Panasonic Lumix GH4 & The Speeding Pooch Test

Posted Apr. 29th, 2014 by Daniel J. Cox

I recently received a pair of Panasonic Lumix GH4 cameras and I couldn’t get them in my hands fast enough. They’ve been in the wild so to speak since about last Friday, April 25, 2014. Ray Norouzi from Samy’s Camera in LA was fast out of the blocks and called me as soon a they arrived in the US. I immediately bought three, two for myself and one for my mother in law. Yes, my mother in law who is running a non-profit that rescues abandoned dogs in the Everglades of Florida, but that’s a whole different Blog post. It’s an amazing story, to be continued.


Bozeman Camera’s owner Marshal Lewis just gets through his windup and Benny is out of the gate.

Anyway, virtually all the hype on the the new Lumix GH4 has been centered around the 4K video. I too am excited about 4K but I’ve been frustrated that so little has been talked about regarding the individual, still image, attributes of the GH4. Camera in hand, I borrowed a friend and his dog. Yes, it was time for the speeding pooch test. My friend Marshal Lewis from Bozeman Camera, his girlfriend Caroline and Benny the blazing Corgi agreed to stop by the studio to see what the GH4 could do in Predictive AF.  Marshal pulled up, opened the door to his Toyota Forerunner and a streak of beige colored fur came bolting from the back. ” Hi Dan,” Marshal shouted above the barks, “I figured a test of  a micro camera deserved a micro dog”.  “Oh, yea, micro dog but mega energy,” I thought. “He’s perfect,”  I shouted above the din.

After a little catching up and an introduction to Caroline we got down to business which Benny was happy to do. I sent Marshal down field about thirty yards and explained the process. “Just do your best to pitch the ball straight over my head. I want Benny running straight at me.” Benny took the mark and Marshal fired the ball. The miniature rocket with six inch legs came to life and zero to sixty in about 1.3 seconds. I did my best to keep the AF sensor on the miniature bundle of yapping fur. I stepped on the trigger of the diminutive camera and it started its job of capturing 7 frames per second, the viewfinder staying live, no images blocking my ability to keep the camera on my subject. “WOW” I said to myself. That was the first indication this camera is a different beast than the GH3’s I’ve been shooting.

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 8.59.13 AM

The ability to see Benny from start to finish was a big change from the GH3. Up to this point, action photography wasn’t really possible with any Micro Four Thirds camera I had ever tried. Although the GH3 has the ability to shoot at 6 frames per second, those frames would block up the viewfinder as they were being written to the card.  Let me explain. Most everybody who’s ever shot a mirrorless camera has seen the default setting that immediately presents the photo on the rear LCD or in the viewfinder. It’s called Auto Review. That’s a nice feature when your snapping a picture now and again. But it’s a huge hinderance when shooting action. With the GH3, even though I would turn the Auto Review completely off, the system would still show an image for a split second. One image and you have no idea it’s even happening. At 6fps however, those multiple, micro second images turn into what looks like one complete captured photo, blocking your view of the subject as it runs or flies completely out of the viewfinder. You pull your camera down and the subject is long gone though you thought it was right in front of you. Serious action was not an option, until now. The GH4 seems to have solved this serious flaw in a mirrorless camera.

Next problem on the block to check for was the camera’s ability to predict where Benny was going to be when the camera fired and captured the image. That’s what’s known as Predictive Auto Focus. This is not an easy process and even the best cameras like a Nikon D4 has about an 80% success ratio in my Speeding Pooch Tests. We threw the ball for Benny nearly a dozen times and as he was running at the camera the GH4 looked like it was doing a reasonable job keeping him in focus. However, I wasn’t checking the rear LCD and I know from experience, what looks pretty good in the viewfinder, doesn’t’ necessarily tanslate into a sharp image on the computer. I was doing my best to temper my excitement.

