Thursday, 23 July 2015

Lumix GX8

Panasonic recently released the Lumix GX8. So what is it all about?

The Lumix GX7 was a ground breaking camera. The first from Panasonic to feature in-body image stabilization (IBIS) through moving sensor, and the first to have a "rangefinder layout", with the eye level viewfinder on the top left side. The Lumix GX8 is essentially the same camera, but brings the specifications up to date, and becomes the first Micro Four Thirds camera with a 20 megapixel resolution.

CameraLumix GX7Lumix GX8
AnnouncedAug 1st, 2013July 16th, 2015
PriceUS$650 incl lensUS$1200 body only
Flash X-sync1/320s1/250s
Max shutter speed1/8000s1/8000s (mechanical), 1/16000s (electronic)
Resolution4592 x 3448 (16MP)5184 x 3888 (20MP)
Max video resolution1080p4k
Built in flashYesNo
Weight402g487g
Dimensions (mm)123 x 71 x 55133 x 78 x 63
In-body image stabilization (IBIS)YesYes

Camera body


The original GX7 is a quite big and heavy camera, and the GX8 becomes even bigger. However, it grows to give room for better ergonomy, which I think is a good choice. While the GX7 has an oddly shaped and not very useful front grip, the GX8 has a proper grip which gives much better handle on the camera. It also gains a fully articulated LCD screen (which is actually based on OLED technology), and the camera becomes weather protected.


Eye level viewfinder (EVF)


This camera has both an articulated OLED viewfinder screen, and an electronic eye level viewfinder (EVF). There is a sensor which detects when you want to use the EVF, and automatically switches between the two. Compared with the GX7, the GX8 has a higher eyepoint, which essentially means that you can see the whole image frame from a bigger distance, a plus for people who wear glasses.

One reason for using the EVF is bright light: On a sunny day, you may find that it hard to see anything at all on the rear screen. However, for the EVF to be any better, it has to be protected by some rubber cover to keep the sun out. Here is an illustration showing the difference between then Lumix GH4 EVF (bottom) and Lumix GX7 EVF (top, the GX8 has the same design):


As you see, the GX7 (and GX8) has a much smaller viewfinder cover, which makes it less useful on a bright, sunny day.

And, just like the GX7, the GX8 also has a tilting EVF. Sure, I can see that this can be useful some times. But it is hardly a feature which has been in very high demand.

Some enthusiasts crave rangefinder style cameras with the EVF on the left side. This style is often associated with classic Leica M cameras.

However, real coupled rangefinder cameras like the Leica M have the viewfinder on the left side for a reason: The rangefinder mechanism, which is very complicated and requires skilled calibration to work, relies on being placed at some horizontal distance from the window which extracts the depth information. Hence, it needs to be placed on the side of the camera for the "rangefinder base distance" to be sufficient, see this illustration:


When looking in the viewfinder of a classic rangefinder camera, there is a centre split image you can use as a focus assist: Overlap the images, and the object is reasonably in focus:


Modern cameras like the Lumix GX8 of course have autofocus, and this type of split image focus assist is not relevant anymore.

Reasons for preferring the left side viewfinder, even when it is not technically needed as in the old days, are typically:

  • When using the right eye to look into a rangefinder style viewfinder, you can keep the left eye open to see the surroundings at the same time. However, this is also possible with all SLR style cameras I have tried. I have not yet used a centre viewfinder camera which is so bulky that you cannot see over the left shoulder of the camera body with the left eye.
  • With a rangefinder camera, you don't need to press the camera body into your nose. I can agree that nose smear on the LCD screen can be annoying, but on the other hand, being able to press the camera towards your face gives a more stable position, good for taking sharp images or recording a stable video clip.

Anyway, the rangefinder style looks like classic Leica M rangefinder cameras. So you often find this style among expensive cameras with a premium ambition, e.g., the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and Fujifilm X100.

Clearly, this is not the camera to go for if you want the smallest possible kit. That would be the Lumix GM5. But given that you want a rangefinder style camera with good ergonomy, the new body style of the GX8 will be a better match for most users.

20MP resolution


The Lumix GX8 will be the first to feature the new 20 megapixel resolution Four Thirds sensor. Most likely, this is the sensor announced by Sony in April. I would have guessed that the sensor would first be seen in a Mark II of the Olympus E-M1, due for an upgrade soon, given Sony's closer cooperation with Olympus.

