Saturday, 12 February 2011

Two Piece of News

Winners of the 54th annual World Press Photo Contest was announced yesterday. Click on the screen shot below to browse the winners gallery.

image

If you haven't checked out the video before, you won't want to miss it. It will be very exciting for photographers when this technology is implemented in cameras.

Comparative Shots: NEX 5 vs GF1 vs GF2 vs E-PL2

We have been receiving requests for the comparison through the search box. So, here you go:

big four

ISO NEX5 GF1 GF2 E-PL2
100 ISO 100 0.6s f4
200 f5.6 ISO 200 1/3s f4 f3.5
400 f5.6 ISO 400 1/6s f4 f3.5
800 f5.6 ISO 800 1/13s f4 f3.5
1600 f5.6 ISO 1600 1/25s f4 f3.5
3200 f5.6 ISO 3200 1/50s f4 f3.5
6400 f5.6 1/100s f4 f3.5
12800 f5.6


Friday, 11 February 2011

GF2 Field Test: Digging into the Gimmicks

SAM_2658

Apart from the touch screen operations, the GF2 has a bagful of gimmicks to allure potential buyers. In this post, we will dig into the worthy ones and tell you some nitty-gritty which may have been overlooked.

I.Dynamic

First, there is the I.Dynamic option which is actually the increasingly popular HDR function. The operating manual is short of an explanation of how this function works. Usually the wider dynamic range on the strength of such a function is achieved by combining several bracketed shots. But if that is the case in GF2, we have not noticed any occurrences of double images common to HDR function when the shutter speed was dragged down or the camera was intentionally shifted a bit. Such is sort of a mystery.

i dynamic 1 (Top: Without I.Dynamic; Bottom: I.Dynamic High)

Does the I.Dynamic work fine? There are four settings under the option: Off, Low, Standard and High. Our impression is that the results are discernible at the middle and high-level settings.

i dynamic 2 (Top: Without I.Dynamic; Middle and Bottom: With the I.Dynamic on, the camera chose the middle-level and then the high-level settings for the following two shots)

Interestingly, the camera will chose for the highest possible level under your selected setting fit for the contrast of the scenes regardless of what mode the camera is on. For example, the camera will use the low-level setting for a slightly contrasty scene even though you opted for High. So  when some reviewers on the Internet wrote that the results were not noticed, they didn't notice the GF2's such performance. Probably they had chosen scenes which were not contrasty enough and the camera just decided not to employ the I.Dynamic function despite the user set it to activated.


Architecture Scene Mode

arch

(Click to enlarge to check out the difference)

Under the Scene mode, there is the Architecture feature which sharpens the images. It is handy when you wish for a quick fix to achieve sharper final images of buildings or the cityscape. Alternatively, you can adjust the default image to produce sharpened shots. But this Architecture feature is really more handy.


Quick Menu

image (The Quick Menu can be activated either through the on-screen button or the physical Q.Menu/Fn button to the right of the LCD screen)

The customisable Q.Menu is a great way for the user to access the frequentlySAM_2640 (Small) used options. Users can  tailor-make the menu by allotting ten selected options to the menu for a quick recall. Thanks to the touch-screen operation, the implementation is the best we have seen and works on a par with, if not better than,  that on Ricoh cameras.  The selection and  cancellation procedures are intuitive too – just drag the options to and from the table and the list to select or unselect.

iA Function

Next we go to the iA function.

R1231069 (The iA can be activated at the press of the dedicated button in all shooting modes)

The iA mode is probably the most advanced and trusty intelligent mode of its kind we have seen on cameras. In addition to deciding the usual photographic settings, the iA mode will also chose, and rightly so, the scene mode befitting the scene. Use this function when you have no time to tweak the camera to capture the decisive moments Actually, the same iA mode is featured in all of Pany's more recent cameras.


Distinctive Colours

my colour

We like the My Colour mode because even though similar colour filter functions can be found in other comparable cameras, Pany implements it better with a range of useful and distinctive effects. An opposite example is that in the Samsung's NX series in which some colour effects are either a bit of an extreme or not discernible.

We also like the way Pany allows the user to scroll the wheel to change from one effect to the other. It is a real joy to use and helps to achieve images in different creative colours without missing the decisive moments.

However, unlike the GF1, the colour filters are only available under the Scene mode in GF2. In the GF1, the colour filters are selectable in all camera modes which is more flexible.

