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Wednesday
Dec172014

Panasonic GH4 and GM5 Micro 4 Thirds Cameras in the Field

Hi. This is not an in-depth review of these cameras but rather my personal experience in using them in the real world with real subjects and situations. If you would like to read all the specs and detailed technical reviews there are plenty of web sites providing that service. While I do read some of these reviews I am often amazed at how many amazing shots of brick walls they provide as examples of what can be achieved with modern lenses and cameras!

If I was into photographing brick walls I'm sure I would find these reviews a lot more interesting.

However, as strange as it may seem, I don't think I have EVER shot just a brick wall. (Maybe I am missing out on one of the photographic joys of the world?)

Anyway, enough of the sarcasm, technical reviews are necessary but not very inspiring and not my thing.

If you would like to view the specs from the two cameras used for the following images they are the Panasonic DMC-GH4 and the Panasonic DMC-GM5 and can be found at http://www.panasonic.com/au/home/

Mirror-less cameras have been around for a few years now and while very popular in countries such as Japan, have been relatively slow to gain ground in Australia with DSLR's being still being the accepted 'serious' cameras. But this is changing.

I am a photographer and a camera retailer for the last 20 years so I can speak with some authority here.

Until a couple of years ago my camera of choice was a DSLR and I absolutely LOVE my Nikon D800e BUT, there are horses for courses and cameras for different situations.

I live in the beautiful Blue Mountains, west of Sydney and am passionate about walking in this amazing National Park but 2013 saw me in hospital having major heart surgery. I am forever gratefull to the amazing doctors and staff that saved my life and while I have made a wonderful recovery, I find that I no longer have the endurance needed to carry a lot of heavy photographic gear on a 5 hour bush walk.

GH4 12-35mm lens, 1/80th, f9, iso400

So I had to start looking for an alternative.

The problem I had was that, having been used to high end DSLR's, I needed a camera system that would give me comparable image quality in most conditions without the size and weight of full frame cameras.

I have seen many reviewers comparing the Panasonic GH4 to the Canon 5D mark III but they do so because of the GH4's amazing video capabilities. I am NOT a videographer by any stretch of the imagination and comparing these cameras as still cameras is just not a fair thing to do due to the difference in sensor size.

GH4/12-35mm, 1/80th, f8, iso 400

 

The Panasonic cameras use the micro 4/3rds sensor along with Olympus cameras. This sensor is much smaller than a full frame sensor and so cannot be expected to compare favourably in all scenarios, especially in very low light.

But, in everyday shooting situations they provide amazing image quality as can be seen seen by my images in this article.

I started by purchasing a Panasonic GH3 and upgraded to the GH4 when it was released. I also use the new GM5 as a 'pocket' camera. This unit is amazingly small but with the same micro 4/3rds sensor and interchangeable lens capability.

DMC-GH4 with the 12-35 f2.8 lens

 

 

DMC-GM5 showing seperate flash attached (included in the camera package)

 

So, let's get down to the pros and cons.

Pros.

The system is small and light. 

Panasonic have a growing range of high quality lenses. There are Leica branded lenses and Panasonic lenses which I believe are co-designed by Leica.

Panasonic bodies will accept the range of Olympus lenses but you have to be aware of the following limitation. Panasonic incorporate image stabilization in their lenses (with the exception of the G7x which is in the body), while Olympus cameras have stabilisation in the body. This means that Olympus lenses can be used but you will lose image stabilisation (something that I rely on heavily, maybe another sign of age, drat). 

 

You can take a smaller camera into situations without drawing attention to yourself, especially the tiny GM5. Have you ever been asked to stop taking pictures by security staff because your DSLR labels you as a 'professional' or, in their eyes, a possible terrorist? Where do they get these ridiculous ideas? If I were a terrorist and wanted to photograph a prospective target, would I walk around with a large DSLR effectively yelling 'hey, over here guys, look at me? Or would I be using an iPhone like the rest of the population and blend in with the crowd? Sorry, that's another soap box I have to step down from.

