Observations on the Lumix G6


In October of last year, after lugging my Canon dSLR and a couple of really heavy L lenses around Alaska for a week, I made the decision that I needed something smaller. I’d been thinking about it for a while, having bought a Fujifilm x100 a couple of years ago, which had been giving me pleasing results. Having seen a lot of other photographers make the leap to mirrorless for almost all of their work, I was ready to follow suit. I considered going with Fujifilm’s X-Mount series of cameras, but the lack of third-party lenses, as well as an incomplete range of lenses, was a sticking point. As well as Lightroom’s continued issues with decoding the xTrans sensor’s data, which was a big deal since I practically live in Lightroom. So I decided to go with Micro Four-Thirds. I visited my local camera shop, Arlington Camera, and handled a few Panasonics and Olympuses, looking for something that felt “right”. I settled on the G6. It fit my hand well, wasn’t uncomfortable to hold for long periods and had a viewfinder built-in rather than the add-on viewfinder that’s been pretty popular with other M43 cameras. I got the 14-42 lens and a 100-200 lens for a bit of extra reach and started shooting. Since then, I’ve taken it to Las Vegas, Chicago and San Francisco and have been very happy with the results. Some observations I’ve made since starting to use it:

  1. A battery grip would be the single best accessory for the G6. Unfortunately, one doesn’t exist, but if it did, I would gladly pay almost any price for it. Despite it fitting my hand well, the camera body is still pretty small and the last two fingers of my right hand curl under the body rather than wrapping around the grip when I hold it, so a grip would help alleviate this awkwardness. On top of that, the battery life of the G6 isn’t that great since it must power either the LCD screen on the back, the tiny LCD screen in the viewfinder or both at all times. I find myself having the change the battery after 400 shots or so on average (I’ve invested in seven spare batteries), so a battery grip would cut this changing ritual by half, which would be welcome when out in the field (since the SD card slot is in the battery compartment, it would require some ingenuity to create a grip, but I can imagine that Panasonic could easily build a second, accessible slot into the grip.
  2. Color rendering is different than my Canons or x100. I’ve noticed that the color rendering of the G6 is profoundly different than the colors I get out of my other cameras. And not in a bad way. The best word I can think of to describe it is “delicate”. Whereas the Canons and the x100 seem to err on the side of a lot of color, the G6 seems to render scenes with more “realistic” color. The world is rarely as vibrant as photos would suggest, so the G6 seems to try to get colors to match their real-life subjects as accurate as possible. Thankfully, I shoot in RAW and can up the saturation as needed in post, but I find that the more-realistic colors are often more-pleasing to my eye and tend to not push the saturation as much as I might on a Canon RAW file.
  3. The user interface can be confusing. Maybe it’s just me, but I constantly find myself changing the function of various buttons by accident and then have to stop and fiddle with it to get the desired functionality back. For instance, pushing in the wheel that controls the aperture while in Av mode changes its function to exposure compensation, but I already have a dedicated exposure compensation toggle, so why would I want a second way to adjust it? Just let me lock in the function of this wheel to what makes sense for me.
  4. iA mode is amazing. Call me a heretic, but I’ve been using the Intelligent Auto mode almost exclusively for the last couple of months rahter than sticking with Av like I usually do on my other cameras. In this mode, the camera figures out what kind of scene you’re shooting and smartly decides the best way to shoot it. Taking a portrait? It detects this and sets an appropriate F-stop for a nice bokeh behind the subject. If it’s a portrait of a baby, it ups the shutter speed for any fast, sudden movement. Landscape? It narrows the aperture for maximum depth-of-field. Macro shot? It opens up the aperture. It excels at complex lighting situations that I might’ve struggled with before, such as a towering skyscraper backlight be an overcast sky. Photographic purists would probably turn their noses up to my admission to using iA so much, but it doesn’t bother me. If the tool does what I want it to do and the resulting photos are what I want, then what does it matter to anyone how I got there? Especially since I understand its limitations and therefore know when to take over for the computer and make the settings myself.
  5. It’s incredibly light. Well, duh. It’s a tiny camera, afterall. But I still can’t get over how much of a difference this makes. After walking around all day with a gripped dSLR and a 100-400mm lens stuck on it atttached to my BlackRapid strap, my shoulder would be aching. But with the G6, I can almost forget it’s at my side. This has a profound effect on how much I shoot. Since I can go further for longer on a shoot or photo walk, I tend to come home with a lot more photos than I did before. In fact, I still have photos from my November San Francisco trip that I haven’t really looked at yet.
  6. It isn’t the best choice for all situations. Again, this is a function of knowing your craft. Focus tracking for the G6 (and M43 in general) isn’t that responsive. Since it lacks phase-detection autofocus, it can’t respond to rapidly-moving subjects like a dSLR can, so you’d not want ot use the G6 for sports photography. Or at least not in any sport that involves a lot of fast, erratic movement. Luckily for me, I haven’t shot sprots since college, so it doesn’t really bother me. A second situation it is a bit lacking in is low light, particularly in its noise-handling. Low light photos from the G6 are a bit noisier than I like, but this can be expected from the small sensor sites necessitated by the small sensor. For me, this doesn’t matter too much, as I don’t shoot a lot in low light situations and, if I know I’m going to be in such a situation, I will bring my dSLR and a fast lens.

