Ronno Tramper Photography

21 October 2009, Some thoughts on my recent flirt with Panasonic

In September 2009 I bought a Panasonic Lumix G1 and three lenses. At that moment I already owned two Nikons (D300 and D200) and a bunch of Nikkors and lenses of other brands, all of them for Nikon. I have never complained about the quality of the Nikons. It isn't that I wasn't satisfied with them. The Nikon camera bodies are very solid and the image quality is OK. Check all the reviews on the internet and you will see that they perform on par with the Canons and the Sonies. They just do the job. But they are not very exciting in terms of the new and unexpected possibilities they offer.

Professional and prosumer Nikons e.g. do not have live view and an articulated LCD screen. Nikon prefers to sell their professional customers angle finders, loupe finders and other expensive accessories. I have a bag full of them. Ever tried to shoot a Nikon D300 high above your head? Framing is a matter of trial and error! There's a very simple solution for that. It´s called articulated LCD screen and live view. Another example: I can shoot a Panasonic G1 on a beanbag at ground level without fumbling with my camera backpack first, trying to find an angle finder and screwing it on. With the G1 I just turn the LCD screen so that it is facing up. I do not even have to sit on my knees to look through an angle finder. If in that situation I want to focus precisely with the G1, I just switch to MF and automatically get a 100% crop of the image on the LCD screen to help me focus. No expensive loupe finders. All very helpful. Live view on the 1500 euro Nikon D300 on the other hand is a hopeless mess in terms of ease of use and autofocus speed. And it is practically useless without an articulated LCD screen. Live view is particularly useful in situations where you cannot get your head behind the viewfinder easily and in that kind of situations you will want an articulated screen as well. It's that simple. I am sometimes wondering if I am simply paying Nikon all that money for a dumb titanium shell.

I feel that Nikon, and a few others, lack the drive for innovation that some of the newcomers on the market have. Why does a Nikon DSLR body still basically look like a beefed up Nikon F3 or an F5. Why are they so big? Why does a professional digital camera still need a mirror? Why do we need full frame sensors if in its new G11 Canon can cram 10 very good megapixels on a sensor of just 5 x 7 millimeters? No mirror and a smaller sensor means a smaller camera and smaller lenses. It means that a body and a very good, stabilized, standard zoom with the equivalent of AF-S in the Nikkors can weigh 600 grams instead of the 1500 grams of a D300 and a Nikkor 16-85 AF-S VR. All my Panasonic gear (G1 body and three lenses, 14-400mm full frame equivalent) fits in a small belt pack and weighs 1500 grams. I find myself carrying a camera with me more often than before. You are not going to shoot any photos with a camera that you left at home because it's to cumbersome to carry it around.

So I decided to sell my backup D200. For now I kept the D300 and most of the Nikkors, because there is no Panasonic alternative for fast AF, long lens photography yet and because indoors at ISO 1600 the D300 is still a slightly better camera. But how often do I take that kind of photos?

19 October 2009, Fly Agaric, (Amanita muscaria)

Fly Agaric, (Amanita muscaria)
Panasonic Lumix G1 and Lumix G Vario 7-14mm at 10mm, 1/8sec at f8, beanbag

I used the Panasonic G1 and the Lumix 7-14mm for this shot. The Panasonic is gradually becoming the camera that I prefer to take with me whenever I go for a walk in the nearby woodlands and wetlands. It's versatile and very easy to use. The 7-14mm focuses very close (25 centimeters, which is close for a wide angle zoom). In close up shots like this one the bokeh is a bit of a problem. The highlights in the background look like little discs with a bright ring around them. Move you mouse over the image to see a 100% crop of the upper right corner. I guess this is something that is hard to avoid in a wide angle zoom. It can be disturbing in a large print, but maybe that is just a matter of taste. It is easily mitigated by creating a duplicate layer, applying a gaussian blur to that layer, adding a layer mask and then paint over the areas with the highlights. The bright ring around the discs will dissappear and the discs themselves will become less pronounced that way.

