|Volume 13, Number 11||3 June 2011|
Welcome to the 307th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We publish the first part of a preview of our Yosemite ebook covering every skill level from packing your gear to processing your images. Not to mention some of the most impressive waterfalls ever seen there. Then Dan takes a look at Panasonic's touchscreen GH2. Finally, we encapsulate the 10 channel workflow Lee Varis uses to edit images. Get to it!
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(Excerpted from the forthcoming illustrated ebook of the same name. Details to follow.)
We don't get out much. But it happens.
This time it was some friends who we'd visited Yosemite with several decades ago. They go every year. Every year they ask us to go with them again. Every year we complain we don't get out very much.
This year we said, "OK." And started packing.
FEAR THE GEAR
The first problem was what gear to bring. We narrowed it down to three cameras.
We knew that was ridiculous before we actually proved it. The best plan is to bring one camera you're intimately familiar with (an old one) or a new one you're breathless to test your skills with. And whatever lenses and accessories you can stuff in or attach to a bag you can carry for hours and hours in sun and rain.
But when it comes to the ridiculous, we're a professional. We have to write about every possible mistake you can make or it isn't worth one tick of your clock. So we picked one dSLR for the advanced readers, one Micro Four Thirds camera for the enthusiasts and a digicam for everyone who just loves taking photos. That way, no matter what you use, you could come along with us.
Nice theory, but how are we going to carry all that, we asked no one in particular.
For our jaunts around the neighborhood, we usually rely on our Lowepro holster. We can get a compact digicam in the pocket and a larger camera in the holster but we can't get three of anything in it.
The Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5 we raved about recently really tempted us. It's about the right weight for a hike and easily accommodates a Micro Four Thirds or dSLR. But again it was the "or" that was the problem. We needed an "and" solution.
We have a Sling-O-Matic 20 here, also courtesy of Think Tank Photo. It's certainly roomy enough. And it can easily convert from a left-shoulder to a right-shoulder bag while keeping the top on top for easy slinging access. But we worried it might be too bulky for crowded shuttle buses.
Fortunately, Think Tank Photo just redesigned its Speed Demon bags as part of its hybrid Speed Convertible series. They'll be out in the wild after June 8 but they sent one to us because they know we don't get out much.
It's bigger than the Retro 5 but it's also not just a shoulder bag. We're partial to shoulder bags (because we have two shoulders, one of which can rest). But carrying three cameras on one shoulder seemed like a short term solution. The Speed Demon includes a hidden belt, though, so you can use two shoulders without wasting your waist either. That flexibility excused the larger size (which really isn't that big).
We were able to get all three cameras in the main compartment, plus a few accessories like an extra lens, a viewfinder for the Micro Four Thirds camera, a GPS device for the dSLR, cards, a WhiBal, battery chargers all around, a LensPen, a microfiber, notebooks, well, you get the idea.
The odd thing is that when we hoisted the thing onto our shoulder, it didn't feel heavy.
We also set out our Velbon tripod. It's lightweight and, well, if you have a tripod and don't take it to Yosemite, why'd you buy it?
WHAT TO LEAVE BEHIND
What's not on the list is important, too.
You'll notice we did not include a laptop or even a tablet. Electrical outlets are rarities in Yosemite, WiFi is available only in certain spots (and is often down) and a weekend is a short enough trip that a large (4-GB or 8-GB) memory card or combinations of cards is all the storage we would need.
We expected to be either in bed asleep or on the trail shooting. And neither place accommodated a computer.
But that isn't to say we didn't think about how we would process a scene as we stood before it. We knew Optics Pro could solve some problems we couldn't handle on the scene and we looked forward to playing with presets in Lightroom or performing tricks of our own in Photoshop.
So, for example, we didn't worry about shooting in monochrome or using Art Effects on the E-PL1. That's fun to do with familiar subjects, but we wanted to concentrate on composition and exposure in the field.
Another thing we weren't worried about was output. We didn't plan to print everything we shot or upload it to a gallery. We just hoped to come across a compelling scene and use whatever knowledge and skill we have acquired to capture some aspect of it. The more of these the better.
But we weren't looking for specific subjects. We might grab the digicam for a candid, the dSLR for a scenic, the Micro Four Thirds when something flashed across the trail in front of us.
The point is to be looking. And ready when you see something. No preconceptions.
CAMERAS & SETTINGS
We had no idea the night we packed the bag what exactly we'd be doing. Would we be hiking, would we be sitting on the porch, would we be rappelling down Half Dome?