All-in-all, I’ve been pleased with my decision. Will I stick with micro four-thirds? Probably, though the Fujifilm X-Mount cameras keep enticing me, so maybe once their lineup is more robust, I might jump ship. And, as mentioned, there ara a few situations wherein the M43 cameras don’t yet give the same level of performance.

Deep Ellum Graffiti



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’d been meaning to play around Exposure.co for a while, but hadn’t really had time until today. I put together an article on the graffiti that used to grace the walls of the long-gone Good-Latimer Tunnel in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood. Check it out here.

A Personal Photography History


Someone asked me the other day about how I got into photography. I thought about it for a moment and then gave them the TL;DR version, but I thought that the long version might be interesting to write down just for my own enjoyment and as a memory exercise.

I didn’t grow up in a particularly-photography obsessed household. If anything, we were “snapshot” people with maybe a side of occasional “photography”. My father had a Minolta SRT-101 with a 50mm lens that got lugged on family vacations, trips to visit relatives and various social gatherings, but rarely was his lens focused on anything in an artistic sense.

Minolta SRT-101

Minolta SRT-101 (Image via Wikipedia)

It’s funny how these familial snapshots are the most-treasured photos of our family archive. There are shots from family reunions, trips to float the Frio River, Austin, Hot Springs, Disney World, San Antonio, my grandparents holding my brother as a newborn, our poodle at the beach and even my mom, who hated to be photographed, in the driver’s seat of my dad’s company car. (As a side note, it’s weird to go look at these photos of my parents and realized that in most of them, they were younger than I am now).

Some of my father’s photos taken with the SRT-101

My first camera was a Kodak Kodamatic instant camera that I received as either a Christmas present or a birthday present in 1985 (the curse of having a birthday in December is that gifts run together as to whether they were of the birthday variety or the holiday variety). This was Kodak’s attempt to copy/better Polaroid with their own instant camera, but its life was short-lived…Polaroid sued Kodak for patent infringement and won. By the end of 1986, the film was off the market, relegating the camera to the dustbin as a historical footnote. I wish that I still had some of the photos I took with this camera, but the truth is, I most-likely didn’t take that many. The film was expensive, so convincing my parents to buy a pack or two for me rarely happened. I imagine that any photos I took were of toys or my mom turning away from the lens so as to not be photographed.

From that time until my junior year in high school, I have vague memories of various cheap point and shoots, including a Kodak 110 camera that my mother had won in a contest (and, embarrassingly, in the misfortunate Eighties color scheme of grey and pastel pink). We never bought into disc film, but I knew people that had. It always seemed like an odd format to me, and from what I remember, the photos were even worse than the crap pumped out by my 110 camera.

In my Junior year of high school, I found myself on the yearbook staff, as it seemed like a good way to use my study period rather than sitting in a room looking at mind-numbing chemistry or biology books. Our advisor, and oddball eccentric Latin teacher (but, then again, aren’t all Latin teachers a bit oddball?) named Mr. Jones got me interested in photography by showing me how to develop my own film and make prints in the darkroom. Side note: I’m certain that now, twenty-something years later, an oddball Latin teacher locked up in a darkroom with a student for hours-on-end would raise more than a few eyebrows and would probably not be allowed, but times were simpler then and people were more trustworthy.

Borrowing my father’s old SRT-101 with its 50mm and a cheap Vivitar zoom lens, I would take my photos for the yearbook, carry the film to the darkroom, load the reels and put them in the tank and let the D-76 do its work. After fixing and washing the negatives, I’d inspect them as they hung to dry, wondering which shots turned out best. After a while, I became skilled enough to mentally invert the image on the negative and was able to determine with fair accuracy the best shots before I even made a contact sheet.

