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In Which I Buy and Test More Gear…

August 23, 2014  |  Cameras GPS Logs

As you may or may not know, I’ve been getting into the Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless camera format for the last year or so. It started right after I lugged around a giant gripped dSLR, a 24-105mm lens and a 100-400mm lens all over the Alaskan Panhandle. Upon returning to 75Central HQ in Dallas, I swore I’d never do that again. Impressed by mirrorless cameras, especially the work (and influence) of Giulio Sciorio over at Small Camera, Big Picture, I picked up a Lumix G6 and a couple of lenses. The G6 appealed to me in that it felt like a dSLR, but tiny…it fit my hands and my shooting style. Since then, I’ve taken it to such places as San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Chicago. Below are some of the great shots I’ve gotten with this little camera.

 

So, as you can see, it’s a pretty capable camera and system. Lately, however, I’d been wanting a decent wide prime lens and so had been perusing the forums at mu-43.com and came across the well-regarded Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 “pancake” lens. Impressed with the sample images that users had posted to the forum, I found a used one in “Ex+” condition at KEH.com, the well-regarded purveyors of used photo gear. Having never bought from them before, I took a chance and bought it. I got it yesterday, so I needed to thoroughly test it out, which is where the second outlay of money comes in this story.

I’ve been wanting a second camera body for a while…another micro four-thirds camera to carry around so I wouldn’t have to switch lenses as often as well as something that my lovely wife, Laura, could take with her on occasion as she travels. Having read several excellent reviews, I decided I wanted to take a good look at the tiny Panasonic GM1.

Z-panasonic-gm1_inHand

Unfortunately, the only camera store in the entire Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex that’s worth going to is the excellent Arlington Camera. The unfortunate part of that statement comes from the fact that I live in Addison, on the north side of Dallas, so the drive to the camera store is roughly 40 minutes. (This actually might be a good thing, as it prevents me from casually dropping in to spend money). So, I decided I’d drive out to Arlington this morning, see if they had a GM1 I could look at, then go to the University of Texas at Arlington campus to walk around a bit to test out the new lens I bought.

So I got to Arlington Camera, held this incredibly-small interchangeable lens camera in my hand and immediately laid down my credit card to make it mine (seriously, that photo above doesn’t do it justice in illustrating its smallness). Much to my chagrin, however, was that the battery was nearly dead, so I wouldn’t be able to test it out properly until I got home, leaving the Lumix G6 to do the testing of the new lens.

As for that lens testing, it went extremely well and I’m very pleased with my purchase from KEH (and would do it again if they’d get a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II in). I’ll be slowly posting a few photos from the test photowalk over on the photoblog.

Bonus: The GPS track from today’s quick test walk:

Tour_Guide_and_Google_Earth

 

 


Observations on the Lumix G6

June 9, 2014  |  Cameras

In October of last year, after lugging my Canon dSLR and a couple of really heavy L lenses around Alaska for a week, I made the decision that I needed something smaller. I’d been thinking about it for a while, having bought a Fujifilm x100 a couple of years ago, which had been giving me pleasing results. Having seen a lot of other photographers make the leap to mirrorless for almost all of their work, I was ready to follow suit. I considered going with Fujifilm’s X-Mount series of cameras, but the lack of third-party lenses, as well as an incomplete range of lenses, was a sticking point. As well as Lightroom’s continued issues with decoding the xTrans sensor’s data, which was a big deal since I practically live in Lightroom. So I decided to go with Micro Four-Thirds. I visited my local camera shop, Arlington Camera, and handled a few Panasonics and Olympuses, looking for something that felt “right”. I settled on the G6. It fit my hand well, wasn’t uncomfortable to hold for long periods and had a viewfinder built-in rather than the add-on viewfinder that’s been pretty popular with other M43 cameras. I got the 14-42 lens and a 100-200 lens for a bit of extra reach and started shooting. Since then, I’ve taken it to Las Vegas, Chicago and San Francisco and have been very happy with the results. Some observations I’ve made since starting to use it:

