Like other recent Panasonic Micro Four Thirds MILCs, the G7 is a very sophisticated piece of equipment with a multitude of features and capabilities. In addition the function of many of the external controls can be user selected from a long list of options.
This makes the G7 very configurable. Each user can virtually design their own camera and decide what it will do and how it will work.
This is a wonderful thing but it requires many decisions to be made by the user. Experts who are familiar with Panasonic menus and way of doing things can breeze through all this in a few minutes.
But newcomers to the brand may face a steep learning curve.
This little series on setting up the G7 is designed to help those people.
I will refer frequently to the G7 Owners Manual (PDF) for advanced features which should be downloaded from a Panasonic website and open on screen. Fortunately Panasonic’s PDFs are easier to navigate than some with “jump to” and “jump back” capability and a decent layout.
The Owners Manual tells you a lot about what you can do but almost nothing at all about why you would select one of the many options in preference to any other.
I will try to offer some assistance with this. I will explain my understanding of the options available and my selection with reasons. Your requirements will be different from mine and therefore likely to lead to different selections.
I do not use video capture so anyone who wants to use the G7 primarily for video would best seek elsewhere for advice. This series of setup posts is aimed primarily at still photo users.
User groups and basic Mode Dial Settings
The G7 is suitable for the full range of users from complete novices up to professionals.
Novices should set the Mode Dial on the [iA] icon, leave all menu items at default and enjoy the camera’s automatic, point and shoot operation which works very well.
The [Creative Control] (Artists palette) icon on the Mode Dial lets you play about with various in camera JPG effects, just for fun.
The [Scn] Mode is similar with imaging presets like “Appetizing Food” and “Cute Dessert”. I never use or recommend any of these as they give control of imaging parameters to the camera. One of the options is “Clear Sports Shot” but I would never use that for sport/action photos because that is one type of subject where you must have full control of the camera to get good photos.
Those wanting to take a bit more control can try [iA+] but I find iA+ more confusing than helpful.
Users wanting to properly take control of camera operation need to use the P,A,S,M Modes.
The G7 like all recent Panasonic M43 cameras allows you to assign many menu based items to Function buttons and/or the Q Menu button. You can also decide which button is used for the Q Menu. The list of assignable functions is so long as to bewilder the newcomer. So you need a conceptual framework to guide the process.
The framework which I use and recommend is to understand the use of a camera in four phases:
Setup, Prepare, Capture and Review.
Setup Phase decisions are made at home with the Owners Manual to hand. Items which do not need to be adjusted when out and about with the camera can remain in the main menu system, accessed via the Menu/Set button.
Prepare Phase decisions are made in the minutes before taking photos. This might involve, for instance switching from “tripod/landscape” settings to “hand held sport/action” settings.
Some adjustments in this Phase are made with Set-and-seemodules with functions set by the manufacturer. These are the Main Mode Dial to the right of the EVF hump, the Drive Mode Dial to the left of the hump and the Focus Mode Lever below and behind the Mode Dial. These control modules access the adjustments most commonly required in Prepare Phase. On this camera Panasonic has put the Set-and-seemodules to efficient use.
Other adjustments in Prepare Phase can be allocated to the Q Menu and the Q Menu function itself can be allocated to a Fn button. I leave it at the default location which is Fn2.
In Capture Phase you want to quickly adjust primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters without disrupting the picture taking flow. These include Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, Exposure Compensation, AF on, Change position and size of AF box.
The best control modules for this phase are the front and rear dials, the programmable Function Buttons and the 4way pad (called Cursor Buttons in Panasonic speak).
Review Phase is accessed via the [Playback] button the function of which cannot be reassigned.
Also the function of the [Motion Picture] button cannot be reassigned although it can be switched off (Manual P 243) to prevent accidental activation.
The G7 offers many sophisticated touch screen functions and operations (Custom Menu, Manual Page 60)
Someone coming from a smartphone background might think the touch screen would be the obvious way to operate the camera. However the screen on a camera is much smaller than that on a smartphone making all the touch icons smaller and more fiddly to use. In addition the camera is designed to be used with the EVF which makes touch operations very difficult to put it mildly.
I note that cameras designed for professional use generally do not offer touch operation.
The touch options in the Custom Menu are:
2. Touch Tab. When [On] a line of flyout tabs appears at the right side of the screen like those unloved Charms in Windows 8. You get an extra 5 little Fn button pads and several other functions.
By all means give this a try but I find the tabs too small, too fiddly and the whole process a distraction from the capture flow.
To operate a smartphone you look AT the screen. To operate a camera you look AT the subject THROUGHthe screen or EVF. I find that if I have to look AT the screen to operate the camera it distracts my attention away from the subject.
3. Touch AF. This can be set to activate AF, AE or both at any part of the screen which is touched.
4. Touch Pad AF. The idea here is to allow you to move the AF Area using touch on the monitor, while looking through the EVF. Some people say they really like this feature, others of whom I am one find it easier to move AF Area with the cursor buttons.
Try it. You will get finger prints and nose grease all over the monitor. The good news is you can switch it off.
My conclusion after several years is that the touch functions are probably most useful for video work on a tripod when you are viewing on the monitor and do not have to hold the camera.
I don’t do video and infrequently use a tripod so I switch all the touch functions off.
The next thing which I like to decide is whether or not to use Direct Focus Area (Custom Menu, Manual Page 157) as this influences what functions need to be allocated to the Q menu and Fn buttons.
Novices will be accustomed to the AF system which works in [iA] Mode. The camera uses 49 Area AF Mode and decides where to place the focus using algorithms in the firmware. This often produces multiple small green boxes when the shutter is half pressed.
Users coming from a DSLR background may be familiar with the “focus (in the center) and recompose” procedure, which you can also use with the G7.
But there is a better way, faster and more precise than either of the methods above.
The G7 is a mirrorless camera which allows the user to change position and size of the active AF area at will. This is achieved with the Cursor Buttons. With default settings the direct functions of the
Cursor Buttons are ISO, White Balance, Fn3 and Autofocus Mode.
Note that Autofocus (AF) Mode is different from Focus Mode (AFC/AFF/AFC/MF) which is changed with the Focus Mode Lever.
In order to change position and size of the AF area you first press the left Cursor Button to enter AF Mode, then the down Cursor Button to activate the AF area Setting screen. This is indicated by a yellow bounding box around the AF area with up/down/left/right yellow arrows.
Now pressing a Cursor Button will move the box.
You can put it anywhere. Change the size of the box in 8 big jumps with the rear dial or 68 small increments with the front dial.
Press the Disp Button with the AF box yellow and arrows visible to return the box to center, press twice to restore the box to default size.
Half press the shutter button to restore the AF box to white, indicating readiness for focus operation.
Some users are happy to leave the camera like this and in fact it works fine. But you have to press the left then the down cursor buttons to enter the AF Area Setting Screen.
If you set [Direct Focus Area] in the Custom Menu then pressing any of the cursor buttons causes the camera to enter the AF Area Setting screen immediately and also moves the AF box immediately.
This is faster but you have to find a place to access ISO, WB (if desired) and Autofocus Mode. As it happens this is easy enough.
My practice and recommendation is to set [Direct Focus Area].
I put ISO on Fn1 and Autofocus (AF) Mode on the Q Menu on Fn2. Although Panasonic provides a plethora of AF Mode options I find that [1 Area] gives the most reliable focus in most situations with static and moving subjects. It also gives me the most control.
I don’t bother adjusting White Balance (WB) before capture as I run all my photos including JPGs through Photoshop where I find it much easier to achieve satisfactory white balance. If you shoot RAW then setting WB doesn’t matter.
If you want to shoot JPG and use photos straight out of the camera it may be necessary to adjust WB pre capture. In that case you can allocate WB to a Fn button or the Q Menu.
The G7 is a full twin dial camera like a professional DSLR but with better dial ergonomics than most of them, enabling the camera to be driven like a sports car. Which is wonderful but like a sports car the driver needs to have sufficient knowledge and skill.
I would advise someone who has never used a twin dial camera to leave Dial Operation at default settings initially then explore what’s available a little later when you are more familiar with the camera. But I put the explanations here because dial settings greatly affect the user experience.
