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The independent source for study and review of camera ergonomics.

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  • 06/09/16--17:39: Sony RX100 Mk4 user review
  • The sensor and lens of the RX100(4) are good enough that I can confidently take the camera just about anywhere indoors or outdoors and expect to make good pictures hand held.
    This one used ISO 125, 1/25 sec at f1.8.


    The RX100 Mk4  is the fourth and best iteration of the RX100 compact camera series which caused such a stir when the original was released in 2012.  I had access to one of these but chose not  to use it for a range of reasons such as lack of a viewfinder or articulated monitor and an awkward user interface.  I just did not enjoy using that camera.


    Each of the  next three versions of the RX100 series brought improvements to specifications and features, picture quality, performance and ergonomics.


    I resisted getting a Mk4 when it was released partly because of the high asking price  and partly because I was happy enough with my Panasonic LX100 which made and continues to make very good pictures.


    But many favourable reviews and user reports and maybe a bit of G.A.S. eventually persuaded me to get a Mk 4 for myself to see if it deserves the praise which has been bestowed upon it.


    Having made over 2000 photos  in a variety of conditions over the last few weeks I can say that with some reservations, mainly about ergonomic issues, that the RX100(4) is as good as the reviews and user reports say it is.


    This user review follows my usual format.  It covers still photography as I do little video and do not claim to know anything useful about it.


    It is not as extensive as usual as there are so many reviews and reports available.


    Market position, target user group and features

    There is a market for compact but highly capable cameras which find favour with expert/enthusiast and professional photographers who want excellent picture quality and performance in the smallest most portable package possible and don’t mind paying for the benefits which such a model can provide.


    The RX100(4) fits that specification very well.


    I carry it in a Lowe Pro Portland 20 pouch (with the red divider cut out) on my waist belt. The Portland 20 has a separate front section which can take spare cards, microfiber cloth and two spare batteries. At least one is required due to the poor battery life, an ongoing problem with some Sony model lines.


    The camera comes absolutely jam packed with a multitude of features for still and video photography including 4K and an extensive array of  Picture Profiles presumably intended for video capture but also applicable to still photos.


    Technology lovers will find lots to play with but I suspect many users might be a bit overwhelmed by all the options and might not make use of the full range of capabilities available.


    One feature which I do not care for is that a separate battery charger is not included in the box. Some users rate USB charging in camera as a positive as they do not have to carry a separate charger. Fair enough but I like having the option to charge one battery while using the camera. The other issue is that the RX100(4) goes through batteries quickly so a spare or two is a good idea.


    I got an aftermarket charger and spare batteries to solve both problems.


    Picture quality

    Sensor   I rate the sensor as the best feature of the RX100(4).  It is Sony’s latest and best 13.2 x 8.8mm RS chip which is excellent, delivering resolution, color, dynamic range and luminance noise levels in line with the best available Micro Four Thirds models and better than some APS-C models at low ISO settings.


    The high speed readout of this sensor enables a variety of technical capabilities such as minimal rolling shutter effect, flash with E-Shutter up to 1/100, super fast shutter speed for stills (up to 1/32000 second !!) and a range of high speed video capabilities.

    The JPGs are of decent quality although I find noise reduction at high ISO sensitivity settings rather excessive. Unfortunately NR is not user adjustable, a strange omission on a camera otherwise loaded with user adjustable parameters.


    My own JPG settings are a work in progress. Currently in the [Creative Style] tab on screen 5 of the Camera Menu I am using the Neutral setting with Contrast -3, Saturation +1, Sharpness+1.

    There are other little bits of strangeness in the picture settings. For instance with RAW+JPG recording the camera allows Fine JPG but not super Fine, go figure.


    The RAW files are very malleable. In Adobe Camera RAW the sliders in the Basic Tab can be used vigorously without damaging image integrity. There is considerable headroom for highlight recovery and dark tones can be lifted substantially without introducing artefacts.


    This allows subjects of high brightness range to be managed without resort to multiple exposure HDR strategies.


    Lens   I rate the lens the second best feature of the RX100(4).

    The Vario-Sonnar  f1.8-2.8 FLE24-70mm complements the sensor very well. There has been some reference on review sites particularly DPR about sample variation with this lens which appears on the Mk3 and Mk4 versions of the RX100 series.  I appear to have gotten lucky with my copy which is a relief.


    Mine  delivers very good resolution and sharpness across the frame at all focal lengths and apertures. There is mild softness in the corners at the wide end and f1.8. Best aperture at all focal lengths is f4 but the widest aperture is entirely usable at any focal length.


    There is a bit of double line rendition of out of focus subject elements in some conditions and also some ‘bright donut’ rendition of small light sources in backgrounds. However these issues are not commonly seen.


    The actual amount of detail which the lens/sensor combination can reveal is considerable, sufficient for very large prints.  I use an Epson 4880 which takes 17 inch (432mm) wide media, allowing an actual picture size of  400 x 600 mm. At this size pictures are clear, sharp and detailed with excellent presence on the wall, even when viewed up close.


    I have noticed that the RAW files from the RX100(4) can often benefit from judicious use of the [Clarity] slider in ACR.


    Overall I rate picture quality from the RX100(4) as very good indeed and equal to or better than a Micro Four Thirds or APS-C ILC with kit lens. I will post about this comparison separately.


    Performance

    Operation is fast and responsive in all Modes with JPG or RAW capture.


    I find AF Single reliably fast and accurate in a wide range of conditions with very few off-focus images. The AF system is not quite as sensitive as Panasonic’s on subjects with low texture or low brightness.  However the RX100(4) had fewer failures than my Panasonic LX100 with the ‘foliage-in-front-of-bright-sky’ or ‘multiple-bright-lights’ subject types which can often trip up contrast detect AF systems.


    Shot to shot time with AFS and AE on each shot, pressing the shutter button for each exposure is 0.4 seconds which is commendable. 


    With AF Continuous and continuous drive and RAW+JPG capture the camera shot 30 frames in 7 seconds (4.5fps) before slowdown. With JPG super Fine capture the camera made 53 shots in 9 seconds (6 fps) before slowing.


    I photographed cars moving towards or away from the camera travelling slowly as they reduced speed for a hump.  With JPG superfine capture I found about 65% of frames sharp. This is a reasonable figure for a camera using contrast detect AF only, but in any event is a bit academic as I doubt many people would choose this type of camera for sport/action shots.


    Overall performance is very good.


    RX100Mk4 with Mockup 11 rear view. The silver finish makes the mockup look larger but in fact the difference between the two is only 2mm (height and width).


    Ergonomics

    This is the least well implemented aspect of this camera. 


    There are two main aspects to the ergonomic function of a camera, represented by the  ‘information interface’ (consisting mainly of menus and other aspects of setting up the camera) and the ‘operation  interface’  (consisting of the apparatus for holding, viewing and operating the device).


    There are many ways in which both aspects the user interface could be improved, from the menu organisation to the layout of controls, EVF, handle, thumb support, buttons and dials. I have discussed these issues in a comparison with the Panasonic LX100 here  and in a discussion of mockups illustrating design alternatives here. The smaller of these mockups is my presentation of a proof of concept that a compact camera only marginally larger than the RX100(4) can still have a very good user interface and be enjoyable to use.


    As I see it the camera makers (including Sony, Panasonic, Canon, Nikon) have not developed a design culture for advanced compacts. The user interface on many current models  appears to be a scaled down version of larger interchangeable lens cameras or a reworking of old style ‘point-and-shoot’ bar of soap type snapshooter compacts.  Neither of these approaches works for the advanced compact which needs its own design language.


    The RX100(4) menu arrangement has copped a lot of well deserved criticism from reviewers and users.


    There are many problems, for instance ‘focus’ settings are scattered about within and between submenus, ‘image size’ and ‘quality’ appear in two places, there are strange items such as [For Viewfinder] which appears as an option in the [Monitor] tab under [Disp], still and video settings are lumped together but not in any coherent fashion that I can detect, and so forth.

    It seems to me that the architects of this muddle are working from  a camera centric/maker centric point of view when they might do better working from a user centric point of view.


    I will post a separate discussion about this soon.


    Menu resume does apply, which is desirable. This means the last used item opens first next time.

    There is no [My Menu] which is disappointing. Every camera should have a ‘My Menu’ so items frequently accessed by the individual user can be gathered together.


    I try to illustrate issues with the operation interface by comparing the RX100(4) with my  Mockup 11. This embodies my ideas about design for the advanced compact of ‘pocketable’ size.


    I developed this from ergonomic principles using my hands and fingers as guides to craft a shape and layout which works efficiently at this size.

    Mockup 11 is 2mm wider and 2mm higher than the RX100(4). Both have the same overall depth and body depth. Mockup 11 has a much improved user interface, the trade-off for which is a smaller monitor.


    Mockup 11. My contribution to fresh thinking about compact camera design.


    Holding   mockup 11 has a substantial mini handle which is shaped to conform to the fingers holding it. It is much more comfortable and secure than the Sony stick-on handle for the RX100 series.

    The mockup also has a fully developed thumb support. The combination of the handle and thumb support makes for a relaxed secure grip on the camera.


    Viewing  The Mockup has a fixed, built in always ready EVF 14mm high. My experience with several cameras from Panasonic and Sony tells me that this is about the lower end of the acceptable range for EVF size. The always ready EVF is more user friendly than the pop up type on the RX100(4) and also presumably less prone to damage and dust incursion.  It also allows the left hand to take up a more stable position in landscape or portrait orientation.


    The image view on the RX100(4) monitor has a diagonal of 72mm which is very large for a compact.  This would reduce to about 60mm on the Mockup which I think is entirely acceptable and a reasonable price to pay for all the operating advantages of the Mockup.  It could also be of fully articulating type as the monitor width on the mockup is the same as that on the RX100(4).


    Mockup 11 rear view


    Operating  This is where the mockup differs considerably from any compact on the market today.


    The control layout you see in the photos is based on the following ideas:


    * A well designed compact camera should be just as easy to operate efficiently as a larger model.


    * Modern cameras can locate the active AF area anywhere on the frame so there should be a highly efficient control system for doing that. The best of these is the JOG lever. I believe every camera should have one of these. On the Mockp it is located exactly where my right thumb wants to find it, and can easily operate it without shifting grip on the camera.  The mocked up JOG lever itself is of course a Phillips head screw standing proud of the rear of the camera for easy operation. The heavily textured surface makes the module easy to find and operate by feel.


    * All the buttons on a camera should be easy to find and work by feel. They should be sufficiently large and prominent to facilitate this but positioned so they will not be accidentally activated.


    * There is not enough functional space on the 19mm wide Control Panel of the RX100(4) for all the buttons and the dial which are jammed in there. All the buttons are too small, flat and recessed for confident operation. The Movie button is jammed into the inadequate micro thumb support where I regularly bump it accidentally when I pick up the camera.


    * The lens of the RX100 series is for reasons unknown to me not all the way over to the left (as viewed by the user) of the body. This leaves insufficient space for a decent handle and causes the fingers working the lens ring to jam up against those on the handle.


    * It is possible to create a full twin dial control configuration at this size, such that both dials can be worked while viewing at eye level without changing grip with the right hand. So you see the rear dial of the RX100 has become a top control/command dial on the Mockup.  Actually the Mockup also has a control lever (with user assignable function of course) in front of the shutter button so it is almost a triple dial confiuration.

    Thus you could for instance allocate Aperture to the lens ring, Shutter Speed to the top control dial and Exposure Compensation to the control lever. Or some other combination if desired.


    * Function of all the buttons and dials is user assignable from a long list of options. You get to decide which one does ‘Menu’, which does ‘Playback’ and so forth.


    * The mockup realises the concept of an [Alt] button.  The most suitable one on my trials is that shown on the photos, down near the bottom of the lens barrel. This is easily reached and pressed by the 4th finger of the right hand. Thus [alt] + Button brings up an alternate, user selected function for any button. So you get 14 functions out of the 7 buttons which should be enough for just about anything. Of course this raises the problem of remembering what functions I allocated to each button. I guess this could be managed with an on screen Head-Up-Display.


    Summary

    The RX100(4) gets top billing among advanced compacts on the market today by virtue of its picture quality.

    It also provides good performance especially for single shot stills and it has very advanced video capabilities (not tested by me).

    It has a multitude of features and capabilities, some might say more than it can cope with, or maybe more than most users can manage.

    The main aspects of this camera which I believe require fresh thinking are the ergonomics and the user experience.  I have indicated how this could work with reference to Mockup11.





     






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    Sony RX100(4)

    This is a question which often appears on user forums.


    Many people buy an interchangeable lens camera (DSLR or MILC), mount a 3x kit zoom or convenience/travel/long zoom and leave it there permanently, thereby effectively converting their ILC into a fixed zoom camera (FZC).


    I  see the opinion often repeated on user forums that an ILC must have better picture quality than any FZC  (often referred to as ‘bridge’ or ‘compact’).


    The inference would seem to be that the ILC is for enthusiasts and experts and  the FZC is for snapshooters who have lower expectations about picture quality and performance . Therefore the FZC is provided with a lower level of capability sufficient to meet those expectations.


    My own experience would have led me to agree with this until recently.


    There has for many years been a category of advanced compact camera which has been pitched to the enthusiast/expert photographer who doesn’t always want to lug around an ILC kit with several lenses. 
    Many of these such as the long running Canon G series used the so called ‘1/1.7 inch’ sensor having an actual diagonal measurement of about 9.3mm.  These had decent picture quality which  never challenged that of the traditional DSLR and was not intended to.


    In recent times the capability of advanced compacts has increased considerably due to two technological developments.


    The first is the Sony ‘One inch’ (actually 13.2x8.8mm) sensor, now in its third generation. This delivers image quality and performance better than some Micro Four Thirds sensors and even some APS-C sensors.


    The second is advancements in aspheric lens design and fabrication allowing the production of  collapsing consumer zooms with remarkably high optical quality.


    At the same time ILCs have shrunk so that some models such as the Panasonic GM5 with kit lens are smaller than some advanced compacts.


    RX100(4)


    So which is better ?


    Obviously with an ILC you can change lenses. But if you don’t want to change lenses this is moot.


    For this exercise, let us stay with the proposition that we will not be changing lenses.


    My discussion is mainly about zooms. I am well aware that some photographers like to use prime lenses either on a fixed lens or interchangeable lens camera. So I do make some reference to options using one, or in the case of an ILC, several prime lenses.  I used primes for  40 years through the second half of the 20th Century as there were no decent quality zooms available for the consumer market.  But current generation zooms are so good I no longer have any inclination to go back to primes.


    FZCs go into this comparison with two innate advantages over ILCs.


    First: Without the need for a body mount and a lens mount the designers can utilise multiple inner barrels allowing the whole lens construction to telescope back into the body of the camera until the rear element almost touches the sensor.


    The result is that the powered off lens can have a very shallow depth.


    Second: Most  ILCs to date have some form of focal plane shutter. In years to come I think it likely that this will be replaced by a very fast E-shutter or global shutter. The problem with focal plane shutters is they have the potential to cause image blur due to shutter shock. Camera makers have found various workarounds for this including E-Shutter, Electronic First Curtain and more recently a (Panasonic) shutter driven by electromagnets instead of springs. However each of these approaches has its drawbacks.


    FZCs use a diaphragm type leaf shutter in the lens. I have not seen any reports of this causing shutter shock.


    Let us move on now to consider specific cameras. In their 2016 Roundup of compact enthusiast zoom cameras Digital Photography Review nominated the Sony RX100(4) as best overall and best for video, with the Panasonic ZS/TZ100 best for travel. The previous best camera in this category is the Panasonic LX100 which is still available.


    It would appear that my judgement is in line with that of DP Review’s editors because those are the three advanced compacts that I bought and have been using and testing.


    I have also been going through the process of deciding whether to settle on a compact or a small ILC for my ‘one lens’ kit. This has involved buying and using and testing  several micro four thirds cameras (G7, GX8, GM5)  and lenses (Lumix 12-35mm f2.8, 14-42mm and 12-32mm). Our family at some time had a Nikon 1 V2 with 10-100mm lens permanently mounted.  I have also examined specifications, reviews and user reports on the Sony A6000/6300 cameras and several compatible E Mount lenses.


    The question I wanted to answer is: Is there any ‘one lens’ option based on an ILC from any maker or sensor size which can match the kit size/picture quality balance of the best advanced compacts ?


    My conclusion is no. The advantage of the ILC as a camera type is the ability to change lenses. 

    Remove that from the equation and the advantage goes to the better advanced compacts.


    Why ?


    Because for any given sensor size and device box volume (length x width x height) the fixed lens type can have either greater zoom range or a wider aperture or both.


    Photo courtesy of Camerasize.com
    On the left Panasonic TZ100. On the right Nikon 1 V3 with 10-100mm lens mounted. I had to mock up the Nikon lens to correct size as Camerasize did not have the exact lens in their files.
    Both cameras have the same sensor size and 10x zoom of approximately equal aperture range.
    The picture tells the story.


    I illustrate this with some examples.


    Nikon 1 V3+10-100mm lens (ILC) vs Panasonic TZ/ZS 100 (FZC).

    I have posted this previously but do so again as it tells the whole story in one photo.


    Both cameras use the 13.2 x 8.8mm sensor. Both have a 10x zoom of approximately equal aperture range. The TZ100 has, the Nikon 1 V3 does not have a built in EVF.


