Camera Observations

Eldorado Canyon-01Okay, 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 (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:

Rock Full NEX-01Rock Full GX1-01You will see the formats are different proportions. NEX is APS-C, or 3:2. Micro Four Thirds is 4:3. Here are two small details from the center of the big rock, 5N first, GX1 second:

Rock detail 1 NEX-01Rock detail 1 GX1-01

I also compared other areas, such as this small detail of the rock at left. Again, first is the 5N, second is the GX1:

Rock detail 2 NEX-01Rock detail 2 GX1-01When 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.

GX1 CU-01GX1 CU-02I 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).

About Rob

I am proud of the work I have done as a photographer, author, naturalist and nature photographer, editor and videographer. I love the natural world, and that can be a native bee in my native plants garden as much as a visit to a national park. I am a husband of a beautiful and smart wife, a father to my outstanding son and daughter, and one who lived in Minnesota most of my life, but now loves the variety and very long growing season of Southern California. I have written and photographed a lot of books and magazine articles but what is most important to me about them is knowing that I have helped people become better photographers and gain a better connection to nature. I work to help people connect with photography and nature through speaking and as a workshop leader, too. All of this has gained me a Fellow award with the North American Nature Photography Association. Many people knew me as the long-time editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine and I am still connected with them as a contributing editor. A short list of some of the books I have done: Landscape Photography: From Snapshot to Great Shot, Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography, National Geographic Field Guide to Digital Photography, The Power of Black-and-White in Nature Photography and Reports from the Field (an iBook). My website is at; my blogs are at and
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27 Responses to Camera Observations

  1. Annette says:

    Hi Rob, I just have to chuckle at your latest post. I have been using Olympus cameras since the Pen first came out and about 6 months ago bought myself the OM-D mirrorless and I love it! I can carry it in my handbag -( I think you know it as a pocketbook?) I also bought some extras like the handgrip and another part for a second battery. Lately I've been taking a lot of photos of bees and bugs in our garden. The lens is a 12-50mm ( converts to 24-100) and is also a Macro lens. The quality is awesome! Have fun! Annette

  2. Hugh Nourse says:

    Rob, as you know, I have been using Olympus OMD EM5 since last summer. Lately, I have been playing with the Olympus 17mm f 1.8 (35mm equivalent in 35mm) because I can get close, use it for storytelling shots, and can use it in low light. I was having trouble in low light with the great 12-50mm kit lens. It turns out the Olympus with the 17mm lens is a treat to carry on walks in the woods, so that I have it with me almost all the time.

  3. Dale Godfrey says:

    I made the transition to the 4/3rd's Lumix system a couple of years ago with a GH1. Recently moved up to the GH-3. I am very happy with the results it produces - each and every time. My Nikon equipment sits in the bag now. This system is compact, light and easy to grab n go. Everyday is a new adventure with this camera!

  4. Joseph Henry says:

    Rob, what are the largest prints you have able to make with the micro four thirds camera. Have you done comparisons with DSLR C sensor or full frame) of quality of say 17"x25" (cropped to 3:2) or for that matter the 4/3 format? My interest is normal gallery viewing distance as opposed to much closer. I have not test any of the cameras yet. I am closely watching the advances of the mirroless systems in hopes of carring much lighter equipment.

    Are you aware of a quality zoom lenses in the 70x200mm range (full frame equivalent)?

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Once you have about 16 MP, you have enough for quality enlargements to even 20x24 (or so). I have seen it done. There is very little difference that I can see between Micro Four Thirds and APS-C size sensors at the 16-17 MP size. One problem today is that people want to compare megapixels as the key guide to sensor quality. That is not necessarily true. A lot depends on the sensor itself. A good example of this comes from the Canon G10 and G11. The G10 had a 15 MP sensor, the G11, a newer camera, a 10 MP sensor (I am rounding these off). The G11 was a far superior sensor (I shot with both cameras) and gave better results at all print sizes. Another example (sorry to pick on Canon, but I know these examples from direct experience): Canon 40D and 50D. The 40D had a 10 MP sensor, the 50D, 15 MP (rounding off), and the 50D was newer. But Canon increased megapixels too fast and the 40D's sensor was far superior. Again, you could print better images from the 40D than the 50D at any size.

      I am eager to try out the GH3. The Panasonic cameras use a Live MOS sensor, like a CMOS, but different (don't ask me the difference). I have shot with Olympus cameras with a Live MOS sensor and my impression was that these were very good sensors that handled colors very well.

      From all indications, the Panasonic Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 is an outstanding lens for Micro Four Thirds that gives that 70-200mm equivalent at a much smaller size and lower price. I have heard really good things about this lens, though I have not used it.


