I’ve got a new camera – the new Lumix DMC-G1, from Panasonic. I bought the body with the standard kit lens and also got the long zoom lens at the same time. The kit lens is the Lumix G Vario 14-45mm/F3.5-5.6 ASPH./Mega O.I.S. and the long zoom is the Lumix G Vario 45-200mm/F4.0-5.6/Mega O.I.S. model. The kit lens focal length range of 14-45 corresponds to 28-90 in 35mm terms and the long zoom has a 35mm equivalent of 90-400mm.
This article isn’t going to be your typical camera review and I’m not going to simply quote specifications. If you want something more structured and formal, please go and read the two reviews that I read before taking the plunge – they’re over at Luminous Landscape and Digital Photography Review. Instead, what I’ve aimed to provide here are the initial observations and reactions of a new owner of a G1.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Lumix range, it’s the result of a partnership between Panasonic and the legendary Leica camera company of Germany. Leica’s main input to the partnership is apparently the design, though not necessarily the manufacture, of the lenses (aka “the glass”), while Panasonic provides the electronics.
While previous Lumix cameras have been, I think, fairly conventional compact cameras or SLRs, this new camera is the first “Micro Four Thirds System” camera. I would say that, basically, this means it’s rather like a regular SLR, but it loses some of the “baggage”. You can read a bit more about it here.
Note that the Micro Four Thirds system is the evolution of the Four Thirds system that was first introduced around about 2003.
I have been a Canon user for getting on for 20 years. However, the change actually came as an easy decision.
I wasn’t too happy with my last purchase, the PowerShot G9, so that kind of paved the way. (The G9 is a remarkable camera in many ways, but it’s also, in my opinion, a flawed camera. Image noise and a fixed LCD monitor on the back are the two main things that come to mind, in case you’re curious. Even when the G10 came out, Canon still had not reinstated the vari-angle LCD. NB Vari-angle is Canon’s term and the equivalent Lumix term is “free-angle”. Me? I tend to use “flippy out” display. Now you know what I’m talking about!)
I’d read some discussion of the new Micro Four Thirds range when it was announced in the summer of 2008 and thought it sounded rather interesting. Then, quite out of the blue, in early December, I came across some discussion of the now shipping first model of this new format camera. (It was over at The Online Photographer – most likely this article.) It seemed as if it had been out for several weeks by that time. I found this very interesting and did a bit if online research and got a sense that this was an exceptional camera…
Well, to cut a long story short, two days later I had bought the new system. And just in case my Mum is reading this, Mum – “the devil made me buy this camera”! (For anyone else who doesn’t recognise this quote, listen along here and substitute “camera” for “dress”! 🙂 )
I unpacked the camera as soon as I got home, and glanced over the first few pages of the manual. It specifically advised me to put the battery on to charge – even although the battery seemed to have about a half-charge in it. Okay, well, that would give me a chance to do a few things, such as get the RAW conversion software installed on my Mac, thread the neck-strap onto the body and have an initial glance over the manual.
Two and a half hours or so later, once the battery was fully charged, I finally got to play with my new toy. (NB the subtle demonstration of “patience” there – I think you know to whom I’m talking… 😉 .) I decided to work through the various menu settings to see what was available and then just have a general play with it.
So far, I’ve had two comparatively short outings with the camera. Not enough to get to know it well yet, but enough to form some initial opinions about it – and that’s what you’re really interested in, isn’t it? Okay – without further ado, here are some thoughts about the new Lumix DMC-G1. (NB these are not really presented in any particular order, so don’t read anything into that…)
It feels well engineered and has a rubberised finish. Not too plasticy.
Yay for the “flippy out” display!! It’s a nice, clear, large display. I’m looking forward to trying to get some extremely low-angle shots with this.
Mega-OIS Switch Location
The switch that turns on and off the image stabilisation is a physical switch on the barrel of each lens. This makes it easy to turn on and off, which is a boon if you’re swapping between hand-held use (where you’d want it turned on) and tripod-based use (where you’d want to turn it off). When I’m out and about, I’m inclined to swap between hand-held and tripod-supported use fairly often.
