Panasonic GF1 first impressions

As anyone who’s been following this blog knows, I’ve been very excited about the whole inception of the new micro four thirds standard… I decided not to jump on the EP-1, waiting to see the developments from Panasonic etc…  With the release of the GF1 and the announcement of the EP-2, I finally decided to get myself a GF1 for my birthday.   Of course my B-day isn’t for another month, but given the impossibility of actually finding the stupid thing in stock, when I saw one available from amazon I jumped on it and received it last week.

Of course a week and a few shots are not nearly enough to get the real “feel” of a camera, but here are some initial thoughts:

  • I bought this camera as a replacement for my G9 (which I subsequently sold). my first thought was “this is just like my G9, only better”
  • Image quality is superb – particularly with the 20/1.7.  Plenty of detail, and the raw files hold up to processing well (using LR3 beta).  High ISO is perfectly adequate for me.  I’d use it comfortably up to 800/1250, and 1600/2500 are definitely usable with some NR/processing.  3200 is a bit noisy, but still seems perfectly usable for smaller prints etc… with some NR.
  • I don’t miss an OVF at all.  I don’t know why folks get hysterical about composing on a screen- to me it’s just another way of composing.  SLR finder, Rangefinder, Waist-level finder, ground glass… whatever.   as long as I can compose my image, it’s all good.
  • Much like the G9 it’s not truly “pocketable” it definitely needs a small bag or coat pocket.  To me this is basically a camera for “good pictures that’s lighter/easier to carry than an SLR”
  • Responsiveness is excellent.  Shutter lag is negligible, and focus is nice and snappy even in low light.  It’s not quite as good as my D700 (!) but it’s more than adequate.   I can’t see myself missing any shots due to lag (caveat: I don’t shoot kids or sports, so if you do YMMV!)
  • build quality is… decent… it’s not a leica, but it doesn’t feel like its going to fall apart either.  Probably the cheapest-feeling part of the whole thing is the zoom action on the 14-45 kit lens, but even that isn’t terrible (hey it’s a kit lens!)
  • Manual focus with the m4/3 lenses is actually not bad at all.  The “focus by wire” doesn’t bother me, and the focus rings (particularly on the 20/1.7) are surprisingly smooth and well damped, unlike many modern AF lenses.  I’m curious to try some real MF lenses on it with an adaptor.
  • I’m still getting a feel for the menus/controls, but they seem perfectly adequate.  I wasn’t sure about the whole “push-turn” control wheel but I actually really like it now.  All the necessary info is shown on screen, and all the settings I need to use regularly are easily accessible without digging through 27 menus (<cough> canon mirror lockup<cough>
  • I’m curious how the lack of a mirror will affect hand-holdability.  I know I can handhold a rangefinder at least a stop slower than an equivalent SLR, I wonder if the GF1 will have the same advantage…
  • So far the main “negative” I can find with the camera is that the grip on the front feels a little slippery (the rear has a nice rubber thumbpad, but the front “fingertip” area is too slick for me) Surprisingly this makes the grip less sure than my G9… it might be worth getting a little stick on pad for the front to alleviate this.

Overall, the “gestalt” of this camera is the same to me as the G9 – not a “pocket camera” per-se, but a “real camera” that I can carry around more easily than a full SLR.  In this regard it succeeds superbly.   For my purposes, the GF1 realizes the dream of “SLR image quality in a compact body” perfectly, particularly with the superb 20/1.7.   I’m actually toying with using it fom a couple of “real” shoots coming up, to see if the ability to go ultralight/minimalist will give added freedom in location shooting.

more to come…

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POST 2009 @ Ed Z Studios

Once again, Ed Z Studios opens it’s doors for POST – the Philadelphia Open Studio Tour.  Tons of local artists open their studios to the public in an organized tour spanning two weekends in October.  Always a fun time, always tons of fantastic artists!

Check it out, and if you are in the area feel free to stop by!

As A POST Special, anyone who comes by the studio will receive a coupon for 15% off any print or assignment booking!