A small camera like the GM5 is more likely to be taken out when engaging in other, daily activities such as walking, family get to-gethers, shopping etc.

These cameras have some pretty advanced functions such as built in interval timers, stop motion video and timelapse shooting.

They can be almost fully controlled from your smart phone using the free Panasonic Imaging App, giving you remote access to aperture, shutter, i.s.o. and even focusing. This allows you to do such things as setting the camera up near a bird feeding station and you controlling the shoot from indoors, out of site of the subject, pretty cool!

The smaller sensor has the advantage of smaller lenses. Having a crop factor of x2 means that the 100-300 Panasonic telephoto zoom is the equivalent of a 200-600mm lens on my full frame Nikon. It is tiny for a lens of this focal length (about the size of a 200mm SLR lens). If Nikon made an equivalent lens I would need an awful lot of money and a year at the gym to be able to carry the beast. The Panasonic, which sells for just $699, makes an amazing wildlife lens. 

Here are a few images from my favourite 45mm Leica Macro lens.

 

GH4, 45mm Macro, 1/125th, f7.1, iso 200


GH4, 45mm Macro, 1/250th, f7.1, iso 1600

 

GH4, 45mm Macro, 1/125th, f7.1, iso 200

 

GH4, 45mm macro, 1/200th, f10, iso 1600 

 

Panasonic GM5, 45mm Leica macro, 1/125th, f9, iso 1600

 

GH4, 45mm macro, 1/200th, f8, iso 640


And one more from the GM5

GM5, 45mm macro, 1/250th, f2.8, iso 200

 

Macro lenses can also be used for other than macro photos of course, they make excellent portrait lenses because of their wide apertures but can also serve as a high speed, top quality prime standard lens as in this of the fast changing weather conditions in the Blue Mountains. (I made it back to the car as the first drops of

GH4, 45mm macro, 1/250th, f7.1, iso 200

 To see more of my images my Flickr site is https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenorris/


Cons. While I love my Panasonics, they are not perfect (but what camera is?)

 

Smaller sensors mean poorer low light performance. However, I am more than happy to use up to i.s.o. 1600 and 3200 when I really have to, with a small amount of noise reduction in Adobe Lightroom. 

They are not necessarily cheap. The GH4 is Panasonics flagship model and comes with a price to match but it has higher specs than most DSLR's on the market and has usable features not available even on some pro model cameras such as timelapse photography. (This mode allows you to set up interval timing and the camera then assembles the images into a Quicktime movie. Some DSLR's do have this feature. All Nikon full frame cameras with the exception of the DF have this).

The new GM-5 is very affordable for a camera with its capabilities at less than $1000 Australian.

Up to now there has been little support from third party lens manufacturers but this is starting to change. (Also, Kenko now make macro extension tubes for micro 4/3rds, I have a set and they work very well with full electronic connections so that your lenses are fully operational).

 

Why did I chose Panasonic?

Panasonic and Olympus have comparable products with very similar sensors and specifications. Olympus have the advantage (in my opinion) of having image stabilisation in the body. So what swayed my decision?

Ergonomics. I like the styling of the Olympus OM-D cameras, they are very retro looking and have solid metal bodies with exceptional build quality.

But I wanted a camera for long bush walks. When I am walking, things can happen very quickly. Last Sunday my wife and I came upon a 2.5 metre diamond python. I carry the camera when I walk, I don't always have the time to reach into my bag to retrieve it. It is in my hand, ready for quick shooting.

Sometimes it's an insect, bee or butterfly and I may have only seconds to get the shot. So I walk with the camera in my hand.

The Olympus are great cameras to look at, but the Panasonic GH4 fits my hand like a glove. The GH4 often gets comments like "ugly duckling', 'not the prettiest of cameras' etc. I don't really care too much what a camera looks like (personally I like the styling of the GH4 and don't really understand why they are knocking the design). The primary concern for me is the image quality and the usability of the camera. The Panasonic and the Olympus have comparable image quality so the ergonomics made the decision for me. 

