Panasonic GH1

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Panasonic GH-1 at ISO 1000 – very yummy indeed!

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras have always had a slight increase in noise at high ISO compared to larger sensor cameras (a small price to pay for compact size and edge-to-edge sharpness), but the GH-1 has narrowed the gap and is a significant improvement over previous models.

I have only just started playing with my GH-1, and on the weekend, I had the pleasure of being a tour guide for a French student staying with us. After a morning at the zoo, it was time for a nice well deserved lunch I knew she would like, and when they brought the dessert out, I couldn’t resist being a nerd – I had to test the GH-1 out in the available light, hand held at ISO 1000 and 1/80th sec:

Dessert at ISO 1000

The above image has not had any noise reduction or post-processing other than cropping and resize for the internet. It demonstrates how good the image stabiliser is on the Lumix 14-140mm lens, and how well the GH-1 works at ISO 1000.

Now, I wonder when they will create a device that could capture the flavours as well?

Oh, and here’s a pic of a rhino walking near the tour bus at the open range zoo, taken with the GH-1 and 14-140mm lens at 125mm focal length (250mm in 35mm terms) at ISO 320 and 1/160th sec, again, no post-processing other than resize for web (click on image for larger view) – a bit of motion blur from the rhino here, should have put camera in shutter priority at 1/500th sec with auto ISO – next time!:


rhino

Given the popularity and interest in the E-P1 and GH-1, I have created a page to try to bring together most of the resources and information relating to the Micro Four Third system.

Panasonic GH-1 vs Olympus E-P1

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I am at a disadvantage here as I only own the Panasonic GH-1 but not the Olympus E-P1, so I only offer this post to provide some completeness to this series on Micro Four Thirds and as such the information is derived from other sources.

see this blog on myfourthirds.com for one such comparison.

Essentially, it would seem still image quality is similar given they both use the same sensor although different processing engines.

Advantages of the Panasonic GH-1:

  • best video experience with its EVF, faster AF, dedicated 10x zoom HD lens, option of 1080i HD video as well as 720p, external microphone socket, dedicated movie start/stop button, 2x digital zoom, film mode button, image stabilisation during video capture, wind cut option, option of AVHCD vs motion jpeg capture, full manual control, face recognition AF during HD video
  • electronic viewfinder gives more dSLR-like experience with potentially steadier camera and improved usability in bright sunlight, not to mention the very nice automatic manual focus assist feature
  • dial based controls make life easier
  • articulating LCD – brilliant for self-portraits, low or high camera positions, and OK for waist level use
  • excellent 10x IS kit lens combined with 2x digital zoom in video mode essentially provides 20x 28-546mm coverage in 35mm terms, in a relatively small package
  • hand grip is nice
  • lens optical corrections automatically applied in-camera for MFT lenses or optionally in RAW processing software – this is particularly important to manage the compromises made to make MFT lenses smaller and lighter than FT lenses which tends to result in distortions and CA
  • faster contrast detect AF

Advantages of the Olympus E-P1:

  • more compact and pocketable and thus you are even more likely to take it with you and have it out ready to use for those unexpected opportunities which you would otherwise miss
  • small retracting kit lens and even smaller 17mm pancake lens – perhaps better suited for more discrete candid photography
  • built-in image stabiliser – works on EVERY lens but unfortunately not during video capture
  • creative art filters may be even more useful than the GH-1′s film modes, particularly when used in movie mode when post-processing is not the ideal solution.
  • more affordable
  • multiple exposure mode
  • timed BULB exposures
  • contrast detect AF whilst slower seems to be more compatible with Four Thirds lenses

I believe the two cameras are complementary and many people will opt for both (and an Olympus E620 or E30 with ZD 50-200mm lens for those special shallow depth of field nice bokeh shots such as portraits, when size and weight is not so important), and of course, the lenses are interchangeable between the two cameras and they both share the same flash system along with the Four Thirds system.

These are THE MOST ADAPTABLE cameras and can be adapted to use almost ANY lens ever made including Leica M, Leica R, Canon FD, Canon EF (at wide open aperture only), Nikon F, Pentax K, Minolta, Olympus Pen, Olympus OM, Carl Zeiss Contax, Hasselblad, Pentax 6×7, Four Thirds, etc.

Perhaps, someone will make a Canon EOS to MFT adapter with full aperture control such as has been made for Redrock video cameras – see here – should be possible.

Luminous-landscape.com – one of my favorite photo websites, has just posted a review of the GH-1 and named it the current ComboCam King – the 1st ComboCam that “get’s it”.

Unfortunately, according to the Panasonic Japanese website, it appears the GH-1 is on back-order and new models may not be available until Sept 2009 :(

Panasonic GH-1 for HD sports video?

Monday, July 20th, 2009

OK, the Panasonic GH-1 is NOT in the same league for video capability for sports when compared to a Sony EX-1, or a RED video camera, but then it is about 2-10% of the cost, size and weight of these cameras and so can play a significantly different role.

Last night, I decided to drop in on a night football game under lights and give the GH-1 a quick test to see how it would do under these demanding conditions.

I was seated in the highest tier seats quite a long way from the action, and certainly not an ideal position – here is a shot from my seat using the GH-1 mounted to the Canon EF 17mm TS-E tilt shift lens (as usual click on it to open a larger image) – remember, in 35mm film terms, this is actually a 34mm field of view not 17mm – so you can see I was a LONG way from the action:

Etihad 17mm TSE

The first video I shot of the St Kilda players bursting through their banner at the other end of the ground – some 200m away, was unfortunately a bit jerky due to my poor panning technique hand held, BUT it shows how good the 2x digital zoom is in video mode. This video has a 35mm equivalent field of view the same as if one was using a 546mm f/5.8 super telephoto – but all I had was the compact, light GH-1 with Lumix 14-140mm HD lens – quite remarkable!

These videos were taken in motion jpeg at 1280×720 at 30fps then converted by YouTube into their format. Sound is via built-in mic. This was with v1.0 firmware – I have not yet updated this to v1.1 which should give even smoother movies and AF. Furthermore, the 720p AVCHD video mode with its 50 fps capture should give a smoother result for action as long as the panning is not too fast and there is not too much background detail (grass should be OK), as this combination causes artefacts in AVHCD.

PLEASE NOTE: If the videos look blocky on your screen, it is because of the YouTube conversion, and you certainly don’t get to see the videos how they appear on my computer at full 1280×720 resolution.

Panasonic GH-1 2x digital zoom = 546mm focal length

You would have to agree, very impressive for such a lens and telephoto reach.

At half-time I decided to walk to the bottom level and take a couple of shots from the back row.

First, here is an example of how surprisingly fast the contrast detect AF is. I saw the ball coming to my side of the ground and quickly turned the camera on (already zoomed to 140mm and in Manual metering mode at ISO 3200 with AF mode in single central AF area), and before I could see anything in the EVF I had half-pressed the shutter for a split second hoping AF would kick in, and then pressed the shutter. Not an ideal way to take a shot, but look how good it came out:

Lumix ISO 3200

Now, you have to admit, that is pretty good AF and what noise at ISO3200? Who cares about it?