    Look at the size difference. The FZC is actually better specified yet is dramatically smaller.


    Each lens has a very similar optical and focussing performance.


    Result: The ILC costs more, is much larger and has no advantage over the FZC in any respect.


    By the way this comparison also illustrates why I believe the Nikon 1 system as a whole is unlikely to have a future.


    Photo courtesy of Camerasize.com
    The RX100(4) on the right has a higher scoring sensor than the Panasonic GM5 on the left. The RX100(4) lens has more zoom range yet still has an aperture two stops wider than the kit lens on the GM5.


    Panasonic GM5 + 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 (ILC)  vs  Sony RX100(4) (FZC).

    The GM5 is amazingly small for an ILC. The body is the same size as that of the RX100(4). It is often sold with the 12-32mm lens shown in the photo. You can see that as soon as a lens is mounted the size advantage goes to the Sony.


    But wait, there’s more:


    The RX100(4) has a DXO Mark score of 70. The GM5 has a lower score of  66 even though the sensor is larger.


    Now look at the lenses. The Sony is f1.8-2.8. The Panasonic is f3.5-5.6. So the Sony has a two stop advantage. Having tested both lenses I can say that the Sony lens can be used with confidence wide open at all focal lengths and that overall it is a better lens than the Panasonic at any focal length or aperture.


    Result: An easy win for the RX100(4) which does everything better than the ILC with kit lens, outdoors in bright light or indoors in low light.


    I bought a GM5 and tested it with the 12-32mm, 14-42mm and 12-35mm f2.8 zoom lenses. I also tested it with 14mm f2.5 and 20mm f1.7 Lumix primes.


    Being a micro Four Thirds camera the GM5 can mount and work with the 12-35mm f2.8 pro standard lens.  But although very compact for a high grade constant f2.8 lens the 12-35 is really too big for the GM5 and handles better on a more substantial M43 body.


    In fact the only way I could make sense of the GM5 was to use it with the 14mm f2.5 and 20mm f1.7 primes. These two ‘pancake’ style lenses are very small, very good optically and they work well  ergonomically on the GM5. But then we are back to changing lenses again and for all that the 14mm has a smaller aperture than the Sony zoom.


     Panasonic GX8 +12-35mm f2.8 vs Panasonic LX100

    On the numbers the GX8+12-35mm should win this easily.


    Indeed, when the two kits are tested side by side on tripod with a highly detailed subject the GX8 clearly reveals more subject detail.


    However in general photography and in particular street/documentary/lifestyle work and indoor/low light situations it is difficult to pick which gives the better results.


    I tested both side by side for several months and eventually sold the GX8 and all my M43 lenses. I kept the LX100 and my FZ1000 for long lens work.


    The LX100 is smaller, lighter and costs half as much as the GX8 kit but makes very good pictures and is more likely to make some kind of picture because I will take the LX100 with me just about anywhere, but that is not so for the GX8 +12-35mm kit.


    Sony RX100(4) vs Sony A6000/6300 with ?? lens

    The Sony A6000 has been one of the best selling ILCs of recent years. It is very compact for an APS-C ILC and has a very comprehensive specification list. The A6300 is the successor with improvements in almost all specifications but at a much higher price.


    I have never owned either the A6000 or the A6300 so my comments are based on reviews and published user reviews.


    It seems to me the biggest problem for the Sony (APS-C)  E Mount system is the lack of a really convincing standard zoom lens.


    Options for a walk around zoom include


    * The old 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 which rates badly on reviews.


    * The 16-50mm PZ f3.5-5.6 which rates mediocre at best with reports of considerable sample variation.


    * The Sony Zeiss 16-70mm constant f4 should be the star E mount standard zoom but it gets at best mediocre reviews with many reports of sample variation.


    However let us for this exercise assume we have gotten a really good copy of the Zeiss 16-70mm f4. 

    An imaginary Mk2 version perhaps, with sharpness right into the corners.


    Will this give better results than the Rx100(4) ?


    My guess is maybe, sometimes.


    At 24 Mpx the A6000/6300 pixel count is 1.2 times that of the RX100 series with 1.1 times the linear pixel count. This will produce a barely detectable difference in photos and then only at high magnification and controlled conditions.


    The A6300 does have about a stop more dynamic range which could be useful in some situations.


    Overall the A6300 has a DXO Mark score of 85 which is just one EV step better than the RX100(4) score of 70.


    To realise the full benefit of this the A6300 would need a lens aperture to match that of the RX100 (4) which ranges from f1.8-2.8.  But there is no such zoom lens for the Sony E mount. The closest  is the Sony Zeiss 16-70mm constant f4. This lens is 2 stops slower than the RX100(4) at the wide end and one stop slower at the long end.


    At the wide end if the RX100(4) could use ISO 100, the A6300 would be using ISO 400.


    So the whole equation goes around in circles. The A6300 gains with larger pixels and better IQ at any given ISO setting but loses by having to use a higher ISO setting in many situations.


    The only way to get the lens aperture down to f2 or thereabouts is with primes but that gets us back to changing lenses again.

    In their review of the RX100(4) the editors of Digital Photography Review make this interesting comment:



    “The take-home here being I often find myself getting equally as good results from certain premium compacts as larger sensor DSLRs for still scenes in low light because of the additional exposure I can give these cameras due to their high efficiency sensors, bright built-in lenses, and IS. In other words: don't underestimate the image quality you can get out of these compacts, especially if you take the time to apply some best-practice techniques to shooting and exposure.”


    There is further discussion about this issue in the review text.


    Summary

    Modern advanced compact cameras have become so good they challenge the notion that you need an ILC for good image quality.





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  • 06/19/16--21:33: Why Panasonic needs the G8


  • While Panasonic is fiddling about with successive M43 ILC models none of which gets everything right, I made this picture with a Sony RX100(4) which does get at least the sensor, lens and autofocus right.  But the controls are small and cramped and there is not much on which to get a grip.
    Panasonic needs the G8  because they messed up the G7.


    Panasonic produced the G1 in 2008.  This was the first mirrorlesss interchangeable lens camera (MILC) of the modern era (the Leica M series cameras are technically MILCs but from the film era).

    Since then we have had the G2, G3, (no G4) G5, G6 and now G7.


    In May of 2014 I posted an opinion piece titled “Why Panasonic needs the G7” which you can read here.


    I put the view that Panasonic needs to create a line of cameras in a particular style and stick to it. 


    Of course they might elect to run several lines within their overall portfolio.


    The most successful makers of cars, cameras, mobile phones and so forth understand this concept of lineage and consistency of concept, brand, style and market sector.  Think Toyota Corolla, Canon EOS and so forth.


    But Panasonic has been chopping and changing, flipping and flopping all over the place with styles, configurations and model lines leading, I suspect,  to consumer confusion and disengagement.


    Certainly Panasonic’s market share has not been particularly impressive over the last 8 years and  according to some sources has actually been declining in the last two years.


    I think one reason for this could be that potential buyers don’t know what Panasonic stands for and are uncertain what to expect from the brand. 


    For some reason unknown to me Panasonic has added to the confusion by calling all its cameras “Lumix” a sub brand which I suspect is still quite unknown to many camera buyers.


    The current Lumix ILC collection has 5 model lines:


    Entry: GF and GM


    Mid range: G and GX


    Premium/Pro: GH


    In 2014 I put the view that Panasonic needed to consolidate and clarify these lines to one model from each of the three levels.


    I now think that entry level ILCs are outperformed by and could be replaced by advanced compacts.



    Thus the Lumix ILC camera lineup could look like this:


    Mid range; 

    Hump tops represented by the G series.

    Flat tops represented by the GX series.

    Premium/Pro

    GH series.


    I suspect that the G series has not been selling very well.


    Someone, maybe the product development people at Panasonic might think that is because buyers prefer the flat top style and maybe some of them do.


    But I think the real reason is that  Panasonic has been a serial offender at delivering underspecified, underperforming G models while reserving most of the new tech goodies for the GX models.


    In fact the hump top body shape has many ergonomic and practical advantages over the flat top shape. The EVF can be larger, with a larger eye cup, a much more anatomical handle design can be utilised and there are more options for the camera top control layout.


    The G7 is a nice camera to hold and operate apart from the deplorable cursor button module. Pity about the technology inside.


    What is wrong with the G7 ?


    Unfortunately, quite a lot.


    * It uses the old spring loaded shutter which causes image degradation due to shutter shock with several popular lenses.


    They should have fitted the electromagnetically actuated one which went into the GX80.  Maybe that was not ready for the G7 release and that could have been reason enough not to release the G7 until it was ready.


    * The ‘fix’ for this in the G7 is E-Shutter which prevents shutter shock but drops image output from 12 bits per channel to 10 bits per channel. This in turn leads to blotchy green artefacts in shadows pulled up in Photoshop or other image editor. There are other problems with E-Shutter such as incompatibility with flash.


    * The Cursor Button module (a.k.a. 4 way controller) on the G7 is flat and very difficult to find and operate by feel. Panasonic keeps fiddling around with the detail design of its Cursor button modules, usually to the detriment of usability.   They should simply use the one from the FZ1000  in every camera. This uses the ideal ‘rocking saucer’ design which works very well.


    * Some potential buyers have interpreted the G7’s light weight and tendency to creaky (capable of slight deformation when pressed firmly)  body panels as ‘poor build quality’.  I don’t think the G7 has poor build quality at all but that is the impression some buyers get so they go elsewhere.


    * Wrong sensor. Panasonic should have fitted the G7 with either the 20Mpx chip which went into the GX8 or the 16Mpx one without AA filter which went into the GX80/85.


    * No IBIS.


    What do we have ?

    Basically the model with the best ergonomics (the G7) is grievously underspecified in the technology department and the models with the awkward ergonomics (G8 and G80) have the better technology.

    Not a single one of them has the good ergonomics and all the good technology in the same package.


    What does the G8 need ?


    * A refined and upgraded version of the current shape, size and control layout, see my Mockup #13 below.  Inclusion of a JOG lever would be highly desirable.

     Even if they simply used the existing body and control layout and just used the Cursor Button Module (4 way controller) from the FZ1000  that would be satisfactory as an interim measure until they can design a model with a JOG lever.


    * The new electromagnetic shutter mechanism, as per the GX80.


    * IBIS as per the GX80.


    * A really good OLED EVF.


    * Either the 20Mp sensor or the 16 Mp one without AA filter.


    * Heavier construction to impart a feeling of solid build quality.


    What about the GX series ?

    Panasonic has been messing around with the GX series since the GX1, with no clear direction emerging. This can only lead to confusion and frustration as potential buyers realise that one model has one set of desirable features and some undesirable features while the next model has a different set of  desirable and undesirable features and the feature set in the GX series is different from that in the G series.


    I don’t know about other users but my response to this has been to get out of M43 cameras altogether.


    If Panasonic wants to run the G (hump top) and GX (Flat top) series alongside each other that is their decision to make. But as a consumer I want to see all the good technology and capability in both series at the same time.


    Summary

    I think Panasonic’s current M43 ILC product development situation is a complete mess.


    They could go some way towards rectifying the situation by releasing a G8 with all existing features from the G7  plus those itemised above.


    It might cost a bit more but what is the point of a low price if the functionality is not there ?


    What about the GX80 ?


    It occurs to me that someone reading this might wonder why I don’t simply buy a GX80/85 and stop complaining about the G7.


    There are several reasons, all ergonomic. To summarise:


    * The GX80 has a mini handle not a proper contoured anatomical handle. I have been using cameras for over 60 years and have figured out that I strongly prefer a full anatomical handle. This is more comfortable, more secure and allows the user to hold the camera easily while walking, ready for instant use. In addition this handle type allows a more functional disposition of control modules on the camera top plate.


    * The thumb support on the GX80 is similar to that on the GX7 which I found inadequate.


    * The monitor screen is not of the fully articulated type which I prefer.


    * Several reviewers have reported the rear dial is difficult to operate for various reasons one being that the thumb working the dial bumps into the index finger when this is on the shutter button.



    * The GX80 still has the old, 'dumb' auto ISO implementation. This does not allow the user to set and vary minimum shutter speed and does not vary shutter speed with zoom. Nikon and Sony have this sorted out very nicely. Panasonic needs to upgrade their auto ISO algorithms right now. 

    I hate using cameras with suboptimal ergonomics and operational characteristics.


    This is Mockup #13, my interpretation of the ideal G8 camera. I actually made Mockup #13 before the G7 came out. By chance they are the same size.
    Mockup #13 has numerous ergonomic refinements including the inverted L shaped handle canted back 10 degrees, quad control set near the shutter button, JOG lever, twin control dials, triple set-and-see dials. You can see that all the controls are large, nothing is crowded yet due to correct ergonomic positioning none of the buttons or dials will be activated accidentally.
    What about Sony ?
    The reader might also reasonably ask: If I am so dis-satisfied with Panasonic M43 offerings why don't I move over to Sony ?
    Well, I did in the form of the RX100(4) compact. 
    The main reason I have not purchased an A6000 or A6300 is the dearth of good quality native E Mount zooms.
    The M43 system has a much larger and better selection of high quality primes and zooms.










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    The RX100(4) is a good street camera, quick, unobtrusive and capable of very good results. You can see here the subject has a very high brightness range, mixed lighting and abundant detail. OSS has kept the still parts of the subject sharp with a slow shutter speed while the moving people are blurred.
    So the results are good but there is room for improvement in the menus, body design and controls.


    The best features  of the RX100(4) are the sensor, lens and AF.  In consequence the camera reliably makes very good photos in a wide variety of conditions, indoors and outdoors.


    The least appealing aspect of the RX100(4) is the ergonomics and the overall user experience.


    This may be thought by some to be due to the diminutive size of the device but in my view is mainly due to a design which unsuccessfully scales down a configuration found in larger models.


    My experience with mockups has helped me to understand that cameras do not scale up or down successfully. Each size range requires a different design.


    I have some constructive ideas about this which are embodied in my Mockup#11 illustrated below.


    This evaluation and ergonomic scoring of the RX100(4) follows my usual schedule which you can read about here.


    It is biased towards still photos which is my main interest but much of the comment is relevant to video.


    Setup Phase

    There are two main tasks in this phase,


    1. Making selections in the menus and


    2. Allocating functions from a list of options to the dials and certain of the buttons on the control panel.


    Sony’s menus as they appear on the RX100(4) and other models have drawn a good deal of mostly well deserved criticism. 


    There appear to me to be two problems with menu content and submenu groupings.


    The first is that as functions have been added to successive RX100 cameras, so are menu items. Fair enough but if items just accumulate without restructuring,  the menus become cluttered and overburdened and that is what we find here.


    The second problem  is that the main submenus are camera centric not user centric. So we have Camera, Custom, Setup, Playback etc.


    But as a user I am more likely to look for groupings related to the process of making pictures which might include things like Focus, Exposure, Drive, Button/dial functions, Video  and so forth.


    So we have items related to Focus and Exposuresettings mixed up and scattered about within and between submenus.


    Auto Review, a Playback function is located in the ‘Gears’ menu instead of ‘Playback’.


    Still and Video items are lumped in together but scattered about in no order that I can discern.


    I understand that Sony wants this to be a camera which seamlessly blends still and video functions but I find it much easier to set up the camera if stills items are separated from video items.


    There are too many curious items like ‘Micref’ and ‘For Rangefinder’ which add to the confusion.


    The process of allocating dial and button functions is straightforward enough but I would prefer to see these items on their own submenu for ease of access when I want to change my selections.


    Some reviewers have criticised the graphical user interface of the Menu screens but I find it quite easy to use and easy to navigate with a combination of lateral and down scrolling. It is not as pretty as the GUI of a Panasonic or Samsung camera but quite functional nonetheless.


    ‘Menu resume’ operates by default. Thus the menu will open at the last item used. So if you use one item frequently it is easy to access.


    There is no ‘My Menu’ for items which are used frequently. Every camera should have a My Menu.


    The 259 page PDF Help Guide is woeful. The content, layout, presentation and navigation look like something from the 20thCentury.


    The Help Guide is not structured in line with the menus either so trying to work through the menus with the Help Guide is tediously difficult.


    For instance Fn button Menu Operate is on Page 44 but Fn Button Set is on Page 138, go figure.


    The Help Guide needs help in the form of a complete rewrite, ASAP.

    Setup Score 8/15


    Prepare Phase

    This is the several minutes before making photos in which the user configures the camera for the prevailing conditions and capture type (still, video, single shot, continuous, indoor, outdoor, hand held, tripod and so forth.


    The RX100(4) offers a useful and in my evaluation, quite adequate level of user inputs for Prepare Phase adjustments.


    The Fn button can access up to 12 functions, each user assignable from a list of 34 options. This is a decently quick way to access most functions which I think users would want readily to hand but not on one of the direct access buttons.


    User assigned settings are available for the Control Ring, Left, Center and Right buttons and the C button. This provides plenty of options for quick access to any of a long list of functions.


    There is also a Memory Recall function for groups of settings but this is less well implemented as you can only assign Shooting Mode and ‘Camera’ Menu items to the memory. This is so limiting I have not found it useful.


    Prepare Phase score 12/20


    Capture Phase, Holding

    This evaluation and score is made with the Sony AG-R2 stick-on handle fitted.  I would not care to use this camera without the AG-R2 or  similar handle fitted as without the handle there is really nothing on which the fingers can get a grip. 


