The Lytro camera is the world’s first consumer light field, or plenoptic, camera.
If you want to understand more about the science behind a light field camera, then Google is your friend. For this review it is sufficient for you to know that capturing the light field allows you to choose the focus point for the image after it has been taken. How useful is that? Your answer to that question may help you decide whether a Lytro is worth your money.
So let’s get the money side of things out of the way first. An 8GB model will cost you $399, a 16GB model will cost you $499. The 8GB will hold 350 images, the 16GB holds 750; although the battery may not last long enough for that many shots. It’s a lot of money; but as the only other light field camera on the market (for industrial use) can cost you up to $30,000, you might feel that this is a reasonable price for a neatly packaged chunk of cutting-edge technology. Plus, it comes in a choice of colours which must be worth something.
On first inspection, it looks nothing like a camera:
The minimalist design makes you think that this is what a camera might look like if Apple designed one, and the packaging reinforces that impression. Coincidentally, it is also exactly the same length as an iPhone 4S:
The Apples ethos extends to the documentation, there isn’t any; other than a single card with a website address and a suggestion that a visit might be in order. There is also a twenty three page Product Information Guide, which sounds promising but it only tells you not to drop it, not to allow small children to swallow it, and then launches into nineteen pages of warranty details.
Never mind, what else can we find in the box? There is a carrying lanyard, a lens cap which falls off really easily, a cleaning cloth and a USB cable. So let’s plug the camera into the computer via the USB cable and see what happens.
What happens is that the desktop software for the camera is downloaded and any firmware updates for the camera are installed. From then on, every time you plug in the camera, your photos are downloaded to your computer and show up in the Lytro application, and the battery recharges while the camera is connected. It’s all very slickly done and even my granny could manage it if it wasn’t for the fact that she is dead.
Still, we haven’t taken any photos yet, so it’s off to the Lytro website which indeed contains plenty of “how to” information.
The camera controls are pretty basic. On the bottom of the device is a power switch and a cover, beneath which is the USB connector.
On the top is the photo taking button, which also acts as a power-on button, so you would only use the power button on the bottom to turn the camera off if you don’t want to wait for it to do it by itself.
Near the photo taking button is a little ridged area. You slide your finger along this to zoom in and out. The lens offers 43mm-340mm (full frame equivalent) zoom. It is easy to move the zoom slider by mistake, so you have to keep an eye on the zoom indicator in the LCD:
Talking of which, at the back is a a touch-sensitive LCD.
It may not look like it in this example, but it does display colour. But this example does show that the resolution is very low and the display is poor. Plus, the touch-sensitivity is very variable and it can take several stabs, with associated swearing, to select some options.
And finally, at the front, there is the lens; beyond which lies all the clever light field stuff.
Right, now we know where all (both) the buttons are, lets go take a photo.
Lytro suggest you start by getting about six inches away from a subject for your first attempts, so let’s do that:
Click on the nose. It’s in focus!
Click on the hair. It’s in focus!
Click on the building in the background. It’s in focus!
Is that it? Well yes, that’s pretty much it.
Here are a couple more, have a play:
A target market for Lytro are people who attend social gatherings, take crap out of focus shots, and then load them to Facebook. “Look at all my friends, they are all blurry, how can I get them all in focus? Never mind, with my Lytro I just take the snap and people can choose focus later”.
Sadly, I don’t have any friends and I don’t attend social gatherings; so instead I dragged out she who must be obeyed’s doll collection (I knew it would come in useful one day), and pretended they were my friends. “See my friends; I can make each of them in focus! My social standing has just increased immeasurably, thank you Lytro”.
Using “everyday” mode you can just snap away, knowing that everything from about six inches out to infinity can be re-focused. In this mode you can also tap on the screen to indicate where you would like exposure to be calculated.
But slide up on the screen and you can not only check your battery and storage status, but you can also select “creative” mode. This allows you to get much closer to a subject, almost touching. You then use the touch screen to indicate the point around which the focus depth will be calculated. If you get really close to the subject, then you cannot re-focus to infinity; but it does allow for some interesting close-up shots.
If you get really close, you need to be aware that your re-focusing will be limited accordingly. In this shot you can just about re-focus on the second doll, but not on the one in background.