When you can achieve this at 280mm telephoto reach with such a small package, noise at high ISO just doesn’t matter! The best camera will always be the one you bring with you.

Now for a demonstration of poor novice panning and with no digital zoom this time, but this video demonstrates that the GH-1 can AF for sports during HD video, and, with a little practice, you can manually zoom and then re-acquire AF. No dSLR such as a Canon 5DMII or Nikon D90/D5000 can do this (of course if the action wasn’t as fast and the people closer, I could have used face detection AF as well).

Panasonic GH-1 AF and zoom during sports video

So, if I can manage to do videos like these, anyone can!

One day I might learn a bit about videography and do some really nice videos and make use of the GH-1′s shallow depth of field and ability to use Lens Baby lenses, etc.

The firmware updates for the GH-1 and for the Lumix 14-140mm HD lens can be found here.

It would be nice if Panasonic would update firmware to add a few extra movie mode options:

  • improved AVHCD – using B-frames and perhaps option of higher bit rates than 17mbps
  • additional frame capture rates for ease in combining with other videos – eg. Sony Ex-1 offers 1920×1080 at 60i, 50i, 30p, 25p and 24p, while 1280×720 at 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p and 24p.
  • 1080 24P native recording mode
  • option to use fn button to toggle 2x digital zoom ON/OFF
  • ability to capture a still image even if mode dial set to creative movie – currently if you want to set aperture, shutter, ISO for movies, you must be in creative movie mode but this does not allow still image capture, you must move the dial to any other mode to allow this
  • live video out – so can use external device to monitor video capture
  • zebra feature and audio levels features as with the Magic Lantern unofficial Canon 5DMII firmware hack
  • see petition here

Panasonic GH-1′s 14-140mm premium kit lens – how does it compare?

Friday, July 17th, 2009

The kit lens that comes with the Panasonic GH-1 is the unique Lumix G HD 14-140mm f/4-5.8 OIS lens which took over 12 months to develop to ensure it is optimised for silent contrast detect AF HD video with stepless aperture for smooth exposure adjustments, but how does it compare with similar 10x zoom lenses?

GH-1

Dpreview.com has posted test results of the Lumix lens here which shows that this is a very sharp lens for a 10x zoom, particularly in the 18-50mm range.

  • 28-280mm coverage, 62mm filter, HD AF video capable
  • 460g, 70x84mm
  • sharp across the frame especially from 18-50mm, even wide open
  • geometric distortion and CA is being corrected in Panasonic software, and is therefore negligible across most of the image range
  • 0.2x macro at 0.5m

Their summary states “The 14-140mm puts in a very good performance for a superzoom in our studio tests - it’s at its best in the 18-50mm range, but gets soft towards the long end of the zoom. It’s more or less on a par with the cream of the current crop of APS-C image-stabilised superzooms such as the Tamron 18-270mm F3.5-5.6 VC, and therefore marginally more consistent than the 18-200mm zooms from Canon and Nikon. Thanks to the use of software corrections, it registers minimal distortion or lateral chromatic aberration.”

It also easily beats the cheaper Sigma 18-200mm:

The Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM for cropped sensor Canon and Nikon dSLRs:

  • this lens was tested on a Nikon D300 by dpreview.com here
  • the lens gives 35mm coverage of 27-300mm on a DX camera, a little more range than the 28-280mm coverage of the Lumix, and with a touch more aperture at the wide end, but less aperture at the long end.
  • the Sigma lens obviously does not allow fast contrast detect AF in HD videos as the Lumix does, and weighs in at 600mg, considerably heavier than the Lumix, and is 79x88mm.
  • max. magnification is 0.26x at close focus of 0.45m
  • 72mm filter thread compared with 62mm on the Lumix
  • the tests show that from 2/3rds from the centre outwards, the Sigma is much softer than the Lumix at all focal lengths and apertures, except for a small range the Sigma lens is peaking at 50mm, but this marginally better performance contrasts with its poor sharpness from 80mm-135mm.
  • the Sigma also has twice as much CA at its widest focal length compared to the Lumix, although the GH-1 is correcting this in-camera

Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS:

  • 29-320mm coverage, 72mm filter, 600g, 79x102mm
  • generally soft corners, least sharp at 135mm
  • very high CA at each end of focal range
  • lots of complex barrel distortion at wide end, becoming pincushion, worst at 50mm, but reasonable at telephoto end
  • 0.24x macro at 0.45m but barrel distortion and corner softness

Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Asph. IF Macro for Canon/Nikon DX:

  • 27-405mm on Nikon DX, 29-432mm on Canon APS-C
  • 0.32x macro at 0.42m, soft images although central sharpness at f/8
  • 72mm filter, 560g, 80x101mm
  • generally sharp across the range of focal lengths but CA a problem > 200mm
  • distortion is quite visible across much of the range.
  • spherical aberration also manifests as a significant focus shift on stopping down

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S VR DX:

  • 27-300mm coverage, 0.26x macro to 0.5m but sharp only at f/11-16, 72mm filter, 560g, 77×96.5mm
  • see dpreview.com tests here
  • generally sharp but soft at 135mm, and significant CA at both ends of focal range
  • distortion is a problem at almost all focal lengths

Olympus ZD 18-180mm f/3.5-6.3 for Four Thirds:

  • consumer grade lens with 36-360mm coverage and 62mm filter, 440g, 78×84.5mm
  • the only zoom lens mentioned here that does not have optical image stabilisation capability – because Olympus builds this into nearly all of its bodies instead
  • 0.23x macro to 0.45m

THUS, by choosing the GH-1, you are definitely NOT losing any optical image quality compared to the other 10x dSLR zoom lenses, and in fact, you gain sharper corners, and you have a significantly smaller and lighter kit, and with AF-capable HD video to boot – its a win-win situation!

I often find myself thinking, why on earth am I carrying around this big, heavy Canon 1DMIII with EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS lens when in normal day conditions, I can get just as sharp, and probably sharper edge-to-edge images with better out of the camera jpeg colours with my Olympus E510 with kit lens?

Hopefully, the GH-1 will match the colours of the Olympus and prove to be an adequate replacement as a general walk-around kit, but I can’t see it replacing my Olympus E510 + ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD combo – I just love that lens!

Of course, the Canon 1DMIII comes into its own for really low light work or action shots, as well as perhaps providing a little extra dynamic range and exposure latitude, but if you are shooting in normal conditions or with flash, why carry the extra weight?

I’m not the only guy that thinks this way – a must read series of blogs for all photographers is the one by Kirk Tuck, from Texas – you can find one of his blogs here and another here – just browse through his archive for more interesting insights.

Having said this, the 14-140mm lens does feel a bit big and heavy for the GH-1 body, and many may prefer an even more compact lens with less zoom, or, a prime lens such as the Olympus 17mm f/2.8 for MFT, or the soon to be released Lumix 21mm f/1.7 lens – either would be great for street photography.

Panasonic GH-1 with Canon EOS, Lensbaby and Olympus OM lenses

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Still waiting on my Panasonic Four Thirds to Micro Four Thirds adapter, but I do have a Canon EOS to MFT adapter, and an Olympus OM to Canon EOS adapter, so I thought I would post a few pics of the various combinations – actual photos taken with the combos will come soon.

