Okay, I admit it, I am a little nuts. Once I get interested in something, I can't let it go. Right now, this happens to be Micro Four Thirds cameras. They seem to offer some things I am not getting in my present gear.
For the longest time, I admit that I kind of felt Panasonic was an electronics company, not a camera company, so what did they know about photography? They and Olympus started the whole mirrorless camera genre (and I think it was Panasonic that initiated it). At first, I did not look so hard at Panasonic because Olympus is the camera company, right? I found the Olympus mirrorless, Micro Four Thirds cameras interesting and I knew their cameras and lenses were always excellent, but they didn’t quite offer what I needed. (Note: Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds are the same sensor size, same format. The difference is in the lens mount.)
I am terrible in knowing people from first impressions. I don’t mean I think people are bad or good, simply that I get it wrong as to who they are really like. Consistently. So I accept that and realize that I must be careful not to limit my interaction with someone from first impressions. So I did look at Panasonic DSLM cameras (same Micro Four Thirds as Olympus). Once again, I get hit with a lesson that what you don’t know can limit you! As I said before, I was very impressed with what I saw when I actually looked.
I saw a really good deal on the Panasonic GX1 with power zoom lens and I needed a good, super compact, pocket camera (this camera will fit a pants pocket), so I got one. And because I wanted to know more about Panasonic since I was really impressed with their GH3 (which I think I will get a chance to work with in July).
I took the GX1 with me on my trip to Colorado to do a video class on intimate landscapes last week with Craftsy.com (the first photo is from one of our locations in Eldorado Canyon State Park outside of Boulder). I started shooting with it when I was doing a little scouting of locations on Monday, then off and on through the week.
First off, I did not realize how much playing with menus I was doing with the Sony cameras until I started using the GX1. Nearly all the usual controls are now buttons or dials, plus there are two function buttons that can be programmed separately and two custom functions (that will remember a particular group of settings). For example, to change ISO or white balance (and I do both to deal with changing conditions) on the Sony cameras, you have to press a button to get the menu, go to another menu for white balance and ISO, go to another menu for the specific control, then select it and go back to shooting (a lot of digital cameras do something similar with important controls because menus are easier to deal with than specific controls).
For the GX1, you press a button called WB or ISO, select the setting you want, then go back to shooting. Quite a difference. I sometimes get lazy and don’t change WB with the Sony’s because it is a multi-step menu process (to be fair, Sony cameras do have a couple of programmable buttons, but since most controls are menu based, this is pretty limited). I also like the nice dial on top of the GX1 that allows you to quickly change exposure modes – I often change between aperture priority and Manual exposure.
I like the way the GX1 handles, though it does not have a tilting LCD that I like (my Sony HSC9V did not either – this keeps the camera a little smaller). The LCD is bright and contrasty and pretty easy to see in most light, even bright light. And nothing on the market in this price range compares to the video from this little camera.
To compare, I shot my Sony 5N with Zeiss 16-80mm lens (made for Sony Alpha cameras, so I use an adapter) and the GX1 with 14-45mm power zoom lens. (For reference: Sony 16-80mm is equivalent to 24-120mm with 35mm-full-frame and Panasonic 14-45 is equivalent to 28-90mm). I used the same distance, same f-stop, same angle of view. The two images were processed normally and lightly in Lightroom (set blacks and whites, adjust midtones, do normal sharpening). No color adjustments were made, though both cameras were set to Cloudy white balance. First, the scene shot with both cameras, 5N first, GX1 second:
I also compared other areas, such as this small detail of the rock at left. Again, first is the 5N, second is the GX1:
When I looked at the results, I really was surprised. This is a $500 camera and lens compared favorably to a $900 Zeiss lens! You may remember that I had shot Canon APS-C cameras (7D and 60D) and felt that the NEX 5N was as good or better, so this is a comparison there, too. To be fair, that is a really good price for the GX1 and that lens (the lens has ED glass in it), and the Zeiss lens is designed for a larger format (lenses are always more expensive when made for a larger format for a lot of reasons), but still, this seemed more than a little remarkable. Sharpness, noise, color, tonality were so close in in quality. The Sony combo is slightly better along the edges, not unexpected, but not a huge difference.
Just for fun, I added an apochromatic close-up lens to the GX1 back in my native plants garden this week. I used a strong +7 diopter Century Optics lens, which is quite good. I was very pleased with the results. First you see an overall shot of the scene, then a cropped detail showing a small section of the image.
I admit that I once thought Panasonic was an electronics company, so what did they know about cameras? Evidently, a lot. One nice thing about Micro Four Thirds is that the lenses and cameras are considerably less expensive than larger format cameras for the same quality. Because there is no mirror, the camera can be made much simpler and even more durable; because the sensor is smaller, the camera is a lot less expensive (size of sensor has a huge impact on camera cost); and because the sensor is smaller and there is no mirror, lenses can be made smaller and less expensive at the same quality (as lenses get larger, the glass involved gets larger and harder to manufacture).