Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 – shooting review of the new miniature Lumix G body

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800

The principle attraction of the micro four thirds system, and compact system cameras in general, is that its products are small, light and highly portable – and none come smaller, lighter or more portable than the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800. While the Lumix DMC-GH5 is getting all the limelight in some most circles I’ve been paying attention to this little pocket dweller as its inconspicuous size makes it an ideal street photography camera and a perfect travel companion.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 with GX8 and GM5

The Lumix DMC-GX800 (centre) compared with the GM5 (left) and the GX8 (right)

I’ve been a fan of the GM series since the DMC-GM1 came out in 2013, and was pleased to see the DMC-GM5 bring much better handling and a viewfinder to the same form factor just a year or so later.  While this new model doesn’t continue the family name, as it now conforms to a more simple model ranging structure, it is in fact very much out the same womb as the GM models and the company’s more recent GF7.

I have been using an early sample of the DMC-GX800 for a few weeks and am able to make some general comments on what users should expect when the final models go in sale. The body I was using is not a full production version and the firmware isn’t final, so I can’t determine how good final image quality or performance will be when sales start. I can go over the feature set though and discuss my experience of using the camera, but pictures are only shown at a very reduced size to comply with Panasonic’s conditions.

Specification

Like most micro four thirds cameras the Lumix DMC-GX800 has a 16-million-pixel sensor and, as is now the modern way, it uses it without a detail-hindering low pass filter. When Panasonic launched the DMC-G80 it claimed not using one of these filters increases resolution by 10% – something I found no reason to dispute at the time, and again in this case. By and large the DMC-GX800 has standard specification for a Lumix camera and offers most of the settings and features you’d expect from a mid-range body, with only a few exceptions.

The camera offers the same electronic first curtain shutter option that was introduced in the DMC-G80 (and the Nikon D810 before that) but as the DMC-GX800 only has a single curtain shutter it can’t offer full mechanical shutter. The presence of a mechanical second curtain is all that’s required to prevent rolling shutter banding when shooting under fluorescent lighting, and the top shutter speed of 1/500sec will tackle most fast moving subjects traveling across the screen without distortion. The electronic shutter can manage exposures of up to 1/16,000sec, while the mechanical end deals with those longer than 1 second – all the way to a timed 60 seconds.

A T setting allows the shutter to remain open for up at 120 seconds with a press-to-start/press-to stop action of the shutter release or the button in the smartphone app. The lack of a full mechanical shutter means the maximum flash sync speed is 1/50sec. Flash isn’t a big feature of the camera though, as it isn’t part of the company’s wireless system and the pop-up built-in unit has a guide number of 4m @ ISO 100 (8m @ the camera’s base of ISO 200).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 review in Thailand by Damien

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 with the Leica 12mm f/1.4. 1/16,000sec @ f/1.4 and ISO 200

The absence of a viewfinder isn’t something that bothered me even when using the camera on bright days in Thailand but I know not being able to look through one will put some people off. I rarely use a viewfinder as composing on a rear screen is so much more effective.

Although this model does seem positioned for the entry market we still have 4K Photo and 4K video at 30/25/24p. Full HD video is available at 60p, though the lack of mic and headphone sockets will prevent serious movie makers from getting too excited.

A pretty surprising feature is the 10fps maximum drive setting (electronic shutter mode and AF-S/M), which I really wasn’t expecting.  The handbook doesn’t specify the burst depth, but I found that three seconds of raw files are possible and about eight seconds when JPEG-only is set.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 review in Thailand by Damien Demolder

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 with the Leica 12mm f/1.4. 1/200sec @ f/5.6 and ISO 200

This is also the first time Panasonic has introduced a Lumix G camera that takes micro SD cards. I wasn’t such a fan of this particular aspect of the camera at first, but in use it has made no difference at all and I was able to buy a 128GB card that kept me in business for the whole time I had the camera.

The USB charging was also not especially welcome at first, but I found the battery is the same as that used by the GM models and the GF7 so a physical charger is available. Also when away from home I was able to use the RavPower lithium ion portable charger that I use for my phone, which in fact proved a massive benefit and added more flexibility to the way I could ensure the camera was powered.