Dial options are found under the [Dial Set] tab in the Custom Menu, Manual Page 49.
1. F=Aperture, SS=Shutter Speed. In Manual Exposure Mode this sets which dial changes Aperture and which changes Shutter Speed. Both dials are easy to use so the choice is by personal preference.
2. Rotation. Ask your self which way you expect to move a control for [value up], in other words higher f number or faster shutter speed . At the default setting rotating the front of the front dial >right (finger moves right) gives value up and rotating the back of the rear dial >right (finger moves right) also gives value up. My brain is wired to expect this so I leave the setting at default. If your brain is wired up differently you can try setting the reverse.
3. Exposure Compensation (EC). You can set up either (or neither) dial to give Exposure Compensation directly. The other dial will adjust aperture in A Mode and Shutter Speed in S Mode.
This is a very fast way to apply EC and it works well. When I set up my GH3/4 for direct EC on the rear dial it got bumped all the time so I had to switch it off. But that has not been a problem with the G7. I prefer to adjust aperture/shutter speed with the front dial and EC with the rear dial. But you can have it the other way around if preferred.
4. Dial Operation Switch Settings. This is a new feature for Panasonic M43 cameras. The idea is to use one of the Fn buttons like an [Alt] key on a Windows computer, to temporarily reassign function of the dials.
By default the Dial Operation Switch button is Fn11 in the middle of the rear dial and the alternative functions are adjustment of WB (front dial) and ISO (rear dial).
Now things get complicated. This is my analysis:
1. Fn11 button is an inappropriate place for adjustments required in Capture Phase because the button can only be reached if grip on the camera with the right hand is completely released.
2. So I mapped [Stabiliser], a Prepare Phase adjustment, to Fn11.
3. There are 14 screens of options for each Fn button………feel faint…dizzy….sit down….have a cup of tea…..back to it…..
You could use one of the Fn buttons for the Dial Operation Switch function. But the opportunity cost of doing that is you cannot use that button for anything else.
4. There are three pages of options for each dial under the [Dial Operation Switch] tab……..feel faint again…………….noisy grumbles……….what genius thought up this lot……...back to it…….
5. I think Panasonic has taken a step too far with the Dial Operation Switch function. It’s all too convoluted both at setup and in operation.
I find that when using a camera that I need to train my nerve/muscle pathways to automatically perform certain movements when I wish to complete specific tasks. Neurologically this process actually involves certain nerve pathways firing preferentially when performing those tasks.
If the camera changes configuration in mid process I will have all the wrong nerves firing. That means I have to stop what I am doing and concentrate on the camera when I should be concentrating on the subject and the picture taking flow.
6. The options numbers don’t add up. There is a finite number of hard Fn buttons. If Dial Operation Switch is allocated to one of them the opportunity cost is that nothing else can be allocated to the same button. So one option is lost and two are created but at the further cost of considerably increased ergonomic complexity. One of those functions temporarily (i.e. for a few minutes or similar) allocated to a dial could be permanently allocated to, say the Q menu where I would at least be able to remember where to find it.
7. My solution to this is to leave Dial Operation Switch function well alone.
Function (Fn) Button Actions Custom Menu, Manual page 70.
Each of the Fn Buttons can be allocated one of 56 possible functions. On first sight the list looks impossibly long and the selection process daunting. But some principles can be usefully applied.
* The Q Menu must be allocated to one button and the default Fn2 is as good as any.
* If Direct Focus Area is set for the Cursor Buttons that leaves just 4 more Fn buttons.
* Fn1 is close behind the front dial/shutter so can be used for a Capture Phase adjustment. I put ISO there. This is actually a better location for ISO than the default Cursor Button as it can be reached with the right index finger without disrupting grip with the right hand.
* Fn 5 is over to the left of the EVF so a Prepare Phase item should find a home there. I chose Quality (RAW/JPG).
* Fn11 in the middle of the rear dial is the most difficult to reach so I put another Prepare Phase item there, Stabiliser.
* I like knowing when my camera is horizontal but I also like having an uncluttered screen/EVF most of the time so I put the Level Gauge on the Fn4 button.
So that is what I do with my reasons. But you will have different ideas about priorities so go through the list and try to work through which functions you want to bring out of the main menu system and onto Fn buttons for ready access.
The best part of this is that you can change your mind at any time. But at some stage you need to settle on a group of settings so you can train your neuro muscular system to function reliably and without having to think about it in the service of making adjustments quickly and smoothly.
AF/AE Lock button Custom Menu, Manual Page 172
This is the button in the middle of the Focus Mode Lever.
You may have read about “back button focus” on some enthusiast and high level cameras. Well this is where you can set up back button focus on the G7. Or not as the case may be. You can choose.
Options for the button are Auto Exposure Lock, Autofocus Lock, Both, and AF-ON.
If AFL is selected the camera will focus and lock focus.
If the next tab down,[AF/AE Lock Hold] is set to ON, focus will stay locked when you release the button.
If AF-ON is set the camera will focus continuously if AFC is set on the Focus Mode lever. This is useful for sport/action where you might want to get the AF system up to speed before initiating a capture sequence with the shutter button.
I find the most useful combination for the way I use the G7 is AFL and AF/AELock Hold ON.
There are plenty of options with which to experiment.
Q Menu Custom Menu, Manual Page 67, 68, 69.
This is the ideal access portal for items which you want to adjust in Prepare Phase of use, in the few minutes before capture. By default there is a preset list of items allocated to the Q Menu but I recommend you make a Custom list, selecting items from the 37 available.
The process for listing items in the Q Menu is reasonably well described on Page 68 of the Manual. I do this with the Cursor Buttons. Sometimes I have a problem persuading the items to line up where I want them and have to experiment a bit with the procedure for moving items from the source lists to the active line.
The active items line can contain 15 items but only 5 are displayed at any time without scrolling across. Therefore I recommend and practice using a maximum of 5 items in the Custom Q menu.
I allocate AF Mode, Stabiliser, E-Shutter, Burst rate and Photo Style to the Q Menu.
I suggest you trawl through the list on Pages 68-69 of the Manual. Decide which items you would be happy to leave in the main menu system and which you want available for ready access on the Q Menu but do not require a dedicated Fn button.
Expect to revise these decisions with experience. Fortunately the camera allows you to change your mind any number of times.
If you feel you have made a mess of things so far and gotten your settings in a muddle fear not. Go to the Setup Menu>Reset and start over.
Next in this series I will go through themenus item by item.
|G7 Kit lens|
Panasonic recently released two new micro four thirds cameras, The G7 and GX8.
I bought a G7 and have been reviewing it on this blog.
No doubt the two cameras offer potential buyers a choice, but the different specification sets seem a bit puzzling to me and also a bit frustrating.
I will post separately why I bought the G7 in preference to the GX8 but suffice for now to say it has largely to do with ergonomics which seem to me better implemented on the G7.
The GX8 offers several key upgrades to Panasonic’s M43 lineup. These include the new (Sony IMX 269 ???) 20 Mpx sensor and In Body Image Stabiliser (IBIS) with the ability to use both OIS and IBIS together with some lenses.
But if you want that package of features it comes with the GX8’s rangefinder/flat top styling, large-ish body and some ergonomic issues.
|G7 in hand. Mostly good ergonomics|
Flat top vs Hump top There are basically two popular camera shapes. One is the hump top/SLR, the other is the flat top/rangefinder.
The flat top can be used to achieve a low, slim line body which might be preferred by some users for its aesthetic appeal or because it can be slightly smaller than the hump top.
The hump top style is associated with DSLRs and is generally a taller, larger camera with a larger handle. Cameras of this type have more space on top for a built in EVF, Flash and hotshoe, dials and other controls.
But Panasonic is changing the script.
I am not sure I understand where Panasonic is going with the G and GX lines.
The GX1 was a flat top without EVF.
Then we jumped to the GX7 which was another flat top, this time with EVF but still with the typical slim “rangefinder” look. The GX7 had IBIS for the first time in the Panasonic M43 lineup.
Maybe that is why the upgraded 4 axis IBIS went into the GX8 rather than one of the hump top models.
But that is not the way I hoped Panasonic would go.
The problem is that the IBIS mechanism is bulky. So any camera in which it resides will perforce be larger than one without IBIS.