But we did know what we'd be doing with the cameras.
The digicam, a Sony TX10, was here for review but we hadn't been able to shoot either a compelling panorama or an underwater shot with it. It's waterproof, dust-proof and shock proof. We aren't. And opposites do attract.
We set it to Program mode to provide the most in-camera options but we promised that if we were going to do much macro with it, we'd slip it into Intelligent Auto.
The Nikon D300 dSLR, a subframe sensor with an 18-200mm vacation lens and a 35mm prime, would be shooting Raw+JPEG. We also had circular polarizing filters for these two lenses, an option we didn't have on the other two cameras.
Whatever we captured with this camera we knew we could play with for hours in Photoshop, mixing channels, manipulating tones, playing with the color. A Raw image needs a lot of work to look as good as the JPEG the camera can create with it. But that's not the end of the story. You can take the image in all sorts of directions.
We set the ISO to 400 (for the polarizer), Raw+JPEG, and the mode to Manual. We were going to meter these shots and check the histogram until we got what we wanted.
The Olympus E-PL1 Micro Four Thirds camera could live in both worlds, the deliberate composition of the dSLR or the point and shoot party of the digicam. We set it to Aperture priority, ISO 400 (always a safe bet) with Raw+JPEG (because we had an 8-GB Eye-Fi card in it) and left it at that.
The final setting to check was one of the more important ones: the clocks. We made sure all three cameras had the correct time so we could order the images by capture time.
We could have corrected for any of the cameras that were off using Phil Harvey's ExifTool (http://www.sno.phy.queensu.ca/~phil/exiftool). But it's easier to just set the clocks before you shoot.
So we had three basic setups, three base camps as it were, to set off from. Unfortunately, we still only had two hands. When to use which was going to make for an interesting adventure. But at least we'd be able to take all three with us all the time.
We like to travel with a folding map of where we're going (and, in this case, a small compass). But when it comes to photography, we like to have a little more information than the usual 2D map provides.
We got what we wanted from a free application called The Photographer's Ephemeris (http://photoephemeris.com). It uses Google Maps to show your location while overlaying the path of light the rising and setting sun and moon will cast on a particular day.
You can step through the events or hours of the day to see how the light will fall and get things like shadow length. And you can even calculate when the sun, for example, will fall behind some peak -- and where you will have to be to see it.
The desktop version is free, an iPad version is paid and an Android version is in development.
Since we weren't bringing a computing device, we just printed some of the maps for reference and stuck them in the front pocket of the Speed Demon.
Our first brush with beauty was when we hit the road at 5:30 Saturday morning. The sunrise was spectacular. We were in the front seat of the car but knew we couldn't do it justice through the windshield at 65 mph. There would be glare, reflections and jostling. So we took a pass.
When we hit the mountain roads leading into the west entrance to the park, we were sitting in the back on the passenger side. The sun was still in front of us but it cast an evocative light over the dashboard and the driver. It was the perfect shot to start the trip, the title page noting we were on our way there.
With the seat belt on and the Demon beside us, the easiest camera to retrieve was the Sony in the front pocket. We slipped it out, slid the lens cover down to turn it on and framed the shot.
But we weren't happy with what we saw. We had a 4:3 aspect ratio that was just not the right shape. So we switched to a 16:9 aspect ratio that was just perfect. That's something you can't do on a dSLR. It took a while to switch because the TX10's touchscreen is not very responsive. But this shot wasn't going anywhere for a few hours.
We did one other thing before we snapped the photo. We shifted the camera up and down to find just the right exposure. Too high and the car interior was dark as the camera tried to expose for the glaring scene out the windshield. Too low and the dark, low key interior looked gray with a blinding windshield.
When we found just the right balance, we half-pressed the Shutter button to freeze both the exposure setting and the focus and then just reframed our shot. Perfect.
FIRST HIKE: YOSEMITE FALL
We arrived on the floor of the valley well before we could check into our room at the Stoneman Lodge. We were joining three other members of the party who'd been there a night already, so we dumped our stuff in their room and, bag over one shoulder and tripod over the other, headed out to Yosemite Fall.
Our party added a few more cameras and photographers to the mix. Alice had a new Canon PowerShot. Her son Eric had a hand-me-down Nikon D70. And his friend Casey had her two-year-old Canon Rebel while her friend Oscar had an older PowerShot.
We decided to hike across the valley from Curry Village to the water works at Yosemite Fall, stopping at the Ansel Adams Gallery (http://www.anseladams.com) along the way. It's a good introduction to the place, easily reached by shuttle if your legs won't carry you far.
