Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Travel Gear - GF1 Re-visited

GF1 - An Old Friend

Hey fellow photo travelers and camera junkies, like most of you I love reading Steve's site to hear his thoughts on the latest kit, I can hardly wait for the Olympus OMD to hit, it just looks sooo cool. In the meantime I got to looking out all of my M43 gear, in addition to the original Kit zoom (Kirk Tuck  seems to like) I have the 45 mm f2.8 Leica designed macro, a recently acquired Samyang fisheye and my old favorite, the extraordinary little 20mm f1.7. This of course becomes what appears initially to be a bit of a weird 40mm equivalent focal length which puts it in no mans land between the favored 35 and 50 mm standards. I don't know why but somehow this focal length really works for me and I find I can shoot all day on it.

Rather than be some strange sort of outcast from the traditional primes family, the 40 mm length somehow combines the best features of both the 35 and 50. It's reasonably wide but can still be used for closer people or street work if you need to. You could argue that this makes it a compromise, but its a good one.

Similarly with the 45mm which gives a very nice 90 MM focal length. There is a big weakness in this otherwise lovely lens though and its the slowish aperture when used with the GF1. I have never been entirely happy in using the GF1 at anything above 400 ISO and despite the inbuilt lens stabilization, the need for shutter speeds in the 1/100th second range for good sharpness means that the lens needs decent light to work at its best. Having said that, it does focus close and delivers good results. I tried to capture the beauty and dignity of dying flowers in this shot which required getting really tight to the Frangipani flowers.

Back to the GF1 and I have to say that I have probably used 3 cameras in my time that I have gotten really close to and this is one (I will talk about the other two in a future post) Let me tell you why.

About a year ago in an attempt to further develop my skills I signed up for the marvelous Thorsten Overgaard photography extension course and despite the fact that I am only half way through it (my fault entirely) it triggered a period of fantastic creativity for me through his belief in learning your camera intimately and then getting it out of the way of your shooting process. Because of this exercise I forced myself to learn every intricacy of the GF1 and I could manipulate it instantly to do what I wanted without much conscious thought. I would anticipate a scene, have the camera already set up for the environment and often spot meter from something that looked right to get the exposure - guess what ??? I firmly believe that my photography took a leap forward.

I almost exclusively shot with the 20mm, nearly always wide open and my framing and exposures improved dramatically. I wandered around Singapore and had an absolute ball just shooting in rhythm. I know that this is why so many people like Leica M9's, the process becomes different and the camera craft is much more aligned to thoughtful shooting and I believe that the GF1 and its simple, mainly manual interface allowed me to find my own approach in similar way.

Like the NikonV1 that I have been using extensively recently, the GF1 is a very discreet and quiet camera in use. It lacks the blistering speed of use of the V1 but I still believe that the RAW images at ISO below 400 are better and need less work. It's add on viewfinder is stone age by comparison to the V1 but it still allows basic composition although there is no subtlety at all about it.

Again, like other small cameras I own, I found that I carried it more as well, and through my familiarity with it this led to me getting more instantaneous, unplanned shots than normal for me.

I also traveled extensively with the GF1 and had a particularly good time with it in Bali where I got a nice series of shots of the ferry at Kusamba Beach.

I firmly believe that the simplicity of use and familiarity I had with the camera helped me enormously to move around shooting high and low to get the subjects above or below the horizon depending on what the shot needed.

If you ever get a chance to go to Kusamba Beach it can be a little tricky to find this particular location so its best to take a taxi and ask him to take you to where the salt farmers are. You need to be there very early, well before sunrise in fact if you are to get the best shooting light and activities. There is something I like very much about the quality of the light there and I think its partly to do with the black volcanic sand, white surf and early morning light. I de-saturated these photos for a particular look that I was trying to achieve so it doesn't accurately reflect the actual lighting - in retrospect I should have left them alone :)

Its astonishing to watch people board these ferry's and very often the porters have to carry passengers through the surf.

Anyway, enough of this reminiscing, I have worked up sufficient enthusiasm to charge the battery and get shooting with this lovely camera again (there's also a sneaking urge to try a GX1....)

Well that's it for this short post guys, I am very interested to hear from anyone else that has a love affair with the GF1, please leave a comment or pop me a note.