Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 circular fisheye

There is a new, expotic, and reasonanbly priced lens available, the Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 circular fisheye. It was announced in April for DSLR mounts like Nikon F and Canon EF. In November, it was further announced in Micro Four Thirds mount and Sony E mount.

So, should you buy this lens, and if so, in what mount? That's what I will be trying to answer in this article.

To help the review of the lens, I will be comparing it with a similar lens for Sony E mount, the Yasuhara Madoka 180 7.3mm f/4 (my review). Both lenses are shown below:

Left: Yasuhara Madoka 180 7.3mm f/4 circular fisheye lens. On the right, is the Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 with an adapter for Sony E-mount.

Friday, 26 December 2014

A decade of affordable digital system cameras

In August 2003, Canon launched the EOS 300D. It was not the first digital SLR camera. Both Canon and Nikon had models preceding it. But it was the first truly affordable DSLR camera. Still a lot more expensive than a similar camera today, but it was sold at a price that most enthusiasts could justify.

Prior to this launch, people interested in photography would typically still use film based SLRs, or digital cameras without interchangeable lenses. So it is fair to say that the camera started a big change in the camera market: Affordable digital system cameras. Here is a look at what has happened over the last decade.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Mirrorless cameras: Smaller wide angle lenses

Compared with DSLR cameras, mirrorless cameras have lost the mirror, obviously. This makes the construction simpler, but there is also a more important factor: It allows putting the lens mount closer to the imaging sensor, giving a shorter register distance.

A shorter register distance means that wide angle lenses can be constructed simpler. With a long register distance, typically for a DSLR camera, you need a complicated retrofocal optical design to make wide angle lenses. With a shorter distance, the lens design becomes simpler, and you can make smaller, lighter, and less expensive wide angle lenses.

Here is a good example. On the left, there is the Yasuhara Madoka 180 7.3mm f/4 (my review), designed for the Sony E-mount mirrorless system. On the right, is the Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 with an adapter for Sony E-mount. Both are circular fisheye lenses for the APS-C sensor size. But the lens on the right is designed for use on DSLR cameras, with a longer register distance.

Beyond being designed for mirrorless and DSLR, respectively, the lenses are a bit different. The Lensbaby covers a slightly wider field of view, and has a marginally larger maximum aperture. The Yasuhara lens is more distorted in the edges, and has the better optical performance. But by and large, the lenses do the same thing. And there is a huge difference in the size. Which lens would you rather bring along?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Bokeh part 3

In part 1, I discussed what bokeh is (the nature of out of focus rendering). I also illustrated that the larger the aperture, the more selective focus. In part 2, I compared the bokeh between some different lenses.

Here, I am going to illustrate how the sensor size affects the degree of selective focus. Some would say "the amount of bokeh", but that is the wrong use of the term. I'll stick to the correct nomenclature in this article, to avoid angering people.

First off, here is a comparison of common sensor sizes:

The full frame sensor size is derived from the common 135 film format, commonly used in SLR and compact cameras. At this time, there is only one mirrorless camera system which uses a full frame sensor, the Sony A7 series. You'll also find full frame sensors in Nikon D810 and Canon 5D III DSLR cameras, to name a couple.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Old bag, new bag

Camera bags are very personal things. A bag that works well for me, might be totally wrong for someone else.

For the last seven years, I have used the Tamrac Velocity 6x sling bag. I have used it extensively, so much that I needed to replace it with a new bag. And what better bag to buy than exactly the same model? Here they are, the new to the left, and the old to the right:

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Is metal better?

The last years, there has been a clear trend within consumer electronics: The devices must have a smooth metal surface. This is perceived as a mark of quality: Metal means solidity for the general public.

One example is the Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 (my review) pancake zoom lens, seen below (to the left) compared with the older Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 (my review):

The older black lens has a plastic body, while the newer silver lens has a bare metal surface.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Product news, sensor size is the new megapixel race

The camera industry is in a crisis. People have more or less stopped buying basic compact cameras, since mobile phones take good enough pictures anyway. Also DSLRs are seeing less sales.

There are two areas which still see good sales: Premium compacts and mirrorless cameras.

Panasonic used to be king of the premium compact line, with the Lumix LX7, and the Leica rebranded version. However, Sony raised the bar significantly with the RX100 series of cameras with a larger 1 inch sensor.