Official press release below:


Philadelphia Open Studio Tours 2009

Featuring:

9 Artists in Old City

Studio Tours on October 3 – 4, 2009

Blowout Birthday Party on Friday September 25

Friends of CFEVA Guided Tour on Sunday October 4

Selections from The Studio Opening Reception on Thursday October 8

Citywide Studio Tours during the first two weekends in October

Over 300 participating artists and community partners

Philadelphia, PA This October, The Center for Emerging Visual Artistsis pleased to bring you the 10th Annual Philadelphia Open Studio Tours. Join over 300 professional visual artists, local businesses, arts organizations and galleries to celebrate 10 years of studio art! Artists and event partners in every neighborhood from Chestnut Hill to South Philly will open their doors free to public in the largest event of its kind in Philadelphia.

This year, the Open Studio Tours is happy to feature artists in Old City:

Anne Marble Caramanico

Frances Galante

Tim McFarlane

Paula Mintzer

Francesca Pfister

Antonio Puri

Karl Seifert

Irma Shapiro

Edward Zawadzki

In addition, we are working with Artist and Craftsman Supply, Artists House, Indy Hall, and Silicon Gallery Fine Art Prints as Community Partners to provide support and information about the event. Visit philaopenstudios.org for detailed information about participating artists and community partners.

The 10th Anniversary Festivities are just around the corner! For details on the comprehensive schedule of POST-related activities, including artist workshops, receptions, exhibitions, neighborhood parties, and more, visit philaopenstudios.com/Events.aspx. Following is a schedule of this year’s official events:

Blowout Birthday Party
Friday September 25, 5 – 10pm

The Institute of Contemporary Art at 36th and Sansom

Kick off the POST season with a party at the ICA: Cake, candles, drinks, entertainment by Jasa Li, Tsirkus Fotografika, and projected video installation of and by participating artists. This is one you don’t’ want to miss!

Artist Studios EAST of Broad Street
The weekend of October 3-4, 2009, noon-6pm
All tours are self-guided and free
Visit artists working in South Philly, Bella Vista, Queen Village, South Street, Center City, Old City, Northern Liberties, Kensington, Fishtown, and Port Richmond

Artist Studios West of Broad Street
The weekend of October 10-11, 2009, noon-6pm
All tours are self-guided and free
Visit artists working in Germantown, Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill, East Falls, Manayunk, Roxborough, West Philly,  North Philly, Fairmount, Center City, and Graduate Hospital

POST Guided Tour
Sunday October 4, 1 – 4 pm
Meet at 1521 Locust Street
Want to visit artist studios, but not sure where to start? Join us for the Friends of CFEVA Guided Tour, and enjoy select artist studios with transportation and refreshments provided. Tickets are $75 each; reservations required. To reserve a space or for more information, contact the Center for Emerging Visual Artists at 215-546-7775 x16 or holly@cfeva.org.

Selections From The Studio
Opening Reception, Thursday October 8, 5 – 7 pm
Exhibition runs from Monday September 28 to Friday October 16, 2009
Group exhibition featuring POST artists selected by Julien Robson, PAFA Curator of Contemporary Art. The Gallery at the Center for Emerging Visual Artists is located at 1521 Locust Street, Lower Level, and the Gallery Hours are noon to 4pm M-F.

For a full list of artists; high resolution images; profiles of specific artists;
or more details on events, promotions or sponsorship,
please contact Ann at 215-546-7775 x13 or ann@cfeva.org

The Philadelphia Open Studio Tours is supported and sponsored by


the Mamiya 6 – a highly subjective review

mam6

My photography career started with film.  Black and white negative film, and an old Pentax spotmatic.  I “switched” to digital with a Minolta Maxxum 7d, and shot pretty much exclusively digital from then on- up until about 6 months ago, when I got the itch again…

Now I knew I wanted to get a MF kit, as it’s hard to justify the extra work of 35mm film, given the quality of full-frame digital (ducks the angry rolls of tri-x being thrown).   Medium Format, OTOH, is a whole ‘nother beast…  I also knew I wanted a rangefinder just because, well, I love rangefinders.   That narrowed down the field a bunch – leaving basically the Fuji MF rangefinders and the Mamiya 6 or mamiya 7 in serious contention.   I took the plunge and got the Mamiya 6 (I chose the 6 over the 7 as I prefer the 6×6 negative rather than the 6×7).   Now after about 6 months of using it, I think it’s about time to write a proper review.

be forewarned – this is not an “Controlled Environment, Pixel Peeper” type review.  I’m not going to run rolls of test film against brick walls, or post MTF charts.  This is merely my overall impression of the camera after half a year of regular use (just about enough time to really get “comfortable” with a piece of gear!)

