Saturday, November 9, 2013

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Fall colours, fog and GX7 followup...

Stanley Park Fall Colours (click image for gallery) - X-E1

It was a good year for fall colours here in Vancouver, with a nice spell of good weather before the major fall rains hit. This meant I could get out a few times and get some nice autumn shots for a change! The above image, and linked gallery, were taken with my Fujifilm X-E1 and all images were processed primarily in PhotoNinja v1.2.1 with a minor followup in Lightroom before exporting the gallery. It was an absolutely gorgeous day that Sunday, and there were many vibrant trees and lots of colourful leaves on the ground. The rest of the images galleries in this posting have photos taken with my new Panasonic GX7 and just processed through Adobe Lightroom...

Fall Colours at UBC Botanical Gardens (click image for gallery) - GX7

These galleries are effectively going in reverse time order with the most recent first. Above is a gallery of images shot with my new GX7 at the UBC Botanical Gardens, another beautiful day to be out!

So, what of my GX7? It is indeed a superb camera and the new version of the 20mm f/1.7 is an excellent lens. Most of the praises I sang in my last blog posting about the GX7 still hold true. The camera is an exceedingly well designed photographic tool with superb image quality, easily the best Micro-4/3 camera I have ever shot with. However, there are a few minor issues I will point out that, for me anyway, don't really detract from the camera very much though. They really are minor nitpicks, but just in case someone is actually using my writings to research cameras, I thought I should mention them. I will be drawing some comparisons with my Fujiflm X-E1, since in many ways, they are both cameras that fill a particular niche for me: small, lightweight camera systems with great ergonomics and excellent image quality.

Gold Creek - Where's the colour? (click image for gallery) - GX7

I was hoping for more colour when I hiked along the trail that follows Gold Creek in Golden Ears Park. I saw lots of moss, abundant lichens such as "witches hair" and/or "old-man's beard" but many trees were already bare and those that weren't, still seemed relatively green or at best, the leaves were a dried-out dirty yellow, not very photogenic. Fall colours were not all that enticing there.

The first thing I will mention about the GX7 is its EVF. The tilting feature is excellent and I have already used it a few times for awkward low-angle shots. However I suspect that the constraints put on its size due to the tilting mechanism and slim body, meant a slight compromise when designing its optics. The sweet spot for getting the sharpest view is very small. Even if I move my eye a few millimetres off the EVF's optical centre, I get some ghosting 'flare" around the white-on-black exposure info text and the image ends up not being as sharp as it could be. Coupled with the fact that the exposure info numbers are quite small, it is not as easy to read with a quick glance as it could be either.

Also, the rubber EVF eyecup is really quite small and thin, so it does not effectively butt up against the bone over my eye socket unless I hold it off-centre, also compromising the sharpness of the EVF. For the best view, it almost needs to be floating in front of my eye, not touching my face, and that does not help with stability! In comparison, I find the EVF in the X-E1 far better. The optics are much sharper, with no deterioration until you are far off-cetnre with your eye, the numbers are larger and more legible and it does comfortably butt up against my face which can enhance stability with slow shutter speeds. Anyway, it's not a bad EVF in the GX7, but it is not as good as the one in X-E1 or, for that matter, not as good as the one I had in the G5 either. There have been improvements since the GH2, so I would judge it roughly equal to that, when all things are considered.

Granville Island Fall Colours (click image for gallery) - GX7

The above link leads to a gallery of shots taken on and around Granville Island in mid October, with some fall colours starting to appear quite strongly. This was the second outing with my new GX7.

Speaking of stability, the internal sensor-based stabilizer in the GX7 does not, to me at least, appear to be all that effective. I am sure it is better than nothing, but due to the EVF design, as mentioned above, I find I may not be holding the camera as stably as I am able to hold my X-E1. The X-E1's rubber eyecup material is also thicker, softer and more rounded off and is more comfortable when held against ones face. If anything, I have had more success hand-holding slow shutter speeds with my Fuji, despite the lack of any stabilization in my primes lenses. Still, not really a big deal and I have learned to grip the  GX7 with my left index finger running over the top of the EVF and using it to help brace the camera against my face. That seems to help with stability.

The second main thing I am not thrilled about is the weak time-exposure support. Even with a cable release, bulb exposures on the GX7 are limited to around 128 seconds, so scarely over two minutes. Some of the light painting I've been doing lately has required 3-5 minute exposures or more. Also, the noise levels are terrible unless one uses long exposure noise-reduction, resulting in images that are filled with bright hot pixels. The Fujifilm X-E1 is far cleaner on time exposures and can operate for up to a full 60 minutes if so desired. In fact, I don't even bother with long-exposure noise reduction on the X-E1, if I am doing exposures that are less than 10 minutes. The noise levels on GX7 time exposures actually surprise me, since otherwise, I am very impressed with it at high ISO. I would even go as far as saying that when comparing raw files from both cameras, it is nearly keeping up to my X-E1 in that way. Yes, it is still a little noisier than the X-E1 but at least the noise is very fine-grained, tight and random, so not very obtrusive.

Panasonic GX7: First Tests (click image for gallery) - GX7

My first day of testing the new GX7 was a lot of fun. I was playing around with the GX7's hugely customizable controls, trying to come up with a group of settings that I was happy with. As usual, I was astounded by how well thought out the Panasonic user interface was and to what degree the GX7 was customizable. It didn't take long to come up with some settings that worked very well for me. I spent the whole day with just the new 20mm pancake lens, to try and get a handle on how it performs. I was quite impressed with the sharpness, the bokeh and even the improved speed of the aperture mechanism. The original 20mm f/1.7 had an extremely sluggish aperture, causing quite a shooting lag if you were stopped down by a few f-stops and it was noticeably faster wide open at f/1.7. This new 20mm is almost as fast when shooting stopped down as it is wide open, with only a slight bit of sluggishness felt. Overall, the new 20mm is a winner and worth getting as a kit with the GX7 I'd say. If you have the old one already, well as long as the sluggishness doesn't bother you, then maybe the reasons to upgrade are minimal...

The last thing I want to mention is the built-in WiFi. Establishing a stable connection with my iPhone or iPad proved a bit of a challenge, and the Panasonic app seemed to lock up a fair bit. I did get it working as advertised, but I feel a future GX7 firmware update might improve the WiFi connection, and an app update might improve the software's stability too. Not a crucial thing that the WiFi feature work for me, but it's good to know it's there if I ever do find a use for it.

That's about it for the followup to my first GX7 preview article. This one focused more on the few negative aspects of its design and performance, not that there are many. In the end, I don't think the GX7 will win the Micro-4/3 versus Fujifilm X-system battle for me. For the moment, unlike my X-E1, the GX7 has superb video capability and I have a large selection of very good lenses for it. Video on the Fujifilm bodies feels like more of an afterthought still and Fujifilm's lens selection hasn't quite fleshed out to where it will fill all my needs. However what lenses I do have for my X-E1 are all spectacularly good, in particular the 14mm and the new 23mm f/1.4 (a review is coming on that soon) with those lenses being far ahead of any similar focal lengths in Micro-4/3 as far as image quality. Since I am more of a stills guy, not doing much video, the Fujifilm system just appeals to me a bit more overall. Anyway, both are very good cameras and both are enjoyable to shoot with! For the time being, I'll be keeping both systems in my arsenal of camera gear...

Lastly, here are a few shots I took when the fog was thick around Vancouver for a week or so. The first two shots were taken with my X-E1 and the last few night shots with the GX7. These are simply individual images, not galleries, so you can click on each to open them larger and hit the back button on your web browser to return here:


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