Panasonic GH-1 as an evolution of the brilliant Olympus C8080-WZ

Written by Gary on July 25th, 2009

The Olympus C8080-WZ digital camera was my first real digital camera and the one that really inspired me to get back into photography after many years.

c8080 vs gh1

c8080 rear

When it came out in 2004, the C8080 was the BEST prosumer 8 mp digital camera out there – mainly because of its brilliant lens – a 5x zoom 28-140mm f/2.4-3.5 combined with a larger than normal digital sensor – a 2/3″ 8.8×6.6mm sensor which gave excellent results at ISO 50-200.

This camera was much cheaper than the early dSLRs of its time when you factored in the capabilities of the lens, not to mention, its superb macro capability and its ability to take high quality lens converters such as the 1.4x TCON-14D and 0.8x WCON-08D.

In addition, it offered some features that were non-existent in dSLRs of the time – silent shutter (still non-existent in dSLRs or MFTs), movie mode, live histogram, live preview with frame assist and MF assist via magnification (this did not hit the dSLRs until Olympus brought it out in their uniquely designed E330 several years later), and a very nice, albeit small, flip out live preview LCD which allowed waist level use (still not available on most dSLRs or MFTs without swiveling the LCD sideways).

For all its great features as a high quality travel camera, the C8080 had a few features that let it down including:

  • slow RAW file write time ~13secs during which you couldn’t view image or take photos
  • inadequate contrast detect AF system would always seem to preferentially focus on a contrasty background than a person’s face
  • MF assist not well implemented

I have written extensively about the C8080-WZ here.

Examples of some of the photos I took with my C8080 are here.

Now in 2009, only 5 years later, and we have the incredible features, functionality and versatility of the Panasonic GH-1 which, not surprisingly, builds on all the features of the C8080 and adds interchangeable lens functionality and a much larger sensor with good ISO to 1600 and even 3200, while the GH-1 camera body is smaller and lighter, although the 14-140mm HD kit lens makes it heavier and longer than the C8080 – but you do get a 10x zoom.

The main feature I miss on the GH-1 is its lack of ability to switch to its silent electronic shutter for still images as well as use in its movie mode.

The main features of the GH-1 which puts it well ahead on the C8080 are:

  • larger sensor with shallower DOF, less noise at high ISO – 1600 is very usable
  • interchangeable lenses which allow almost any lens ever made to be put on it
  • 10x zoom optimised for HD video instead of 5x zoom
  • HD video not just VGA video, and with full manual control and AF
  • much faster image processing and burst rate (3.5fps)
  • much improved electronic viewfinder and LCD
  • much improved contrast detect AF with ability to track any object, or recognise faces
  • image stabiliser in lens, which when combined with high ISO performance, allows much lower light capability hand held
  • smaller, lighter body – especially if used with a smaller, lighter lens
  • ability to apply film modes for a different look

If you can’t take great photos with the GH-1, then don’t be blaming the camera – sure it is not perfect for some situations such as rapidly moving subjects when you haven’t pre-focussed, but for the vast majority of situations, it should be a great tool – it’s up to you to make the most of it.

If all this can happen in 5 years, what will the next 5 years bring – I am sure it won’t be big, heavy camera systems that will be leading the way – technology improvements will mean electronic viewfinders will be even better, small sensors will be even better,contrast detect AF and image processing technology and speed will be even better, in-body image stabilisation will be even better – and RAW mode HD videowho will all this technology benefit the most? Yep, the Micro Four Thirds system!

Why carry bigger, heavier cameras around if they do not bring substantially better photo opportunities or image quality?

Do I have to mention it again?

The BEST camera for the shot is the one you brought with you – and for most people, a smaller, lighter camera will be the one they are most likely to bring.

I think the Micro Four Thirds system has hit a sweet spot – an ideal size for HD video (not too shallow a DOF while giving enough to give a filmic experience), and high quality imagery in a compact package.

 

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