First off, for anyone thinking of getting one of these cameras – if you’ve never used a rangefinder before, there’s going to be a learning curve.  Rangefinder camera’s are different than SLRs in that you are *not* looking through the lens to frame/focus – you look through a separate window.   This window does not change with the focal length of the lens the way an SLR viewfinder does (in other words, your view doesn’t “zoom in” when you attach a longer lens) There are simply “framelines” – a glowing box/outline that shows what will be in the frame for a given focal length.   On the Mam6, these light up automatically depending on which lens you have mounted.  Focusing is also a totally different beast – instead of looking through the lens and subjectively evaluating if the image is in focus, the rangefinder uses a “patch” in the middle of the viewfinder, which superimposes 2 images over each other.  when they are “out of alignment” the image is out of focus – you simply adjust the focus until the overlaid images are lined up – taking a lot of the “guesswork” our of manual focusing.

Out of focus:

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In Focus:

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Despite the differences (some might say limitations) there is a lot to like about rangefinder framing/shooting:

  • Once you get the hang of focusing it can be much faster and more accurate than a SLR.  You don’t have to subjectively evaluate whether the image in the vewfinder “looks sharp” – if it’s lined up it’s in focus!
  • No “blackout” – since there is no mirror flipping up to block your view at the moment of exposure, your view through the window is never interrupted.  May not sound like a big deal, but once  you’ve gotten used to it, it’s really nice!
  • framing outside the lines.  With an SLR, what you see in the vewfinder is what you get in the  frame – you can’t see “outside of the  frame”.  With a rangefinder, the frame does not take up the whole area of the viewfinder – the the area contained by the brightlines.  This mean that with the camera up to your eye, you can actually see the area outside the actual frame of the photograph.   To me, this is the single greatest part of rangefinder photography – you can see the scene through the camera wholistically – chosing which parts to include, and which to cut out.  You can see elements *before* they actually  move into the frame, and you can see the area around your frame to determine if you need to make a minute adjustment to composition etc…   It’s hard to describe, but it is incredible.  After shooting with a rangefinder for a while, going back to an SLR feels like putting blinders on – like shooting down a tunnel with no peripheral vision.

Now on to the actual meat of the review:

Handling:

The Mam6 is a solid piece of kit.   Tight tolerance, nothing loose or sloppy.   It feels like a brick of metal in the hand.  Size-wise it is fairly comporable to a 5D, but  it actually “feels” a lot smaller.  A lot of this is due to the “collapsing lens mount”.   The mamiya 6 is essentially a “bellows” camera (albeit with a sturdy shell on the outside to protect the bellows) – pressing the button on the left side of the lens mount allows the entire assembley (lens and all) to collapse *into* the body of the camera by a few inches.  Particularly with the 75/3.5 lens mounted & collapsed, the camera’s “depth” shrinks quite a bit allowing it to slip into a narrow/small camera bag.  I find it much easier to carry around as an “all day” camera than the 5D.  Here it is side by side with the 5D+50/1.8.  The 6 has the 75/3.5 normal lens mounted, and the lens mount collapsed.  (for reference the image at the top shows the camera with 75/3.5 with the mount exteded – note the difference!)

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And here it is in my everyday shoulderbag along with the 150/4.  To give a sense of scale, that is a pocket moleskine in the side pocket…

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Not exactly a “pocket camera” but when you consider that this is a *medium format* kit – it’s pretty amazingly compact.

