Snaps

One great thing about having a small, small camera with a great lens and a larger sensor is that you can use it all the time. I don’t often take snapshots, but why not?

Michael Willems, by Michael Willems

Michael Willems, by Michael Willems

Daniel, forgetting to look his almost-sixteen-obligatory-grumpy-self:

Daniel, by Michael Willems

Daniel, by Michael Willems

GF1 self portrait

A self portrait I took a few minutes ago:

Michael Willems, photo by Michael Willems

Michael Willems, photo by Michael Willems

I shot this with the Panasonic GF1:

  • Camera on manual, f/4.0, 1/60th second, 200 ISO
  • Using multiple-point autofocus
  • Pocketwizard on the camera
  • Pocketwizard on a 430EX flash, connected with Flashzebra cable
  • Flash set to manual, 1/32nd power
  • Honl Photo Traveller 8 softbox on the (handheld) flash

To lower the noise (“increase the signal to noise ratio”, for engineers) I exposed to the right (i.e. I exposed high, but without actually overexposing anything) and then pulled back a stop in Lightroom.

The 20mm lens (yes you can use 40mm, for that is what it is, for portraits) gives me that wonderful sharpness. Click and view full size to see how sharp it is.

The Honl softbox gives it that nice soft look and the unique round catchlights.

And I have said it before: for creative photography, lighting a subject is as much about what you do not light than about what you do light.

Postscript: And here’s one more: son Jason just now (similarly lit, also shot with the GF1)

Jason Willems, photo Michael Willems

Jason, shot with GF1/430EX

Panasonic GF-1 notes

So now that I have used the Panasonic GF-1 for a few days, a few quick notes. This is part of a new category on the blog: “Michael’s Quick Judgment“.

Executive summary: I love it, and it will be a very cool addition to my toolbox.

Cool, and sexy:

But that is not enough to spend money. So why would I actually buy a small camera?

Well, for one, because it is lighter and smaller than an SLR. My other cameras (a Canon 1D Mark IV, a 1Ds Mark III, and a 7D) are all very considerably heavier and bigger.

Second, it is easy to take street photos with a small point and shoot. And you can always carry it.

And it is allowed where “pros” are not (London’s Trafalgar Square, Oakville Place Mall, and many other places where “professional” cameras are frowned upon.

So there are places where it fits in, in spite of not being an SLR.

But until recently, small cameras weren’t quite good enough. The small sensor created a lot of image noise at any ISO greater than 100. No longer. With large sensors like the one in this “Micro Four Thirds” spec camera, this is becoming practical.

I came late to the party. These cameras have existed at least since last year. But I like to be a settler, not a pioneer, and as said, David Honl’s Leica two weeks ago in Las Vegas really inspired me. I was carrying a big SLR; Dave had a point and shoot. And got essentially the same shots.

So to start off, here is a shot I took during last Sunday’s Creative Urban Photography course in Oakville:

Knox Presbyterian Church in Oakville, by Michael Willems

Knox Presbyterian Church in Oakville

And a full size detail from that shot (click to see it at its actual size):

Knox Presbyterian Church in Oakville, by Michael Willems

Knox Presbyterian Church in Oakville (detail)

Now I noticed that Lightroom introduced a little noise there; noise I do not see in the original. Look at the sky. Odd, but a very small tweak of Lightroom’s excellent Noise Cancellation fixes that:

Knox Presbyterian Church in Oakville, by Michael Willems

Knox Presbyterian Church in Oakville (detail 2)

So let me summarize my feelings about this camera:

Likes:

  • The coolness, let’s face it. This camera is very cute, almost Leica-cute.
  • The great image quality. And that is what it is all about.
  • The large “micro four thirds” sensor.
  • That flat 20mm f/1.7 lens (equivalent to 40mm). They call them “Pancake” lenses because they are thin, and they do not come out when you turn on the camera.
  • The small form factor.
  • The ultra-sharp live-view LCD.
  • The flash hotshoe – for my pocketwizards.
  • A very convenient (and customizable) AE lock button.
  • RAW images.
  • Customizable Fn button.
  • Great manual focusing, when you choose to use it (turn the ring and the preview zooms in).
  • In general, the amazing camera customizability (including tweaking the LCD colours!). This is a camera for pros.
  • Super fast response speed: no shutter delay, like on cheap point-and-shoots.

