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UPDATE 12/13: The Lumix GX7 is the successor to the Lumix GX1 that I review (and love) below. It's pricey ($828 on Amazon or $998 with lens) because it's new, and you can now get a screaming deal on the GX1 (as low as $227). The two big advantages of the GX7 are 25% less noise in pics + wifi capabilities (including app remote control). I haven't made the switch yet, but I did do a more in-depth comparison on the two cameras here. If you do, let me know what you think in the comments below!
My wife and I are on a quest to learn how to take insanely great pictures. We are just starting this journey and I invite you to share it with us if photography is a passion of yours. The picture above is one of our first attempts at taking the kinds of photos that have a "wow" factor that transcends a regular photo. The photo was taken by my wife; that's my friend Keoni on the left and me on the right.
My first step was to learn about cameras and settle on the right one for me. After doing a lot of research, I chose the Panasonic Lumix GX1. I explain below why I bought this camera and what I think of it, and I'll be posting more in the community section as I learn more about how to take world-class photos.
As I learn more about photography, I'll also talk about post-processing, and HDR photos in particular. HDR is a technique that allows you to select each best pixel from a shot with multiple exposures, and produces stunning results. A huge thank-you to Trey Ratcliff, the blogger behind the popular travel blog Stuck In Customs. He has hours of tutorials about HDR photography that I've already benefitted greatly from. He also proves that it's not just about the camera -- for example, in this post he took a number of photos at BurningMan with various cameras and then asked readers to guess which camera he used.
Selecting The Camera
I knew I wanted a camera that was much better than a point-and-shoot, yet I didn't want the bulk of carrying a DSLR around. The camera had to be compact, yet functional. It had to have interchangeable lenses and manual aperture and shutter controls. After reading dozens of detailed reviews and hundreds of comments from users of various cameras in this category, I bought the Panasonic Lumix GX1. For $659 you can get a camera and lens that fits all of these criteria. Not only that, but this camera uses a new-ish standard called "FourThirds" which is a digital protocol across several camera manufacturers for interchangeable lenses with sensors that while smaller than DSLRs, are much larger than traditional point-and-shoot cameras (and the sensor size is the main limiting factor of point-and-shoot camera picture quality). I've found that with this class of camera, sometimes called a "mirrorless camera" or "micro 4/3 camera," you get nearly the quality of a DSLR in a form factor that's compact enough to carry in a small bag (albeit not quite a pants pocket).
Here are a few things to know about the GX1 specifically:
All GX1s are not created equal! There are two base models for the GX1. The first has a manual 14-42mm zoom lens, which you can score for $469, while the second uses a power lens, also 14-42mm, but is much more compact. It'll cost you $200 more, but to me it was worth the space savings (see the comparison picture at right -- same body, vastly different lens sizes). Having the more compact lens means I don't have to remove the lens when I take the camera in my backpack, and that means I'm more likely to take the camera with me to more places. And as the old saying goes, 'the best camera is the one you have with you to take the shot.' There are a few drawbacks to the more compact version besides the higher price tag. Some reviewers on Amazon found ghosting in the images, although based on the reviews, that problem seems to have largely gone away in more recent production runs (I haven't noticed it). But make sure to read the Amazon reviews to learn how to test for this. Additionally, I've noticed that the power lens uses noticeably more battery than the manual lens, although you can shoot on & off for several hours with either one without a problem. If you expect to be buying a number of lenses, you might want to stick with the base model and then add this very compact 20mm Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 Aspherical Pancake Lens which many owners rave about.
Another small thing to know about the camera is that the charger light shows as a solid green when charging, and then turns off when charging is done. A bit strange, as I thought when I dropped the battery in that solid green meant the battery was shipped full and charing was complete.
Also, if I had an unlimited budget, I would've sprung for the Sony NEX-7 camera, but it costs $1,199 just for the body. I couldn't justify the huge price gap between the two for the additional functionality of the NEX-7.
I'll post more about the camera as I start to use it, but so far I'm very happy with it. I look forward to taking this journey with anyone else who's passionate about photography. If you have tips & tricks -- especially about taking HDR photos, I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.
More updates coming as I learn about the camera and taking insanely great photos.
Daniel - This blog post was super helpful!