Put the camera into “Manual” and you can then slide down on the LCD to bring up controls that allow you to lock either the aperture, or shutter speed, or both. In manual mode you see the aperture and shutter on the LCD (as in the LCD shot above). This can be interesting if you want to see how the camera is managing the shot; beyond that I didn’t feel a need for manual mode.
There is no aperture control as such on this camera, but it has the equivalent of F2 in terms of light gathering potential. Take it outside on a sunny day and the maximum shutter speed of 1/250th second means that there is going to be too much light coming into the camera at F2. So it employs a built-in neutral density filter which seems to take the effective F stop down to around F8.
Indoors it can push the ISO up to 3,200; but the pictures look pretty dire:
Still, under normal social lighting conditions, the camera will probably be using around ISO 800, and the pictures are quite useable at this setting:
Sharing your shots
Assuming you are not the sort of person who just likes to sit in a darkened room, clicking and re-focusing Lytro photos; you will want to share your creations with the world, and the Lytro software is designed to facilitate this. From the desktop application you can export to your own gallery on the Lytro website and create albums of photos. In addition, you can export to Facebook or Twitter or Google+. In all cases, the photo sits within a piece of software so the full clicking and focusing experience can be shared. It’s elegantly done and even my grandfather could do it; although we would have to dig him up first.
If you are only going to look at Lytro images in their re-clickable 400 pixel wide frame; then the quality is quite reasonable provided very low light does not force the camera to use very high ISOs. But the Lytro approach is only relevant when you have objects at varying distances from the camera, and at least one is quite close. What about a normal landscape holiday snap like this:
Everything is in focus so clicking round the photo doesn’t do anything.
Never mind, you always have the option of exporting a normal JPEG image from the Lytro desktop application. Problem is, the resulting images are rubbish.
Here is a JPEG from the Lytro:
It’s pretty ugly, even at 640 pixels, at the original full size of 1080 pixels it looks even worse. If you are going to use the Lytro as a general camera, you are not going to like what you see once you step outside the world of the little Lytro box.
The obvious contender to a Lytro for general snapping is a phone. Here is a snap of the same scene taken with an iPhone.
Your phone will take better photos than a Lytro, and your phone offers you different processing options, sharing to Instagram and other social photo sites. It’s hard to see Lytro competing with phones for the social media marketplace.
It would be easy to be blasé about the technical wizardry built into this camera, but the team behind Lytro should be congratulated for producing a tiny, useable light field camera, albeit at a fairly hefty price tag compared to normal point and shoot cameras. Both the hardware and software are well designed and the whole makes for an interesting product.
However, as a camera, it really isn’t very good. The LCD touch screen is of poor resolution and is vicious stab sensitive rather than touch sensitive. The shape of the camera is interesting but not convenient for taking shake-free photos; although it does look promising when placed inside a gentleman’s trousers (but a cucumber makes for a more impressive and cheaper solution. Allegedly). Resolution is low and image quality is poor, perhaps inevitably at this stage of the development of this technology.
The only gimmick in favour of the Lytro is the ability to snap away and then choose the focus point later. To make this in any way interesting, you have to choose your subject matter quite carefully. And the interest does not last very long. Once you have played with the focus point on a couple of photos, it ceases to amaze.
Lytro promise more software improvements so, for example, you can choose to have everything in focus or can produce 3D images. These improvements will work with images you have already taken. You can also imagine future technology enhancements. Surveillance cameras where you can grab focus anywhere in the frame. A movie camera where you could edit the footage and change focus points as the movie plays. Cameras that produce images of the quality of a reasonable point and shoot camera, with the ability to change the focus point. Light field technology built into phones.
But given the current state of the art, would I buy a Lytro camera? No. Should you buy a Lytro camera? Probably not. And why did the owner of my test camera buy one? I have no idea; but I would like to thank Spacefruit for entrusting me with his new toy and I hope he has many happy hours shooting with it. And when he gets bored of using it, he can always stick it down his trousers.
Three years ago today*, Panasonic introduced the GF1.
*Yes, pedants, most press releases were on Sept 2nd, but the first announcement was Sept 1st.
It wasn’t the first micro four thirds camera, but it was probably the first to capture the imagination of keen amateurs. Prior to that there had been the Panasonic G1 and GH1, fine cameras but not really micro enough. Then there was the Olympus EP-1, a cute fashion statement and a good enough machine; but the focus was a little slow and the supplied lens was nothing special.
