This Photo Diary entry is an announcement, a really exciting one for me. Last week I became a Panasonic Lumix Ambassador. I wanted to let you all in on why I made the decision and to use the opportunity to talk a little about the Micro 4/3 format, because I know that some of you have been curious about it.
Note: In case you're wondering why it says on the site Minsk, Belarus as my location, it's because I am an ambassador for Panasonic Europe. I thought this would be more fitting, considering that I spend only 3 months a year in Australia or anywhere remotely near these days.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post called “If there was a perfect camera”. There I talked about how happy I was to have switched to mirrorless and how much I loved using my Panasonic Lumix GX7, GH4 and now the GX8.
I’ve been using the GX7 for close to two years now and I’ve been so damn happy with it. My friends will attest that I love the camera so much, I've said I’d not exchange it for anything else (apart from a newer model obviously). Occasionally I thought – if there was ever a brand I’d love to be associated with in some way, it would be Panasonic Lumix because they just get it as far as cameras go. They’ve given me all the features I could have only dreamt of just a few years earlier.
Making the decision
I have a friend with a contact at Panasonic. He mentioned the possibility of approaching them to be a brand ambassador a while ago. I loved the idea, but I wasn’t sure about it. In my mind something like that isn’t to be taken lightly. Never in my life have I been brand-loyal to any camera maker. I never want to be locked into using something or to pretend that I use something if it’s not absolutely awesome.
The final decision of whether to approach Panasonic was connected to my decision of what camera I’d buy next. I was traveling for almost a year and I saw things on social media about various new cameras coming out. Yes, I did love the Panasonic GX7, but I wanted to be absolutely sure whether my next main working camera should again be a Panasonic.
Why I think it blows away the competition
I decided that there are three factors I do not want to do without in a camera: small size, swivel/flip screen, touch focus (no it’s not a gimmick, it’s awesome) and an interchangeable lens system.
So… I read reviews, watched review videos, went to a photo store to try some of the gear in my hands and this is what I found out: Only one other camera-maker besides Panasonic has cameras with everything I was looking for - Olympus. But, for me the ergonomics of their models just kinda suck. It’s subjective, but those cameras do not feel right in my hands.
None of the other manufacturers combined all of the mentioned features in one camera. Some would have the flip/swivel screen, but no touch. Others - touch, but no interchangeable lenses and so on.All in all from the research, the Panasonic, specifically the GX8 was still hands down better for me in all areas.
The right kind of innovative attitude
I love the fact that some camera manufacturers these days are really innovating and experimenting. To me Panasonic is up there around the top in innovation. I also appreciate that they seem to be innovating in stuff that isn’t just megapixels or ISO. I hear that Panasonic now has the technology to create sensors with a wider dynamic range. That would be very cool.
They’re also constantly pushing the envelope with features like post-focus and grabbing stills from 4k clips within the camera, in fact the GH4 was one of the first cameras of its kind to shoot 4k video. While some of the features might not yet be mature enough for serious, professional work, I am definitely excited about where they can lead to.
Since becoming an ambassador, I’ve already been told that there will be a roundtable where the ambassadors, i.e. photographers who are using the cameras intensely will get together with the Panasonic engineers and talk about the features they’d find useful. That right there is an amazing attitude for a camera-maker to have. I’ll be very excited to talk to the guys that bring the technology to life and to give my thoughts.
The micro 4/3 sensors
I know that for many, this is probably the biggest factor in deciding whether to go for the Panasonic or not. It was a big factor for me too. I shot full frame for a large part of my career, but at the end of the day I honestly don’t care about the technicalities. Pixel count, sensor dimensions and all the blah-blah. All that really matters to me are the results – the images.
what's the difference - everything times two
Micro 4/3 sensors are half the size of the full frame ones. The focal length of a lens is generally written in relation to the old 35mm film cameras or their modern day equivalent - full frame digital cameras.
Here’s one important way in which it makes a difference practically: On a Micro 4/3 sensor a focal length of let's say 15mm becomes 30mm. This means that the lens isn't as wide any more.
This would render the system fairly useless if there weren't plenty of lenses created specifically for Micro 4/3. So, if you want a 15mm wide angle lens or something of a similar focal length, you can still get it, it's just that it'll be a 7mm or 8mm lens.
Here's another important practical difference: The aperture has to be multiplied by two as well. If you're shooting at f/2.8 on a full frame, you'd expect to be able to achieve a blurred background or a bokeh. On a Micro 4/3 however, the f/2.8 starts looking like f/5.6. Very importantly though it’s still f/2.8 in terms of how much light it lets in. So, the lens is just as fast, but aesthetically your images will look different.
Can you still get the blurred backgrounds?
I’m not as crazy about blurred backgrounds or bokeh as I used to be, but I definitely still want the ability to be able to achieve them, especially in portraits. The good news and the fact that sold me on the system is that it is possible.
Just as there are lenses that are extra wide, there are also lenses that open up all the way up to f/0.9. They’re generally more affordable than their full-frame counterparts, and smaller too. As you can see from the image above, you can definitely get the blurred background with the Micro 4/3 system. This was important to me.
To be honest, I actually still don't know whether to see the X2 factor as a positive or a negative. In a close up portrait with a f/1.4 lens on a full frame sensor, you can easily end up getting the nose in focus and the eyes out of focus - that is how sensitive it is. On a Micro 4/3 you're getting pretty much the whole face in focus at f/1.4, but you're still getting the benefit of it being a super fast lens that allows you to shoot in darker situations.
keeping a good thing going
Having been a very happy Lumix user, it baffles me how little hype there has been online about the GX7 and GX8 cameras. If you watch the reviews - the camera testers, bloggers, magazine editors say great things, but not many photographers are talking about these cameras with as much excitement as they deserve (in my opinion).
On the one hand, I’m rather ok with less people using the camera. It feels great to have a secret weapon at my disposal. On the other hand, with many businesses folding or stopping the production of certain lines of products, I'm invested in keeping this camera business financially viable for Panasonic.
Going with the underdog
Without much hype around it, the excellent GX series is a rare phenomenon in today’s world, where everything is hyped up beyond reason. I still remember when people at an Apple keynote were ooing and aaing after seeing the "copy and paste" feature revealed (during early days of iPhone). Talk about overselling something that should have been there in the first place...
There’s a lot of hype around certain cameras too. I fell for some of that hype and it’s not that the products other manufacturers make are bad, it’s just that the Panasonic GX turned out to be so much better. I dismissed it because it wasn’t hyped up.
So, forgive me if I do sound like I’m getting too enthusiastic about my Lumix cameras. With lesser products getting all the coverage, I feel it’s the least I can do to encourage someone who is doing things the right way to keep doing them.
In a sense, Panasonic is an underdog and I love going with the underdog, especially if that underdog stands for much of what’s actually important for me as a photographer.
After thoroughly considering all the options, checking out other cameras, the decision to become a Lumix ambassador was a no-brainer. I use the cameras, love them, believe in what they do and where they are going – makes sense.
I'm very excited to be on board with Panasonic. What’s even more exciting is that I already have a couple of projects in the works for them. I’ll be keeping you all updated.