Panasonic G6 — A Game Changer
For years now, I've used a strategy that employs two cameras so I don't have to change lenses in the field quite so often as well as to insulate me from camera failure while far away from home. It's worked and served me well in Japan, China, and in the Utah deserts. But, life has moved on and I felt it was time to upgrade my aging Panasonic G2 cameras. They are (gasp!) almost four years old — quite Jurassic in the digital age.
After considerable research and vacillation, I decided to forego a complete system change and simply upgrade to a Panasonic G6. It arrived a few days ago and here are some initial thoughts.
I thought it was a simple upgrade to a newer camera with a larger resolution sensor. I did not anticipate it being such a game changer.
- First, it's incredibly lightweight. I knew the numbers on the spec chart, but they didn't prepare me for having it in hand. In fact, when the UPS guy delivered the box, my first excitement was quelled because the box was so lightweight that I thought B&H must have shipped only the two extra batteries I ordered. I opened the box and was surprised to find both batteries and the camera box. This thing is so small and feather weight that I'm rethinking my entire portable pack. And, I should add, this is the BIG camera in my new two-camera system. The second camera will be the micro-sized GM1 which won't arrive until December.
- Evidently, the next big wave of progress in digital cameras is customization. This new G6 has 7 programmable function buttons — 5 of which are actual buttons and the remaining two are touch screen buttons. Seven. In other words, you sort of build the camera you want for the functions and choices that make sense to you. Then there are the four "Custom" profiles that record each combination that you make. Set the seven buttons as you need for one kind of shooting and that's "Custom 1." Repeat three times and it's sort of like having four different cameras for four different shooting scenarios.
- Wifi. When I started photography seriously some 40 years ago, I would have laughed at you if you'd told me that I was going to be so excited about operating my camera, hands-free, by using my phone. Or transferring my photographs to my portable tablet without cables. Or operate my flash unit without any connection to the camera. Or automatically uploading my images to a remote storage facility in Japan, as I make them, from anywhere in the world. Or that I would apply GPS data to each image via my phone. Wifi meets camera and smartphone; it's a mind-warp. One of the most practical tricks I can see will be to use my phone as an alternative to a cable release. (I dare you to read that last sentence again.) The touch screen on my phone shows a real-time display of what the camera sees through its lens, then as I touch the screen on my phone, the camera instantly focuses on that object in the photograph and makes the exposure. I cannot imagine a more stable environment that will keep the camera motionless, ensuring a sharp image. I couldn't, that is, until I thought more about the new . . .
- Electronic shutter. Turns out those flopping mirrors and moving mechanical shutter parts all exhibit momentum. Duh! And that momentum can translate into vibration that obscures detail in the final image, even in tripod shooting situations. Introducing the electronic shutter — which makes an exposure without moving a thing. No momentum to overcome means no vibration. Not a solution for all images because of something called "rolling shutter effect," but for the vast majority of my work it is a perfect solution. I anticipate using the electronic shutter for 80-90% of my work.
- My old G2 cameras had a touch screen, but it was primitive. I used it on rare occasions. The new G6 is touch-screen centric, if you want it to be. I do. Touch the screen to change any setting in the camera. Touch the screen to focus on a pinpoint in the image. Touch the screen to fire the shutter. Touch the screen to advance the film. (Just seeing if you are awake.)
- The G6 has smaller batteries — about half the size as my previous cameras — but the same shot count. They are small enough that I can carry several in my pants pocket without noticing. I'm starting to worry about the camera bag manufacturers' futures.
- My aging eyes find the new "focus peaking" a joy. The edges of objects at the sharpest focal distance glow in a visible cyan color. Easy and very visible feedback about exactly what the camera will capture with sharpest detail. Very sweet. Here in the digital age, missed focus has replaced "bad exposure and development" as my number one nemesis. Focus peaking has just removed that issue for lots of images.
Of course, everything I loved about my previous cameras is still here — auto-bracketing, all my lenses fit the new body, movie mode is perfect for what I need, mostly 720p with occasional 1080p videos — and Panasonic listened and added a jack for external mics. Panorama shots are even easier, and the hand grip makes the whole package comfortable for my clumsy paws and stubby fingers.
The fully-articulated screen has become such a mandatory component for me that it really was one of the most important features that steered me away from the popular Olympus E-M1 (which is, no doubt, a more robust camera that will appeal to lots of folks).
I was happy with 12 megapixels in my old cameras, so the 16mp in the new camera are just a bonus.
Initial tests seem to point to a 1-2 stop improvement in sensor noise. This is a very big deal for us M4/3 users. ISO 800 on my old G2 looks noisier than ISO 1600 on the new G6. At ISO 3200, the G6 might be every so slightly noisier than ISO800 on the G2, but in either case a quick pass through Noiseware Pro and it's all gone. I won't hesitate to use ISO 3200 on the new camera, even for work I want to be critically viewed. I topped out at ISO 800 on the G2.
The bottom line: more capabilities with less weight; features that I'll use every day instead of just fluff that fills the brochure; a practical tool I can use and abuse without feeling guilty about the mortgage to pay for it if I had stepped up to the expensive, big boy cameras. I think the biggest problem I'm likely to encounter with this new G6 is that is just doesn't look like nor feel like a serious camera — in spite of its incredible capabilities. There is a psychological factor about this that makes it appear real, but is not. For photographers who want the latest and greatest toys, the Panasonic G6 isn't likely to make their short list. Nikon D800 it ain't. It is, however, a sweet camera I will be (my back will be) delighted to carry all over the world. I look forward to new projects and images that will, hopefully, outlive the device used to make it.