Friday, 12 September 2008

The chaos-theory

The day has come that we have been waiting for. Here is the Panasonic Lumix G1, the first Micro FourThirds camera and two new lenses. Now I have to compare my predictions to the facts.

Where I have made a mistake is the switching between aspect ratios. I predicted that the sensor will be wider than 17.3mm so the amount of pixels will not decrease in 16:9 mode compared to 4:3. I said it based on the LX3's solution. I can not understand the lack of it, the variable aspect ratio was published as a main part of Micro FourThirds concept. The images are 4000 pixels wide in all modes. This is not a switch between ratios, but simply cropping of the image.

My thoughts about EVF hit the spot very well. The G1 has a LED (alternating colour) illuminated 800x600 pixels LCOS display in the viewfinder coming from Panasonic professional videocameras. It is equivalent to an 1.44 MegaDots (800x600x3) conventional LCD. The refresh rate is 60fps which is quite high to composing and shooting without delay. The size of the viewfinder image is comparable to the one found in contemporary fullframe dSLRs and it covers 100% of the image. This is a very nice feature and an elegant answer to critiques targeting he "tunnel-vision" viewfinders found on entry-level DSLRs. Of course, EVF needs permanent power supply during composing so G1's battery life is not as good as modern dSLRs'.

I can offer an opinion about AF based on the dpreview's short video-clip only, but the implementation is very promising. The speed of the AF system is comparable to entry-level dSLRs' and is absolute unusual from the contrast AF method. As I said before this is the most important development (new focusing algorithm and high refresh rate) which allows the make of a non-SLR interchangeable lens camera. The 23 AF field is unique in this price category of dSLR's. Unfortunately, that warnings in the announcement about the limited usability of "legacy" FourThirds lenses with the adapter were in line with the most pessimistic expectations. The lack of AF with most of the available lenses is a very strong disadvantage and the most frustrating deficiencie of this system. The large Zuiko lenses look very impressive on G1 (or the other way round?), but I do not think that anybody will buy or keep $1000-$6000 devices to use them only in manual focus mode.

AF works only with following "legacy" lenses on Panasonic G1:
- Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-50mm 1:3.8-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S.
- Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm 1:3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S.
- Leica D Summilux 25mm 1:1.4 ASPH.
- Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6
- Zuiko Digital 40-150mm 1:3.5-5.6
- Zuiko Digital 25mm 1:2.8

The size of lenses is very promising. As I wrote some weeks ago about the possible advacement in the wide-angle range, the new 14-45mm lens is much smaller than its anchestor due to difference in its design. Do not forget that it is also a stabilized lens, so stripping the lens from this feature, its size would shrink even further! I have seen only few sample photos, taken probably in JPG format, but they are quite good at first sight, especially in terms of CA cancellation and considering that this is a kit lens (by the way: I can not understand why F/13 aperture is used for samples on a 12 megapixel camera - maybe they have never heard about diffraction.) I have calculated the size of some lenses based on a photo using comparation method. The Lumix G 7-14mm is about 80mm (length) x 65mm (diameter). The classical version of this lens is 120mm x 87mm. The difference in size is terrific but we have to wait for the first photos taken with it, because it is very hard to meet the quality of the comparable Zuiko lens. I am sure the 20mm 1:1.7 will be very popular and is also very small: it measures 25mm (length) x 55mm (diameter).

The lack of movie recording is a little bit disappointing. It was the second most important feature when the system was announced and after the release of the Nikon D90, this feature was very much expected. I think its omission is a big marketing mistake. There is a special lens in Lumix G roadmap, however. The 14-140mm F4.0-5.6 O.I.S. HD will support all functions of video mode. Most importantly, it will focus also during movie recording, a feature the D90 misses badly. However, if only this lens will be usable for video recording, the system will lose the advantage of large sensor due to small apertures compared to very bright video lenses. We shall see.

In last years the principles of FourThirds system were compromised many times. Here belongs the camera dependent lens-firmware updating, the limited contrast AF, the RC flash mode wich is supported only by Olympus and image stabilizer mix-up by the two supporting companies. If the placement of the stabilizer in the Micro FourThirds will be as muddled as now, the standard will become a bit ridiculous. The confusion is evident given that the most frequently asked question among FourThirds users is: "What happens if both stabilizers are swithced on?" I do not think it would be a bad strategy if Olympus did not release many original lenses for Micro FourThirds. If they only relabel the Lumix G lenses, they can focus on the dSLR segment better.

Other features of the G1 are not attached to the system, but they show the strength of Panasonic. The rear LCD has 480x320 pixels which is the resolution of the iPhone but in smaller size and higher density. The 12 megapixels of the sensor is enough for A2 sized prints. I do not want to rank the image quality of the sensor before I have developed some RAWs on my computer. The HDMI output makes it possible to show your photos or to verify the image quality on large TVs.

The Panasonic Lumix G1 stirred up the people, the internet forums burn due to traffic. It is hard to draw the inference, and indeed, we should not draw them yet Olympus have not announced any MFT device, so we have to wait until Photokina or even longer - I am afraid we will see only a Zuiko Digital 9-18mm and some MFT mock up there. It looks to me that the real purposes of the two companies with MFT is to exploit their capacity and to sort resources ideally. Not bad to the consumer, I would say!

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