The GX8 is 36% larger by box volume than the GX7 and 36% heavier.
It seems to me the best camera for IBIS would be a hump top which already has a more bulky appearance anyway.
On that basis the upgraded IBIS and new sensor would have gone into a slightly larger G7 at a higher price point with the GX line remaining slim and stylish at a lower price point.
Or is that the market niche which the GM series is supposed to fill ?
Presumably the GH5 will come in with all the latest techno features at a price point above the GX8.
The M43 camera which I would prefer is more like a slightly larger G7 than the GX8.
|Samsung NX10 Beijing You can make good photos with almost any modern camera.|
In practice the main difference between them is the user experience, which is greatly affected by ergonomic factors in design and implementation of the control interface.
One of the more rewarding aspects of writing this blog is the feedback which I receive from readers.
This can be challenging. Some time ago a reader suggested I summarise in “two paragraphs” my ideas about camera ergonomics. At that time I had accumulated enough material for a substantial textbook and found this request daunting.
But then I realised that if I have something useful and meaningful to say about camera design and operation I should be able to summarise the essence of it in a few words.
Of two cameras, the one which can be operated with the fewest, least complex actions has the better ergonomics.
Ergonomics IS about actions
Camera operation requires completion of Tasks.
Each task requires Actions of the hands and fingers.
The number of actions can be observed (by anybody, it’s not quantum mechanics) and counted.
The complexity of those actions can be observed (by anybody) and recorded.
These observations can be summarised as a score.
Ergonomics IS NOT about subjective experience, likes, preferences, speed or head logic.
The Subjective Experience of owning and using a camera is separate from but complementary to the ergonomic analysis.
Each individual’s Likes and Preferences are also separate from yet complementary to the ergonomic analysis
Ergonomics is not directly about speed of operation Speed to complete the various tasks is not measured in the ergonomic score which I have developed. However the camera which requires the fewest, least complex actions is likely to be the fastest to operate.
Ergonomics is about finger logic not head logic You might think at an intellectual or logical level that one type of camera control design might be best only to find that when the actions of working the camera are actually counted that a different control design is more efficient.
No Definitional Agreement
Of course there is no general consensus among camera users or the industry about my definition or any other definition of ergonomics.
I believe this is a serious impediment to effective camera design.
Without a broad, industry wide agreement about the essential nature of ergonomics, camera design is subject to fashions and whimsical variations without reference to the user experience.
The purpose of this blog is to stimulate discussion about these issues with the goal of encouraging consumers to tell manufacturers what design features are required for a good user experience.
In order to do that consumers need a set of concepts and language with which to investigate and communicate about ergonomics.
Compare and Contrast: Image Quality
As with ergonomics, there are subjective and objective aspects to our appreciation of image quality.
I often read on user forums comments such as: “I really like (…insert your favourite brand…) because I like their colors” or
“I really like (..insert your favourite brand….) because of the luminous, almost three dimensional quality of the pictures”,
These are subjective responses by users to some aspect of pictures which they have seen from various cameras on the basis of which a decision may be made to buy Brand X in preference to Brand Y.
But then along came some technical people who realised that most of the innate imaging capability of a camera system is determined by the amount of luminance and chroma noise in RAW files.
One organisation, DXO, has even come up with a system for scoring RAW image quality.
You can argue about the validity of this, and plenty of commentators, expert or otherwise, do so frequently. But you cannot deny that DXO has done what some might have thought impossible, namely to put a score on something which might seem to be arcane and subjective.
That is not to dismiss people’s subjective impressions about image quality but to accept that the objective measurements and subjective impressions are complimentary, not mutually exclusive.
Compare and Contrast: Performance
Some time ago I posted a review about a camera which had some quite good qualities but which had a RAW shot to shot time of 4 seconds. That was an objective observation. My subjective response was that the camera was so slow I could not recommend it. But I was taken to task by some owners of this camera who said they had no problem with the slow shot to shot times.
So even with performance which is easily measured there are objective and subjective aspects to the user experience.
We now have systematic, objective ways to evaluate a camera’s image quality and performance.
As yet users and reviewers are still using ad hoc, idiosyncratic, personal, undefined and unstated criteria for evaluating ergonomics. This is confusing for designers, reviewers and users of cameras.
With this blog I am attempting to rectify that situation. I have developed a systematic way to understand, describe and score ergonomics based on observations which any camera user could make.
The FZ1000 has been my main camera for the last 18 months and earned the Camera Ergonomics camera of the year award for 2014. It is the most versatile camera I have ever owned.
It is not perfect however.
There are two unappealing behaviours which could be improved by a firmware update.
1. Auto ISO/minimum shutter speed responsive to lens focal length
In P or A Modes the camera sets an ISO which produces a shutter speed unresponsive to the focal length in use. This can result in unsharp pictures at the long end of the zoom due to the shutter speed being too slow for the focal length.
This should be easy enough for the clever software engineers to fix. The camera always knows what focal length is set. It also knows what shutter speed is generally required to prevent unsharpness due to camera shake.
I would like to see three versions of the auto ISO algorithm, slow, medium and fast, with the setting able to be allocated to the Q menu or a Fn button.
The suggested minimum shutter speed in each condition would be as shown in the chart below:
Thus for still subjects when the camera can be held steady, the Slow setting might be best to keep ISO as low as possible.
For BIF, sport and similar the Fast setting would deliver a higher percentage of keepers.
2. Lens Retractafter playback
This irritates FZ1000 users all the time. There are many posts about it on user forums. Surely this could be deleted in software or at least made optional.
Setting Zoom Resume is a partial fix with the present firmware.
|Full width frame|
Panasonic has been very busy rolling out many interesting new cameras over the last few months. I have been testing several of them.
This post is a quick image quality comparison between the following five units:
* GX8 with Lumix 12-35mm f2.8
* G7 with Lumix 12-35mm f2.8
For this test I selected an outdoor scene with high brightness range and large amounts of fine detail.
I used a tripod and 2 second timer, set the focal length to (equivalent) 70mm and used 3:2 aspect ratio on the LX100, the only one of the group with variable aspect ratio. I used a lens aperture previously determined to be best for that camera/lens and the lowest standard ISO setting for each camera.
Lighting was overcast/sunny/bright, with some variation between frames due to the changing cloud
The top photo shows the full frame, cropped top and bottom for presentation.
The remainder of the photos are of a substantial crop from the full frame.
I had some pictures in 4:3 aspect ratio and some in 3:2 ratio, with pixel counts from 12-20 Mpx.
In order to evaluate the results on screen I output each file to the same horizontal dimension as the G7. This meant increasing the LX100 and FZ300 and decreasing the GX8 and FZ1000 in Photoshop.
I processed each RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw 9.1.1 to “best result” as determined by me.
The results are basically as expected from the specifications of the equipment used for each photo.
Lenses This proved an easy win for the 12-35mm as expected. This is one of the best zooms available for M43 cameras and I got a very good copy on this occasion. I have in the past had not-so-good copies. Panasonic announced some time ago that they had improved their lens manufacturing quality and maybe it is true.
The FZ1000 lens is excellent considering it has a 16x zoom range but is not quite in the same class as the 12-35.
The LX100 lens is very good in the center but softens towards the edges especially at the long end and 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratio.
The FZ300 comes in last. No surprises there but considering this is a 24x zoom it delivers very good results. My copy also stays decently sharp right to (focal length equivalent) 600mm at which point it delivers resolution the same as the FZ1000 cropped to the same angle of view.
Overall appearance At small output sizes you would be hard pressed to pick which picture came from which camera. The colors (after some adjustment in CR) and the overall appearance are very similar.
Highlight and shadow detail A few years ago I would have expected the camera with the smallest sensor to blow out highlights. But on this and several other tests I found each camera’s ability to render highlight and shadow detail very similar even with high subject brightness range. That is a commendable performance for the FZ300 which has a very small sensor.
Color rendition The M43 cameras with the largest sensor had the most saturated colors, followed by the FZ1000 then the FZ300. In this case, bigger is better.
Grain Again this went with sensor size. The larger sensors had the least grain. The difference was apparent at 100% on screen even at base ISO.
Resolution/detail Best was the GX8 which very slightly beat the G7. I had to look very closely at 100% or 200% on screen to pick this however. On many photos the difference will not be detectable.