Handing

As well as adopting the GX name the DMC-GX800 has also taken on enough of the GX styling for it to be obviously part of a system that includes the DMC-GX8 and the DMC-GX80. The step-down top plate delivers a sense of rangefinder styling borrowed from screw-fit Leicas, which makes the camera quite smart looking. The top plate is reasonably clear, showing only a mode dial and a pair of function buttons that are dedicated by default to 4K Photo features.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 review in Thailand by Damien Demolder

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 with the Leica 12mm f/1.4. 1/1600sec @ f/1.4 and ISO 1600

I was a bit disappointed to see the old GM1 rear control wheel reinstated instead of the ring of four buttons used on the GM5, as the wheel was just too difficult to turn without pressing it. Fortunately though, Panasonic has come up with a much better design with greater resistance, so the wheel turns when you want it to turn and presses only when a press is needed. It actually works very well and allows selection and adjustment from the same place without the need for a further control wheel or dial – so in fact is a faster solution than that offered by the GM5.

The rear of the camera is remarkably empty of buttons, with only a Quick Menu button, the display button and the video red button. I rather miss a direct ISO button and spent some time using the tabbed function menu on the touch screen. Opening the tab and selecting the ISO icon though is frankly a bit fiddly so instead I re-assigned the top plate button (Fn3) that comes loaded with Post Focus to be my ISO control as I was certain I’d want to alter sensitivity more often than I’d need Post Focus or Focus stacking.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 review in Thailand by Damien Demolder

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 with the Leica 12mm f/1.4. 1/8sec @ f/11 and ISO 200

The camera features a good rear screen that is clean and detailed. It has a single hinge so that it can flip upwards so it can be seen from the front of the camera when a selfie is required. I generally prefer a vari-angle screen and one that can flip so the glass surface can safely face the body for storage, but this one is fun to use and flipping it all the way up automatically activates some selfie modes – such as the self-timer and face detection. I’m not a big selfie fan, but did find the flip-up screen and count-down features useful for taking pictures of me and my wife while we were away on holiday.

Although the control buttons and dial on the camera are small they aren’t fiddly, and even real men with big hands will be able to access all that they require. There are enough external buttons, when you customise, for everyday use, and the touch screen Quick Menu isn’t so small that it can’t be used reasonably quickly.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 review in Thailand by Damien Demolder

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 with the Leica 12mm f/1.4. 1/2500sec @ f/5.6 and ISO 200

My only issues with the design came when trying to mount the camera on a large tripod plate that clashed with the wider diameter barrel of the fast aperture Lumix lenses. Also the rear screen needs to be lifted a little to prevent it becoming stuck in position should the tripod plate protrude beyond the back of the camera.

Some small cameras have such tiny controls that they become very difficult to use to the point where the functionality of the camera is hindered. I’m pleased to say that isn’t the case with this particular model, and that the camera is perfectly useable and all the features you’ll need to access on a regular basis can be got to with ease.

Performance and image quality

I can’t go into very much detail here as the firmware in the camera I was using was clearly not finished. Some of the post-processing features didn’t work, so I wasn’t able to use the in-camera raw processing to work my images – so these are all JPEGs shot simultaneously.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 review in Thailand by Damien Demolder

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 with the Leica 42.5mm f/1.2. 1/3200sec @ f/1.2 and ISO 200

Generally I found that the AF system is pretty quick. It isn’t as fast as the DMC-GH5 but the adoption of Panasonic’s DFD focusing system makes it a good deal better than the DMC-GM5. It works well in low light when your exposure is good and I found it able to track moving subjects with some success. Metering and colour rendition are much as we’d expect them to be in the Lumix G camera, and I was very happy with both.

I’m not sure which sensor Panasonic is using in this model, but the image quality seems very similar to that from the DMC-G80. The naked sensor benefits from not having a low-pass filter and only on a few occasions did I notice any moiré in distant detail. Noise performance is OK, and about on a par with what we expect from Micro Four Thirds cameras, though Panasonic appears to have done some work on to remove colour noise from the highest ISO settings, while JPEGs are quite smoothed beyond ISO 6400. We shall have to wait for Abobe to update Camera Raw to see what we can do with the raw files, but even without the benefit of shadow and highlight controls in the in-camera raw processing I can see that dynamic range is characteristically good.