Panasonic's answer was the Lumix LX100, with an even larger sensor, however, now the camera is getting worringly larger than the predecessor. Also Canon wants to take part in this segment, with their Canon G7 X, also sporting a 1 inch sensor. Both of these cameras have significant issues, though: The Lumix camera lacks an articulated LCD screen, and the Canon lacks an EVF.

4K video

When the Lumix GH4 camera (my review) was launched this spring, it was a game changer. It was the first affordable interchangeable lens camera to feature 4K video recording. Since this time, we have seen some competition.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

One concert, two cameras

I had the chance to bring two different cameras to a concert, to see how they compare. I brought the Lumix GH4 with the Leica 25mm f/1.4, and the Nikon 1 V3 with the Nikon 18.5mm f/1.8. Both systems are shown below:

Even if the lenses have different focal lengths, they still have the same field of view, because of the different crop factors of the cameras systems. Both are what we usually call "normal lenses", with the classic 50mm equivalent field of view.

Also, both lenses are quite fast, in the sense that they have a large maximum aperture. This makes them well suited for use in dark venues. And the concert venue was very dark indeed, also having oddly coloured artificial stage lights which makes the exposure very tricky.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Basic tele lenses compared

All camera systems have a cheap tele zoom lens available. Here are two such lenses, the Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6 for Micro Four Thirds, and the Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 for the Nikon 1 system:

The Nikon lens is seen here in a glossy orange finish. I guess it could have been worse, it could have been pink. Yes, this lens also exists in pink!

Both lenses cover a fairly wide range of tele focal lengths, useful for daily use. The range of the lenses is illustrated in the diagram below, in 135 film equivalent terms. You can also compare the maximum aperture as a function of the field of view:

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Third party grip for the GM1, LB-GM1

The Lumix GM1 is a fascinating camera: Very small, nicely designed, has good external controls despite the size, and offers top image and video quality.

The only problem I have with it, is the lack of a proper grip. It is awkward to hold.

There is the official grip, which I reviewed here. However, it is quite expensive, and it blocks the tripod mount, and the battery and SD card compartment. Which makes it less than optimal, to say the least.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Improving the ergonomics of the 12-32mm lens

The Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 (my review) is representative of a trend I dislike: That every consumer electronic item must be clad in a smooth metal surface. This makes the items harder to handle, as I see it.

Here is the Lumix 12-32mm lens (on the top), compared with the Nikon 10mm f/2.8 (bottom):

The Nikon lens has the glossy tab on it, which makes it easy to feel with your fingers which way to mount the lens to the camera. It also has the ribbed ring on the front, which provides a good grip.

The Lumix lens, on the other hand, only has the thin, smooth ring with the white dot and the "12-32" text on it to hold on to when mounting it. And there is no physical mark to feel to know which way it goes on the camera. None of the two lenses have a focus ring.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Normal lens shootout

Some decades ago, when film SLR cameras became popular, the 50mm lens was abundant. Due to the long register distance of SLR cameras, the 50mm lens was the shortest which could be designed cheaply with a large aperture, which is why it became so popular. It became the standard lens people bought with an SLR camera, the normal lens.

Nowadays, the kit zoom lens has become the normal lens, but the field of view corresponding to a traditional 50mm lens is still popular. So most manufacturers release a fast "normal lens" when they invest into a new lens mount. In this article, I will compare two normal lenses for two different systems, the Nikon 18.5mm f/1.8 for Nikon 1, and the Leica 25mm f/1.4 for Micro Four Thirds:

LensNikon 18.5mm f/1.8Leica 25mm f/1.4
AnnouncedSep 13th, 2012Jun 13th, 2011
System crop factor2.72
Equivalent focal length50mm50mm
Maximum aperturef/1.8f/1.4
Equivalent max aperture, in terms of DoFf/4.8f/2.8
Filter thread40.5mm46mm
Minimum focus0.20m0.30m
Lens elements/groups8/69/7
Hood includedNo, HB-N104Yes
Focus ringNoYes

Both correspond to 50mm field of view on a 135 film camera, and both are quite fast, with large maximum apertures:

Thursday, 2 October 2014

GH4: 2.0 firmware, 4K photo mode

Recently, the 2.0 firmware was released for the Lumix GH4, use this direct download link. One of the big new features is the "4K Photo" mode. See the official documentation here.