Next came the FZ1000 which is very good but not quite able to match the M43 cameras with the excellent 12-35mm lens.
The LX100 delivers very good resolution in a broad central area of the frame although not as much as the FZ1000 and M43 cameras and it fades a bit at the edges due to the lens characteristics.
Last as expected is the FZ300. This does a good job for a 24x superzoom and is better than the
Canon SX60 and Nikon P900 which I tested earlier this year. But it can’t keep up with the other cameras tested here.
Image quality from the GX8 is marginally better than the G7.
Both these M43 cameras beat the FZ1000 but I suspect the 12-35mm lens has a large part to play in that. I did not have a 14-140mm lumix lens for testing but I have used this lens before and while it is a very good general purpose lens it is not in the same class as the 12-35mm.
The LX100 is outclassed outdoors by the M43 cameras and the FZ1000 but indoors in low light the tables are turned. Then the LX100 can use f1.7 to enable lower ISO settings for a better overall result.
The FZ300 is a good camera for the holiday/travel purpose for which it was designed.
For overall versatility, combining imaging ability, performance and freedom from having to change lenses the FZ1000 is an easy winner.
It has 5.3 times the zoom range of the 12-35mm and travels in the same sized carry bag as the GX8 with 12-35mm mounted.
The value for money equation also heavily favours the FZ1000. It can be had for half the price of a GX8 +12-35mm and is only 23% more expensive than the FZ300 which it comprehensively outperforms in every respect.
There is much excitement on camera review sites and user forums at the moment about new release full frame cameras with amazing pixel counts of 36, 42 and even 50 Mpx.
When I look at photos made with 20 or even 16 Mpx M43 and “one inch” sensor cameras like the FZ1000, I see an amazing amount of detail.
I see details most people could not have seen in the original scene. I wonder why the great majority of enthusiast photographers might want more resolution.
|A contrast in Panasonic camera design styles. From the left, G7, GX8, FZ1000|
I made a new year’s resolution at the beginning of 2015 to refrain from buying any interchangeable lens cameras this year. The plan was to stay with my FZ1000 and LX100 until those models were upgraded.
But I wanted to evaluate the ergonomics of the G7 so I got one.
Then I wanted to find out if all the hype about the GX8 is justified, so I got one of those with the Lumix 12-35mm f2.8 lens. I have been testing it together with the G7 and comparing both to the FZ1000 and LX100.
Target user group The GX8 and G7 occupy the enthusiast level of the Lumix M43 ILC range.
Panasonic has created two tiers within that level.
For enthusiasts on a budget, the G7 packs an amazing amount of technology and performance into its modestly priced frame.
For those with more to spend and who also want a flat top design the GX8 offers some features not available in the G7.
|The 12-35mm lens is good for close ups.|
Features and specifications
The G7 uses an older 16 Mpx sensor, lacks IBIS, is decently made but to a lower standard than the GX8, is not weather sealed and has a hump top shape.
The GX8 uses the latest (Sony??) 20Mpx sensor, has IBIS, weather sealing, is heavier (470 vs 410 grams) and appears to be made to a higher standard than the G7. It has the flat top style with swing up EVF which some users may find useful and a hotshoe but no flash.
Tough luck if you want the new sensor and IBIS in a hump top style.
Maybe that comes with the GH5 whenever that may be.
Otherwise both cameras come loaded with all the usual goodies in a current model Panasonic ILC including 4K video, Wi-Fi, DFD AF, Zebras, twin dial operation and much more. These cameras have many sophisticated features and are highly specified.
The feature both cameras notably lack is EFCS (Electronic First Curtain Shutter) so you must use the E-Shutter with several lenses (such as the 14-140mm with which the GX8 is often bundled) to avoid shutter shock.
|GX8 with 12-35mm. Hand held night shot, f2.8 ISO 4000, fluorescent lights. |
Image Quality The GX8 can make pictures of excellent quality in almost any circumstance, especially with one of the better M43 lenses. I tested the GX8 with the excellent Lumix 12-35mm f2.8.
The new 20Mpx sensor offers 12% more linear resolution than the older 16 Mpx versions.
The difference is not great but can be seen in subjects with a lot of detail.
High ISO noise levels are slightly greater than the G7 but when output size of the GX8 files is reduced to match that of the 16Mpx G7 then noise levels are the same.
Perhaps more relevant is that the GX8 does not suffer image degradation when using the E-Shutter.
A popular way to test this is to underexpose a still life subject 5 stops then in Adobe Camera Raw push the Exposure slider 5 stops to the right. With the GX8 the resulting picture shows magenta color shift but it looks the same whether the E-Shutter or M-Shutter was used.
This suggests the sensor is recording at the same bit rate (12 bit) with M-Shutter and E-Shutter.
The next test is to photograph a blank white wall under fluorescent light using a fast shutter speed of about 1/500 sec. In Australia AC power is at 50hz. With the GX8 this produces 5 bands indicating a sensor scan time of 1/20 second. Scan time is number of bands divided by hz x 2.
The hot topic for interchangeable lens cameras ( MILCs and high Mpx DSLRs) at the moment is shutter shock.
My tests show that pictures with the Lumix 12-35mm lens are slightly but detectably sharper with E-Shutter than M-Shutter, hand held or on tripod. So if you want all the considerable resolution of which the GX8 is capable, I recommend using the E-Shutter routinely, unless flash or long exposure time is required when the M-Shutter must be used.
|Crop from the previous picture. Good detail, good highlight and shadow detail, low noise levels, good color. Who needs full frame ?|
Performance This is in line with recent Panasonic ILCs and is excellent. AFS is super fast and accurate. AFC at 6 FPS, with live view and predictive AF is very good with suitable lenses. The camera responds very quickly to all user inputs.
Ergonomics The camera is decently usable but the HMI (human machine interface) presents several issues which I will detail in a later post. These relate to the handle shape, size and configuration, top plate layout, Exposure Compensation dial, Fn7 and Disp buttons and the rear dial.
In some respects it is less user friendly than the G7 making for an interesting ergonomic comparison with some lessons on how to get it right and how to get it not-quite-right.
* Slightly but visibly more resolution than cameras with the 16 Mpx sensor and no noise penalty at the same output size.
* Full 12 bit capture with E-Shutter and no image degradation.
* IBIS which works with lens OIS for more effective image stabilisation.
* Weather sealing, which I have not tested for effectiveness.
* Several ergonomic issues, which I will detail in a later post.
Do I recommend the GX8 ? Yes but with reservations about the ergonomics.
I suggest prospective buyers spend if possible several hours with the camera before deciding to buy.
Some users have reported they are very happy with the GX8 and enjoy using it.
Others have complained about various handling and ergonomic issues.
I would not be surprised if the GX8 comes to find itself in a position similar to the Olympus EM-5 which polarised users into ‘love’ and ‘hate’ camps.
We shall see. But do try before you buy.
The product development people at Panasonic have been very busy this year, rolling out several interesting cameras across the range of types from a high spec cam/phone, through micro four thirds, superzooms and compacts. It is even rumoured that Panasonic may be making a full frame ILC for Leica.
Panasonic hasa substantial history of making fixed zoom lens cameras in the superzoom/bridge/travel zoom category.
The previous top of the range in this category was the FZ200 which was announced in July 2012.
Target user group There are still people in a smartphone world who want a proper camera, preferably with a big zoom range, good handling, good picture quality, good performance and good ergonomics.
A camera for holidays, trips away, family events, sporting events and pretty much anything else.
These people want more versatility in a ‘one box’ package than can be had from any smart phone or compact camera or indeed any interchangeable lens camera.
|FZ300 Decent highlight and shadow detail even with high subject brightness range as here.|
Specifications and features
On the spec sheet the FZ300 looks to be a mild refresh of the FZ200 given that it uses the same E25-600mm constant f2.8 lens and the same or very similar 12Mpx 4.5x6.2mm sensor.
But there are plenty of upgrades worth noting. These include a new image processor, better EVF and monitor, faster AF, much better continuous AF, better all round performance, weather sealing and (mostly) improved ergonomics.
