Photography

Unfortunately the GM5 has been discontinued, but they are still around… I consider three levels of camera grades: Consumer, photographer and professional. The Lumix GM5 is a consumer grade camera. I just want to make this clear beforehand. After losing my Fuji X100S and Olympus OM-D E-M5 to a boating mishap I needed to buy something quickly, discreet and cheap but good enough for street photography. The new Olympus Pen-F would have been my choice, or an APS-C sensor camera, but you don’t get much for around $600.

Panasonic Lumix GM5

Panasonic Lumix GM5

The GM5 is small, very small. It means everything on it is small as well, including the viewfinder. Its size is an advantage in street and candid photography. Nobody is going to take you seriously with something that small (that’s what she says!). The mechanical shutter up to 1/500 is very quiet, and the electronic shutter beyond is silent. So as far as being discreet, the GM5 is awesome. The battery is small as well, so do not expect to take hundreds of photos without a spare. Since I rarely take more than a dozen per outing I couldn’t care less.

Quality wise, I am still on the fence, mostly because of the 12-32 kit lens, which isn’t much better than the bottom of a coke bottle. Well, I may be a bit harsh, but at f8 and darker the lens looses a lot of sharpness. Combine that with high ISO and you get unusable images. I set the aperture to 5.6 and leave it there with auto ISO in aperture priority mode. Kit zooms suck, and this one is no exception. With good light and the correct aperture though, you can get nice images.

P1000102-2
A couple quirks with the body have left me wondering if I am missing some settings in the menus. The first is the impossibility to take a flash photo with a software filter set. I don’t seem to be able to make make the flash fire while in Dynamic B&W mode. The camera needs to be in no-filter mode for the flash to work. Correct me if I’m wrong.. The worst thing however is not being able to lock the exposure with the focus when the shutter button is slightly depressed. I have never seen a camera not able to do so. Again, I wonder if there is some hidden function or trick to do it. Someone help!

I plan on buying the Panasonic Leica Summilux 15mm f1.7. It should be head and shoulders above the 12-32 kit lens. Only then will I be able to decide if the Micro-4/3 sensor size is good enough for my type of photography. Should you get a GM5? If you need something small that you can carry in a vest pocket, then yes. The ability to change lenses and the viewfinder are good arguments in favor as well. Just do not expect high quality images with the kit lens. My review of the GM5 with the Leica lens will come later.

I’ve owned quite a few cameras, film and digital. Some were used for newspaper work, most for artistic purposes or personal memories. Lately I have been drawn to candid photography trending between street and documentary. Not all cameras are created equal for the purpose and I will explain my choices here pertaining to digital cameras.

Film cameras are not the focus of this post, but anyone wanting one can check out used Leicas on Ebay. I particularly like the M2. You can find a lot of cheaper older IIIc models, but they might need some work. My M4-P was also a great camera. Leicas are the Rolls Royces of film cameras and have been documenting life in the hands of the greatest photographers since before World War II. So no contest there, they are built like Swiss vaults. Their digital cameras, I wouldn’t bother unless I was rich and would consider them disposable.

A street camera should be discreet, meaning small. When a subject sees you take their photograph they change. It’s like quantum mechanics! The observer changes the state of the subject. You do not want people to see you take their photo. You don’t see actors looking straight at the camera in movies, there are good reasons for this. There are exceptions of course and street portraits can be beautiful, but generally, you want to be a ninja photographer. This practically eliminates DSLRs which today are huge with large lenses. That leaves mirrorless cameras.

Panasonic Lumix GM5

Panasonic Lumix GM5

The first feature I find necessary is a viewfinder. Taking a photo with the back screen is an exercise I don’t want to get used to. I can’t understand why anyone would buy a camera without one. I find it much more natural and easier to frame an image through a viewfinder, and I like it to be in the corner, not in the middle where it forces you to hide your face behind the camera. If your subject sees you, better have a smile on your face, it might avoid you some trouble, looking like some pervert taking snapshots for dubious reasons.