Then along came the GF1. Small, fast, configurable; and with a couple of cracking lenses. There was a 20mm F1.7 lens, and a 14-45mm F3.5-F5.6 lens. The 20mm lens is still sought after as a must-have for the system, and although there have been six subsequent kit zoom lenses by Panasonic and Olympus (all 14-42mm), the 14-45mm remains the preferred lens in terms of quality of construction and optics. A fantastic combination of camera and lenses and sales went through the roof, such that it was very hard to find them until later in the year.
I found mine in Singapore on the 15th December 2009. I believe I had sold the trip to she who must be obeyed on the basis of “seeing the lights”; but once there I dumped her in a shoe shop and scoured the island for a GF1 kit with both lenses. Found it in the afternoon and spent a couple of frustrating hours dodging the pouring rain trying to get shots, before repairing to the Long Bar at Raffles for free peanuts, expensive drinks and a chance to take a photo.
Nothing special, but could I have whipped out my Canon 1D in such a place and pointed it at the patrons? Not without being firmly ejected in a shower of peanut shells.
At the time I had the 1D and a collection of weighty lenses, about twelve kilos in all. We were taking regular trips within and outside Thailand, and we were both getting a little tired of my hauling around a backpack full of gear everywhere we went. The purpose of the GF1 was to be a secondary camera, to take along when photography was not the prime objective. But it didn’t take long before the GF1 and the two tiny lenses were all I was taking everywhere. The GF1 was easier, more fun, gave me shots I would never had captured with the 1D, and that 20mm lens blew a hole in my rather average 24-105mm Canon L lens.
Within a year I had sold all my Canon gear. At least I was going to until I was persuaded it would be made worth my while to retain the body and the 300mm lens. But everything else was sold, which provided cash for the extension of my M43 lens collection.
Since disposing of my DSLR gear there has never once been a moment that I have wished to have it back, and days beyond counting when I give thanks that I am no longer saddled with the unnecessary weight and bulk of such equipment.
Eventually, the GF1 gave way to a GX1, and the original lenses were less used as new prime lenses came along. But I didn’t sell the GF1, partly because my wife wouldn’t let me (“it’s a classic” – annoyingly, she’s right), and partly because it looks like it has been dragged through a hedge backwards, and it’s a hedge made of steel wool, and it’s happened more than once. And I didn’t sell the lenses because; well because they are really good lenses. The 20mm still gets used by she who must be obeyed, usually with the GF1. The 14-45mm is used sometimes, for example for shooting the wife’s little sister:
Fabulous IQ, it’s just the F stop that makes it a bit restrictive.
So my purchase of nearly three years ago remains available, should it ever be called upon to give service. It’s a little battered, not helped much by a stick-on black covering which hides the worst of the abuse but adds its own particular brand of crap.
I decided to call upon its services last night, and give it an outing to mark the anniversary of the unveiling of this remarkable little camera. I took the GF1 without the added viewfinder, because that is all I had when I bought it, with the 20mm on the front. I went to Walking Street at night, shooting Dynamic Black and White JPEG files at ISOs up to 1600. I also shot RAW, so I could use colour if I felt the need. In slightly over half an hour, I came back with these:
The first three are of a young girl, performing with a hula hoop to extract cash from tourists while her minders looked on. She seemed to be enjoying herself, but this was not the environment for a young girl at a time when she should have been tucked up at home in bed.
The IQ and noise may not be up to the GX1, but it’s not at all bad for a four year old sensor design. And I missed the touch screen of the GX1 for choosing focus points and changing options. Apart from that, stepping back in time was a painless and fun experience.
Spike, you are going on a trip and you can either take any modern DSLR of your choice and two lenses of your choice; or that battered old GF1 kit you bought nearly three years ago; what’s it going to be?
GF1 of course, it really is (still) that good.
My first posting outside of Europe was to Kuala Lumpur. Our house had an aircon in the bedroom but nowhere else. The theory was that there would be a pleasant flow of air through the house because it was made of wood and was full of slats and holes. The reality was that it was still bloody hot and we were robbed a lot because bad people could easily gain entry by the simple expedient of removing the slats or widening the holes. It was also very humid, the impact of which I did not realise until I inspected my substantial and loved record collection and discovered that instead of black vinyl I had green life forms.
