Thursday, November 27, 2014

Panasonic GH4 is in my bag

It's just before Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.A. and the sales are all over the place.  One of the national broadcasters mentioned that electronics would be cheaper before Black Friday, and cameras and other photographic equipment generally falls into line with electronics.

I read that Panasonic has reduced the price of the GH4 by $200.  Adorama, B&H Photo, and Mike's Camera (Colorado and California) have said that this is an instant rebate.  Mike's Camera ended this instant rebate on November 26th--today.

I braved holiday traffic to drive 30+ miles to buy the camera body.  I met with a salesperson with whom I'd previously talked.  I asked about the body, and he checked their web site, and I bought it, even using my extra battery from my GH3 to try it.  (My battery appeared to be fully charged, even though I traded my GH3 in early June.  That makes it almost six months since it was charged.)

At $1499.99, the body is somewhat more reasonable for me, and it's the same price I paid for my Olympus E-5.  That also makes it less than half the price of the Canon 5D MkIII, its nearest (hybrid) competitor in the business.  Well, actually, the 5D MkIII was the competitor of the GH3, and the expanded 4K capabilities and high bit rates at 1080p add to the differences between the GH4 and the 5D MkIII, above those between the 5D MkIII and the GH3.

The salesperson mounted an Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens, so I could check the body.  The lens seemed almost tiny, though not as small as the 15mm f/1.7 approved by Leica, designed and made by Panasonic especially for the GM1/GM5.  The image through the viewfinder seemed improved (it has over double the density) over my memory of the GH3.  I didn't notice that much difference from the E-M1 I use regularly, or from my memory of the FujiFilm X-T1.

I used my sunglasses briefly, explaining about the blackout problem that I had with the GH3, and I currently have with the E-M1 on occasion.  It only happened on occasion, but it happened enough that muscle memory was my only way around it with the GH3.  I'm guessing that it may still occur.  Perhaps, switching to polarized sunglasses may help.  It isn't a problem with optical viewfinders.

Of course, it took a few minutes to find settings to change, to try to personalize it similarly to my GH3.  I was pleased to see many video additions in the menus, bringing up the professional specification.  I can't say enough how great it is that the GH3 and GH4 have 5 slots for settings.  I only used two slots with the GH3 and that might be the same with the GH4, although I'll be more focused on video this time, so I might use more.

The most wonderful thing about the GH4 is the instant familiarity.  Panasonic wisely chose to keep ergonomic choices almost all the same.  They added a lock to the mode button, something it has in common with the E-M1--and the Olympus E-1 from way back when.

I just checked the What Digital Camera (my go-to magazine) review for the GH4 and E-M1 and they said that the design of the GH4 was an 85 and the E-M1, 95.  In the text, they complained about the GH4 having so many buttons but appreciated the dSLR-like design.  Strangely, everyone else seems to like that you don't have to dig through menus, and the Panasonic menus are a bit less extreme than those of Olympus.  The magazine has had a complete change of staff and they seem to work toward advertisers more than 10 years ago.  89% for the GH4 vs 92% for the E-M1 isn't a huge difference.  However, I would say that, given Olympus' poor video performance and uncomfortable grip, the two are equal at least.

One of the bigger issues for me with the E-M1 was the combination of the small battery and small, angular grip.  Now that I have 3 batteries for the E-M1, I don't run out of power early, but I don't use it nearly as long as I used my dSLRs, so I'm still concerned.

With the GH3, I never had a problem where I exhausted both batteries during a long day of shooting.  Since the battery is so much bigger than that of the E-M1, there is definitely a difference.  Getting battery grips for each won't help much, as either grip only holds an extra battery, though they might help with using my Four-Thirds 35-100mm f/2.0 (3.64 lbs./1650g) lens.  I was never happy with that balance on the GH3 and I've never bothered to try it for more than a few minutes with the E-M1.  Of course, with the tripod collar attached to a tripod, the balance issue goes away.  Naturally, this was never a problem with the Olympus E-5, which is only as big as the Nikon D7100.

