TODAY I AM RETURNING to the Great Global Information Superhighway. I closed my previous web site at the beginning of 2017 thinking that it had served its purpose as a permanent archive of my digital photography equipment reviews that had been published in the Fairfax newspapers.
However, since then I have started to create videos about various features and accessories of the Micro Four Thirds camera system. I currently own three MFT cameras – the sublime OLYMPUS OMD E-M1 MarkII; the PANASONIC G85[G80 in some places] and the PANASONIC GX9. I have a bag full of lenses covering focal lengths 7mm to 400mm.
Since retiring from the newspaper reviewing job I have tended to concentrate on bird photography for which the Panasonic Leica 100-400 lens is indispensable.
I have described my Digital Downsizing process in this video, Digital Downsizing, explaining how I reduced my multi-system camera collection to the current trio of Micro Four Thirds cameras.
Pursuing birds has led me to plunder the Exchequer to equip myself with a suitable lens – or, as it turned out, lenses. First I bought the Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm lens. And I liked it very much. Review: Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm lens
But…Every time I ventured out with the Lumix I was tormented by the thought that for $1000 more I could have the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm, bringing the tiny birds a little closer. Once more into the Treasury! Review: Panasonic Leica 10-400mm lens
For fourteen years, from 2002 to 2016, I reviewed digital cameras, lenses, printers, accessories and software for the Fairfax group of newspapers in Australia. Over that time I made a number of predictions about the future of digital photography technology and all of those predictions, except one, turned out to be wrong.
Prediction One: No one can possibly want more than 5 megapixels. It’s ridiculous. Canon has declared that the megapixel race is over [this in 2004 when 5 seemed more than enough]. Oh dear!
Prediction Two: Electronic viewfinders will be a passing fad of interest only to players of video games. I mean, have you seen the shutter lag? You compose the picture and by the time you have pressed the button and fired the shutter the subject has disappeared over the horizon. What’s more it is like looking at the image through a coarse screen-wire door. Or on a TV with your nose pressed to the screen. Nope! It’s rubbish technology. Except that now I only have EVFs. I have turned my back on optical viewfinders – they are so last century!
Prediction Three: Hybrid still/video cameras will never catch on. If you want video buy a digicam. Who needs video in a stills camera? There are still a few die-hards who will applaud my prediction, but not me. My last three camera purchases have all been decided on their 4K video quality. Couldn’t live without it.
Prediction Four: This one I made half in jest to stimulate discussion and argument, so I am not claiming prophet status. Years before it became a fact I predicted that the day would come when most people would be using only their mobile phones to shoot photos and videos. How the audience laughed! Preposterous.
Moral of the story: Take anything I say with a grain of salt!
My ruinously expensive love affair with photography began in 1956 when I got my first 35mm camera – a Kodak Retina 1b. It was manual everything!
In the early sixties I sold the Retina and bought my first single lens reflex camera, the Pentax S1. This, I think, was the first SLR with instant return mirror that a mere mortal cloud afford. Even German SLRs had mirror black-out at that stage. But the Pentax had a curious semi-automatic diaphragm with a lever to open the aperture for focus but the iris remained closed at its set f stop after the exposure. It is a beautifully made camera [I still have it] that served me well until I was seduced by the first Pentax Spotmatic. I no longer needed to carry an exposure meter or to guess the exposure.
In 1975 I bought my first Olympus, the OM1. From that day until my conversion to digital I remained a faithful Olympus customer. Sadly there was no easy transition from film to digital for Olympus people and so I became a Nikon D70 owner. Then came Nikons, Canons and a Sony, until I could re-enter the Olympus fold with the original OMD E-M5.
Today it is all Micro Four Thirds for me: The Olympus OMD E-M1 MarkII, Panasonic G85 and Panasonic GX9.
Photographers agonise over two serious questions: first, is my camera as good as yours and second, why am I doing this? What is there left to photograph? Hasn’t it all been done?
Looking at the work of photography school graduates I am struck by two things. They have spectacular graphic imaginations and their work is more illustration than photography. I think that this is the way it has to be. There comes a point where the “classic” has been done and now comes the “post classic era”. The images from the camera are now rarely enough to catch our attention. Like contemporary composers intimidated by Beethoven we are paralysed by the work of the masters, Adams, Newman, Halsman, Bullock, Abbott et al.
We strive, wish and long to do something unique. And be noticed.
We can always put the camera into silent mode and sneak around looking for the funny moment…
ANSWERING THE NAYSAYERS
THE FOUR THIRDS SYSTEM certainly attracts the attention of the sceptics and the mockers. “The sensor is too small” they say. “So the light-gathering pixels are too small. Digital noise is intolerable. Dynamic range is restricted. And the small sensor and lenses make it impossible to get nice out-of-focus backgrounds.”
There is no doubt that, all else being equal, a bigger pixel will have a better signal-to-noise performance than a small light receptor. But how will this effect a photograph?
I have made two videos addressing the issue of noise in the Four Thirds system. You can see them here…
And I also shared my experiences with Noise Reducing Software, comparing Adobe Camera RAW/Lightroom, DxO PhotoLab and Olympus Viewer 3.
As for depth of field…the same rules apply to Four Thirds as to any other camera system. A longer focal length lens with wide aperture will get you a smooth background any time. For a chap who has spent decades trying to get as much of the picture as possible in-focus this current obsession with shallow depth of field is perplexing. In fact with Four Thirds you get the best of everything – you can have a greater DoF than with a full-frame camera or, by choosing the right lens and aperture, you can go shallow. What’s the problem?
When it comes to Dynamic Range both Olympus and Panasonic provide a discrete control for the tone curve. With the Olympus it is a camera-top button which gives direct access to a control for boosting or reducing highlights and shadows.
This is a very smart control that has an effect on the JPEG produced in-camera, but no effect on the RAW file. However, when the RAW file is opened in Olympus Viewer 3 the tone curve adjustment is automatically, but non-destructively, applied. Is there any other instance where hardware [the camera] and software are so beautifully integrated?
THE PANASONIC LUMIX GX9…
…is the latest addition to my camera collection.
- The austere, handsome aesthetic
- The excellent image quality, both JPEG and RAW
- Beautiful skin tones
- Superb resolution
- The tilting Electronic Viewfinder is much better than I had been led to expect by other reviewers
- Good 4K video
- Amazing price – under $1000 AUD with 12-32mm kit lens
- Small battery with poor life
- No battery charger supplied; charging with battery in camera. [I have bought more batteries and an external charger]
- No microphone input socket
- Memory card in the battery compartment on the bottom of the camera – and it is fiddly to extract
- As at 06/10/18 there is no module for the camera in DxO Photolab
Panasonic Lumix GX9
with Olympus mZuiko 60mm macro lens 1/1250 sec, f6.3, ISO3200
Panasonic Lumix GX9
With Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm lens, 1/125 sec, f6.3, ISO1600
AN EXERCISE FOR A RAINY DAY…
AS YOU PROBABLY [POSSIBLY?] KNOW the Olympus E-M1 MkII can capture very high resolution images by a process of multiple exposures using sensor shift. The resulting 50 megapixel image is impressive.
I decided to go one better – why not combine several differentially focused high resolution images into one stacked image with expanded depth of field?
Using Focus Bracketing [manual, of course, not automatic] together with the High Resolution mode I took seven exposures. The seven were opened in Adobe Bridge, selected and then opened as a Layer set in Photoshop.
One problem! Having created this ultra high resolution, sharp front-to-back super image how do you share it? You’ll just have to take my word for it that on a 5K iMac 27″ it looks brilliant.
Needless to say this only works with static subjects and with the camera on a sturdy tripod.