      • Steve says:

        Right; this is why I kept my 40D & never bought the 50 because I believed it had more noise and was a step in the wrong direction.

  5. Karen Casebeer says:

    Hi Rob...I am really excited that you're writing about the Panasonic cameras that have grabbed your attention. I'm looking forward to what you think about the GH3. Recently, I kept my Canon 60D , sold my 7D (will never have another camera without the articulating back screen), and bought the GH3 and some lenses. I'm in love with this little camera! My brother, an outstanding photographer, was up from downstate Michigan this weekend and he shot with my GH3 while I used my 60D. He put it through all the paces like photographing a Pepsi can with all different ISOs and other settings. He was really impressed with the results he got. As a Canon 40D (he will not give this up!) shooter, he was a bit frustrated getting used to the "Panasonic way", which was to be expected. I also sold my Canon Point-and-Shoot Powershot sx50 and bought a Panasonic Point-and-Shoot, the Fz200. On YouTube, Graham Houghton does a wonderful multi-part, detailed tutorial on the FZ200, which brings me to my point. There is hardly anything out there on using the GH3. There are no Great Shots to Snapshots books or BetterPhoto classes. While I'm able to use the GH3 in a basic way, I know that I've not scratched the surface with this wonderful camera. I'm hoping you really fall in love with the GH3 [beyond the lust stage :-)], and find a way to write or record detailed information for the users who are starving for more user-friendly information. Thanks for your enthusiasm and expertise for what you do. Karen

  6. David Dawson says:

    Hello all -- I've just received (last weekend) a GH3 with two lenses, probably the only lenses I'll buy for a good while.

    -- Joseph -- The 35-100mm lens for G Series Lumix cameras comes with rave reviews (Paul Gero, a pro portrait shooter and former photojournalist par excellence I trust completely, calls this lens alone a potential "DSLR killer"). The 35mm equivalent would be 70-200mm, so it looks to be exactly the size you want. (FWIW, the lens costs nearly $1400 street price, which is more than the camera.)

    -- Karen -- I'm hoping for great things from this camera as well. After years of using Canon 5D II or III, along with some truly heavy lenses, the GH3 is a joy to handle. The quality from the first couple of hundred shots seems outstanding. I'm going to have to sit down and read the manual, though. There's something I've got set incorrectly in the autofocus settings that's causing focus to hunt -- especially the little 45mm macro lens. Manual focusing isn't as simple for me as the Canon, but that's understandable after years of working with it.

    -- Rob -- I second Karen's message, and look forward to your impressions. As with Paul Gero, I trust real world shooters any day over formal reviews. Since I shoot pretty much the same kinds of things as you, I'm thinking you're going to be very happy with the GH3 as well. Thanks for the articles and suggestions. I learn a lot just keeping up with your blog....

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Thanks for the notes, David. By the way, the latest 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for full frame camera (which would be comparable to the Lumix lens) costs about $2000-2500 (Canon) or $2400 (Nikon).

      • Karen Casebeer says:

        David...The manual isn't the greatest, which is often true with manuals. I posted a question a couple weeks ago on DPreview in the Micro4/3 forum asking for some resources to aid in my acclimation to the GH3. I got some good sources; if you search the forum with my name, it should come up. It's still piecemeal.

        And Rob...yes, lenses are off the charts in price these days. Not only are the Lumix lenses less expensive, they are so much smaller, giving them another plus. I can carry my GH3 and three lenses in a very small backpack.

  7. Steve Kendall says:

    Rob - I got the micro 4/3 bug last year and bought the Olympus OM-D and these little guys can really deliver. I really love the touch screen and my new favorite lens is the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4. That is one small and very sharp lens. Have fun!!


  8. Rich Bahl says:

    I'll add my two cents. The GX-1 is a remarkable and very capable camera. Along with its sibling the G5/G6. I have one that is pretty much my walking around camera. One of the beauties that you didn't mention is that it is unobtrusive. Street shooters should love it. Seattle has a very large folk music and cultural festival every year over the Memorial Day weekend. I carried the GX-1 or G5 during the whole of the festival. I noted lots of folks out with the big DSLRs being really obnoxious and in the performers faces. I could do everything I want with the small panasonic and the 45-175mm powered zoom.

    A couple of clarifications: Panasonic calls one of their stabilization systems "Power OIS". It replaced the earlier "Mega OIS". They also have a couple lens that have zoom mechanisms that are power driven rather than manually operated.

    Finally a question. Rob I noted your comment on the closeup lens. I have been wondering how well they work with the micro 4/3 cameras. What are the image quality sacrifices with a close up lens? I had been considering the extension tube set from one of several companies.