The sensor is quoted to have a maximum framerate of 27FPS for the full sensor readout. As only the 16:9 crop, 75% of the whole sensor area, is used for 4K video, it sounds likely that this sensor is capable of delivering 4K video of up to 30FPS, as would be required by a new premium camera today. But it sounds like the sensor would be quite prone to rolling shutter artifacts in 4K mode, with this readout speed.

Is 20MP enough in todays market? Sadly, I think the answer is no. Most competitors are now up to 24MP resolution. One could argue that the Lumix GX8 market segment are more knowledgeable enthusiasts, who may think that a high resolution is not that important. But still, with most cameras still at 16MP resolution, Micro Four Thirds is clearly at a disadvantage. The huge lens lineup of M4/3 is an advantage, but to a consumer visiting the store, this is not so easy to see.

Are you going to notice any significant difference when going from 16MP to 20MP? This corresponds to 25% increase in resolution, and conventional thinking says that this is sufficient to be noticeable. But you should not expect any huge improvement. It corresponds to an extra 450 pixels of vertical resolution, so no big deal.

And are the lenses up to the task of rendering details at 20MP? I have tested a number of Lumix kit zoom lenses using the high resolution mode of the Olympus E-M5 Mark II here. This shows that newer kit zoom lenses are indeed up to the task. Avoid the first version of the Lumix G 14-140mm superzoom lens, as the second is much better (see a comparison here). If you want a compact zoom lens, avoid the Lumix PZ 14-42mm pancake, as it is not very good optically. Rather, go for the newer Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6, which is much better.

Most Micro Four Thirds lenses will handle the 20MP resolution just fine.

Video


As you would expect from a premium camera today, the Lumix GX8 of course has 4K video. Unlike the Lumix GH4 (my review) it uses the whole sensor (in 16:9 crop) for the 4K video. The GH4, in the other hand, only does so at a 1.3x crop, which is of course a disadvantage. The illustration shows the GH4 4K recording area (red/blue), and the GX8 4K recording area (yellow):


Still, the GH4 does trump the Lumix GX8 in one area: It can record video at both PAL and NTSC framerates (25/50 FPS and 30/60 FPS). This mode switching is quite useful. For example, even if my Lumix GH4 is a PAL version camera, I mostly use it in 30 or 60 FPS. This is to match the framerates of my other cameras, which tend to only support 30/60 FPS, even if they are bought in Europe (Nikon and Olympus).

4K Photo


Just like all other recent Panasonic cameras, the Lumix GX8 has the 4K Photo mode. Read more about the 4K Photo mode here.

In essence, this mode aims to change the way we photograph. Rather than taking one single exposure, using the 4K Photo mode, the camera will capture a stream of 4K resolution video frames, about 8MP each, at 25 or 30 FPS, depending on it being a PAL or NTSC area camera. You can then later go through this stream of images, and select the one you like. Or you can use it as video.

The downside is of course the lower resolution, only 8MP, rather than 20MP in photo mode. Also, you lose the opportunity to use the RAW image file, which would have provided better adjustment possibilities later. If you need to change the white balance later, this is much easier with a RAW file.

Image stabilization


With the Lumix GX7, you had to decide which stabilization technique to use: In-body image stabilization (IBIS) or optical image stabilization (OIS). The Lumix GX8 can use both at the same time, for the best effect, especially with tele lenses.

However, this is only possible when using Panasonic brand lenses with OIS, after a future firmware upgrade. Some older lenses are not going to be compatible with this combined stabilization mode: The Lumix G 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6, Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6, and Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6. The lens firmware upgrades, needed to support this feature, will be rolled out until February 2016.

It remains to be seen if this provides a significant real life improvement. So far, Panasonic cites that it will improve the effectiveness of long lenses, especially.

Olympus has come a long way with their in-body image stabilization, which has a staggering effect during video recording. See a comparison here. I doubt that the Panasonic system will give you this level of stabilization.

Conclusion


The Lumix GX7 was already a big and heavy camera, and the GX8 becomes even larger. To get a size advantage, you need to take into consideration the generally smaller size of M4/3 lenses, compared with lenses for competing APS-C sensor cameras.

It does gain significant upgrades in features and resolution, but is it really worth the premium price point? I guess this comes down to your preferences. If you like the rangefinder layout, and are mostly into photography, then it does make sense. If you are into video, then the Lumix GH4 still has better features and more options.