You can't take two steps, though, without stopping dead in your tracks to marvel at some scene in the granite-walled valley. So we took the E-PL1 out and zoomed in and out to frame the main features of the walls of the valley, including a cloud-capped Half Dome and the bright-faced Washington Column across from it.
It's hard to appreciate the scale of the valley. Are these granite walls taller than a building? Well, Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building in Dubai, reaches 2,717 feet while the Taipei 101 in Taiwan is 1,667 feet for second place. El Capitan, in contrast, is over 3,000 feet above the valley floor and Half Dome towers almost 5,000 feet above the floor. No contest.
We were glad to be shooting Raw+JPEG because we knew we could do more with these images later than if we'd just been capturing JPEGs.
But as we walked across the floor of the valley, awed by those towering granite walls, we had a sudden inspiration. This would make a great iSweep panorama. So we slipped the TX10 out of the Speed Demon, took a few minutes to convince the touchscreen to let us iSweep and then we simply swept the camera across our view of the valley.
Playback was a treat, filling the frame and scanning the scene from left to right. And back again from right to left with just a flip of a finger. Our companions were impressed. They'd never seen the valley like that before.
It takes some practice to use Sony's iSweep panorama. We took a few over the weekend without a problem but nobody else who tried it (a first for all of them) was able to do the scan without leaving the right edge of the frame unfilled. It's harder than it should be.
We were, of course, looking at the panorama of the valley on the Sony's 3.0-inch LCD. Later, when we examined it on a monitor, we could see artifacting on the roadway but the 1,080-pixel deep image (ideal for HDTV) was otherwise remarkably well stitched considering how much movement there was from one shot to another (bicyclists, for example). It's 4,912 pixels wide, by the way, which makes for a nice leisurely look around.
The Adams Gallery had been an art studio before Ansel Adams. But that wasn't what attracted young Ansel to it. Visiting Yosemite in 1921, he needed a place to practice piano and Harry Best, the owner (and scenic painter) of Best's Studio, had an old Chickering square grand piano he let Adams use.
But that wasn't the only thing in Best's Studio that interested Adams. Best's 17-year-old daughter Virginia was a contralto who hoped to have a career as a classical singer.
But that wasn't the only reason she enjoyed practicing with Adams. The two married in 1928.
The gallery was displaying a number of gorgeous "lyrical landscapes" by the photographer Charles Cramer (http://www.charlescramer.com). We were suspecting his pine needles were not really as saturated as Cramer had portrayed them in a foggy scene when our friend Dan asked us why one Adams print was for sale at $12,000 and another at $200.
We pointed to the pencil signature. Adams actually printed that one, we explained. The less expensive prints are from his negatives but not printed by him. There will be no more prints made by Adams but the reproductions are not going to run out, so you don't have to appreciate the craft to understand the different valuation. But then there's the craft.
And before the craft the image. So we continued on our hike to the Fall.
There are two waterfalls, the Upper and Lower, and in the spring they are going full blast. This year, thanks to a big snow melt, they were dumping about 1,000 gallons more than what your shower head tosses out every minute in a spectacular, pounding display.
On the way, we stopped to capture some tree roots exposed by the erosion of a creek. Yosemite is full of opportunities like this. And sure enough, two women coming in the opposite direction had seen the same thing behind us. "You should take it from where he is," one said to the other, referring to our position looking further up the creek. But we weren't going anywhere right away. We were waiting for some lazy clouds to block the sun because it was burning out the pine needles. But we were tricked.
"Would you take our picture?" the other woman said. "You just press this button," she explained, handing us a digicam we had reviewed last year. Appreciative of the advice, we zoomed in at no extra charge, counted to three and snapped the shot.
It could not have been simpler.
Not so the Fall. As we approached, it wasn't simple to get the Upper Fall and Lower Fall in the same shot. And not easy to avoid getting a photographer or a whole family in the shot, too. But there is no shortage of vantage points. We were quite grateful not to be living in the film era any more when we would have been monitoring our exposures to conserve our cash.
If you waited a bit, you'd see the flow expand and then diminish as if some great heart were pumping it over the edge. We tried to catch it both ways.
On the dSLR, we worked in Aperture mode to use a small enough aperture to keep both the foreground and background in focus. That resulted in a 1/30 second shutter speed, which was slow enough to smooth out the fast falling water. But the white streak was only part of the image so that was appropriate for this composition. Later, when we moved in closer, we'd want a fast shutter speed.