On the PowerShot G9 the image stabilisation is software controlled and it takes six clicks through the menus just to get to the point where you can turn it off or back on, so even when I did remember to turn it off or back on, it was a fiddle making the change.
Pervasive RAW Mode
My previous RAW-shooting Canons have permitted the selection of RAW images when shooting in M, Av, Tv and P modes (that’s M, A, S and P respectively in Lumix-speak). When I’ve been out doing my “serious” photography, RAW mode is what I’ve used. However, if I have been at, say, a family gathering and just wanted to grab some snapshot portraits and have set the camera to use “portrait” mode, the Canons have only shot JPG images. The Lumix G1, however, seems to quite happily allow me to continue to shoot both RAW and JPG images regardless of my shooting mode.
I like the way that the front dial (front-mounted, just below the shutter release) is used to control a variety of settings – including swapping between setting your exposure and dialling in exposure compensation (deliberately under or over-exposing an image, relative to the metered exposure). As a dial, naturally it rotates. But it’s also a switch – push it in and it will set or toggle depending on the context. Additionally, there are some modes where is can be used as an alternative to the “cursor” control buttons on the rear of the camera.
It feels much smaller than I remember my EOS 350d being.
In spite of that, when I attach the quick-release plate from my Manfrotto tripod, the battery door is not blocked. This means that I can leave the quick-release pate permanently attached.
On the PowerShot G9, the hinge of the battery cover was immediately adjacent to the tripod socket – this meant that I had to remove the quick-release plate every time I needed to recharge the battery.
There is no movie mode. Call me old fashioned, but if I want to shoot “serious” movie footage, I’ll dig out my camcorder.
The Lumix allows me to shoot up to seven images in a set of bracketed shots. I’m specifically referring to exposure bracketing here, not white balance bracketing or “film” bracketing – both of which it can also do. The Canon cameras I have used have always restricted me to the basic three images. (I see this as being useful when shooting multiple images to be blended to produce an HDR image.)
Additionally, I can use auto-bracketed exposures when shooting in manual (M) mode. (In fact, it looks as if I can use auto-bracketing in almost every shooting mode (eg the advanced scene modes: “scenery” and “close-up”). Canon took away the ability to use auto-bracketing in M on the PowerShot G9.
Auto Bracket Sequencing
A small but nice touch here – the Lumix gives me the option to choose the order in which the bracketing is executed. From my Canons, I am conditioned to expect it to shoot the metered reading first, then the under-exposed image and finally the over-exposed image. The G1 gives you the option to change this to the more natural sequence of under-exposed, metered and over-exposed. ie the images show a gradual brightening from left to right across the sequence. Using the Lumix shorthand notation that’s either “0/-/+” or “-/0/+” respectively. Once I become more accustomed to the camera, I might give this alternative setting a try.
NB when shooting with seven steps in the first “Canon” mode, the sequence is
“ 0 / – / + / – – / + + / – – – / + + + ”.
There’s one nice extra option for the self-timer on the G1. In addition to either a two second or a ten second delay before my image is taken, I can choose a third option. I can choose a ten second delay after which the G1 will then shoot three images with approximately a 1 second gap between them. I could see this being really handy if you’re using a tripod and shooting groups of people, especially if you’re going to run and join in. It would increase your chances of getting a shot worth keeping – one where nobody is blinking or looking away or whatever normally spoils your group photos – for less work than you’d have to put in when shooting one image each ten seconds.
Lens hood on standard kit lens
Panasonic supplies a plastic lens hood as standard. The long zoom comes with its lens hood too.
Panasonic have provided a printed paper manual. (Canon, at least with the G9, only supplied the manual as a PDF on the accompanying CD. Cheapskates!) Of course, since there’s only a table of contents and no index, it would have been handy if they had also supplied it as a PDF, but they didn’t. However, I was able to find a PDF on their Web site and download that. Now, if I want to search for a particular term while I’m in the vicinity of my computer, I can easily do that with the PDF, instead of flicking backwards and forwards through the printed manual. Of course, I can still carry the printed manual with me and refer to it when I’m out with the camera.