When mounting the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens outside the store, I found that the lens operated at full speed again, in contrast to its performance on the E-M1.  I had not used it significantly since the Panasonic Repair Facility had checked it.  The few times I tried it with the E-M1, the frame rate was significantly slower than Olympus' 12-40mm lens, which made no sense, since it was very fast on the GH3.  This makes the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens important for the E-M1.  I expect that the color from the lens will be equally better over the 35-100mm f/2.8 as the 12-40mm f/2.8 was.  I thought that there was a problem with the GH3, until I used the 12-40mm f/2.8 on it.  It should be interesting to see how fast the frame rate of the GH4 will be with the 40-150mm f/2.8 lens.

I'm hoping to try some skate park video soon, using the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.  I don't know much about video but I took a few with the GH3.  I don't have an enhanced speed card to handle 4K video but learning how to handle video is more important at this time.  Responsiveness with my current SanDisk Extreme Pro card seemed much better than with the GH3.

Oh, and concerning the bag, I'm afraid that I've got to re-distribute equipment again to emphasize the smaller equipment, though I still want to use my Four-Thirds lenses through the adapter.  I hope Crumpler has something appropriate.

Update 2014.11.28: Ouch!  The firmware needs to be updated and for some reason, I'm unable to update it for various reasons.

First, the U.S. Panasonic web site ends up with only a Windows executable when I open the .zip file I've downloaded.  Perhaps, I didn't see a Macintosh-related link or the web site incorrectly detected that everyone uses Windows.

I used the Japanese web site that I'd used for the GH3 and that seemed to give me the correct file, but the camera body doesn't recognize that there is an update available when I go through the procedure.  I'm sure I'll be fine with firmware version 1.1 instead of 2.0, for a while anyway, but whatever.  Panasonic continues to be an administrative screw up.  What was downloaded was labeled AH4 instead of GH4.  I got something different tonight, and have updated my GH4.

Taking the GH4 and 35-100mm f/2.8 to the skate park, it performed well, but not with as much performance as expected.  (Continuous AF is enabled by default.)  Auto Focus accuracy was acceptable, similar to the GH3.  I'll try it with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 at a later date.  It didn't feel as fast or responsive as the Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8.  Auto Review is also enabled, which not only slows things down, as it does with the GH3, but it's also a battery waster.

Update 2014.12.01: I ordered a 4K-capable SD card from Adorama.  It's interesting that these cards were UHS-I, class 10, U 3.  Do I need such a card right now?  Probably not, but having dedicated for-video storage would be a good idea, especially on those days when I've been busy taking still photos.  I'm a little short on cards now that I have three bodies that take SD Cards.

I had a chance to buy a higher capacity SanDisk card but, after viewing several descriptions of the card, I couldn't determine the exact performance.  One mentioned 95 MB/sec., while others mentioned 60 MB/sec. and 80 MB/sec.  They were also labeled Extreme or Extreme Plus because the company changed the name at some point.

Update 2014.12.07: Part of my order was not readily available, so I ended up at Best Buy getting a 4K-capable card.  It was about the same price for 32GB as Adorama had for 64GB.  That's not the worst I've seen.  At least, it's a SanDisk card.  They had the Extreme and Extreme Plus cards, but this one is labeled Pixtor.  I've barely used it for anything.  I thought that the card would enable 4K options immediately, but that happens through the Creative Video mode on the mode dial.  Getting past the GH3 is taking time.

I'm impressed with how responsive the GH4 has been, especially in low(er) light.  I went to a skate shop with an indoor half pipe, and shot both still photos and video.  I was there a few weeks earlier and the E-M1 struggled with the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens but the GH4 didn't seem to have any problem at all.  That doesn't mean that it's great in the dark.  It isn't.  I could use more lenses at f/1.4 or wider than my older Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 from the Four-Thirds system.

The Voigtländer lenses look good.  There is a 10.5mm f/0.95 that should be available soon (okay, officially Q1-Q2 2015), and that is wide enough to get skate park shots easily, and should be good for sharp landscape shots at a less aggressive aperture.  Is US$1000 or more too much for a manually focused lens?  It depends on your wallet, of course, and whether you can make money from it.  The other three (17.5mm, 25mm, 42.5mm) have all been rated well and many people are satisfied with what they do.

Update 2014.12.31: The Panasonic card is flaky and has had general errors in both the GH4 body and the computer SD Card slot.  Almost naturally, the SanDisk card isn't a problem--I've had to have one replaced in the past, but only one.