The D300 was the only camera recording GPS data (longitude and latitude, especially, but also altitude) using a MacSense Geomet'r (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/GEO/GEO.HTM). We managed to pick up at least three satellites and as many as 11 from the floor of the valley.
Once captured, we could (if we wanted) paste that data into the shots from the other cameras later when we got back to a computer. That's when we could also see where the shot was taken just by clicking on the button next to the GPS field in Lightroom, which would take us to a Google Map pinned with the location.
Those D300 images of the Fall were all long and middle distance shots. But the trail takes you right up under the Fall, so we put the dSLR back in our bag and took out the waterproof TX10 as we were getting drenched in the spray.
We took a couple of movies and then some waterfall shots. It was a lot of fun knowing we couldn't hurt the camera by getting it wet.
We had switched to Intelligent Auto and it had identified the scene as a Landscape, setting ISO to 125, the aperture to f5.6 and the shutter speed to 1/640, which was fast enough to stop the water in its tracks.
As compelling as the Fall is, the bright, floppy, white blossoms of the dogwood in bloom kept calling to us. "Petals on a wet, black bough," wrote Ezra Pound in one of his better moments. He was describing the faces coming up out of the Paris Metro. The dogwood blossoms contrasted against the dark woods behind them were just as bright.
Alice complained, though, that she was having trouble getting a good dogwood shot with her PowerShot. She had the camera set to Intelligent Auto but when she moved the camera into the blossom's face all she got was a blurred image. We noticed she was snapping that Shutter all the way down in one move.
That, we pointed out, was defeating the "intelligence" of Intelligent Auto. The camera wasn't getting a chance to recognize the scene and, as a result, didn't switch to Macro mode. So her shots were blurry. "Press just halfway to focus," we suggested. When she could see the green focus confirmation frame on the blossom, she pressed down the rest of the way. And she got a great shot.
(To be continued.)
By DAN HAVLIK(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCGH2/DMCGH2A.HTM on the Web site.)
The Panasonic GH2 occupies that increasingly crowded space between a point-and-shoot camera and a dSLR. It's a category we might have referred to as a mid-size digital camera in the past, but because the Panasonic GH2 uses a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor, ditches the mirror box and accepts interchangeable lenses, it's a whole new breed altogether. We've settled on calling them Compact System Cameras because it just about sums it all up. For me, though, the CSC category breaks down even further into Rangefinder-style CSCs and dSLR-style CSCs. The GH2 is clearly in the dSLR-style subgenre.
Like its nearly identical predecessor, the GH1, the Panasonic GH2 takes its design cues from dSLRs with its jutting, textured handgrip, its bevy of exterior control dials and, when attached, its impressive-looking Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm f4-5.8 Mega O.I.S. zoom kit lens. For people who like entry-level dSLRs, the Panasonic GH2 will be a comfy fit.
Overall, I was satisfied with how the GH2 handled and its size (4.88x3.53x2.98 inches) and weight (approximately 21.48 ounces with the SD card, battery and 14-42mm lens attached) were just about right. With the 14-140mm lens, it's quite a bit heavier, weighing about 2 pounds. For those photographers who want a lightweight but substantial alternative to a consumer dSLR, the Panasonic GH2 fits the bill.
At the same time, the GH2 is really not a compact camera, even though we've labeled it a CSC. You probably won't be able to fit it in your pocket, I don't care what kind of coat you're wearing; and it's liable to draw some attention if you're using it with the honking 14-140mm, 10x zoom lens.
If you have fantasies of being the next Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Frank and capturing inconspicuous images of people and places, you may want to go for a more discreet Rangefinder-style CSC like the Panasonic GF2 or Olympus E-PL2. This is not a knock against the Panasonic GH2, it's just that it's a slightly different (read "bigger") animal than the majority of CSCs out there. The main reasons are its larger grip and the extra hump needed to house the electronic viewfinder.
Video. The first thing you might notice about the Panasonic GH2 when you pick it up is the snazzy stereo microphone on top of the camera and the tempting red video button right below the traditional shutter button on the top plate. Peruse the specs and you'll likely be impressed with what the Panasonic can do in the HD video realm. For one, the Panasonic GH2's Live MOS sensor has a faster readout speed than the previous model, letting it capture 1080i HD video at 60p. That should make movement look smoother in high definition. Meanwhile, the Panasonic GH2's Cinema Mode shoots 1080p at 24 fps for a more film-like look.