And if you are not into the "rangefinder look", you can go for the more competitively priced Lumix G7, which has almost all the features of the GX8, bar the 20MP sensor, and the in-body image stabilization, in a more compact body, still retaining a good ergonomy.

The older Lumix GX7 is still a good camera, and can be gotten at a good price now. Again, for those who like the rangefinder layout and don't care about the 4k video, this is still a good deal. Image quality wise, the GX7, while two years old now, is still close to state of the art for Micro Four Thirds cameras. The development has not gone very fast recently in this area.

At the asking price, the Lumix GX8 is not an easy sell. It is close to that of the Sony A7 series, and then you get a full frame camera, at a similar size. It is only when you start adding lenses, that the Sony system will be significantly larger.

Staying with Sony, there is also the Sony a6000, which also has a rangefinder layout, similar to that of the Lumix GX8, but at half the price. The Sony a6000 has a 24MP APS-C sized sensor, which is very good, and most likely superior to that in the Lumix GX8. In terms of video, though, I would say the GX8 is probably better. On the negative side, the a6000 has an eye level viewfinder which is not so good, and the 16-50mm power zoom kit lens is inadequate, see my test here.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Lumix kit zoom lenses compared

Fans have been puzzled over the large number of kit zoom lenses released by Panasonic. Why reiterate this formula so many times, when the original Lumix G 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 was so good, many will ask.

The answer is probably three-fold: To cut costs, to make the lens smaller, and to improve the quality. Here are the lenses sold in kits after the original zoom lens:


In the front, I have the Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 and the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN, which I will use as reference lenses. After all there are plenty of those who think that a prime lens is always better than a zoom lens, and we shall see if it is true.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Systems compared

When buying into an interchangeable lens camera system, it is wise to evaluate the system as a whole, not just the most recent cameras. Perhaps you find the full sensor 4K and 28MP resolution of the Samsung NX1 intrieging, but is the rest of the system to your liking?

I have tried to compare the camera and lens lineup that a serious enthusiast would typically buy. Now, there are no two equal enthusiasts, of course, so this comparison is not going to be relevant for everyone. But I am going to assume that a typical serious user wants an ergonomic camera body, with a lineup of a fast normal lens, a fast standard zoom lens, a fast tele zoom lens, and a wide angle zoom lens.

Sure there are other lens types as well, for example one might want a fast wide angle lens, a portrait lens, and even a fisheye lens. But in this comparison, I am keeping it simple.

The stars indicate a fitness to purpose, i.e., how well would a serious enthusiast think that this lens satisfies the expectations? This is of course quite subjective.

CameraFast normalFast standard zoomFast tele zoomWide angle zoom
Panasonic M4/3

Total price: US$4,790

Total weight: 1,725g


US$1500
560g

US$600
200g

US$900
305g

US$950
360g

US$840
300g
Olympus M4/3

Total price: US$5,050

Total weight: 2,429g


US$1100
497g

US$350
136g

US$900
382g

US$1400
880g

US$1300
534g

Micro Four Thirds


You'll find the biggest and most mature lens lineup among mirrorless camera systems in Micro Four Thirds. I have made two rows in the table, for Panasonic and Olympus separately, but you can mix them if you want.

For the zoom lenses, you would normally want to match the brand names, though, as they have different strategies towards image stabilization.

I deducted a star off the Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera, as it is not super for video use, and it is aging a bit now. We can expect a new version of the camera within the next year.

Look out for: Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye (my review), probably the best value fisheye lens ever.
Samsung NX

Total price: US$5,010

Total weight: 2,380g


US$1300
550g

US$210
85g

US$1300
622g

US$1600
915g

US$620
208g

Samsung NX


Samsung has been very innovative and packs a lot of features into their products. They have a very good value for money at the moment, but the lens lineup is still a bit immature for what a serious enthusiast expects. They don't have a "proper" normal lens, for example, and not a very wide zoom lens.

For the most bang for buck, keep watching Samsung.
Fujifilm X

Total price: US$5,030

Total weight: 2,687g


US$1150
440g

US$450
187g

US$1200
655g

US$1600
995g

US$800
410g

Fujifilm X


Fujifilm have been good at addressing the "conservative" serious enthusiast, who expects retro designed cameras with old style shutter dials, and aperture rings on the lenses. At the same time, they also pack their cameras with very innovative technology.