The Micro Four Thirds system is the ONLY system other than Canon EOS which can use Canon EOS lenses, although as there is no aperture control on these lenses you can only use them at wide open aperture, and in manual focus at 2x crop.

The Four Thirds system would require a 5.5mm adapter to allow infinity focus with Canon EOS and such a thin adapter is not able to be made, so for the time being, you can only get Micro Four Thirds adapters to allow EOS lenses.

A cool example, is using the brilliant new, and very expensive, Canon 17mm TS-E tilt-shift lens. This lens obviously is 17mm on a full frame dSLR, and becomes 22mm on my Canon 1DMIII, but having the GH-1, adds to its versatility by allowing it to be used as a 34mm tilt shift lens and with HD video capability.

17mm TSE

The Canon EOS 90mm f/2.8 TS-E tilt shift lens becomes 180mm focal length field of view and has potential uses for portraiture and macro work where one wishes to selectively focus on a subject by tilting the focal plane and giving nice bokeh.

90mm TSE

The LensBaby Composer with its movable central sharp region surrounded by blur in EOS mount works very nicely indeed and allows you to simplify your videos by blurring out unwanted distractions.

Lensbaby

Now, the nice compact Olympus OM prime lenses such as the OM 21mm f/3.5 which becomes a nice 42mm street photography lens.

OM21mm

I won’t bore you with the other nice OM options such as OM 50mm f/3.5 macro, OM 100mm f/2.8, OM 200mm f/4, but just for fun, here is the GH-1 with the Olympus OM 300mm f/4.5. Now, this becomes a 600mm field of view and should give good results at f/5.6. BUT, in addition, you can use 2x digital zoom in HD video mode to give 1200mm field of view – you might be wanting a tripod for this focal length reach though!

OM 300mm

While it may be most efficient to have just a EOS to MFT and a FT to MFT adapter, then use adapters for other systems which mate with EOS or FT, a more stable method is to just use one adapter in the train, and new adapters are appearing all the time for Micro Four Thirds such as Leica M, and just recently, Cosina have announced Nikon F and Pentax K adapters.

The Micro Four Thirds system is THE MOST ADAPTABLE digital camera system available because of its short lens flange to sensor distance – its just so versatile, and with the absence of the mirror, we should be getting a range of bodies with different designs and functions – I would love a silent electronic shutter version, and an infrared-enabled version in addition to the cool retro design of the Olympus E-P1.

John Foster has posted his tests of Olympus OM lenses on the Olympus E-P1 here – these should be similar to results on the GH-1.

If you want to see more images of MFT cameras using rangefinder lenses, see here.

For example, Panasonic G1 with M42 adapter, macro bellows, and Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Macro-Takumar 50/4:
Panasonic G1 with M42 adapter, macro bellows, and Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Macro-Takumar 50/4

This is one exciting system, I can’t wait until we get some more HD lenses, or at least a contrast-detect 50mm f/2.0 macro lens for nice portraits with AF.

Oh, and did I mention how much FUN this system is?

Tweaking the Panasonic GH-1 – a few tricks you should know

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Even though I am able to use most cameras without reading the manual, I still go through it when I get a new camera (and usually BEFORE I buy a camera as it is there you will find the gotchas which may disappoint you).

First, let’s look at how I have decided to change the default menu settings of my new Panasonic GH-1:

  • Camera menu items:
    • QUALITY = RAW + best quality jpeg (if you are just playing with it, or memory space is a problem, you may decide on just best quality jpeg or RAW alone)
    • FACE RECOG. = ON – does not seem to impair AF performance, so let’s have it
    • FLASH SYNCHRO = 2ND (I prefer blurring of moving subjects to be behind them but for some situations, you may prefer 1ST)
    • ISO LIMIT = 1600 (you may prefer 800 instead)
    • EX.OPT.ZOOM = OFF – there are circumstances where turning this on may be useful – it will save you cropping your images and also allow more on your memory card – all it does is use the central 25% of the sensor (ie. gives ~3mpixel images) to give in effect a further 2x crop factor which turns the GH-1 with 14-140mm lens into a 3mp 54-546m zoom camera in 35mm terms. Of course, you could achieve this by cropping in Photoshop.
  • Movie menu items:
    • these will depend on your needs – AVCHD vs Motion JPEG, record quality, wind cut to reduce wind noise in the audio part of movies
    • AVCHD gives smallest file sizes for capture size but is more difficult to edit – 17Mbps 1080 50i or 720 50p HD video requires 8Gb for 1hr, 9Mbps 720 50p requires 4Gb per 1hr – most people will probably prefer to shoot at AVHCD 720p (SH level)
    • QuickTime Motion jpeg is easier to edit but 1280×720 30fps requires 16Gb for 1hr, VGA 640×480 30fps requires 6Gb per 1hr, and QVGA 320×240 30fps requires 2Gb per 1hr
    • digital zoom – I normally would NEVER use digital zoom on a camera BUT with the GH-1 in movie mode, at 2x, this does NOT result in substantial loss of quality when used for movies (BUT 4x zoom does lose image quality) – just remember to turn it off for still images! 1920×1080 HD video only uses 2mpixels of the 12 mpixel sensor, so the 2x digital zoom just uses the more central pixels and no quality is lost – now that is cool! The 14-140mm lens could become the 35mm equivalent of 54-546mm in movie mode how versatile is that for your wildlife movies?
    • you may want to set your preferred EXPOSURE MODE for when you use creative movie mode – this allows you to choose aperture-priority, shutter-priority, programme AE or manual exposure modes for your movies
      • for a filmic look, you may wish to set the shutter to 1/50th sec for 1080i or 1/120thsec for 720p or 1/60th sec for 30fps motion jpeg, set ISO to AutoISO, and if not using the HD lens, you may need to fix the aperture to avoid iris noise – in which case you should use a ND filter in bright conditions
      • if you are shooting in manual exposure, then, set the LIVE HISTOGRAM to be ON to help you adjust exposure by changing the aperture
      • for a cine look, Reichmann, suggests using Smooth Film Mode with -1 Contrast and -2 Sharpening
      • more video tips here
  • C wrench items:
    • AF/AE LOCK = AF – I prefer to be able to lock focus and not have to half-press shutter, and this setting allows the AF/AE LOCK button to do that
    • AF/AE LOCK HOLD = ON – this means you can release the AF/AE button and the focus will remain locked until you press it again which will unlock it and then re-enable the default half-press shutter AF option – very nice implementation indeed!
    • MF ASSIST = ON – actually this is default setting but its important to ensure it is on!
    • SHOOT W/O LENS = ON – this allows you to shoot with legacy lenses via adapters – just leave it set to on
  • Wrench items:
    • Clock set – you will actually be asked to set this when you 1st turn the camera on
    • Fn BUTTON SET = GUIDE LINE (ie. compositional grid but you may wish to set it to one of the other options)
    • BEEP = MUTE – I don’t need my camera making beeps everytime AF is attained
    • USB MODE = PC – This way when connected to computer it just opens as a drive automatically
    • AUTO REVIEW – REVIEW = OFF and ZOOM = OFF – this is quite important, as being an EVF, if you set either of these ON, it will mean you will be “blinded” for a few seconds after you take the shot as the viewfinder will display the shot you have taken unless you half-press the shutter.
  • Playback items:
    • ROTATE DISPL. = OFF – when I view an image on LCD, I want to see it as well as I can – rotating it for me is not a useful idea in my mind