So while the GH2 may not be as svelte as some of the competition, it is highly portable and packed with impressive imaging features for shooting both stills and video. Here are my thoughts after working with this feature-laden CSC out in the field.
Ready to Go. The biggest difference we noticed right out of the box was how much speedier the Panasonic GH2 performed overall. The camera is powered by the awkwardly named Venus Engine FHD processor, which despite the silly title, really did the trick. The processor employs three CPUs that make start-up and shut down faster and helps wheel through menus and settings without breaking a sweat. The camera was also fast while making the one-touch switch from stills to HD video and while scrolling through saved images and videos.
More importantly, the processor helped boost the speed of the GH2's Contrast Detection-based AF system. We used the GH2 to shoot both stills and HD video of an outdoor basketball game and were impressed with how fleet of foot it was. The camera achieved autofocus lock in a split second (the lab timed AF lock for the GH2 at 0.241 second at full telephoto), allowing us to get sharp images of a player dunking a basketball. Those are SLR speeds. In comparison, the older Panasonic GH1 performed noticeably slower when I tested it in early 2010, clocking in at 0.321 second.
In burst shooting mode, the GH2 would hold its own against most entry-level and even some prosumer dSLRs. The GH2 can record up to five frames per second, which helped us capture some slobbery shots of a friendly pitbull and a bulldog getting to know each other on the streets of New York City. The payoff shot was the pitbull giving the bulldog a wet kiss/lick on the cheek. Aww.
Along with being able to shoot at up to five frames per second at full resolution using a mechanical shutter, the GH2 can go into overdrive using its electronic shutter and record 40 fps at four megapixels. Though they're at a reduced resolution, these ultra-high-burst images are perfectly usable for emailing or Facebook purposes.
The other benefit of the new processor is improved HD video capture. Along with being a faster feature to use, the GH2 can record at a faster bit rate than its predecessor (up to 24Mbps) and HD video at 24p looks stellar.
The processor does a good job of powering the Continuous Autofocus feature during HD capture. Though other cameras that shoot HD have tried adding Continuous Autofocus to their movie modes, the Panasonic GH2's was the best I've tried: quiet, quick and sharp. I also liked the built-in stereo microphone, which produced excellent sound quality. And here's a note to manufacturers everywhere: if you have an HD video feature in your camera you should have a function to lower wind noise in the audio. The Panasonic GH2 has a very helpful Wind Cut feature that reduced that breezy roar when we shot HD outdoors.
Lens Love. The Panasonic GH2's 14-140mm f4-5.8 Mega O.I.S. Lumix G Vario HD zoom kit lens converts to a 28-280mm (35mm equivalent) on Micro Four Thirds cameras. We got great results at 14mm, with only minor corner softness and fairly strong detail throughout the frame. Coma distortion was low to moderate and chromatic aberration very low. Images looked crisp.
Performance at the 25mm setting or 50mm (35mm equivalent) was very good, with just a hint of softness across the frame. Our results were a touch softer zoomed in all the way at the 140mm setting, but that's to be expected. It was at full zoom where I had the most fun with the GH2 because of the amount of compression the lens would produce at 140mm.
Some fairly routine shots, such as when I captured oncoming traffic while shooting from the bottom of a nearby hill, had a dreamy, professional look to them. I was very jazzed when I spotted someone jogging on train tracks next to the Hudson River and was able to get a moody shot from a safe distance on a nearby trestle. For good measure, I switched to the Monochrome setting in the My Colors mode and snapped off some black-and-white shots. The result was a nice, artistic shot out of a random moment in time. Gotta love that.
My Colors. A quick word about My Colors since I'm on the subject. More and more cameras are adding artistic effects or art filters and My Colors is Panasonic's stab at the feature. I have to say I preferred art effects on Olympus and Samsung latest cameras to the My Colors feature on the Panasonic GH2. Though Monochrome looked kind of cool, it didn't feel like a true black-and-white effect; there was too much yellow in the white areas, making my image look like old newsprint.
I also wasn't crazy with Dynamic Art which pumped up saturation at the expense of detail. Retro was supposed to produce the nostalgic effect of an old, weathered photo but it just looked bland to me. I'm so used to having similar effects with much more punch in the photos apps on my iPhone that My Colors felt like a letdown by comparison. The same goes for the GH2's nine preset "Film" modes. They include options such as Nature, Nostalgic, Smooth, Vibrant and several variations on B&W, which are interesting but not anything I'd use more than once. These effects are something I'd like to see Panasonic further tweak and improve, though, because art filters can be a lot of fun.
