Sunday, 12 February 2017

Panasonic Lumix GX8-initial thoughts.

Looks like its a stay in weekend-the weather isn't very nice, sleet and a little bit of snow, very cold and the wind is increasing. I had hoped to get up to the Norfolk coast but there isn't much news at the moment, I guess a lot of others are staying in as well.

I thought I would write a bit about the new camera, which I've had for a month now. I haven't really used it a great deal, so its very much a first impression.

Some years ago, I started to consider getting a small camera of some kind. I think it was driving into work one day that got me thinking. There had been a very heavy frost, the trees by the roadside looked absolutely fantastic and even though there was no-where to stop I regretted not having a camera to hand. A bit later, at the Chelsea Flower Show, I came to the conclusion that taking the D3s, and Zeiss 35 and 100mm lenses was a bit much. They fitted the rucksack style bag (barely) but weighed a ton, and after a day on my feet, and several bags of purchases I would get home completely exhausted. What I really needed was a high quality but much smaller and lighter camera that I could have with me at all times to complement rather than supplement my Nikon gear.
Initially I started to look at the compact point and shoots and there seemed to be two options. I could either go with one of the super zooms which at the time had just about reached 1000mm effective focal length, or one more limited but better overall performance that could also be used for digiscoping.
A trip to a camera store with Colin offered another alternative with a mirrorless compact system camera. I spent quite a bit of time in there playing with an Olympus E-PL5 and a couple of lenses and it seemed to offer a lot of benefits. Some of the pancake style lenses made it pretty much a pocket camera and I found out later, one of the kit lenses would fit an old digiscoping adaptor (which although bought for a Nikon scope luckily fitted the Leica that I currently use). I later had a look at a few others, including the Sony Nex-6 and various Fuji's but eventually decided on the tiny but superbly performing Sony RX100 with it's 28-100mm zoom. A favourite of many digiscopers, pro and semi pro photographers, it has served me well as a true pocket travel camera. The HD video results have been pretty good, though  more recently I have started to use the iPhone 6s instead as a 4K video camera.

After the Swamphen twitch and my less than perfect video I came across a superb clip by long time rare bird videographer Alan Shaw with a Panasonic camera coupled to his old Nikon lens rig, and about the same time became aware that quite a few others I knew were also using these cameras so I started to research mirrorless systems again. I wanted 4K video, which pretty much ruled out Olympus and really left me with two options, the Sony A6300 and the Panasonic Lumix models. The Sony was really tempting, and while the body is very compact, considering it has an APC sized sensor, many of the lenses are rather big and heavy and there isn't a great deal of options in the longer focal lengths.

There are a various Lumix models available , but I wanted a compact rangefinder body which meant the end of line GX7, the high end weatherproof GX8 or the recently introduced, cheaper GX85. The 20.3 Mpx sensor in the GX8 is supposed to be the best m4/3rds sensor, though the lack of filter on the 16 Mpx GX85 makes it a tough call in terms of image quality and resolution. Reviews suggested the newer improved stabilisation on the GX85 would be the deciding factor and this seems to have had had an impact on the sales of the GX8. However when I went to look at both side by side in a local shop in September, the key differences for me were with the handing and operation. I liked having dials rather than the extra menu button pushes of the GX85 and I really liked the superb performance of the tilting electronic viewfinder on the GX8. It fitted my hands better and felt really comfortable to use Unfortunately the shop couldn't offer the lens that they advertised and they wouldn't honour the price on their website, so I didn't buy one.
However after Christmas I learned of a cash back offer with the weatherproof 12-60mm lens. Basically compared to the September price in the shop, I would save well over £200 on the body and get a £300+ lens for free. No brainer really. I also bought a Metabones 4/3rds-Nikkor adaptor and a couple of batteries, and installed the Panasonic app on my phone allowing the phone to control the camera wirelessly.

So Ive had it a month, used it a couple of times so how is it?
Well the first test involved the Metabones adaptor and putting the camera on the Questar scope that still gets used occasionally. Photographically its around 3200mm focal length with the 2x crop factor of the sensor and I got close ups of the gate hinges at the end of the garden. Not a great test, the light was poor, the scope was working at f18 but the 1/15th second exposures at iso 3200 were acceptable, suggesting it might be an option for long range video. Dust on the sensor might be an issue at f18 though.
Around the house, the results with the 12-60 lens were pretty good. The image stabilisation produces sharp images at ridiculously low shutter speeds. Basic handling is good, I like the mode selection dial, the two control wheels are just about right and most of the switches and buttons although a bit small are easy to use and straightforward.  The menu looks straightforward but there are a lot of options to consider once you start to look at the various focus metering and display functions so there is going to be a bit of a steep learning curve once I get out of the default settings.
I was hoping to try digiscoping last weekend. The 12-60 lens doesn't work, with severe vignetting but tests at home with the Zeiss 35mm f2 were a lot better. Its a bit long, it seems that the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens is the one most people use, although the focussing is a bit slow-and the manual focus Zeiss is likely to be a problem in the field. I was going to get the 20mm when I first looked at the camera, but later changed my mind and am more likely to go with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4.
The first day out and about around Aston End on 22nd January was rather pleasant. The body and 12-60 lens was small enough o fit in my jacket pocket, and I also took my old Nikon 70-300 zoom which went in the other pocket, so basically I had everything from wide to telephoto in two pockets.
The camera was so light it was barely noticeable while walking around and the 12-60mm lens worked very well on landscapes as well as close ups. Its not regarded very highly in reviews, but I liked the results I got with it.  The Nikon zoom was a bit of a handful on birds, with its 600mm effective focal length and having to use it in manual focus, but once set up in the menu it is image stabilised so thats a big bonus.
At the Pacific Diver twitch, I used the camera with the manual focus 500mm f4 Nikkor, which as I noted proved to be a bit too long for the occasion. I obtained a number of 4K video sequences, one of which is posted here
I think I am more than happy with the video results, its certainly a lot easier than my previous attempts. The flip-up viewfinder really makes a difference, and the tilt and rotate rear touch screen is great to use as well.

So early days and only a few opportunities to test the camera but I am very pleased with the results so far and expect to take it out and about all the time. More comments are likely to appear later as i get more use out of the camera.

Looking ahead, I expect to get a longer autofocus lens-there are a couple of possible options in the Olympus and Panasonic lines though ideally the 100-400 is the most desirable. It means I should be able to discretely take a camera over to Norton Green at lunchtimes. Will be interesting to see the results with the Zeiss 100mm macro on insects and plants-I expect it to be very good and would negate the need for a native macro lens. One or two wide-medium focal length primes are likely but there isn't an urgent need just yet, so I will see how I go with what I currently have and take it from there.

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