Best Settings for Fast Moving Action

Before Benny started his evening exercise routine I made some changes to the GH4’s settings that put the camera on the right footing for shooting fast moving action. First I switched the Auto Preview to OFF in the menu system. Next I set the cameras AF Mode to 1-Area by way of the Q-Menu button on the right upper side of the back of the camera. Finally, I moved the AF switch to AFC, located just to the left of the Rear Command Dial. The GH4 does have a specific AF setting called AF Mode-Tracking in the Q-Menu which would seem to be the proper AF setting. However, just like the GH3, when I tried this setup the camera seems to be following the color of the moving object and the AF sensor moves constantly all over the viewfinder. I want the AF sensor to stay in the middle of the viewfinder and I don’t want the camera AF sensor following the subject. A moving AF sensor sucks up lots of  computer processing power which is better used on the task at hand, driving the lens and predicting focus. it’s my job to keep the camera on the subject. It was these settings that we ran the tests with.

We finished shooting and all went our separate ways. I made a bee line straight to my Mac Book Pro loaded the card and Aperture began the process of importing the images to my hard drives. Up they came one by one. I let them all finish and then began the process of checking the sharpness at 100%. As usual it started out very good since the further away the subject is the easier it is for the camera to acquire proper focus. After checking all the images I was elated.

Out of 162 images these are the numbers produced by the new Lumix GH4. Click on the link below to see the page of images that show all photos captured including out of focus and no subject. I wanted to show them all.

Lumix GH4 & the Speeding Pooch Test.

0 Star= 30 Throw out due to missing dog completely or too close for lens to focus.
1 Star= 47  Out of focus, I would not keep this image
3 Star= 12  Somewhat in focus. Not acceptable for publication
5 Star= 72  Razor sharp!

These numbers are dramatically different than the tests I ran with the GH3 about one year and two weeks ago. You can see my Panasonic Lumix GH3 Predictve AF Tests here. It was so bad I didn’t even rate the good and the bad. They we’re pretty much just all bad. I can hardly believe Panasonic has accomplished these dramatic improvements in such as short period. I’m constantly left shaking my head at how quickly this company is catching and in many ways surpassing the biggest brands that have been producing cameras for decades. Panasonic’s been in still cameras for maybe 10 years. The technology Panasonic invented to help accomplish better Predictive AF is what they call DFD which stands for Depth From Defocus. To better explain this technology I’ve reached out to a great crew at Imaging Resource who does superbly detailed, technical reviews of the photo industries newest technologies. Below is a snippet from Imaging Resources first look at the Lumix GH4.  Thank you to Dave Etchells and Imaging Resources for allowing me to share this with our readers here on the Natural Exposures blog.

Tech Insights: Panasonic’s DFD autofocus technology- by Imaging Resource

by Dave Etchells

With the GH4, Panasonic has introduced an all-new autofocus algorithm that eliminates many of the drawbacks of contrast-detect autofocus, and delivers AF speeds approaching those of traditional SLRs. DFD stands for “Depth From Defocus,” and to understand what this is all about and why it’s such an impressive innovation, let’s first take a quick look at how camera AF systems work.

In traditional SLRs, the mirror system diverts a small portion of the incoming light to a separate autofocus sensor, typically located in the bottom of the mirror box. A prism there splits the light coming from opposite sides of the lens and directs it to paired groups of sensor pixels, forming each AF point. Depending on the focus of the lens, the light falling on the paired groups of pixels will either line up (focused) or be shifted one way or the other relative to each other (front-focused or back-focused). Phase-detect AF thus not only knows whether the subject is in focus or not, but if out of focus, it knows in what direction and how much out of focus the image is. This means the camera can command the lens to move directly to the correct focus setting, without having to “hunt” along the way.

This image and text explaining DFD was graciously loaned to us for this Blog by Imaging Resources. You can click on the following link to be taken to the Imaging Resource.

This image and text explaining DFD was graciously loaned to us for this Blog by Imaging Resources. You can click on the following link to be taken to the Imaging Resource web site. The information above shows how the split images seen by the two halves of a conventional phase-detect AF point explicitly show the amount of defocus in and image. Image courtesy of and copyright 2013 by Rob Taylor. Rob has a great tutorial on How AF Works on tuts+ Photography.