12 October 2009, Only one pixel wide

I just checked something because I was curious. The smallest hairs on the legs of the fly in the image below are only one pixel wide (enlarge it to 800% on your screen and you will see that it is true). The combination of the Panasonic Lumix G vario 45-200 and the Nikon 4T close-up lens seems to be capable of resolving quite a lot of detail. Probably near the limits of what the sensor is capable of. This is all the more amazing because I stopped down to f11. The G1, with its relatively small four thirds sensor, ought to be diffraction limited from about f8.

9 October 2009, Autumn is beginning

Porcelain mushroom, oudemansiella mucida
Panasonic Lumix G1 and Lumix G Vario 45-200mm at 60mm + Nikon 4T close up lens, 1/5sec at f11, tripod

I know, the front of the hood of the left mushroom is not sharp. I focused on something else, on purpose. See the fly on top of the hood? The Panasonic G1's manual focus works like a charm in this kind of situation, provided the fly is willing to sit still, of course. If you switch to manual focus, an enlarged crop is shown on the articulated LCD screen, allowing you to focus very precisely. Move your mouse over the image to see a 100% crop. would you believe I made this with the G1, the 45-200 Lumix kit lens and a Nikon 4T close up lens attached to it? That close-up lens has been lying in the closet for years. It has a diameter of 52mm. All my Nikkors of today are 67mm or more. Panasonics designers can keep the Micro Four Thirds lenses very small because of the fact that the camera body has no mirror (the distance between the back of the lens and the image sensor can be much smaller).

Using this Nikon 4T close up filter again reminds me of the days I used a Nikon FE and a 2.8/100mm E-series Nikkor (the 1980's). In a macro image, do you really need more sharpness than this? I am starting to wonder why I am carrying around a one kilo heavy Sigma 3.5/180mm macro and a Nikon D300 body most of the time.

Panasonic Lumix G1 and Lumix G Vario 45-200mm at 132mm + Nikon 4T close up lens, 1/6sec at f11, tripod

8 October 2009, A perfect postcard

Jotunheimen National Park, Norway
Panasonic Lumix G1 and Lumix G Vario 45-200mm at 60mm (120mm equiv.), tripod

I took this just before the wind completely destroyed the reflection of the mountains in the lake. Its the almost perfect postcard and technically there is nothing wrong with the image, but it is not very original of course. Sometimes I was just so absorbed by the technical ins and outs of the G1, that I forgot what photography is really about: creativity.

By the way, I will need a few more days for the field report of the G1. I want to concentrate on the issues that arise when you actually use the camera intensively in the field. Summing up all its characteristics almost a year after its launch, doesn't seem very useful to me (you might as well watch a video on Youtube for that). There are a few issues in my opinion that have not had much attention so far. Shooting in the dark e.g. is almost impossible. As soon as the electronic view finder and the LCD screen let you down (not enough light) there is no way you are going to focus. AF doesn't work and the images in the viewfinder and on the LCD are so grainy and unclear that manual focusing is no longer possible. I was unable to find a way around it. There is no distance scale on the lenses and the "focus by wire" approach means that you have absolutely no clue where the focus might lie. You can keep turning the focussing ring forever, there is no stop.

Also, the camera tends to overexpose the highlights in jpegs in order to preserve detail in the shadows. Very annoying, all those textureless white clouds in a blue sky. It's OK if a camera does that in some sort of fool proof iA-mode, but if I choose the A or M mode and matrix metering I do not want a camera to decide for me that I would like to blow out the highlights in favour of the shadows. If I want that, I know how to use spot metering, thank you. I shoot raw, so I do not depend on the camera's decisions for my final result. But ... the image on the LCD screen on the back are jpegs and the histograms are not of the raw image you just shot, but of this temporary jpeg the camera created for you to review the image (this, by the way is the case in a lot of cameras). You have to be very careful, blinking white skies and histograms leaning all the way to the right do not mean that the raw images are overexposed. That remains to be seen. Otherwise you will end up throwing away good images. If you shoot raw only, my advise would be to make your own film mode "MY FILM 1" and turn all the settings of this mode down to minus 2. You will see flat images on the LCD during reviewing, but at least you will get some idea of what the raw file really contains.

