Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Final Verdicts: GF2 in Action

(The rest of the GF2 review posts can be found here)

SAM_2617L It is widely believed that the GF2 is a paradoxical downward-upgrade version of the GF1. So, after all the discussions of its bells and whistles, how does it perform in reality?

First things first. Which or what kind of cameras should we measure the GF2 against for that matter? We believe that potential buyers of the GF2, maybe except for serial fad chasers and the diehard loyalists, are attracted by its smallness in size with a larger sensor to achieve better image quality, especially at ISO 800 or above. However, given the less satisfactory handling with for example just one dial, the GF2 cannot assume the place of a primary camera.

Put together, these assumptions suggest that the GF2 is more suited to be used as a backup camera for social and street shots. Let's grill the GF2 on this basis.

In the Hand

SAM_2634L An obvious merit of the GF2 is size. It feels much less bulky in the hand than the GF1 or the NX100, and just like the GX200 or LX3 size-wise.  However, it is still a heavy piece of machine in comparison. Also, the short width and the heavy weight of the GF2 do not make for a well-balanced body, which is not helped by the mediocre grip bulge and the slippery  metal surface.

P1010395L If you are used to a comfortable camera grip like that of the GX200 or NEX5, you will immediately tell that the GF2 actually borrows the less desirable design of a point-and-shoot camera on a heavier body. So when we hoped to do some candid shot on the street with one hand operation, we always felt that it tended to slip off from the palm. Well, the GF1 can neither be operated single-handedly. But we think that this shortcoming defeats one of the major purposes of downsizing the GF2 – to allow single-hand operations.

P1010436L But among those in its class, the GF2 is admirably and actually feels the smallest, with the caveat that we have been using it only with the tiny 14mm lens. Except for the camera body colour – we have got the red one – the camera is not assuming in appearance at all, which is important for candid social and street shots.

Depth of Field

P1010833L (If this shot was taken with the EX1, the extensive DOF would have allowed the aperture to be wide open at F1.8 to prevent the use of a high ISO value without sacrificing the DOF.  The DOF of this shot is not satisfactory)

A big draw of the enthusiast cameras fitted with a 1/1.7" sensor is the extensive depth of field. This benefit is crucial to doing street and, in general, social shots too. Of course, the APS-C sensor gives better IQ in high ISO. But compared to the images taken by the Samsung EX1, of which our field test report is yet to be posted, the superior IQ of the compacts fitted with a APS-C sensor (including the GF2) doesn't make a big difference in 4R prints.

So, if you are considering a camera primarily for street photography and social shots, the GF2 can handle without much issues but the likes of the miniature S95 or the highly customisable GRD 3 are preferable in our opinion.

A side note is that the shutter sound of the GF2 is awfully loud and as audible as the GF1's , which is the least you need for candid photos.

Handling

With the GF2, the best option is to leave it on full auto pilot. This statement actually says it all for our opinions of the GF2 in this aspect.

As discussed in a previous post here, the touch-screen functionality is best for tweaking the photographic settings. For example, making adjustment to the AWB cannot be easier than by directly touching the screen.

image

However,  during the shooting, we have found that this functionality doesn't make for, much less improve over, the missing wheel and lever. The culprit is in the chance of accidentally touching and activating a function. This has happened quite often to us. In the case of the top model GH2, users can shoot through the viewfinder and turn on the LCD screen only when touch-activating functions, thereby effectively ruling out the possibility of accidental activation of an unwanted function. Unfortunately, this is not the case of GF2 unless you use the optional EVF.

tiny dial (The tiny push-dial)

There is still the single dial which allows push-toggling to double as the controls for aperture value and shutter speed or aperture value and shutter speed/ EV adjustments or various other adjustment options depending on the shooting mode the camera is on. In place of the more ideal dual-dial design, this implementation does mitigate the shortcoming in handling but isn't pleasing to users. Of all the mirror-less large-sensor cameras we have tried, the NX100 is the best in handling with the dual dials.

Moreover, the dial on the GF2 is a bit tiny for the thumb. And its small size, hence the small circumference, obliges the user to scroll hard to P1010819Lreach the desired settings. When shooting on the street, we have  actually missed some shots because of such a shortcoming. We usually set the GF2 at M mode.

(This shot was taken at M mode. Stopping down the shutter to 1/4000s required lots of rolling of the tiny dial)

To be fair, squeezing the camera size and improving the handling do not make easy bedfellows with each other.  When the GF2 is used on the aperture or shutter-priority mode, the issue isn't unbearable. Pany has probably done the best possible job in this regard. Surely, it is not because a better design can't be done, but won't be for the sake of separating the market tiers.

But when it comes to the My Colour mode, it is a joy to use. The effects are distinctive and useful. Also, toggling between different effects by push-roll the dial is direct and speedy. The implementation is the best among other GX Garnerings' tested cameras and most effective for street photography. The unsatisfactory part is that unlike the GF1, similar effects cannot be activated other than at the My Colour mode.

