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.
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.
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.