Sunday, June 24, 2012
Panasonic GX1 - How did I miss this??
Hey fellow photo travel fans, welcome to this short post on my latest purchase, the delicious little Lumix GX1. First of all, how did I miss this delight of a camera?? Those of you that read this blog will know of my deep affinity for the GF1 which I have been using since it came out but somehow I didn't really catch on to this updated version. I think what put me off initially was that I read of the change to a touchscreen interface for the shooting menus from the GF1 shooting dial and that for me was one of the killer features of the GF1. Anyway, I saw a GX1 advertised on Singapore's Clubsnap site for S$630 and as I was looking for an M43 partner for the OMD for my upcoming trip to Istanbul (more later), I went ahead and bought it and boy, am I pleased I did :)
On the shooting menu and touchscreen interface, its nothing like as bad as I feared. I still much preferred the GF1 dial as I frequently use bracketing to protect exposure on the ISO sensitive GF1 and also use the 2 second timer setting when I am in low light and don't want to press a shutter. So why bother with the GX1 if I still prefer the GF1 controls? Well, quite simply, the GX1 is a much more mature camera. The body, grip and in particular sensor are vastly improved over the GF1, and it was a pretty mean design from the start. In particular, the grip on the GX1 is exceptional for such a small camera, this is really well thought out design at its best. The ridged front grip combines very elegantly with a raised thumb rest type grip on the rear to provide a solid and comfortable hold. The sensor is also a huge improvement and pretty much up there with the my favorite camera of the moment the Olympus OMD. The above shot of the busker and the following shot were both taken in pretty murky light and the camera has done a great job of handling them. A little tweaking of the robust RAW files and I have very usable results which would have been simply impossible with the GF1.
The white balance was also spot on and although the meter has a slight tendency towards under exposure its easily adjusted on the simple compensation dial which toggles nicely with the aperture setting. This is a feature it shares with the GF1 and one I like very much, it seems to be the two controls that I use most and they interact nicely.
Something to consider if you are thinking of getting one of these is that you really need to get the EVF attachment, it really does transform the handling and I really like the flexibility to tilt it. I paid S$300 for one which significantly boosted the overall cost and suddenly it wasn't looking such a bargain. Having said that its still cheaper than the OMD which I think is fair as the OMD outperforms it in several handling areas such as the water/dust sealing and better quality articulated rear screen.
Another area of clear improvement in the GX1 over the GF1 is its color handling. I need to go on record here as being badly color blind and to having a liking for the slightly strange tones from the GF1 which I always felt looked great when slightly desaturated. It is clear even to my eyes that the GX1 is more accurate and the colors also respond very well to the vibrance and contrast controls in Lightroom. I have to say that the files behaved well in editing and they have much more leeway for adjustment. Incidentally, the above shot was taken at a Graffiti art competition at Marina Bay in Singapore.
The more I messed around with the GX1, the happier I became with it as a choice to work with the OMD on my Istanbul trip which is predominately about taking a photojournalistic approach to a theme on the city. One reason for the success of the blend is that they compliment each other very well. The OMD has its lovely tilting screen for high/low angle shooting and its body image stabilization make it better for use with my primes (none of which are stabilized) in low light. I can see me using the Sigma 30 and Olympus 45 on the OMD and the wider Lumix 14 and fast 20 on the Lumix. While the GX1 is very discreet and holds well in one hand and has a cool little ace up its sleeve with the tillable in built flash. I snapped the following shot by tilting the flash into its upwards setting and holding the palm of my hand flat behind it as a reflector. I was blown away with how natural the result looked and to my eyes it has none of the shadow and flatness normally associated with built in on camera flash. This is one of the few cameras that I know of where you can do this with a built in flash and its a great technique for close in portrait and street snapshots. The only watch out is that the skin tone from your hand can make for an overly rich cast on the subject. It worked fine in this one though.
Usually when I am editing my photos I often get a very strong urge to convert to B&W but I found myself having so much fun with the GX1 files in color that I don't yet have a single B&W conversion. Look at the lovely red in the following shot, really cool rendering and with just a little vibrance added.
I think you can probably tell how pleased I am with this low cost addition to my camera family but here is the real impact of this choice. It has spurred me to clear out my dry cabinet and bag collection !!! I really can't see the reason to carry a lot of gear on my travels from now on. I have always liked to travel as light as possible but I am now so bought into the M43 system and the little Nikon V1 that I simply don't see me taking a DSLR on a trip again (hope I don't live to eat these words ....) I have sold off my Nikon D300 and am working my way through my large Nikon mount lens collection. I do intend to keep my D3 and a few of my best primes but the rest are going along with the larger bags and Think Tank systems.
If you are interested in the GX1 then here are a few reviews from people whose opinions I really respect and they give a nice balanced view. First up Steve Huff , and I think its fair to say that Steve was a little disappointed that the GX1 didn't make up more ground with an in-built EVF and in body stabilisation. I have to say that I am with him on both of these comments but the add-on EVF is very good and has the benefit of tilting (along with the drawback of significant extra cost) and unfortunately, like Nikon and Canon, Panasonic I believe made the mistake of going for lens stabilization. The reason I think this is a mistake is because of the legacy lenses that would benefit from body stabilisation and even the wide and mid range primes that Lumix brought out don't have OS. Here are a couple of other reviews from guys who's attitude and output I really admire. If you get a chance have a look at what Bert Stephani has done with the GF1 and a little flash here , and here is his short review on the GX1. I also like this review by Rob Mitchell where he looks at the OMD and GX1 together (he also reviews the GX1 seperately) Finally, here is a more technical look at the camera by Gordon Laing at Camera Labs. Interestingly, Gordon took the GX1 as his camera of choice on an extended holiday trip and you can see his thoughts on that and the lenses he chose in his video blog on the trip.
Well, that's about it on the GX1 folks and my thoughts are turning seriously to the upcoming Istanbul trip which is based around a workshop with Peter Turnley and I am really excited about the whole adventure which is a real break from my normal travel style of photography. I am sure I will learn loads and am hoping to update the blog with my thoughts as the course develops. In the meantime, have fun shooting and I may have time for one quick post on the gear I am taking and the trip prep before I go, so keep your eyes peeled for that one.