So that’s about it for now. I must say that I would love to do another test just like above and use a larger dog, one that runs in a straight line. That’s hard to find, although I’ve had hunting dogs that are more consistent. That said, a small, eradicate spit fire like Benny is also a very worthwhile test since there aren’t many wild animals you can convince to run in a straight line either.  Thanks to Benny, Caroline, and Marshal for giving me a hand with my first Speeding Pooch Test with the new Lumix GH4. Give Bozeman Camera a call for almost all your photographic needs other than Panasoinc right now. I’m still working on Marshal to bring the Lumix line to Bozeman. Until then I’m getting great service from Samy’s Camera in LA as well as Hunts Photo on the east coast. Maybe after Marshal sees this report he’ll take Panasonic more seriously. It took me a while to figure Panasonic out but I can tell you for certain, the GH4 is the real deal.

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There are 33 comments on this post…
  1. Ad v.d. BiggelaarOn Aug. 27th, 2014

    Hi Daniel,

    It was very nice and good for me to read all about the GH4.
    I’m a E-M5 owner (lover…), but it’s AF capabilities are not quite good enough for what I want to do (sometimes).
    I like to do airplanes, motorbikes on track and birds (flying).
    I thought I buy a E-M1 with adapter and the Oly 50-200 SWD lens. AF fast enough…? It’s big again.
    I had Canon gear before I fell in love with the tiny Olympus cam and lenses.
    Is a switch to this Panasonic the best I can do to have a camera with fast, snappy enough AF to get the most of my hobby?
    The Sony A7 has too much disadvanteges and is (I think) also not fast enough.
    I have the 45 mm and 40-150 Olympus lenses, but also the Panasonic 12-35 and 100-300.
    I don’t want to go back to a heavy backpack, I want to have it quite small and light.
    Or do I want too much at present time?


    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 28th, 2014

      Unfortunately, the Micro Four Thirds cameras, including the GH4, still need speedier lenses. The Lumix 35-100mm F/2.8 is the speed we need but it’s not a long as I would like. Panasonic needs to up the quality of the current 100-300mm to the fit, finish, glass and speed of the current 35-100mm. When they do we will mos likely have what you are looking for.

  2. KarlOn Jul. 31st, 2014

    Hi Dan,

    Great stuff here! I’m an EM-1 user and have been using m43 for a long time (since 2009), but I have been keeping a Sony A57 for use as a budget sports camera to shoot my son’s soccer games (and other sporting events here in Melbourne, Australia like cricket, Aussie Rules, etc.). Now that I’m reading about GH4, it seems like a potentially suitable camera for sports? Surely, if it’s good enough for dogs, it must be suitable for little kids running slower than dogs? 🙂

    Thanks for any thoughts you can share regarding my query.


    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 1st, 2014

      Karl, with the 35-100mm F/2.8 I think you would be happy with the speed of Predictive AF for kids sports games. I think the GH4 is up to the task combined with the newer pro lenses. Let me knowhow it goes if you decide to give the GH4 a try. Im’ absolutely loving it. Now if we can just get a longer, professional quality zoom we’ll be in high cotton.

  3. federicoOn Jun. 16th, 2014

    Hi Dan,
    great advice. I’m getting a GH4 and new MFT lenses for it. I was thinking the Leica 25mm and the 100-300mm tele that you say lacks quality. Do you think this glass quality gap (compared to the “new” ones) is enough to wait until they upgrade (who knows when?) or is it good enough to start with it without compromising the GH4 quality?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 16th, 2014

      Federico, I’m not sure about the 25mm Leica, since I don’t have one, but if it’s as good as the Leica 42.5mm you will be very happy. The 100-300mm is a tough choice. It’s not nearly the quality I would like to see but there are times it’s better than I expect. Sounds strange but it’s true. Thankfully, it’s not all that expensive and if I the Lumix is your only system, I would be certain to have the 100-300mm. Unfortunately, unless Panasoinc has something up their sleeve, I don’t think we’re going to see a 100-300mm upgrade in the near future. I certainly hope I’m wrong but until I do I’ll be shooting my phenomenal Nikkor 80-400mm for the truly long distant images I need to capture. I can only hope that Panasoinc is reading the tremendous interest from folks who want longer, more professional quality lenses. Lets hope.