    Given that the camera cost me AUD1188 and the handle probably cost Sony a dollar to produce I am not amused that I had to purchase the handle separately.


    The screen protector is another low cost (to Sony) item which I had to purchase separately (at high cost).


    Anyway even with the handle the holding position is cramped. My right middle finger bumps up against the lens ring and my fingers are scrunched up. The thumb support is vestigial providing very little actual support at all.


    The left hand is not altogether happy either especially with the  ‘left hand over lens’  position which I prefer as it allows my left wrist to stay straight for better control and stability than the ‘left hand under lens’ position..


    The situation is not too bad with the EVF down but with the EVF popped up the ‘left hand over’ position becomes more difficult as the EVF is sitting where my fingers want to be.


    Holding score (with AG-R2 handle)  7/20


    Capture Phase, Viewing

    The monitor screen is very large for this size of camera and looks nice although as with most screens is barely usable in sunlight. It flips up/down and selfie reverse but is not fully articulated.


    The pop up EVF is a very nice piece of engineering but is not optimal ergonomically. One reviewer described it as ‘dinky’ with which I concur. You have to pop it up and pull it out every time. At least this switches the camera on (and off when the EVF is put back to bed). There being no way to fit an eyecup, stray light gets into the EVF easily. I often place my left index finger around the EVF in a not altogether successful attempt to prevent this light entry.


    The EVF itself is sharp and clear.


    Both monitor and EVF offer limited adjustment by the user. I prefer Panasonic’s approach which allows the user to adjust all color, contrast, NR and  sharpness parameters for both the monitor and EVF.


    Both monitor screen and EVF are configured in the ideal ‘viewfinder’ style with key camera data displayed on a black border below the image. This data is a bit thin and small in the EVF and could be bolder to advantage.


    A large amount of additional data can be displayed (or not as desired) on screen or EVF with repeated presses of the Disp button.


    The balance between monitor screen and EVF is biased in favour of the screen. I think the overall viewing experience would be improved with a fixed, always ready EVF and a moderate reduction in monitor size.


    Viewing score 9/20


    Capture Phase Operating

    The camera is decently serviceable particularly in P Mode, aided by a very good auto ISO algorithm. 

    This is a good thing as operation in  the A, S or M modes is less engaging.


    The lens ring provides no tactile feedback when turned so it is not always easy to hit the desired parameter, be it aperture or shutter speed.


    Fortunately there is a good HUD (head up display) in the EVF and on the monitor while the lens ring is turning.


    Also fortunately the lens ring turns the optimal way for ‘value up’ (push right at the top).


    The only button which I can easily locate and operate by feel is the center button in the 4 way controller. This is a good thing as I need to find that button by feel to activate the ‘change AF area position’ action. Even the shutter button is flat, featureless and recessed with no definite ‘half press’ position.


    The other buttons are small, crowded into the control panel and difficult to find by feel.


    The procedure for changing position and size of the active AF area is decently easy although it does require a pre-press on the center button to activate the up/down, left/right buttons for moving the AF area.


    Some reviewers, come to think of it most of them, bemoan the lack of touch screen capability but I find little use for touch screens especially for hand held still photography. I have been using 
    Panasonic cameras with touch screens for several years and always find it easier to switch the touch screen function off as it irritatingly causes the active AF area to be bumped off position by my finger, thumb or left eye user’s noses.


    Operating score 11/25


    Review Phase

    Sony has implemented this very well on the RX100(4).  A single press on the Playback button brings up at 100% the part of the subject on which focus was established for instant focus checking. The user can scroll from one frame to the next with the same level of enlargement at the same position in the frame.


    Review score 5/5


    Overall score  52/100


    Comment

    This is not a bad score for a very small compact but there is plenty of room for improvement in both the information interface and the control interface.


    The RX100(4) scores better than the Lumix GM5 which has a similar sized body but not as well as the Lumix TZ80 which admittedly has the advantage of a slightly larger body but overall better execution of both the information and control interfaces.


    If Sony is to significantly improve the ergonomics of the next RX model (assuming there is to be one)  a major rethink of the menu system and body design and control layout is required.


    I have indicated where I think the body design might go with my Mockup #11 shown below.

     

     
    Mockup #11 on the right embodies many of my ideas for improving the small advanced compact camera. The advantages of the mockup are difficult to appreciate in a photo. You have to have your hands on the device to appreciate what it offers.





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    Camera Ergonomic Score Summaries


    Updated June 2016



    Camera

    Setup Phase

    Max 15

    Prepare Phase Max 15

                  Capture Phase

    Review Phase Max 5

    Total Max 100

    Holding Max 20

    Viewing Max 20

    Operating Max 25

    Nikon 1 V2

    7

    6

    21

    10

    8

    3

    46

    Panasonic G6

    11

    10

    14

    14

    14

    3

    66

    Panasonic GH4

    10

    13

    18

    18

    19

    5

    83

    Panasonic LX100

    10

    8

    11

    10

    10

    5

    54

    Panasonic FZ1000

    10

    13

    17

    18

    20

    5

    83

    Sony A3500

    5

    5

    12

    7

    8

    2

    39

    Fuji

     X-T1

    10

    9

    9

    13

    10

    4

    55

    Canon SX60

    10

    9

    16

    11

    6

    4

    56

    Panasonic TZ70(ZS50)

    12

    13

    6

    11

    20

    2

    64

    Nikon P900

    10

    6

    13

    11

    8

    2

    50

    Panasonic G7

    10

    13

    18

    18

    17

    5

    81

    Panasonic GX8

    10

    12

    12

    18

    14

    5

    71

    Panasonic FZ300/330

    10

    12

    18

    18

    16

    5

    79

    Panasonic GM5

    10

    10

    4

    10

    12

    2

    48

    Panasonic TZ80

    12

    12

    7

    10

    19

    5

    65

    Panasonic TZ110

    12

    13

    4

    10

    15

    5

    59

    Sony RX100(4)

    8

    12

    7

    9

    11

    5

    52




























































































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    This picture was made with a Sony RX100mk4, a very small camera capable of big results. Fortunately it works well in P Mode with the camera making good selections of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO sensitivity. Unfortunately this goodness is offset by a less than engaging user experience if one wants to take more control of camera operation.

    I started this blog in February 2012 to share my thoughts about and investigations of camera ergonomics. I realised that it was possible to develop a systematic approach to understanding and describing ergonomic factors in the user experience.


    In due course this led me to develop  a method for scoring camera ergonomics.


    I believe I am the only person to have published such work in publicly accessible media, in this case Google Blogger. 


    I have of course no idea what camera makers produce or publish in house.


    However the ergonomic realisation of actual cameras is inconsistent. Some models are quite good, others dreadful with incomprehensible omissions or errors.


    This leads me to believe that none of the camera makers has a clear corporate grasp of what constitutes good ergonomic practice in camera design.


    They seem to me like travellers heading for an unknown destination.


    It is a possibly trite but nevertheless true aphorism that the traveller who does not know his or her destination is always lost.


    In terms of the ergonomic realisation of their products all the camera makers appear lost to me.


    I suspect that if one of them accidentally produced an ergonomically perfect camera (assuming such a thing might be possible) they would be unaware of this and just as likely to turn the next model into an  ergonomic kludge.


    Don’t believe me ?


    In October 2013 Nikon produced the D610, a well sorted DSLR described by one reviewer as having ‘tried and true” operation.


    The next month they produced the Df, apparently based on the same innards as the 610. This had a very different and much less efficient user interface. The best the same review team could say about it was that it was “rather pretty”. Ouch.


    My impression from this is that while Nikon got the ergonomics of the D610 mostly right their designers appear not to have understood what exactly are the general principles which determine that rightness. 


    In consequence when pushed out of their comfort zone of same old, same old standard layout DSLRs they were all at sea, not knowing what to do.


    The same thing happened with the original Nikon 1 V1 camera body which offered some design elements completely at odds with the hands which had to operate the device.


    I don’t want the reader to think I am picking on Nikon here. All the camera makers have made similar mistakes when they venture out of a well established comfort zone.


    Anyway, back to the Camera Ergonomics blog…..


    I studied functional anatomy and did motion analyses on the operation of a wide variety of cameras and in due course evolved a language and conceptual structure for understanding, describing and measuring camera ergonomics.


    I have published all this material in extensive detail on this blog.


    You can read a series of posts about discoveringcamera ergonomics here. 

    The posts describe my discoveries but there is nothing exclusive about these. Anybody with hands and a camera can make the same discoveries.


    You can find a series about measuring cameraergonomics here.

    Throughout this enterprise the three most common objections which I have received by way of feedback have been, in essence:


    1) ‘Everyone is unique and different’. Therefore you cannot describe, evaluate or score camera characteristics in any way which is relevant to all users.  A little reflection will soon reveal that this objection is not sustainable for two main reasons:

    a) If it were true then it would not be possible for any manufacturer to make any camera at all. Or if they did make a camera it would suit only one buyer in all the world. Clearly this is not the case.

    b) It may be true that each person seems uniquely individual to his or her mother but to the maker of a motor car or camera or power tool or any other device they are very much more alike than different. To be sure,  hands vary in size and length/width ratio but not to such an extent as to invalidate basic principles of camera or car or power tool design.

    In fact all human hands free of defect, deformity or disease have an opposable thumb, four other fingers and a characteristic shape and functional capability.

    If you want to see ‘different’ check out the hands of a possum or a kangaroo.

     

    2) ‘Ergonomics is subjective’.  My experience shows that there are subjective and objective elements to the description and evaluation of ergonomics.

    a) Some questions such as ‘is the EVF large enough for comfortable viewing ?’ and ‘is the handle comfortable ?’ clearly involve subjective experiences.

    This does not mean they are beyond evaluation, understanding and scoring. There is abundant precedent for successful evaluation and scoring of subjective factors. Even ostensibly arcane qualities like ‘personality’ and ‘beauty’ can be reliably rated and scored.

    b) Many of the specifications in my scoring schedules are amenable to objective evaluation. For instance ‘Can all primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters be adjusted while looking continuously through the viewfinder  without changing grip with either hand ?’ Although this specification may seem a bit complex at first sight it can be broken down into steps and evaluated by motion study using direct observation. It is quite objective and the extent to which a camera meets this specification can be evaluated and measured.


    3) ‘That’s just your opinion’.  The corollary to this would be ‘And my different opinion is just as good as yours’.

    The problem with this is that we live in a world permeated by social media which encourage everybody to say, without any knowledge or information or deep thought whether they ‘like’ some idea or person or thing.

    This has the effect of reducing opinions to the level of  chatter, unhelpful to the work of evaluating an enterprise.

    I am very happy to debate any of my proposals on their merits but I do ask that countervailing views be backed by robust observations and analysis.

    The other issue with opinions and likes is that a person might really like a camera for reasons which are unrelated to ergonomics, see below:


    The fashion show

    I once showed one of my mockups to a lady who said “that is the ugliest camera I have ever seen”.


    The mockup in question was #12 with which I am rather pleased. It is very comfortable to hold and has a nice set of controls for the expert/enthusiast user. It would make a very good M43 body or general  purpose fixed zoom model.


    People are of course perfectly entitled to pick their cameras, cars, partners, lunch, whatever on the basis of perceived beauty or fashion.


    In the case of cameras lots of chunky big silver dials seem to be in fashion at the moment, scattered about on the top and sometimes other places on the camera body where they foul the fingers trying to operate the device.


    I regard matters of appearance and style as being separate from and unrelated to ergonomic considerations. When evaluating ergonomics or making a mockup I pay no attention to any particular notion of appearance or style.


    Nevertheless, as I look at my mockups it is clear that they do have their own style which arises naturally when form is allowed to follow function. They are not forced into a pastiche of some revered designer’s creation which may or may not have been successful in 1964.


    This is Mockup #12. Is it ugly ? I neither know nor care if someone thinks so. However it is very nice to hold and all the controls are in just the right places.


    Are my camera ergonomic scores useful ?


    I need to make it clear that the overall score is not intended to stand alone.


    The process of assessment, evaluation and scoring involves four elements.


    1. The groundwork of understanding ergonomics without which the whole process of evaluation and scoring cannot be understood.


    2. The framework and specifications which provide a set of reference points against which evaluation and scoring can be conducted.


    3. The narrative which describes how well each camera meets the requirements of each specification set.


    4. The subscores and finally the overall score.


    The camera scores


    I have now published an ergonomic score for 17 cameras.


    By the way I bought and paid for 16 of these myself and subsequently sold them via eBay to some lucky buyers who got really good gear at a very attractive price. One of the cameras was borrowed from a family member.


    As I look over these scores I ask myself : ‘Do the narrative,  the  subscores and overall scores provide a useful summary of the experience I had when using each camera ?


    And I think the answer to that is ‘yes’.


    Further I think the exercise of evaluating and scoring camera ergonomics is sufficiently useful that I will continue to do it.


    Of course there will be those who look at the list and protest that their favoured model was not given a fair score or that camera A got a better score than camera B when it is obvious that camera B is better.


    However ergonomics is just one of the four pillars of camera evaluation, the others being 

    Specifications/Features, Image Quality and Performance.  So a camera model could make really good pictures but provide a frustrating user experience and vice versa.


    Deal breaker problems

    Some cameras suffer the burden of  one or a few problems or defects which are so egregious they render that model unsuitable for rational purchase.


    I call these ‘deal breaker’ problems.


    For instance the Canon SX60 has a flat 4 way controller which I found impossible to locate and operate by feel. This alone would exclude it from contention if I were recommending cameras to a friend. But the SX60 scores reasonably well for a consumer fixed long zoom type because the total score is the sum of the sub scores and within each sub score there are several elements to consider.


    So a model such as the SX60 with a deal breaker problem scored higher (56) than the P900 (50) which  scored in the acceptable range in all categories with no deal breaker issues.


    So the Ergonomic score has to be taken in the context of all the other factors which might be relevant to the ownership experience with any camera model.






    Camera Ergonomic Score Summaries

    In rank order  June 2016


    Camera

    Setup Phase

    Max 15

    Prepare Phase Max 15

                  Capture Phase

    Review Phase Max 5

    Total Max 100

    Holding Max 20

    Viewing Max 20

    Operating Max 25

    Sony A3500


    5

    5

    12

    7

    8

    2

    39

    Nikon 1 V2


    7

    6

    12

    10

    8

    3

    46

    Panasonic GM5

    10

    10

    4

    10

    12

    2

    48

    Nikon P900


    10

    6

    13

    11

    8

    2

    50

    Sony RX100 Mk4

    8

    12

    7

    9

    11

    5

    52

    Panasonic LX100

    10

    8

    11

    10

    10

    5

    54

    Fuji X-T1

    10

    9

    9

    13

    10

    4

    55

    Canon SX60


    10

    9

    16

    11

    6

    4

    56

    Panasonic TZ110(ZS100)

    12

    13

    4

    10

    15

    5

    59

    Panasonic TZ70(ZS50)

    12

    13

    6

    11

    20

    2

    64

    Panasonic TZ80 (ZS60)

    12

    12

    7

    10

    19

    5

    65

    Panasonic G6


    11

    10

    14

    14

    14

    3

    66

    Panasonic GX8

    10

    12

    12

    18

    14

    5

    71

    Panasonic FZ300/330

    10

    12

    18

    18

    16

    5

    79

    Panasonic G7


    10

    13

    18

    18

    17

    5

    81

    Panasonic FZ1000

    10

    13

    17

    18

    20

    5

    83

    Panasonic GH4

    10

    13

    18

    18

    19

    5

    83











    Comment on the score summaries


    May I reiterate that these scores mean very little without an understanding of the concepts and framework upon which they are based and the narrative which summarises the reasoning behind each subscore.


    Several of the low scoring models work reasonably well if left on the fully automatic mode setting which tends to disguise operational deficiencies.


    In last place we have the Sony A3500, a budget hump top MILC the only attractive feature of which was its amazingly low price point. Unfortunately almost everything else about it was unappealing.


    The next group, including Nikon 1 V2, Panasonic GM5, Nikon P900, Sony RX100Mk4 and Panasonic LX100, with scores from 46-54, all work decently well in Auto or Program mode where there is limited requirement for adjusting primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters during Capture Phase of use as the camera does most of this automatically.


    But if you want to use Shutter Priority or Manual Modes or adjust ISO setting or exposure compensation manually, one of the higher scoring models will provide a more streamlined user experience.


    Two models here, the Panasonic LX100 and Fuji X-T1, feature a hybrid traditional/modern control layout with aperture ring on the lens, shutter speed dial and separate exposure compensation dial.  

    Some reviewers and contributors to user forums praise cameras having this type of control layout as being ‘intuitive’, providing ‘direct control’ and ‘superior ergonomics’. But every time I run motion studies on the actions required to operate a camera these hybrid/traditional models fare poorly.


    You have to experience trying to operate one of these cameras in Shutter Priority Mode to get a feeling for this. The control type is logical but slow to operate.


    Moving up the score table, the Canon SX60 has a very nice inverted L shaped handle but a woeful set of controls the worst of which is the flat, almost unusable 4 way controller.


    The designers of the Panasonic TZ100/ZS100 forgot to put on a handle or thumb support. What on earth were they thinking ?


    The less expensive TZ70 and TZ80 are both easier to hold and use with a decent handle and thumb support.


    The Panasonic G6 is very similar to the G5, both representing a welcome recovery from the ergonomic disaster of the G3.