Now, a few important tricks you need to know:

  • the front dial not only allows you to change aperture in mode A, or shutter speed in mode S, but by pressing it in, you can toggle it so that you can now change exposure compensation and this compensation effect is visible in the viewfinder. In Manual Mode, it toggles between aperture and shutter speed
  • MF assist – when using a compatible lens in MF mode, moving the focus ring will automatically activate magnified view for MF assist – very nice indeed! BUT, how do you activate it with a legacy lens using a lens adapter? Almost a simple but NOT intuitive – you press the left arrow button on the rear (which is also the AF mode selection button), then once the box is displayed, you can move it around using the arrow keys, then press SET button to enter magnified view, and you can further magnify it using the front dial. It works very well in reality. Nice!
  • moving the AF area – when using the single AF area, unlike the case with dSLRs where you have a limited selection of AF points, with the GH-1, you can move this area ANYWHERE in the frame, and what’s more, you can change its size! Just press the AF button on the rear, ensure single AF mode is selected, then press the down arrow button to enter the mode where the arrow buttons allow you to move the AF area, while the front dial changes its size. Press SET to return to normal camera function but with the AF area set. Very cool, especially for those using tripods!
  • Custom WB – press WB button, select either CWB 1 or CWB 2 option using arrow keys, aim camera at white subject lit by the light, press SET. Done!
  • DOF / shutter speed preview – depth of field (DOF) preview is easy – just press the aperture/rubbish bin button at bottom right on rear – but that’s not all folks, while in this mode, press the DISPLAY button and you get to see the effects of your selected shutter speed as well – up to 8 secs shutter speed – now that is almost fun!
  • Movie playback – go into PLAY mode by pressing the PLAY button next to viewfinder, select the movie to watch using left/right arrow buttons, then play movie by pressing the UP arrow button.

Face recognition AF:

  • if you have set face recognition AF to ON in the menu system, it becomes activated automatically if using either: iA exposure mode and a face is detected; portrait mode; or you specifically select face recognition AF mode using the AF button on the rear;
  • face recognition is surprisingly fast on this camera as long as the subject is not moving too fast, is in adequate lighting and is side on or front on to the camera, and not wearing glasses, and not too small on the screen.
  • you can register up to 6 faces and have the camera prioritise AF and metering for those faces, but registering faces may slow AF detection a little and may not distinguish close relatives.
  • it is very useful for movie mode when the last thing you want to do is to be adjusting focus yourself – just let the camera do it for you!

AF tracking:

  • this may be new for those coming from dSLR cameras and is only possible because of the fast contrast detect AF system in live view which the GH-1 is based upon.
  • you select this mode via the AF button on the rear
  • initially there is a central AF tracking frame which is white
  • adjust camera composition to place this frame on your subject then half-press shutter to lock onto the subject – the AF frame will then become yellow and the camera retains memory of the appearance of the object and the frame will move with the object, maintaining AF and optimising exposure for the object – very clever indeed!
  • if the object goes out of the image area, or you press AF button or SET button, or lock is not obtained initially (frame goes red), the lock is released and frame returns to its white status
  • if AF lock is not active, AF defaults to centre area AF
  • AF tracking lock may not occur if either:
    • subject is too small
    • subject is too dark or light
    • subject is moving too fast
    • background is similar color to subject
    • too much camera shake
    • when zoom is activated

Aspect ratio:

  • the GH-1 actually has a 14mp larger-than-usual sensor for a Four Thirds sensor which allows it to give you the option of various aspect ratios which can be VERY useful depending on your subject or the purpose of your prints:
  • default 4:3 aspect gives 4000x3000 pixels = 12 mpixels and is a nice ratio for most computer screens and its 1.33 ratio is close to the ratio of 8″x10″, 11″x14″ and 16″x20″ prints
  • 3:2 35mm film aspect gives 4128x2752 pixels = 11.4 mpixels and is a nice ratio for wide computer screens and its 1.5 ratio allows uncropped prints to traditional 35mm film print sizes of 8″x12″, 10″x15″, 12″x18″, 20″x30″ prints
  • 16:9 widescreen motion video aspect gives 4352x2448 pixels = 10.7 mpixels and is great for panoramas or display on wide TV screens but its 1.77 ratio may make it an issue to print
  • 1:1 square image gives 2992x2992 pixels = 9 mpixels but the only real advantage of using this is to save space on your memory card and to save having to crop in Photoshop, otherwise, you could achieve all this from a 4:3 aspect image and cropping it.
  • you can access this setting from Q.Menu button or by allocating it to the Fn button

Uploading GH-1 videos to YouTube:

  • according to this page, Youtube prefers video files to be uploaded as stereo audio, 1280×720 or 640×480 video in H.264, MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 codecs
  • the PhotoFunStudio software supplied with the GH-1 can trim your AVHCD videos and upload them to YouTube directly. AVCHD files are automatically converted to MPEG-2 while Motion Jpeg MOV files are uploaded unedited. Maximum upload is 100Mb or 10 minutes.
  • you can also directly upload motion jpeg .mov files via YouTube’s interface which allows max. 2Gb or 10 minutes – on my broadband, it uploaded at a rate of ~1.5Mb/minute

Finally, my Panasonic GH-1 has arrived – some initial impressions

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

After 1-2 months of waiting, I finally received my Panasonic GH-1 with Leica 14-140mm HD Mega OIS lens, but still waiting on my Four Thirds to Micro Four Thirds adapter and Leica 25mm f/1.4 FT lens.

It just happens that its arrival coincided with the extensive review of it by dpreview.com so I am not going to go into details you can otherwise get from there.

Aspects I love about the GH-1:

  • nice and compact and light – now I can look more under-stated, and can carry it with me to more places where a dSLR may not be acceptable or feasable
  • surprisingly fast contrast detect AF - at least as fast as entry level dSLR phase contrast AF and far more versatile with a very usable face detection or subject tracking system, and ability to AF on any part of the frame. Even more surprising, is how fast it is in low indoor light – as long as the subject is light coloured and with contrast with minimal movement (black hair in dim light is pushing it!)
  • a brilliant artificial intelligence system for novices – iA mode detects what kind of subject material (eg. face vs macro vs night scenario), applies the scene mode settings for that scenario and sets exposure for the subject taking into account subject movement in deciding on shutter speed – all just incredible!
  • very effective optical image stabiliser which works during movie mode
  • any camera mode can be used with movie mode – just press the movie button to start it and stop it – how simple is that – and with option of FULL controls over settings
  • incredible lens optimised for movie mode – silent AF during movies, step-less aperture to allow smooth exposure transitions as light changes during the movie, circular diaphragm for nice bokeh, 10x optical zoom (28-280mm in 35mm terms with clever option of 2x or 4x further movie zoom by sensor cropping without significant loss of image quality)
  • electronic viewfinder – the best out their on still cameras and essential for hand held movies
  • easy to learn control layout and very customisable settings – the perfect transition for those going from point and shoot to dSLR sophistication
  • the ability to use almost ANY lens EVER made on it – albeit in manual focus mode and no image stabilisation – and for Canon EOS lenses, only at wide open aperture as they do not have aperture rings
  • battery only takes 1hr to charge
  • excellent still image and movie quality with reasonably low noise at high ISO and more image detail with less aggressive anti-alias filter which should allow more detail from the lenses
  • swivel LCD and MUCH better design than that on the Nikon dSLR
  • ability to preview effects of exposure compensation, aperture and shutter speed on the image before you take the shot – very nice indeed!
  • customisable grid lines to help you compose and ensure camera is level
  • external mic port – an essential for quality audio in movies
  • the best implementation of live view and manual focus assist available