  4. GrzegorzOn May. 19th, 2014

    The section you show from Imaging Resource does not actually explain DFD, but rather traditional phase-detect autofocus. The part explaining DFD is several paragraphs down the page, starting with “With all that as background we can now talk about Panasonic’s latest AF innovation, Depth From Defocus, or DFD technology…”

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 24th, 2014

      Grzegorz, good point. You are right that the info I included on my blog is traditional AF that has been used for some time now. More details of DFD are further down the page that I referred to here on Imaging Resources Sorry about the confusion.

  5. Portrait of Christine Crosby

    Christine CrosbyOn May. 4th, 2014

    Hi Dan, I’m not finding it in the blog post or the comments but my guess is it’s an “OE” thing!! Regardless . . . what lens were you using while shooting the Corgi with the GH4?? Thanks!! ;o)

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 4th, 2014

      Good observation Christine. No OE on your part. I forgot. Will add that for you but for know it was the 35-100 F/2.8 lens which in the Lumix system is equal to our 70-200mm Nikkors. I used this lens since it’s the newest and would have the best, current AF built in. My next test is going to be with the 45-175mm F/4-5.6. The 45-175mm is a bit older and not in the professional category the 35-100 F/2.8 is. However, longer lenses are even more difficult to focus properly and for comparing to other systems I need to test this lens as well.

  6. jim HeywoodOn May. 3rd, 2014

    Was too cheap to pay for overnight shipping and so got mine on Monday. Any thoughts about an image lifted from a 4K video? Could you post your default settings for a novice GH user? Next purchase is the 12-35. I am excited to try this baby out

  7. jim HeywoodOn May. 3rd, 2014

    Got mine on Monday. too cheap to pay for overnight shipping, What do you think would happen if you shot video and lifted one frame from the video. Perhaps you could post your standard setup for this camera for folks like me who are new to the GH line..
    I have decided to also buy the 12-35 as well. Trying to sell the nikon stuff..the first “buyer” of the 200-400 was a scam artist.

  8. Eric BowlesOn May. 2nd, 2014

    Dan – thanks for sharing your test results. Mirrorless looks quite promising and is certainly improving rapidly. It’s clearly the way of the future.

    It seems to me your results with the GH4 are about the same as your Speeding Dog test of the Nikon D600. That’s remarkably good and certainly acceptable. Of course – skill from lots of practice is required for that kind of success rate.

    The potential frame rate of a mirrorless camera is another major plus. The lack of a mirror means frame rate is driven by processing and write speed. Frame rates of 20-30 fps for a single burst can make a big difference at peak action.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 2nd, 2014

      Eric, good observation regarding your comparison of the numbers between the GH4 and my tests with the Nikon D600. I agree with your comment regarding frame rate possibilities with the mirrorless cameras. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to get the 20-30FPS you mention and even more. Exciting times ahead in photography.

  9. Gary ColnerOn May. 2nd, 2014

    Hey Dan,

    Your traveling with us to Antarctica inspired me to jump in. I’ve started with the GX 1 and bought some nice glass—Lumix GX Vario 12-35 F2.8. I’m having fun and learning quickly.
    Anyway, my question is: have you seen or have any insight into the Lytro Illum. On their website, it looks like an amazing new concept

    Hope you’ll be traveling with us on Seabourn Quest next Antarctic season…….Gary

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 2nd, 2014

      Gary, the Lytro is an interesting concept. I predict we’ll all be shooting something similar in the not to distant future. Right now the newest Lytro Illum will do prints up to 8×10 from what I read. That’s plenty for some folks but not for professional use yet. I will say that if the file is an 8×10 image running it through what used to be called Genuine Fractals and is now called Perfect Resize, may be an additional option. Back in the first days of digital most camera makers were publishing that their cameras could only do up to 5×7. Yet, regularly we would run the files through Genuine Fractals and produce beautiful 24×36’s with no issues. So who knows maybe the technology is here sooner than I think. Would like to get one to test.