Size matters, as far as sensors are concerned. Though image quality isn’t the primary focus in Street and documentary photography, a minimum of resolution is necessary. I consider three sizes of sensors to be large enough for the task: Full frame, APS-C and Micro-4/3rd. Bigger is better, but larger sensors mean a larger and sometimes more expensive camera. I used a Fuji X100S with an APS-C sensor producing unbelievable images, but it always felt flimsy and indeed died after 5K shots. I now have opted for Micro-4/3rd (Lumix GM5) which are smaller and just good enough with quality prime lenses (fixed focal, not zooms). Forget megapixels, today they are meaningless. Anything with 10mp or above is plenty. Spend money on good glass, not more megapixels.

Depending on where you live and the type of photography you like, you might want to get a weather sealed camera and lenses. You will pay a premium but if you don’t mind working in the rain, more power to you. If you hope to work for a newspaper of press agency, it is a must. Cameras like the Fuji X-Pro2 or Sony a6300 would be prime examples, though Sony has few lenses available and fewer bright ones even. Fuji, I am suspicious about now. Olympus has great OM-D models but with the viewfinder in the wrong place (for me). I wish their new Pen-F model was weather-sealed. I am now in the North of France and ordered a Lumix GM5 which is not weather sealed. That will limit my time outside quite a bit, given that it rains an average of 220 days a year here, which is why I don’t plan on staying too long! My next camera might be an Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII, too bad for the viewfinder position, but it is a pretty rugged camera.

That is pretty much it. Again, the lenses are where you should spend your money. Get a 35mm equivalent: 23mm for APS-C and 17mm for Micro-4/3rd. A 35mm is always a 35mm on Full frame of course, and be done with it. Avoid zooms, there are just too many optical elements in them and quality suffers. Try to get a lens with an aperture of 2.8 or brighter (2.0, 1.8, 1.4…) if you can afford one. Get a spare battery and memory card. I also like to get a UV filter to protect my lenses, and a small metal lens hood.

I will review the Panasonic Lumix GM5 as soon as I get it (Monday) and take a couple hundred shots. They have been discontinued unfortunately, and there are a few remaining in stock, so if you want one, hurry up if you don’t want to have to buy a used one. They are also fairly cheap for a Micro-4/3rd. camera with a kit lens included. The GM5 is small and has all the features I want in a street camera but the weather sealing, including price.

I finally got to finish the book with the Big-Es coffee shop regulars and sunset at Indian Beach in Sarasota Florida. Film photos were taken with Leicas (M2, M4-P, IIIc) and a Pentax 6×7. Digital shots are from a Fuji X100S and Olympus OM-D E-M5. The project lasted two years.

I will miss Sarasota and my friends dearly, until I come back, soon or later. Everyone seems to come back to Sarasota.

I received my E-M5 yesterday. The camera feels rugged, slightly heavy for its size, which I like. Compared to my Fuji X100S, it is a tank. The 14-42 kit lens however is a cheap piece of plastic. No wonder they only go for about $55 on Ebay. Image quality isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but dealing with a 3.5 to 5.6 aperture isn’t something I like to do. Even 2.8 is a bit dark in my opinion. The menus are more complex that on my X100S, and the OM-D has a bunch of useless features no photographer worthy of the name will ever use. Those who would are better off buying a cheap point-and-shoot camera.

Dozer
The image above is from an out-of-camera jpeg through Lightroom 5, but I really didn’t change anything but increase the exposure a bit. Settings are Monotone with a yellow filter and +1 contrast, if i remember well.

Image quality isn’t as good as the X100S, which is to be expected. 6400 ISO on the X100S is like 1600 ISO on the Olympus. What I was pleasantly surprised with was the low speed at which you can take sharp photos with the image stabilization. I tried down to 1/5sec, and yep, sharp as a tack. Now I need a good lens to replace the el-cheapo zoom that came with it. Contenders now are the Voightlander Nokton 25mm f0.95, Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 and even the Mitakon 35mm f0.95. Later I will get the Panasonic Leica 15mm, a telephoto and a fisheye. The f2.8 PRO zoom is tempting, but quite expensive, and still only f2.8.. Maybe later..

Are Micro 4/3rds good enough?