  1. A battery grip would be the single best accessory for the G6. Unfortunately, one doesn’t exist, but if it did, I would gladly pay almost any price for it. Despite it fitting my hand well, the camera body is still pretty small and the last two fingers of my right hand curl under the body rather than wrapping around the grip when I hold it, so a grip would help alleviate this awkwardness. On top of that, the battery life of the G6 isn’t that great since it must power either the LCD screen on the back, the tiny LCD screen in the viewfinder or both at all times. I find myself having the change the battery after 400 shots or so on average (I’ve invested in seven spare batteries), so a battery grip would cut this changing ritual by half, which would be welcome when out in the field (since the SD card slot is in the battery compartment, it would require some ingenuity to create a grip, but I can imagine that Panasonic could easily build a second, accessible slot into the grip.
  2. Color rendering is different than my Canons or x100. I’ve noticed that the color rendering of the G6 is profoundly different than the colors I get out of my other cameras. And not in a bad way. The best word I can think of to describe it is “delicate”. Whereas the Canons and the x100 seem to err on the side of a lot of color, the G6 seems to render scenes with more “realistic” color. The world is rarely as vibrant as photos would suggest, so the G6 seems to try to get colors to match their real-life subjects as accurate as possible. Thankfully, I shoot in RAW and can up the saturation as needed in post, but I find that the more-realistic colors are often more-pleasing to my eye and tend to not push the saturation as much as I might on a Canon RAW file.
  3. The user interface can be confusing. Maybe it’s just me, but I constantly find myself changing the function of various buttons by accident and then have to stop and fiddle with it to get the desired functionality back. For instance, pushing in the wheel that controls the aperture while in Av mode changes its function to exposure compensation, but I already have a dedicated exposure compensation toggle, so why would I want a second way to adjust it? Just let me lock in the function of this wheel to what makes sense for me.
  4. iA mode is amazing. Call me a heretic, but I’ve been using the Intelligent Auto mode almost exclusively for the last couple of months rahter than sticking with Av like I usually do on my other cameras. In this mode, the camera figures out what kind of scene you’re shooting and smartly decides the best way to shoot it. Taking a portrait? It detects this and sets an appropriate F-stop for a nice bokeh behind the subject. If it’s a portrait of a baby, it ups the shutter speed for any fast, sudden movement. Landscape? It narrows the aperture for maximum depth-of-field. Macro shot? It opens up the aperture. It excels at complex lighting situations that I might’ve struggled with before, such as a towering skyscraper backlight be an overcast sky. Photographic purists would probably turn their noses up to my admission to using iA so much, but it doesn’t bother me. If the tool does what I want it to do and the resulting photos are what I want, then what does it matter to anyone how I got there? Especially since I understand its limitations and therefore know when to take over for the computer and make the settings myself.
  5. It’s incredibly light. Well, duh. It’s a tiny camera, afterall. But I still can’t get over how much of a difference this makes. After walking around all day with a gripped dSLR and a 100-400mm lens stuck on it atttached to my BlackRapid strap, my shoulder would be aching. But with the G6, I can almost forget it’s at my side. This has a profound effect on how much I shoot. Since I can go further for longer on a shoot or photo walk, I tend to come home with a lot more photos than I did before. In fact, I still have photos from my November San Francisco trip that I haven’t really looked at yet.
  6. It isn’t the best choice for all situations. Again, this is a function of knowing your craft. Focus tracking for the G6 (and M43 in general) isn’t that responsive. Since it lacks phase-detection autofocus, it can’t respond to rapidly-moving subjects like a dSLR can, so you’d not want ot use the G6 for sports photography. Or at least not in any sport that involves a lot of fast, erratic movement. Luckily for me, I haven’t shot sprots since college, so it doesn’t really bother me. A second situation it is a bit lacking in is low light, particularly in its noise-handling. Low light photos from the G6 are a bit noisier than I like, but this can be expected from the small sensor sites necessitated by the small sensor. For me, this doesn’t matter too much, as I don’t shoot a lot in low light situations and, if I know I’m going to be in such a situation, I will bring my dSLR and a fast lens.