The camera also just “fits” well in the hand. The grip is nicely contoured and comfortable.  Despite it’s somewhat “boxy” shape, it is extremely comfortable to hold/shoot with.  The controls fall well under the fingertips – the left hand focuses and sets aperture, while the shutter speed dial is positioned in a way that it can easily be rotated with the right index finger without removing one’s eye from the VF.  When combined with the meter which shows the shutter speed in the vewfinder, it makes it possible to adjust exposure without ever taking your eye away from the camera.  The focus is smoothly damped and the rangefinder works well with a decently sized focusing patch and nice bright framelines (which light up automatically depending on which lens is mounted)

Controls:

as with any fully-manual camera, controls are simple – aperture is set on the lens, there is a top dial for shutter speed/ISO(ASA) with EV comp lever under it, a film advance lever (single stroke) and the shutter button.  that’s it.

Having TTL metering, the Mam6 has a Aperture Priority mode, enabled by turning the shutter speed dial to the red “A” on the dial.  In this mode, the camera will meter to the aperture set on the lens.  As I understand it, the metering system is a center-weighted average.   There is also an AEL mode, which is also aperture priority, but has the added feature of “locking” the exposure at a 1/2 press of the shutter – very useful!   The meter shows up along the left hand side of the viewfinder – the currently selected shutter speed is shown solid, while the metered speed will blink above or below it for over/under exposed.

It’s a very intuitive system overall, and enables quick manual metering.  I generally shoot in fully manual, but I’ve had good success shooting in AEL, pointing at the part of the scene I want to meter, 1/2 pressing to lock exposure, and then recomposing and shooting.  Frankly for “fast moving” photography such as street etc… the meter is good enough to just “set it and forget it” especially given the exposure lattitude of b/w neg. film.   In A (and AEL) mode, EV comp is controlled by a little lever under the shutter speed dial.  Honestly I’ve never used it – I’m either always in manual or AEL-meterlock-recompose mode!

Changing lenses:

Changing lenses is the same as an SLR, but with a catch.   The Mamiya 6 uses a Leaf shutter system, as opposed to the focal plane shutters in most SLRs.  This means that the shutter is actually *in the lens* instead of in front of the film plane.   The obvious ramification to this is that if one removes the lens, the film plane is exposed (since there is no shutter to block it!) which would prevent changing lenses while fim is in the camera.   Luckily the Mam6 solves this rather elegantly, by having a “dark slide” that covers the film while the lens is removed.   There is a little knob on the bottom of the camera that enables the dark slide, and a switch that releases it (it snaps back automatically).   The camera also has a series of interlocks which prevent you from “doing anything bad” during this process.  In other words,  when there is film in the camera, the lens-release button will not function unless the darkslide is enabled, and once a lens is mounted, the shutter will not fire until the darkslide is withdrawn.  There is a little warning light in the upper right hand corner of the viewfinder which will blink to let you know if something is set incorrectly when you press the shutter button.   This may sound complicated, but in practice it only adds a few seconds to the process of changing a lens which becomes:

  1. turn knob to enable darkslide
  2. press lens release button, remove lens
  3. mount new lens
  4. hit the switch on the bottom to remove the darkslide
  5. shoot away

Lenses:

The bad news is that the Mamiya 6 system, only has 3 lenses.  The good news is that it only has 3 lenses.  For me, they cover just about everything I want – moderate wide, normal and moderate tele.  The added advantage is that once you have all 3, there is no worring about “oh I need lens X and lens Y”.   It’s actually rather freeing, in a strange way.   And don’t worry about said 3 not being up to snuff – these lenses are good.  Really, Really, Really Good.   If you are coming from a 35mm system, the quality will blow you away.    The lenses are:

75mm f/3.5:

This is the “normal” lens, just shy of 50mm equiv. in 35mm terms.   Beautifully sharp and contrasty across the entire frame, straight from max aperture. I tend to favor normals, so this is my “default” lens.   Also helps that it is the smallest of the 3, and collapses nicely in to the body, making the camera wonderfully portable.