Conclusion

I was pretty disappointed when I heard that the GM series was discontinued in most regions as I love the portability those models offer while they at the same time still provide the same sensors as the larger cameras and access the same lens range. The GM cameras though represent the last generation of Lumix in that they lack the DFD focusing and 4K Photo features that for many people define the attraction of the latest crop of bodies. This new model addresses those issues nicely and brings the miniature G bodies right up to date with specification, sensors and features. From my experience so far the camera is great and its size presents no need for compromise in any quarter. The top mechanical shutter speed of just 1/500sec meant I had to be more aware of which mode I was in though, and once I’d reassigned a function button to give me direct access to ISO I was really very happy.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 with the Leica 12mm f/1.4. 1/250sec @ f/2 and ISO 3200

It is common practice for small DSLRs and CSCs to be presented as beginner cameras purely because of their size, and to enable a price suitable for new photographers some features are skimped on or left out. I’d be happy to pay more for a camera with this body form but with a 20MP sensor, in-body stabilisation, a wireless flash system and a full mechanical shutter. In many ways you create your own customer base for any particular product when you decide what that product will be able to do. The Lumix DMC-GX800 performs well enough and offers enough to keep most people very happy, but it a high spec model with a metal body and luxury features that have the ability to surprise and delight would be even better. I can’t think of any logic connection between small cameras and low price or entry-level photographers. Small cameras are for people who like small cameras because they suit their chosen photographic subjects, and for the most part this one suits my favourite subjects really rather well – street, travel and portraiture.

To see all the pictures from this shooting experience please see my Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 gallery and for more information see the Panasonic’s own Lumix DMC-GX800 web page.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX800 with the Leica 25mm f/1.4. 1/1600sec @ f/4 and ISO 200

Developing a scene – Hanging By The Corner

Hanging By The Corner

When something catches our eye and we draw for the camera, like John Wayne in a Western, our attention is usually focused firmly on one spot. We watch the subject and close-in for the kill, get our shot, inspect it and walk away with a smile on our face – if it has turned out the way we imagined, of course. What we often fail to do is work at developing our initial idea or take the time to see what else can be got out of the subject. We should always challenge ourselves to find alternative angles and view points, and to create something quite different to the vision that first came into our minds.

I made this picture during a street photography workshop I was holding in London, and used the process of taking it to demonstrate how what we see and shoot in the moments immediately after recognising a scene with potential does not have to be the end of the matter.

Hanging By The Corner - developmentWhat had caught my eye was the hard backlighting on the man’s hood as we walked past the opening to the street. I liked the way the sunlight created a halo-like rim around his head, and the way the shadow of his body distorted on the wall. The dappled light on the background buildings worked pretty well too.

A new viewpoint
As we shifted beyond the point where we got our first sighting of the potential, we got to see how the light played out on the wall behind him, and we admired the hard-edged shadow streaking diagonally across the wall from the left hand side of the frame. We shot some compositions using the diagonal to cut the picture into two sections.

Hanging By The Corner - developmentThen the subject’s friend got up off the floor and became part of the composition as well. The two guys were just hanging out chatting, smoking, pacing and using their phones, and at moments the side lighting on the guy with hood combined nicely with the way his friend was part-silhouetted against the bright area of the wall.

Using your eyes for looking
I also have a thing about sharp corners on a sunny day and wanted to use the hard line of that edge create to a partition in the frame – so I dropped the camera down for a few seconds to take a good look at the scene just using my eyes.

It was then that I noted the reflections on the wall to the right of the area we had been working on, and how the shadow of a person further to the right was neatly framed in a little box of light on the wall. So, we recomposed our attention to include that element as well.

In recomposing the frame we somewhat sacrificed some of the drama of the long slanting shadow that had attracted us to the scene in the first place, but in doing so, and allowing ourselves to change our initial idea, I think we created a more sophisticated and enjoyable image. It still has a good dose of drama, but it now features a neat element of surprise to spice it up.

Hanging By The Corner - developmentBy the then the sun had moved round so that long shadow was gradually fading and the two friends had walked away, but the box of reflected light remained with the man’s shadow in it still – so I shot that on its own in the same environment and using almost the same framing. That works quite nicely too.

Open to change
Being flexible and open to developing an idea is a key for me in making the most of the situations I encounter. I rarely take a shot and walk on – I hang around for a bit, walk around the subject and try to see how else it can be explained and what other opportunities are there for the taking. Sometimes the first frame I shoot is the best, but often the better frames come with the benefit of time, consideration, exploration and a good hard second look.

Only six minutes elapsed between the first and the last frames shown here, so you can see how quickly the sun moves in the winter months and how completely one little spot can alter in the space of a very short time. Street photography is action photography, what with the light and the people on the move the whole time, so you have to think quickly and get on with it, but that doesn’t mean you shot one frame and move on.