I'm having some struggles learning the GH4.  I'm not finding it as instantly familiar as I thought I would--or at least, I'm not as successful with it as I had hoped.  As I go further with it, I'm finding little issues.  The drive mode dial has been accidentally moved.  The burst mode position is adjacent to a +/- burst mode position that allows you to take bracketed auto exposure photos.  For instance, it will take photos at -1/3 EV, +0 EV, +1/3 EV, much like HDR preparations.  Your bracketing settings will affect the latitude of the exposure range.  It is useful, although there have been times when I was getting a series of shots and naturally, it stops at three and the action continues without me.  Yes, I should be more aware of my settings.  I'm sure I saw it in the viewfinder and didn't really notice as the +/- didn't seem so significantly distinct.

The GH4 is so capable that it could be 6 months before I'm really comfortable.  It's been a little over a month that I've had it now, so getting casual photos are easy but action photos are usually more involved.  I've basically given up the use of the E-M1 to get up to speed with the GH4.

2015.01.09: The auto focus still isn't everything it should be, with continuous auto focus or not.  During video, it will lose focus completely, which is a great effect that people like, except that it will do it at the wrong time.  That's not unlike the Olympus E-M1.  Maybe, the 12-40mm f/2.8 isn't feeling well.  I was using the 35-100mm f/2.8 the other day and I noticed that the auto focus on the GH4 was similar to the E-M1, lower performing burst speed, but with better AF accuracy.

2016.12.07: It's been over two years since I got the GH4.  I've got over 100 videos on YouTube.  Most are skate park videos but I have some music performances and random things, also.  The camera itself does a very good job, except for AF.

I've got a number of Panasonic lenses and it loses focus on those, as well as while using the Olympus lenses.  It just seems too busy to bother with auto focus duties, but in this price range, it shouldn't have such a problem.  I'm not asking it to track someone.  I want it to focus on the single area I select while I move the camera.  It has predictive focus--it's always busy.

I'm still learning.  I've been learning to do time lapse photography because I wanted to try some shots while driving, to condense little road trips as I've seen someone else do.

Since the GH4, I've bought the GX8 and GM5.  The GX8 has very good 1080p video which matches what I get from the GH4, and that is so useful at skate parks since I'll have the 35-100mm f/2.8 on one and the 12-35mm f/2.8 on the other.  The E-M1 doesn't come close and I suspect that the GM5 won't match either.

The GH5 should be released in spring.  What the whole feature set is, no one outside Panasonic knows, and I'm not certain even they know at this point.  3840x2160 at 60p is one of the few things that are guaranteed to be included.  They've shown mockups of the body and it's agreeable, but nothing is much different.

The new sensor may be 18MP or 20MP, but they're not saying.  The new Olympus E-M1 Mk II has a 20MP sensor with 121 cross type AF points--both PDAF and CDAF.  Many speculate that they will use a lot of the same equipment in the GH5.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lollipop (Android version 5.0) was installed on my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet a bit ago

An hour or so ago, I got the notice that Lollipop was available for my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet.  Despite my reluctance to embrace x.0 versions, I decided to have it downloaded and installed.

You can see visual differences here in this Ars Technica article.

Naturally, the update took a while, and there was a bit of time involved as it was "optimizing" applications.

I haven't spent much time at the moment.  So far, my most consistent experience is when I unlock it, by pressing the lock icon and sliding it, which gives me the camera.  Perhaps, they want me to see how much better the camera is.  I really don't know.

The system icons at the lowest part of the display look less indicative of their functionality.  The joined rectangles were more of a clue of the multi-tasking manager than a single square.

Google Play seems okay when updating applications.  I'm not sure it works better but it looks better.  Perhaps, that's the thing--we're to be enraptured by its new look, and will forgive any lingering problems.  Apple tried that and it didn't work.  I get the feeling that Google never tests anything with regular people who aren't directly connected with the company.  Apple does it somewhat, but things aren't always intuitive any longer.

I look forward to finding if performance is improved.  I've read that it could be smoother and faster, but until I experience it in real life, I'll continue my skepticism.

So far, the delay from booting is still there.  It may be diminished somewhat, but I need to let the tablet sit a while before I do anything.