Jun 232012

Mirror-less cameras have been on the market for four years. I recently bought my first mirror-less camera, the Panasonic GX1 and used it extensively in Ecuador. In the next few posts I will discuss my experience of the Panasonic GX1 and attempt to answer these questions:

Panasonic GX1 with Olympus 17mm f2.8 lens

What is a mirror less camera?

Why did I choose the Panasonic GX1?

How does a mirror less compare to SLR and compact cameras?

Are they any good?

In which circumstances will I use a mirror-less camera?


Before I discuss why I bought the Panasonic GX1, what is a mirror-less camera?

A mirror-less camera is similar to a digital SLR in two major respects.

1. You can change lenses.

2. They use larger sensors than a compact camera.

Sea lion on Espanola in the Galapagos Islands

A Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera uses a mirror and a pentaprism to allow the photographer to see through the lens optically. In contrast, a mirror-less camera uses the camera’s sensor and either the LCD and/or an electronic viewfinder to show the photographer what the lens can see. (Just like a compact camera).

By eliminating the need for a mirror and pentaprism, the mirror-less camera can be made much smaller and lighter than the SLR. The disadvantage of the LCD and electronic viewfinder is that they can be slow to react when using the camera in high speed scenarios such as photographing wildlife or sports and the LCD can be difficult to see in bright sunlight.

Why choose the Panasonic GX1?

For the past couple of years, a Nikon D3x has been my primary camera. The D3x really suits my photography and I have no plans in replacing it, however, with my new work in Europe and Africa I wanted a camera that would be small, unobtrusive and yet take high quality photographs that would be accepted by stock agencies. A mirror-less camera seemed the best option and after lots of research I narrowed my choice to the Panasonic GX1 and the Sony NEX-7. Although the Sony NEX-7 is an excellent camera, there are currently very few autofocus lenses available for the Sony “E-mount” cameras. In contrast, there is an excellent choice of Olympus and Panasonic lenses available for the “Micro Four Thirds” lens mount which is found on their cameras. It was the choice of high quality lenses that lead to me buying the GX1 over the NEX-7.

Otavalo in the highlands of Ecuador

My Panasonic GX1 kit

Along with the camera I bought the following lenses: Olympus 12mm f2.0, Olympus 17mm f2.8, Olympus 45mm f1.8, Voigtlander 25mm f0.95 manual focus and Panasonic 100mm-300mm f4.0-5.6.

I should mention that the micro four thirds sensor has a 2x crop factor. Therefore, a 12mm lens is effectively a 24mm lens, the 25mm Voigtlander is a ‘standard’ lens and the 100mm to 300mm is effectively a 200mm to 600mm lens.

For accessories, I bought the Panasonic LVF2 external viewfinder, Metz Mecablitz 58 AF flash, a Nikon lens adapter and an L plate from Really Right Stuff. What is amazing, is that all this equipment fits in to a small Lowe Pro Photo Runner 100 waist or shoulder bag. Also, the camera with the 17mm f2.8 lens fits in my pocket and it is this simple one camera, one lens combination that I take to work.

First impressions

The GX1 is a small but solid camera that feels very well built. The Olympus lenses are surprisingly small, very light and have fast, silent autofocus. One early frustration that quickly turned in to a delight, was moving the autofocus (AF) area. It is fast and easy to move the AF area on my D3x but I was not finding the same on the GX1, then it dawned on me; “may be I just touch the screen on where I want the camera to focus!” Lo and behold that’s exactly what you do. I like being able to use a combination of buttons and touch screen gestures and find that the GX1 is very easy and intuitive to control once you get accustomed to the touch screen.

I took the camera with me to Ghana in March and found that the very bright conditions combined with finger prints on the LCD made it difficult to see what I was doing. In addition, manually focusing the 25mm f0.95 was practically impossible on the LCD, even indoors. Fortunately, these problems were solved by using the Panasonic LVF2 electronic viewfinder. If you are interested in a mirror-less camera, budget on buying an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Some mirror-less cameras such as the NEX-7 and new Olympus OM-D EM-5 include an EVF.

At home I used the GX1 with the Mecablitz 58 AF flash and had great results from the bounce flash. I was so happy with the camera and flash that I decided to use them to photograph Kendra at her Alice on Ice skating event. This event was a great test of the camera in the world of low light and high speed. Found out how it performed in my next blog post…



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