Ruby asked a photographer friend and he pointed us to the canon EOS-M. We found a few side-by-side comparisons:
I think we're going to stick with your conclusion and get the panasonic you described above. It doesn't seem that for the extra cost we're getting that much more unless we already had a bunch of canon lenses, which we dont. We're going to be much more casual photographers and in reality we're probably going to take a ton of pictures of our son.
Seeing the pictures you've produced so far have been impressive! keep the updates coming.
The EOS-M is a super interesting camera. It looks like Amazon is selling it for $799 w/ the pancake lens. Here are some of my initial thoughts:
Since I'm mostly going to take pictures of my son and perhaps some landscapes when on vacation, do you suggest that I start with that pancake lens? I, like you, want compactness because it means I'm more likely to have the camera with me.
Yeah so here's one thing you could do (and I considered doing):
Instead of buying the $659 camera with the power zoom lens, you could buy the $395 camera body only, and then buy the $349 1.7f pancake lens, which would put you at a total of $750. So what are the pro's & con's of that approach? Well:
And here's one variation to what I wrote above: Instead of just buying the camera body for $395, you could buy the camera body + the manual (bulky) 14-42mm zoom lens for $449, effectively getting the manual zoom lens for $54, and then buy the pancake lens for another $349.
That puts you up into the $800 range vs $659 for just the one power zoom lens that's very flat, which is why I didn't ultimately choose to do that. However, if you were to do it, then for $140 more, you are getting two distinct lenses (with the pancake lens having an awesome, low 1.7f stop) that don't have the compromises of the singular power zoom lens (to re-iterate, the compromise being that the power zoom lens is focused & zoomed using levers, not quick manual ring adjustments).
I also found this next lens which is in-between the lens we were talking about in both price and f-stop rating: http://www.amazon.com/Panasonic-14mm-2-5-Aspherical-Interchangeable/dp/B0043VE29C/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1354144905&sr=8-2&keywords=panasonic+pancake+lens
Thats 14mm with a 2.5f rating and costs $267. What do you think of that one?
Hum, dunno... 1.7 to 2.5 is a pretty big difference. You should read this dpreview about the 1.7 and decide for yourself: http://www.dpreview.com/lensreviews/panasonic_20_1p7_o20
One especially significant part of the review reads "With the fast F1.7 maximum aperture, Panasonic has also placed a shot across the bows of the other manufacturers producing similar cameras and lenses, who have apparently decided that F2.8 is good enough. In contrast the 20mm pancake lets in a stop and half more light, so a shot which would require a shutter speed of 1/20 sec at F2.8 (for example) becomes relatively comfortable at 1/50 sec F1.7. This makes the lens much more flexible in low-light situations; you're less likely to get blur through either subject motion or camera shake, and so can frequently shoot indoors without needing flash (thereby avoiding the 'rabbit-in-the-headlamps' look which has plagued social snapshots ever since small flashes were first mounted on compact cameras)."
Oh I found a great review comparing the two lenses: http://m43photo.blogspot.com/2011/01/comparison-lumix-14mm-vs-lumix-20mm.html
This post here has another good review for using the 20mm lens as a portrait lens: http://m43photo.blogspot.com/2010/09/using-lumix-20mm-as-portrait-lens.html
You can see that there is some distortion at close ranges from the subject. Although we wont be doing portrait shots 100% of the time my wife she really wants a lens that takes a really good shot without having to think about her distance at all.
So, we actually bought both setups and wil be returning 1 of them. I'll let you know how it goes.
Man, the plot thickens! That's a great writeup. I love the look of the low f-stop in the 20mm pics. It's a 1.7 vs a 4 on the other lens, and having the shallow depth of field just makes the subject pop, like in this pic: http://drod.io/image/2I170o193A1O
Which two setups did you buy?
Let's do this -- when you get them, let's test them both, and post the results in the community section of this blog. That'd give everyone else who reads this a great chance to see the differences. It'll be a fun chance to check them both out.
BTW one thing I did notice from the link you posted above was this line: " At a distance of about 0.7m (2 feet) or more, the face distortion should not be noticeable" ... I'd think that you'd often be at 2+ feet. But like you said, the best plan is to just try them out and see for yourself.
Also, I looked in Amazon comments for people comparing the two lenses and found these:
"After living with and LOVING the optics of the Lumix 20mm pancake f 1.7, I find this 14mm f 2.5 to be "just an ok lens". The pancake size profile is great but the optics leave me leaving this lens home."