Customisable Slots

SAM_2656

There are three customisable slots hidden in the menu. The Customisable slot is a standard function in cameras of this class. But regrettably, the GF2 doesn't allow the user to customise the slots for the more meaningful photographic settings (for example, a locked focal length and focus) except for the following options, thus rendering the C mode less useful than otherwise:

image

These gimmicks are all good and well, but we would like to see how relevant they are in real shooting. Before concluding the test, we will move on to see how the camera performs in real actions. Of course, as usual, we will post some full-size RAW and Jpeg images.

(to be continued)

Thursday, 10 February 2011

GF2 Field Test: Questioning the Touch Screen

panasonicgf2 A marked difference compared to the GF1, the touch screen functionality is supposedly the biggest draw of the GF2. Does this do any good to the handling and shooting in reality? Without boring you with the details of the on-screen menus which you can surely find elsewhere or in the operating instructions, let's explore the answers.

The i-Phone and the lookalike gadgets have swept the world with the increasingly popular touch-screen activation. This function works every fine on cell phones and computing pads. But the story is a bit different in the case of a camera.

The Bad

With, say, a cell phone, the user can unlock the screen which is important to prevent accidental touching of the screen. However, there is no way to lock and unlock the screen of the GF2. After it is turned on and before it goes into sleep mode, the screen can be touched with or without intent. Users who have the habit of keeping the camera on will find themselves touching the screen to activate a function by chance. This happened for 90% of the time when we used the camera. This does inconvenience the user.

SAM_2637s In our case, it was the focus area selection which we mostly activated accidentally.  Although the selected focus didn't require lots of tabbing to be remedied, the touch-activation function of the focus area selection – unlike the touch-screen shutter, guide, scroll, de-focus and quick menu – cannot be turned off. That is to day, there is no way to avoid the possibility of activating it accidentally.

 

The Good

image (Apart from tracking the subject and releasing the shutter, touching the screen can also set the position of the AF area – great for doing portraits)

Call it every cloud has a silver lining or the other side of the coin, the touch screen operation certainly has its merits. It is very when it comes to doing portraits. A touch on the selected area will lock the focus and, if the touch-screen shutter is on, take the picture. You will never need to mess around the button to select the desired focus area as in other cameras.

image (Viewing photos, especially playing back videos, has never been easier like with the GF2's touch screen functionality)

The touch screen is put to the best use when viewing photos. It works like any smart phones' in viewing photos. A swap of the figure across the screen brings you to another photo or back to the previous one. Pointing the figure on the screen at a specific area of the image will enlarge it. Deleting multiple images has never been easier – simply touch to select the shots to be deleted and then the on-screen OK button.

The screen responses quickly to every touch even though not as smoothly as the remarkable iPhone4' s retina screen. We have no complaint about the responsiveness of the screen.

As a side note, the screen at 460,000 dots, which is not stunning at today's standards, has a good viewing angle of,  according to our observation, nearly 270 degree. The brightness can be set to automatically enhance under bright environmental light. Just as any other new cameras in this class, GF2's screen has comparable visibility (i.e. barely visible) when shooting under bright sunlight. Surely, for that matter, Samsung's AMOLED screen is still unrivalled.

A Blessing to Photographers?

touch_screen_operation The touch-screen is as good as it gets. To old-hand photographers, the touch screen thingy is a gimmick which is not indispensable, much less than the forfeited dial and lever (situated under the dial) on the GF1. To the newer i-generation, maybe it works more intuitively. Our verdict is that if the touch-screen operation doesn't prevent the diving into menus, which it doesn't in the case of GF2, the implementation is not desirable. The tiny GF2 body makes accidental touching of the screen an issue.

SAM_2636s There is one more vexation about the touch screen. While the cluster of the on-screen photographic information can be turned off, the Disp(lay) icon doesn't go off (and also the touch-screen shutter activation and Q.Menu icons if the physical Q.Menu button is set to function as a Fn button) unless the shutter release is half passed. The relatively sizeable icons effectively prevent the photographer to check out the elements on the screen at where these icons are situated. This can be forgiven on a point-and-shoot camera. But the GF-2 is no point-and-shooter. And even on a point-and-shooter, the on-screen information can usually be completely turned off .

panasonicgf1 In short, the touch-screen functionality is a mixed blessing to users of the GF2. At best, it is more useful for doing tweaking and viewing photos but can be done without for shooting. As for us, the conventional dials and lever on the GF1 are preferable.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

GF2 Field Test: Camera Body

SAM_2621L Just over a year ago,  GX Garnerings tested the GF1. By courtesy of Panasonic Hong Kong, we have spent quite a while with the new girl on the block -- the Girl Friend no. 2.  It looks pretty on the surface. Is it as good in the inside? Follow us through this field test report for the verdicts. First, let's look at the outside.