Basically, the mode makes it easier to grab photos from a 4K video stream, even at 4:3 and 3:2 aspect ratios. However, there are three drawbacks which are good to know about:

1. Using the 30p mode, you can use this mode to continuously take 30 frames per second, and then later browse through them to see which you would like to save. There is one big disadvantage, though: You only get the JPEG file, no RAW file.

This is in contrast to the Nikon 1 cameras, which can take 60FPS continuously, and save the RAW files. I've used the Nikon 1 V3 to take pictures of birds in flight at 20FPS, and it can do fast and accurate AF-C at the same time. This feature makes the Nikon 1 cameras well suited for sports, action and wildlife photos.

2. Contrary to the normal picture mode, the 4K Photo mode does not use the whole sensor. Just like the 4K video mode, it only uses a part of the sensor, as illustrated below:

Essentially, you have an extra crop factor of 1.3 when using the 4K Photo mode. So a 14mm lens becomes equivalent to 18mm on Four Thirds, or 36mm on a traditional film format.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

New Bolex prime lenses

Recently, a set of three prime lenses were announced by Bolex, with C-mounts:

The lenses are quite small, with a filter thread of 43mm. Pancake lenses like the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 and Lumix 14mm f/2.5 have a filter thread of 46mm. These Bolex lenses cost around US$350 per lens.

So how is this relevant for Micro Four Thirds?

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Lumix X 35-100mm f/2.8: Expensive, but fantastic

The long f/2.8 zoom is a standard part in a pro photographer's lineup. Back in the time of the film SLRs, these lenses were typically around 70-200mm f/2.8. With the 2x crop factor of the Micro Four Thirds format, the corresponding focal length range becomes 35-100mm, and Panasonic have conformed to the tradition here.

Here is the Lumix X 35-100mm f/2.8 (left) seen together with the Pentax version of the same lens type, the Pentax DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 (right):

As you can see, the Lumix lens is much smaller, due to the larger crop factor of the Four Thirds sensor, compared with the APS-C sensor size the Pentax lens is designed for. The Lumix lens is also remarkably light for a lens of this type.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Six years of Micro Four Thirds

On September 12th, 2008, the Panasonic Lumix G1 was announced, the very first Micro Four Thirds camera. It was a true revolution in photography: A compact system camera with very photography oriented ergonomy and functions: A good EVF, tiltable LCD, a rugged body with an easy to grip surface. The autofocus was surprisingly fast, even if AF-C was not very useful. It had one strange omission, there was no video mode.

Even though it was paired with what is widely seen as a fantastic kit zoom lens, the camera was pretty much ignored.

It was not until Olympus launched the E-P1, with a retro styled, metal clad body, that the interest in M4/3 took off. Even if the E-P1 was inferior to the Lumix G1 in terms of usability and functions, in my opinion, and it was paired with an inferior lens.

Here are some highlights from the last six years:

Monday, 15 September 2014

Product news

These are exciting times, with a lot of product announcements in relation to the Fotokina trade show. Here is a short summary:

Lumix G 35-100mm f/4-5.6

This lens is designed to match the Lumix GM1 and GM5 camera, both in terms of styling and size.

It is expected to cost US$400. But it will probably be primarily sold in twin lens kits with the new GM5 camera.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Worse image quality with electronic shutter?

Recently, an interesting Panasonic sensor data sheet came up. It is believed to describe the sensor sitting in, e.g., the Lumix GX7 and GM1.

The data sheet says that there are two options for electronic shutter readout: 12 bits in 1/15s and 10 bits in 1/22.5s. It has been demonstrated that the Lumix GX7 has a readout speed of 1/15s, and I have measured the speed of the electronic shutter in the GM1 to around 1/25s.

Do recent Panasonic cameras use the faster 10 bit readout, and is it affecting the image quality when using the electronic shutter mode?

To test this, I have taken the same picture using the Lumix GH3, Lumix GH4 and Lumix GM1, all using both the mechanical and electronic shutter modes. The photos were underexposed by two stops, to make the rendering of the shadows more challenging.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Lumix 100-300mm vs Nikon 70-300mm

When Nikon launched their Nikon 1 mirrorless format, it was hard to understand why anyone should buy into it. The cameras were pricey, relatively large for a 1'' sensor, and did not have a good ergonomics.

With the launch of the Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, I think the format finally makes sense. This is the only 800mm equivalent lens which is truly portable and which can be handheld. It is a very good birders lens.