      Unfortunately, we won’t see yo on the Seabourn this fall. Our schedule is so full we just can’t do it. Would love to have you join us on one of our adventures if you’re ever interested in things other than Antarctica. You can see our Invitational Photo Tours here. Thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts.

  10. TriciaOn May. 2nd, 2014

    Getting so excited; GH4 expected in the UK anytime now… just hope Panasonic get it out to distributors quickly..

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 2nd, 2014

      Tricia, they got it out to distributors really fast here in the US. I would think they’ll do the same for our UK shooters. Thanks for stopping by to voice your excitement.

  11. TRENT ANDERSONOn May. 2nd, 2014

    It’s in the mail. My GH4 arrives on Monday. So, instead of my D800 as my main and my Olympus OMD-5 as backup like when we were in Antarctica; when you see me in Yellowstone next February, I’ll have the GH4 as prime and the OMD-5 as backup and the D800 in the hotel room for emergencies. The times are a’changing.

    p.s. In the traveling light department…a wonderful compendium of candidates

  12. Bernice JacobsOn Apr. 30th, 2014

    Dan I read it in a digital photography magazine. It was reviewing and comparing several mirrorless cameras about a year ago. I was excited to read the article because I am wanting to buy one of these camears. I don’t think I have the article around any more. Thanks for the input about the iso range you are using. It is good to hear from someone with hands on experience that can be trusted. Another issue /question. How is the lens quality in terms of image quality. Does the quality of images compare to professional lenses from Nikon or Canon? What lenses do you use with yours?

    • David RuetherOn May. 2nd, 2014

      You may find this interesting (brief reviews of many lenses for MFT):
      I’m an admitted lens-sharpness-nut-pixel-peeper, and with film cameras, the proof is here: 8^)
      I’ve been able to get 16.5″x22″ SHARP prints out of MFT images (with some work done on the images first, of course…;-). For what and how I like to shoot, I’ve been happier with the very good, MUCH lighter, and MUCH smaller MFT gear! Some additional photos are here (I like photographing almost anything…!;-):
      As for low-light shooting, I find the little Panasonic LX7 excellent. It has a sharp-to-the-corners-at- f1.4 lens (at 24mm-equivalent FL) and a superb stabilizer, making using VERY slow hand-held shutter speeds practical – and the low pixel-count keeps the noise level acceptable at ISOs at or below 400. I have not yet bought the 15mm f1.7, 20mm f1.7, 25mm f1.4, or 43.5mm f1.2 Panasonic lenses or the 75mm f1.8 Olympus or the f0.95 Voightlander lenses since I prefer to shoot with greater DOF, and generally at the best stops for sharpness with my lenses (and to save money, bulk, and weight with my gear, too…!;-). As an indication of how much fun this small gear has been for me, my “frame-count” is now around 40,000 photos shot with this gear (LX7, GF3, G5, G6, and now also GH4) in the last year and a half (using it is addictive!;-).

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 2nd, 2014


      Without question all of the best Panasonic lenses do compete on an equal footing with my best Nikkor lenses. The Lumix Vario lenses, that I shoot, that produce truly professional quality include the Panasonic 12-37mm F2.8, 35-100mm F2.8 and the new Panasonic/Leica Nocticron 42.5mm F/1.2.

      Two other lenses that are very good but I’m hoping will get a serious/professional upgrade are the 45-175mm F4-5.6 and, the amazing for size and price, Lumix Vario 100-300mm F4-5.6. I would love to see Panasonic turn the 45-175 in to an equivalent 80-400mm. The 100-300 is a phenomenal range but they need to upgrade the optics and build quality to the same class as their 12-35mm and 35-100mm lenses. Upgrading these two lenses to “Professional” standards with better, Nano coated glass and higher quality build is essential for the Lumix system to compete with Canon and Nikon in the sports and natural history world

      Case in point. Although I’m an absolute believer in the Micro Four Thirds category of photography, I’ve not yet sold all my Nikon gear. I still need my Nikon D4 and 80-400mm lens to capture fast moving action, especially in extremely low light. However, based on the recent “Speeding Pooch” test that inspired you to write, the Gh4 is getting closer and closer to eliminating the final few benefits my traditional DSLR’s currently give me.