But there appear to be improvements not apparent from the spec sheet. Our family had a FZ200 last year. We were not impressed with the picture quality or the lens. Although the sensor and lens of the FZ300 are stated to be the same, our copy of the FZ300 has a much sharper lens then the FZ200 and substantially better picture quality.
It is possible that lens assembly quality control has improved and it would appear that the new processor is delivering benefits to picture quality.
The FZ300 is fully loaded with all Panasonic’s latest goodies including Wi-Fi, touch screen, 4K video, zebras, full display options, multiple drive and focus mode option and much more. It has all the features of the latest micro four thirds cameras and it makes the competition from other makers look distinctly under specified.
The unique selling point of the FZ300 is the 24x zoom with constant f2.8 aperture. The FZ200 and 300 are the only cameras on the market with this feature. There are plenty of superzoom and ultrazoom cameras with a longer reach but these have an aperture of f5.6 or 6.3 at the long end requiring a higher ISO setting or slower shutter speed or both to the detriment of picture quality.
My experience of ultrazoom cameras with focal lengths in the 1200-2000mm range is that they are quite difficult to use effectively at the long end of the zoom and good results are hard to achieve.
By comparison the FZ300 is much easier to use at 600mm and good results can be more consistently achieved.
|The FZ300 can easily hold focus on a slow moving subject like the hang glider but it can also hold focus on cars driving towards or away from the camera at 6 FPS, with 80% of frames sharp.|
I have this year tested the Nikon P900 and Canon SX60 both using the same very small sensor size as the FZ300. I rate the FZ300 as having better picture quality than those two cameras right across the FZ300’s focal length range.
The FZ300 enables RAW capture, has effective OIS and fast accurate AF for consistently good results.
During my tests I did notice that the FZ300 has good highlight and shadow detail, even when subject brightness range is high. Pictures are also substantially free from color fringing, blown out highlights or sharpening artefacts.
However to put this into perspective the FZ1000 can produce better picture quality in all circumstances at all equivalent focal lengths of which the FZ300 is capable.
The FZ300 operates much faster than the FZ200 and much faster than other small sensor superzooms and ultrazooms. Single shot AF is fast and accurate. AF Continuous with burst mode can hold focus on a moving subject at 6 frames per second with live view in the EVF on every frame. The camera responds quickly all user inputs.
The FZ300 is suitable for sport/action work which I could not say for the other small sensor ultrazooms which I have tested.
Setup involves the standard Panasonic enthusiast level menu system which is very comprehensive albeit a bit challenging for a Panasonic novice.
Prepare Phase of use is well catered for with a well positioned Focus Mode lever, Shooting Mode Dial and multiple Fn buttons with user assignable function.
The FZ300 has a substantial, well shaped handle and thumb rest making it comfortable and secure to hold.
The EVF is excellent. It is the only EVF I have ever encountered which required no adjustment (other than the dioptre) to provide a clear subject view with substantially accurate colors and moderate contrast. Other EVFs may have more resolution but can be more difficult to adjust to a natural looking appearance.
The monitor is of the desirable fully articulated type and is excellent.
Operating the camera is straightforward. The novice can set the Mode Dial to [iA] then just point and shoot for consistently good results.
The enthusiast/expert can take full control of the camera for a more engaging experience which is also smooth and efficient.
The rear dial is easy to operate without having to shift grip.
The 4 Way controller (Cursor Buttons) are easy to locate by feel and operate.
The only negative for ergonomics is the cluster of three controls on the left side of the lens barrel.
These are used for zoom, manual focus, exposure compensation and side dial function switch all of which are Capture Phase tasks.
Using these modules with the left hand is a bit awkward in landscape orientation using ‘left hand under’ or ‘left hand over’ position but nigh on impossible in portrait orientation.
Fortunately the zoom lever around the shutter button also controls zoom and is easier to use than the lens lever.
Also fortunately exposure compensation is not often required due to the good highlight/shadow detail characteristics of the sensor. But it’s there if you need it.
The FZ300 is a more comprehensive update of the FZ200 than a first look at the specification sheet might suggest.
It is a very good camera with good specification, abundant high level features, good picture quality, very good performance and mostly very good ergonomics. There are hardly any faults or failings.
So, it is an easy camera to recommend.
However Consider the FZ1000. This camera is well into its product cycle so the price has come down to a level just 23% greater than the FZ300 (at Sydney retail prices) which is still at release level prices.
The FZ1000 is 23% heavier and 22% larger by box volume (L x W x H).
The FZ1000 sensor has 1.6 times as many pixels, twice the linear dimensions and four times the area of the sensor in the FZ300.
The FZ1000 lens can resolve more detail than that in the FZ300.
This means the FZ1000 can deliver consistently better picture quality in every circumstance which I have encountered in testing.
It also offers the enthusiast/expert photographer a more engaging user interface with better ergonomics.
Before buying the FZ300, I suggest careful consideration of the FZ1000.
|FZ300 Cockatoo at full zoom. Easy when the bird is posing.|
There is a clear family resemblance between the FZ300 and the slightly larger FZ1000. Both cameras feature good ergonomics with the FZ1000 scoring higher for operation.
This evaluation and score follows my usual schedule.
Setup The FZ300 has Panasonic’s standard enthusiast model menu system. It is comprehensive with a nice clear graphical user interface. Panasonic novices may be daunted by the sheer number of options but careful reading of the Owners Manual will usually sort out any problems.
Prepare There is a Mode Dial with multiple options including Custom Modes, sweep panorama and video. Any of the Fn buttons can be tasked with Q Menu functions. There are four hard (physical) Fn buttons.
These options allow Prepare Phase tasks to be carried out with efficiency.
There is space enough to the left of the hump for a Drive Mode dial but none is to be found.
Holding The FZ300 handle is very similar to that of the FZ1000. It is substantial with a reasonably anatomical shape and a deep indent for the right middle finger. The thumb support is substantial.
The rear dial can be operated when the camera is brought up to the eye without having to shift grip with the right hand.
The only negative is that the right thumb rests on the Focus Mode lever.
Viewing The EVF provides a clear, sharp, natural looking view of the subject. The eyepiece is decently large and the rubber eyecup is large. The fully articulated monitor is sharp and clear.
EVF and monitor can be set to ‘viewfinder’ or ‘monitor’ mode. Both are adjustable for individual preference.
Many displays and overlays can be enabled or not as the user wishes.
|FZ300 on the left, FZ1000 on the right. This photo shows some of the UIMs referred to in the text.|
Operating In general the FZ300 can be operated smoothly and efficiently by a practiced user.
However it is a step down from the FZ1000 in several ways.
There are fewer buttons on the control panel and each is smaller (6mm vs 7mm) than those on the FZ1000 and each is more recessed. They are usable but there is plenty of space for larger/more prominent buttons on the FZ300.
There is no Drive Mode Dial.
The rear dial is not quite as easy to access and turn as that on the FZ1000 with the camera at eye level. It’s OK, but the FZ1000 is better.
The FZ300 has a very different and less ergonomically effective arrangement of UIMs (user interface modules) on the left side of the lens housing (as viewed by the user).
The FZ1000 has a circumferential ring for zoom which is optimal for a Capture Phase operation. The two levers, Zoom/focus and OIS On/Off are Set-and-see modules for Prepare Phase adjustments. This is the optimal allocation of module types to usage phases.
The FZ300 lacks a zoom ring although there appears to be room for one. Instead the zoom lever around the shutter button is duplicated by a push-up-push-down slider on the lens housing.
The AF/focus button toggles between functions of the roller type dial above it. This dial which has no click stops works either manual focus or exposure compensation (EC).
It is not optimal for EC as there are no click stops.
Zoom, EC and manual focus are Capture Phase operations.
It is not optimal for any Capture Phase operation to be mediated by UIMs with fixed position on the side of a lens housing. They are not all that easily located and operated with the left thumb or other finger with the left hand in ‘hand over’ or hand under’ position in landscape orientation and are almost impossible to use in portrait orientation.
All Panasonic needed to do was to duplicate the control module layout of the FZ1000. There is plenty of space there.
Review The FZ300 does all the things expected by the review protocol. No problems there.
