Tag Archives: camera

Equipment Review – Panasonic Lumix GF1

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. Canon EOS 30D

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.

Panasonic Lumix GF1 Front 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.

Panasonic Lumix GF1 Above 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.

Panasonic Lumix GF1 BackThere 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.

Pro’s

  • 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

Con’s

  • 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.

The Great Kit Debate

If you read my recent post, Green-Eyed Monster, you might be thinking that I advocate getting the latest gadgets just for the sake of it. And while I think you should always buy the best model you can afford (whether that be a mobile, digital camera or toaster), it’s certainly doesn’t follow that you will only get the best results from the best kit.

As a known photographer amongst my friends, I’m quite often asked for my opinions on this or that camera. Thy cry goes up “I want to take great pictures, what camera should I buy?” And often I want to reply, “Go buy a decent book on composition and photographic technique, read it, and then tell me what sort of pictures you want to take.” But I know this isn’t the answer they want. So my answer more usually consists of “what’s your budget” etc. Either that, or on seeing my photos, people say “oh, you take great pictures, you must have a really good camera”. Well, it’s true, I do have a pretty good camera, but that’s not the point. Reminds me of an old Jasper Carrott sketch called Virgin Voter when he talks a lot of double-entendres about green 18-year-olds and their first experience of voting, the upshot of which is “It’s not the size of your cross that counts, it’s where you put it!”

You can take great pictures with a £20 fully-manual Praktika SLR if you know what you’re doing. That’s the “luxury” piece of kit (acquired second-hand from Jessops) I took with me on my Lapland Husky Safari back in 2003. Follow the link for some of the results. I knew I wanted a robust, reliable SLR (and at this point, digital wasn’t really an option for me anyway) and I didn’t want to take my “best” film camera for fear of getting it dropped in the snow or eaten by Huskies. Hence the purchase of the Praktika MTL5B. It cost me another twenty quid for a 35-95mm Auto Rosley (who??) zoom lens.

Just after I bought it, we had some snow in the UK, so I was able to go out and play in similar conditions and make sure I knew how much compensate for the white of the snow. I think I ran it at least ½-stop under all the time, and that seemed to work fine. So even for quite extreme conditions, you don’t always need the top gear to do it justice. It’s only when you want to do something pretty specialised that you start to hit the limits of your equipment, and more probably, your own abilities! I’m hoping to upgrade to a Canon EOS20D or perhaps 30D eventually which will give me better shooting/writing burst speed, plus ISO3200 equivalence; and also a pro-spec 100-400mm EF zoom with Image Stabilization, both for those times that it really is as black as a coal-hole but you still need to take pictures. It would be great for more gig photography as well as dingy winter trips to the rugby.

And of course, it’s not just cameras. When I first started to teach myself to play bass guitar, I bought a cheap and cheerful 4-string model to see if I would get on OK with it. As I improved, I started getting frustrated. A lot of songs I like to noodle along with seem to be in the key of D. And a 4-string bass only goes down to E, so if I wanted to play them easily, I either had to drop-tune the E do D (a pain in the butt) or get a 5-string bass with a low B. I managed with the drop-tuning for a few months and then bit the bullet, getting a rather nice hand-made bass from a friend who was selling it. Life has been easier since – except when I try and play anything in flat keys (a nightmare for any string player, we prefer sharps any day!). But that’s just because I’m trying to learn harder pieces!

Anyway, I’ve rabbited on quite long enough, I’ll leave you with a picture of my lovely Iceni Funkmeister – looks like a 5-string Fender Precision, and has a custom purple paint job, which looks rather more red in this photo than it should.