Looking at their lineup of lenses and cameras, they have come very far in the relatively short time span of their mirrorless endeavour. They are committed to the APS-C sensor size, and will not be developing full frame cameras.
Sony E APS-C

Total price: US$2,400

Total weight: 1,185g


US$550
344g

US$450
155g

US$300
116g

US$350
345g

US$750
225g

Sony E APS-C


Sony were one of the first movers into mirrorless, but appear to have abandoned their APS-C offerings at this point. They are probably going to release an update of the Sony a6000 camera soon, but they don't appear to plan releasing more enthusiast friendly lenses for this system.

Their kit lens is quite poor, see my test here. And there is no fast tele lens.

Look out for: Yasuhara Madoka 180, a compact, well performing, afforable circular fisheye lens. See my review.
Sony E Full-frame

Total price: US$5,850

Total weight: 2,357g


US$1700
600g

US$1000
281g

US$1200
426g

US$1500
850g

US$450
200g

Sony E Fullframe


On the other hand, it is clear that Sony's focus now is to make a proper fullframe mirrorless system. This is where the bigger margins per unit are. Looking at the table above, you'll see that the Sony fullframe system is the most expensive, but not by a big margin.

Looking at the weights, the system is not that heavy. But keep in mind that the lenses are much more bulky than the other systems here. So even if you don't need to carry heavy, you'll need a larger bag anyway.

However, the zoom lenses are not as fast, and there is no wide angle zoom lens yet. But I am sure Sony are going to fill these gaps soon, especially the wide angle lens. They appear very committed to this fullframe system.

Look out for: Several different versions of the camera, Sony a7R (high resolution, but somewhat sluggish performance), Sony a7S (high sensitivity and 4K video), and Sony a7 II (basic version, features in-body image stabilization).
Nikon 1

Total price: US$2,090

Total weight: 841g


US$1150
381g

US$190
70g

US$0 (included in kit)
85g

US$250
180g

US$500
125g

Nikon 1


The Nikon 1 system, in general, does not have what a serious enthusasist expects. There are no fast zoom lenses, and not many fast prime lenses beyond the Nikkor 32mm f/1.2 portrait lens.

I would say the Nikon 1 system is only for those with very special needs. For example, with the extremely long and compact zoom lens Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, it is the best system for bird photography when you want a very compact and light combo.

Also, the cameras have an impressively fast framerate, up to 60fps including full RAW capture. This makes it useful for sports and other types of specialized photography.

But for general use, I would not recommend Nikon 1 now. The zoom lenses in the table above are certainly good, but not what a serious enthusiast is looking for in terms of the maximum aperture.

Other systems


I did not include the Canon EOS M system here, for obvious reasons: They don't have nearly a system yet, and no lenses which would make it to this list.

When people buy camera systems, a lot still buy DSLRs, i.e., not mirrorless cameras. I did not include DSLR systems on this list. But if I did, you would find that the prices are mostly the same, but the sizes are larger.

DSLR systems are very mature, which translates into moderate prices. But with the longer register distance due to the mirror, both the cameras and the lenses become bigger. And heavier.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Product news

There has been some interesting camera news recently, and here is my take on the situation:

Panasonic


Panasonic have finally launched their update of the greatly under appreciated G6, the Lumix G7:


This camera is a good bargain. It has many of the features of the Lumix GH4 (my review), but at a much lower price, and in a compact body. Since the last iteration, it has gotten a retro friendly angled body, but thankfully retains the ergonomics.

With the G7, Panasonic is aiming at the entry level DSLR users, the crowd who usually goes out buying a camera/lens kit from Canon or Nikon. With this camera, the sales person can say that here you get the same features in a smaller package, and with 4K video, the latest television buzzword, on top! But probably still at a steeper price. And those who look at the specifications, may be worried that 16MP is really enough, now that the most basic Nikon DSLR has got a whopping 24MP.

Monday, 25 May 2015

3D stereo images with two cameras

As new camera models are being introduced, the old ones can be bought at discount prices. There is a rumour currently that Panasonic is soon going to release the Lumix GX8, and I was able to get a pair of Lumix GX7 at a reasonable price. But why would anyone want to get two of the same camera?

Mounting them to a Desmond Mini Dual Camera Bracket, it is easy to set them up for 3D stereo photography. The stereo distance becomes about 140mm here, which is a bit wide, but quite usable:


Note the lenses used: I used an old and new version of the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7. You would want to use the same lens on both cameras, to make sure the images come out comparable. However, even if these two lenses do not look alike, they are optically identical, just having a different body design. See my comparison of the old/new lens here.