What about the other players in the mirror-less field? Sony and Samsung are the other major contenders and their cameras certainly have benefits. They both use the larger APS-C sensors and Sony have some full frame sensor units which have achieved worldwide acclaim. But bigger sensors mean bigger lenses to the point that there is little size advantage over a DSLR and I wanted small.

Nikon and Canon have a couple of models but with smaller sensors and they don't seem to be taking the genre seriously at this stage. Obviously they have a huge investment in the DSLR category which is still the most popular medium, at least in this country.

 

It is almost Christmas as I write this article so I thought I would send my Christmas wish list to Mr. Panasonic.

 

No camera is perfect, but all cameras are perfect for a particular person, subject or situation.

But, I want to have my cake and eat it too.

I obviously don't expect any company to change their production line because I ask them to but, hey, if we don't provide feedback as photographers, how would they know what to improve on next year?

 

So, Dear Mr Panasonic,

You have an amazing compact camera in the new LX100 (not mentioned in this article as it is not an interchangeable lens camera although still using the large 4/3rd sensor). One reviewer made the comment that 'it is arguably the best compact camera ever produced'. And I agree.

BUT, I would like the control layout of the LX100 with the lnterchangeable lens ability of the GM5 together with a tilt screen for macro work. Then you would have the world's greatest compact camera and the world's greatest compact systems camera!

 

The Leica 45mm Macro lens (my favourite Panasonic lens). What a terrific, small and sharp lens this is.

But it has one annoying flaw. Macro photography relies heavily on the ability to focus manually and this lens has a beautiful, fine control on its manual focus ring but because of this it takes about five seconds to spin the focusing ring to get it to the macro end of its range. When you turn off the camera and turn it on again for the next shot the lens has returned to its infinity setting and again needs five seconds of turning the focus ring to get to macro. Five seconds is too long when trying to shoot living subjects such as insects and I have missed many shots because of this.

PLEASE, have the lens stay on the last focus setting when turning on the camera. Hopefully this is only a firmware issue that can be implemented soon.

 

The GH4. There's not much that I would change on this camera but I would like the menu's to be a bit more flexible. Some of the more obscure items that may not be of great interest to a lot of people but are important to advanced amateurs and professionals (which this camera is aimed at) are buried too far down in the menu system.

For example, it takes many clicks to change the flash output level when using wireless off camera flash. This could be fixed by having such items available to be programmed into the user menu or quick menu. It's a minor thing but annoying and time consuming in use.

 

In conclusion;

I am a mirrorless convert. They do not perform as well as a full frame camera but I wouldn't expect them to. What they do produce is amazing images in the majority of lighting situations. But remember, it's easy to get hooked on technology but it's the photographer that makes the photos.

Buying a better camera does not make you a better photographer but it certainly makes it easier and more enjoyable.

The best way to get better images? Keep shooting. Practice, practice and then practice more. Like all skills in life there are no shortcuts, so enjoy the process no matter what camera you use.

These images have been processed in Adobe Lightroom. My standard process involves setting the black and white points and then local adjustments with the sharpness and clarity silders.

All images used in this article (except Panansonic camera model photos which are courtesy of Panasonic) are shot by the author on Panasonic cameras and are copyright of Stephen Norris 2014. No images are to be used for any reason without my express, written consent.

 

Thursday
Mar082012

Big Trip with a Small Camera

Januray 2012 saw my wife Maureen and I take the longest holiday we have had together for over 12 years. We bought a new caravan and decided to put it through it's paces with a 2500 kilometre trip to outback NSW and down into mid Victoria.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Dec092011

Pet Photo Competition

Hi everyone, click over to our Facebook page and enter your cutest pet photo in our first competition. Sorry, entries open to Australian residents only.

www.facebook/katoombacamerahouse

 

Sunday
Aug142011

Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or is there More?

Can a lifetime of experience actually go against you in photography?

Recently my son Matthew and I spent 2 weeks traveling outback NSW. While we covered a lot of distance, we were on the constant lookout for photo opportunities.

We shot some amazing scenery and came to the understanding that we only scratched the surface of this wonderful country. 