    The G7 shows significant further improvement and would have scored even higher with a better Cursor Button Module.


    On my evaluation the G8 is a step backwards for Panasonic’s M43 lineup with numerous errors of user interface implementation which in my view should never have gotten into production.


    The FZ300 is an improved version of the FZ200 with better designed controls all round but not quite in the same class as the FZ1000.


    The only two cameras to score over 80 are the FZ1000 and GH3/4 (the GH3 and 4 have the same body). I still use the FZ1000 regularly and it is my preferred all purpose camera. 


    Both the FZ1000 and GH4 are a pleasure to use but both could easily be improved further with detail improvements to the handle and controls including addition of a JOG lever.















      


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    The first camera I ever used was my father’s  Baldafixmedium format rollfilm folding bellows model shown in the photo. 63 years later it is still in our household and the shutter still works although the lens has been destroyed by fungus.


    Believe it or not this was a fairly advanced model in the early 1950s when many amateur photographers used the spartan Kodak Box Brownie.


    In the 1970s I used a Pentax Spotmatic also shown in the photo. This camera is 45 years old and still working. Even the rudimentary electrical functions for the exposure meter are working.


    Fast forward to 2016 and we find many cameras present the user with a mind boggling cornucopia of  technological wizardry.


    But the sheer number and complexity of the features and options available can make the cameras very difficult to set up and in many cases difficult to use if one intends utilising most of the features.


    Baldafix on the left, Pentax Spotmatic on the right, Sony RX100(4) in the middle


    A good example of a modern wunderkamera is the little Sony RX100 Mk4  shown in the photo between the two older cameras.



    It is a vastly superior picture taking machine but has so many features, functions, capabilities and options that ordinary mortals can have great difficulty setting up the device and comprehending all or even most of its functions let alone persuading them to work properly.


    By way of example: Should the innocent new owner click on  the [Picture Profile] tab in the [Camera] menu it is a bit like stepping into a minefield. There are 7 possible picture profiles, each able to be configured for black level, gamma, black gamma, knee, color mode, saturation, color phase, color depth and detail.

    Within, for instance the [gamma] submenu, you can select from movie, still, cine 1, cine 2, ITU709, ITU709(800%) and S-log2.


    Quite possibly some aficionados deeply immersed in video technology might actually know what all this means. But I don’t have clue and I bet I am not Robinson Crusoe in this.


    The RX100(4) and many other current cameras are so loaded with complicated and confusing technology they run the very real risk of inflicting an aversive experience on many ordinary people who just want to make good photographs.


    There have been various reactions to this in user forums and from camera makers and buyers..


    Some people react with  joyful embrace of every new feature whether the average camera user can comprehend it or find a useful purpose for it or not.


    Others despair at the mounting complexity and a call for a return to the days when cameras were simple things with few controls and no options.


    One extreme reaction is the Leica M-D, also inexplicably titled [typ 262] whatever that means.

    Incredibly, the M-D has fewer controls than the venerable M3 of 1954, on which its design is based.

    Leica promotes a culture which the company calls ‘Das Wesentliche’ which seems to mean ‘less is more expensive’. In Sydney the M-D with 35mm f2 Summicron lens costs AUD13,450. You could buy a decent new motor car for that kind of money.


    The M-D has no handle,  no EVF, no monitor, no menus and not much of anything else. The user can focus manually via the focus ring on the lens guided by the optical rangefinder, aperture via the other ring on the lens, shutter speed via the top dial, ISO via a flat dial in the middle of the camera back and exposure compensation via a little wheel top right on the back of the body.


    Maybe the Leica M-D will appeal to a few wealthy aficionados of  back-to-basics photography. But I suspect that for most of us it will just seem like a wildly overpriced manifestation of the alternative universe which Leica products and buyers seem to inhabit.


    A  hybrid version of the ‘back to basics’, ‘manual controls’ philosophy is seen in cameras such as the Fuji X-Pro models and Panasonic LX100. These models seek to combine all the features which modern technology has to offer with a user interface built around an aperture ring on the lens, a shutter speed dial and an exposure compensation dial.  I have spent considerable time testing and comparing this type of user interface with the modern ‘Mode Dial + Control Dial’ control layout. My conclusion is that while the ‘back to basics’ interface is superficially logical and appeals to some people, it is slower in operation than a well implemented modern control system. 


    There are other problems. For instance a physical shutter speed dial can only display about 30%  of  the shutter speeds available on a modern electronic camera. So for intermediate and long shutter speeds you have to set the nearest available speed on the dial then go to some other place such as  a menu or a control dial to set the speed you require. In practice this is so convoluted that I never use shutter priority exposure on these cameras and the shutter speed dial is just there for appearances.


    One of the realities in all this is that the genie will not go back into the bottle.  Much of the advanced technology in modern cameras makes the process of getting pictures easier and the results more accurate. Think autofocus, think clever auto ISO algorithms, think auto white balance….and so on.


    So is there a way forward ?


    I think there has to be or in due course very few people will opt to buy any kind of camera at all.


    I offer some thoughts on this for what they are worth:


    1. I think neither the Leica ‘strip down to your underwear’ minimalist approach nor the hybrid control system referred to above represent the way forward because neither is ergonomically coherent and neither makes best use of the genuinely useful new technology which is available.


    2. I think camera makers are excessively techno-centric and camera-centric in their approach.

    The need to be more user-centric. They need to design and configure cameras from the point of view of users.


    3. In order to do this they need to acquire a better understanding of ergonomic factors in camera design and operation. Careful study of the posts on this blog would assist that endeavour.

    I have, by the way no idea if any camera design or product development personnel actually do read this blog.


    4. They could  separate out basic menu items such as [Quality] from advanced and rather arcane ones such as [Picture Profile].


    They could synchronise menu items with Operating Instructions and group features in submenus so they make sense to users.


    They could delete features which have been provided because they can,  not because someone asked for them.  


    5. The physical control layout of many cameras could be greatly improved.


    What do we have ?


    It seems to me camera buyers right now have three options:


    * Feeling overwhelmed  by the techo-blitz  found in many current models


    * Regression to 1954 or thereabouts, as represented by the Leica M-D.


    * Confusion, as represented by the models featuring hybrid traditional controls attempting unsuccessfully to operate modern features.


    Feeling overwhelmed,  regression and confusion are not the stuff of a happy relationship between cameras and their users.


    I believe the way forward is through better design utilising good ergonomic principles to provide photographers with a more engaging user experience.


    My contribution to that endeavour is this blog through which I have enunciated these principles in considerable detail.







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  • 06/29/16--00:15: User interviews Mister Hassy

  • Honeyeater shot with a cheep and cheerful Panasonic TZ80.


    Hassy: Hi User, I’m marketing director for the Dystopia Region, responsible for the amazing new mirorless  Exxy Wun-D-erkamra.


    User: Have you taken any pictures with the new camera ?


    Hassy:   Er…..well……Not as such……… You know I just market these things I don’t necessarily use them.

    It’s a fantastic camera though. The entire first year’s production is already pre-ordered presumably by a bunch of wealthy dopes, no  don’t report that, say “discerning users of taste and refinement” who are silly enough to buy something because it’s really expensive and it looks nice, no don’t say that, say “recognise the value of a premium product”.


    User: Has anybody at Hassy Mission Central actually used one of these things to take pictures ?


    Hassy: Er… well…. The camera is actually not quite finished. I’m not sure if it’s  ready to take pictures yet.


    User: Why are you taking pre-orders then ?


    Hassy: We want to know how many mugs will pay real money for this thing sight unseen so we know how many to make, no don’t say that, say “pre-delivery marketing enhances product development”. That means we hope the thing works when we actually get around to delivering it.


    User: I have been wondering one thing….How do you move the position of the AF area ?


    Hassy: Can you move it around ?   Really ?  Great  idea….That would be a question for the technical people, I think.


    User: I’m asking you.


    Hassy: Well, there might be something about that on my prompt sheet here……..oh yes, here we are…..It says…..

    “You will press the AF/MF button and an AF point display will appear on the screen and then you can select the point you want to use”.


    User: I can’t see any button labelled AF/MF.


    Hassy: Ah… yes …right….. well some button, maybe that one labelled AF-D.


    User: How can you select the AF point on the screen while looking through the EVF ?


    Hassy:  What’s an EVF ?


    User: That little window above the monitor screen.


    Hassy: Why would you want to look in there ?


    User: To preview the subject


    Hassy: You can do that ?


    User: I hope so.


    Hassy: Well we have gone all out for touch screen operation on this  model, we don’t want to be left behind by the smartyphone mob you know.


    User: I think they left you behind about ten years ago but you still haven’t answered my question:

    How can I move the AF point while looking through the viewfinder ?


    Hassy:  Beats me. You are the user, you figure it out. I just sell these things.


    User: Have you any plans to fit a JOG lever ?   There is plenty of space for one.


    Hassy: What’s a JOG lever ? I don’t know about that but I don’t think so.


    User: What about Touch Pad AF like they have on Pana- cameras ?


    Hassy:  Gosh  you ask a lot of difficult questions, what’s Touch Pad AF anyway?


    User: Oh well…. Maybe it’s best you don’t go there. It irritates the heck out of lots of users of those Pana- cameras which have that feature.


    Hassy: Right, yes, well if  Pana-cameras have it I’m sure it will be irritating but if we put that feature on the Wun-D-erkamra it will be a major ergonomic breakthrough.


    User: Thank you for your time mister Hassy.


    Hassy: No problem. Are you planning to buy the new camera ?


    User:  Not as such. Not until you totally redesign the user interface so the camera can be operated efficiently while looking through the viewfinder. Remember, that little window above the screen ?






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    Sydney CBD across the harbour. GX85 with Lumix 12-60mm at 60mm. 

    Panasonic’s M43 product development  people have in recent times been throwing off  models like a hyperactive Catherine Wheel.


    The original G-without-another-letter(Just-G) and GH series have more or less stayed with the hump-top-with-handle style, notwithstanding a minor deviation for the G3 which had a mini handle for no reason apparent to me.


    Then they introduced the GF and GM series of tiny tots which appeared to be showing off just how small a MILC can be, although the purpose of such a demonstration has always eluded me.


    If  I want really small, the Sony RX100(4) does a much better job of

    a) being small and

    b) taking pictures.


    The common theme of the GX series is that all models to date have been flat tops.


    First there was the GX1 of 2011, with no built in EVF, a nasty little problem with shutter shock and no E-Shutter to smooth things out.


    Then in 2013 came the GX7.


    How did we get from GX1 straight to GX7 ?  Beats me. However the GX7 did have an inbuilt EVF, it had  a good sensor and it did have E-Shutter which fixed the shutter shock problem and still gave 12 bits per channel RAW files. I had one for a while and sold it on as I did not like the ergonomics. 

    However some users do like the way the G7 handles and operates.


    In 2015 the GX8 arrived.


    How did we get from the slim compact GX7 to the big bulky GX8 ?   One can but wonder. Apart from the flat top there is little evidence of thematic consistency here.


    And now we have the GX80/85 which Panasonic assures us is the real successor to the GX7 and just to add to the confusion is apparently sold as the GX7 Mk2 in Japan.


    Notwithstanding all the product development muddle at Panasonic the GX80/85 turns out to be one of the most appealing M43 models yet produced due to some new technologies. 


    The three new technologies of most interest to me are:


    1. A new electro magnetic (EM) focal plane shutter mechanism.  Why is this  important ?

    The bugbear of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (including M43 models)  since their introduction in 2008 has been Shutter Shock  a problem which I have discussed at length on this blog.


    Panasonic G, GX and GH cameras up to the GX80 all use a spring loaded shutter mechanism which produces sufficient perturbation as it fires to cause image degradation with some lenses at some shutter speeds, typically in the 1/100-1/160 second range.


    The GF and GM models use a version of the EM shutter incorporating electronic first curtain. This appears to eliminate shutter shock but has a slow flash synch speed of 1/50 second and a slow top speed of only 1/500 second.


    E-Shutter has its own problems and limitations as does Electronic First Curtain.


    On my tests using the Panasonic 12-60mm, 12-32mm and 25mm f1.7 lenses the GX80 shutter appears to cause no sign of image degradation due to shutter shock at any shutter speed.


    The new shutter is clearly more gentle and controlled in action than the old spring loaded one.


    Panasonic claims a 90% reduction in the amplitude of the shock wave and based on my observations 

    I am inclined to believe this.

    The old shutter fires with a loud click-e-ty-clack sound and an easily felt shockwave passing through the camera body and lens.


    The new EM shutter makes a softer did-el-y-plop sound with a much less palpable shock wave.


    The result is a mechanical shutter which can be used without restriction at all shutter speeds from 60 seconds to 1/4000 second.


    At last we have a ‘set and forget’ solution to the shutter shock problem.


    For this reason alone I currently recommend the GX80/85 over all other M43 cameras.


    The final solution is, of course, the much anticipated global (electronic) shutter but it seems we must wait awhile longer for this to appear on consumer still cameras.


    2. No optical low pass filter.  Digital sensors are prone to a phenomenon called ‘moire’ in which subjects with closely spaced regular features such as threads in clothing or parallel lines are rendered falsely with various drawing and color artefacts.  The solution to this for many years has been a special filter (OLPF) in front of the sensor. This works but reduces resolution.


    By removing the OLPF Panasonic claims an  “almost 10% improvement in resolution” over 16 Mpx cameras with OLPF. Moire and associated artefacts will, we are told, be managed in the image processing software.


    Does it work ?


    On my tests, yes I would say it does.  On close examination of subjects likely to produce moire I see no more evidence of this in images from the GX80 than cameras with an OLPF.


    The GX8 has a 20mpx sensor giving a horizontal resolution of 5184 pixels. This is 13% more than the 16 Mpx GX80 which has 4592 horizontal pixels.


    So in effect the  GX80 can deliver linear resolution almost equal to that of the GX8 which has 20 Mpx with an OLPF.


    3.   5 axis In Body Image Stabiliser (IBIS) with Dual IS.   Image stabiliser  technology is one of the wonders of modern photography. It enables sharp hand held photos at much slower shutter speeds than would be possible without IS.


    Traditionally Olympus has had IBIS, Panasonic has relied on an Optical Image Stabiliser module in the lens.


    But many lenses, especially primes, do not have OIS, so Panasonic users have been calling for IBIS for several years.


    This first appeared in the GX7, then we saw an improved four axis version in the GX8 and now the GX80/85 has the latest 5 axis version. Even better, the GX80  enables Dual IS with lens OIS (if available) and body IBIS working together. The notion of two separate IS modules wobbling simultaneously in response to camera movement sounds so improbable as to seem almost miraculous.  But to my considerable amazement, it works and delivers consistently sharp pictures in the process.


    Videographers will be pleased that the GX85 offers Dual IS with 4K video, which the G8 does not.


    Other features  The GX85 is jam packed with a multitude of features, functions and capabilities which you can read about elsewhere.


    Summary 

    Since 2008 Panasonic has released 24 Micro Four Thirds camera models and Olympus 19, for a total of 43.


    I rate the  GX80/85 as the most appealing M43 model yet produced for still photographers because of the new EM shutter which appears to have eliminated image degradation due to shutter shock.  Note, this is yet to be confirmed with some key lenses such as the Lumix 14-140mm.


    I find it ironic that Panasonic which never openly admitted that shutter shock was (and still is with most models) a problem now proudly announces a workable, set-and-forget  solution.  


    I will detail my observations about picture quality, performance and ergonomics in posts coming soon, but in very brief summary


    Picture quality is very good


    Performance is very good


    Ergonomics are acceptable with a less than optimal holding and viewing experience.






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    Lumix 12-60mm at 60mm on GX85. There is very good detail and local contrast across the frame. 


    Micro Four Thirds  (M43) was the first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) system, introduced to the market in 2008. 


    The number and variety of lenses available for M43 has grown steadily since then, making this the most comprehensive MILC system with the greatest choice of lenses, both primes and zooms.


    Panasonic has released 31 lenses, Olympus 26 in the period 2008-2016.


    In 2011 Olympus released the 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 utility zoom. I bought one of these and used it for a time on an EM5. It was decently compact with a handy focal length range but unfortunately optical quality was not impressive.   


    The response from Panasonic has been a bit delayed but now, better late than never, we have the Lumix 12-60mm f3.5-5.6.


    This lens finds a niche in the price/performance rankings between the kit zooms below and the pro style constant f2.8 zooms above.


    Panasonic promotes the lens as being for “anywhere, anytime shooting”, with a 5x zoom range, dust and splash proof design and decent close up ability.


    It provides a lower price point/smaller zoom range alternative to the popular Lumix 14-140mm zoom for general purpose/holiday/travel, using the policy of ‘mount-one-lens-on-your-camera-and-leave-it-there’.


    It can also find use as an alternative to the 12-35mm constant f2.8 pro style lens, having a greater zoom range but a smaller aperture (larger f-number) at all focal lengths.


    In fact the 12-35mm, 12-60mm and 14-140mm are quite close in overall size and mass, use the same 58mm filter and are similarly styled.


    I tested my copy of the 12-60mm on a Panasonic GX85 body which enables dual IS, using the optical stabiliser in the lens (OIS) and the sensor displacement IS (IBIS) in the body simultaneously.


    Panasonic’s engineers have somehow managed to ensure the camera makes reliably sharp photos with both the OIS module in the lens and the sensor in the body each wobbling about in response to camera movement. 