All-in-all, I’ve been pleased with my decision. Will I stick with micro four-thirds? Probably, though the Fujifilm X-Mount cameras keep enticing me, so maybe once their lineup is more robust, I might jump ship. And, as mentioned, there ara a few situations wherein the M43 cameras don’t yet give the same level of performance.


Focal Length Analysis

March 28, 2013  |  Cameras Technique Workflow

So, I’ve been contemplating a buying a new lens, but I couldn’t decide on what focal length I needed.  Did I want 11-16? 24-70? 24-105? 100-400?  600?

I could make arguments for any of these, but I was still indecisive.  So, I decided to see what focal lengths I have been shooting at to guide me.  And the best way to do that would be to get some statistical analysis going.  Luckily, this isn’t terribly difficult to do with the right tools.

I use Adobe Lightroom as my image catalog/workflow manager and I knew that Lightroom’s catalog files are simply SQLite databases, storing everything from file system locations of images to EXIF metadata to develop settings. And buried in that EXIF data is the focal length of every image in the catalog.  To get to my analysis, here are the steps I followed:

  1. Select a Lightroom catalog to do analysis on.  I chose my main 2011-2012 catalog, which would provide roughly 60,000 images to glean information from.
  2. Open the catalog using SQLite Database Browser and find the table that contains EXIF data.  This table is AgHarvestedExifMetadata.
  3. Export to csv.
  4. Open in Excel.  Round each focal length to its nearest whole number (some cameras write extremely precise decimal representations of focal length, but we’re only interested in the whole number.
  5. Group by focal length and sum the number of images in each focal length.
  6. Create a line graph.

And voila!:

imageanalysis

As you can see, most of my images fall into the 20-100 range of focal lengths.  Therefore, I would probably get the most use out of something like Canon’s 24-105 L series glass.

Of course, this lens is only f4, so it’s not the fastest.  I could do more analysis on the apertures I’ve used over the last few years as well, but I know from experience that I mostly shoot landscapes and urban photography at f8 or higher, so I should be covered.  Also, today’s cameras’ high-ISO performance and that this particular lens has image stabilization that adds roughly three stops of light should cover me.



Stupid Craigslist Ads

August 19, 2011  |  Cameras Craigslist Elsewhere

I regularly troll the local (DFW) Craigslist photo page looking for potential bargains to add to my kit.  Unfortunately, I’ve never found anything that seemed like something I’d want to spend my money on.  And that’s probably because almost everything on there is being sold by people that have unrealistic expectations of the valuation of their gear.  I’m sorry, but just because you spent $900 on a Canon Rebel XTi with the kit lens four years ago doesn’t mean that it’s still worth $900.  Anyhow, I thought I’d share a few of the dumber ads that I found today.

  • “Canon Film Camera”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, that’s nice and generic.  No description or model number or anything…just a demand for you to email them and fork over $250.  I’m sorry, but I can pick up a Canon 35mm camera on eBay for less that $50.  The only way I’d spend more than that on a Canon film camera is if it were a EOS 1, 3 or 1v (which is Canon’s last film camera and currently runs for $1,700, in which case, if you have one, I’ll take if for $250).  But I’m guessing, since you didn’t include any information in your ad, either you’re clueless about photography or are a scammer of some sort.

 

  • Canon EF-S 55-250..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one is confusing, because in the header, they have the price as $250, but in the body, they’re asking for $300.  But it doesn’t matter…you can buy this lens brand-new for $200.  “But their price includes a hood!” you say.  So what?  That hood is only $25.  Or get a perfectly fine knockoff for less than $5.  So why would I want to pay a premium for a lens that you’ve probably dropped a couple of times and violated in other ways?

 

  • Trade…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So you want me to trade my $1700 lens for your $1400 one? Oh, you’ve had a UV filter on it since you got it…that makes up for my $300 loss…

 

 



Great Idea

June 3, 2011  |  Cameras Elsewhere Other

This project on Kickstarter adds a proper shutter button to the iPhone.  I hope it gets made…I would totally buy one.  As it is now, I find it awkward to press the onscreen shutter button on the iPhone, so this would definitely help take my iPhoneography skillz up a notch.

 

 

Red Pop by Beep Industries — Kickstarter.





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