In Part 4, I began to dive into all the nitty-gritty details of the Panasonic G1, particularly in regards to “street” shooting and using adapted M-mount lenses. The following concludes the question and answer exchange between myself and, umm, myself:
EGOR: So would you give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the adapted lens capabilities of the G1?
EGOR: I guess, based on my experience, I’d give it a marginal thumbs-up. Adapting M-mount lenses definitely accentuates all the worst qualities of a particular lens. Based on my experiences, and after trying several lenses at my camera dealer, I can unequivocally state that the Voigtländer 35mm f/1.4 Nokton provides the worst adapted experience of all. In general, the better your glass, the happier you’ll be with the adapted lens experience. But that’s true of most any product.
EGOR: Lets zoom out even further, so to speak. Is the G1 a better street camera than your Canon 5DmkII or the Panasonic LX3?
EGOR: Absolutely. It’s better than the 5D because of weight, portability, and stealthiness. And I can toss an extra lens or two in a pocket, rather than carrying a camera bag. This makes me light on my feet and mobile. I can shoot from the hip (using the flip out screen) and still have about a 20% chance of getting a decently focused image. Granted, that’s not great, but it’s better than the 0% chance I had with the 5D. Obviously, I have a wider selection of lenses available for the 5D and, in nearly every instance when neither discreetness nor portability are key requirements, I’ll use the 5DmkII. To date, it’s the best camera I’ve ever used. But on the street, I’m only going to capture about 1% of the desired shots with a 5D, whereas with the G1, I’m probably capturing about 20%. The same applies to the LX3. With its laborious menu-based control system, its sole reliance on the rear-panel LCD, and its draconian insistence that I deal with unnecessarily imposed camera settings, I was still capturing only about 1% of the desired images. So the G1’s 20% “hit rate” is a huge improvement.
EGOR: Do you think any camera, other than a rangefinder, will ever give you a 100% hit rate?
EGOR: No. And there’s no way a rangefinder would either. I figure, at best, I’d never achieve more than an 80% rate using the best of rangefinders, with the best of glass, under the most ideal photographic conditions. That’s just the nature of street photography, and part of what makes it so fun. That said, the G1’s 20% rate is nowhere near my ideal 80% figure. Honestly, if Panasonic would fix the software to allow more accessible MF-assist focusing and faster default shutter speeds in Aperture Priority mode, my hit rate would probably jump to 40%. And, if someone was able to make an adapter that allowed M-mount lenses to operate over their entire focus range and match the distance markings, I don’t see any reason why my “hit rate” with the G1 wouldn’t increase to, say, 60% or more. So, the G1 is a massive improvement over other cameras I’ve tried to use on the street. And, with some simple firmware updates, it could be improved even more. That said, in its current incarnation, the G1 still isn’t enough like a Leica to make me forget I’d like a Leica. But it’s only version 1 of a brand new product format… so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
A (Scant) Few Samples
So you’re probably hoping to see some examples of bright, contrasty G1 test images. How’s that one on the left grab you? What’s that? Not enough contrast? A little soft, you say? That’s not the G1’s doing. This picture is accurately indicative of the weather here in Vancouver for the past couple of weeks. Actually, it’s indicative of the weather on one of the “clearer” days. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. We’ll sometimes get stretches of fog that last for a day or two, but never for two straight weeks! On many occasions, the fog has been so thick that I couldn’t see the street from my condo (I do live in a high rise, but still…). So that dense, soft, soupy stuff that surrounds the boats in this photo isn’t the result of a faulty Voigtländer 35mm f/1.4 Nokton. It’s just good old fashioned fog. While this makes for some nice atmospheric photographs, it also makes it rather difficult to gauge how well a lens performs. Does it flare? Who knows, I haven’t seen the sun. Is it contrasty? Well, it seemed to capture the entire limited dynamic range of this scene. Are the colors rich? Just look at those shades of grey!
Surprisingly, just a few minutes after I took the photo shown above, the sky actually cleared — ever so briefly and ever so partially — and I was able to capture the photo shown on the left. It’s not gallery material, but at least it gives some indication of the beautiful way in which the 35mm Voigtländer Nokton draws. There’s still a bit a “dreaminess” in this image, but consider these two facts: First, there was almost no actual color visible to the naked eye, yet the Nokton managed to find it and render it. Second, I took this photo almost directly into the sun. The moisture in the air made the sky light up like a prison search light. It was so bright, I had to squint harder than Clint Eastwood sizing up a gunslinger just to even see those boats on the water. I love it when a lens gives you more than your eye sees, and I’m really starting to like that Nokton. I’m not accustom to getting this kind of image quality from a walk-around camera — unless I’m walking around with several pounds of Canon dSLR gear slung over my shoulder.
While walking around town experimenting with camera, lens, and techniques, I found one curiously common thread running through all the test images — dogs know you’re photographing them. I don’t know how they know this. But they know. People don’t have a clue. But dogs know instinctively. Can they smell a camera lens? Does the imaging sensor emit some kind of high pitched sound? I really can’t say. All I can say is that, no matter how discreet your intent, a dog will know when you’re taking its photo. The image on the left, shot from the hip with the kit lens, is very indicative of the dozens of test images I have that display this phenomena.
Ultimately, this entire five part article was about street photography. So I’d probably be remiss if I didn’t include a heaping handful of street photos. Well, call me “irresponsible,” because I’m not going to do that. In normal street photography, one chooses their subjects because they convey some wry ironic commentary; or because a single expression tells a story; or because they convey some real emotion that’s captured the photographer’s eye. But I haven’t been doing “normal” street photography this past week, and I haven’t chosen my subjects for any of those reasons. Instead, I chose them simply because they walked in front of my camera. I was working in “simulated” photojournalist mode where, in order to get enough experience with the camera in enough situations, subjects were chosen indiscriminately. Consequently, what I’ve captured this past week are a lot of dull photos of dull people doing dull things. It won’t always be this way. That’s why I’ve started this blog — so I can post these images as they become available. And now that I have a camera that will actually improve my ability to capture street life, it will be the job of future posts to show off the street cred of the G1.
AMENDMENT: On 22 Feb 2009, I published an addendum to this article.
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