Monday, July 26, 2010

Panasonic LX-5 - The New Super Compact?

A few weeks ago, there was a leak from the US Panasonic website detailing all the specs and features of the much-anticipated LX-3 replacement.  Last week, Panasonic announced the new premium compact Panasonic DMC-LX5 boasting a few improvements over the outgoing LX-3.

A lot of specs and details are readily available on-line, but as a former LX-3 user and a current D-Lux 4 owner, I'd like to highlight a few notable changes for those looking to upgrade:

  • The LX-5 sensor appears to be the same size as the LX-3 but Panasonic claims improvement on sensitivity, saturation (as if they needed more saturation), and dynamic range
  • The joystick has been replaced with a clickable wheel, similar to its GF-1.
  • LX-5 zoom is now up to 90mm/f3.3, up from LX-3's 60mm/f2.8, with matching aperture over the shared focal length
  • "Presets" focal length (Step Zoom) at 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 70mm, and 90mm is a nice touch for a compact camera
  • Ability to add either EVF (Electronic Viewfinder - shared with GF-1) or optical viewfinder
  • Revised external casing with improved grip
  • The rear LCD claims to have backlight LED which improves the viewing but size and resolution remain the same as the one on LX-3
  • AVCHD movie recording and the ability to manually set shutter speed and aperture
  • Panasonic claims a faster start-up speed, and a faster AF over the previous model

So far I have not seen any 'production samples' of the LX-5 posted anywhere.  The samples shown on are 'pre-production' and are all shot at ISO80.  One of the most desirable improvement, for me, is the noise in higher ISO.  Not much has been mentioned about the higher ISO performance, so it remains to be seen from the actual production samples how it performs.  The camera has an attractive MSRP at $499.95.  It remains to be seen a) how long does the Thai Panasonic take to import, and b) how much they are going to mark it up.  


Sunday, July 18, 2010

M Lens on Micro Four Thirds

It is an attractive proposition to have high quality optics mounted on a small camera body like the recent MFT models such as Panasonic GF-1 or Olympus EP-L1.  But does it really work? Here, I test a few M-mount lenses that I have on the EP-L1 just to see how they work when used on an MFT body, at twice the intended focal length.  I choose the EP-L1 (rather than the EP-1) because it renders a little sharper JPGs than its bigger brother, EP-1.  It's also a little easier to operate the EP-L1 in manual focus than it does on the EP-1.  The two lens, ZM Planar 50/f2 and Noctilux f1, have been selected to compare their characteristics both on a MFT and a full frame bodies.  To be clear, I'm not looking at them from the price point, my only intention is to illustrate how they render the photos from different camera formats.  I will not do the 100% crop either because it's too much work for an amateur like me.  There's plenty of that already posted if you google a bit.  (Please excuse the changing lights as I don't own a studio!)

Noctilux on EP-L1 @ f1.0 (100mm Equiv.)

Noctilux on M9 @ f1.0 (50mm Equiv.)

At the widest aperture, the Noctilux f1 produces pleasing result on a MFT format.  Its softness, a well documented character of the Noct at f1.0, can be seen in both photos.  Only when used on a full frame, the Noctilux produces its signature swirly bokeh.

Noctilux on EP-L1 @ f1.4

Noctilux on M9 @ f1.4

Stopping the Noctilux down one stop to f1.4, it sharpens up slightly but still maintains a pleasing soft background on a MFT format.  On a full frame, its bokeh remains creamy and unique.  


Noctilux on EP-L1 @ f2.0

ZM Planar on EP-L1 @ f2.0

Noctilux on M9 @ f2.0

ZM Planar on M9 @f2.0

At f2.0, I also test the ZM Planar 50/f2.  On a MFT body, the Zeiss really excels in sharpness and it's not just in the center.  The Noctilux, sharpens up from f1.4, but it is still slightly softer compare to more modern lens.  Examining a shaded area of the two photos, the ZM Planar yields higher contrast than the Noctilux does.   For the bokeh, the ZM Planar isn't quite as soft as the Noctilux, but is still very pleasing.  But again, we're talking about a $700 lens versus a nice used car.  