The mould was removed at some cost, only to return a few months later. My record collection was doomed; in retrospect a good thing because it was almost wholly shit. But when I acquired a camera and some lenses I was determined that they should not fall victim to the dreaded mould.
The answer was a humidity cabinet. A sealed box with some electronics that facilitate the removal of moisture; so the humidity content in the air drops from the usual 70%+ to around 45%. You don’t want it too low, otherwise you get a different type of mould, which is probably also green although I have never seen it.
My cabinet has served me well and has seen the ebb and flow (usually flow) of gear over the years. It was getting a little tight in there, but manageable; until three Russian cameras came along and I really needed more storage. The answer, a second cabinet:
On the top left we have the three Kievs, with space for one more should the need arise (and it probably will). Below them, the Canon 300mm F2.8 occupies a substantial amount of real estate but I am not complaining because it is an epic lens.
Over on the right, the top of the cabinet has the GX1 with a lens attached, together with the GF1 which I can’t sell because it looks like it has been bathed in wire wool, and the Olympus EP-1 which I could sell because it is immaculate; but she who must be obeyed won’t let me. And it belongs to her so I suppose it is her decision. The middle section is full of M43 lenses, which means I can’t buy any more; except there is a space next to the Canon 1D on the bottom row that is just crying out to be filled.
Or I could just buy a third cabinet.
Ignoring Leica, who have been operating in their own little expensive world since forever; and Epson with their low volume RD-1, it was Panasonic and Olympus who launched the concept of a compact system camera in 2008 with the micro four thirds (MFT) format. Sensors big enough to provide a quality image, small enough to enable lenses that matched body size and provided a small shooting solution. What could go wrong?
Nothing really, and the format has gone from strength to strength with a wide choice of improved bodies and an ever-expanding lens selection. I am a fan.
Sony observed the concept, saw that it was a winner, and came to play with their own take on the idea, the NEX series. Bigger sensor, which is good, which in turn required bigger lenses which is not so good. And the current Sony lens line-up is pretty weak; but at least there is some innovation in their bodies.
Also joining the compact systems party but with less success so far are Fuji, Pentax, Ricoh and Samsung; all with their own little variations on the theme.
So if you don’t want to take photos with a dumbed-down point & shoot (and why would you, just use your phone), and you don’t want to lug around a bulky DSLR and associated heavy lenses (and why would you, unless you are being paid to do so); then there is now a wide choice of cameras and lenses around which you can build a system.
Meanwhile, the two largest camera manufacturers in the world, Canon and Nikon, have spent the last four years with their heads in the sand hoping compact systems cameras would stop being the future and just fade away. If you already have a huge range of point & shoots and DSLRs, the last thing you want is a system that comes between the two and takes away sales from both.
But the big boys could not stay away for ever. And with their massive R&D budgets, plus learning from what has gone before, the world waited for game-changing offerings.
First to show their hand was Nikon with the 1 series. Plus Point: Fast auto-focus system in good light. Minus points: Almost everything else. Tiny sensor, lack of controls; basically a point & shoot with a weak selection of interchangeable lenses at a high price. It sold well at first, thanks in no small part to the Nikon marketing machine; but longer term I expect the system to fail.
And so the world waited for the Canon offering. What would one of the market leaders in cameras come up with? What exciting new features would they unveil to an expectant public?
Oops, sorry, that was the Panasonic GF1 introduced more than three years ago. I mean this, the EOS-M:
Of course, being three years more advanced than the GF1, the EOS-M has better image quality. It also has no inbuilt flash, fewer controls, no provision for a viewfinder and slower auto-focus. That’s right, this advanced product of the Canon R&D department has slower focus than a camera of three years ago. Pathetic.
Still, there is the exciting (sarcasm alert) 22mm F2 pancake lens, only slightly inferior to the three year old Panasonic 20mm F1.7; plus an 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 zoom. Not much to start with; but we could get excited about the future lenses for this camera if there was some sort of roadmap of planned lenses; but there isn’t.
So, a glorified point and shoot with a bigger sensor, could be appealing for some at a price point of around $500. Except it is $800….
With Photokina coming up, there are going to be new PEN cameras from Olympus that will no doubt blow this away, even more than the existing PEN line already does.
Alternatively, you can buy the Panasonic GF5 with a power zoom lens and proper controls for less money:
Or for $700, body only, you can get the new G5, with articulated screen, built-in viewfinder, innovative touch screen focusing, on-board flash and, like the GF5, nearly instant focusing.