These are some of the skills you can learn first-hand on one of my street photography courses, so visit my photography workshops page to see what locations and dates are on offer.

 

Hanging By The Corner - development

The light that got my attention in the first place

Hanging By The Corner - development

The next development came when we walked on a little

Hanging By The Corner - development

Development 3

Hanging By The Corner - development

Development 4

Hanging By The Corner - development

The better frame

Hanging By The Corner - development

And it even looked good when they had all gone

Flat Cap

Flat Cap, London, Damien Demolder, street photography

This is one of those dead simple shots that is actually quite difficult to pull off. Believe it or not I have favourite backgrounds that I return to occasionally to see what I can make of them, and this window pane is one of them. I like it because it is always backlit with a warm yellow/orange glow, and as it is part frosted the colour really takes. The top part of the glass, which is clear, allows us to see through to the distance and adds an element of not-too-distracting depth, so we don’t have to feel confined to the few feet in front of the camera where the subject sits.

On this occasion I decided to get close and do head-shots as people walked by. I framed in advance and practised the composition with no-one in the frame so I could see clearly the graphic elements on the frame and how the lines and segments would work together. I used the wall to create a deep black heavy rectangle on the left that I hoped would be matched by the density of the silhouette I would create with the passer by.

Straight to the point

This is an architectural scene, so everything has to be straight to avoid any distraction that a leaning wall or toppling building will inevitably create. I used the level in the camera to ensure the sensor was straight left-to-right and up-and-down, and used my feet to ensure I was flat to the subject.

I wanted to keep the person I shot sharp against a soft backdrop to add strength to the visual direction I would give with the silhouette, so picked a wide aperture and a fast shutter speed – to give me a shallow depth of field as well as frozen motion.

And then I waited for the right person to come long. I didn’t have to wait for long before this flat-capped chap came in to view. He walked directly into the area I needed him! Just like fishing, sometimes it works like that and other times nothing happens for hours.

Luck always plays a part

I was lucky to have been able to get the placement of the subject just right in the frame and against the background. The man’s head fits neatly over the brightest part of the backlit window, and so is surrounded by an attractive glow that centres our attention. With him looking directly forward, with his face at 90 degrees to the sensor, we have the perfect profile that demonstrates clearly the shape of the face and the features of the nose, lips, chin and of the zipped-up coat. His cap works nicely to mirror the path of the nose, and between them they form the beak of a shadow-play bird created by a hand in the beam of a torch.

The warmth of the foreground is emphasised by the cool tones of the distant daylight, which again adds depth and contrast. It’s a shot I’m rather pleased with, I have to say.

Taking pictures like this is one of the things I can teach you on one of my classes. Visit the Photography Workshops page to see what  locations and dates are available.

Panasonic shifts to 20-million-pixel sensor for Lumix DMC-GX8

Excitement in the spotlight

Excitement in the spotlight Damien DemolderExcitement in the spotlight

Just as there is gold at the end of a rainbow, so a beam of light in a shady zone will lead us to riches. Where sun shines in the darkness we have a spotlight, and spotlights are perfect for picking out a subject for us to see, to concentrate on and to photograph.

This scene is just the opening of a tunnel on a sunny day, and with a relatively high angled sun and the assistance of a reflective glass building, we had this double spotlight effect that created multiple shadows from each person that passed by. I had been concentrating on those shadows, and looking for people making interesting shapes to cast good shadows on the wall in front of themselves. Most people were lit from the side, so there was some light on their face but more on the side of their head. The effect on the wall was great, but the light on the people was much less interesting.

I was just coming to the conclusion that while there was some potential in the scene I was only getting half interesting pictures, and no matter how dramatic the shapes were I didn’t know what was needed to create a spark of excitement beyond the passive shadow experience.

And then this animated chap came along. Obviously excited about appearing in a picture that would end up on my website and in endless street photography talks, he went to town to engage with his friend in a dramatic manner and turned to face him to ensure whatever he was saying was being registered and sinking in.

Of course, as he turned his face towards his friend he also turned it into the light, and with that enthusiastic expression and that dynamic body position it was going to make a good shot. We have no idea what he is saying or why he looks like that, but we can all appreciate the energy he is putting in to getting his point across.

His friend is also nicely semi-silhouetted against the light grey background and he shows us enough that we can see his reaction and how much he is enjoying his friend’s antics. We need that element of communication and connection so that we can join in the fun and be a part of what is going on.