Aspects which I might miss or which disappoint me:

  • features available on the Olympus E-P1 Micro Four Thirds but not on the GH-1:
    • no CCD-shift image stabilisation option for non-optical IS lenses such as is the case with Olympus cameras – however, the Olympus E-P1 does not allow the IS to function during movie recording, so the optical IS during movie mode is as important feature – just a pity they couldn’t have put both options in!
    • no creative ART filters as with Olympus although it does allow tone control via “film” settings, and it does allow skin smoothing via one of the portrait settings, but it would have been nice to have movie mode with pin hole effects, etc as with the Olympus E-P1
  • digital zoom functionality – the 4x digital zoom is not really producing good image quality in either still or video modes, but the 2x digital zoom is quite useful in video mode, but not useful in still mode (as you can just crop in PS afterwards), thus personally, I would have preferred that you could have just enabled the Fn key to toggle 2x digital zoom for video mode ONLY on and off. When you are in 2x digital zoom mode for your videos and you suddenly want a still shot, it is a hastle to turn the digital zoom off.
  • mechanical shutter is noisy – I had hoped the lack of mirror would allow it to be almost silent, but the use of a mechanical shutter instead of an electronic shutter to ensure better sensor image quality has resulted in a still obvious shutter noise – and louder than I would like
  • no HDMI out DURING movie recording – this would have been nice
  • limited range of dedicated lenses for AF in HD video mode – but these will come, and soon, hopefully
  • the 14-140mm kit lens is a bit big and heavy for the GH-1 – but then it does replace two kit lenses – a 14-42mm and 40-140mm, and it is very sharp in the 14-50mm range and a unique lens which took 12 months to develop for movie mode
  • 62mm filter size of the 14-140mm and the Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens is not really standard compared with Four Thirds lenses which tend to be 58mm or 67mm
  • battery life not great but that is to be expected given its size and the need for EVF or LCD – buy an expensive 2nd battery BUT it must be a Panasonic one or the new firmware will not allow its use for “safety” reasons.
  • can’t charge a battery and use the charger to run the camera via DC at the same time
  • not weatherproof and not pocketable – well, you can’t have everything!
  • very expensive in Australia – $2999 will price it out of reach of most people, and why so high a price when the RRP is $US1499 and the $A is worth 80c US? Even with 10% GST added, it should be $A2061 – not $A2999! Maybe the price is subsidising the optional and fairly well priced 4 year extended Australian warranty which appears to be an additional $A100 according to the supplied leaflet
  • desperately needs a portrait and macro lens compatible with contrast detect AF, preferably an image stabilised HD movie compatible one – perhaps a 35-75mm f/2.8 macro or a revamped 50mm f/2.0 portrait macro and a 100mm f/2.8 macro for nature work. Please put a focal range limiter on it eg. full range, 1m to infinity, macro to 1m or whatever makes sense for that lens.

This has to be the most versatile, fun, take almost anywhere camera you can get your hands on, and with the best implementation of HD video movies to boot – bored with the kit lens? Just get an adapter an use an EOS or Nikon tilt shift lens, or Lens Baby, or any of the Four Thirds lenses (although only a few will contrast detect AF at this stage).

See more of my blogs on the Micro Four Thirds system here.

Micro Four Thirds – the ultimate compact tilt/shift digital?

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

The new Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system is quite unique in that the lens flange to sensor distance has been shortened considerably by removing the mirror.

Not only does this mean one will NEVER to need worry about doing mirror lock up to reduce camera vibrations, but it means a spacing adapter is needed to mount traditional 35mm format lenses.

NOW, requiring a spacing adapter means, that, in theory, it should not be hard for someone to engineer this adapter to be a tilt/shift adapter which could thus convert EVERY 35mm format lens ever made into an image stabilised tilt-shift lens when used in this manner, albeit with a 2x sensor crop factor, so a 21mm OM lens will in effect become a 42mm tilt-shift lens, and a 50mm macro lens becomes a 100mm macro tilt shift lens.

For image stabilisation, you would need an appropriate Olympus body of course.

And, you can take HD video using the Panasonic GH-1.

The smaller sensor is ideal here as it is much smaller than the image circle of a 35mm format lens, and thus when that lens is tilted or shifted, it will still cover the sensor area.

You could even potentially use such an adapter to tilt shift Four Thirds lenses such as the ZD 7-14mm lens, but their smaller image circle may limit this application.

See ideas for such an adapter here.

Some are considering taking this further and making adapters for view camera systems, but then it would not be compact, and a full frame dSLR might make more sense for such large cumbersome systems.

Until such an adapter is made, we still have a few tilt-shift options NOW:

  • traditional tilt-shift lenses made for 35mm SLRs via adapters already available:
    • Canon EOS TS-E 17mm, 24mm, 45mm and 90mm lenses via EOS-MFT adapter BUT these must be used wide open aperture as they do not have aperture rings – so great for emphasising subjects and blurring out distractions but not so good for maximising DOF
    • Nikon F tilt shift lenses via Nikon F to EOS or Nikon F to Four Thirds adapter – can control aperture as they have an aperture ring
    • Olympus OM 24mm and 35mm shift lenses via OM to Four thirds adapter – can control aperture but no tilt mechanism, only shift
  • lens baby soft focus lenses in either Canon EOS or Nikon F mounts via adapters as above, although this is not a true tilt-shift lens
  • the Zoerk system – tilt/swing or panoramic shift adapters to allow medium format (eg. Mamiya, Hasselblad, Pentax6x7) or preferably enlarger lenses (eg. 80mm f/4 APO Rodagon) to be mounted on various SLR adapters including Nikon F, Canon EF, Olympus OM, Mamiya 645, Hasselblad, Pentax 645, T2, etc so you could use these on Four Thirds or MFT bodies via the appropriate adapters, but the Zoerk system is not cheap! More info here.

Which wide aperture lenses for the Panasonic GH-1?

Friday, June 12th, 2009

I am buying the wonderful little Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds video-enabled interchangeable lens digital camera, but due to the recent release of this new format, neither Panasonic nor Olympus have brought wide aperture lenses to the market as yet.

The supplied Lumix kit lens is a 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 image stabilised lens uniquely designed for HD video.

Panasonic have shown a 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens which would be really nice but when and if will it become available? Presumably it will be a consumer level lens and not as sharp wide open as the Leica D 25mm f/1.4, but a lot cheaper.