By default, I became lead photography/editor for the yearbook my senior year. I augmented my commandeered SRT-101 with a new grey-market Minolta 3xi with a kit lens, purchased from Abe’s of Maine (via phone call, as this was before the Web and eCommerce and Amazon Prime). We had a new yearbook advisor who happened to be a close family friend and was enthusiastic about photography. He augmented our meager darkroom with new equipment, including a better enlarger, a proper lightsafe for our paper (no more keeping it inside its envelope on a shelf!), a bulk-loader and various other odds-and-ends. He also, out of his own pocket, make sure we had plenty of paper and bulk rolls of film. We’d load our own film cartridges and quickly discovered that you could load roughly twice as much film onto a roll than what was standard, so instead of carrying maybe 10 rolls of 36 exposures to an event, we’d just carry 5 of roughly 70 exposures, which saved time as we didn’t have to reload as often. The one problem with this approach was that you’d have to cut the length of exposed film at roughly the midpoint in order to fit it on the developing reel, so it was always a crapshoot as to whether you’d cut a particulary-great or important frame in half. And, about 75% of the time, it was a great shot that you’d end up with half of on one strip of negatives and the other half on the second strip.

Minolta Maxxum 3xi

We’d print our photos on 4×5 paper cut down from 8×10 sheets (to this day, I can still remember the smell of Dektol permeating everything in the poorly-ventilated darkroom of our high school). There was something magical about watching the image appear as the paper soaked under the red safelight…something that younger photographers who’ve only ever experienced digital have missed out on.

I still have all of the contact sheets and negatives from my Senior yearbook. I’ve scanned some of them and hope to eventually complete the entire lot, but it’s been slow-going and not a huge priority, as I’ve also taken up the task of scanning ever single negative that I could find at my parents’ house. This includes all of those snapshots mentioned above as well as hundreds of slides from my grandparents’ various travels to such places as Europe and Alaska.

A couple of scanned slides from my grandparents’ travels to Paris.

After high school, I went off the college and stopped doing photography for a few years. I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford to “waste” money on film or developing as I didn’t have access to a darkroom. However, during my Junior year, I took a photojournalism class and this granted me access to the magical darkroom once again. I broke out my 3xi and started taking photos for class, as well as making new prints of treasured photos from high school.

This is also where I first got to use an early version of Photoshop, digitally touching up photos scanned with an early Nikon Coolscan. The primitive, by today’s standards, tools in that ancient version of Photoshop were still miles ahead and easier-to-use than using a fine-pointed brush and ink to correct dust spots and negative scratches as we’d had to do when I was in high school. Not to mention being able to correct color or levels instantaneously. I still use a lot of the Photoshop skills I learned almost twenty years ago to this day, correcting my digital “negatives” in much the same way.

Alas, that photojournalism class only lasted a semester and once it was over, I was without access to a darkroom and once again couldn’t justify spending money on film and developing once again. So I just stopped taking photos and went on with my life, graduating and starting a career. Though, all the while, I kept telling myself “One day, I’ll build a home darkroom and start photography again”.

But as time wore on, I never got around to it. Then, one day I was visiting my parents and my dad showed my his new “toy”. It was an early Olympus Camedia digital camera. It was 2.1 megapixels and stored its tiny (by today’s standards) image files on the now-obsolete SmartMedia cards. Having just carried my 3xi to Toronto for a long weekend and paid for several rolls of film to be developed from that trip, I appreciated its relatively-small size and the fact that you could just plug it into the computer and pull your files over. Who cared if the color was weird and the resolution a bit on the small side? So, for my next trip to Toronto, a year later, I borrowed it and was pleased with the portability and the images.

Olympus Camedia

In 2005, I broke down and bought a Olympus Stylus 600 point-and-shoot, which, although only 6 megapixels, served me well for a couple of years, accompanying me yet again to Toronto and to Las Vegas and to various gatherings. It was the ease of using this camera without having to buy film and get it developed to enjoy my photos that reignited my love for photography.

Olympus Stylus 600 

So, in 2007, I bought my first dSLR, the Canon 400D/Rebel XTi (no doubt the first camera for a lot of people). In August that year, I started my photoblog (and have posted a new photo everyday since then). In 2009, I bought a Canon Powershot S90 to be a “daily carry” type camera. This little camera, though now somewhat-dated, is a powerhouse. Full manual controls, little shutter-lag and the ability to output Raw files has ensured that I still use it on occasion to this day, almost five years later. In 2011, I retired my XTi for a 60D, which I supplemented with a Fujifilm x100 in 2012. Then, in 2013, after having, within the span of a few months, lugged my gripped 60D with heavy L lenses to Jamaica, Canada, Grand Cayman, Alaska and Mexico, I decided it was time to look into a mirrorless system. Having been pleased with the x100, but feeling limited by its fixed focal length, I looked at both Micro Four-Thirds and Fujifilm’s X-mount systems. I eventually decided on Micro Four-Thirds with the Panasonic Lumix G6, despite its smaller sensor, simply because there were more lenses available in the system and lingering doubts about Adobe’s ability to properly render xTrans raw files in Lightroom (though I’ve been kind of drooling over the x-T1 since it was released).