In my review of the Nikon 1 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, I was testing it with the Nikon 1 J1 camera, with a 10MP sensor. Since this time, I have acquired the Nikon 1 V3, which is a more suitable camera for a long lens, with the extra hand grip, and the EVF. The V3 also has 80% higher resolution, at 18MP.

With the V3 camera, I have re-run the sharpness tests. For the rest of the lens review, see my previous article.

I'm not sure if the image quality is better with the 18MP sensor in the Nikon 1 V3 camera. But the resolution is higher, which should make it better for an evaluation of the sharpness.

For a point of reference, I have compared the images from the 70-300mm lens with the Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6 on the Lumix GH4.

Both cameras with lenses are pictured below:

As you can see, the Nikon system is much smaller, and should be easier to bring along for trekking.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Wide angle prime lenses compared

The classic 28mm prime lens is a natural part of any lens lineup. Most kit zoom lenses include the 28mm equivalent in the wide end, but you can also get prime (non-zoom) lenses with the same field of view.

Below are three such lenses, for three different interchangeable lens systems. How do they compare?

From left to right: Sigma 19mm f/2.8 (old style) mounted to a Sony NEX-3N, Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 mounted to a Lumix GM1, and Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8 mounted to a Nikon 1 V3 with a user optional EVF.

LensSigma 19mm f/2.8Lumix G 14mm f/2.5Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8
AnnouncedJan 10th, 2012Sept 21st, 2010Sept 21st, 2011
System crop factor1.522.7
Equivalent focal length29mm28mm27mm
Maximum aperturef/2.8f/2.5f/2.8
Equivalent max aperture, in terms of DoFf/4.2f/5f/7.6
Filter thread46mm46mm40.5mm
Minimum focus0.20m0.18m0.20m
Lens elements/groups8/66/56/5
Hood includedYesNoNo
Focus ringYesYesNo

The lenses are laid out here:

Friday, 8 August 2014

From the competition

Here is a summary of my take on the Micro Four Thirds competition.

Nikon 1

Nikon were quite late to the mirrorless party, with their Nikon 1 series. They took the rather bold step to use a fairly small sensor, the so called "1 inch sensor". Don't be fooled by the name. Just as the Four Thirds sensor is less than 4/3'' diagonally, the 1 inch sensor is less than 1'' diagonally.

This odd naming convention comes from the time when radio tubes were used for sensors: A 1'' sensor would be an radio tube with a 1'' diameter, while the actual imaging area would of course be much smaller than 1 inch.

Some speculate that Nikon chose to use a smaller sensor to protect their popular DSLR line. I think it was more due to a genuine desire to make the camera system small, which also differentiates it more from the DSLR cameras.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Pancake zoom lenses compared

Panasonic announced the Lumix X PZ 14-42mm pancake zoom lens (my review) in 2011. Since this time, a collapsible pancake zoom has become a must have kit lens for most mirrorless systems. I have previously compared it with the Sony 16-50mm pancake zoom lens, and this time, I am comparing it with some similar lenses from Nikon.

Below, I have the four lenses laid out:

From left to right: Lumix G 12-32mm (my review), Lumix X PZ 14-42mm (my review), Nikkor 11-27.5mm, and Nikkor 10-30mm PD

On the Lumix lenses, I have used a 37mm filter ring as a simple protection against getting fingerprints on the front lens glass elements. To make them, I got cheap 37mm filters, and removed the glass.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

AF comparison, Lumix GH4 vs Nikon 1 V3

The Lumix GH4 and Nikon 1 V3 are similar cameras. They are both the high end mirrorless cameras from Panasonic and Nikon, respectively.

Also, both cameras have some specific technology aimed to improve what has been the achilles' heel of mirrorless cameras so far: The autofocus performance during video recording, and for moving subjects.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Making a 4K video timelapse

The Lumix GH4 (my review) can be used to create 4K videos, but there are other ways as well. One way is to take normal resolution pictures with a camera that supports time lapses, and compose a video from them.

In this example, I used the Lumix GH4 to make the time lapse, but you could use any camera which supports it, for example the Lumix GM1 or the Lumix GX7.