Image Skills. In regular shooting modes, the camera produced very good color with fairly accurate saturation. Some "consumer" cameras tend to oversaturate and I was happy to see the Panasonic GH2, which is aimed at more advanced photographers, did not fall into this trap. Skin tones were also natural looking, though Caucasian tones were a little on the pinkish side.
The GH2 captured sharp, detailed images overall, with only minor edge distortions in high-contrast subjects, such as the branches on a tree against the sky. Detail, overall, was good and the camera was not heavy-handed with its noise suppression algorithms at low to mid ISO levels.
Above ISO 400, though, things started to get a little messy. At ISO 1600 we started to see much stronger luminance noise, as well as some yellow blotches in the shadows and darker midtones. Images at ISO 3,200 were still passable -- and sometimes looked quite good -- but detail started to get washed out when you zoomed in. Noise at ISO 6400 looked downright ugly and ISO 12,800 was not for the faint of heart.
Noise levels were better across the board compared to the GH1 -- which was quite a noisy camera for both stills and HD video -- and the GH2 was a surprisingly good low light camera. Part of the reason is likely the ramped up processor, which improved dynamic range while, for the most part, controlling noise without smearing detail.
Touch Control. If there's one new option I wasn't too keen on with the Panasonic GH2, it's the added touchscreen control. This is (somewhat) a matter of taste and there are likely many out there who don't mind the touch control on Panasonic's recent models but I'm not one of them. It all seems to be more trouble than it's worth including the distracting Touch Guide function and the interesting but seemingly unnecessary Touch Shutter. I kept inadvertently taking picture of the street or walls with Touch Shutter on and ended turning all this functionality off. I guess the one positive note is that you can turn it off.
On the other hand, touch tracking, which makes the GH2 lock in on whatever subject you touch on the LCD screen was pretty awesome. Getting the focal point back to the center of the screen after engaging touch tracking was irritating though. In video shooting, I loved that the touch-tracking feature allows you to "pull" or "rack focus" on the subject of your choice. The resulting footage keeps the subject sharp while the rest of the scene blurs for a professional look you'll find in most movies and TV shows.
My one other major complaint about the GH2 is that it's an overly complicated camera whose interface feels cluttered. If you're interested in the GH2, be prepared to spend a lot of time deciphering the somewhat difficult manual and figuring out all the controls and icons on the body and screen. Still, as you've probably gathered by now, the Panasonic GH2 is a camera worth spending some time with if you're interested in producing high-quality still photos and high def video.
You can find our Test Shots at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCGH2/DMCGH2A7.HTM and the Gallery Shots at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCGH2/DMCGH2GALLERY.HTM.
It's almost as unfair to call the 16-Mp Panasonic GH2 an SLR-style camera as it is to call it a Compact System Camera. The Panasonic GH2 is actually a true photo/movie hybrid, straddling the ground between a still camera and a camcorder. And it's a segment that Panasonic pioneered with the GH2's predecessor, the GH1, which burst onto the scene at the PMA show in 2009.
Panasonic hasn't significantly tweaked the original, but it has made some across-the-board improvements. Most noticeable for still photography is the blazing-fast Contrast-Detection autofocus system and the faster operational speed overall. Much of this improvement must be credited to the camera's new Venus Engine FHD processor, which keeps everything humming along at a good clip. We also noticed improvements in image quality even at higher ISOs in low light. This is pleasantly surprising considering the bump up in megapixels on the Micro Four Thirds sensor from the previous model.
As a video camera, the GH2 also showed improvements in HD image quality; 1080i HD was quite good and 24p, cinematic-style video looked great thanks to the faster 24Mbps recording rate. Meanwhile, stereo sound from the built-in mic was crisp and the Wind Cut feature helped reduce that breezy whoosh during outdoor shooting. We're also fond of the Continuous Autofocus feature for HD capture, which our tests show is among the best in the business.
But for all its improvements, the GH2 is not without a few quirks. We weren't crazy about the touch control features on the 3.0-inch vari-angle screen, finding them distracting and unnecessary (note that we thought using touch-tracking to pull focus was an ideal use of touch technology). There was slight banding and noise in low-light scenes compressed via Motion JPEG, but those went away in the AVCHD files. We also found it to be an overcomplicated and confusing camera to use and had to continually consult the manual to figure out some of its features.
But if discovering all the GH2's features might take a little extra work, we think it's worth it if you're looking for a very small still/video hybrid camera. Considering its more technically inclined target market, its overall still and video image quality and its smooth and rapid autofocus earn the Panasonic GH2 a bona fide Dave's Pick.