But Spike, I hear nobody saying, I can use the optional adapter to bolt on my current selection of Canon EF lenses! Indeed you can dear reader, then you can enjoy an even more degraded focusing experience which Engadget described as “almost painful”. Have fun with that.
Really, Canon, what is the point of this? Of course you will sell some, to people who believe only Canon make cameras. But the rest of us will just mock and go and use something else. It’s an overpriced point & shoot with a two lens option, feeble focus and nothing at all to differentiate it from the crowd. In the words of a fourteen year old: epic fail.
Seppuku for all involved please.
Finally reduced one of my spare-parts Kievs to component parts, or as far as I am capable of taking it and still have it working.
It’s a Kiev 4, which looks like this:
The internals are the substantially the same as a Kiev 2, which in turn reflects the Contax 2 which was designed early in the 1930s by Hubert Nerwin. Eighty years on, it’s still a pretty amazing piece of engineering.
The slats on the right hand side are the shutter curtain; made of metal and not crappy cloth like a Leica. To the left is a mass of cogs and levers which lift the shutter curtain in preparation for firing, fire the shutter, wind on the film, set the shutter speed and advance the shutter counter; but even when you can sit and watch it all working it is hard to understand what each component is doing.
A couple of different views:
The yellow on the left of the second image is the boundary of the rolled up shutter curtain.
Of course there is more to the camera than this block. This next shot shows the clockwork delayed shutter release mechanism:
The bronze gear on the upper left is part of the rangefinder focusing mechanism, another block of complexity which moves prisms around whilst at the same time rotating the lens to change focus.
The objective of this strip down is to sit quietly in a darkened room and try and work out how this all works. I will be helped in this thanks to a scary sounding but actually very helpful reader called “The Growler” who has provided me with a translated manual which explains the workings. So thanks to him.
* With due deference and respect to Tracy Kidder whose “The Soul of a new machine” is the only business book I have ever read which changed me. Thirty years on, I still have my copy.
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there were two main types of cameras. There was the DSLR, a camera where you looked through a viewfinder and saw through the lens. This required a flapping mirror device which had many shortcomings; but was the only way you could effectively work with different lenses on the same body. And then there was the point and shoot camera for those who just wanted to take snaps and had no interest in fiddling about with lenses.
And Panasonic and Olympus saw this situation, and verily they saw that it was nonsense. Surely there was a market for an interchangeable lens system without the size, weight and complexity of a DSLR? And there was, and they called it Micro Four Thirds (MFT) and it was announced in August 2008.
Yours truly was somewhat weary of lugging fifteen kilos of camera gear on trips that might involved the use of a camera, so I climbed aboard the MFT train with a Panasonic GF1. What a revelation. The images could be as good as my DSLR, and the photography was so much more fun without all the baggage. She who must be obeyed caught the bug and chose an Olympus EP-1, because it was pretty.
Thousands of photos, and a few extra lenses, and we still love our little cameras. But times move on and I felt the need for an upgrade. Other companies had seen the sales growth and potential of what are now known generically as Compact System Cameras. Moving away from MFT would involve selling off our lens collection, but what were the options?
Pentax- The smallest of the systems, tiny body and lenses, crap interface and rubbish pictures. No thank you.
Canon – Still sitting on the sidelines scratching their bum, Canon have yet to dip their toe in this pool. The prospect of having to develop a new line of lenses and potentially impact their DSLR sales is maybe why they are yet to commit.
Nikon – Waited a long time too, but finally announced their 1 series. Some very clever technology with great focusing and speed, but a tiny sensor in a body that looks like a Lego brick. To quote DigitalRev: “mainly rubbish”.
Sony – Along with Canon and Nikon, the big player in the camera business and their NEX-7 seems like it is quite a body; although focusing is a little suspect and there are far too many pixels stuffed on the sensor. But lens choice? Nah. Plus, it’s made by Sony.
So that leave MFT, which now has a huge selection of lenses and at least seven bodies available from Panasonic and Olympus. Plus, as I have professed in the past, I love my GF1 and the GX1 is just a GF1 with more goodies, so the choice was easy.
As I think the GF1 is a perfect size, making it smaller is not a good idea. The right side of the camera (looking from the back) is noticeably closer to the lens mount; which means Panasonic have had to include a bulky grip so your hand has something to curl round. Overall, I think the GF1 sits better in my hands; but your hands might give a different reaction.