I think so. As long as you don’t expect to take them to the studio. The E-M5 is an outside, rugged camera, not meant for art photography, though some people seem to do decent work with it in that respect. The grain of the E-M5 sensor is more film-like than the X100S, which has a more plasticky look. I don’t like what the X100S does to skin tones at high ISO, but I rarely use it that way. The big advantage of the Olympus is the weather sealing and image stabilization. If only they would simplify the menus by deleting half of the functions in there.. For street and documentary types of photography, I think it will do quite well.

Keep an eye on my Flickr page for more images, both with the X100S (if I get it back!) and the OM-D E-M5.

Click Here.

My X100S crapped out! What a disappointment. I bought it in May of last year from B&H. Of course it’s out of warranty. Every few frames the camera crashes with a white screen of death. The only way to get it to work or turn off is to remove the battery. I spent $1300 for about 5000 shots taken; that’s $0.26 per shot. I really can’t afford it. To make things worse, B&H is closed until the 7th. I was really stupid not to buy an extended warranty on something that expensive.

X100S
I hope it can be fixed because the image quality is exceptional. The only thing I can do is call Fuji in New Jersey and hope they can help me. I heard on the Range Finder Forum that they are nice people. Let’s hope. I will need this camera very soon on my sailing adventure for documentary photography. I wish it was a bit more rugged. I know, they don’t all do this, though reliability problems are known.. It is a camera you want to take everywhere, and it just doesn’t seem to be strong enough.

I am now selling my Nikon D2X. It is an excellent camera, but too big and heavy to carry around for candid shots. If I still worked for a newspaper I’d keep it. My style of photography requires small, discreet and quiet cameras. So I am now looking at the Olympus OM-D E-M5. It isn’t the latest and that’s fine with me, I like the discounted price. I hope the X100S remains my main camera. You just can’t beat the quality of the images. The E-M5 however is weather-sealed, which can really be an asset on a sailboat! Its sensor is a micro-4/3 format, smaller than the Fuji’s APS-C. I have browsed Flickr looking for images taken with the OM-D… They are really good. Not quite as good as what I get with my X100S, but it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. For my type of photography, it doesn’t matter much. I focus on composition and emotions, not pixel-peeping.

Olympus OM-D EM-5

Olympus OM-D EM-5

The kit lens sold with the Olympus is the M.ZUIKO 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R, way too dark for me, but beggers can’t be choosers. It is also not weather-sealed, but if I lost it, oh well.. I would like to get the 17mm/f1.8 or even the Panasonic made Leica 15mm/f1.7. Remember, you have to double the focal length to get the equivalent in 35mm; so, the Leica 15mm has the field of view of a 30mm. The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is supposedly excellent, but at $1K, it might have to wait. Bottom line is, I need a camera that can survive salt water spray, with interchangeable lenses. For twice the money I could buy an OM-D E-M1 or a Fuji X-T1. I just can’t justify spending more than what I get for my D2X and Tokina 28-70/f2.8 though. The lens just sold tonight.

The X100S and the OM-D E-M5 are the only two cameras I would need. Well, aside from my cheap GoPro. Let’s hope I get the former back in good shape, otherwise I’ll just have to do with one. This time I will get an extended warranty for the Olympus. The other contender by the way is the Panasonic LX-100, which does 4K video and has a bright 24-75 equivalent fixed lens. It isn’t weather sealed and more expensive.

I shouldn’t have sold my Leica M2!

Update, Oct. 6: My X100S is on its way to Fuji NJ. I ordered the E-M5 tonight from B&H. They have the camera with the 14-42 kit lens for $499. I suspect not many are left.. The kit lens, well, I don’t expect much from it, but it will get me started with M4/3. They sell for $299 new but only got for $55 on Ebay. I will post my inpressions after I get to play with it a bit. My next lens might be the Mitakon 35mm f0.95, the Panasonic Leica 15mm f1.7 or the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO zoom, depending on if i get my X100S back or not, and of course my finances…

Update, Oct. 19: Fuji wants $385.20!!! I will never buy a Fuji camera ever again in my life.