    Us camera users can be a bit blasé about technology sometimes but I must say I find dual IS so remarkable as to be almost miraculous. 


    The other issue regarding the relationship between the GX85 and the 12-60mm lens is that of shutter shock.


    In summary I found no evidence of image degradation due to shutter shock when using the mechanical shutter in the GX85 with the 12-60mm lens mounted. 


    This is extremely good news for Panasonic M43 users who no longer need to mess about switching between the M-shutter and the E-shutter depending on the shutter speed.


    Readers please note: at this stage (7 July 2016) this happy state of affairs only applies if the GX80/85 body is used.


    Lumix 12-60mm on GX85 body. With Dual IS and DFD AF available this body-lens combination works well. However as you can see the lens appears quite large on the GX85 body and might feel better matched to one of the G or GH series hump top bodies, although these lack Dual IS.


    Description  The Lumix 12-60mm f3.5-5.6 looks and operates like several other Panasonic Lumix M43 zooms. There are focus and zoom rings but no other controls on the lens itself. A reversing petal type lens hood is provided.


    The lens appears to be constructed of good quality polycarbonate with a metal mount surrounded by a thin rubber gasket to prevent water ingress.


    Actual mass with 58mm protect filter, front and rear caps and hood is 279 grams.


    Measured length with filter and front cap is 81mm from the face of the mount.


    Mechanical Operation   Zoom and focus actions are smooth. 


    ElectronicFunctions  The lens supports all the latest Panasonic hi-tech functions including DFD autofocus and Dual IS on a suitable body.


    AF is very fast and reliably accurate.


    Dual IS works very well.


    Optical performance   My copy of the lens is very well centered and delivers excellent results at all focal lengths and apertures.   


    Sharpness/resolution  is very high in a broad central area of the frame right from the widest aperture at all focal lengths.


    At 12mm the corners are not quite  sharp at f3.5 but become sharp by f5.0.


    At all other focal lengths sharpness and resolution are excellent  across the frame right from the widest available aperture.


    I had the opportunity to test the kit 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 lens alongside the 12-60mm. There is simply no comparison. The 12-60mm delivers better sharpness and resolution at all focal lengths and apertures. The superiority of the 12-60mm is particularly evident at the edges and corners of the frame.


    I also tested the Lumix 25mm f1.7 lens at the same time as the 12-60mm. I found the 12-60mm to be as sharp as the better of the 2 copies of the 25mm available for testing although the 25mm peaked at f2.5 and the 12-60mm was 2.5 stops slower at f5.6.


    Panasonic rectifies aberrations and distortion in camera software. The result with the 12-60mm on a GX85 body is mild barrel distortion at 12mm and a virtual absence of chromatic aberration and purple fringing at any focal length.


    Summary   The lumix 12-60mm f3.5-5.6 is an excellent mid range general purpose zoom lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras. It is particularly suitable for Panasonic cameras which support DFD AF and Dual IS.


    It delivers a very high standard of resolution and sharpness at all focal lengths and apertures. I was unable to find any faults, failings or deficiencies at all with my copy of the lens.


    The only thing about which I might have thought to complain is the modest aperture range. But a wider aperture would require a commensurate increase in size, mass and price.




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    GX85 with 12-60mm at 35mm

    Image Quality


    The main determinants of image quality are the sensor, processor,  lens and other factors in use such as image stabiliser.  The GX80/85 appears to use the same basic sensor as the GX7 but with the anti aliasing (AA, a.k.a. OLPF) filter removed for a small increase in resolution.


    This sensor is no bad thing and in fact makes very good pictures but there appears to be a significant pause in sensor development in the micro four thirds sector. 


    The GH4, G7, GX7 and GX80 all appear to use the same or very similar 16 Mpx sensor which has now been around for about three years.


    Sure, that is not very long but the smaller Sony ‘One inch’ sensor which now appears in many fixed lens cameras from Sony, Canon and Panasonic has more pixels and about the same DXO Mark score.


    For instance the GX85 scores 71, the RX100 Mk4 scores 70, virtually the same.  The GX85 has about one EV step less noise at ISO 6400 but at low ISO settings the smaller Sony sensor has a slight advantage.


    Panasonic claims that the GX85 has  “almost 10%” better resolution than the GX7 and my tests tend to support this claim, with resolution from the GX85 being so close to that of the 20Mpx GX8 that I really cannot pick the difference.


    I also found no evidence of increased moire or other artefacts resulting from the lack of  an AA filter.


    Otherwise the GX85 has about the same image quality as the GX7 and other recent 16 Mpx M43 cameras.


    The new mechanical shutter makes an important contribution to image quality. It has not thus far been shown to cause shutter shock. Therefore the mechanical shutter can be used all the time. 
    Compare this to the G7 for instance which has a shutter which does cause shutter shock requiring use of the E-Shutter with some lenses. But this drops output from 12 bits per channel to 10 bits with a deleterious effect on image quality particularly in dark tones lifted in Photoshop or other image processor.


    So although the image quality story is largely 16 Mpx-business-as-usual the addition of the new shutter, removal of the AA filter and the contribution of Dual IS all work together to help the user to make slightly better pictures than was possible with previous 16Mpx models.


    Performance


    The GX85 is a very fast, responsive camera in every respect.


    For the performance tests I used a San Disk 95 MB/Sec card.


    Using AF Single,  Drive Mode Single and pressing the shutter for AF + AE on every shot, I made 10 shots in 3 seconds which gives a shot-to-shot time of about 0.3 seconds which I regard as excellent.


    Using AF Continuous, Burst M Drive and JPG capture  the camera fired 53 frames in 10 seconds for a rate of  5.3 frames per second with AF on each frame. There was no delay clearing the buffer with JPG capture.


    When I switched to RAW+JPG, the camera shot 46 frames in 10 seconds (4.6 fps) before slowing down.  The buffer then took 35 seconds to clear.


    The camera continued to work while writing to the card.


    With AF single I found focus speed and accuracy to be excellent in all conditions.  AF acquisition is so fast it is almost instantaneous in most conditions with most lenses.


    In very low light, so dark I can barely see, the camera switches to low light mode and will slowly (by which I mean it can take a second or so) but surely acquire accurate focus.  The AF assist light is not required.


    The camera responds to all user inputs promptly with no delays.


    With a suitable lens (DFD compatible) the camera can  hold focus on a moving subject using 1 Area AF,  AFC and burst M.


    Summary


    The GX85 delivers very good image quality and performance in almost any circumstance.


    It offers small but useful upgrades over previous M43 models including the more expensive GX8 which lacks the new electro mechanical shutter and 5 axis IBIS.


    However when I use the GX85 I have the sense that this is a camera-in-waiting for the next big thing  whatever that may be.


    There are some obvious candidates, including a significant increase in sensor performance, a global shutter and high level DSLR standard predictive autofocus.


    We shall see, but I think the M43 product development people need to come up with significant developments sooner rather than later.


    I have recently been using the Sony RX100 (4) compact camera alongside the GX85 with 12-60mm lens. I am finding that I have to enlarge test frames to 200% on screen to detect any difference between them, which  by the way is slightly in favour of the Panasonic combination and then mainly in the corners. But you would not pick this in everyday photography.


    If I want to go out and about with a camera and not be overly burdened by equipment, I will usually take the little Sony or even the Panasonic TZ80 in preference to the GX85.





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    GX85 with 12-32mm kit zoom mounted

    This evaluation  and score follows my usual schedule which you can read about here.


    The GX80/85 is a flat top   faux rangefinder style interchangeable lens camera which continues a theme started by the GX7 of 2013.


    This flat top style has certain inherent advantages and disadvantages compared to the hump top DSLR–like style.


    Practical advantages include a  slightly lower height which may enable the camera to fit in a smaller bag although that is very dependent on lens selection.


    Disadvantages arise from the more limited space on top of the body for modules such as flash, hotshoe, dials and other controls.


    In addition designers usually elect to fit flat tops with no handle or a mini handle which has consequences for holding. An exception to this is the GX8 which has a substantial handle on a flat top design. Unfortunately the GX8 handle is not anatomically shaped and therefore does not provide an optimum holding experience.


    Setup Phase


    The GX85 has a standard Panasonic Menu system. Anyone familiar with other Panasonic cameras will feel right at home with the GX85.


    The graphical user interface is very nice and the level of adjustment provided is extensive.


    However I think it is past time that Panasonic upgraded the content and layout of the menus to group like items together more coherently and discard some legacy items.


    Dial functions, Q Menu items and Fn button functions are all user selectable making the GX85 a highly configurable device in typical Panasonic fashion.


    The Operating Instructions for Advanced Features (PDF) are comprehansive and reasonably easy to navigate.


    Setup score 10/15


    Prepare Phase


    The GX85 is well supplied with interface modules to change settings in the few minutes before capture if conditions have changed.


    Dial functions can be user configured.


    The Q Menu can be left as supplied or a Custom Q Menu created with up to 15 items only 5 of which are visible at any time. I think Panasonic could usefully consider revising the Q Menu to more resemble Sony’s Fn button interface.


    There are four hard Fn buttons each of which can be assigned a user selected function from a long list of options.


    There are also several soft Fn buttons available if the relevant touch function is enabled. I always switch this off as having the soft Fn buttons on results in perpetual inadvertent activation of one or the other just when it is least wanted or expected.


    Prepare score 12/15


    Capture Phase: Holding


    The GX85 has a mini handle. This is reasonably comfortable but does not give the user much purchase on the camera.  This is not a problem with small, light lenses like the 12-32mm kit zoom supplied with the camera or one of the pancake primes.


    But as lens size/mass increases the mini handle becomes increasingly inadequate.


    At the rear is a small thumb support with a depth of 2mm. Again, this is fine with small light lenses but is found wanting with the heavier lenses.


    The 12-60mm zoom with which I tested the camera weighs only 270 grams but even with this lens I keep wishing for a more substantial handle and thumb support.


    Holding score 10/20


    Capture Phase: Viewing


    The EVF is serviceable enough but there have been several complaints from reviewers and  users on forums about it.


    I suspect there might be several issues here:


    The first is that several users and I suspect some reviewers are unaware that the EVF  is fully adjustable for brightness, contrast, saturation and color balance. Panasonic is largely responsible for this ignorance as the EVF (which Panasonic calls Viewfinder or sometimes LVF) adjustment tab is cunningly concealed behind the [Monitor Display] tab in the Setup Menu. Look in the viewfinder and the display switches to [Viewfinder] and the adjustments can be activated.

    If they simply separated the tabs that problem would disappear.


    The second is that the EVF is of field sequential type which some users find distracting with various disturbing artefacts but others  (like me) have no trouble with this at all.


    A third potential problem is that the eyepiece is a little small and the eyecup very small and not effective at preventing the entry of stray light. This is one of the downsides of the flat top style.


    The monitor screen is very nice with no negative reports that I have seen. It is also touch sensitive. 

    Note that I do not score touch screen capability as I consider it as much a liability as a benefit. There are many complaints and questions on user forums about unexpected behaviours of the AF area when touch is enabled.


    The screen flips up and down but is not the more versatile fully articulated type.


    Viewing score 12/20


    Capture Phase: Operating


    The GX85 is decently serviceable in the sense that most of the controls and functions work as advertised.


    However there are several ways in which the user experience is less than optimal. Most of these stem from the flat top design which imposes restrictions on the number, nature and position of the controls which are available.


    To highlight a few:


    The right index finger curves over the Mode Dial to reach the shutter button. This places the base of that finger very close to the right side of the rear dial, impeding use of the dial by the right thumb. The dial itself has slightly insufficient projection so it is not easy to move without flexing the interphalangeal joint of the thumb.  This might sound rather technical but in practice the user experience is the sum of many small elements. When several of these are not-quite-right that experience suffers.


    The Cursor Buttons (4 Way controller) are serviceable and not as flat as those on the G7 but the experience of operating the Cursor buttons is much more positive with the FZ1000 or the TZ80.


    I really don’t know why Panasonic persists with the ergonomically sub optimal ‘5 buttons’ style of Cursor Button module when they already have better versions in production on several fixed lens models.


    There is no JOG lever. In my view it is time every manufacturer fitted every model with a properly located and configured JOG lever with which the AF area can be moved directly. As it is the GX85 inherits the usual Panasonic rigmarole which forces the user to move AF Area by touch with the attendant ‘wandering AF Area’ problem about which there have been many complaints on user forums or to use Direct Focus Area which forces relocation of the default Cursor Button functions.


    The buttons generally are small, flat and flush with the surrounding surface which makes them difficult to locate and operate by feel.


    Another feature which Panasonic does not yet have (in any camera) is a ‘smart’ auto ISO algorithm which moves ISO with lens focal length to keep shutter speed not slower than a pre set speed for each focal length range. Ideally there would be 3 or 5 different ranges for minimum shutter speed depending on circumstances and/or the user’s ability to hold the camera still.

    Sony and Nikon have such a feature and it is high time Panasonic followed suit.


    One last thing which I put here although it is not strictly an ergonomic issue is the position of the tripod socket which is right at the front edge of the baseplate just like the Olympus Pen F Digital.

    I assume the socket is in this location in each case to make room for the IBIS unit inside.

    This location is satisfactory for small, light lenses but I would not want to hang a Lumix 100-300mm (which has no tripod foot) off the front of this camera if it were tripod mounted.


    Oh yes, one other last thing. The camera ships without a separate battery charger so is reliant on in camera USB charging which makes it impossible to use the camera while charging a battery.  I got an aftermarket charger to solve this problem.


    And yet another last thing: several users have reported they inadvertently turn the mode dial when turning the camera on or off.  The two are very close together.


    Operating score 15/25


    Review Phase

    The camera uses its twin dials and Cursor Buttons effectively to allow rapid enlargement of the review image with scrolling from one frame to the next at the same place on the frame and same size.


    Review score 5/5


    Total score 68/100


    Comment


    This is a somewhat low score for the latest ILC from a major maker. The GX85 loses points with its suboptimal handle, thumb support, EVF and operation.


    The G7 which is a very similar sized M43 camera but of hump top design scored 81 and would have scored even higher with a decent Cursor Button module.


    I think there is a message here. It is easier to work good ergonomic function into a well designed humptop than a flat top.


    If the innards of the GX85 found their way into an upgraded version of the G7 with a decent Cursor Button module you would have a really appealing camera which would be better than either the G7 or the GX85 by utilising the best features of both.


    I have already posted about this under the title ‘Why Panasonic needs the G8’.







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    Panasonic Lumix TZ80 (ZS60) tripod mounted.



    Camera

    Setup Phase

    Max 15

    Prepare Phase Max 15

                  Capture Phase

    Review Phase Max 5

    Total Max 100

    Holding Max 20

    Viewing Max 20

    Operating Max 25

    Sony A3500


    5

    5

    12

    7

    8

    2

    39

    Nikon 1 V2


    7

    6

    12

    10

    8

    3

    46

    Panasonic GM5

    10

    10

    4

    10

    12

    2

    48

    Nikon P900


    10

    6

    13

    11

    8

    2

    50

    Sony RX100 Mk4

    8

    12

    7

    9

    11

    5

    52

    Panasonic LX100

    10

    8

    11

    10

    10

    5

    54

    Fuji X-T1

    10

    9

    9

    13

    10

    4

    55

    Canon SX60


    10

    9

    16

    11

    6

    4

    56

    Panasonic TZ110(ZS100)

    12

    13

    4

    10

    15

    5

    59

    Panasonic TZ70(ZS50)

    12

    13

    6

    11

    20

    2

    64

    Panasonic TZ80 (ZS60)

    12

    12

    7

    10

    19

    5

    65

    Panasonic G6


    11

    10

    14

    14

    14

    3

    66

    Panasonic GX80/85

    10

    12

    11

    12

    17

    5

    68

    Panasonic GX8

    10

    12

    12

    18

    14

    5

    71

    Panasonic FZ300/330

    10

    12

    18

    18

    16

    5

    79

    Panasonic G7


    10

    13

    18

    18

    17

    5

    81

    Panasonic FZ1000

    10

    13

    17

    18

    20

    5

    83

    Panasonic GH4

    10

    13

    18

    18

    19

    5

    83












    0 0


    Admiring the view with Margaret Olley

    Menus, controls and operation of the GX80/85 are very similar toother recentPanasonic cameras so much of the material here is similar to that in the posts on setting up the G7 and GX8


    Like other recent Panasonic   Micro Four Thirds MILCs, the GX85 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 GX85 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 post on setting up the GX85 is designed to help those people.


    I will refer to the  GX80/85 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 much so anyone who wants to use the GX85 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 GX85 is suitable for the full range of users from complete novices up to professionals.


    Novices can 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.


    Basic ergonomic concepts


    The GX85 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 the Mode Dial

    Other adjustments in Prepare Phase can be allocated to the Q Menu and the Q Menu function itself is 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 Pana-speak).


    Review Phase is accessed via the [Playback] button the function of which cannot be reassigned.


    Touch Screen Operation


    The GX85 offers many sophisticated touch screen functions and operations (Custom Menu screen 8/9, Manual Page 219)


    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:


    1. On/Off


    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.  Select OFFSET which allows you to move the AF area over the whole picture area while using only the right half of the screen. ‘Nudge’ operation is also supported.


    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.


    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.


    Direct focus Area


    The next thing which I like to decide is whether or not to use Direct Focus Area (Custom Menu, Manual Page 212) 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 GX85.