I think we both learned a few things from each other also.

 

 

For example, shutter priority is used when we want to control motion in our images and aperture priority for controlling depth of field.

BUT, what if you want a certain shutter speed AND a particular aperture to control both at the same time? For instance, I know I needed a fast shutter speed to freeze any camera movement when shooting this eagle.

 

 

I was using a 400mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter so even with image stabilizer, I needed good technique to hand hold for a sharp shot. I also wanted to choose my aperture to control my depth of field to make sure I had the whole bird sharp.

But what if the available light didn't let me select those settings?

The only other adjustment is i.s.o. by the time I could adjust the i.s.o on a shot like this the bird would have flown, literally. We only got half a dozen shots off before he took off.

Matt and I had discussed this earlier and he suggested a change of thinking that my 'old school' mind would never have thought of.

He asked if I had ever shot using auto i.s.o. as then I could choose my shutter speed AND aperture and let the camera give the correct exposure by changing the i.s.o.

HUGE light bulb moment!!!

With today's cameras (DSLR's at least) we shouldn't be afraid of using higher i.s.o. as noise reduction technology is superb.

Previously I have always suggested to first choose your i.s.o. using the lowest setting to give the best image detail and colour as the higher the number, the more noise is introduced, particularly in the shadows.

While this is still true, it is so much less of an issue with modern cameras and a huge degree better than any high i.s.o. film.

Most mid to high end DSLR's will even let you limit how high auto i.s.o. will push. For example, I know my camera is brilliant as high as 1600 i.s.o. so I can tell the camera to use auto i.s.o. but never set it to higher than 1600.

Because of my old school photographic thinking, I didn't ever give any consideration to auto i.s.o. settings. With film, you had to make the choice and so too with earlier digital cameras where you saw huge image degradation at higher settings.

So I put it to the test. And what a sense of freedom and control it gave me. I COULD set both my shutter and aperture, I COULD have my cake and eat it!

 

 

The lesson learnt?

No matter how long you've been into photography, ALWAYS be open to new techniques, especially as the new technology opens up ways of doing things that would have been unimaginable in the past.

Thanks to Matthew, a young mind still open to other possibilities!

(I believe the above lesson will apply to many things in life, we're never too old to learn, only too old to be stubborn!).

 

  *******************************

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Feel free to use the comment button at the top of this post and

Happy Shooting

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jun142011

10 photography Travel Tips

The eternal question, what gear to take?

Click to read more ...

Monday
May232011

3 Reasons to Use A Prime Lens

What are they and what difference do they make to the image?

Prime lenses (non zoom) have always been the mainstay of the professional photographer and they were the lenses that came standard with SLR cameras up until a couple of decades ago.

So why have they all but dissapeared from an amateurs camera bag?

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Apr262011

14 Things to Consider when Viewing a Photograph

What to look for when studying images.

When learning photography (which is ALL of us as we never stop learning this skill) it's important to look at as many images as possible. This isn't difficult with today's media. Everywhere we look there are images from magazines, advertising boards, TV, iphones, web etc.

But just viewing images isn't enough for us to learn by them, we have to STUDY them.

During our classes I ask my students to flick through any magazines they have around the house, not read them, just quickly flick the pages until an image grabs their attention.

Have a go at this now and try to define what made you take a second look at an image. Was it the colour, the detail or simplicity, was it the subject, composition etc.

By making a careful study we can learn many things about both the image and our own reaction to it.

Try to think of an image that totally shocked you, stopped you in your tracks. Do you think that the photographer meant to shock you? Most probably yes.

Think of an image that you recall making you feel calm and serene. If it was that special maybe you bought a print of it and hung on your wall?

The point is that we can be emotionally affected by what we see and a good commercial photographer knows this and shoots with this in mind.

And you know it too, if only at a subconscious level, why else would you take photos in the first place? Something you saw made you want to record the moment.

I've included a couple of shots I took this week to demonstrate. Compare how the two images bring out different feelings in you.