Had I given up when things weren’t quite coming together I wouldn’t have got this shot. I kept the camera up, however, and was still ready to shoot as I pondered what was needed – and as if by magic what was needed appeared before my eyes. Fortunately, I was ready and waiting to capture what luck was serving up at that moment.

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Excitement in the spotlight Damien Demolder

Shapes and silhouettes – John and Yoko

Graphics and the element of surprise

Damien Demolder street photographyCafé, Prague

In my head street photography is architecture with people in it, so I am constantly on the lookout for ways to show how humans and buildings come together to create the atmosphere of a place. Every town and city has different zones, where a different style of building exists and where different atmospheres prevail. None is more or less valid than the other, and while some are more obviously attractive to the eye than others we can choose to remember that we don’t need conventional beauty to make in interesting picture.

This picture was shot in one of the less touristy areas of Prague, in the Czech Republic. If you type ‘Prague’ into Google images this part of town in unlikely to pop up – it’s a little shopping area near a train station on a junction of two busy roads. It isn’t one of the famous bridges, or in the quaint old town.

What caught my eye here was the vibrant graphics in the window of the café, and the rigid lines and angles that make up the framework of the window. The reflection of the building across the road fits nicely into the theme of collected rectangles – and the light streaking across the pavement adds texture that somehow works well with the curved shades of the bread and cream illustrations in the window.

These elements would all be fine on their own, as observational architectural details, but the man in the café brings humanity into the scene and brings the place to life. He was kind enough to sit just in the right place, so that the sun caught his nicely reflective head, making him just the right brightness so he stands out from the scene. He is dramatically round in a frame full of squares, which makes him drawn our eye by breaking the pattern, but the tonal and chromatic contrast helps to lift him from the dark background so we can see him through the reflections.

I like this sort of surprise – where we look at a big scene but are drawn by visual coincidences to one small part of the frame. It is the job of the photographer to say ‘look what I saw’ and to ensure that part is what the viewer sees too. I hope that in this case you experience the scene the same way I did when I came across it.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12mm f/2 lens

If you would like to be able to shoot pictures like this check out my street photography classes schedule.

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Drinking coffee, Prague. Damien Demolder

 

Camera Phone wars: Nikon v Apple

Nikon smartphoneIf smartphones are the new compacts why don’t camera brands make them too?

Broadly speaking there are two types of people in this world – those who make things happen, and those who have things happen to them. Although it may not always be easy, we can choose which of those we are going to be, and more often than we realise.

Will we be self-determining and take responsibility for our own life, or will we allow ourselves to suffer the consequences of others’ actions? We each make that choice, consciously or not, every day.

If the main camera brands are feeling slightly sorry for themselves because the smartphone, that merciless hatchling of an evil electronics industry, has deep-fried the still-beating heart of their compact camera market, perhaps they need look at themselves to see what they can do to change the situation.

It certainly seems ridiculous that brands with no credibility in the photographic market have stolen the show from the traditionally trusted names. Had you asked anyone ten years ago whether they would prefer their most-used camera to be made by Canon or Apple, HTC or Samsung the answer would almost certainly have been the camera brand – but look how things have turned out.

To continue reading please head to the original article on Tech Radar

A digital camera with no LCD screen??

Leica M Edition 60Making a digital camera with no rear screen is a pretty dumb idea. Isn’t it?

The Leica M Edition 60 declares bells-and-whistles-free zone for those who can easily afford bells and whistles

Most devices have some element or other about them that is critical for the way they work or indeed for making them work at all. An engine in a car is an obvious example, as is perhaps a flame for a barbeque, ink for a printer and a door on a refrigerator. If we were to remove that critical element, the function of the device may become so undermined that it would become ineffective at performing the tasks we might reasonably expect of it.

Unpredictably unpredictable, Leica Camera has just launched, albeit on a limited, collectable production run of 600 units, a digital camera that does not have something we might all think essential in a digital camera: a rear screen for viewing menus or images captured. The Leica M Edition 60 comes with a Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH lens, and comes to us as some sort of Lenten celebration of the 60th birthday of the Leica rangefinder system, at which hair-shirts are compulsory attire. I can’t wait to see what they do for the 100th anniversary in 2054 – no imaging sensor perhaps.
A forward step backwards

Of course this isn’t the first LCD-free camera, but those that existed before have been left on the hillside to die, as technology has progressed and consumer acceptance of dysfunctional digital products has diminished dramatically. To read the rest of this article head to Techradar’s camera channel

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