Wednesday, 19 March 2014

A Petite for a Camera

Users of mirrorless format Micro 4/3 will be already familiar with very small cameras, and despite this with their high Image Quality.
It is the main feature of the format that for the first time did away with the use of the mirror in digital, therefore shrinking all that was stuck around it. Never such an extreme in miniaturization was reached however. Compare the differences:

A GM1 compared to a Canon 6d  (Courtesy Joachim)

The Panasonic GM1 is smaller than my palm and fingers, and yet has the same quality of its bigger brethrens, adding a very respectable MPEG-4 video format. It has a 16 Mpx sensor that can go to up to 25600 ISO sensitivity (candlelight!) and a12-32mm F3.5-5.6 pancake zoom, with great resolution, covering from wide - typically a living room, to short portrait.

Panasonic succeeded to make it collapsible to pancake size, so that you can put it easily in your pocket.

Check the Specs here

This petite in fact is probably smaller than your smartphone, and it can  interact with it by Wi-FI.

And here we come to a user's dilemma. Should you buy this beauty, which will set you back by 600 $, or should you do away with it, by simply using a smartphone?

The difference with the latter is of course that the GM1 has interchangeable lenses, which allow better IQ.  Features and performances are like  a full camera of course, not like a phone. You don't use Apps, but the controls are already coded in the camera itself.

In other words do you want to play photographer, or geek? The difference between the two is a nightmare for camera companies. The entry-level cameras, the so called Point & Shoot, were the first to be wiped out by the extreme casualness and portability of the smartphone.

This year it was worse: system cameras, the top of the bunch, lost as much as 20% worldwide - and it is not the end yet.
While the smartphone triumphs, the camera industry goes down in flames with the last contenders at each other's throats.  Can mirrorless be an answer?

Reflex camera owners hate mirrorless  since they have no optical viewfinder.
The GM1 in fact has not even an electronic one, but does it need one? It can connect to your smartphone after all.

In a mirrorless everything is sacrificed to size. Indeed  short distance to flange allows lenses to be designed much smaller.

The crop factor also allows much smaller telephotos, so on the whole, everything gets smaller.
As a result, many leave at home  the camera bag, and instead use simply their pockets, when they need additional lenses.

In a mirrorless  even an LCD back screen allows WYSIWYG, to see what you get, i.e. what the sensor records, so you can  correct the result of the shot in advance.
Similarly one can change colour casts, tones, brightness - do essential photography, *before* getting  back at home, and  lose time with Photoshop.

In fact you can directly beam by WiFi  to your social sites. End of PhotoShop!

Last but not least, Mirrorless has also no lens calibration issues, and some of the fastest AF in the industry.

M4/3 which brings so many advantages, includes a neologism: Scalability, meaning you can choose different camera sizes for the same sensor.

Nobody forces you to have a petite like the GM1 alone,  if you want to use a bigger camera with the  same lenses.  Just get two m4/3 cameras,  say a big one for Studio and Portraits, and E-M1 - and a midget, if you want to steal pictures in the street. You stll be using the same set of lenses. Great savings!

In my case I have a  dSR- like,  the Olympus EM-5, and another Olympus, the E-PM1, a midget. The first I use for dedicated work like Landscape and Architecture - the second  as an 'always with you camera',  for Street Shooting, with a diminutive pancake, a Panny 14/2.5.
By using every day the same 14/2.5,  I can tell the Field of View by heart without even needing a framing device.

Now  let's go back to this little queen of mirrorless, the  GM1.
Because of its small button estate, it has only one Function button, and a few others, including a MF/AF one. 

Its main interface is a touch screen, and that can be a blessing or an affliction. Being so small it's very easy to bring to life the screen with the thumb holding the camera. Then the wheel around the diamond keys can easily move away the focus point from the center:

 Trying to find the GM1 problems.

Now let's have a look at the customization. DPReview says: "The GM1 has one physical customizable button (Fn1, encircled by the focus mode dial on the top panel) and five more touch controls that can be assigned custom functions. These are accessed through a 'Fn' tab on the screen. Any of those buttons may be assigned the following controls:

• Wi-Fi
• One-push AE
• Touch AE
• DOF preview
• Level gauge
• Zoom Control
• Photo Style
• Aspect Ratio
• Picture size
• Quality
• Sensitivity
• Metering mode
• i.Dynamic
• i.Resolution
• Shutter type • Flash mode
• Flash adjust
• Ex. Tele Conv.
• Digital zoom
• Stabilizer
• Motion Pic. settings
• Picture mode
• Silent mode
• AFS/AFF mode
• Peaking
• Histogram
• Guide line
• Rec area
• Step zoom
• Zoom speed
• Restore to default

That is an enormous choice.  Probably half of the functions are wasted on you, and so on me. But how to agree about what should be kept? Do they help us make better pictures? I doubt. We play, get distracted, and forget to take pictures.
But you can also see it in another way. Once those functions are set, you forget about them, and you have a camera set to your very specific needs.

OTH it's clear that such a small camera will never have the real estate needed for all the buttons its deserves, so it has to rely on the touch screen, just like a smartphone.

That is the first reason why I hesitate to  let myself seduced by the petite. Would I ever become a touch screen addict?
The second limit is that  it has no IBIS (in body stabilization) and that the battery life is only 230 shots.

On the bright side this camera has HDR, and an i-dynamic setting which can smooth the tone curve - the difference between shadows and highlights -  in heavy contrast days.

On the fun side the GM1 has Stop Motion / Time Lapse, which allows you Koyanystquatsy effects.
DPR says: "It will capture a series of images and automatically generate a movie file of a Nightmare Before Christmas-type style. With the camera on a tripod, the GM1 will take as many pictures as you'd like, and the camera will put them together into a video for you. The original stills are saved, as well. The camera can 'auto shoot' at set intervals (you'd better be quick) or you can take them at your own pace. An overlay of the previous shot helps you see exactly what's moved." This is great fun!

If there must be a conclusion for me, is that petite cameras are  becoming more important than their dSLR alternatives, because we use them more, as everyday devices. 

I have an additional reason to be involved in dwarf camera. For short range work I use  a 28mm eq., and therefore  I must  get v. close to my subject. Such a small camera as the GM1 makes me the invisible man, like Tichy:

One last thing that puzzles me considerably. The GM1 has an electronic shutter, which is true Space Age: 1/16,000 of a second. What will it be for? Electronic shutters allow a Lartigue Effect , and that is certainly a draw for me, although it might be a con for others.

On the flip side  it has only a 1/50 synchro speed for flash, which is next to useless. At the most  you can use it to trigger faster, more powerful slave speedlights.

In any case this petite, and its successors are on my radar. They simply offer too much for the size.

You can buy it at Amazon.

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