But, I shouldn't forget to say that in a lot of respects I really liked this little camera!

Reflections in the Sogne Fjord, Norway
Panasonic Lumix G1 and Lumix G Vario 14-45mm at 45mm (90mm equiv.)
30 seconds at f5.6 and ISO 100, tripod
shooting the G1 in the darkness is not easy ...
I got lucky only once, before it became so dark that focusing was no longer possible. Not even MF.

4 October 2009, Field report Panasonic Lumix G1 in Norway

Panasonic Lumix G1 and Lumix G Vario 1:4/7-14 ASPH.

I returned from my trip to Norway last wednesday. Since then I spent a lot of time evaluating the 1200 or so (18Gb) raw images taken with the G1 on that trip. I ended up shooting a lot with that camera, leaving my Nikon D300 in the bag almost all of the time. I only got it out for the occasional wide angle shot with a polarizer (the Lumix Vario 7-14 does not have a filter thread) and for the inevitable shoot out between the Lumix G1 and the Nikon D300. The images below were shot in raw and then converted with Raw Therapee on a computer running Ubuntu Linux. Shooting raw on the G1 and then doing the conversion with a rather exotic raw converter (at least for Windows and Mac users) has a few clear advantages. First of all both the Panasonic converter and Adobe Camera Raw "pre-process" the raw image, correcting distortion and vignetting and in the process diminishing the field of view, cutting off the edges of your image (14mm is no longer 14mm but 15 or more). In addition the Panasonic converter and the in-camera jpegs do not show what this sensor is really capable of in terms of resolution, which is absolutely amazing for a four thirds sensor that is considerably smaller than the DX size sensor of the Nikons.

"Norwegian wood", Ringebu Stavkirk
Panasonic Lumix G1 and Lumix G Vario 1:3.5-5.6/14-45 ASPH. at 14mm, 1/800 sec at f5.6 and iso 100, handheld

The Panasonic Lumix G1 proved to be a compact, light weight and very versatile camera capable of delivering images of professional quality equalling the images from the D300. I know that this is hard to believe. After all the Lumix G1 and the 14-45 kit lens come at a price of 600 Euros (and 647 grams ready to shoot, including battery, card and kit lens), whereas the Nikon D300 and my Nikkor 16-85 VR are in an entirely different price class (approx. 1900 Euros, 1450 grams). Sure, the D300 is sturdier and is a little better at high isos, but in the hands of a careful photographer, working methodically and shooting raw, the G1 will deliver images of a quality that is comparable to that of the D300. Not in the least because the three micro four thirds lenses that I had with me turned out to be excellent. I think Panasonic felt it had something to prove in terms of image quality. And they certainly succeeded.

Not that it is all perfect. Distortion is a moderate problem with the 14-45 kit lens at 14mm. It is easily (often automatically) corrected in the raw converter, but that is not a lossless proces. On the other hand it is not always neccesary to correct distortion. Have a look at the images above and below. They were not corrected. The 45-200 kit lens could be a little sharper between 150 and 200mm, but hey, this is a 300 Euro lens and 200mm is the equivalent of 400mm on a full frame camera. Does anyone dare to say that Nikons 70-300 VR is a star performer between 200 and 300mm? The Lumix Vario G 7-14mm is outrageously sharp in the center, but also somewhat soft in the extreme (and I mean extreeeeeme) corners at 7mm. But 7mm is the equivalent of 14mm on an FX camera. That is an extremely wide angle. There aren't all that many 14mm lenses with a super performance all the way into the corners of the image. And by the way, you will only see it in the 4:3 format. In 3:2 and 16:9 crops you won't see it. Fact is that these lenses at the 3:2 format do very well compared to my Nikkors on the D300. It is nothing short of remarkable that the Lumix 14-45 kit lens is not simply blown away by the Nikkor 16-85 VR, a lens that has a very good reputation. On screen at 100% the 4000x2670 images from the G1 are just as detailed as the 4300x2850 D300 images. Taken a few seconds apart from the same tripod, same aperture, at base ISO.