Comment Panasonic almost got this one right. The frustrating thing for me as a camera user is that they did get it almost entirely right with the FZ1000 then on the FZ300 changed some UIMs back to a less user friendly, less efficient configuration.
|GX8 showing handle and rear dial, Mode Dial and EC dial beneath. The vertical front of the handle has ergonomic consequences.|
Introduction The GX8 is a flat top ILC with the EVF at the top left corner as viewed by the user.
I have no idea why Panasonic’s product development team decided on a flat top for this camera but a hump top for most other Lumix G series cameras. I would guess the reasons are about style because the flat top has no functional or operational advantage over the hump top.
Whatever the reason, a flat top does restrict the designer’s UIM (user interface module) options for the top plate. A consequence of this is the absence of an inbuilt flash on the GX8.
On a hump top the EVF, hot shoe and built in flash all occupy the same horizontal space, freeing up space on either side for other UIMs.
When my wife first looked at the GX8 she immediately exclaimed just one word “Retrograde”.
With regard to the ergonomics, I think she got that right.
However some users have reported they are very happy with the GX8 user experience.
|GX8 from below. The cursor buttons on the control panel have raised outer edges which works well. But the Disp button is prone to accidental bumping. The handle shape is unusual and in my view ergonomically suboptimal. Other Panasonic cameras in the same size range have very different and in my view much more user friendly handles.|
Setup Phase GX8 menus, Q Menu and Fn button task allocations are largely identical to other current model enthusiast level ILCs and FLCs.
As such they are complex but quite functional and easy enough to use after a learning curve for Panasonic novices.
However I think it is time Panasonic reviewed its top tier menu system to create more coherent grouping of like items several of which are scattered about at present. For instance all the items relating to flash, focus, metering, display etc, etc.. could be better grouped for a more user friendly interface.
Prepare Phase This is very similar to other current model Panasonic enthusiast level cameras.
There is a Mode Dial, Q Menu which can be allocated to any button, and Fn buttons aplenty.
I deducted a point because there is no Drive Mode dial, which lost out to the Exposure Compensation dial in the contest for top plate real estate.
The principle here is that set and see dials are optimal for Prepare Phase tasks because you can see and change the values while looking at the top of the camera.
But Set and see dials are inappropriate for Capture Phase tasks because they are invisible when looking through the viewfinder.
However some users say they really like having the Exposure Compensation dial on the top plate.
Prepare Phase Score 12/15
|In this photo I have rotated my right wrist forward. This has enabled the thumb to bear onto the dials. But the wrist is uncomfortable. Younger, more flexible beings may wonder what I am talking about.|
Holding The lens axis is 53mm from the left side. The G7 lens axis is 45mm from the left side. The GX8 is 8mm wider than the G7 but has only 1mm more space on the right side of the lens mount. If the lens axis had been further to the left, like you see on a Sony A6000 there would have been more space for a larger, more secure handle.
The GX8 handle is of suboptimal size and shape.
It is not wide enough for a fully realised parallel type and not deep enough to be a fully functional projecting type.
There is no indent for the third finger on the front. There should be such an indent to prevent the third finger riding up too close to the index finger and obstructing operation of the front dial. In addition the indent allows the mass of the right side of the camera to rest on the strong third finger for stability and support.
The lower right corner at the rear is insufficiently rounded for comfort. There is no hint of inverted L shape so the shutter button is forced further to the right (as viewed by the user) than is optimal. This in turn forces the palm of the hand away from the camera body, weakening the grip.
I am intrigued that the same corporation which produced the G7’s well shaped handle could simultaneously conceive the very different and suboptimal handle of the GX8.
I can only assume that the difference is due to styling considerations.
Flat tops often have a flat front as well. Fuji proclaims this as a desirable feature of their X-Pro/XT designs. I have no idea what is desirable about it. There is a brisk trade in accessory handles suggesting the “flat front” style is an antiquarian affectation, found wanting when people actually decide to use their camera..
Maybe the designers of the GX8 wanted to retain something of the flat front style without going as far as Fuji or Olympus in this endeavour.
The thumb support is adequate but not reassuring.
I should say that notwithstanding my critical analysis, some users report they are quite happy with the GX8 handle and related controls.
|In this photo I have rotated my right wrist back for comfort. But my thumb cannot work the dials (A) and my middle finger has ridden up the handle (B) obstructing the index finger from working the front dial.|
Viewing Viewing arrangements on the GX8 are excellent, similar to other recent enthusiast level Panasonic cameras. Some reviewers have made much of the high magnification level of the EVF. Indeed the GX8 EVF is large, sharp and clear, but the default contrast is very high.
I had to set brightness +5 and Contrast -6 to achieve an image preview which looked reasonably natural to me.
I usually find top left viewfinders allow excessive backlight into my viewing eye, however the GX8 has a substantial (albeit sharp edged) eyecup which keeps most of the stray light out.
The monitor is of the optimal fully articulated type and is excellent. It also largely makes the swing up EVF redundant for those times when low level shooting is required. I guess it could be useful in full sun when the monitor is hard to see.
The EVF and monitor have all the goodies expected in an advanced MILC, like zebras, frame lines and almost anything else you might like up there. Both can be configured to viewfinder style or monitor style.
Operating The GX8 can be operated by a novice easily enough on the iA setting but also has a full suite of controls for the enthusiast/expert user who would be the most likely customer for this camera.
All the elements for good control are present but several of them do not function as well as they should and could and do on other cameras.
Let’s start with the Exposure Compensation dial.
I have written before on this blog that EC dials on modern digital cameras are an inappropriate use of valuable camera real estate and this one is no different.
Some users disagree with me about that. My position is based on ergonomic analysis as below:
Exposure compensation is a secondary exposure parameter which is set in Capture Phase of use. On the GX8 the most effective way to preview the amount of EC required is to use the Zebras.
This is done while looking through the EVF at which time the dedicated EC dial is invisible.
Therefore the dedicated, Set-and-see EC dial is redundant. It is not required. The G7 and other cameras use the front or rear dial or a front lever for EC which is a more efficient use of scarce UIM resources. The GX8 has three dials for Capture Phase adjustments when two is enough and is more efficient. The front and rear dials have the same functions in P,A,S Modes.
The place taken by the EC dial could have been more usefully allocated to a dial for Prepare Phase adjustments. The Drive Mode dial found on other Panasonic cameras would be the front running candidate.
This is not a matter of personal preference. It is about ergonomic efficiency.
Setting Drive Mode in Prepare Phase is most efficiently performed with a Set-and-seedial. On the GX8 you have to press a Fn button or the Q Menu button and enter a Drive Mode menu.
Adjusting EC in Capture Phase would be most efficiently performed with (in the case of the GX8) the front or rear dial, either of which is easier to reach and turn while operating the camera.
To reach and turn the EC dial the user has to push against the rather stiff resistance of the EC dial which is required to prevent it being moved accidentally while turning the Mode Dial. Despite this I several times did accidentally move the Mode Dial while turning the EC dial.
Notice there is a space clear of any UIMs below and behind the EC dial. That, I suppose, is because any button there would be accidentally pressed every time the EC dial is operated with the thumb.
Get a GX8 in hand and you will immediately see what I mean.
So we have a piece of high value camera real estate wasted, all because of that EC dial.
In addition the Focus Mode lever is pushed off to the left, where it is more difficult to reach than the same lever on the FZ1000, FZ300 or G7, each of which is closer to the right thumb.
The AF/AE-L button is in the Focus mode lever on most Panasonic cameras, this being the logical place for it. But that button has to move elsewhere on the GX8 and you find it on the upper rear surface of the thumb support.
While I am on the subject of buttons I estimate that I accidentally bump the Disp buttonabout 50% of times I pick up and/or carry the powered on camera. The ease with which this button can be accidentally pressed is due to its position close to the right side of the control panel. Panasonic had this problem with the G5/6 and several other cameras.
But they figured out how to fix that particular problem by creating a little vertical ridge at the right edge of the control panel, as seen on the G7. This prevents the right side buttons from being accidentally pressed but still allows them to be operated as required. A more prominent version of the same thing can be seen on the FZ300 and FZ1000. I can hold, carry and operate those cameras all day and never press a button inadvertently but the controls are easy to use when required.
