Mar 13 2010

Talk me down

It’s been almost three weeks since I started the one camera/one lens/one month experiment and I’m coming to a rather frightening conclusion: I’m in love with this camera.

Panasonic Lumix GF1

Panasonic Lumix GF1

Why is that frightening? Well, I’ll just lay it out there… I’m thinking of going to Italy without my Nikon D700 and lenses and taking only the Panasonic GF1 and a couple of lenses instead.

So I posted on Twitter that I was considering this and for someone to “talk me down from the ledge.”

After they stared at me like I’d lost my mind, I had several people offer to “help” me with this dilemma. A few said, “Sell (or give!) your D700 and lenses to me.” One said, “Bring them along and I’ll carry them for you!” But my friend, Mark Olwick, gave me the perfect solution:

“Try to simulate your trip—whatever you think you’d encounter—and do a simulated shoot.  If you’re happy, then it’s all good.”

This is brilliant. The premise, of course, is that while there certainly could be situations where my GF1 will underperform compared to the D700, it’s essentially a psychological issue. Doing this simulation would certainly put my mind at ease about it and help me make a decision. Mark also pointed me to a couple of web sites where photographers had done exactly that, limiting themselves to a Panasonic GF1 and a lens or two on a big trip: Panasonic Lumix GF1 Field Test—16 Days in the Himalayas and Panasonic GF-1 Review in the Landscape.

Now, I had seen the first one before I actually owned the GF1, but I’d not read the second one. Both are very well done and provide a lot of information about  how the GF1 will perform in the types of situations you’re likely to encounter. If you’re considering this camera for a photo trip, these are two great articles you shouldn’t miss.

So, to get it all out there, here are my concerns:

Low-light situations. If the GF1 has glaring weakness compared to the D700, it’s higher levels of noise at higher ISOs. This isn’t really a very fair comparison, because sensor size has a ton to do with that and the D700′s full-frame sensor is enormous in comparison to the GF1′s. I’m sure I can get rid of some of it in post-production and I do plan to bring a travel tripod, so this may be less of a factor than I think, but it’s probably the biggest worry I would have.

Lens versatility. I have some very fast, very high-quality glass that I use with my D700. In addition to a recently purchased 16-35mm f/4 VR II zoom, my planned kit contains a 70-200mm f/2.8 VR zoom and a 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom (or possibly a 24-70mm f/2.8 as a rental). In comparison, I have a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 prime (which is a brilliant lens, by the way) and a Panasonic 45-200mm f/4-5.6 zoom. I could possibly add a Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom or a Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 zoom (both of which I’d have to buy/rent). Obviously, I’m going to lose a stop or two of general light-gathering power which, combined with a lesser performance with high ISOs, reduces the effectiveness of the GF1 in those situations—with the exception of the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7. That thing kills in low light.


A Nikon D700 with the 16-35mm, 70-200mm, 24-85mm, SB600 flash, batteries, CF cards, accessories & cables = approximately 20 lbs. of equipment to carry around every day. The Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm, 14-45mm, 45-200mm, SD cards, batteries, accessories & cables? About 5 lbs.

That’s a big difference, and not only from a weight standpoint, but an ease-of-use standpoint. If I’ve noticed one thing over the first three weeks of my experiment, it’s that it’s a lot easier to have the GF1 on hand when an image presents itself than it is with the D700.

So, I’m going to try Mark’s idea and simulate the week in Italy, but locally. This will give me an idea of what limitations the GF1 would have in a similar situation. I’ll begin this experiment after I complete the current one, which ends on March 25. I’ll take a little break, then beginning on March 28 and continuing through April 3, I will again use only my Panasonic GF1, but allow myself to use additional lenses as appropriate.

Right now, my gut tells me that I will not really be able to leave the D700 kit behind, however I may convince myself to hold off on using it in Italy until I’ve given the GF1 alone a fair shot. Who knows? I may like this well enough to actually sell off the Nikon stuff and get an old film Leica.

So hang around, folks. l may still need you to talk me down.

(For now, I’m heading into the final week of the one camera/one lens/one month experiment. Check it out on Flickr, if you’d like.)

Mar 2 2010

The first week

Okay. It’s been a week since I started this “one camera, one lens, one month” experiment and I’ve posted seven photographs (not counting Experiment #0) taken with my Panasonic GF1 and a 20mm f/1.7 prime lens.

So what have I learned so far? It might surprise you.

Self Portrait: February 25, 2010

Self Portrait: February 25, 2010

I’ve learned that my respect for professionals—that is, photographers who do this for a living—went up a notch or two. It’s hard to do this every day and still feel like you’ve got something to give—and I’ve only been at it a week! I am balancing a full-time job and family obligations with it, but I think those two activities map pretty well to the business side of photography and the same obligations to family. I work as a designer in the creative services industry, so I know a little about meeting deadlines and exceeding client expectations, but I’m not sure I want to mix that with my photography. I’m still very much on the fence about that.

Another thing I’ve learned? To give myself permission to suck. Most of the photos so far, while good exercises in creativity, are not going to win any awards. But they’re not intended to, are they? They’re meant for me to stretch my brain; to think about photography in a slightly different way and perhaps to open up a path that I’ve never been on before. Allowing myself the freedom not to worry about what others think of these images helps me toss aside rules and guidelines and play. I’ve discovered that you have to be a little selfish about this and ignore everybody else. Forget about what you think will sell or hang in a gallery or be published in a magazine or on a web site (of course, you can do that yourself now, if you want to). Who knows, I might create something that other people like, but that’s not the point now is it? Remember who you are and you’ll discover what you want to say.

I’ve also stepped a little bit outside my photographic comfort zone. This goes along with allowing myself to create some bad photographs—”wrecking some pixels,” to paraphrase Mr. duChemin—but it also makes me better at the craft of photography. If I put myself in situations where the light is unlike anything I’ve photographed before, or I need some fill flash—in other words, where I have to solve a problem—I add to my skill set as a photographer. There is an 800 lb. gorilla in this room, though: people photography. I am naturally reticent to approach people as photographic subjects, but I think if I don’t get past that, I will miss out on some great moments and great images (especially during my upcoming trip to Italy). I plan to work on that over the next week or two of this experiment, so look for some street photography or portraits coming up. (Crap, now I really have to do it.)

In the end, all of these things expand my photographic vocabulary, which is the point of the whole experiment. The more photographic “words” (concepts) I learn—negative space, leading lines, visual weight, etc.—the better I am able to build “paragraphs” and eventually stories to communicate what I’m trying to say. I’m also digging deeper to find out what it is I truly want to say and what I want to photograph, though you might not see that in the images so far. But I’ll get there.

I also want to take a moment to thank all of you who have been checking out the Flickr feed and enduring my Facebook posts about this. Your comments and support have been great. Thanks.

Now, on to week two…

Mar 1 2010

March desktop wallpaper

Here’s my desktop wallpaper for March. This was taken along a county road after an ice storm the night before. The sun was setting behind the trees and the low angle of light gave everything a orange glow. Though it’s still cold in early March, the warm sunlight reminds me of the promise of spring days to come.


March desktop wallpaper

March desktop wallpaper

March desktop wallpaper – Large
March desktop wallpaper – Small