Saturday, 2 January 2010

Are You Torn between Two Systems?

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Having used the GF1 for over a week, I am quite satisfied with its image quality.  But frankly, the major IQ (image quality) improvement for this larger MFT sensor over the tiny sensor fitted in my GX200 is the dynamic range.  See for yourself by comparing the jpeg and Raw files of the GR1 and GX200 posted in the previous post here.

As for high ISO images, If you're hoping that the GF1 affords a much supreme quality, adjust your expectation a bit.

For me, I have no complaint about the GF1's IQ at even ISO 800.  But at full-screen size, the ISO 1600 images are obviously smeared and the ISO 3200 ones more smudgy.  Surely, they are better than those of the GX200, which is not known for good high ISO image quality.

I have briefly compared the ISO images of the GF1 to those of the CX1 and the Canon 500D (with a 50mm equiv. f1.8 prime lens).  Generally speaking, at full-screen size, CX1's ISO 800 images are a little worse than GF1's ISO 1600 ones, while Canon 500D's fare better.

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So, the high ISO IQ is not really ace for the GF1 but unless the high ISO values are used a lot, it is certainly not a deal breaker.  And in prints, I doubt if this will make an issue.

The following full-sized images were taken at various ISO values for your reference:


If you're are struggling between a larger- or smaller-sensor serious compact to fatten up your camera cabinet (and flatten your wallet), you should yet factor in other considerations:

-- the GF1 gives a regular (shallower) DOF making it less desirable for street photography, for which the technique of using a large aperture to achieve a higher shutter speed (and to avoid a high ISO setting) becomes not fitting;

P1080920 (Medium) -- the mirror-less GF1, to my surprise and its disadvantage, gives a very audible mechanical shutter sound when the shutter release is fully pressed (3 clicks here), rendering it less suitable than a small-sensor compact for doing candid pictures.  Your subjects can certainly hear the loud "click" which cannot be turned off;

-- the GF1 is heavier and "bulkier" and, despite of a grip, requires two-hand operation;

-- at least to me, the main idea of a serious compact is doing good photos in a snappy way, without the burden of a regular DSLR.  Well, IMO, the fact that GF1 requires changing lens aligns it closer to a DSLR.  If the GF1 is not a loan item but my acquisition, and on account of such a camera's vulnerability to dusts, I would certainly have been more conservative about changing lenses under a lot of circumstances.  Take for example, the sky showers lightly; on a dusty street; under the dark sky when changing lenses become very clumsy and risky as one item or two can be more likely dropped.  Well, then, I would have missed lots of shots.

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I am not putting these up to say that GF1 is not a good camera; it is.  But the small-sensor serious compacts have their own advantages especially if street photography is your cup of tea.  And for this reason, you may not wish to buy one at the expense of the other.

If you are using a small sensor camera and don't have a proper large sensor camera or are fed up with the regular heavy gear, the next one you need is a camera like the GF1 – without shedding the small sensor camera maybe.

Apart from giving the photographer a fuller photographic experience, the GF1 has some well thought-out functions to my liking.   I'll write about them in the next post.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Last Night of 2009

R0018973 (Medium)^Last night in 2009, the whole town dashed out to the street to cherish the year before it was gone.

It is just past midnight into the new year 2010.  I'm staying in a Starbucks after joining the countdown.  Everyone shouted from 10 to zero and cheering filled every space in the air at the tick of twelve.  Happy new year!

 R0018985 (Medium)^Even the neon-light signboards seemed especially bright and cheerful last night.

 R0018988 (Medium) ^Decorations hanging overhead near the cafe.

R0018989 (Medium)^Staff were busy making coffee for the long queue of customers.  Every seat was taken.  Tables meant for two were seated by four.  A side table not meant for customers was turned into a makeshift cafe table for a pair of lovers.

 R0018992 (Medium)^There is a common saying in Cantonese to describe this scene which is, literally, "people mountain, people sea".

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^The crowd was leaving after the countdown.

This is 2010.  Again, happy new year!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

GF-1: Image Quality with Full Size Photos

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After being (as always) verbose yesterday, I'm going to prove to you what matters most for a camera by showing you some full-sized photos taken by GF1.

My impression is that the optical strength of the 20mm prime lens surpasses that of the 14-45mm lens not by much (but by just enough).  Both are Lumix lenses.  The Leica lens for the MFT system supposedly fare much better.  I had not a chance to test the Leica lens unfortunately.

The photos taken with the 20mm lens are here, which include a RAW file.  For comparison purpose, I uploaded a JPEG and RAW files of the GX200 to the same folder.

The photos taken with the zoom lens are here, which include two RAW files.

If you're doubtful about the performance of the lenses, some photos taken by Nikon's AF-S 70-200mm f/ 2.8G VR II ED are here, here and here for comparison.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