Which brings us to today. I’m still blogging new photos daily, but I’ve also been shooting a lot of those “snapshot”-style photos (my nephews or our dog, Winston), with my iPhone 5S. The camera on this phone is stunningly good and I’ve been using it to post to Instagram fairly often. Will an iPhone ever replace my cameras? Probably not, but you never know what the future holds.

 

 

SMU Photo Walk


In keeping with last week’s post, here’s the GPS log from yesterday’s photowalk with our Meetup.Com group Dallas Photo Walk. We had a fairly-short walk on the SMU campus in Dallas. Unfortunately, SMU’s campus is the most architecturally-homogenous university campus I’ve ever been on. Every single building looks the same. And not in a photogenic, interesting way! That, combined with cold, overcast weather, meant that I didn’t come away with too many photos that I’d call “great”, but I will, of course, post some on the photoblog as I get to them (today’s photo is from this walk!).

smugps

I still plan on doing a post on how I use GPS logging software to tag locations to my photos, but I’ve been sick and lazy and haven’t gotten around to it!

The highlight, for me, of this photo walk was watching Santiago Calatrava’s sculpture “Wave” undulate in front of the Meadows Art Museum. Here’s a short video I shot with my iPhone:

Downtown Plano Photo Walk


Our Meetup.Com group, Dallas Photo Walk (a great photography group and if you’re in the Dallas area, we’d love to have you join), had a scavenger hunt photo walk in Downtown Plano, Texas, this morning. For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to log my photo explorations on my iPhone so that I can geotag my photos after importing to Lightroom. I plan on writing about this process in the next few days, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share a map of today’s walk. Perhaps in the coming weeks, I’ll share some from other adventures I’ve had in the past.

Google Earth

Why I Won’t Follow You On Flickr


  • You use one of the default icons. It shows me you don’t care enough to make the effort to set yourself apart individually, so you probably don’t care about your craft.
  • You have less than 100 photos. This one is arbitrary on my part, as I’m sure there are a lot of people with great photos that have less than 100 shared on Flickr, but I like to follow people that have a deep portfolio, as it shows their committed to their craft.
  • Your comments are “award” comments. Sorry, not only am I going to not follow you, but I’m going to block you.
  • Your comments on every photo are exactly the same or some variation of the same thing, i.e. “Greatly seen”, “Great capture”, “Nice tones”.
  • Your username has “SEO” in it. It seems there are a lot of accounts that just plain state in their username that they’re trying to game the system.
  • Your photos are not really photos, but Tumblr-esque images with “inspirational” quotes or are otherwise obviously not original content.
  • You have obnoxious watermarks. Seriously, get over yourself.
  • Every fifth photo in your photostream is a screencap of your Flickr stats. No one cares if you have had over 2,000,000 views…you just look conceited and smug.
  • You send me messages to join a group. Or you send me a message asking me to visit your photostream or look at some crappy photo.
  • Your photos aren’t compelling (another arbitrary one on my part).

The 75Central Photography Year-End Recap


The Earth has taken another long loop around the Sun and 2013 has come and gone, so I thought—like so many other media outlets—I would take a few moments to jot down a year-end recap of the world of 75Central Photography.

 