150mm f/4:

Stunning. An absolutely gorgeous portrait lens (appx 100mm in 35mm terms), razor sharp, with a beautiful falloff and incredible bokeh.   The images from this lens are truly jaw dropping. I have heard some complain that it is difficult to focus, but I haven’t had any problem, so YMMV.

50mm f/4:

28mm equiv.  Don’t have this lens, but from what I’ve heard it’s the best of the 3 (which is almost scary considering how good the other two are).   Saving the pennies for it now 🙂

Gestalt:

I’ve shot with quite a few camera systems, and I can say unreservedly that the Mamiya 6 is my “”favorite” system overall.   It may sound crazy, given the limited nature of the system overall – but it’s just one of those cameras that “gets out of the way” and lets you get the shot.  From the smoothly damped action on the focus to the quiet “snick” of the shutter, to the cleverly collapsing lens mount, the camera is simply a pleasure to use – it practically “sings” in the hand.   Needless to say, the quality is superb as well (as one would expect from a medium format system).  Of course it comes with all the caveats of a rangefinder system, but it comes with all the benefits as well.   It seems to hit kind of a “sweet spot” with a combination of simplicity, usability and portability that really just *works*.

Another wonderful aspect of the system for shooters who use strobe/flash lighting is the fact that the leaf shutter of the camera allows syncing at all shutter speeds.  Unlike focal-plane slr users who must spend outrageous sums (and endure huge power losses in high-speed-sync modes) on system-dedicated strobe units to allow flash sync beyond their native sync speed, the Mamiya 6 will happily sync with any strobe right up to it’s maximum shutter speed of 1/500 sec – simply wonderful when working with lights outdoors for dropping down the ambient!

In a lot of ways, it’s hard to exactly pin down the appeal of this camera.   I recently read a review of the E-P1 which called it “a camera that you buy with your heart, not your head” (to paraphrase).  I think in a lot of ways the Mamiya is similar.   It’s certainly not as versatile as an SLR system, and in these days of high-volume shoots and fast turnaround times, it would be ludicrous to imagine using it as one’s primary camera.   But when I’m walking out the door in the morning, it’s almost always the one I grab.   It’s the type of camera that is simply *enjoyable* to use, the one that is just “comfortable”.

Nitpicks:

While I absolutely love the 6 as a whole, there are some nitpicks, nothing major but just some things to be aware of.

  • the 1/500 max shutter speed can be limiting if you want to shoot wide open in bright light.  Course you can use ND filters, but that gets cumbersome etc… (although the tradeoff to this is that you get that full 1/500 when syncing with a flash, which more than makes up for it in my mind!)
  • the meter readout can be difficult to see when wearing glasses.
  • the rather large minimum focus distance on the lenses can sometimes be limiting.

Bottom line:

If you shoot sports, this is not the camera for you.

If you shoot wildlife, this is not the camera for you.

Nor is it for weddings (well maybe) or events, or product photography (no close focus).

That being said – this camera is a unique product that is simply magical in it’s own way, and if it suits your shooting style will quickly become one of your most-loved pieces of gear.

UPDATE: My Mamiya 6 is currently in the shop for a broken film advance mechanism.  Apparently this is a not-uncommon issue with the 6, and something to be aware of before purchasing one.    Personally I wouldn’t let it stop me (and it doesn’t change my opinion of the camera) but just for full disclosure…

it’s not about the camera (redux)

We’ve all heard “it’s not about the camera, blah blah blah” but here’s a great illustration of that:

Chase Jarvis recently had a contest to win his old iphone 3g – all you had to do was submit a picture taken with a mobile.  (I didn’t because I already have and iPhone, and wouldn’t want to take it away from someone else!) Anyway, he recently posted the winner along with a gallery of favorites.

wow.

There’s some absolutely amazing stuff in there – all shot with mobiles.  Damn impressive.  So next time you hear someone complaining that they can’t make good pictures because they need X piece of gear or Y isn’t good enough show them this…

(and before I get absolutely flamed – of couse the camera “matters”, some cameras are better suited for some things than others etc… but the point is that you can make photographic art with anything from a box with a pinhole and scrap of film to a D3x to a cellphone.  So go out there and do it!)