"I feel some people are being a bit unfair with the rating of this lens, giving all the fanfare to the 20mm 1.7. Now, while the extra stop would be very nice, the quicker and quieter AF [from what I hear] on the 14mm is more to my liking."
Man it's a tough one! Save $100, while getting a faster focusing lens that's 5mm thinner AND a wider field of view... or spend the extra $100 and get a lower F-stop, which means less blur, a shallower depth-of-field, better low light performance and better optics.
After mulling it over a bit, I think I'd go with the 1.7. I just really love low f-stops for picture quality.
Here are some more Amazon comments that specifically contrast the 14mm 2.5 lens with the 20mm 1.7 lens:
I think that last $100 might be worth it for me for the pancake lens. I think that "pro" feel you're talking about with the low f-stop might be worth it for me especially since I'm taking pictures mostly of people.
OK so I went over to Isaac's house last night and we did a little lens bake-off. Here are the results (a post on the community section -- feel free to write your own questions/thoughts there as well).
Yeah agreed. If you're mostly taking pics of people, then that 1.7f pancake lens would be killer good. Very shallow depth-of-field.
You may want to spring for the manual, bulkier zoom lens for $50 more than just the body. That way, you can carry that lens with you whenever you know you're going to be taking outdoor shots, and just keep the pancake lens on the rest of the time.
That'd be a pretty sweet setup. I almost went that way myself and I sometimes wonder if I would've been happier doing it that way... although I do appreciate having built-in zoom capability. I'm definitely going to have to check that pancake lens out if you get it!
Wonderful blog! I've discovered your site recently but i found a lot of interesting topics! Good work!!
I think using the best accesories, like lenses or even the best selfie stick available can help in the whole shooting.
Always fun to do long exposure photography! I shop this down at the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC at sunrise. If you're shooting water an ND filter + a long exposure can create some unique effects :)
'Learning To Take Insanely Great Photos' UPDATE 12/13: The Lumix GX7 is the successor to the Lumix GX1 that I review (and love) below. It's pricey ($828 on Amazon or $998 with lens) because it's new, and you can now get a screaming deal on the GX1 (as low as $227). The two big advantages of the GX7 are 25% less noise in pics + wifi capabilities (including app remote control). I haven't made the switch yet. If you do, let me know what you think in the comments below
Hello, my name is Ben 13 years old and I want to start a blog, but I can't. Could you please help me out with a code? I think your blogs are very cool and I want mine to be like yours. Thanks!
Here are some great pics I just took with the 20mm pancake lens. I just did a full shootout review of it here.
I upgraded from the Lumix G1 to the G5 and am very glad I did. I shot this image of my brother-in-law and his wife without flash at ISO 1600. At full resolution, it's quite impressive. Here, I've compressed it for on-line viewing.
The G5 has many scene settings. I used a night portrait setting for this shot.
I've been using the Kodak Zi8 camera for several years now, and it's been a workhorse of my ability to capture content. I originally reviewed the Zi6, and then reviewed the Zi8 more recently on this blog, and I also did a post on using a wide-angle lens with the Zi6 or Zi8.
But recently, I gave a speech at TJHSST and the Zi8 failed to record the video correctly, so I decided it was time to revisit my setup, since capturing content is so important to me (as per our company manifesto points #13 and #19).
The price of the Zi8 camera has come down so much since its launch (from above $200 to under $100 now) that I decided to use the following strategy:
Here's a video of the entire setup, with pics below that:
I spent $1800 on my first high quality camera. I was on the brink of Life Nomadic, and I justified the purchase with two ideas. The first was that I would be seeing a lot of things for the first, and possibly the only, time. Second, the particular camera I bought, an Epson R-D1s, seemed to hold its value well.
It came as a shock to a lot of people how primitive my camera was in many ways. It had no autofocus, no flash, no video recording capabilities, no self timer, and the only thing it could do automatically was light metering. It did that poorly. After each shot it was necessary to thumb a switch, which mechanically reset the spring for the shutter.
I bought a single lens for it, a Nokton 40mm/1.4. It had no zoom, and the aperture was set mechanically by rotating a ring on the lens. The lens was gorgeous. For those who don't know, a 1.4 F-Stop means that the lens is very fast: it lets in a lot of light. The average camera lens is probably around an f/3.5, which lets in only an eighth as much light as mine did. That's how I got amazing low-light pictures like this one.