On a full frame, both lens perform extremely well, producing sharp images with different bokeh renderings.  (I didn't quite nail the focus on the Noctilux, it seems.) Because the ZM Planar is shot at its maximum aperture, it still produces a slight swirl in the bokeh even at f2.0.  


Noctilux on EP-L1 @ f2.8

ZM Planar on EP-L1 @ f2.8

Noctilux on M9 @ f2.8

ZM Planar on M9 @ f2.8

At f2.8 on a MFT body as 100mm, the ZM Planar appears to be slightly sharper than the Noctilux.  Using them at 50mm on a full frame, they're equally sharp.  At this aperture, the bokeh differs less between the two lenses.  Looking closely, the ZM Planar renders the bokeh a little more clinical than the Noctilux.  This is likely a result of a more modern lens and optics design.  They're both nice and pleasing.


ZM Planar on EP-L1 @ f4

Noctilux on EP-L1 @ f4

Noctilux on M9 @ f4

ZM Planar on M9 @ f4

At f4.0 the Noctilux is extremely sharp, and so is the ZM Planar.  The bokeh are also equally pleasing.  Keep in mind that the ZM Planar is much smaller, lighter, and less expensive!  As a 50mm, both exhibit good sharpness and maintain dimensionality to their images well.  With a slightly higher contrast rendering, the ZM Planar seems to separate the subject from its background slightly better than the Noctilux here.  (More review of the ZM Planar is on its way.)

My final observations go to the fact that when an M lens is used at double its focal length, the only clear benefit to be had is its sharpness.  I'm not a fan of how the bokeh is rendered on a MFT body, but others may beg to differ.  It is clear that when these lenses are used at their intended focal length, they perform best in sharpness, bokeh rendering, and yielding that desirable dimensionality to the images.  The Zeiss ZM Planar 50/f2 also exhibits some very admirable qualities here.  It's such a small and compact lens, yet it performs well beyond my expectation.  


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Paradise on Earth

When someone asks me about my favorite beach destination, the first name that comes to my mind, time and again, is Maldives.  This paradise on earth stays in my memory, more than 10 years after our first visit, for its crystal clear water and white sandy beaches.  I no longer remember where those old photos are today, but memory of Maldives remains well within me.

In May, my wife and I return to Maldives again to take a short break.  This time the M9 travels with me along with the 24 Elmarit, the 35 'Lux, and my handy D-Lux 4.  We choose to stay at the very southern area of the atoll where it had just been opened by the Maldivian government to build resorts.  This means that the archipelago and nearby marine lives are largely unspoiled.  I believe you'll agree based on these pictures!

"Maldivian Sunset" - M9 + 35 'Lux

Mrs. loves everything about Maldives! - M9 + 35 'Lux

The Chef who made us a spicy curry. - M9 + 35 'Lux

Our short trip to a nearby uninhibited island. - M9 + 24 Elmarit

Crystal clear water and soft sandy beach on this uninhibited island. - M9 + 24 Elmarit

Here's why I love 24mm lens so much.  It enables one to compose a dynamic scene like this!

Nature, as is.  - M9 + 24 Elmarit

This is one of my favorites!  - M9 + 24 Elmarit

The D-Lux 4 also sports a 24mm lens and does a great job.  (Shot as JPG.)

More fun composing with 24mm. - M9 + 24 Elmarit

Putting the Elmarit through some low light challenges. - M9 + 24 Elmarit @ ISO 1250

No tripod, but I set the camera on the gaurd rail for this full moon shot. - M9 + 24 Elmarit

I never thought the 24mm would make a good portrait lens but it does. - M9 + 24 Elmarit

Not a proper Leica but the Panasonic Lumix FT-2 uses a Leica optic.
This fun little camera can go 10m underwater and is shock-proof!

Pristine marine lives right in front of our villa.  - D-Lux 4 JPG

Snorkeling with the FT-2.  This is where the reef drops off into the deep end.

This fella is quite cute. - Panasonic FT-2

Plenty of fish around, but my underwater photography skills is virtually non-existence! 

I had never seen water so clear like this before.  - Panasonic FT-2

Chillin' out on the beach and catching some waves.  - Panasonic FT-2

So long, Maldives.  We shall return! - Panasonic FT-2

I hope you like the photos.  If you haven't been to Maldives, I highly recommend you go there!

Have a good weekend,