The top of the camera has chunky on/off switch and an equally chunky dial. There is a shutter button, a video record button (1080i if you are interested), a stereo microphone for the video, and an “intelligent auto” knob. Press this and it glows blue to let you know that the camera has taken over full control and decided how it will take the shot. This feature was on the mode dial on the GF1 and I never used it; doubt I will use it now that it is a button.
Heading round the back and we encounter a disappointment, the same resolution screen as the GF1, and it is not articulated.
But once you get over that disappointment, it’s all good. First of all, there are plenty of buttons to play with. Metal buttons too, which work with a satisfying click. There is one more physical button than the GF1; but now there is also a very useable and extremely customisable quick menu which pops out on the screen at the press of one of the buttons (the button marked QMenu, you will not be surprised to know).
You set up the items and display order for the quick menu, and you can then select choices by using the D-pad or just by touching the screen. Yes, the screen may not be higher resolution; but at least you can interact directly with it.
Two of the buttons on the back are programmable (Fn1 and the AF/AE lock button) and if you select a pop-out menu on the touch screen, there are two more.
At the top of the pop-out menu there is another icon which allows you to select what happens when you touch the screen in shooting mode. By default, touching the screen allows you to move the focus point around the screen. This is immensely useful and so much quicker than using the D-pad. Choose where to focus, anywhere on the screen, with a touch of your finger; let’s see you do that on a DSLR.
Changing the option on the pop-out menu takes things a step further. Touch the screen and the camera focuses on that point and takes a photo; and it does it really quickly. Great for candid shots.
Talking of speed, the GX1 really shines here. The GF1 was no slouch, but the GX1 is a GF1 in turbo mode. There is nothing that is going to slow you down when taking photos with this little beast. Turn it on and it is ready for shooting almost instantaneously, use the buttons and quick menu to change options, select the focus point with your finger and fire away. Focusing is lightning fast, particularly with more recent lenses such as the Olympus 45mm.
Talking of focusing, the GX1 adds an extra option to the focusing choices. There is single shot focus where you focus on something and take the shot. There is manual focusing which is as elegantly supported as ever, and there is continuous focus which tracks objects as they move. The new option if flexible focus which is intended for subjects that are moving slightly. Not sure how this differs from continuous focus in operation, time will tell.
Like the GF1, the GX1 has a pop-up flash. Unlike the GF1, the flash can be moved around so you can use bounce flash as well as direct.
This was taken on the street, so I couldn’t bounce the flash off a ceiling, hence the reflection off the nose. Just like the GF1, the GX1 is great at pumping out just the right amount of flash for a correct exposure.
Many people use the screens on the back of these cameras for composing their shots. I have two problems with this. Firstly, shooting in the bright sunlight of Thailand can make it impossible to see the screen. Secondly, I can get less shaky shots if I can jam my camera against my face and stare through a viewfinder. The viewfinder for the GF1 was better than nothing, but that’s about all you can say about it. The GX1 viewfinder is bigger, brighter and with more resolution, a pleasure to stare through. It also has the diopter adjustment hidden away so you can’t keep changing it by mistake, and the LCD/viewfinder swap button is better placed on the back of the unit. But it does add significantly to the cost and it sticks out the top of the camera in a less than charming manner; so you may not feel the need.
More metal than plastic, the GX1 has a sturdy, quality look and feel.The controls are extensive and customisable, the touch screen is more than a gimmick and the whole is a competent camera which retains the spirit of fun of the GF1 and adding more speed and ease of use. So far so good.
But how are the images?
The GF1 takes great photos. Should anyone start going on about how MFT cameras can’t compete with big DSLRs in the quality department, I tell them of the man I know who sold a GF1 image through Getty Images, one of the more demanding of stock libraries, for $11,000. If it’s good enough for Getty, it’s good enough for me.
But it’s true that the smaller sensor size of MFT leads to more noise at higher ISOs, and the GX1 should hopefully improve that. But it has to struggle with a more pixels crammed on the sensor (16 megapixels compared to the 12 megapixels of the GF1), and the base ISO is 160, compared to the 100 of the GF1.
This was my test subject (the line down the back is the edge of a wall):
All the images were shot in RAW. If you shoot JPEG then the camera will attempt to deal with any noise; but I prefer to deal with it myself.