Given the Panasonic G1 appears to have a less aggressive anti-aliasing filter than the Four Thirds cameras to date, it is apparently able to give more detail when used with the pro lenses although presumably at risk of more moire artifacts which may require trying a different raw development software (eg. Panasonic’s Silkypix rather than Lightroom) to correct. The landscape photographers are loving the G1 with ZD 7-14mm or ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 lenses for the added detail, while the MF assist and grid lines help setting up the shot. We can assume that the GH-1 will give similar results.

The Leica D 25mm f/1.4 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds:
Leica D 25mm f/1.4 lens on the G1

The ONLY current wide aperture lens that will give AFS contrast detect AF on MFT is the relatively expensive ($US800 – twice the price of the Sigma 30mm f/1.4) and heavy (510g), Four Thirds lens, the excellent Leica D 25mm f/1.4 which has imperceptible barrel distortion (0.09% – cw Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens which as 0.78%), and excellent sharpness and contrast wide open with exceedingly smooth bokeh (see here) but a touch of corner vignetting – see here.

Depth of field and field of view (effective focal length) for the same subject magnification will be similar to a 50mm f/2.8 lens on a 35mm full frame camera, thus it is not quite as effective a portrait lens as the ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro but it will AF, and the extra stop of aperture means it can work in lower light conditions hand held.

In addition, it can be used on an Olympus Four Thirds camera with image stabiliser for even lower light conditions (ie. ignoring DOF effects, it becomes in effect, a unique image stabilised AF 50mm f/1.4 lens in 35mm terms) but the aperture ring becomes non-functional as the camera body will be the mechanism to control aperture.

So what to do in the meantime if we can’t afford $US800?

Their are Four Thirds lenses which, via the adapter, would be optimised for the sensor, provide full aperture control, but unless they are the new contrast-detect AF ones, will not AF on the GH-1, and further more, unless they are HD-capable (which none of them are yet), they will not AF during HD videos.

Fortunately, the Panasonic G1 and GH-1 both have a really nice feature that when in MF mode and there is a MFT or FT lens attached which as focus by wire (ie. the non-SWD lenses but not Sigma ones), then as soon as you turn the MF ring, the live view MF magnification is activated automatically and can be changed from 5x to 10x using the front dial – one of the best implementations of live preview MF assistance.

The obvious choice from the Four Thirds lens line up is the brilliantly sharp, but in need of AF revamp, Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro which provides 1:2 macro (or 1:1 macro with EC-20 2x teleconverter).
Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro on a G1

This lens you can be sure will give excellent image quality even at f/2.0, BUT you will need to manually focus it – not a problem for macro work as MF is best for that but it would be an issue for moving subjects.

Other current Four Thirds lenses will have the same limitations, for example, the Sigma 25mm f/1.8 macro, and the 35mm-format-designed Sigma 30mm f/1.4 .

If we are probably going to have to resort to manual focus what about using a manual focus lens?

Experience with using legacy MF lenses on the Four Thirds sensors tends to show that the wider the aperture lens (eg. f/1.2 rather than f/1.4), the more purple fringing and internal flare one gets, even stopped down.

Tests generally confirm Olympus’ advice that when using legacy MF lenses, they should generally be used stopped down 1-2 stops to improve sharpness and reduce purple fringing. Of course, the can be used wide open to get a more dreamy, less contrasty and less sharp effect with narrower depth of field, but in addition, apertures faster than f/2.0 tend to require exposure compensation as auto-exposure tends to be inaccurate and require a certain compensation for a given lens and aperture.

Thus whilst, on paper, the new Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 Nokton lens for Leica M mount with its 10 bladed aperture and modern design sounds like an ideal fit for the GH-1 in the absence of an AF wide aperture portrait lens, I have concerns that it may not perform as well as one would like wide open on these sensors.

HOWEVER, the reason for using legacy lenses on the GH-1 is NOT for their sharpness as it is hard to beat the ZD lenses, but for the different “look” each one can provide.

See a forum thread showing examples of different legacy 50mm lenses on the Panasonic G1 here. The bokeh on the Cooke Kinetal 50mm f1.8 looks nice to me – just like an oil painting! The Olympus Pen G.Zuiko 40mm f/1.4 also seems to be a favorite.

See this blog comparing legacy 50mm lenses on MFT. The cheap Olympus OM 50mm f/1.8 (NB. many believe this lens paradoxically is better than the OM f/1.4 on FT cameras) easily beats the Canon FD 50mm f/1.8.

Another option is a 35mm AF wide aperture lens to be used via an adapter in manual focus and manual aperture on the GH-1, but which could still be used on your 35mm cameras and thus lower your risk that the results on the GH-1 may not be to your liking.

Given that I have a Canon 1DMIII, the natural choice for me would be the Canon EOS EF lenses via an EOS to MFT adapter, BUT unfortunately, given the electronics of these lenses, you will be forced to shoot them wide open, so they had better perform well wide open if you want to use them.

The Canon 50mm f/1.8 II lens is a cheap and nasty build quality from Canon with nasty MF control but good optics from f/2.8 onwards – this lens is NOT really going to fit the bill – you would be better off buying a Olympus OM f/1.4 lens for about the same price and you will get better optics, better build and a usable aperture control.

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM lens is a much better build that the f/1.8 II, and gives better results wide open with better bokeh, but still has build issues with the potential for relatively minor knocks to damage the AF mechanism – see here, but it is a great performer for the price – see comparisons with the f/1.8 II here.

The extremely expensive, heavier, Canon 50mm f/1.2L USM lens is better built again than the Canon f/1.4, is sharper at f/1.4-2.0 but not as sharp from f/2.8-4 (see here), has much improved internal lens flare control and bokeh, and of course the f/1.2 allows shallower DOF and use in lower light conditions, although AF in low light on Canon cameras with this lens is not as good as one would like.

In general, the f/1.2 is only worth the money if you need the flare control and bokeh wide open and you really need f/1.2 – I have concerns that purple fringing and softness may be a problem on the GH-1 at f/1.2 and you won’t be able to stop it down to improve it.

Canon have also released a mark II version of their 24mm f/1.4L lens which would theoretically be usable on the GH-1 at wide open aperture only but costs ~$A2500. The Canon 24mm f/1.4L may struggle to deliver the same image performance on the GH-1 given it does not have telecentric design and is not designed for the 2x crop sensor. Having said that, it should be a beautiful lens on the Canon 1DMIII or a full frame Canon.

If you have Nikon, then as long as you don’t get a G version lens, you will still have aperture control.

Here’s hoping that Olympus and Panasonic get their act in gear and produce some nice wide aperture Four Thirds lenses compatible with MFT contrast-detect AF, and HD video.

Now wouldn’t a 17mm f/1.4 lens be nice for urban use at night?

Of course to achieve this they may need to add the extra coupling pins the MFT system has to the FT system to enable fastest AF performance – better they do it sooner rather than later unless they have something else up their sleeves.