I first set the camera on a tripod over my table, like this:

I'm using the Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod, which is useful since the column can be set horizontally. The ball head is Benro B-2, but most ball heads can be used here.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Optional grip for the Lumix GM1

The Lumix GM1 is currently the smallest Micro Four Thirds camera. It has a quite trendy style, which mixes exposed aluminium with a retro look:

Despite the retro look, I am pleased to say that it does operate quite nicely. It is fairly easy to handle, although I find the rear wheel/four way controller combo to be a bit awkward to use, and would have preferred to have a thumb dial like most other cameras.

However, it really needs a better grip. And Panasonic is producing just that, the Panasonic DMW-HGR1S grip:

So what is it like?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

GM1 vs Nikon 1 J1 autofocus during video comparison

Looking at the Nikon 1 J1 and Lumix GM1, it is clear that they are very similar:

Both are quite compact mirrorless cameras without a grip, without a flash shoe, and with fixed LCD screens. You can't put an eye level viewfinder on any of them. Both are mounted with rather similar wide angle pancake lenses in the picture above.

Also, since the Nikon 1 J1 is the very first generation mirrorless camera from Nikon, and the cheapest, it may look strange to pitch it against the Lumix GM1, which is a new, premium camera from Panasonic, widely seen as the leaders in large sensor video.

However, the Nikon 1 family of mirrorless cameras has something which Panasonic has never implemented: On sensor PDAF sensors. Panasonic have decided to rely on CDAF, which requires more image processing power to function well, but has the advantage of not sacrificing any pixels for PDAF sensors. In theory, PDAF should be able to give a much better AF-C performance, and AF performance during video recording.

You may also think that the Lumix GM1 is not a very good video camera, as it appears to be styled in a classic way. However, in my experience, it performs just as well as, or even better than, the GH3 in terms of image quality, quality of ETC video, and AF during video. So the GM1 is pretty much state of the art, except for the fact that it doesn't have 50/60 FPS 1080p video, and of course, it doesn't have 4K video.

To see how the Nikon 1 J1 camera performs in terms of autofocus, I mounted both to a Desmond Mini Dual Camera Bracket, typically used for stereo photography. The lenses are the Lumix 14mm f/2.5 and the Nikon 1 10mm f/2.8. I set both lenses to f/2.8.

For the test videos, I set the ISO to 200, except when otherwise noted. Here are the results:

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Lumix GM1 mechanical shutter

The Lumix GM1 may look like a small and insignificant camera, but in fact it has some interesting innovations within Micro Four Thirds. It has two shutters: The electronic shutter, which is faster than the first generation, but still slow enough to give some rolling shutter artifacts.

Then there is the mechanical shutter. It is of the "electronic front curtain type", which means that the exposure is started electronically, without a mechanical curtain. This is good, it means that there is less risk of shutter shock, that the shutter causes camera shake and blurry images. It is also less audible, and there is less shutter wear.

The mechanical shutter is also unusually slow. While this also keeps down the noise, it is not really a good thing, of course. Due to the slow mechanical shutter, the flash sync speed is limited to 1/50s, which is a quite poor specification. This design choice was probably implemented by Panasonic to keep the size and noise down.

The slow moving mechanical curtain is possible to record using a high speed video camera.

Enter the Nikon 1 J1. Even if it was the first generation Nikon 1 camera, and the entry model, it is capable of 1200 frames per second video. At a resolution of only 320x120 pixels, this is more of a gimmick, but it can be a fun gimmick. The two cameras are seen below, both with wide angle prime pancake lenses:

One problem with video recording the moving mechanical shutter of the Lumix GM1, is that the camera will only use the electronic shutter when a lens is not mounted. So you cannot trigger the mechanical shutter without a lens mounted. This is probably for protection, to avoid jamming the curtain blades.

However, the shutter cycles once every time you power on the camera, and this can be used to record the shutter travelling.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Olympus 9mm: Fisheye vs Rectilinear

Olympus now has two lenses which include the 9mm focal range: The Olympus 9mm f/8 fisheye (my review) and the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 wide angle zoom lens. The first is a fisheye lens, and hence, it has significant barrel distortion. The second is a rectilinear wide angle zoom lens.

But beyond that, do they give you a different field of view? Below is the 9mm fisheye lens, with the Four Thirds version of the 9-18mm zoom:

Taking the same picture with both lenses yields these variants:

So, as you can see, even if both lenses are rated at 9mm, they give a quite different field of view. The fisheye lens is much wider. On the other hand, outside of the centre, it is quite distorted.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Lumix GH4 Review

The big news from Panasonic this year is the Lumix GH4. There is a tradition that the version number four is dropped when incrementing a camera model name. For example, there was never a Lumix G4 or GF4. The reason for this is that the word for "four" rhymes with the word for "death" or "disease" in some Asian languages.