      Unfortunately, for the big camera companies and fortunately for us, the small, nimble, lightweight, yet high quality cat is out of the bag and my back and shoulders are very appreciative.

  13. Bernice JacobsOn Apr. 30th, 2014

    Dan when I first read about mirrorless cameras I said the same thing-this is the future of photography. Im waiting for the sensor technology to get a bit better with low light. The last reviews I read said the sensors only produce very good images at iso 400 or less. Has the sensor technology improved much in the last year or two?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 30th, 2014

      Bernice, I’m not sure where you read you could only go to 400 ISO. I regularly shoot the GH3 at 1600 ISO and get beautiful results. The new GH4 is supposed to even be a 1/2 stop better. Haven’t tried it but anyone who says you can’t shoot over 400 must be selling traditional full frame DSLR’s. When I do need some noise help I get tremendous results with Nik’s DFine. That’s not a perfect solution but it works very well.

  14. SonOn Apr. 30th, 2014

    Dan, thank you for this first AF test on the GH4! I’m reading your m43 related blog entries since mid of last year as I was looking for a safari experience report with m43. Thank you for sharing your experience – now I’ve booked 15 days Kenya 🙂 and will try it by myself with the GH4.

    Best Keep it up!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 2nd, 2014

      Son, happy to hear you got your hands on the new GH4. Have a great time on Safari and stop back to let us know how it worked for you. Which lenses are you taking? I would love to know which lenses you will use and how they perform. An upgrade of the 100-300mm is something I desperately hope Panasonic gives us sooner rather than later. Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation.

  15. Fred KurtzOn Apr. 29th, 2014

    Thanks for this post Dan. As you know I spent around $20k in new NIkon equipment in the past two years. Now my money is being funneled into Panasonic Micro 4/3’s equipment.

    How fast this field changes is just like in the computer industry. You literally have to purchase new every year or two or be left in the dust. Once I bought the Nikon equipment I mistakenly thought I was done for a very long time.

    As we discussed in Cuba, when I first started going on your Invitational Tours, it was about 90% Nikon and 10% Canon with maybe a Sony thrown in now and then. Now your trips are mostly Micro 4/3’s with a couple of Nikon’s and Canon’s thrown in. My how things change. Canon and Nikon better wake up. I really thought I would be a Nikon lifer. Not so sure now.

    My GH4 comes tomorrow from Hunt’s Camera and I am excited to start playing with it. Take Care Dan.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 29th, 2014

      Nothings certain in Life Fred as you know. I really hope Nikon figures it out sooner rather than later. Amazingly they could be in the game tomorrow if they choose to but so far they made only a half hearted attempt. Or at least that’s my take on it. They would most likely have a difference of opinion but only time will tell. Change is always hard but more necessary now than ever before. Thanks for checking in.

  16. Portrait of Christine Crosby

    Christine CrosbyOn Apr. 29th, 2014

    ;o) Thanks Dan!! Will do! No, Paul said you guys talked about some new Mac technology that’s coming soon so that it might be best to wait for it?? Thunderbolt stuff, I think?? I can’t wait!! I’m REALLY having so much fun with my photography and feel like I’m learning so much all the time and really starting to put it together (your voice is in my head a lot!) ;o))

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 29th, 2014

      Yes, that’s right. I mentioned to Paul there is new iMac models coming most likely this summer or fall. I forgot about that. for anyone out there that might be sitting on the fence about upgrading their Mac here’s a link to a great web site that keeps track of new release dates, etc. It’s called Mac Rumors and it’s a good place to keep track of what’s coming.

  17. Portrait of Christine Crosby

    Christine CrosbyOn Apr. 29th, 2014

    Thanks so much for this Dan! You know I’ve been anxious to hear your thoughts and test results on this!! 😉 Exciting news!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 29th, 2014

      Yes Christine, it is exciting. I plan to do a longer review in more detail but I really wanted to get this information out as soon as possible. Thanks for stopping in and adding your voice. Say hello to Paul. Did he get you your 27 inch iMac yet?

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