These are mostly mere niggles (things which are done differently by Panasonic and to which I need to become accustomed) and not serious problems.
Lens hood on standard kit lens
When it’s not in use, you can flip the lens hood around and mount it “backwards” on the lens. However, in this position, it makes effective zooming impossible. If you leave the camera around your neck (or over your shoulder) while you’re out, you can leave the hood attached normally, so this isn’t a big deal. But if you’re frequently putting it in and out your gadget bag, it’s an irritation.
Odd image file names
This threw me at first and took a bit of detective work to explain. After returning from my first outside shoot, I found a mix of two file name styles. Some were your standard type, such as “P1000015.JPG”. But the majority followed this style of naming: “_1000016.JPG”. This applies to RAW images too.
It turns out that images shot with the sRGB colour space are named with the “P” prefix while images shot with the AdobeRGB colour space receive the “_” prefix. This snippet is tucked away at the back of the manual and it was only because I was able to search the PDF version of the manual that I was able to find this tiny bit of information.
I had set AdobeRGB as my default and the majority of my images on this trip were shot using either the M or the Av modes. However, a small number had been shot with the pre-configured “scene” modes and it was these shots that reverted to using the sRGB colour space.
The G1 requires you to pick your bracket range from six predefined configurations: three, five or seven shots, with a step size of either 1/3 or 2/3 stop. That gives a total bracketing range of +/- 2 stops. With my previous Canon experience, I was expecting to be able to dial in the size of the steps and with, say, a 1 stop step, be able to get potentially up to +/- 3 stops – or even better. While I can see certain advantages to be gained from implementing exposure bracketing the Lumix way, I feel that their approach is limiting.
Shooting Bracketed Sets
Having made my bracketing selection, there seems to be only two ways I can fire off a set of bracketed images: (1) press and hold the shutter release button until the set is complete or (2) repeatedly press and release the shutter release until I have individually accounted for each image within the set.
Assuming that I’m using a tripod to shoot my bracketed set – which I mostly would be – I’d much prefer to be able to use the self-timer (in lieu of a remote shutter release) – just as I have always been able to do on my Canons. This would reduce the chance of introducing camera shake when pressing the shutter release button on the camera body. However, the Lumix G1 uses the “drive mode lever” to choose between the following options: (1) single-shot mode, (2) burst mode, (3) auto-bracket mode and (4) self-timer mode. In other words, I can use either auto-bracket mode or self-timer mode – but not both at the same time.
I would assume that if I buy the optional remote shutter release then this grumble would be dismissed. Which brings me to…
Remote Shutter Release
This is basically a switch that replicates the camera’s shutter release: depress it halfway to engage autofocus, depress it fully to take the photo. Additionally, the switch can be slid to one side to lock it when using, for example, “B” (bulb) for long exposures. It’s on the end of a bit of wire – there’s no infra-red or radio control going on here.
Since Jessops don’t list the part online, I called my local Panasonic shop and enquired if they could supply the remote shutter release. They didn’t have it in stock but they could order it for me. And how much would that set me back I enquired? The salesman on the end of the phone looked it up for me and shared my surprise when he quoted … £60!
It’s not even specific to the DMC-G1. Searching online, I’ve found references to it being suitable for several other Lumix cameras. I haven’t ordered it yet, but I will probably decide that I have no choice but to give in and go to “the Robber Panasonic” and order one. (I’ve still to claim some expenses from my work for a training course I recently attended. If I nominally use that money, it won’t seem the same as simply dipping into my pocket to pay for it…)
£60!!! 😯 😯 😯
RAW Conversion Software
“SILKYPIX Developer Studio 3.0 SE” is the officially supplied RAW conversion software. And it looks like I’m going to have to learn how to use it.
Adobe has recently released a Camera RAW update to include support for the G1. However, this requires either Photoshop CS4 or Lightroom. My Photoshop is CS3, I have no plan to upgrade to CS4 and I don’t use Lightroom. Instead, I’m an Aperture user – but Apple has yet to add support for the G1, and there’s the possibility that they might not.