Here’s a comparison at base ISO for each camera, pretty similar result:
Jumping to ISO 800, the GX1 is holding up much better than the GF1.
At ISO 800 I can dial in some noise reduction in Lightroom with the GX1 and still have a useable image, whilst the GF1 is getting a little mushy.
Once we hit ISO 1600, the GF1 is moving into snowstorm mode and trying to remove all that noise would lose you a load of detail.
But the GX1 is still recoverable at ISO 1600 and with a bit of adjustment you can get a perfectly acceptable image:
The GF1 goes to ISO 3200, by which time it is a mess. The GX1 goes to ISO 12,800 and is also a mess by this point; but you can recover something a little blotchy but just about useable:
So, the GX1 gives you more pixels to play with, and provides improved high ISO performance in spite of that. ISO 1600 should be comfortable and higher would be manageable, a decent improvement over the GF1.
But what does all this mean in practice?
Here’s a test for any camera: Take it down Walking Street and capture some street life. You need a small camera like the GX1, because if you point a big Canon at some of the characters down there, you are likely to end up with a broken camera and a broken head. You need something that can successfully track focus in very dark conditions; and those same conditions will need a lens with plenty of light and the use of high ISOs, because you can’t use flash unless you want the same broken camera/head scenario.
So I took the GX1 onto Walking Street last night. I have already posted a couple of shots and will post some more in a separate post; but here is an example I like:
I used the touch screen to quickly move the focus point to the left had side of the screen. Using continuous focus, the GX1 tracked the girls as they walked down the street. Even with the tiny depth of field that comes with F1.8, the focus was spot on, and I could take the shot with no delay when the girl on the left turned her head. An ISO of 6400 could be cleaned up (I made it black and white because there was an orange glow coming from a Go-Go which didn’t do the colour version any favours). Et voilà, a passable street shot in the most difficult of conditions, with a camera you can (almost) put in your pocket.
I love the GF1 because it is fast and fun. I love the GX1 because it is even faster and even more fun. There is nothing that gets in the way of taking photos and I am itching to go out and have an extended shoot with it somewhere. I haven’t talked about video or the various JPEG and creative photo options, because I don’t use them. I haven’t talked about many of the other neat new features, because I think I have already written too much. Suffice it to say I think the GX1 is the best compact system camera on the market right now.
So, should you get one? Possibly not.
If you are not into processing RAW files, have a look at the Olympus offerings which produce beautiful JPEGs, although watch out for fairly pathetic high ISO performance. Alternatively, the Panasonic G3 is almost on par with the GX1 and has an articulated screen and a built in viewfinder for a lot less money; but with far fewer controls and a plastic body. Or spend more money and look at the Panasonic GH2. Or wait until February 8th and check out the new Olympus OM-D; and the Panasonic GH3 can’t be far behind. The agony of choice; just don’t buy anything that uses a mirror, that is so yesterday.
Thanks for reading, and here is some camera porn to finish off with:
When I was seventeen I started work for the grand salary of thirteen pounds a month. Feeble recompense, even in those days; but somehow I managed to save some cash and eventually bought my first camera, a Russian-made Zenit-E for the sum of seventeen pounds. It was an agricultural monster of an SLR, with a mirror that would make the room (and the photo) shake every time you pressed the shutter. But it was mine and I had paid for it and many rolls of film passed through its sprockets until it died and was melted down to make a tractor.
After that, I had Canon SLRs for most of my adult life. Come the digital revolution I bought a Canon 300D and then a move to a 30D when I retired. Then everything got a little out of hand.
I used to enjoy shooting sports, and soon people started offering me money to shoot sports in various locations. As the money came in I started to upgrade my gear, and by 2009 I was up to a Canon 1D and a load of lenses. A trip to shoot a round of the Indian Rally Championship found me checking in for my flight with fifteen kilos of camera and (some of my) lenses in a rucksack. Fortunately, nobody bothered to check the weight of my carry-on baggage, they just assumed that I always walked as if I had a sack of coal on my back. Holiday trips with she who must be obeyed found me hauling similar weights around the place; just ridiculous.