SAM_2633L The GF2 is substantially smaller and lighter in the hand. It feels marginally right for an average man's hand. For a lady's palm, the camera body may fit perfectly. To a male photographer, the GF1 is more preferable size-wise.

As in the case of all mirror-less cameras available to date, the GF2 is not really pocketable, save for an overcoat. At first glance, its dimensions are similar to the GX200's. In fact, it is thicker and much heavier, with a protruded lens. But it is still considered lightweight compared to those in the same class.  Carrying the GF2 around on a hand-strap or neck strap, advisably the former, is not what we can complain about.

SAM_2629L However, lightweight as it is, the GF2 is not light enough for one-hand operation.  After all, the downsized body compared to the GF1 somehow obliges the user to rely more heavily on the menu; so the user has to hold the camera with the other hand to do the tweaking. Luckily the touch-screen menus are well thought-out which mitigates this shortcoming. There are still other shortcomings in the body design though.
 
SAM_2635L First, the mediocre grip on the right side of the body doesn't really do the job adequately. It is probably the worst we have ever tried among the mirror-less cameras.

R1231063L Second, since the dedicated movie recording button is situated next to the shutter release, the foregone conclusion is that the user will accidentally touch it at the wrong time. For the first few days during the field tests, the movie recording button was accidentally activated quite frequently. A similar design flaw was mentioned when we field tested the GF1. Panasonic has added an option in the menu to deactivate the dedicated movie button, which squarely inconveniences and defeats the purpose of a "dedicated" button.

wheel Third, there is only one wheel for tweaking the functions. Unlike a bigger DSLR body whereby holding down this and that button while dialling the single wheel is bearable, such a one-wheel operation on the tiny GF2 body is not gratifying at all. The redeeming features are the push-and-scroll-for-selection design of the single wheel and the touch-screen menu. While field-testing the GF2, however, we as old-hand photographers have found that such operations are not intuitive for especially photographers with experience in cameras with a more definitive or traditional design for handling. For the iPhone generation, it cannot be ruled out that the touch-screen thingy is in fact more intuitive.

The point that the camera body is solidly built should not require mentioning (Oops just mentioned it). What do you expect? It isn't charged cheaply. As far as the 14mm kit lens is concerned, the camera is well balanced in weight. With the zoom lens which was promised but not included among the loan items, the GF2, we gather, will tilt forward.

SAM_2627L The last note is that we like the highly-raised position of the in-camera flash when activated. It can effectively reduce the chance of getting red eyes in the final image. During the testing, we had to slightly held down the flash when activating it since it seemed that the very powerful spring was determined to eject it to elsewhere.
 
(to be continued)


Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Rubber Bands

P1010804L (Camera: Panasonic GF2)

If you are tired of shots of horizontal and vertical light trails, try to do the light trails in any ways other than those two directions. Just tune the movement of your camera to the shapes you desire. The sure-fire way in achieving an agreeable result is to move the camera only before the shutter is about to close.  Understandably, you will need a long exposure.

The shot of today was done with the shutter being dragged to one second; the EXIF info is quite confusing though.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Rise of Photography

DSC00694L (Camera: Sony A55)

Recently, the author had a chance to interview a locally-born fine arts trader from Europe. He revealed that since the financial doldrums swept across Europe, the fine arts community has been giving a heavier weight to photography as a medium of fine arts, and a profitable one.

The reason is that both the fine arts creators and buyers are short of funds. Cost-wise, photography is reasonably affordable to both sides. Also, given the wide possibility in "tempering" with digital images, fine arts makers have greater elbowroom than in the film era to let their imagination fly. He commented that photography has never been treated on the such a same footing as other fine arts media in history.

According to him, photography in at least the filed of fine arts will increasingly lean towards the trend of storytelling.  That is to say, a good quality image will be defined as the one rich in textures both technically and in substance. This, to the author, could be the same trend in the general photography community. With the ever expanding number of camera buyers who will hopefully become photographers to numb our sense with uncountable images, the ability to tell a story in an image will probably be an important factor for us to differentiate between a winning photo from the rest.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Young At Heart

P1010648L (Camera: Panasonic GF2)

He is sitting on the fire hydrant. At his background is a sitting-out area with plenty of empty benches. But he has chosen his seat.

This is Sunday. Fun day!