 

Both photos are of people, both are in colour, both are in the square format. How many differences can you find between the two?

Make a comment by clicking on the post a comment tag at the start of this article.

The point is to be able to see why I took the shot and what did I do right and what could I have done better. Any opinion formed in your mind means that you have considered the image and have learned from it.

To help you study a photo and disassemble it I have given you 14 questions to ask yourself. If you are very new to photography you may not be able to answer some of the technical questions but it doesn't matter, that will come in time. 

  1. Why did the photographer take the image?
  2. Is the photograph effective?
  3. What lens would have been used and why?
  4. Was depth of field (long or narrow) used effectively in the image and how?
  5. How was contrast used in the image and how could it have been controlled?
  6. What post production techniques (if any) where applied and were they effective?
  7. Did the composition work for the image or what would you do differently?
  8. Was a fast or slow shutter speed used and why?
  9. Was the quality of light suited to the subject and what bearing does it have on the overall image?
  10. Is there any evidence of in camera manipulation (such as filters) and does this add or detract from the subject?
  11. Was the exposure suitable for the subject?
  12. What, if anything, makes this image different from shots of the same subject?
  13. How well did the photographer communicate through the photograph?
  14. How was the image presented (mounted, framed etc.) and what bearing did this have on what you though of the photograph?

I hope you enjoyed this article. Last chance for our current term of photography classes starting this Thursday 28th April. Email me for details.

 

Thursday
Apr142011

Sharing the World

We CAN live together.

 

We just spent a week in Qld at a Camera House conference (I know, life is tough) and had the chance to go to Australia Zoo (courtesy of Fuji Australia, thank you Mr Fuji).

This is a shot of a young boy hand feeding an elephant and it had such a powerful effect on me. We can share the world, we MUST share the world.

 

For all the disasters and man made conflicts we have to keep in mind the BIG picture of world survival. Not animal survival and not human survival but both. We need the animals to keep the world balanced.

Interestingly, the only reason the animals need us is because of the mess we've made. If man disappeared the animals would thrive.

What are your thoughts? Do you have an image that speaks to you? Email it to mee and I'll put it on the site.

Next week I promise to climb down off my soap box and give you more of a photographic post.

 

In the mean time have a look at Eric Kims site, his latest article is an interview with street photographer Rui Palha based in Lisbon, Portugal. Some amazing, moody street portraits.

http://erickimphotography.com/blog/ 

Thursday
Mar312011

HDR Black and White

 

Pontiac from Ground Level in HDR 

This is one on my favourite images from 2010. I was with a photography group at a small historic village (Little Hartley, NSW) when a couple of old Pontiacs rolled up.

I decided to shoot for HDR. HDR or High Dynamic Range is a process of taking multiple images at different exposures and then processing them is special software to achieve results that are not possible with a single exposure.

The camera has to be tripod mounted and I take between 3 and 9 exposures depending on the subject and light levels. One image is exposed just for the shadows allowing the highlights to burn out, and then a series of exposures 1 to 2 stops apart ending with an exposure for the highlights.

When processed we end up with an image that was initially not possible in a single shot due to a high contrast range in the scene.

For a free tutorial on HDR look at http://www.stuckincustoms.com/ This site is run by Trey Radcliffe, a recognised master at HDR. There are some brilliant shots on his site and he posts an image every day.

While Photoshop does have a HDR routine I find it awkward to use and limited in its possibilities. I prefer to use Photomatix which is used by the majority of photographers doing HDR.

You can download the program at www.hdrsoft.com Try the free demo version and have fun.

 

Saturday
Mar262011

Sydney Street Photography

Sydney in Black and White

After spending about 8 hours walking the streets around Circular Quay in Sydney I put a collection of images together. Some candid, some I approached and asked them and one who wasn't pleased about being photographed, see if you can find which one! In comparison I even had two people actually asking me to take their photo.

A fantastic day with the camera, met some wonderful people and developed a few blisters!

Click here to view the images http://www.stevenorrisphotography.com/gallery/sydney-street-photos-march-2011/

or view the video