Then, in December 2009, I bought this:
A Panasonic GF1 with a 20mm F1.7 lens. The camera and lens cost me half of what a decent Canon lens would cost. It weighed nearly nothing and would fit in your pocket if you didn’t mind the bulge. And what a performer. Fun to use with images that delighted me. After a lifetime of flappy-mirror SLRs, this was an epiphany. Cameras didn’t need to be big to be good.
By mid-2010 I had kept the big Canon and one lens for my income-generating sports shooting, but the rest of my Canon lenses had been sold. I would like to say that the money I made from selling them was wisely invested; but of course it went on buying more lenses for the GF1. Now when I went on trips, I still carried a camera and bunch of lenses, but they all fitted in a small bag and were light enough to carry around all day.
I now have three cameras. The Canon 1D which is an efficient machine at knocking out beautiful, lucrative sports shots. The Fuji X100 which is an occasionally frustrating beast, but it compensates by excellent image quality even at high ISO. And finally the GF1. It’s battered and scratched, but every time I pick it up I want to go and take photos. It’s by far the most enjoyable camera I have ever owned. If I was going on a trip and only allowed one camera, the GF1 would be it. The way it fits in your hand, how all the controls are easily available, it just feels exactly how a camera should feel. If you own a GF1 you will know what I mean.
So I would like to wish my GF1 belated birthday wishes. Thank you for two years of fun and thousands of images. I love you.
P.S. Regretfully, you are soon to be replaced.
I bought my Panasonic GF1 on the 15th December 2009. Twenty thousand images and nearly two years later, it is scratched and dirty, but it still knocks out great photos.
I have a Canon 1D which takes amazing sports shots and a Fuji X100 which takes beautiful photos in all levels of light (when it isn’t behaving like a total bitch); but if I could only take one camera on a trip, it would be the GF1.
It’s small, intuitive to use, great for both manual and auto focusing, and it turns out images that please me. It’s by far the best camera I have ever owned and I love it.
But two years is a long time in the camera industry and GF1 owners have been waiting for a replacement. The naming of the GF2 and GF3 promised an evolution; but instead we got increasingly smaller bodies with dumbed-down controls. The G3 is a step in the right direction, but there’s too much plastic and not enough buttons to play with, and the GH2 looks too much like an SLR. What we wanted was better image quality, more dynamic range, a built-in viewfinder as an alternative to the stick on piece of crap on the GF1, and we would have liked an articulated LCD panel; all preferably presented in an elegant, metal body.
And today what we got was the GX1.
The good news is that it looks very much like a GF1. The bad news is that it looks very much like a GF1, with the same add-on approach to a viewfinder and no articulated LCD panel.
Still, although the LCD panel has not improved in quality or function, the viewfinder has, which might make it acceptable if not exactly elegant. The sensor has gone up from 12 to 16 megapixels which in principle is not good news, but a new processing engine may make the images the best of the current Micro Four Thirds cameras. It looks well-built and the auto-focus is extremely fast (see the video below).
The price is not bargain basement, $700 for the body only; and you can add another $250 for the viewfinder. But if you want to continue the photographic love affair that the GF1 provided, the GX1 may just be the upgrade you need. Probably won’t be seen in Thailand till the end of the year; which gives me some time to get some photo jobs done and save up some baht. Anyone want to buy a GF1, slightly soiled?
Video preview from DPreview:
Been a while since a company called Lytro announced they were going to produce a light field camera.
Naturally, I signed up to hear the latest news, and this week they sent me an email inviting me to pre-order the camera which will be available early next year. All I needed was a spare $399 and to live in the USA. As I didn’t satisfy either of those requirements, I ignored their offer; but it does look a very different sort of camera.
There’s a button to turn it on, a button to take a shot, and a slider to zoom; with an LCD panel on the back so you can view your creations.
No idea how popular it is going to be; but good to see a small company pushing the boundaries of photo technology. More about it here.
When the light is low, the ISO on your camera has to be raised, and the result is varying amounts of noise in the image.
The Fuji X100 copes with high ISOs better than any other camera I own. Not surprisingly, better than the GF1, but also better than the Canon 1D which tends to lose colour definition at higher ISO ratings.
The light at Doi Suthep temple this weekend was appalling. The whole area was covered in mist and clouds, and high ISOs were required.
This shot was at ISO 3200. Not only was most of the noise removable with only a small adjustment in Lightroom, but the camera also did a fine job of retaining all the colours.
Very impressed Fuji, now sort out the abysmal manual focusing please.