I will prepare an article about my experieces with the G1 and the three lenses I took. It will be published here on my site in a few days.

"Norwegian wood", Ringebu Stavkirk, detail
Panasonic Lumix G1 and Lumix G Vario 1:3.5-5.6/14-45 ASPH. at 14mm, 1/320 sec at f5.6 and iso 100, handheld

13 september 2009, On my way to Norway

I will soon be leaving for Norway to shoot some photos of the autumn colors there. I have been there many times in the film era, but I have never shot the autumn in Norway on digital. I am really looking forward to those two weeks of solitude among fjords, fjells and glaciers. The image below was taken with a Nikon F3 and an f2.8/20-35 Tokina pro zoom on Fuji Velvia. I have no idea of the focal length and camera settings (probably f11 and something like 28mm). The slide was scanned on a Nikon Coolscan 5000 ED. Sharpness at 100% is a bit "iffy". Clearly, the Tokina-zoom had its limitations when it came to critical sharpness. But it's still good enough for an A3 print, I guess. I have changed the cover photo of my site to september. So for a larger version of the image below you can follow this link. During my two weeks in Norway not much will happen on this site. But if you come back in the first week of october I will show you some of the images I made there (including images and a field report from the Panasonic Lumix G1).

First snow in September, Dovre Fjell, Norway
Nikon F3, Tokina f2.8/20-35, Fuji Velvia, tripod

7 september 2009, Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 last friday. I had been waiting for the DMC-GH1 long enough, I decided. It's still not available. What is Panasonic doing? They could have sold hundreds of thousands of the by now. On top of that the pricing of the G1 has become so attractive (a little over 800 euro's, including two kit lenses, 14-45 and 45-200 + a 125 euro "cash back" from Panasonic ) that I decided to go on with it.

This is just about the opposite of a switch to full frame, I have to admit. The camera has a 4/3 (four-thirds) image sensor measuring 18mm x 13,5mm. That is roughly a quarter of the full frame sensor in a Nikon D3X. There is an articulated screen on the back and an electronic view finder. The electronic view finder (instead of an optical view finder) has become necessary because this is a micro four thirds camera without the mirror of traditional DSLR's. I tried it this weekend in my back garden and on the Mantinger Sands in Drenthe, the Netherlands. I had heard many good stories about the sensor and the kit lenses and I wasn't disappointed. Very, very sharp. My first impression is that it beats the D300 in that respect. The images below were made with the G1 using the kit lenses.

The first image, of the brambles, was made using the 45-200 at 84mm. I had a Nikon 4T close up lens attached (discontinued, but one of the best ever) to get closer to the subject: working distance approx. 30 cm/1 foot. Having a size of 52mm the 4T had been lying unused in a closet for many years (next to a 52mm B&W polarizer). The quality of the 100% image was a pleasant surprise, very sharp and not all that much wrong with the bokeh as you can see.

The image of the underwear (I am sorry, but I thought it was a nice colourful image ;-)) was made with the 14-45 kit-lens at 14 mm. I kept the camera high above my head using the bright and sharp articulated screen. It is accompanied by a 100% crop. Look at the stitches, there's so much detail there!

The images were shot in RAW and converted with Raw Therapee. My usual raw converter Bibble Pro cannot convert the images. I can certainly recommend Raw Therapee. It's perhaps a little slower that Bibble, but the results are just as good. And, oh yes, it's free and available for almost all platforms (Windows, MAC and Linux)!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, G Vario 1:4-5.6/45-200 at 84mm + Nikon 4T, tripod

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, G Vario 1:3.5-5.6/14-45 ASPH at 14mm

100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, G Vario 1:3.5-5.6/14-45 ASPH at 14mm