    But there is a better way, faster and more precise than either of the methods above.


    The GX85 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, Drive Mode and Autofocus Mode.


    Note that Autofocus (AF) Mode is different from Focus Mode (AFC/AFF/AFC/MF).


    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 Fn4 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.


    I put Drive Mode on Fn3.


    Dial Operation

    The GX85 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, screen 7/9 in the Custom Menu, Manual Page 46.


    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. I find the front dial easier to use than the rear dial so I use that as the main aperture/shutter speed control.


    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 GX85. 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.


    Note that if you push the rear dial until it clicks, flash exposure adjustment becomes available with the front dial. Press again to return to previous function.

    Dial Operation Switch Settings.  This is a recent 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.


    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.


    My solution to this is to leave Dial Operation Switch function well alone.


    Function (Fn) Button Actions   Custom Menu screen 7/9, Manual page 58.

    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.


    * That leaves three available hard Fn buttons.


    * If Direct Focus Area is set for the Cursor Buttons you need to locate ISO, AF Mode, Drive Mode and, if desired, White Balance somewhere.

    I put:


    * Focus Mode on Fn1, because I often want to switch quickly between AFS, AFC and MF.


    * Autofocus Mode in the Q Menu because I infrequently use any setting other than 1 Area, but I sometimes want Pinpoint and maybe Face Detect.


    * Drive Mode on Fn3 because I want to change quickly between single, Burst and Timer.


    * ISO on Fn4 because I quite often want to set a specific ISO sensitivity.


    I never use the ‘soft’ Fn buttons as I find they are very easily touched accidentally.


    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 screen 2/6, Manual Page 210.

    This is the button under your thumb as you hold the camera normally.


    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 GX85. 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 GX85 is AFL and AF/AELock Hold ON.


    There are plenty of options with which to experiment.


    Q Menu   Custom Menu screen 7/9,  Manual Page 57.

    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 57 of the Manual.


    I find the custom Q Menu is most easily set up using touch screen to drag and drop items as required.

    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 Photo Style, Stabiliser, Quality, AF Mode and Shutter Type to the Q Menu.  However I have had no problems with shutter shock thus far so it may be possible to leave the mechanical shutter on permanently.


    There appears to be no list of  Q Menu items in the Operating Instructions, so you need to trawl through the options on the monitor screen.   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.


    Got in a muddle ?


    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.


     Menus


    In the Operating Instructions find


     Rec Menu on Page 187


    Setup Menu on Page 220


    Custom Menu on Page 210.


    The menu items are almost identical to those in the GX8 and G7.


    For further details please refer to my posts for setting up either of those cameras.
















    0 0

    TZ80 wide angle, hand held


    The Paradox of the Panasonic TZ80 (ZS60)


    Paradox:  A thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.


    The TZ80is the latest and arguably best  iteration of Panasonic’s pocket superzoom/travel zoom genre which began with the TZ1 in 2006.


    The camera is aimed at buyers wanting to record family events, holidays and travel.


    My own family experience is that most of these people are snapshooters who set the Mode Dial on [iA] and leave it there.


    The problem is that the camera does not give its best results when used this way.


    The paradox is that the person who canget the best from the camera is the expert/enthusiast/experienced user who is unlikely to buy it.


    This series of posts  is for that small and possibly eccentric group of expert/enthusiast users who like me decide to use the TZ80 and enjoy the challenge of coaxing the best possible results from it.


    There is an old aphorism which holds that perfect is the enemy of good.

    The quest for perfection is a prominent feature of camera reviews and user forums which host endless discussions, comparisons and debates about the relative merits of various models. 


    I have seen a well known photo magazine declare camera A which scored 4320 lines per image height ‘better’ than camera B which ‘only’ scored 3950 lines.


    My own experience is that in the real world,  95% of the apparent sharpness variation between cameras is probably determined by the user’s ability to hold the device still  and to ensure that the subject is in focus.


    Preoccupation with the finer details of technical image quality appears to me more like obsession than meaningful evaluation of the real world merits of various camera models. 


    Which brings me to reconsideration of the Panasonic TZ80 (ZS60) compact superzoom.


    Some time ago I bought a Panasonic TZ110 and a TZ80 when they became available in Australia. 

    After testing each I sold  the TZ110 and was about to sell the TZ80 but my wife asked me to keep it as she found it to be an appealing little camera and thought she might like to use it from time to time.


    As the camera was in the house, I picked it up again and re-acquainted myself with its capabilities which turned out to be substantial and its challenges which require thoughtful management strategies.


    I doubt that any prospective camera buyer seeking some kind of perfection would give the TZ80 a moment’s attention.


    TZ80 Long end of the zoom, hand held


    But consider what this camera offers:


    * A 30x zoom spanning from really wide (FLE24mm) to super long (FLE720mm) with Optical Image Stabiliser.

    * RAW or JPG output or both.

    * Sophisticated autofocus with many features including Panasonic DFD which enables follow focus on moving subjects.  Rapid control of AF area position and size.

    * Useful manual focus with peaking and PIP display for speed and accuracy.

    * 4K video and 4K photo.

    * 18 Mpx sensor.

    * Touch screen operation.

    * Accurate exposure with decent highlight and shadow detail (dynamic range).

    * Zebras and easily accessed exposure compensation for control of highlight exposure.

    * A built in, always ready EVF of decent quality.

    * Built in flash.

    * Auto Panorama capability.

    * Twin Dial control layout.

    * Several buttons with user assignable function.

    * Q Menu with quick access to 13 functions.

    * An extensive Menu system enabling access to a multitude of user selected functions and features.

    * No need for accessories such as a filter or external flash (and no way to fit them anyway).

    * All this comes in a  truly pocketable size, which I prefer to carry in a LowePro Portland 20 waist pouch.  The camera with battery, card and wrist strap weighs only 280 grams.


    You can see from the list above that this is a proper photographer’s camera. 

    The extensive list of specifications, features and controls put the TZ80 well beyond the realm of ‘happy snaps’ compact.


    So why are enthusiast photographers not flocking to buy one and are not singing its praises on user forums ?


    I think the answer to this question contains two elements:


    1.  The first and the one which I think will be most obvious to reviewers and new users is image quality. This in turn devolves to two factors, lens and sensor.


    1.1. While the lens is a marvel of compact superzoom technology utilising multiple aspheric surfaces, it does have limitations. Specifically the edges and corners are soft towards the wide end of the focal length range and resolution over the whole frame progressively declines from mid zoom towards the long end of the range.

    In the middle section of the zoom range the lens is actually quite decently sharp right across the frame.


    1.2. The sensor has 18 Mpx on the so-called ‘1/2.3 inch’ size with actual dimensions 6.17 x 4.55mm. This is about the same size as one of the buttons on the back of the camera. How they (‘they’ being presumably Sony but neither Panasonic nor Sony are saying so I don’t really know) cram 18 million pixels onto this smartphone size sensor is a micro-engineering achievement way beyond my comprehension.


    Anyway somehow they do it but the result is abundant luminance noise at all ISO sensitivity settings including base ISO 80.


    So the result of the ‘image quality’ factors is that when files from a TZ80 are viewed on screen at 100% the appearance tends to range from ‘acceptable’ at low ISO settings to ‘hideous’ at high ISO settings.


    2. Which brings me to the second element which is a bit more complex so please bear with me…..

    I have found that by using strategies involving RAW capture and judicious use of the A and S Modes, followed by adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw specifically tailored to the output from this camera, I can produce files which print decently well up to A2 size (420 x 594 mm) which is about as large as I want to print from any image source.


    I am guessing that most reviewers and users do not make full use of these strategies resulting in a lower standard of output than is possible with this camera.


    Aperture limitations


    The widest lens aperture ranges from f3.3 at focal length equivalent (FLE) 24mm to f6.4 at FLE 720mm. The smallest aperture at all focal lengths is f8.


    Now here is the problem:


    a) At FLEs from 24 to about 50mm the edges and corners are soft at the widest aperture.  This is most noticeable if fine foliage is present at the edges and corners.  Best sharpness across the frame is at about f4.5-f5.


    b) Sharpness degradation due to diffraction at the aperture diaphragm starts at about f4. On my tests center sharpness is detectably worse at f5.6 than f4. So you don’t want to stop down any further than about f5.


    But at the longer focal lengths you don’t gots no choice because the lens only gives you f6.4. 
    Therefore it is impossible to get really sharp pictures at the long end of the zoom.  This is where the post capture strategies come in to produce results which are quite presentable.


    Aperture strategies


    1. For landscape and similar subjects in bright light I set A Mode and f4.5-f5.


    2. Indoors and in low light I set a low shutter speed in S Mode and let the camera use f3.3 at FLE 24mm. A large central area of the frame is decently sharp. Fine details at the corners don’t fare so well.


    3. At the long end of the zoom I always use the widest available aperture.


    Shutter speed limitations


    With the TZ80 hand held and a reasonably static subject I always want to use the slowest possible shutter speed in order to keep the ISO sensitivity as low as possible in order to minimise luminance noise.


    I recommend each user experiment to find the slowest shutter speed they can manage at each focal length range and still produce a majority of shake free frames. This can vary considerably between individuals and with exercise level, heart rate, breathing, hand tremor, technique and so forth.


    I find that 1/15 sec at the wide end and 1/200 sec at the long end produce a reasonably high percentage of sharp enough frames if I am calm, still and use good technique.


    Shutter speed strategies


    Indoors at any focal length and outdoors whenever the long end of the zoom is used, I recommend setting S on the Mode dial.  I do not use the long end of the zoom indoors.

    I then set a low shutter speed appropriate to the focal length in use as determined by previous testing. 


    Firing solution strategies


    The following discourse is based on hand held camera use. Settings and strategies are different when the camera is on a tripod, but the whole point of a camera like this is to operate without the need for a tripod or other accessories.


    I call the combination of Aperture, Shutter Speed,  ISO and Exposure Compensation used for any exposure the ‘firing solution’.


    In the Custom Menu I set the LVF and Monitor Disp. Style to ‘viewfinder’ type with key camera data beneath the preview image. In this configuration the Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO setting and Exposure Compensation status are most easily seen.


    In Capture Phase of use I constantly monitor this data and switch between A Mode and S Mode to give me the best possible combination of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO sensitivity for the conditions and focal length in use.


    Occasionally I use P Mode but only if the camera gives me key exposure parameters in line with my predetermined optimums for each focal length and subject condition.


    I also sometimes use M Mode if none of the auto exposure modes gives the exposure parameters I want.


    I never use iA Mode.


    I do shoot RAW + JPG to compare the results of my post processing with that of the camera.


    Other strategies


    When using slow shutter speeds with static subjects at the long end of the zoom range I quite often find frames with camera shake induced blur, sometimes with side-to-side double imaging. One strategy to manage this is obviously to increase the shutter speed but that runs up the ISO setting which increases luminance noise.


    Another strategy is to use Burst M and fire off about 6 shots. I generally find one or two of these will be sharper than the others.


    Another issue common in the TZ80 and other small sensor compacts is loss of highlight detail when subject brightness range is high.  I watch the zebras and apply negative exposure compensation if they are prominent.


    I allocate Exposure Compensation to the rear dial to make this quick and easy and use Zebra 1 set at 105%.


    There is one little glitch caused by allocating exposure compensation to the rear dial, namely that the dial does nothing when M Mode is set. This is a firmware programming mistake by the boffins at Panasonic. What should happen is that the rear dial reverts to changing shutter speed when M Mode is set. 


    There are two workarounds for this.


    One is to set S Mode on the Mode Dial  then  select  the shutter speed required. When the Mode Dial is turned to M that shutter speed will be carried over. You can adjust Aperture with the lens ring as usual.


    The other is to access shutter Speed via the Q Menu.


    Neither is elegant. Fortunately M Mode is infrequently required.


    Holding the camera still 


    I have found that the most important requirement for obtaining decently sharp pictures with the TZ80 is holding the camera still at the point of exposure.


    This involves

    * Relaxed posture, preferably aided by resting one’s arms on a horizontal or vertical support.

    * Calm demeanour aided by mini meditation for breathing and body control.

    * Optimum camera holding strategy which I have described here.

    * Viewing through the EVF enables greater stability than monitor viewing.


    Good camera holding technique is especially important at the long end of the zoom. The camera is very light with very little inertia. I have found a very big difference between the results of good versus not-so-good holding technique.


    Next: Post capture strategies in Adobe Camera Raw










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    Arcade, TZ80

    In the previous post  I described some usage strategies designed to coax the best possible (RAW) files from the TZ80.


    In this post I describe some post capture strategies in Photoshop Camera Raw (Lightroom has the same functions but in a slightly different user interface) to further enhance those files for optimum printing output.


    With most cameras which I have used in recent times including several M43 and ‘One Inch’ sensor models very good output can be achieved with a few modest adjustments in Camera Raw.


    But files from the TZ80 require  much more vigorous intervention.  A few subtle adjustments will not do the job.


    The three tabs on which I concentrate are Basic, Lens Corrections and Detail.


    TZ80


    Before getting to the details here are some basic principles:


    The unprocessed files which come off the TZ80 tend to have somewhat low mid tone contrast, low local contrast and low sharpness with low color saturation.  Sometimes the RAW files look so flat and soft they might at first seem beyond redemption and sometimes that is so. But energetic resuscitation in Camera Raw can be successful, sometimes surprisingly so.


    The basic aim of processing is to make the files look brighter, clearer, sharper and more colourful.


    Each of these things is easy enough to achieve but each increases luminance noise (grain) so effective luminance noise control strategies are essential for success.


    Note that ‘Contrast’, ‘Clarity’ and ‘Sharpness’ are each variants of the same concept which is to enhance the  brightness differential between adjacent parts of the image.


    Contrast increases the brightness differential between mid tones in the image.


    Clarity is Adobe’s name for a type of local contrast which works like the Unsharp Mask  filter in Photoshop.


    Sharpness increases the brightness differential between closely adjacent tones in a spatial dimension of 1-3 pixels.


    No extra information can be imparted to a file with adjustments but if applied effectively the combination can impart a markedly enhanced appearance of sharpness.


    I start in the Basic Tab.


    I don’t worry too much about getting the adjustments ‘right’ first time around. Everything can be changed at any time and likely will.  If I drag a slider too far it can easily be pulled back any time later.


    Adobe suggests you work down the adjustment items from the top but I usually start with Contrast and drag the slider to the right by an amount which looks right for the particular image.  This will often be in the 20-60 range and much more than I would use with an image from a larger sensor camera.


    Now I look at the histogram. Most of the tones should be midway between the left and right ends of the scale. If not I move the Exposure slider to make them so.


    Now I drag  the Clarity slider to the right. When I work with images from a micro Four Thirds camera I find I have to be very cautious with this slider as Panasonic M43 files already have substantial local contrast. So my M43 files might receive +5 Clarity. But files from the TZ80 often benefit from much larger displacement of the Clarity slider to the right,  often in the range +20-+40.


    Now I look at the histogram and inspect the highlights, which after cranking up Contrast and clarity will usually be over the top, requiring strong left drag of the Highlights slider, to zero if required.


    Now I look at the image. Do the dark tones appear overly dark with lack of detail ?  If so I drag the Shadows slider to the right until they appear more natural.


    I now experiment with the Vibrance and Saturation sliders. With cameras having a larger sensor I rarely use the Saturation slider as it too easily pushes colors over the top. But the TZ80 files are a bit lacking in color to start with so I often find I need to drag the Saturation slider to the right.


    So now I have a file which is brighter, more contrasty and more colourful than it was at the beginning.  Things are looking up.


    But increasing Contrast and Clarity also increases luminance noise and the details still lack sharpness. 
    So I move to the Detail Tab.


    Again Adobe suggests you start at the top and work down, I suggest a different strategy. Note that modern cameras have virtually eliminated chroma (color) noise from RAW files so it is usually un-necessary to make any further action regarding chroma noise.


    I start with Noise Reduction (Luminance). I find all TZ80 files need some NR, even at ISO 80.  The amount varies from around 5-50 at low ISO to around 50 at high ISO settings.


    I view the file at 100% on screen for these adjustments.


    I don’t try to eliminate all grain with the NR (Luminance) slider as doing so destroys details.

    The Detail tab default setting is 25. I reduce this to about 15 for low ISO images, 5 for high ISO images.


    Now I look at the Radius slider. The default will usually be 1.0. For low ISO files at the wide or mid range of the zoom I push this up to around 1.6-2.0. For images taken with the long end of the zoom this goes up to the maximum which is 3.0.


    Last I increase the Amount and watch the image as I drag the slider to the right. I generally use about 50 with M43 cameras, but the TZ80 needs between 50 and 100, the high figure being required with images made using the long end of the zoom.


    Butcher-bird  TZ80


    Warning to grain phobic readers:   You ain’t gonna like this.  You must use a high level on the Amount slider to banish that mushy look which characterises the unmodified RAW files but the more you drag the slider to the right to more grainy the image becomes.   


    The good news is that grain which appears really prominent on screen may be almost invisible in a print.


    Hint: Reduce on screen size to 50%. Suddenly everything looks better. My experience is that if an image looks good at 50% on screen it will usually print well without any appearance of excess grain.


    The Lens Corrections tab is next. Here I can remove chromatic aberration if any is evident, remove residual distortion and remove any purple or green fringing which may be present.


