Having fun with the Panasonic GH-1 – an afternoon in the city with a few lenses

Written by Gary on August 2nd, 2009

It was fairly poor weather for doing anything much this Winter’s Sunday in Melbourne, so I decided it was time to have a real play with a few lenses on the Panasonic GH-1 – if you hadn’t missed it, the latest awesome Micro Four Thirds camera.

Now the GH-1 whilst a very versatile camera with high image quality and HD video to boot, is not everyone’s camera – it’s small and light (so big hands may have trouble handling it), it has an EVF instead of an optical viewfinder (so if you need to be inspired by the beauty of the optical view of your subject, you might have to change your visual creativity), and it’s not going to do continuous AF on fast moving subjects.

BUT, I had NO trouble holding it in one hand for 5-6 hours of casual walking around the city today whilst listening to my iPOD and grabbing a nice meal and very nice glass of Pinot Noir half way (although I suspect my hands were more shaky after that when trying the magnified view MF assist with the OM 100mm lens!).

Nevertheless, I easily carried the GH-1, Lens baby lens, Lumix 14-140mm HD lens (neither of these lenses I actually used today), Leica D 25mm f/1.4, Olympus OM 21mm f/3.5, Olympus OM 100mm f/2.8 and Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lenses, all in a normal cheap lightweight hiking backpack (so I don’t get mugged on the train home at night!). I have the GH-1 in a Lowepro TopZoom 1 bag which is kept inside the backpack and prevents the lenses and camera from rubbing against each other.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well all these lenses worked wide open (you don’t get a choice with the Canon until someone comes up with an adapter that will allow you to change its aperture), and how easy they were to manually focus with the MF assist (although I did keep hitting the WB button by mistake – but that will come with practice!).

I hardly noticed I was using the electronic viewfinder instead of an optical dSLR one, and it really came into it’s own in the really low light times after sunset in the dark alleyways, and even better, the contrast-detect AF worked very fast on the Leica lens even in those light conditions when I suspect phase contrast dSLR AF might be struggling!

My only issue with the EVF is that it sometimes kept turning itself off when I half-pressed the shutter, not sure if that was a bug, or if I had moved my eye so the eye detection sensor was thinking I had moved my face away from the camera.

I did miss the built-in image stabiliser of the Olympus cameras, however, the GH-1’s markedly improved high ISO performance made up for that – it didn’t bother me pushing it to ISO 1600, but I do wish Panasonic would add a built-in IS which could be used when optical IS is not available – PLEASE!

I decided I would put one lens on and stick with that for a while before changing to the next – this would limit me changing lenses but more importantly, force me to think in terms of that lenses capabilities and ignore other options.

While I used the lens hood on the Leica for the 1st session at midday, I decided to try without it for the dusk shots. A lens hood was used for the Canon 135mm lens (as that lenses suffers from significant internal flare which lowers contrast and so I ALWAYS use a lens hood with that one!), but I didn’t use a lens hood with the OM lenses. All lenses had a UV or protective filter on.

As I wanted to show how this camera would work for most people, all shots were taken with AWB in jpeg only with default camera image settings and most were in aperture priority mode, and some I under-exposed on purpose. All were hand held. No sharpening applied to any of the ones taken today!

One problem I do find with the GH-1 is that my index finger often accidentally alters the front dial (which in aperture priority mode becomes the exposure compensation dial) and this can be very annoying and I had to continually monitor the exp. compensation value in the viewfinder.

I loved using all these lenses, the Leica was superb wide open at f/1.4 and will be a very useful lens for general work, particularly in low light.

The Olympus OM 21mm f/3.5 makes a great compact street lens giving 42mm focal length in 35mm terms and the ability to just set your focus distance at about 6-10 foot and set aperture to f/3.5-5.6, ISO to 400, and exposure to aperture priority and then you really don’t need to worry too much about focusing for those candid unexpected shots ala Leica rangefinder style of shooting.

The OM 100mm makes a nice compact 200mm lens in 35mm terms but I suspect it will be best used at f/4-5.6, but at least with the EVF auto gain, you don’t have to keep opening the aperture to focus as you do on optical digital systems. You do have to hit the AF button to go into MF assist to ensure accurate focus with this lens – as you must do with the Canon 135mm lens, although you can get reasonably accurate focus on these telephotos without MF assist – but its better with MF assist.

Now, I was not on a mission to make memorable photos today, but just to push the lenses a bit and see what this camera can really do, so here are some of the results – according to lens used.

A couple of the portrait orientation ones are shown here.

Olympus OM 21mm – dark alley graffiti art:

OM 21mm

Leica D 25mm after sunset at f/1.4 ISO 400 1/125th sec in 16:9 image aspect ratio – I must say, I love that capability of the GH-1 to change aspect ratios without just cropping images, as you suddenly gain a bit more width to your lens, and this format is more suited to telling stories.


One other little bug seemed to be that “check lens is attached properly” error which turns off the display – this came up only once – when I was attempting to AF the Leica 25mm to its closest focus for the flowers and I was a bit too close.

To see all these shots from today’s solo photowalk, see here.


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