P1010775L (Retro effect to give an old look to the shot befitting the old area)

Focusing

We have no compliant over the speed and reliability of the focusing performance of the GF2. But we have not observed any remarkable improvements in this area over the GF1, particularly in dimly lit settings. This constraint of the contrast AF detection still gives a space for survival to the big boys using the phase AF. Our impression is that in focusing performance the GF2 is in the middle range, with the NEX and NX series being the winners as far as we are aware.

P1010614L (Captured one of the most difficult subject for accurate focusing; AFS and centre AF area used)

A noteworthy point is that after half-pressing the shutter release to do the AF, users can hold the shutter release to do manual focusing. The LCD screen can be set to magnify the point being focused. This AF + MF implementation is intuitive and useful.

In passing, we would like to point out that the barrel distortion of the GF's kit 14mm lens is more obvious than, say, the EX1's Schneider KREUZNACH lens but not unacceptable. The in-camera correction, when turned on, can rectify the problem.

Flash

SAM_2627LThe built-in flash as a fill-in light source does a pretty good job, especially for shooting portrait. The following shot was taken with the camera at one meter from the subject. The skin tone is right, thanks to the accurate flash metering of the camera. The highly raised position of the flash can effectively avoid the occurrence of red eyes.

P1010793L However with a guide number of 6, which is better than nothing, the built-in flash cannot be relied on for an adequate light coverage in flash photography. Moreover, to our dismay, there is no second curtain option or output adjustment option for the flash.

P1010635L (A shot which should be taken with the flash firing at the second curtain)

Pany has decided to limit the flash options in the GF2 compared to its predecessor. For example, there is no slow sync option in S and M modes even though the flash output actually sync with the slow shutter speed when the shutter is dragged. But that really further limits the flexibility of the flash.

image

LCD Screen Preview

A special mention of the preview function is given not because it is great. To the contrary, it is confusing. While the preview buttons in most other cameras are for users to visualise the DOF in the final images, the preview button on the GF2 is used also for previewing the shutter-speed effect.

P1010761L (Giving a desirable overexposure to this shot was not easy without an instant display of the corresponding effect on the LCD screen)

First, in effect, it means that in M mode, the scene in the LCD screen does not brighten up or darken according to the exposure combos. This is less ideal in the digital era, especially for users who prefer using the M mode.

gf2 preview Second, the activated preview function shown on the LCD screen is quite confusing. What it says on the screen is actually the next function to be activated at the press of the button.

Conclusive Remarks

First up, if Pany is not going to mean it as an upgrade of the GF1, the GF2 should have been renamed to in the fashion of the E-PL, say, GF1-L with the L meaning lite. The naming of GF2 for a low-grade camera version is downright illogical.

gf2 size The small size of the GF2 is certainly welcomed. But we just hope that for the real upgrade replacement of the GF1, a small camera body  will come with a decent grip bulge and dual dials and a lever to achieve better handling. The user should also be allowed to restrict the touch-screen activation to doing photographic settings when and as needed. Gimmicks like the touch-screen shutter are not really relevant in our opinion. Good for marketing maybe.

For photographers who are looking for a supplementary all-round camera offering a better IQ at high ISO values, the GF2 is as good as other cameras in its class. It is new and smaller. But, we won't hesitate to recommend the GF1 instead. It asks for a cheaper price but for a better design in terms of handling. As far as IQ is concerned, the newer GF2 inevitably does a better job than its predecessor. But we wonder how obvious the advantage will be in normal-size prints.

The pricing of comparable cameras is very competitive. Meanwhile in Hong Kong, the NX100 is selling for as low as $3,400 for the body at the Golden Arcade in Sham Shui Po during the present promotional period of the computer festival. There are just lots of choices.

R1231070

Does it mean that the GF2 is not to be recommended? We think that if the GF2 is primarily used at auto modes like the P mode or My Colour mode, it is snappy and great fun. Its smallness is endearing to photographers who can't be bothered to carry an extra load of weight.

We can recommend it but more easily if it is priced lower. For people who wish to learn photography and are looking for their first camera, the same amount of money can buy them a much more powerful tool like the Sony A55.

For street photography and social shots, the GF2 is an adequate performer. But prospective camera buyers should consider the issue of extensive DOF afforded easily by the likes of the GRD3.

Also, as discussed in a previous post, the customisable slots on the GF2 do not allow customisation for the more meaningful photographic settings needed for street photography when the ability to make instant recalls of different settings is crucial.

For casual shooters who are more familiar with point-and-shoot cameras and have no concern over the budget, the GF2 will be a very apt choice. If you are buying it for a lady, be sure that you get the red one. It appeals to every single lady we have came across and shown them it.

2 comments:

London Street Photo said...

I tested the GF2 specifically for street photography and agree with most of the review above. Although I found the depth of field to be very dependent on which lens you use. The new Olympus 12mm and 45mm work great with the GF2. I also quite like the small thumbwheel.

Overall, great review. Thanks for covering this much under appreciated camerea.

Nevin said...

Hi Peter, thank you for the visit and kind words. Surely the DOF depends on the lens.

Good shots on your blog!
Nevin