    Now I usually go back over the Basic and Detail tabs again, repositioning each slider until I arrive at the best possible result for each image.


    At this stage experience and practice play a large part in achieving an optimal overall result, balancing grain and sharpness.


    Suggestions for readers:


    Hint 1: Be bold. Make large adjustments with the sliders and constantly review the result, pulling back when you have overdone it.


    Hint 2: Print. I find that mid tone contrast, clarity (local contrast) and sharpness are more important than grain which is less evident in a print than on screen.


    I am making prints at an actual picture size of 410 x 540mm from TZ80 files. These look clear and sharp with good presence on the wall. Grain is barely noticeable and only when I get my face right up close to the print with extra strong spectacles.


    Summary  Is the Panasonic TZ80 the ultimate do anything supercamera ?


    Well, not quite. But it can make better pictures than some reviewers appear to believe with good technique at Capture and specific strategies in Adobe Camera Raw.






















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    Some will tell you the TZ80 is no use indoors. But with careful management in Capture Phase of use and some post processing in Photoshop, decent results can be achieved.

    What will be the most important advance in camera technology over the next few years ?


    100 Megapixels on full frame ILCs ?


    50 frames per second with image preview on each frame ?


    ISO 500, 000 ?


    I suppose we will have those capabilities thrust upon us in some expensive product which the camera makers would like us to buy as it makes them a substantial profit per unit.


    This location has very high subject brightness range and mixed light sources, both challenges for any camera. But the TZ80 manages decently well. Details in the skylight have blown out but otherwise highlight and shadow detail are quite good.


    But consider the most popular cameras of all time.

    The Kodak Box Brownie appeared in the early years of the 20th Century.

    The smartphone arrived a hundred years later in the early years of the 21st Century.


    What do these devices have in common ?


    Each brought to ordinary people the ability to make and share photographs.


    The TZ80 does auto panoramas  rather well as you can see here. Highlight and shadow detail is quite good as is detail and overall rendition of a scene which I chose because I knew it would present any camera with a challenge. The guy walking seems to have lost a foot. Oh well.....


    I think the next big thing for cameras is the compact, carry-in-your-pocket-or-belt-pouch superzoom camera which is inexpensive, easy to use and can photograph just about anything, anywhere, anytime.


    Hand held close-ups ? No problem for the TZ80, even with direct sun shining on some parts of the flowers but not others.


    As the grandchildren might say, five minutes after setting out on a voyage….”are we there yet” ?


    Not quite, but I believe some cameras are headed in that direction.


    Consider the Panasonic TZ80 (ZS60) which I have been using quite a lot recently.


    This is a budget travel zoom compact which attracts very little attention on review sites or user forums.

    The TZ80 manages well close in at the long end of the zoom.


    Somewhat to my surprise I have discovered this thing can make pictures which print rather well up to an actual picture size of about  400 x 550 mm, or even larger if one is a bit less fussy about absolute sharpness.


    The current model of the TZ80 can only produce prints like this if handled by an enthusiast/expert user and only after careful work in Photoshop.


    But the potential is there for evolutionary development which would allow less photographically sophisticated users to make excellent photos in almost any circumstance.


    If sensor performance improved about 1- 2 EV and lens sharpness was upgraded to match and the hardware and software were also upgraded to support the improved image quality, you could have a compact camera  which would make most other types and models of any description irrelevant for most amateur users, most of the time.


    TZ80, tripod. Photographed across a surf beach. The club building in the foreground is 1.3 kilometers from the camera. You can see the effects of atmospheric distortion. Of course you can find a camera/lens combination which will render this distant scene more clearly. But, I suspect, not one you can carry in a pocket.
     
    Heritage coal loader. Subject selected for high subject brightness range, high contrast light/dark transitions  and complex detail.





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    Panasonic TZ80  Even a basic compact can make good pictures these days.


    The camera industry is in the doldrums. 


    As I write this in August 2016 camera production is in steep decline. The Japanese earthquake this year has caused a drought of (mainly Sony) sensors halting production of many models from several brands.  But even before this event camera sales had been in decline for several years.


    Which leaves this blog short of  its usual material  for posts but creates an opportunity to look at the issue of menus.


    One ergonomic issue which often draws criticism from reviewers and users alike is the chaotic state of some camera menus.


    The most popular posts on this blog are the ‘setting up’ guides.


    Many models have a collection of menu items which appear to have been thrown together in haphazard fashion to the perpetual confusion of users.  Evidence for this confusion is the number of ‘please help’ posts on user forums.


    Many camera menus appear to be arranged in ‘camera centric’ and/or ‘maker centric’ fashion with sub menus (such as ‘custom’) unrelated to usage together with  random or idiosyncratic allocation of items.


    Dis-similar items are lumped together.


    Like items which should be together are scattered among submenus.


    It’s a mess.


    In this post I put forward some ideas for a ‘user centric’ arrangement of menu items.


    As a proof of concept test I applied a system based on these ideas to the menu items of my favourite all purpose camera, the Panasonic FZ1000.  If I can work up the energy I will apply the same exercise to my Sony RX100 (4), a more daunting proposition as this camera’s menu system is less well organised.


    Level 1

    This is what you see when the button allocated to [Menu] is pressed.  The display and the options will depend on the current setting of the Mode Dial and of any other fixed function dial on the body such as the Drive Mode dial.


    If the Mode Dial is set to fully automatic operation (iA on a Panasonic camera, Auto on a Sony) a basic list of options for each submenu will be available.


    If the Mode Dial is on P, A, S or M the full list of submenus and options will be available.


    If the Mode Dial is on [Panorama] only the options required for panorama are displayed.


    If there is, say, a Drive Mode dial then if this is on the single shot setting all menu items are displayed. But if the dial is on one of the other positions such as burst, then pressing the Menu button only brings up options for Burst mode function.


    This means the user does not have to trawl through the menus to find options for functions selectable via hard dials which I call ‘set-and-see’ dials.


    If the Mode Dial is on P, A, S, or M and the Drive Mode Dial is on single shot the Level 1 screen will display the following:


    Setup, Stills, Video, My Menu

    These could be arranged along the top of the screen or down the left side. The Sony RX100(4) has main submenus along the top. Panasonic cameras have them down the left side.


    Either arrangement works well enough in my experience.


    However some cameras utilise both. For instance Canon Powershots have a Menu button which accesses the main menu system with submenus along the top and in addition have a Func/Set button in the center of the 4 way controller. This brings up an accessory menu system with submenus arrayed down the left side of the screen.  Canon DSLRs generally have one of the better menu systems but the Powershot system is un-necessarily convoluted because of the two different access points leading to two different layouts.


    Everycamera should have a [My Menu] right at the top level, able to be populated by user selectable items.  This makes oft used items quickly accessible.


    Every menu system should also have ‘menu resume’ function so the last used item is automatically displayed next time the menus are accessed.


    Some cameras such as the RX100(4) lump video items in with stills items. Presumably this is to make some kind of statement about that camera being able to operate full time still and/or video function. But it makes setting up the camera more puzzling than it needs to be.


    Level 2

    Setup  leads directly to the items generally found in the Setup menu of a Panasonic camera and scattered about in various places in a Sony Camera.


    The Stillsand Video  headings lead to submenus as described below.


    My Menuleads directly to the user selected items.


    Level 3


    From Stills or Video  level 3 leads to:


    Capture, View, Operate and Playback


    View, Operate and Playback lead directly to items with options for selections.


    Capture leads to Level 4


    Level 4

    Submenus in Capture are


    Picture, Focus, Exposure and Drive

    Each of these submenus leads to items with options for selections.


    Discussion

    I have tried to craft a menu system which is more relevant to the user than typical systems available in current cameras.


    Thus ‘Camera’ as a menu item on some models has to go as it means nothing.

    Rec.(ord) as a menu item covers too many parameters which get cluttered up in a list with too many items.

    ‘Custom’ is just a catch-all for lazy menu designers who couldn’t be bothered to arrange items more coherently.


    ‘Setup’ makes sense to me as a collection of items which set basic visual and operational features to personal preference.


    Capture (Picture, Focus, Exposure, Drive) Viewing, Operating, Playback are categories which make sense to me as a camera user.


    The list is eclectic and to some extent a mix of not-altogether-like-items, but I think it is more user oriented and function oriented and therefore more likely to be user-friendly than many of the menus seen on current cameras.


    I should include in this discussion the problem of ‘grayed-out’ items.  An item will show as  grayed-out if a setting elsewhere in the menus is incompatible with the grayed out item and/or renders it inoperative.


    For example if RAW or RAW+JPG is set as the Quality on a Panasonic camera then i-zoom, i-Dynamic and a range of other features are inoperative because they will not work with RAW capture. 

    But the camera does not explain this or what you should do about it.


    It would, I imagine, be easy and much appreciated if the firmware boffins included an on screen text message like ‘i-Zoom not compatible with RAW capture, set Quality to JPG’ or similar. 


    Worked example: Panasonic FZ1000

    Any current model Panasonic Lumix camera will have a similar menu system with individual variations.


    Setup Menu

    Basically the current Panasonic Setup menu is reasonably well thought out.

    The only changes I would make are:

    * Panasonic has managed to confuse generations of new users, and I suspect quite a few reviewers, by locating Monitor Display adjustment and EVF display adjustment on the same tab. Look in the viewfinder while adjusting menus and the display changes from ‘Monitor’ to ‘Viewfinder’.  All they need to do is put each of these two adjustments on a separate tab.

    * Exposure Comp.Reset  should more logically be in the ‘Exposure’ submenu.

    * Reset Wi-Fi can stay in the Setup menu but move up adjacent to the ‘Wi-Fi’ tab.


    Rec. Menu

    I would reallocate all the items in the Rec menu as below:

    * Photo Style ( I would rename this [JPG Settings] to indicate what it really is namely JPG capture settings) > Picture.

    * Aspect Ratio > Picture

    * Picture Size > Picture

    * Quality > Picture

    * AFS/AFF > Focus

    * Metering Mode > Exposure

    * Burst Rate > Drive

    * Auto Bracket > Exposure

    * Self Timer > Drive

    * Time Lapse > Drive

    * Highlight/Shadow > Picture

    * i-Dynamic > Picture

    * i-Resolution > Picture

    * i-Handheld Night Shot > Exposure

    * i-HDR > Exposure

    * HDR > Exposure

    * Multi Exp > Exposure

    * Panorama > Show Panorama options only when Mode Dial is set to the Panorama icon.

    * Shutter Type > Operate

    * Flash > Exposure

    * Red Eye Removal > Exposure

    * ISO Limit Set > Exposure

    * ISO Increments > Exposure

    * Extended ISO > Exposure

    * Long Shutter NR > Picture

    * i-Zoom > Operate

    * Digital Zoom > Operate

    * Stabiliser > Operate

    * Color Space > Picture

    * Face Recog. > Focus

    * Profile Setup > Setup


    Comment on Rec Menu reallocations

    I hope you can see what I am trying to achieve here. I have tried to group like items which are meaningful to the user in terms of the tasks required to work a camera and the fundamentals of camera operation such as picture quality, exposure, focus, operation and so forth.


    Custom Menu

    * Cust. Set Mem. > Setup

    * Silent Mode > Operate

    * AF/AE Lock > Operate

    * AF/AE Lock Hold > Operate

    * Shutter AF > Focus

    * Half Press Release > Focus

    * Quick AF > Focus

    * Eye Sensor AF > Focus

    * Pinpoint AF Time > Focus

    * AF Assist Lamp > Focus

    * Direct Focus Area > Focus

    * Focus/Release Priority > Focus

    * AF + MF > Focus

    * MF Assist > Focus

    * MF Guide > Focus

    * Peaking > Exposure

    * Histogram > Exposure

    * Guide Line > View

    * Center Marker > View

    * Highlight > Playback

    * Zebras > Exposure

    * Monochrome Live View > View

    * Constant Preview > View

    * Expo. Meter > View

    *  Dial Guide > View

    * LVF Disp. Style > View

    * Mon. Disp. Style > View

    * Mon. Info. Disp. > View

    * Rec Area > View

    * Remaining Disp > View

    * Auto Review > Playback

    * Fn Button Set > Setup

    * Zoom Lever > Setup

    * Manual Ring Zoom > Setup

    * Zoom Resume > Setup

    * Q Menu > Setup

    * Video Button > Setup

    * Eye Sensor > Setup

    * Menu Guide > View


    Comment on Custom Menu reallocations

    You can see that the Firmware developers have already gone part way towards the model which I suggest with like items somewhat grouped together although not with much consistency.

    Thus you can see a bunch of ‘Focus’ items together, another bunch of ‘View’ items together and at the end eight items which are obvious candidates for the Setup Menu as they determine how the camera will work.

    I would contemplate a submenu in the setup menu for user interface module (UIM, buttons, dials, rings, levers ) function allocations as some modern cameras allow user function allocation for almost all UIMs and this is a critical aspect of setting up the camera to personal preferences.


    Motion Picture Menu

    Motion Picture menu items can usefully have the same sub menu categories as those for stills with the addition of  Sound. Thus:

    * Photo Style > Picture

    * 4K Photo > Drive

    * Rec Format > Picture

    * Rec Quality > Picture

    * Exposure Mode > Exposure

    * HS Video > Drive

    * AFF/AFS > Focus

    * Picture Mode > Picture

    * Continuous AF > Focus

    * Level Shot > Picture

    * Metering Mode > Exposure

    * Highlight/Shadow > Exposure

    * i-Dynamic > Exposure

    * i-Resolution > Picture

    * Luminance level > Picture

    * i-Zoom > Operate

    * Digital Zoom > Operate

    * Flicker Decrease > Picture

    * Mic Level > Sound

    * Special Mic > Sound

    * Mic. Level Limiter > Sound

    * Wind Cut > Sound

    * Zoom Mic. > Sound


    Playback Menu

    All the items in the Playback menu appear appropriately located there.


    Overall Summary

    I have, over the years, read many complaints by reviewers and users about camera menus which are disorganised and unfriendly to users. Some of these complainants have offered limited suggestions for improvement.

    This post goes further and presents a proposal for a fully realised, coherent,  user friendly camera menu system.











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    TZ80. The buildings in the foreground are 2 kilometers from the camera. Obviously you could make a better picture than this with a (much) larger (much) more expensive kit but I think that for a budget general purpose travel zoom compact the TZ80 does a pretty good job.

    One of the most  frequently asked questions on user forums is  ‘which camera should I buy’. This usually produces a flurry of different suggestions presumably guided by the respondents’ personal experience and  preferences.  Maybe this helps the original poster, maybe not.


    I have a long history with compact cameras. I usually own one and am always on the lookout for that as-yet-elusive ultimate compact which will provide picture quality and a user experience equal to that of a larger camera.


    I think the future of cameras for amateur and enthusiast users lies with high performance fixed lens models. The best of these have become very good indeed, somewhat tending to confirm my prediction and making any kind of interchangeable lens camera increasingly un-necessary for my requirements.


    And, Like most people, I really hate having to change lenses…………….


    The four cameras referred to in this post


    This post compares three compacts:


    Sony RX100(4)


    Panasonic TZ110 (a.k.a. ZS100, TZ100 and TX1)


    Panasonic TZ80 (a.k.a. ZS60)


    To keep things in perspective I added to the mix my favourite camera of the last 60 years, the Panasonic FZ1000.  This is much larger  so can’t be compared directly to the compacts but it does provide a benchmark for picture quality, features, specifications, performance and ergonomics against which the compacts can be evaluated.


    What’s not here ?


    * I will not buy anything without the ability to capture RAW files and an inbuilt EVF. I live in Sydney Australia where the sun shines brightly much of the time rendering the monitor useless as a device for framing and composition. 


    I was reminded of this recently while doing tests for this post. I had the cameras on a tripod with the sun over my shoulder shining onto the monitor. I could not preview my subject on any of the monitor screens at all.


    If I had been using a camera without an EVF I would have needed a dark cloth like the old days of large format photography or some device like a Clear Viewer in order to see the monitor at all.


    The only Canon compact with an EVF is the G5X but this model has some well reported deficiencies such as sluggish performance with RAW capture and a not-so-wonderful lens. If Canon fixes these and other deficiencies,  a G5X Mk2 if such ever materialises, might find itself in contention for my camera drawer.


    The situation at Nikon might have been described by Charles Dodgson’s Alice as ‘curiouser and curiouser’.


    When I look at the Nikon Australia website I see that fixed lens cameras have been divided into a ‘Premium compact’ category and a ‘Digital compact’ category (are there any film compacts ???)


    In the ‘premium’ category there is detailed description of three ‘DL’ series models which were announced in February but have failed to materialise. Neither of the two compacts in the DL series has a built in EVF anyway. The third model in this series is a hump top superzoom.


    In the basic ‘digital compact’ category I see a miscellaneous collection of current, discontinued (or at least no longer available from vendors) and not-yet-materialised models (B700).


    As far as I can tell none of the compacts has a built in EVF. The P7800 did but is no longer available.


    The listed hump top superzooms do have an EVF but many of these models appear to be unavailable in shops.


    Nikon’s product development and marketing departments appear to be completely out of touch with actual people who might want to buy a camera.


    Listing cameras which are not available seems to me like  a great way to lose supporters and encourage people to look elsewhere.


    Olympus recently ceased production of the Stylus 1 model.


    Fujifilm appears to have abandoned compacts altogether in favour of  X series ILCs and Instax.