  • This year marked the sixth birthday of the photoblog, during which we never missed a day of posting a photo. Some were great photos, some were—in retrospect—not so great photos, but we’ve always had fun sharing with you, our readers/viewers.  And now we’re almost half-way through our seventh year of photoblogging and have no intention of stopping anytime soon.
  • We redesigned the website, moving to a more responsive modern design. (You can read about the various iterations of the site here). The interesting thing is, analytics have show that since we made the change in July, our visitor engagement has gone down, so we’ll probably be moving back to a simpler design in the near future.  In the interest of transparency, reasons for this downward trend seem to be related to load times, non-intuitive navigation and SEO-related issues.
  • We moved from Fotomoto for our print fulfillment to SmugMug then back to Fotomoto. This was a situation that was out of our control and affected not just our site, but every other photographer that relied on Fotomoto for integrated print ordering. Sometime in the late summer, Fotomoto was sold to a third-party that immediately took the site off-line without warning or explanation, leaving us, and the rest of their customers, scrambling to find a solution. We moved our print ordering to SmugMug, but were unhappy that they do not offer an integrated ordering solution like Fotomoto had, forcing us to hack together a kludgey solution using custom WordPress fields to link to the SmugMug “buy page” for each photo, which was a labor-intensive process. Luckily, after a few weeks of Fotomoto being down, the sale failed to complete and Bay Photo stepped in and bought it, reactivating the service and coming to our rescue. Within minutes of Fotomoto coming back online, we had 75Central.Com re-integrated with their ordering infrastructure.
  • We completed a fair amount of travel this year. Destinations included Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, the Texas Gulf Coast, Seattle, Alaska (Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau & Glacier Bay), Carcross and Emerald Lake, Yukon Territory, Victoria, British Columbia, San Francisco and, most-recently, our perennial destination of Las Vegas, which included side trips to Red Rock Canyon and Mount Charleston. Unfortunately, for the first time in over a year, we have no travels planned for the foreseeable future, though there are thoughts of perhaps Lake Tahoe, Mono Lake and Yosemite sometime in 2014.
  • Speaking of travel, it was our Alaska trip that had a big impact on my choice of gear for the last few months and probably the next few years. For that trip, I lugged a gripped 60D, a 24-105mm L and a 100-400mm L around for a week.  And it about killed me, both from the weight and the bulky awkwardness. So, once I got back, I looked into moving to something smaller. Having seen a fair amount of well-known photographers make the same leap, I started moving to a mirror-less system, settling on the Panasonic Lumix G6. My first big test was the week I spent in San Francisco in November. And I loved it! Small, unobtrusive and lightweight, this camera is packed with a lot more features than any dSLR from Nikon or Canon. And the sensors and lenses have gotten so good, I can’t really tell a difference between shots I was getting with my dSLR and shots with my MFT camera. The only slight drawbacks are that there seems to be slightly-less dynamic range and the focus on moving objects is not-that-great, but as I mostly photography stills, I’m not too worried about it.
  • And, finally, a photographic recap:
    •  The Top 10 Photos from 2013 (based on comment count):
      1. Rainbow RingThe rainbow-colored lights of a thrill ride on Galveston, Texas’ Pleasure Pier pierce the dawn’s twilight.
      2. The Cruise Ship’s AtriumLooking skyward in the nine-storey atrium aboard the cruise ship Carnival Magic.
      3. The Old JagDetail of a classic Jaguar Mark 2 at Dallas’ All British and European Car Day.
      4. The Cloud-Topped MountainA cloud envelops a small-glacier-topped mountain in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park.
      5. FrozenFrozen brush on the shore of the Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island State Park, Utah.
      6. F MarketA historic streetcar on San Francisco’s F Market & Wharves rail line, as seen in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.
      7. Serenading The CityDallas’ Travelling Man sculpture—a landmark in the Deep Ellum neighborhood—against the city’s downtown skyline.
      8. The Reflected GlacierAlaska’s Glacier Bay National Park’s Margerie Glacier is reflected in windows aboard the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl.
      9. The Skyline at NightDallas’ distinctive skyline as seen from the Continental Avenue Bridge over the Trinity River floodplain.
      10. Reflected Clock TowerA clock tower reflected in a puddle, spotted along the Mandalay Canal, Las Colinas, Irving, Texas.

 

And, just for fun, here’s a link to a set of our 25-most interesting (however that’s measured) photos of 2013 on Flickr.

So, that was 2013. Let’s hope 2014 will be a great year as well. From 75Central Photography, Happy New Year!

I Don’t Understand


So, someone in Brazil stole one of my photos:

travelling-man-deep-ellum-dallas-skylineBut I don’t understand what they’re trying to say:

g6pk

 

Also, they messed with the colors!

 

If You’re Going To Steal…


…don’t edit my photos to crap.

Just discovered that PocketVegasDeals—a Groupon-like site solely-focused on Las Vegas—stole one of my photos of the Encore for a promotion. Of course I was angered by the blatant disregard of copyright law, but they also apparently edited the photo to hell. And, better yet, they didn’t strip the EXIF data…you can clearly see my copyright notice embedded in the data. (LeftyRodriguez was an earlier pseudonym I used for my photographic endeavors and MGH is my initials.  Also, I have the raw of this photo, so there’s no excuse, really.  Anyhow, see the thievery and the butchering in the below screencap:

vegasAnd see the original here:

encore-las-vegas

 

It’s Not Too Late To Sign Up For The Worldwide Photo Walk!


2013SKPWlogoWhite

Scott Kelby’s annual Worldwide Photo Walk is this Saturday, October 5th.  I’ve participated the last few years and have had a great time.  To sign up, go to WorldwidePhotoWalk.com and find your local photo walk.

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