When Impressive GF-1 Meets Striking Girls

The GF1 has lots to impress users, which we will go through in this impression series. As an advocate of serious compacts, I have no hesitation in recommending a buy. Until I can try the GXR, which I bet inherits the first-class ergonomics, I have found the GF1 superb in most aspects of the control layouts which include the menu system and the disposition of the buttons.
The menu system is easily understood and more likeable than the GRDIII particularly in terms of the much bigger font size. It has five function sections each of which splintered into several pages. By rolling the back wheel, hopping from one page/ section to the other in the menu is blissful. The tab-type menu layout, together with the page number indicator on the upper right corner, makes the menu-surfing anything but confusing .
I will give 4½ stars out of five for its menu system, with the caveat that Panasonic doesn't give users the elbowroom to customise the preferred functions in a quick menu or the Fn (function) slot. The camera offers a quick menu and registers five most used functions in a menu section (which is not useful IMO) though. More one the quick menu below.
As for the buttons on the back of the camera body, they require some practice before a user can get used to them, especially when the user looks into the EVF -I highly recommend one to go with the GF1 which, without the EVF, makes sore arms after a day of holding it up steady to compose pictures through the LCD screen. But the getting used to will only take you a day or two.
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The most notable button is the Q(uick).menu which further improves the user's experience in tweaking the functions. Pressing the button leads the user to the icons of functions on the screen in turns. Whether the desired icons appear in a clockwise or anti-clockwise order simply corresponds to how you turn the back wheel. Once reached, the desired icons can be activated and the tweaking can be made by pressing the round menu/set button.
P1090387 (Medium) A tweeny-weeny pet peeve is, for photographers who tweak the camera a lot, the function icons cannot be reached in a jumping fashion. That is to say, if going from the middle icon in the upper row to the middle one in the lower icon row, the user needs to roll the back wheel like crazy. This shortcoming is not helped by the rather crowded function icons on the screen, of which some you may never need to tweak.
« I was busy browsing the quick menu to do the tweaking because of which I became unable to properly focus the lady on the move.
On some occasion, I missed the shots because of this implementation of the quick menu, which is not a big issue but should be improved.
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P1090053 (Medium)By the way, if you have experience with the Ricoh GRD or GX cameras, their quick menus are much better because users can customise them, which is much shorter and effective for tweaking. Activating the quick menu by pressing the back rocker and rolling the front wheel to tweak functions save the photographers lots of good shots.
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That said, the GF1 featuring a larger sensor in a small body is impressive in its own right. The bigger sensor affords the possibility to do shots with a swallow DOF. The defocused background renders delicate bokeh, especially true when the fast f1.7 prime lens is used.
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The focusing ring works seamlessly and responsively when doing manual focusing. Manual focus can be activated by a few presses of the AF/MF button and the back wheel (yes, the back wheel can be pressed to confirm setting a function) on the camera back. Then, the spot being manually focused will be automatically magnified on the LCD/ EVF screen while the focusing ring is turned for ease of confirming the focus.
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To save users the trouble of toggling between automatic and manual focus, there is a AF+MF option, which can be activated in the menu. This function allows AF to work when half pressing the shutter release, and MF to chime in when turning the focusing ring.
It is certainly a dream photographic machine combining the advantages of size, likeable ergonomics and better image quality. A fuller photographic experience it surely has over the small-sensor serious compact.
The impression series is to be continued.

Monday, 28 December 2009

GF-1 User's Impressions: Introduction

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It has been some days since I picked up the GF1 and accessories on loan by the local sole distributor of Panasonic cameras. If I am to finish an user's impressions in a few words, I would say that returning the GF-1 will be rather saddening because of its superb image quality and larger sensor in a smaller body. But, as always, it is a beautiful rose not without thorns.

The GF1 feels absolutely solid and well-built in hand. The way the camera body evenly weighs is likable to any photographers unless he or she has been using only compacts. The camera has to be operated by both hands though, especially when the zoom lens is mounted.

With the 20mm (45mm equiv.; really fast at f1.7) lens mounted, the GF1 weighs the same as my GX200 with the wide converter. Well, a better reference can be made by the following photo:

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With the Lumix 14-45mm (28-90 equiv. at f3.5 to 5.5 with OIS built-in) lens, the GF1 gains a few decimal pounds:

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Such weights compare favourably with a regular APS-C-sensor DSLR. But if you're primarily a serious compact user, don't expect it to be either pocketable or even portable in a smaller (A-4 dimension) camera bag if you mount the zoom lens and EVF on the GF1 and bring along the pancake lens, flash and the necessary gear like a blower.

The GF1 is in a category of its own in relation to size and portability. For sure it is not designed to rival small-sensor compacts like GX200, G10 or LX3. It is on a separate turf in case you consider replacing your small-sensor compact with a M4/3 camera. In fact, for certain aspects, it cannot replace the small-sensor compact. More on this later.

The pancake lens is lighter but more expensive than the Lumix 14-45mm lens:

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The external flash is a bit shorter but thicker than a pack of cigarettes:

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The external flash is powerful enough for most situations with a GN value of 22 at ISO100, 31 at ISO200 and 44 at ISO400. It is TTL- and manual-capable.

Taken into account the weight and size of the camera, I also borrowed and primarily used the EVF for taking photos. It feels odd and actually tires the wrists for holding up the camera to compose with the LCD screen.

In the street, the GF1 hanging around my neck has been a head-turner. Everyone is checking it out in secret.

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While using it, I feel being brought back to the days of using a SLR (I don't have a DSLR). The focusing ring and the zoom ring give a great photographic experience. The focusing speed is much crisper than a small-sensor camera even though it is not without downsides.

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The camera has the PASM, scene, my colour (which is great fun) and custom modes. I haven't and will not try the iA and video modes.

P1080592 (Medium) P1090067 (Medium)Manual options are galore, most notably including doing your preferred aspect ratios, flash output, AF and metering modes, focusing area, bracket increments and ISO values.

The menu system has been explained in great length in dpreview, if you are interested.

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Come back for the next post for this impression series. Meanwhile, some educational old posts about the MFT system are here, here and here.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Selected Excellence: Comical Hong Kong

The photos are taken by a Hong Kong photographer FU Chun Wai who published them in his book Comical Hong Kong.

Have an enjoyable Sunday!