Muuh… neither here nor there; “I can live with it”:

  • No viewfinder (an optional extra).
  • The tiny fragile flash.
  • No in-camera image stabilisation.
  • No continuous focus with the 20mm lens.
  • Video (but I do not use this camera for video: I have my SLRs).
  • Face recognition (including some stored individuals).
  • Scene modes (I don’t need them: laudably, you can disable them).
  • The way the custom modes work.

Minor dislikes:

  • The slippery, nigh-impossible to turn control wheel.
  • The click wheel: push to switch functions. Combined with “slippery” above this is a bad combo.
  • The “My Menu” that you cannot store the way you want it.

Overall: I am lovin’ it so far, and I have no doubt that this will continue. Amazingly, I am waking around with a small point and shoot.

The big sensor is smaller than an SLR’s, but large enough to give me great selective depth of field, and low noise at higher ISOs. The depth of field and the ability to use fast prime lenses are the main reasons I chose this camera over the excellent Canon G11.

I would normally not dream of shooting the police scanner on my desk in dim office light at 320 ISO and at f/1.7:

Scanner, by Michael Willems

Scanner at f/1.7, 320 ISO

But now I can. And do. Look at the images in yesterday’s post. And at this: the 20mm f/1.7’s lens has an amazing ability to produce those wonderful blurred backgrounds. Large aperture and close focusing ability (20cm) produce pictures like this:

Camera strap, by Michael Willems

Camera strap, GF1 with 20mm f/1.7 lens

Beautiful bokeh – but the amazing thing is that there is any bokeh at all in a small camera.

And then there is the ability to judge exposure before you take the shot, and to lock the fast-reacting spotmeter on a mid-grey object: very cool even for an experienced SLR shooter.

Megapixels, you ask? Not important. If it has more than six, it’s enough. Too many means more noise. This camera has 12, which is about the ideal number. ‘Nuff said.

Of course Nikon, Canon et al are also going to do “small cameras with big sensors”; and in any case, if I had a spare $8k I’d go with a Leica for fun, but this is almost as good and it’s here now, for a fraction of that cost.

Michael’s Quick Judgment: highly recommended, 8/10.

Postscript: see a few more GF1 shots in today’s blog posts, including some taken with an external flash and Pocketwizards.

A few more GF1 snaps

A few more snaps, taken just now, with the Panasonic GF1. Around the house using available light.

This shows me how international my life has been. A random selection of items in my house:

From the Netherlands, and from a time when flying was fun. On KLM, business class and first class passengers used to receive items of Delft Blue chinaware (the houses filled with liquor, which alas has all evaporated in these past 25-plus years):

Delft Blue, photo by Michael Willems with GL1 and 20mm f/1.7 lens

Delft Blue - GL1 with 20mm f/1.7 lens

Indonesia: this figurine takes on all the shame and bad feelings in the household, thus freeing the people who live in the home from them:

Shame! Photo Michael Willems with GL1 and 20mm f/1.7 lens

Shame! Indonesian figurine - GL1 and 20mm f/1.7 lens

Middle East: a chess set bought in Jerusalem:

Chess pieces - Photo Michael Willems with GL1 and 20mm f/1.7 lens

Chess pieces - GL1 and 20mm f/1.7 lens

England: Wedgwood from Harrods:

Wedgwood - Photo Michael Willems with GL1 and 20mm f/1.7 lens

Wedgwood - GL1 and 20mm f/1.7 lens

Libya: a primary drill bit I found in the desert:

Primary Drill Bit, Libya - Photo Michael Willems

Primary Drill Bit, Libya - Panasonic GF-1, 20mm f/1.7 lens

China: a souvenir

Soldier Souvenir, China - Photo Michael Willems

Soldier Souvenir, China - Panasonic GF1

Eastern Europe, a crystal glass:

Crystal glass, photo Michael Willems

Crystal glass, Panasonic GF1 with 20mm f/1.7 lens

Life is one great adventure.