    The Ricoh GR lacks a built in EVF.


    Which leaves Sony and Panasonic as the only makers producing advanced compacts of interest to me.


    The Sony HX90V missed inclusion in this comparison as it lacks RAW capture which is disappointing.   I have found that processed RAW files can deliver better results than JPGs from the Panasonic TZ80 which has a very similar (possibly the same) sensor and the same zoom range.


    I recently tested the Sony RX100(4) and Panasonic LX100 side by side and found the RX100(4) to have slightly but consistently better picture quality at all focal lengths and apertures. You can read thiscomparison here.


    Concept and design


    Camera design is like a zero sum game at any given stage of evolution of the relevant technology.


    Thus if the designer wants to include a larger sensor in a package retaining the same overall size, something has to give way. This will usually be the lens aperture and/or zoom range.


    Each of the cameras in this trio is in the same size range with the RX100(4) being a bit smaller than the other two. However they each carry nicely in a Lowe Pro Portland 20 pouch with space for several memory cards and one or two spare batteries.


    The Panasonics have an always-ready EVF and a fixed monitor. The Sony has a pop-up EVF and a swing up-down monitor.


    The RX100(4) lens has a 2.9x zoom range with a  aperture range of f1.8-f2.8.


    The TZ110 lens has a 10x zoom range but the aperture is considerably smaller at f2.8-f5.9.


    The TZ80 has a 30x zoom range but a smaller sensor, with  an area about one quarter of that in the RX100(4) and TZ110.


    So there is no free lunch. For a designer to add some capability, something else must be reduced.


    Specifications and Features


    Each of the three compacts featured in this post comes absolutely loaded with features and capabilities for still and video recording (including 4K) or both together.


    Indeed the specifications and features of each of these cameras read more like those of  a current model prosumer DSLR or MILC than you might have expected to find in a compact just a few years ago.


    Actually they are better than many prosumer DSLRs in some ways such as full time live view,  provision of  good quality auto panorama in camera and 4K video.


    Picture quality


    I base this evaluation on three information sources


    * My own frequent use on a variety of subjects indoors and out.


    * Lens test chart close to the camera (1-5 meters).


    * A standard scene at a distance of 10-50 meters from the camera.


    Outdoors in bright light:

    In the (35mm equivalent) 24/25-70mm focal length range the FZ1000 and RX100(4) are clearly better than the other two, with nothing much between the FZ1000 and RX100(4) at around f4.


    Either of these cameras can produce excellent results in this focal length range.


    The TZ110 and TZ80 are not in the same class but are decently good cameras in their own right.  
    They are able to make good prints capable of substantial enlargement up to 500x400mm with good sharpness over most of the frame.


    In the focal length range 70-250mm the FZ1000 is clearly better than the two TZ compacts although at 250mm the TZ80 is in the middle of its focal length range and can produce quite pleasing printed output.


    At 400mm the FZ1000 is clearly better than the TZ80 but the compact is by no means disgraced, showing it can deliver good results.


    At 720mm the FZ1000 (cropped from 400mm to720mm field of view)  shows more imaging information and detail than the full frame of the TZ80 at 720mm.


    So over the full range of focal lengths from 24/25mm to 720mm the FZ1000  has a clear advantage over any of the compacts.


    Of the compacts the RX100(4) is clearly the best within its focal length range.

    The TZ80 and TZ110 deliver closely similar levels of subject information and sharpness but the TZ110 has better highlight and shadow detail than the TZ80.


    Low light capability


    This is fairly straightforward with my rankings just as you would expect from the specifications.


    The RX100(4) has the latest ‘One Inch’ sensor, an effective image stabiliser and the widest aperture (lowest f stop) lens so it wins the low light capability contest quite easily.


    Next come the FZ1000, TZ110 and TZ80 in that order, as expected.


    Neither the TZ110 or TZ80 is a camera I would select for regular indoor work but either can be pressed into indoor/low light service if one is prepared to explore the realm of slow shutter speeds to get ISO sensitivity settings down.


    The TZ110 has a decently wide aperture of f2.8 at 25mm focal length, consistent with  indoor use.


    The TZ80 can produce acceptable results indoors if one is prepared to shoot RAW and work the sliders in Adobe Camera Raw.


    Performance


    The FZ1000 is way ahead of the compacts particularly if one wants to have predictive AF on moving subjects.


    But for mostly still subjects the compacts perform well. Each achieves focus quickly and each has a high rate of correctly-in-focus frames, indoors or outdoors.


    There is little between the compacts with respect to performance.  Each is fast and responsive with RAW or JPG capture or both.


    Ergonomics


    Again the FZ1000 is way ahead of the compacts. As I was working with each camera in preparation for this post I was reminded just how much the FZ1000 is a photographer’s camera and the compacts are utilitarian devices which are much less efficient and less enjoyable to use.


    Of the compacts the TZ80 provides the most user friendly holding, viewing and operating experience.

    On my ergonomics scoring schedule we have


    FZ1000     83

    TZ80         65

    TZ110       59

    RX100(4)  52


    In use the RX100(4) is not quite as bad as this score might indicate as once set up the menus do not need to be accessed very often.


    In addition the RX100(4) has a more sophisticated auto ISO algorithm than the Panasonics which allows the user to leave the camera in P Mode quite often with good auto selection of aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings.


    However the pop-up EVF on the RX100(4) is fiddly to operate and interferes with the position of the left hand and fingers.


    From my own experience and reading it appears to me that the  RX100(4) is an example of the Sony approach to camera design and implementation. There is plenty of clever engineering but less than optimal ergonomics.


    While I am complaining about the Sony EVF I would also just mention that the camera data (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation) and level gauge are much easier to see clearly in the Panasonic EVFs than the Sony one, particularly when ambient light is bright, causing stray light to find its way into the viewfinder.


    So which is the best camera of this group ?


    That’s easy: The FZ1000 has better specifications,  picture quality, performance and ergonomics than the compacts.


    But the FZ1000 is larger than all three of the compacts together and this post is supposed to be about the compacts so which is the best of the three compacts ?


    The answer to this question depends on the user’s priorities.


    The RX100(4) is best if the  priorities are small size and low light capability with no need for a superzoom lens and no concerns about spending more on a compact than many combinations of entry level DSLR/MILC with basic kit lens. ( By the way I think I can get better pictures with an RX100(4) than with an entry level ILC and kit lens).


    The TZ80 is best if a 30x zoom range is required at a low price point mainly for outdoors use.

    I rate the TZ80 as likely the most robust of the compacts as neither the EVF or flash have to pop up for use.


    The TZ80 has the highest ergonomic score and in my assessment is the most user friendly of the compacts.


    The TZ110 offers a level of specifications between the RX100(4) and the TZ80.

    The 10x zoom is  enough zoom for many users but not as much as the TZ80.

    The lens aperture is wide enough for many occasions, mainly outdoors but not as wide as the RX100(4).


    The sensor is the same size and has almost the same DXO Mark score as that in the RX100 (4).  


    The price point is between the other two.


    So you pays your money and makes your choice.


    TZ80 and RX100(4) together in a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 5 bag.


    What about a kit with two compacts ?

    I can easily fit both an RX100(4) and a TZ80 into a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 5 bag with plenty of room in the front section for spare batteries and cards. The TTMM5 is smaller than the Lowe Pro Apex 110 which houses the FZ1000.


    I can use the RX100(4) indoors in low light or outdoors when the zoom range is appropriate for my subject and switch to the TZ80 when I want a longer zoom range outdoors.


    The last word (for now)


    In their 2015 review of the RX100(4) Digital Photography Review made the following comments (edited)


    “Something worth calling out is that the built-in stabilization and electronic/leaf shutters of these small compacts shouldn't be taken for granted, as they allow for slow shutter speeds that keep the ISO down and image quality high. It's this facet of the RX100 that allows it sometimes to even catch up to bigger sensor DSLR levels of image quality with respect to image noise in low light scenes, especially since the sensor is paired with a bright lens……..


    The take-home here being I often find myself getting equally as good results from certain premium compacts as larger sensor DSLRs for still scenes in low light because of the additional exposure I can give these cameras due to their high efficiency sensors, bright built-in lenses, and IS. In other words: don't underestimate the image quality you can get out of these compacts, especially if you take the time to apply some best-practice techniques to shooting and exposure.”


    These observations are in line with my own experience and identify one of the reasons I think that fixed zoom cameras will become preferred over ILCs (DSLR or MILC)  by enthusiast amateur and some professional photographers in the years to come.









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    TZ80, hand held.  I use this picture to remind myself that even a small sensor travel zoom camera can make very good pictures.  Some  mega-megapixel models on the market today are complete overkill for the great majority of users.

    I have been  using cameras for 63 years and in that time have tried just about every type of camera available to ordinary consumers.

    Through the second half of the 20th Century snapshooters used film compacts while most enthusiast/ expert photographers preferred the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera type.


    Then a succession of paradigm shifts arrived,  changing the world of cameras forever.

    * Film was replaced by digital capture.

    * Mechanical operation was replaced by electronic.

    * Printing gave way to screen viewing.

    * Advances in zoom lens technology allowed designers to replace multiple, interchangeable  single focal length lenses (primes) with one zoom lens.


    Snapshooters now use smartphones. The formerly ubiquitous ‘bar of soap’ entry level compact camera has almost disappeared.


    But expert/enthusiast photographers have not disappeared. They are still alive and well and keen to use an actual camera for taking pictures.


    What kind of camera will they use ?

    One  answer to this question might be that they will simply exchange their 20thCentury SLRs for 21 st Century DSLRs and carry on as before.  Indeed it is clear that plenty of photographers are doing just that.


    Some have discovered the Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC) and are exploring options in that realm.


    Both these groups are staying with the concept of interchangeable lenses and interchangeable lens cameras (ILC).


    But here’s the problem:


    I hate changing lenses and I don’t know anybody who likes doing so. Fair enough I don’t know everybody so I guess there might be four or five photographers in the whole world who for their own mysterious reasons actually like changing lenses.


    The first camera which convinced me that it might be possible to replace a whole bag full of interchangeable lenses with just one camera fitted with a fixed (non removable) zoom lens is the Panasonic FZ1000. We still have two of these in our house and after two years I can say that with some reservations the FZ1000 can and does replace an entire ILC kit with multiple lenses for most photographic purposes.


    This encourages me to believe that the way forward for camera development lies with further evolution of the fixed zoom lens type (FZLC).

    I might be wrong about this. It might be that photographers are reluctant to change their ways and might stay with their ILCs and might continue wrestling with interchangeable lenses perhaps in the belief that this will produce ‘better’ pictures.


    Will enthusiast/expert photographers come to use a smartphone for their main photographic endeavours ?


    Maybe some might but I think there remains a persuasive case for ongoing development of the camera as a stand alone image capture device.


    What can a FZLC have, built in (not an add-on)  which a smartphone cannot have if it still wants to be a smartphone that looks like a smartphone and works like a smartphone ?


    1. A superzoom lens

    2. A built in EVF

    3. An anatomical handle and anatomical thumb support

    4. A set of tactile, manual controls for the enthusiast/expert photographer. These might include

    * Twin control dials

    * Mode Dial/Drive Mode dial

    * Real time constant feedback of current aperture, shutter speed, ISO setting and exposure compensation together with controls to alter each of these as required.

    * A JOG lever to quickly move the active AF area

    * Availability of manual controls if required.

    5. (usually) A larger sensor for better picture quality especially in low light.


    In other words, quite a lot. I don’t see the smartphone supplanting well conceived, well designed, well executed cameras any time soon.


    I think they will live along side each other.


    However I do hope that half baked, poorly specified, low quality FZLCs with poor performance are driven off the market by discerning buyers who expect better.


    What have we got ?


    All the Photokina announcements have been made so this is a good time to review what is or will soon be on offer.


    Canonoffered no new fixed lens cameras at Photokina.


    They did announce the EOS M5 which at last brings some decent capability to Canon’s MILC line. 

    But this camera is still substantially underspecified compared to  offerings from Panasonic and Sony.


    The only Canon FZLC which meets my desirable criteria above is the G5X. I think a Mk 2 version of this might appeal to me if they rectify several problems with the original including a not-so-good lens, slow performance with RAW capture and poor continuous autofocus.


    Canon has been rolling out plenty of product in the FZLC space but thus far all the models have been relentlessly mediocre in specifications and performance.


    I have to wonder whether Canon lacks the technological capability to bring on better performing products or if the problem is more ideological and rooted in a tradition that the good tech goes in the EOS DSLRs leaving the Powershots to make do with second rate capability.


    How much longer can Canon continue to trade on it’s A grade brand while offering B grade products ?


    There was a time when Fujifilm  offered a substantial collection of interesting FZLCs including advanced compacts and superzooms.  But Fuji appears to have decided to concentrate on its ILC models and to go upmarket as indicated by the just announced medium format GFX50X, which is due for release next year sometime.


    If the Fuji GFX50X or Hasselblad X1D  or  Leica SL is the answer, what was the question ?


    Hardly anybody needs or can make full use of the resolution of the medium format models.  


    I think these are prestige cameras targeted mainly at wealthy enthusiast photographers who want and can afford something which they might perceive as being superior to standard models, whether that is demonstrably the case or not.


    I imagine these are the people who buy prestige cars, watches and clothes as markers of their success and refinement.  In other words status symbols.


    I think it is no coincidence that these prestige cameras are big things which others will definitely notice.


    Nikon  appears to have lost the plot with regard to FZLCs, to such an extent that one has to wonder about the ongoing viability of this famous brand. The DL trio and B700 announced in February have failed to materialise with no definite ETA yet proclaimed.  Vendors have been taking customer’s money for preorders on these thus-far-non-existent products.


    Following the failure of the “1” series MILC this non appearance of key FZLC models makes one wonder what is going on at Nikon.


    Olympus is another maker which appears to have given up on the FZLC sector apart from a few well regarded waterproof/shockproof models to concentrate on its Micro Four Thirds ILC models.


    In the M43 space Olympus appears to be repeating a strategy which failed in the 4/3 DSLR market. 

    That is, concentrating on high spec, pro style lenses with few suitable bodies. In fact since it started in the M43 business in 2008 Olympus has produced about 19 models only one of which (the EM1) has a proper, anatomical  handle built in and specifications and performance suitable for professional use.


    Now they have announced they are “developing” an EM1 Mk2 which would appear to be a suitable body for the pro style lenses, with a claimed 18FPS with AFC. But is this a case of being too late to the party ?  We shall see.


    It has seemed to me that many of Olympus’ cameras (such as the Pen-F)  have prioritised style over function.  I have noticed on user forums that these cameras appeal to people who are very interested in the appearance of their chosen equipment.


    Panasonic  has recently been very busy in the FZLC arena with a string of interesting new models. 

    At Photokina they announced the LX10 (LX15) and the FZ2000 (FZ2500).


    As the company which more or less invented the TravelZoom compact Panasonic has a long standing and ongoing presence in the FZLC market.


    The LX10 looks to me like a complete ergonomic messup, in the I-can’t-believe-they-did-that  category. I will post a separate piece about this so egregious do I find Panasonic’s failure with the user interface on this camera.


    The FZ2000 is a different piece of work altogether and appears to have achieved a fully coherent ergonomic realisation. However it appears to use the same sensor as the FZ1000 so I wonder if still photo users will find a reason to upgrade from the FZ1000 which is already very good.


    Perhaps Panasonic’s most welcome Photokina offering is the G80 (G85)  M43 MILC.


    At last we have the desirable inner workings of the GX80/85 in the ergonomically superior body of an upgraded G7.


    Finally, eight years after the original G1 Panasonic appears to have gotten the mid range M43 concept,  technology, specs, performance and ergonomics right and managed to put it all in the same package. 


    Prior to Photokina I had decided to abandon ILC cameras altogether as I hate changing lenses and in fact have sold off all my M43 cameras and lenses.  But the G80/85 might just tempt me back to the M43 system. I read there are some very interesting new Pansonic zooms in the pipeline which could make M43 even more appealing.


    Sony   Has taken over from Canon as the leading imaging technology innovator. Many cameras from most brands use Sony sensors. But Sony continues to have difficulty producing models which are enjoyable to use. Sony’s approach to ergonomics is inconsistent across the various product lines.


    For instance the just announced A99Mk2 appears to have a very appealing ergonomic layout (based on product photos and reviews of its predecessor which has a very similar control layout) but other models such as the A6300 and the RX10 variants have a completely different layout which is much less effective ergonomically.


    YI  (Young Innovators) is a Chinese company with a presence in the action cam market. They presented the M1, a new mirrorless interchangeable lens camera at Photokina.  This has the Sony IMX269 sensor  used in several Micro Four Thirds (M43) cameras but is not billed as a M43 model so maybe it doesn’t meet the M43 standard. If it does not that will have been a huge mistake for YI as 
    I believe a new startup would need to be able to use existing M43 lenses to have any hope of success.


    In addition there are early user reports of poor autofocus and other functional deficiencies.


    Another problem is the almost total reliance on a touch screen user interface. Canon tried this with their Elph/Ixus 510 and similar models in 2012 but soon reverted to models with a more camera like button and dial user interface.


    The YI product development people may not have fully grasped that the user does not engage with a camera in the same way as a smartphone.


    In the face of declining sales across all categories the barrier to new entrants is very high. I wish YI well but I imagine the chances of success for this first MILC to be low at least in its present configuration and in existing camera markets.





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