Part of the problem on the GX8 is the monitor which covers 96mm measured from the left side of the body. That is 5mm more than the FZ1000 monitor which covers 91mm. I have no idea why the GX8 monitor assembly is wider than that of the FZ1000 but whatever the reason the effect is to steal 5mm from the control panel on the right side of the camera. With an extra 5mm a more user friendly control panel could have been designed to prevent button bumping.
Before I leave the subject of buttons I must deal with the Fn 7 button. That’s the secret one which lives on the front of the body between the lens mount and the handle.
There are two very basic rules of buttons:
1. Make sure the button is easy to locate and operate by feel, especially if it is invisible while the user is working the camera or if it performs Capture Phase functions.
2. Make sure the button will not be bumped inadvertently.
Fn 7 fails on both counts.
It sits flush with the surface of the body so is almost impossible to locate by feel.
Yet it is located in a position where it gets bumped accidentally by the third finger of the right hand with great frequency. This has been reported on user forums.
It is therefore a useless button. The only thing to do is assign to it an equally useless function which will not alter useful camera settings. I assigned [Flash mode] to Fn 7 which does nothing since the camera lacks a built in flash.
Moving right along we come to the Rear Dial. This is serviceable but could have been better designed. The curious thing is that I have on my desk right now four current model cameras from Panasonic, each with a different design of rear dial but each presumably intended for operation by the same humans with the same hands.
My rating of these cameras for ease of rear dial use is FZ1000 (best) followed by FZ300, G7 then GX8 last.
From the basic “hold” position the right thumb can most easily move from side to side by articulation at the carpo-metacarpal joint. Some flexion at the interphalangeal joint is also possible without disrupting grip on the camera.
When the camera is brought from chest level up to the eye, the right wrist can be either tilted forward to maintain grip on the handle or allowed to rotate back for more comfort.
This has the effect of pulling the thumb down the rear of the camera and away from a high set rear dial. People with very flexible joints might wonder what I am talking about but for the rest of us this is a significant ergonomic issue.
With reference to the photos you can see that of the cameras in my list above, the one with the lowest (meaning least vertical height above the base of the camera) rear dial has the best rating.
The rear dial of the FZ1000 is optimally placed embedded in the upper part of the thumb support.
Even when the thumb is pulled down when the camera is raised to the eye the thumb can easily move to the right and operate the dial.
The rear dial of the GX8 is further up the camera and also further forward in relation to the thumb basic hold position. The consequence of this is that while the rear dial can be operated easily by the right thumb with the camera at about chest level, when the camera is raised to the eye the user has a choice, either:
a) Rotate the right hand backward on the camera to achieve a comfortable wrist position and allow the right elbow to tuck in to the side of the chest for stability. In this case the thumb is pulled down relative to the rear dial (and the EC dial) and cannot operate either dial directly. In order to operate either dial the right hand must do a little hitch up of about 15-20mm (depending on the original position) in order to operate the dials. This is not the end of the world but is ergonomically suboptimal and entirely avoidable with a better design.
b) Users with a very flexible wrist joint may be able to maintain a “thumb high” grip and stay in contact with the top dials. But even for these lucky people the lower, more rearward rear dial position will be more comfortable and efficient.
The odd thing is that the rear dial on the GX8 has the same function as the front dial in P, A and S Modes so you don’t need to use it most of the time at all. So it is a partly redundant dial.
The FZ1000 is only 3mm wider than the GX8 and the top plate of the camera is the same height (measured at the base of the FZ1000 Mode Dial) but the FZ1000 has a more efficient user interface.
The 4 way controller or Cursor buttons in Panasonic language, works well. At a glance the module looks just like that on the G7 but the detail design on the GX8 is better. Each of the crescent shaped buttons is raised at the outer edge for easier location and operation by feel. The “rocking saucer” module on the FZ1000 is better again, easier to locate by feel.
I really don’t understand why Panasonic does not standardise on the FZ1000 cursor button design but
I suspect it is some kind of styling or heritage issue.
There are no problems in Review Phase. Captured images can be viewed quickly. Zoom in is efficient. The user can easily scroll from one image to the next at the same position on the frame and same zoom level.
Comment: I have read several positive reports and reviews about the GX8 user interface and ease of operation. I am less enthusiastic for reasons detailed above.
My suggestion: try before you buy.
|On the left, GM5 with Panasonic accessory handle fitted and the excellent PanaLeica 15mm f1.7 lens with hood in place. On the right Panasonic LX100.|
The GM5 was announced in September 2014 as a follow up to the GM1 which was the first of the incredibly tiny GM line of Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens cameras.
What happened to number 2 ? As is often the case Panasonic’s naming sequence appears inscrutable here.
Anyway GM5 it is and according to rumor the next in line will be called GM7, due sometime early in 2016 perhaps.
It is currently the smallest interchangeable lens camera with a built in EVF.
With the good quality kit 12-32mm lens attached it is only slightly larger than a Sony RX100 compact camera and smaller than a Panasonic LX100. You really have to hold one of these to appreciate just how small it is.
The GM5 appears to be one manifestation of a drive by camera makers to fit the biggest sensor into the smallestpossible body. Which begs the question …why ?
I really don’t know but I am guessing the reasons might be
1. To satisfy users calling for a ‘pocketable’ camera capable of better image quality than they can get from a smart phone.
2. There is a contest between manufacturers for the teensy, tiny prize, presumably to win sales in a market niche.
3. Because they can and the engineers want to showcase the products of their enterprise.
|The GM5 is just about the smallest camera which (apart from the missing built in flash ) qualifies for my 'proper camera' criteria. |
I bought a GM5 for three reasons.
1. Because Panasonic Australia was offering a free 25mm f1.7 lens as an inducement to purchase.
2. The GM5 has electronic first curtain shutter (EFCS) and is at the time of writing (November 2015) the only Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera to do so.
3. I wanted to discover whether I could put together a compact, carry-everywhere-all-day kit based on the GM5 which would be more appealing to me than my LX100, which I have been using for the last year or so. There is nothing wrong with the LX100 by the way. It’s just that I am always looking for the next best thing.
From an ergonomic perspective my most favoured current model Panasonic M43 ILC is the G7 which I found to be very nice to use apart from the flat cursor button module which is hard to locate and operate by feel. However this camera, like most M43 models can produce image degradation due to shutter shock with the mechanical shutter with some lenses, focal lengths and shutter speeds.
Panasonic’s solution for the G7 is E-Shutter which causes a different set of problems including image capture reduced to 10 bit with adverse effect on dark tones, rolling shutter, no flash and no shutter speeds longer than 1 second. I found the need to switch back and forth from M-Shutter to E-Shutter, sometimes with [Shutter Delay] to be irritating and frustrating so I regretfully parted company with the G7.
But then I discovered the GM1 and GM5 have a shutter which is completely different from that found in other M43 cameras.
The mechanism is much smaller, using a stepping motor to drive the shutter blades and it does offer EFCS which allows the full 12 bit capture at all times.
The benefits of this are a complete absence of shutter shock issues and very quiet operation. In fact the GM5 has the quietest focal plane shutter I have ever heard. Switch off the electronic beeps to appreciate this.
Unfortunately the shutter blades travel quite slowly compared to those of a standard shutter. This limits mechanical shutter speed to 1/500sec and the fastest flash synch speed is 1/50 sec. The shutter automatically switches to Electronic when a speed faster than 1/500 is indicated.
For my purposes the limitations of the GM5 shutter are less problematic than those of the G7.
One day all ILCs will have a global shutter and this tedious nonsense about M-Shutter, E-Shutter, bit rate and EFCS will all go away.
Apart from the shutter, the GM5 has most of the functions, features, image quality and performance of other current model Panasonic 16 Mpx M43 cameras packed into a ridiculously small body.
These include peaking, which works well with manual focus on the GM5, high quality (but not 4K) video, Wi-Fi, Zebras, many touch screen functions and much more.
GM5 vs LX100 (or Sony RX100.3 or 100.4)
To summarise quite a bit of testing:
* Outdoors, in good light when you can use ISO 200 and f4-8 the GM5 with kit 12-32mm zoom delivers more information (detail) than the LX100 due to it having more pixels on the sensor (16 vs 12) and a slightly better lens within its focal length and aperture range.
* Indoors, in low light the f1.7-2.8 lens in the LX100 has a 2 stop advantage over the 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 M43 kit zoom. This allows the LX100 to use a 2 stops lower ISO setting leading to better image quality.