You might be interested in these Micro Four Thirds forums:


Check out some of these combos:

Soviet Union Fed 50mm/F3.5 Collapsible (Leica Elmar look-a-like from the late fifties):
Soviet collapsible

Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 (from http://cjeastwd.blogspot.com/2009/06/manual-aperture-control.html):
Canon FD 55mm f/1.2

Panasonic GH-1 coming soon, I’m buying one

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

I was tossing up whether I should add a Canon 5DMII full frame to my camera collection to supplement my Canon 1DMIII and provide some extra resolution and wide angle coverage, plus a bit of crippled video functionality, or get the tiny fully-video-enabled, incredibly versatile Panasonic GH-1.

The GH-1 won!

At the end of the day, the camera you have with you will take better photos EVERY time than the camera you didn’t bring because it was too big and heavy!

It is small enough to not be too intrusive at social events or for travel while still having excellent image quality and ability to have a relatively noise-free ISO 100-800 range unlike smaller point and shoot cameras.

Whilst the Canon 5DMII is a great camera, it is still a big, heavy camera which requires you to carry big, heavy lenses, and for 90% of most people’s photography at ISO 100-400, most people will not notice that much difference in image quality between a GH-1 and the 5DMII, at least for prints up to 11″ x 14″ and perhaps larger.

I was a little concerned that the 14-140mm 10x zoom lens that comes with the GH-1 and is unique in being optimised for real time contrast detect AF during video with almost silent AF motors, may not cut it optically, particularly when I have been spoilt by the excellent Olympus lenses for Four Thirds.

But this Micro Four Thirds kit seems to have produced brilliant image results for a 10x zoom – see imaging-resource.com’s tests.

Whilst the electronic viewfinder (EVF) will not be everyone’s cup of tea, it does have some benefits – for example, live histogram, and automatic brightness adjustment for low light situations which together with the short lens flange distance, makes these cameras, THE MOST ADAPTABLE interchangeable lens cameras ever made.

Not only can you fit Micro Four Thirds lenses and via the Four Thirds adapter, the Four Thirds lenses, and via Four Thirds adapters all the legacy lenses such as Nikon F, Leica R, Contax, Carl Zeiss, Canon EOS (albeit fully open aperture only on the EOS), but now for the first time, there is an almost affordable digital camera that can use Leica M, Voigtlander, Canon FD/FL (and focus at infinity without optical devices), and when adapters become available, Olympus Pen, and virtually any other 35mm rangefinder interchangeable lens you care to think of. You can see results of using it with Zeiss PL video lenses here. “When you put on full frame slr lenses from Canon or Nikon onto the Gh1 you get a 2x magnification factor as the four third sensor is about half the size of a full frame SLR sensor. But with the PL lenses you get about a 16-17% increase in focal length as movie 35mm size is much smaller than a full frame SLR 35mm”.

When using these legacy manual focus lenses, you need to manually stop down the aperture which in most cameras will make the viewfinder very dim, but not with these EVF’s.

Furthermore, you will be able to take HD video in manual focus with any of these lenses – so that includes some unique fun lenses which I intend to add to my arsenal which will have important uses in my employment by being able to selectively blur details in videos without me having to do this in post-processing:

  • Leica 25mm f/1.4 for Four Thirds has contrast-detect AFS on the GH-1 via FT adapter
  • I was going to get the new Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 Nokton in Leica M mount via Leica to MicroFourThirds adapter
    • OK, I could have gone for the larger, heavier, more expensive ($US1700 vs $US1149) Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L which would AF on my Canon, albeit relatively slowly, but that is 545g instead of 428g and takes a 72mm filter instead of 58mm, and I would not be able to stop it down on the GH-1 – it would be interesting to see how the optics compare wide open!
    • Given the purely mechanical design of the Voigtlander, it would be more likely to be fully functional in 10-20 years than the Canon
    • my heart is with the Voigtlander, but I decided the Leica 25mm f/1.4 would be just what the GH-1 needs and it will work beautifully on my Olympus E-510 as well.
  • the new LensBaby series in Canon EF mount (via EOS to MicroFourThirds adapter)
  • Canon EF TSE 17mm tilt shift lens via EOS adapter

If you can’t do something creative with these, then there is something wrong!

In addition, you will see some nice results of video using the Olympus 50-200mm ZD lens and the Olympus ZD 7-14mm lens with the GH-1 on Youtube.

How good is it for video?

“This is a consumer camera with some incredible features…it’s not a Canon 5dmk2 killer but it has features that every Canon 5dmk2 users are salivating for. 24p (25p in UK), full manual controls whilst shooting (no need for exposure lock) and amazing ,whilst shooting, autofocus features.” – Philip Bloom (note: Canon has since released firmware that adds manual control).

It has the BEST AF video performance of any interchangeable lens digital camera – far better than that on dSLRs such as Nikon D90 or Canon 5DMII, and given my other cameras, a camera with good video performance is important to me at this time.

It has most of the features serious videographers need and which are missing on most consumer level camcorders:

  • ability to change lenses to almost any lens and even if one uses manual focus, this is often preferred by the serious videographers anyway
  • full control over camera settings – eg aperture, shutter speed, ISO, color characteristics – you can change the shutter and iris manually WHILST filming, no exposure lock needed.
  • ability to use 1/50th sec shutter speed to reduce annoying flicker from flourescent lights
  • good low light performance – better than most consumer camcorders – “The camera performed well…it’s not bad in low light. Nowhere near as good as the Canon 5dmk2 but better than just about any video camera that I have used.” – Philip Bloom
  • an optimum sensor size which allows good depth of field for wide angle shots and narrow depth of field for portraits (when used with an appropriate lens eg. 50mm f/2), while still giving good results at ISO up to 800. In fact the sensor size is very similar to shooting on a standard 35mm film motion picture camera (which has frames 22mmx12mm which is only a tad larger than the Four Thirds sensor size of 18.8mmx10.6mm – so lens field of view on each will be close). It is also comparable in size to the much more expensive pro Red One S35 sensor which is a tad larger again at 24.9mmx18.7mm, while it is much bigger than the Scarlet 2/3″ sensor which is 10.1mmx5.35mm – see comparative size chart here
  • It has an autofocus that works pretty well whilst recording, both in centre frame mode and using facial recognition mode – you can set it to AF on a subject and it will track that subject even if there are foreground objects moving around – very nice indeed! What’s more, if you select a subject to focus on, not only will it track that subject but optimise exposure for it when using auto mode.
  • unlike dSLRs, you can look through the viewfinder whilst recording allowing for more steady hand held shots
  • unlike the Canon 5DMII, it has a fold out LCD screen for ground level or over head shots as well as self-portrait/family shots, and unlike the useless design on the new nikon D5000 it will be visible on a tripod
  • an external microphone capability to avoid in-camera noise from adjusting settings. While the built in mic is way better than both the Canon and Nikon ones, good sound recoding is better with an external mic.
  • skew on fast pans no worse than consumer camcorders although not as good as a pro camcorder worth 8x its price. Rolling shutter skews is much better in 720/60p mode than in 1080/24p, and is better than that on Nikon D90.
  • you can get some slow motion video by shooting 720p at 50fps then reconform to 25fps in cinema tools – see here
  • image stabiliser – albeit an optical one not CCD-shift
  • sensor that detects when you are using the viewfinder and turns off the LCD saving on battery
  • optimised kit lens for silent, fast contrast-detect AF – the first of its kind, and I’m sure many more to follow from Panasonic and perhaps Olympus
  • “The image out of the camera is utterly terrific, so clean and noise free. Also very sharp. It’s a dream to use operational wise and the auto functions make it even better. I am never a fan of auto but when running and gunning it can be useful.” – Philip Bloom
  • you can use the Genus matte box with an adapter to accomodate the zoom of the kit lens – see here
  • when shooting in 16:9 aspect the “S” size jpeg is a perfect 1920×1080- and the quality is amazing! This is really good news because it sets up a perfect workflow for shooting timelapse for HD delivery, the 16:9 1080p stills can be imported strait into Quicktime pro and you dont even have to resize or re-crop to get HD time-lapse footage. Thats really a time saver!
  • it has a 2x or 4x in-camera crop mode. When using the 2x crop mode your effective sensor size is about the same as 16mm film or 2/3″, that means by using an adapter you can use all of the old super fast 16mm zooms- and ultra wide c-mount film and security lenses at the sensor crop they were designed for. To better explain this, in addition to the sensor 2x crop factor compared to 35mm film lenses, as HD video is only ~2 megapixels per frame and the sensor can do 12 megapixels, the camera allows you to select a further 2x or 4x crop in HD video – presumably without loss of resolution. This means then that when using the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 lens, it will have focal length reach in 35mm terms of 100mm lens when used for still images, and either 100mm, 200mm or 400mm when used for HD video depending on the in-camera crop mode you select! Now imagine using it for planetary photography through a telescope with a 2x Olympus ZD EC-20 teleconverter and 4x in-camera crop in motion jpeg (unfortunately, only in 720p video though, not HD as I dont think you could stack AVCHD video frames – pity it doesn’t do live HDMI out for this application which would be better) then doing a stack of the sharpest 100 or so images as is the usual method for digital planetary photography.

