I’m now into my second week of working on a project for Panasonic Europe in Belarus. Since I became an ambassador for my favourite camera-maker, I proposed to show them how I’ve been using their Lumix cameras in my personal project, which I actually started thanks to one of those cameras, the GX7 to be specific. The folks at Panasonic agreed and gave me the creative freedom and the gear to experiment and to create something interesting.
I’ll have a video ready to show by the time Photokina starts. For now I want to take you behind the scenes of what I’m shooting. So, click the video above and read the rest of the blog if you're interested.
My project and the importance of a smaller camera
On one level this project is about my family and friends, or friends of friends. It’s also an exploration of my cultural heritage, my memories and my roots in a country which remains virtually unknown to most of the world.
I would have never started on this project with a DSLR. I’ve always dreaded carrying DSLRs around, especially when it was time to see family and friends. I didn’t want that burden, that weight, but I missed countless opportunities as a result. I had incredible access, but no tool with which to take advantage of that access. That was until I got the small, but powerful Lumix GX7 which I started taking with me everywhere and documenting the more personal scenes from the world around me.
Above is a photo of my daughter - Mia looking out the window of her grandparents room. Because I have my smaller Lumix cameras on hand all the time now, everyone is a potential subject and I'm always ready to take advantage of potentially spectacular scenarios such as this one. For those who want to know, my current main cameras are the Pansonic Lumix GX8 and Panasonic Lumix GX80.
The images here are from a Russian banya or sauna - a favourite activity of many people in Belarus, especially when it’s cold and… it’s cold often. So, banya is not uncommon even during the summer. Banya is all about contrast – hot and cold, pain and pleasure. It’s about cleansing the body of toxins and building a stronger immune system, so I am told.
My friend Yuri, who you might have seen in my past blog posts is really into his banya, so I had a great chance to document this activity through him and his friend Andrey.
The room temperature inside the wooden banya can get above 70ºC/158ºF. You get the life beaten out of you with a bessom, which is generally made of birch or oak tree branches with leaves, and then you get doused with icy cold water. While the activity will seem incredibly strange to many of those outside the region, it’s actually surprisingly pleasurable and really invigorating. You feel like a new person when you’re done.
Considering what a big part of life banya is in the countryside in Belarus, I could not miss shooting it. I actually shot inside a banya before, with my Lumix GX7, but, that camera is not weather-sealed, so, I had to be careful not to get it too moist. I would get out of the banya every couple of minutes to let the camera “rest”.
Some words on the Panasonic GX8 and the Leica 12mm f/1.4
This time I was armed with the Panasonic Lumix GX8. I have also been lucky enough to be one of the first people to get to use the brand new Leica 12mm (24mm full frame equivalent) f/1.4 lens. Both the body and the lens are weather-sealed, meaning splash proof, so, I thought - why not push the gear to its limits?
Man, was I impressed! I’ve included a video at the top of the page to give you an idea of just how humid it was in that banya/sauna. The lens kept fogging up every few seconds and you can see that.
The camera was literally soaked from all the moisture. Incredibly everything functioned just fine. Again, you can see a hint of how humid it was from the image of the window from the inside of the banya.
The only "hiccup" was when the screen got wet. The water droplets tricked the screen sensors, so the focus point jumped around a little, but a wipe with a towel would immediately restore its functionality.
It was pretty dark in the banya too and the room was small, so the wide 24mm equivalent at f/1.4 was incredibly useful.
Above Yuri and Andrey are talking and gesticulating. The fact that the lens is fast allowed me to freeze the action of their gestures, their hand movements without bumping the ISO up too much. If you're curious about the hat, it's a mock red army hat made of felt. The reason why some people wear it is to lose less heat through evaporation from the head.
Yuri is one of the wackier and more humorous characters I've met on my journeys, it's probably a big part of why we're friends. Since there was no lake with cool water nearby, which would be ideal to jump into after banya, he laid himself on cold grass to cool down.
The 12mm f/1.4 lens was loaned to me and now, after using it intensely for a bit over a week, I want one! There is very little visible distortion and, it’s f/1.4! There are just so many situations where I can picture using the lens, in fact I've already started to. It’d be awesome if they also made a 35mm equivalent that is also f/1.4 or one that opens even wider.
I'll be working on this project until the end of the month. Then, it seems I'm off to Romania, for another project with Panasonic. Can't say much about that yet, but, it's one of the more exciting things a photographer can get involved in. In any case, I'll be keeping you updated here.