This means that I’m probably going to have to proceed with the following workflow… (1) Shoot both RAW and JPG images. (2) Import the JPGs into Aperture for cataloguing. (3) When I want to do some serious work on a particular image, locate the RAW file and process that in SILKYPIX. (4) Take the output from SILKYPIX into Photoshop for any further editing that might be required. It’s a good thing that I’m not a high volume kinda guy!
NB SILKYPIX is not written by Panasonic. Instead, they have licensed SILKYPIX from Ichikawa Soft Laboratory – an independent publisher.
There is no movie mode. While I don’t normally go out to shoot video footage, you never know when you might come across a situation that you might just want to film…
Apparently the next model planned in this range is expected to be able to shoot HD footage.
I’ve just dug my EOS 350d out and done a comparison between the two cameras with their standard kit lenses. The G1 is not really as small as I thought it was!
Width: the G1 is only a few millimetres less wide than the EOS.
Height: it’s about 10mm less tall.
Depth: the main bulk of the body is a few millimetres thinner on the G1. Depth-wise, the biggest difference is at the face of the lens mount. Front-to-back, the G1 is about 15mm thinner than the equivalent measurement for the EOS, on account of having done away with the mirror box. The built in flash on the EOS sticks out about 20mm further than the equivalent measurement for the G1.
Lenses: finally, putting the two standard kit lenses together – while the G1’s 14-45 (35mm eq: 28-90) lens is about 5mm shorter than the EOS’s 18-55 (35mm eq: 29-88), the diameter of the G1’s lens is about 15mm narrower.
Before leaving the subject of size, the G1 is not small enough to fit in any (normal) pocket that I have. Which means that if I’m going out with both lenses, I’ll need a gadget bag. In spite of having five contemporary gadget bags from different manufacturers (I’m ignoring the two really old ones that still contain my film SLRs), I’m going to have to buy a new bag for this new camera!!
I had hoped to be able to use one of my two old Samsonite “Trekking” camcorder cases. Unfortunately, while the larger one will take both the camera/kit lens combination and the 45-200 lens, it’s just a little too tight for regular use. Ironically, at the moment I’m using a Canon-badged freebie that came with my EOS 350d!
Image Downloading Software
As mentioned previously, the G1 comes with the SILKYPIX RAW conversion software. However, as far as I can tell, there’s no software that will download images from the camera and save them into a folder on my hard drive! (If I was only going to shoot JPGs, I could use Apple’s standard utility – “Image Capture”. Or, of course, Aperture or iPhoto, though I’ve always preferred to keep this process separate. However, it doesn’t recognise – and therefore download – the Lumix RAW images files.)
For now, I’ll have to do this manually. I think I’ll see if I can write some AppleScript that will replace the functionality to which I’ve become accustomed with Canon’s software. Fortunately, this is not a big deal for me as I’m not a high volume photographer.
A minor niggle. The USB cable that is supplied has a smaller plug at the end that connects to the camera than the permanently connected one I already use to connect various different devices. Which means that I’ll now have three cables hanging out my USB hub: one for my iPod Touch, the previously mentioned general-purpose USB cable and now the Lumix cable. (I prefer to connect a camera directly to the computer, rather than removing the storage card each time and using a card reader. I don’t like the potential for wear-and-tear in either situation but, in my opinion, a direct connection is the less risky option.)
Live Viewfinder (aka LVF)
The image that you get when using the LVF in low light situations is a little odd – though perfectly useable, at least for composition. I’m sure that I’ll get used to it quickly. (I haven’t noticed anything odd about using it in bright situations.)
I find the cursor buttons on the back of the camera a little fiddly to use. However, I expect that in time I’ll be able to make changes using these without having to look at them.
Although I’ve listed quite a few “dislikes” about the G1, they’re mostly minor irritations. I’m still really looking forward to the days getting longer and getting more chances to get out shooting with it.
If there’s something that you’re still wondering about and I’ve not mentioned it here, please feel free to leave a question in the comments. There are many features about the camera upon which I’ve not touched…
(Please accept my apologies for the late posting of this article. It really should have been released around the end of December.)