NOW, before you take my recommendations, it MAY not suit YOUR needs:

If you don’t need video or 10x zoom, you may be better off with the smaller lens on the much cheaper Panasonic G1 which will be even easier to carry around.

ONE user found an issue with AF inaccuracy which may be an issue although it may be only with an early batch or may require a firmware upgrade to fix – but don’t rely on it, my Canon 1DMIII still does not AF as it should! If you plan to do AF close up work a lot (eg. self-portraits), maybe check your camera does not have this problem

There is currently no AF 1:1 macro lens, true portrait lens or low light wide aperture lens designed for Micro Four Thirds and there are still many Micro Four Thirds lenses needing to be made, but one would expect a number will be available within the next 12 months. So a BIG issue at present but one which I would expect to be resolved soon.

Whilst its contrast-detect AF system is probably the fastest yet made, it is still no match for moving subjects – mind you, even expensive dSLRs can have trouble with consistent results with moving subjects.

If you plan on a lot of low light or action photography requiring high ISO, fast burst rates or fast motion AF, then you may want to consider a much bigger dSLR designed for such work such as a Canon 1DMIIn.

If you don’t like EVF or looking at the LCD screen on the back then get a true dSLR with optical viewfinder – maybe consider the Olympus E620 or Nikon D90.

If you are looking for professional quality AF performance in your videos then you will still need a professional video camera. BUT it seems the video quality is better than the Canon HV-20 digital camcorder and you get better control over depth of field to boot.

Be aware that moving the manual focus ring of a lens during video may produce clicking noises, but then added noises will happen changing settings of most cameras.

The video codecs may not be to your needs – seems Panasonic may have kept them at prosumer level to avoid cannibalizing their pro video cameras – you have choice of 23mbps 720/30p motion jpeg which is said to be better for moving scenes such as panning the camera and also has better AF performance apparantly, or the more compressed, smaller files AVCHD codec which seems to give better video for rather static scenes but can be more difficult to edit as it requires special software.
To shoot full HD, you need to use AVCHD codec at 1080/60i (interpolated from 24fps sensor output) and this has a relatively low bit rate at just 17mbps (instead of the preferred 24mbps) in the GH-1 so it won’t stand up to any heavy grading in post processing. You can also shoot AVCHD at 720/60p at 9, 13 or 17 mbps compression.
Furthermore, this camera does not process b-frames (nor does the Canon 5DMII) which may account for lower quality with dynamic scenes – perhaps the programmers ran out of time to incorporate them or the computing power of the camera is not adequate to achieve it or it may be a marketing decision – perhaps a firmware update may remedy this.

Only Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds lenses designated as being capable of contrast detect AF will auto focus when used with the GH-1 – see compatibility chart and even then, AF tracking will be slower, AF noisier and AF not possible in HD mode UNLESS it is a HD-compatible lens such as the 14-140mm kit lens.

It currently does not allow HDMI output during recording, only mini HDMI socket for playback, and European PAL versions are limited to 30min recording for tax reasons (the Australian PAL version will do up to 2Gb in motion jpeg – 23min in VGA, and AVCHD HD modes are limited only by card size, so 32Gb could do 4 hours at 17mbps) – but then the Canon 5DMII is limited to 12min on HD, and the Nikon D90 to 5min.

In addition to using an external microphone, you may wish to consider an audio input adapter to control volume levels such as Beachtek DXA-2S or DXA-6A phantom power adapter.

No in-built CCD-shift image stabiliser – you will have to wait for an Olympus model for that, and that should be coming soon – but will it do HD video as well as the GH-1 does?

The first Olympus MFT camera (the E-P1) seems to be an Olympus Pen styled camera with a 17mm f/2.8 lens, 720p art filter enabled stereo video and separate optical viewfinder – see here. See the rumours here.

For some comparison, here are dpreview.com’s comments on the latest Canon with movie mode – the Canon 500D:

  • “Unlike the EOS 5D Mark II the 500D comes with a dedicated movie mode. Turn the mode dial to the corresponding position and press the record button on the camera rear to start or stop recording. Once in video mode you get access to movie settings such as recording size or AF mode by pressing the MENU button.”
  • “Auto focus during movie recording works in the same way that it does in normal live view mode, meaning that if it is activated in live view mode, it is available during movie recording (press the AF-ON button to focus). Since all sounds are recorded during movie recording, and any in-camera sound is magnified (including the aperture changing), using AF with the internal mic is not recommended, neither is using in-lens IS. You’ll also pick up the clicks of the control dial if you change exposure compensation while recording. Unlike a conventional camcorder there’s no continuous focus option, and to be honest the focus is so slow that you would never use it whilst filming. “
  • Like the Nikon D90 and the EOS 5D Mark II the EOS 500D can suffer from distortion caused by its rolling shutter. The readout of the sensor means movies are created with a rolling shutter (horizontal lines of the image are scanned, one after another, rather than the whole scene being grabbed in one go). The upshot is that verticals can be skewed if the camera (or the subject) moves too fast – the top of the image has been recorded earlier than the bottom, so moving vertical lines can be rendered as diagonals. It’s not quite as bad as on the Nikon D90 and you need to pan pretty quickly to notice the effect.”
  • THUS, no external mic means no useful audio recording, no usable real time AF, noisy lenses, HD mode only 20fps, minimal manual controls in movie mode, 12min max. video in HD (4Gb limit) – makes the 500D movie experience a bit gimmicky and definitely NOT in the same league as the Panasonic GH-1.