that it will, it’s just a matter of time. I therefore want to save you time, pain and money spent on Physiotherapy bills and say don’t carry your camera around your neck unless it’s lightweight. Even then, invest in a longer strap and carry the camera around the neck, with one arm through the strap so the strap comes across your body. I would hate to think you read this in 20 years time and think ah yes, he was right.

Select the Right Aperture – Part 3

The final post in the series…

Compact mirror less cameras such as Micro 4/3 are slightly different from this. Most seem to be good performers from wide open, hit their best performance when stopped down by one stop and then gradually tail off as diffraction kicks in. The cameras do however have a huge advantage in terms of their smaller sensor size increasing the depth of field. A typical Micro 4/3 camera has a sensor with a 2x magnification. This also means my depth of field is also effectively doubled. I know that at f/7.1 on a 14mm lens (28mm equivalent) I can achieve a full depth of field. My LX5 has an even smaller sensor so by the time I have stopped down to f/3.5 at 24mm equivalent focal length I can achieve sharp focus from 1m to infinity.

So how do you use this advantage?

Firstly understand how your lenses perform at each of the apertures. When are they at their sharpest and when do they suffer from problems such as diffraction.  This gives you your ideal range which you should try to keep within.

Now select the focal length of the lens you will use. This has a big impact on depth of field with longer lenses having less depth of field than wide angles. I suggest selecting the focal length first as I see this as a more important consideration in composition than depth of field.

Once you have composed your image consider how much depth of field you need to achieve. A number of important factors come into play here:

  1. The focal length of the lens as wider lenses give a greater depth of field than telephoto lenses at the same aperture
  2. How far you are from the closest point you want in focus. The nearer this is to the camera the less the depth of field.
  3. The size of your sensor as small sensors give a greater depth of field at the same aperture than larger sensors
  4. Where your point of focus is. The depth of field at a given aperture extends roughly 1/3 in front of the point of focus and 2/3 beyond.

The reason I was able to shoot my New York Skyline image at f/2.8 is that my point of focus was at infinity and I was shooting at the wide angle end of my lens. These points alone were enough to give me the depth of field required. Once you have mastered the points above you suddenly realise the common wisdom of stopping your lens down to its smallest aperture often isn’t correct and won’t give you the optimal image.

The Lightweight Portfolio Challenge

The Lightweight Portfolio Challenge


New York, March 2011
Copyright: Robin Whalley 2011
Contact: robin@lenscraft.co.uk

I was recently reading about Haiku which is a form of Japanese poetry. The objective is to describe an idea in just 17 syllables in three lines (there is a bit more to it but this is the key point for me). As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking if you are to convey the idea effectively with accuracy, beauty and completeness. It got me wondering if there were any parallels that we could draw as Lightweight photographers.

The idea I came up with is the Lightweight Portfolio Challenge.

The idea is simple; you have to create a portfolio of 5 images that completely express a subject or an idea:

  • The portfolio must contain 5 images
  • The images must explore the idea as fully and completely as possible
  • All the images in the portfolio should work together with no image standing out from the others

You might also want to consider setting yourself some additional rules around this to make it Lightweight and prevent it from expanding into a huge task:

  • Are you going to set a timeframe on how long you have to complete this exercise e.g. 1 month from the start?
  • Will you include images from your archives or must the work be new?
  • Consider restricting yourself to just one camera or even just one lens.
  • Only have one of these projects on the go at any one time. It’s much better to have the focus.

Initially you might want to try to create such a body of work from images you already have. This will help you understand just how difficult the exercise can be. Once you are happy with this approach you can move on to shoot new material.

Now, once you are proficient in producing these mini portfolios consider broadening either the theme you are trying to represent in 5 images. What would you say if I asked you to produce such a set of 5 images which were to represent your work for the current year and that it would be only these 5 images that you could publish or share?

How about the 5 images that would represent your life’s work and would be how you want to be remembered as a Photographer?

Copyright: Robin Whalley 2012 www.thelightweightphotographer.com

See more of my work at www.lenscraft.co.uk