However, there are two reasons why Panasonic still used the model name "GH4": One is that professional cameras often still carry the number four. We have the professional Nikon D4, for example. The manufacturer probably reasons that the users of a professional camera is less likely to be superstitious.

The other reason is that the main new feature of the GH4 is 4K video. So it makes good sense to use the model name GH4.

From the outside, the GH4 looks very much like the predecessor GH3:

The body is molded slightly differently over the flash, but other than that, the shape of the camera bodies is pretty much identical. The button layout is also the same. However, there are some small, but important differences.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Olympus 9mm f/8 fisheye review

The Olympus 9mm f/8 fisheye is the second in the series of non-Zuiko branded "toy" body lens cap lenses. The first was the Olympus 15mm f/8. Both are very compact lenses, with a fixed f/8 aperture, and a small lever which operates a lens cap, and the focus.

Here is the 9mm fisheye lens, with the supplied rear lens cap. The lens comes in a simple cardboard box, padded with a bubble wrap bag:

Thursday, 5 June 2014

GH4 shutters

Recently, an interesting Panasonic sensor data sheet popped up. It is believed to describe the sensor sitting in, e.g., the Lumix GX7 and GM1.

The data sheet says that there are two options for electronic shutter readout: 12 bits in 1/15s and 10 bits in 1/22.5s. It has been demonstrated that the Lumix GX7 has a readout speed of 1/15s, and I have measured the speed of the electronic shutter in the GM1 to around 1/25s.

I also saw that the GM1 had slightly less details in the shadows at ISO 200 when using the electronic shutter. This is because it only uses a 10 bit readout with the electronic shutter.

Worse image quality with the E-shutter?

So, does the same apply to the Lumix GH4?

Thursday, 29 May 2014

GH4 focus performance during video recording

Recent Micro Four Thirds cameras have very good autofocus performance for still images. Mostly, the performance is among the best in this class, certainly better than DSLR cameras in live view mode. However, there is one area where mirrorless cameras don't perform well at the moment, and that is continuous autofocus: Both during video recording, and for photographing moving objects, e.g., for photographing sports and birds.

Some camera manufacturers have been trying to solve this by adding phase difference sensors (PDAF) on the imaging chip, like the Nikon 1 and Sony E-mount cameras. However, the real world benefit of that solution is still somewhat undecided. The Nikon 1 cameras appear best in this respect so far.

Panasonic have said in interviews that the on-sensor PDAF solution is not going to be used for their Micro Four Thirds cameras, at least not anytime soon. Rather, Panasonic expects to achieve better continuous autofocus performance by using faster image readout from the chip, better image processing algorithms, and more processing power. Have they achieved this with the most recent Lumix GH4?

Sunday, 25 May 2014

1080p video comparison, GH3 vs GH4

I guess most people who buy a Lumix GH4 do it to use the 4K video feature. However, it is still a very good 1080p video camera, as well. Here, I am comparing it head to head with the Lumix GH3.

I used the Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 lens on both cameras.

The test

Both cameras were mounted to a Desmond Mini Dual Camera Bracket, typically used for stereo photography. On the lenses, I have used 46mm to 37mm step down rings as hoods. They do a good job of keeping the front lens elements safe from accidents, in my opinion, while also keeping out some stray light. If you want to use them, you also need a 37mm front lens cap.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Free 4K video editor

With the launch of the Lumix GH4, the least expensive 4K video system camera so far, there has been an increased interest in video editors capable of handling 4K resolution.

For years, I have used the kdenlive free video editing software. When you look at the list of video resolutions to choose from, it may seem that the highest resolution you can edit is 1920x1080.

However, it is a simple thing to add 4K resolution to the list of formats to choose from. Then, you can edit 4K video just as easy as 1080p. Here's how:

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Do you need new SD cards for GH4?

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the Lumix GH4, and that you need the new, very expensive, UHS Speed Class 3 (U3) cards to use the 4K feature. Well, do you?

My answer is: You probably don't need any new SD cards. Keep reading to see why.