* The only way to get better picture quality from the GM5 than the LX100 (or RX100.3 or .4) in both good and poor light is to mount a small fast prime lens. You could run with just a single prime but I expect most photographers would want to carry 2 or 3 primes to cover their preferred focal length range. This means changing lenses from time to time, of course.
I will discuss options for
Panasonic prime lenses suitable for the GM5 in a later post. Fortunately the M43 system has a good selection of small fast primes on offer.
Initial impressions of the GM5
* Mine arrived with the 12-32mm kit lens already mounted on the body with no body cap and no spare lens rear cap. For an ILC ????!!!!
I had to buy in some body and lens rear caps from an eBay supplier. I was not amused.
* The body is extremely small. It feels like a Sony RX100 to hold. That is not a good thing. It constantly feels as though it is about to fall on the floor.
I had to invest in an aftermarket handle a.s.a.p. I got a genuine Panasonic one from an eBay seller in Japan but it cost AU$137. I was not amused. Yes there are less expensive aftermarket handles but the Panasonic one puts the third finger of the right hand in a good place to hold this sized camera and also gives an extra 5mm height which assists the grip and provides extra clearance for those lenses (such as the 20mm f1.7 pancake) which otherwise overhang the baseplate.
The handle works decently well and allows me to feel that I can actually hold onto the camera without fear of its imminent submission to the forces of gravity.
But Panasonic should incorporate a handle into the body design. There is absolutely no excuse for imposing a no handle design on camera users particularly when an integrated handle would cost no more to build than the present flat front shape.
The accessory handle must be removed to change battery or memory card or mount the camera on a tripod.
This nonsense all comes under the heading what-on-earth-were-they-thinking ?
Stupid faults like this are so easy to avoid at the product concept stage. I sometimes, actually quite often come to think of it, feel that camera designers are completely off with the pixies in some remote little world of their own, imposing poor decisions on their customers for reasons beyond my comprehension.
* Battery life is poor. In their zeal to make the body as thin as possible (23mm) the designers failed to provide enough space for a decent battery. So instead of the good enough 1025 mAh BLG10E found in the LX100, the GM5 has the smaller and not-good-enough 680 mAh BLH7E model. To make matters worse Panasonic genuine batteries are ridiculously expensive. So I got a couple of aftermarket ones. We shall see how that works out. I have in the past found they run out of puff rather quickly.
There was no need to make the body that thin. The lens mount sits 6mm in front of the front face of the body which could to considerable advantage been that much thicker, allowing the camera to be held more easily and a larger battery to be fitted. The dimensions of the camera would not change at all.
I am not amused. This is just bad design, presumably in the pursuit of some kind of ultra-thin ‘look’.
* Next up I see the monitor is fixed. Again I assume this is to keep the body thin. Unfortunately fixed monitors or indeed any monitor which always faces out tend to develop little scuff marks eventually even when used and carried with care.
So I had to get a screen protector from another eBay supplier in the USA. It has not yet arrived.
* And the 25mm f1.7 lens has not yet appeared. I had better be good.
* However, notwithstanding all this grumbling and grizzling the pictures are good and the performance is good. And the holding and handling are acceptable now the accessory handle is in place. So maybe I won’t throw the GM5 off a cliff just yet.
Readers who follow this blog will know that my initial impressions of the GM5 were not positive.
However further use has convinced me that the camera has some redeeming qualities and is reasonably pleasant to use, as long as one is aware of its limitations.
The redeeming qualities are:
* It can form the basis of a very compact yet capable ILC kit suitable for indoor or outdoor use with small fast prime lenses.
* Very good picture quality.
* Zippy performance in single shot mode.
* No shutter shock issues with EFCS.
* Small size leads to ergonomic compromises although some of these are due to poor design decisions.
* limited continuous shooting capability.
* Limited, but adequate, selection of suitably small lenses.
This follows the current Panasonic M43 ILC formula, seen in many other Panasonic M43 cameras.
The graphical user interface is very good. The content is quite voluminous and could be daunting for a newcomer to the Panasonic Menu system although not in the same league of obscurantism that you will find in an Olympus or Sony camera. It is time Panasonic revised their Menu System to achieve greater coherency with more meaningful groupings of like items. Canon and Nikon do this better.
This is quite decent for a small camera with modest functional ambitions. There is a standard Mode
Dial on top with the usual iA, P, A, S, M settings plus one Custom mode access point and direct access to the panorama setting which is nice.
There is a Set-and-SeeFocus Mode dial to the left of the shutter button. Given that this camera will be used most of the time in Single Shot Drive Mode then using this dial for Focus Mode makes sense.
The Mode Dial is very small and difficult to turn even with two fingers so switching modes requires the capture process to be interrupted and the camera dropped down to turn the dial. Likewise the Focus Mode dial.
There is a standard Panasonic Q Menu button with up to 15 user assignable functions and two Fn buttons.
For the record I assign ISO to the Fn1 (Wi-Fi) button and Drive Mode to the Fn2 (LVF) button. If you want to use Wi-Fi it will have to be allocated to Fn 1 or Fn 2 as it cannot be allocated to the Q Menu. This would push Drive Mode back to the Q Menu.
On the Custom Q Menu I put AF Mode, Stabiliser and Quality (RAW/JPG).
Prepare Phase Score 10/15
Without an accessory handle the GM5 feels a bit precarious to me. The thing is so small and thin that
I am unable to get a proper hold on it.
Matters improve with an accessory handle but the holding position is cramped and still not very secure.
Holding score without handle 4/20
Holding score with handle 6/20
There is a built in EVF always at the ready. The eyepiece is small and the view is also small and not particularly sharp or detailed. There is dioptre adjustment and a sensor for automatic switching between EVF and monitor.
The eyecup is small and unable to effectively exclude stray light.
The monitor is fixed, 75mm wide and 40mm high, making it approximately 16:9 aspect ratio in a camera which produces stills of 4:3 aspect ratio. This encroaches on the control panel on the right side of the monitor, impairing operation.
The EVF and Monitor are both adjustable for style (Viewfinder or Monitor style) and are both adjustable for Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Red Tint and Blue tint.
I find the Monitor good to go with default settings but the EVF needs Brightness +5, Contrast -6, Saturation 0, Red Tint 0, Blue Tint 0, for a realistic looking view of the subject.
Both EVF and Monitor have all the usual and extensive Panasonic data displays which can be selected or deselected and cycled on and off with the Disp button.
The EVF and Monitor can be configured to look the same for a seamless segue from one to the other.
Operating this camera is not a particularly enjoyable or streamlined experience. There are sufficient controls to get the job done but the process lacks smoothness and easy control of exposure and focus parameters.
The single (rear) dial is small and rather stiff, requiring the tip of the right thumb to bear on the dial to turn it. If it were larger and more prominent the pad of the distal phalanx of the thumb could more reliably operate the dial without the need to flex the interphalangeal joint.
The dial does have push-clickfunction enabling Exposure Compensation with the same dial. It has a click-turn action with each click representing a 1/3 EV step change in parameter.
All the buttons are small but there is space on the camera to make most of them larger. If the monitor were not so wide the control panel could be larger allowing a larger Cursor Button set and larger surrounding buttons.
There is a little ridge to the right of the cursor buttons which has thus far prevented me from any inadvertent activation of the right cursor button or Video or Disp buttons.
Panasonic [Direct Focus Area] is available and I use this. The outer edges of the cursor buttons are sufficiently raised and sharpish to make this reasonably easy to operate by feel.
I move ISO to Fn1, Drive Mode to Fn2 and AF Mode to the Q Menu. White Balance can be allocated to the Q Menu if desired.
It is possible to control Aperture in A Mode (or Shutter speed in S Mode), ISO, Exposure Compensation, AF and MF if required while continuously looking through the EVF and with little disruption to the grip with either hand. The process is just not as elegant as it could be with a better thought out set of user interface modules.
There are not enough control modules to permit scrolling from one review image to the next at the same level of zoom and same position in the frame.
Otherwise Playback functions are standard Panasonic fare and are probably far more extensive than many people will ever need.
Comment:The GM5 could have scored better with more thoughtful design at the concept and implementation stages.