    P. S. - I'm about to go off and buy your E-book on macro photography.


    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Thanks for the note, Rich. Bob Krist, a friend who shoots for National Geographic Traveler, loves the small mirrorless cameras because he shoots people like you describe and these cameras are less intimidating to subjects as well as drawing less attention to him.

      I use both achromatic close-up lenses and extension tubes and have for a long time. Both work great, though it does depend a lot on the original lens. You cannot predict that, by the way, by the price of the lens. Lens designers do not check to see how well a lens focuses beyond its normal focusing range. I love achromatic close-up lenses because there is no light loss like there is with extension tubes (and macro lenses) and you don't have to remove the lens from the camera body. With a good lens and a good achromatic close-up lens, results are very good. Extension tubes, on the other hand, generally let you focus closer and are extremely durable. Plus, extension tubes can be used with any lens (though they often do not work with very short focal lengths) whereas an achromatic close up lens only fits a specific filter ring size (though you can get adapters).

      Actually, if I am traveling and am really keeping things light, I do not bother with a macro lens and just carry extension tubes and an achromatic close-up lens.


  9. David Dawson says:

    Thought I'd report back now I've made the plunge and decided to keep the GH3.

    -- I solved my "problem" with focusing issues. It turned out to be a feature rather than a problem. I located an "advanced manual" on the Panasonic site -- a 319 page PDF that's very, very thorough -- and it had all the info I needed. Now I can use auto focus with my macro lens, and the instant I go to adjust focus using the focus ring on the lens, a box pops up on the viewfinder that is magnified 4x - 10x. If I want to selectively focus on the stamen of a flower, for instance, I can autofocus on the flower, and then the camera will pop up the equivalent of the Live View magnification wherever I want it (all I have to do is touch the screen to center this box on the stamen or on the edge of a petal or whatever I want to see magnified). I'd post an example if I knew how to upload a JPEG. I'm really happy with this.

    Rich -- I can't see any sacrifices to the 45mm closeup (macro) lens. I haven't tried any extension tubes. The lens focuses as closely as about 4 or 5 inches (I didn't measure, but it's closer than the "0.5 ft" the specs say -- the lens hood kept bumping into the flower I was focusing on, and I had room to spare). The quality of both JPEGs and RAW images surprised me. I would have settled for less. As mentioned, I'm practically gleeful with both the lens and the camera.

    Sorry for the overly wordy reply. It's way too late, and I'm about 90 percent excited. Can you tell???

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Thanks for the update. Very interesting. That is one thing I love about Live View -- the ability to magnify the view and get precise focusing. I also find this most helpful when you have a tilting LCD as you have. I don't get it with Canon and Nikon -- especially Canon because of their connection with video. They have only used a tilting LCD on very limited models. I once asked folks at Canon why, and they said that they could not make the camera as water and dust resistant. That seems a bit lazy because Canon has done some very good video cameras and they all have a tilting LCD, plus Panasonic obviously can do it with the GH3.


      • Rich Bahl says:

        Uh - That seems really kind of lame from Canon. They have included that feature on their Super zoom models since the beginning.

        I have an old 2.5megapixel Powershot Pro90IS from 2001 or thereabouts that has an articulating back LCD. It takes very good pictures considering its small, by todays standard, sensor.

        I used the diopter close up lenses with that camera. I got some fairly remarkable photos with them.


  10. Beth DeBor says:

    Hi Rob,

    I'm curious what your opinion is of "bridge" cameras? I'm looking for a compact camera for travel so I don't have to lug all my gear (or my husband doesn't have to lug it). I've been reading about the Nikon Coolpix 520 that looks pretty good as well as a number of others. It's SO confusing. Top priorities for me are image stabilization, articulating screen, good zoom, low light capability, RAW. Video would be a plus. Is that asking too much for one little camera? Do you have any experience with it or similar cameras?


  11. Beth DeBor says:

    Rob, I forgot to mention that I was also pretty impressed with the Panasonice FZ200 although I haven't seen it in person yet.


    • Rob Sheppard says:

      I think the little compact zoom cameras you describe have some very strong benefits to them. I have used a few and have always been impressed. They are great for travel. The biggest challenge I find is the very small sensor these cameras have. That does cause some issues with noise, color and tonality, especially as you go up in ISO. Also, they tend to have a very slight shutter delay (used to be a lot, but now this is manageable) that could affect any action shots you want to do.


  12. Beth DeBor says:

    Have you had a chance to play with the GH3 yet? Do you know if there is a combo lens that would take the place of a 12-60 and 100-300 and have you had a chance to compare the GH2 and the GH3? I like the idea of the micro 4/3 with articulating screen but I don't want to have to carry all my gear while traveling but I want to be able to capture quality images (especially if I come across some unusual birds in Iceland).

    Thanks. I appreciate your input.


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