Card speed ratings

When you buy an SD card, you pay for three things: The brand name, the capacity (size), and the speed. The branding is in fact quite important for the price, which is the reason why counterfeited cards is a big problem. You can read about my experience with counterfeited SD cards here.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

GH4 AF during video performance

For still image use, and with non-moving subjects, the autofocus performance of Micro Four Thirds cameras is now very good. Nothing to worry about at all. However, an area which is still a problem is continuous autofocus during video, and for following moving subjects.

In this area, other systems are better. For example, the Sony SLT A77, since it has a semi-transparent mirror used for traditional PDAF, which also works during video recording. Another system which does this well, is the Nikon 1 mirrorless system. With on-sensor PDAF sensors, it implements AF-C rather well.

Still, Micro Four Thirds cameras get better at this. When the Lumix GH3 was introduced, I found that it did much better than the GH2, probably due to better and faster image processing algorithms. Can the Lumix GH4 improve this further?

To test this, I used pairs of the same lenses on the GH3 and GH4, to compare them head to head:

From front to rear: Lumix G 14mm f/2.5, Lumix G 20mm f/1.7, and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN. More about the lenses later in this article.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Worse image quality with E-shutter?

Electronic shutters have been used for years in compact cameras. Larger sensor cameras generally need a mechanical shutter, though. Reading all the sensor values of larger sensors takes more time, and an electronic shutter often cannot do it fast enough.

The Lumix GH3, for example, has an electronic shutter, but it takes 1/10s to read out all the rows, making it less useful. Read more about the rolling shutter artifacts associated with the electronic shutter here.

An interesting Panasonic sensor data sheet has popped up. We don't know for sure, but it is widely believed that this sheet describes the sensor sitting in the Lumix GX7 and GM1. Some also speculate that it will be in the upcoming Lumix GH4.

The data sheet says that there are two options for electronic shutter readout: 12 bits in 1/15s and 10 bits in 1/22.5s. It has been demonstrated that the Lumix GX7 has a readout speed of 1/15s, and I have measured the speed of the electronic shutter in the GM1 to around 1/25s. This indicates that you lose two bits of dynamic range if you use the electronic shutter mode of the GM1. Is this a problem? I'll try to find out with a comparison.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

New Cine lenses from Samyang

When Samyang, the South Korean optics company, designs a new lens, the make the most out of it. Not only do the market it under a number of different names, including Rokinon, Bower, Walimex, Vivitar, Falcon, Opteka, Polar and Pro-Optics. They also make the lens design available with a number of different mounts, usually many mirrorless and DSLR mounts.

To top this off, they also tend to make two versions of the lenses, even in the same mount. They often make special "Cine" versions of existing lens designs. The Cine versions are made specifically for video use. They recently launched Cine versions of three lenses.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

100 years of Leica

It is hundred years ago now that the first Leica prototype was made. The famous "ur Leica" prototypes were made around 1913-1914 by Oskar Barnack.

The genius of the camera was not the interchangeable lenses (that was introduced in 1930 for the 39mm screw mount, and in 1954 with the Leica M3 and the M mount), and not the rangefinder focus method (Leica II in 1932). The genius of the ur Leica was the use of ordinary 35mm motion picture strip film in a compact camera.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Sigma 60mm with rubberized focus ring

In 2012, Sigma released their first Micro Four Thirds lenses, the 19mm f/2.8 and 30mm f/2.8. They are not impressively fast, but well performing and relatively inexpensive.

The lenses were updated already one year later, in 2013. However, only the exterior was changed. The lenses lost the ribbed plastic focus rings, replaced with a smooth metal exterior. At the same time, a new lens was released, the 60mm f/2.8. The three lenses are seen below:

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Product news: Small is the new black

Looking back in time, it is now around ten years ago that digital system cameras became fairly common. Cameras like the Canon EOS 300D (Digital Rebel, 2003), and the Nikon D70 (2004) made this possible, by offering affordable and well performing system cameras to a wider audience. Further, the cameras could use existing lenses from earlier film based cameras, that many already had lying around.

What followed was a period when having a large size camera was trendy. A large camera looked professional, and that was a look often favoured by the consumers. Around the same time, we got the "thin DoF craze", where it became trendy to use large aperture lenses, e.g., relatively inexpensive 50mm f/1.4 normals lenses, for a very selective focus effect.

