The Changing World of Digital Photography- Update
Many of you may recall a post on the Corkboard I wrote a couple of years ago titled The Changing World of Digital Photography discussing my introduction to the realm of Micro 4/3s digital cameras. It all revolved around a new camera called the Panasonic GF1. I was in Yellowstone and in the process of gathering our guests for our annual Yellowstone Winter Photography Tour. A good friend of mine, Leon Soriano, who travels with us regularly showed up with what looked like a gem of a camera hanging from his neck. It was small, light weight, had the styling of a photographic tool from days gone by and was digital to boot. Leon, a forty year rep for Fuji, assured me the files from it were as impressive as the camera looked. After all, no matter how beautiful the package it’s what’s inside that counts. And what was inside included a 4/3’s sensor that requires a lens be multiplied by two, when figuring out the 35mm film equivalent of the lenses range. In other words a 14-45mm lens on a Micro 4/3’s is the equivalent to a 28-90mm from the days of 35mm film cameras. He handed it to me and I was mesmerized by it’s diminutive size and sleek looking style. Immediately, it reminded me of a Leica rangefinder. I was hooked. Four days passed and on my return to to Bozeman I walked in to F/11 and bought one on the spot.
Fast forward nearly two years and here I sit writing this current entry with the updated version of the GF1 sitting by my side. It is, predictably, the GF2. Over the past twenty-four months my enthusiasm for the Micro 4/3’s sensor cameras has not waned, in fact it has increased substantially. However, what I thought was just the beginning of an amazing road for Panasonic seems to have taken a turn for the worst. The GF2, though quite impressive in it’s own right is not the camera I was hoping for. Even more disappointing is the realization that the parent of this amazing new system is even more disheartening than the cameras themselves. But that’s another story we’ll discuss a little later.
A quick update on the state of this new category, Mirrorless and Micro 4/3’ camera’s is in order. Since the GF1 burst on to the photographic scene many other options from other manufacturers have also made an appearance. There are models from Sony, Olympus, Fuji, Pentax, Samsung as well as a few others. Some of them have followed the lead of Panasonic and Olympus by sticking with the 4/3’s sensor. Others such as Samsung and Sony have taken their own path and developed a Mirrorless systems based on the APC sized sensor. All of them however have gone the route of replacing the mirrors with an electronic viewfinder. In doing this all cameras have shrunk in size. There still doesn’t seem to be an overall consensus on what to call this new class of picture taking contraptions but a few creative options have been showing up on blogs and review sites. Some call them Electronic Viewfinder cameras, EVF for short. Others call them Mirrorless and still others call them EVIL for Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens. All of them are related in the way that none have the old fashioned mirror box.
To digress just a bit I should explain that the original concept for the 4/3‘s system was hatched by Olympus and Panasonic. The original idea was to build cameras and lenses that would all be interchangeable with one another, giving the buyer the option to switch bodies and lenses, between different manufacturers, at will. In other words if you bought an entire Panasonic system and Olympus came out with a better body, you could buy the Olympus camera and use it with all Panasonic lenses. Or vise-versa. Say you have a great Panasonic body but Olympus comes out with a stellar new lens, all you do is buy the lens and it works without a hitch on your Panasonic body. No need to go out and purchase an entire new system. It’s a fabulous idea and one only the photographic underdogs would even think to adopt. Notice I’ve not uttered the words Nikon or Canon.
However, as others began to shape this new photographic niche, many chose not to join the Panasonic/Olympus fraternity and instead went out on their own to follow the same business model of the past that only accepts each companies own proprietary components. Sony went this route as well as Samsung and Pentax. My guess is if Nikon and Canon come onboard this is the direction they will take as well. The brilliant idea of interchanging lenses and bodies doesn’t look like it’s gaining many converts. I certainly wished that was not the case.
So back to my recent purchase of the GF2. I can tell you now that when the GF2 was released I was severely disappointed. It was two steps back from the GF1. I broke down and bought the GF2 for this trip to Svalbard for one reason only. My GF1 is in the shop and it’s been there for three months! This is the second repair for my favorite camera of any I’ve ever owned. Twice I’ve smashed the LCD on the back and twice I’ve waited for three months each to get it repaired. Both times I’ve called in to inquire about its status and both times the pat answer has been, “were waiting for parts”. Each repair, the parts have been shipped by boat from Japan!? We’re talking about an LCD the size of a credit card. How expensive can that be to put on a plane? Anyway, I finally told them to send it back unrepaired. Not only was I not happy with the length of time for the service but they wanted $375.00 to make it all happen. Not wanting to support a bad business model, “No Service” I had it returned in the same condition it was in when I sent it off. Thus the reason for a new camera. The GF2 was my only option. I desperately needed a small, light weight, still/video camera to get me through.
So down I went to F/11 on the day before we left. I picked up the only GF2 they had in stock and it was the Demo so it had been there awhile. Marsha, the owner of The Best Little Photo Shop in the West gave me a pretty descent break on the only one she had left. Lack of supply has more to do with disappointment rather than popularity. I’m obviously not the only one unhappy with the GF2 redesign. Had there been an Olympus dealer in Bozeman I most likely would have replaced Panasonic with Olympus. In my hurry to hit the road I didn’t bring the manual for the GF2 but I wasn’t concerned since I’ve used enough cameras to figure most things out. But for the life of me I could not find the option to reduce the flash like I did constantly on my GF1. When we arrived in Oslo I jumped on the internet and downloaded a manual. Still no hint of the ability to use Exposure Compensation for flash. Another search on Google brought up several Forum threads that talked about the frustration people have had with the GF2 not having the ability to compensate the flash or change to rear curtain sync. Two features I used almost everyday on my GF1. No way to do it on the GF2. What an embarrassment for Panasonic. I can not believe they had such a HUGE hit on their hands with the GF1 and decided to throw it all away by drastically reducing features on the GF2. So here I sit with a camera I can’t adjust the flash on. Not a good thing.
Enough of my rant. The main reason I wanted to bring this all up was to introduce those who aren’t familiar to the new world of the Mirrorless and Micro 4/3’s camera systems. Panasonic used to be way out in front with nothing on the horizon from Canon or Nikon. Olympus just recently released their new E-PL3 that is getting rave reviews. In conclusion, my prediction is in five years there will be virtually no cameras on the market using the prehistoric mirror box design. When that happens the weight of our camera bags will drop drastically once again as it did with the invention of the digital camera. Here’s to hoping that day comes sooner rather than later. Anybody want a GF2 for a good price?