I’m not normally a great one for rushing out and buying the latest equipment (for starters, I’d be bankrupt if I did!). But about every 12-18 months I get a new piece of gear which seems to fire my enthusiasm once more. It’s always interesting putting a new piece of tech through its paces, whether that is a camera or new lens. My last purchase was the Canon 24-105mm EF f/4 L IS USM in March 2008.
My main camera, a Canon EOS 30D is approaching 3 years old now, and my Ixus 850IS compact is even longer in the tooth, having been bought in Feb 2007. I can hear you thinking: “Caz is due for a new bit of gear”.
One of the things that struck me when doing the 2009 Photo A Day review was the fact that I had not used the Ixus once during the 12 months. I’d not even taken it out of it’s bag. I had instead lugged the 30D around with my larger lenses, or at least the 50mm f/1.8 prime. That’s quite a large lump to carry about each day. But I did it probably because, although the Ixus takes decent enough snaps, if that’s all that I had with me during 2008, I was often disappointed in the technical quality if I found a really good pictorial composition.
I wasn’t consciously looking for a new camera, but just before Christmas, a good friend mentioned she was getting a Panasonic Lumix GF1 with 20mm f/1.7 “pancake” lens from Santa. That’s a new format called Micro 4/3rds – a kind of half-way house between the sensors on pro-sumer DSLRs and the tiny postage stamp chips in most compacts. And it has the advantage of interchangeable lenses, although there is no optical viewfinder.
So I did some research and was hugely impressed with what I found in the reviews. It’s a cracking little camera and although quite heavy for its size (I like that aspect, actually) it fells like a properly-built camera of old, not one of the plastic throwaways which are so common now. And the fast f/1.7 prime lens is roughly equivalent to a 40mm lens on 35mm format, so quite versatile all in all.
I was lucky enough to get one of these beauties for my birthday on 1st January, and have been using it more or less every day since. I’ve now wracked up over 1000 exposures, so I guess I have an initial idea of its capabilities and drawbacks, although I don’t feel I’ve more than scratched the surface as yet. You know it must be impressive as it’s the first non-Canon camera I’ve owned since 1987!
The main control dial on top is easy to access, as are shooting modes (single, continuous, self-timer etc). The shutter button is nicely placed on the top plate, next to a small video record button. Yes, it does video too, although I’ve never tried it (and am not very likely to). I was even able to use the controls wearing thick gloves, when I was out and about walking in the recent snow.
There is a huge LCD screen on the rear, which gives you good clear pictures. In the absence of an optical viewfinder, that’s essential, and I haven’t found any problems as yet, even in quite bright conditions.
The thumbwheel at top right also has a push function, which swaps you between various command modes.
As a long-time Canon user, I was a bit worried that I might not be able to find my way around, particularly in the menu system, but so far I have had to consult the rather thick accompanying manual on surprisingly few occasions!
I have been mainly using the camera in Aperture Priority, as if left in full-auto, the settings seem to default to opening up the lens as wide as it will go – and f/1.7 isn’t always what you want, to achieve a big enough Depth of Field.
The reviews do say the camera gets a little noisy if you use it at ISO’s above 800 – so far I have stuck with 400 or below and have had quite acceptable results. It also does RAW, and the results from that are allegedly even better. But I’ve not had time to experiment with that as yet.
- Smaller and more lightweight than comparable-spec DSLRs
- Full control over Shutter, Aperture, ISO, Exposure & Flash compensation
- Comprehensive range of lenses from Panasonic, Leica and Olympus
- Excellent technical quality for a camera of its size
- Versatile shooting modes for less experienced users
- Built-in on-camera flash
- Optional external viewfinder
- Aperture and Shutter-speed preview on rear LCD screen
- Live view on LCD
- Can be a little slow to focus at close range with the 20mm pancake lens – haven’t tried others
- Fixed lens isn’t long enough for some landscape or work where subject is at a distance
(not a fault of the camera though)
- No optical viewfinder
- Quite expensive
So there you are, a long ramble and a few first impressions. I will try and write some more in about six months when I’ve had time to really get to grips with what it can do. In the meantime, I will not be far from my reach when I’m out and about for general photography, although I will still take the Eos 30D when going on specific photoshoots.