Times are changing now, and we are seeing more and more that camera news is all about size: Small sized quality cameras has become trendy.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Focus peaking with Lumix GM1

In 2013, focus peaking became a must have feature. The Lumix GH3 was released just in time to not get this feature. But all future camera releases now need to provide this feature.

Simply put, focus peaking is a form of assistance for manual focusing. It provides a highlight around the edges of objects that are in focus, so that you can quickly see where the focus is at. With the Lumix GM1, you can combine this with another commonly seen focus assistance, magnifying the image for more precise focus assessment.

Here is a video illustrating how focus peaking works with the Lumix GM1. I use the the Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens in the demo, as well as an old Nikon 24mm f/2 AIS on an adapter.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 review: Small and brilliant!

The most remade lenses within Micro Four Thirds are the kit zoom lenses. Panasonic now have five kit zoom lenses, and so do Olympus, and this is not even counting the colour variations. While this has upset some fans - why don't they spend the effort designing high end lenses? - this makes perfect sense.

Most people who buy a Micro Four Thirds camera, get one with a kit lens supplied. Hence, the production volume of these lenses is big, and constantly improving them is a good idea. Also, to sell camera kits, they need to follow the trends. For example, the Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 did not match the current trends, with a matte plastic exterior. The market now wants shiny metal-like materials on consumer electronic products, and in comes the Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II.

And the newest Lumix kit zoom lens is all about following trends. It is like the existing Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 in the sense that it is a collapsible pancake lens. However, the new Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 also keeps in line with market trends by having a smooth aluminium body, with a simple shape. Both lenses are seen below:

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Third party battery for the Lumix GM1

A spare battery for a digital camera is a good thing to have. If the battery runs out, the only way to charge it would be to remove it from the camera and place it in the charger, provided you are somewhere with a power outlet. This means not being able to shoot for an hour, at least.

If you carry a spare, charged battery with you, you can just exchange the battery in a matter of seconds, and be ready to shoot again. However, original batteries often cost a lot. The GH3 battery can easily cost US$80 new.

With the GH2, the third party batteries did not let the camera see how much power was left, hence, you would not get any "power bars" in the camera display. And even worse: When the battery eventually run out of juice, the camera would just die instantly, and the images in the buffer, not yet written to the memory card, would be lost. If you were recording video while the battery died, you would lose the video footage.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

JVC joins MFT, and launches large sensor 4K video

The big news this week is that JVC (JVC Kenwood) is joining the Micro Four Thirds format. So far, they have announced two 4K video cameras. The GY-LSX2 is a camcorder style video camera, while the GW-SPLS1 is a modular camera unit:

(Image from dpreview.com)(Image from dpreview.com)

These cameras have a Micro Four Thirds mount, of the "active" type. This means that you can use autofocus, you can set the aperture from the camera, and operate OIS.

Larger sensor!

However, in one way, they are very different from Micro Four Thirds cameras: The sensor is larger. The cameras will use the Altasens AL41410C sensor. Just like the Lumix GH4, it can record 4K video in 3840x2160 (Quad HD) and 4096x2160 (Cinema 4K).

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Life after the GH4

The Lumix GH4 was recently announced, with a ground breaking feature for a consumer mirrorless camera: 4K video. Now that this milestone has been reached, what can we expect from future cameras? After all, the development still continues.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

New 20mm f/1.7 lens is less noisy!

The Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake is a classic Micro Four Thirds lens. Being the first Panasonic prime lens, it is widely considered to be very well performing. But it has some shortcomings: Due to the old fashioned focus design, where the whole lens assembly moves back and forth during focusing, the autofocus is rather slow. Also, the large focus assembly makes it very noisy when focusing.

Also, when using the lens on some cameras at high ISO, many users report annoying horizontal stripes. Some believe this is due to a spiral coil spring inside the lens, which is one of the ways in which it is different from other lenses that don't exhibit this aberration.

In 2013, Panasonic updated the lens. It is well known that the new lens is largely a cosmetic redesign: The optical layout is the same, and the focus method is the same. But is the new lens better? The new lens is available in black and silver, and you can see the silver version to the right below:

Old (left) and new (right) versions of the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7

LensLumix G 20mm f/1.7Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 II
Lens elements/groups7/57/5
Aperture diaphragm blades77
Minimum focus0.20m0.20m
Filter thread46mm46mm
Hood includedNoNo
Optical image stabilisationNoNo