Those of you who visit my Flickr photostream know that I have a new Panasonic Lumix G1 camera and Panasonic 14-45mm kit lens. The kit lens has proven to be remarkably sharp, just as I’d heard.
The G1 makes a nice walkabout camera. It’s a little smaller and lighter than most DSLRs and it has some unique features. The most radical design change over a DSLR is that the G1 uses an EVF (Electronic View Finder) in place of the traditional mirror and prism arrangement. This allows the camera to be smaller and to offer some advantages already known to P&S shooters such as histogram preview in the viewfinder. The G1 also has a fine, large, tilt & swivel LCD that helps for high shots and low shots.
People vary in their reaction to EVF. My older Canon S3 IS uses EVF and I’ve always liked using it. The Canon has nowhere near the resolution and brightness of the G1, however. The G1 may have what is, for now, the best EVF in the industry.
My main reason for getting a G1, though, was not its advanced features, but its ability to be used with retro lenses. There are lens adapters available for lens mounts such as Leica M mount, Nikon F mount, and Pentax screwmount (perhaps bayonet mount as well). That opens the option to using classic, manual lenses, and I love using the classics.
A couple of days ago my Leica M to micro-4/3’s mount adapter arrived from an eBay dealer in Shanghai and I got to take my first shots. It was late in the day with little light left so I used a fast lens: Konica Hexanon 50mm f/2 — a lens highly similar to a Leica Summicron 50/2. With some help from my friend Peter, I learned what setting to put the camera on so the adapter would no longer cause an error warning.
I hadn’t yet figured out how to invoke Manual Focus Assist so I carefully eyeballed the focus as best as I could and got about a 30% yield in well-focused shots. Not very good, but the shots looked outstanding in terms of resolution, clarity, colour, and, especially, bokeh. The OOF (out-of-focus) areas had a creamy transition.
The next day I decided to RTFM (advice I usually give to others but hadn’t taken myself) and found the magic sequence that invokes Manual Focus Assist. And here’s where the G1 offers something unique — something I’ve never experienced before. It magnifies a small part of the image digitally and it’s amazing how accurately you can focus a manual lens this way. And then, when you press the shutter button half way, the view springs back to 100% for composing.
It’s not a fast type of photography, especially when using longer lenses, but for static subjects it works really well. Today I put on the Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 lens Peter lent me and the 2x crop factor turned it into a 150mm f/2.5 equivalent. It yielded some nice images and showed me what a good combo this made. The only time I had trouble was when I forgot to watch the shutter speed and used a speed too low to be hand held steadily. I’ve become so accustomed to image stabilization, I forgot to think.
Best of all, the G1 meters well when the manual lenses are attached, with plenty of provision for override.
Of course with the 2x factor, you lose when it comes to wide angle lenses. I took a couple of shots with my Voigtlander 15mm Heliar today, and they were very, very sharp, but the nifty 15mm became a garden-variety 30mm prime. Still, it retains the DOF of a 15mm which would make it a pretty decent street lens. You can focus to infinity and forget about the need to manual focus every shot.
There’s one additional element to this that I find deeply satisfying: I get to ‘look through’ my rangefinder M-mount lenses for the first time ever. Rangefinder cameras use a separate viewfinder — they don’t view through the lens like an SLR. It’s a camera-geek thrill, but a thrill nonetheless.
Fun stuff, and I’m already thinking what a nice combination the G1 would make teamed up with my Bessa R3A rangefinder camera. The G1 for longer shots and colour, the Bessa for B&W (film) and true wide angle. Both cameras are compact and rangefinder lenses are much tinier than SLR lenses, on the whole.
Hmmm, but then I think of all those Nikon primes I own. Now that I know the adapter works well, I may just have to consider getting a Nikon F adapter as well.
Photo taken with Voigtlander 75mm lens on Panasonic Lumix G1