At http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM you can keep track of what's new on our main site. Among the highlights since the last issue:
- Reviewed: Panasonic Lumix ZS8 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/ZS8/ZS8A7.HTM)
- Reviewed: Panasonic GH2 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCGH2/DMCGH2A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Nikon P500 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/CP500/CP500A.HTM). The P500 starts at an ultra-wide 22.5mm and delivers competent performance all the way out to a super 810mm in a fast, small, light camera with a great grip, a tilting VGA LCD.
- Reviewed: Western Digital's 6TB My Book Studio II (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ARTS/WDSTUDIOII2/STUDIOII2.HTM). We took Western Digital's latest and largest drive for a spin, and even tested its ability to recover from a disaster.
Over the years we've detailed various routines to edit parts of your image by using a luminosity mask to restrict the operation. If you know what you want to do, there's a luminosity mask lurking somewhere in the image to help you do it with just a few keystrokes.
But the other day, we spent an enjoyable hour watching a video of photographer Lee Varis (http://www.varis.com) applying his 10 Channel Workflow (http://my.adobe.acrobat.com/p64uvfj0ov3) to a series of images. It's a long video, but the concepts can be encapsulated in just a few paragraphs.
Varis starts his hunt for a luminosity mask in the 10 channels of the three image types you can switch between.
In RGB mode, for example, you have the red, green and blue channels. And in CMYK, you have the cyan, magenta, yellow and black channels. And, finally, in Lab, you have the luminousity, green-red and yellow-blue channels. Add those channels up and you'll see you have 10 distinct pre-made masks for any image.
Varis then shows how to apply one of the channels as a mask, creating a new layer and pasting the channel to that layer. The blending mode determines precisely how the mask is applied (and he uses a few different modes to show you the options).
You can further refine the effect by using special effects on the masking layer, adding a graduated filter, for example.
While that can get you quite far in modifying the tone and color of even a 24-bit color image, often there's some other part of the image that isn't helped by the modification. Varis shows you how to protect that part of the image, letting the original color and tone through by using the Blending mode Options command.
He also reveals a few precious tricks like converting a blown-out JPEG to Lab color space to recover the highlights.
And, as we've noted before in our luminosity masking articles, this technique works very well on ordinary JPEGs. You don't have to be working Raw to get the benefits.
Visit the Imaging Resource discussion forums at http://www.photo-forums.com to find out what people are saying about the latest digicams, hard-to-find accessories, friendly suppliers, clever techniques, you name it! Recent hot topics include:
Read about the Canon PowerShot SX130 IS at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eeb3274/0
Visit the Panasonic Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.eea297f
Read about the Kodak ESP 5250 printer at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eeaf0d8/0
Discuss Nikon lenses at http://forums.slrgear.com/index.php?showforum=5
Visit the Beginners Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6b2b2
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RE: Front Element Rotation
Imaging Resource articles are superb with solid stuff and real good knowledge, impressive, eye catching and very cultured. Everything is fine but you keep forgetting or skipping the importance of internal focusing and rotary focusing like on the Canon 70-300mm lens and especially on the kit lenses.
It is a beginner's first and most basic important lesson since they are not aware of the importance of internal focusing and circular polaring filters. For an experienced guy, it is an easy and quick purchase decision factor in deciding whether to buy or not.
-- Raysun Bhakar(Thanks for the kind words. Yes, front element rotation is an important factor (essential if you use a circular polarizing filter). But if it isn't mentioned in regard to a kit lens when reviewing a camera body, you can always find out about it in the lens review at SLRgear.com. The specification panel has a Front Element Rotation field. -- Editor)
RE: Canon Pro9000 Mark II
Mike, I am about 95 percent ready to purchase the Pro9000 Mark II. Reading your comments has been very enlightening. One of the criticisms I read about most is ink consumption. With eight ink cartridges if this printer is a hog, it could get expensive. What about using a continuous Ink System.
