July 11, 2010

Panasonic GF-1, travel camera of my choice

Indeed, I often travel with a few cameras, often more than actually needed, and believe me that this is not just my problems.  But I can say, with a camera like Panasonic GF-1, I would have a quicker and more confident answer when asked again - if only one camera is allowed?  Yes, my current choice will go to Panasonic GF-1.  And if just one lens?  Then it will be the excellent 20/1.7.  The Panasonic Micro 4/3 has finally delivered what the 4/3 system wished to achieve years ago when it was developed, and probably the camera that saved the system, that is, when we look at it in mid 2010.  Sure, the Olympus EP-1, EP-2 and EPL-1 are all good, but I did not use them extensively, but base on my experience of using film/digital, technical cameras to pocket cameras, and all brands......Leica, Contax, Alpa, Rollei, Linhof,  Hasselblad, Sinar, Mamiya, Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Olympus and quite a few more.  GF-1 is not the best, but nothing is best!  It gives you the good package of size and quality, fast, rapid and efficient operation. And should I add: capable of decent video capturing?  More on this later, now let's focus on still images.
This one, a typical Nepali street, small, and a little hazy, I was using "M" mode - my own default of shooting regardless of cameras.  The classic "Sunny 16" works before, now, and very well into future, if the fundamental of still image capture is not changed.  I like to use M mode by following this basic rule, where it is dark it is dark, where it is bright it is bright, it is wysiwyg. Of course, with the quick access dial, I can adjust either aperture or speed swiftly, hardly missed any.
And this one, some Nepali kids on the tight street. I pre-focus GF-1 on the kids, pan the camera for recomposition and snap the shot.
One more shot of the street, the Nepali young man reading the newspaper.  GF-1 beautifully render the highlight flooding to the street, while the shadow detail is fully retained.  And this is why I always trust the manual mode and set it around the "Sunny 16", the camera will manage tricky natural light as it is not tricky.  I did this perhaps inherited from those days shooting film.  I believed many modern digital cameras are very clever, but I still prefer to shoot manual, this is just personal preference.
This image of a Nepali woman with her baby, and a passenger on the background indicating of motion, elements I use often.
The GF-1 does a nice job here because it is compact and does not overwhelm your subject, you can get the picture that is more relaxed, natural.
Today's technology allow many mobile device to double as a camera or even video - such as the new iPhone 4 with HD recording and edit/cut on the fly. Something I will report later - when I get one.  But the point is, there are many great images from cellphones, mini pocket cameras because of this relxed, nature approach of getting image.  Let's admit it: a great image is often not about its absolute sharpness or file size, it is the concept and content!  It is photographer and the subject that mattered, camera is just a tool!
Well, the camera is a tool, but often a good craftsman does need a nice tool to fit his hand, and this is why photographer is often fond of good camera and legendary lens, and I am among them. This one, a Nepali kid I found on a street, shoot at a rather close distance.  And this is something about GF-1 and its M4/3 chip.  Because of smaller sensor - 1/2 of full-frame DSLR 24x36mm sensor, the relative aperture is 1/2 smaller as well - which means a lens on GF-1 close to f/2.8 is f/5.6 for lens on full frame DSLR.  This explains why many people like the selected focus (controlled depth of field) of full frame DSLR copares to those with smaller sensors.  But, this also means that one can shoot the lens at larger apature, with more depth and higher shutter speed, so this is not a compromise, it is a choice. And for the same token, the focal length on M4/3 is also 1/2 of full-frame DSLR, so the 20/1.7 is more or less like a 40/3.4 lens for full-frame DSLR.  The real advantage, and many people often miss to comprehend, is, 20mm lens is a 20mm lens, so it is capable of focusing closer than a 40mm lens.  For GF-1's case, its 20/1.7 can focus quite close, 1/2 shoter than a real 40mm lens on full-frame DSLR, so I was able to get this image at such short distance.  Something a real 40mm lens can't - unless it is a macro lens.
To get an idea how busy the small street is, here is a YouTube clip, taken with GF-1.

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