-- Tony Salso(It "could" get expensive? Actually, it definitely is expensive. No getting around it. And it isn't because the printer is a "hog," Tony, so much as that you're printing on very large sheets. Cartridges do last longer printing with a border than printing borderless at 13x19 (much more so than we would have thought). But it isn't frugal to print 13x19s. In contrast, Canon 13x19s require less ink than those we printed on the HP B8550 we reviewed a while ago. So we don't think of them as particularly wasteful. We haven't used a continuous ink system, so I can't comment on that. We don't print in sufficient volume to justify the initial expense. -- Editor)(We use a Pro9000 Mark II to print hundreds of our review camera test prints. I don't think it gobbles any more ink than equivalent printers, but six-color (or more) printers go through lots of photo cyan and photo magenta. It's a fantastic printer, has been just an amazing workhorse here at IRHQ. -- Dave)
RE: CanoScan 9000F
I photograph my wife's (http://www.ae-art.com) paintings with a 10-Mp Canon with great results and do not understand the reasoning behind using a scanner instead.
-- Alan Estes(Assuming the artwork is flat and small enough to be scanned, a scan will record 16 bits of red, green and blue data for each pixel. A JPEG will record 8 bits of red, green or blue data. And you don't have to worry about even lighting and correcting for lens distortion (and misalignment). So there are some advantages. A camera (with the right setup and lens) is a lot faster, though. And perfectly fine for the job, particularly when it comes to larger work. -- Editor)
Datacolor (http://spyder.datacolor.com) has released its free SpyderGallery iPad app. Designed to help photographers manage the color output on the iPad, the app calibrates the display and assures that colors are consistent throughout the entire workflow process.
Nikon (http://www.nikonusa.com) filed a patent infringement suit against Sigma in Tokyo District Court on May 25. Nikon's lawsuit seeks an injunction against Sigma's manufacture and sale of infringing interchangeable lenses with vibration reduction for single lens reflex cameras, along with damages for past infringement.
Adobe (http://www.adobe.com) has released Lightroom 3.4.1 and Camera Raw 6.4.1 to address a bug that corrupts images with an "unusually large block of private camera data," according to Lightroom Product Manager Tom Hogarty.
The Denver Post photo blog (http://blogs.denverpost.com/captured/2011/05/31/captured-the-50th-anniversary-of-the-freedom-riders/4474/) displays a gallery of images of the Freedom Riders "who set out on Greyhound and Trailways buses across the South to test a U.S. Supreme Court decision banning segregation in interstate transportation."
Camera Bits (http://www.camerabits.com) has released its Photo Mechanic 4.6.7 [MW] with a long list of improvements and fixes.
Popular Science (http://www.popsci.com/science/gallery/2011-05/gallery-mississippi-flooding) has posted a gallery of homemade levees holding off the Mississippi River.
Elliott Erwitt is featured at the N.Y. Times Lens blog (http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/06/elliott-erwitts-best-picture-the-next-one) on the occasion of his Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement. "There's so many things happening that take your concentration away from things that you want to be doing," he observed. "What I want to be doing is taking pictures."
The Photographer's Ephemeris (http://photoephemeris.com) 2.0.3 improves pin dragging, offline use (improved responsiveness), simple status indicators showing when time zone and elevation have been received and a new location edit screen for iPhone allowing direct entry of coordinates.
Terry White (http://terrywhite.com/techblog/archives/7606) talks about adding an iPad to his photography workflow.
Want to know how to clean a lens? LensRentals Chief Lens Cleaner Roger Cicala reveals all (http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2011/05/the-lensrentals-lens-cleaning-methods). "The only thing I know for certain about cleaning lenses," he says, "is that sandpaper and chisels should be used, at most, sparingly."
Ohanaware (http://www.ohanaware.com) has released its $19.99 HDRtist Pro 1.0.2 with support for 16-bit Photoshop files, improvements for InstallEasy and minor fixes.
Adaptive Sports Center (http://adaptivesports.org) is offering a Fall Photo Focus Photography Workshop Sept. 9 to 11 with local photographer Pat Bittle in Crested Butte, Colo. for individuals with cognitive disabilities.
What makes an image memorable? At MIT they think they know (http://cvcl.mit.edu/papers/IsolaXiaoTorralbaOliva-PredictingImageMemory-CVPR2011.pdf).
Hamrick Software (http://www.hamrick.com) has released VueScan 9.0.44 with fixes for Nikon, HP and Canon scanners. The company also announced VueScan Mobile for the iPhone, iPad and Android would be available this summer for scanning from wireless Canon, Epson and HP scanners to email, popular cloud services or the camera roll.
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That's it for now, but between issues visit our site for the latest news, reviews, or to have your questions answered in our free discussion forum. Here are the links to our most popular pages:
Daily News: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS.HTM New on Site: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM Digicam index: http://www.imaging-resource.com/DIGCAM01.HTM Q&A Forum: http://www.imaging-resource.com/FORUM.HTM Tips: http://www.imaging-resource.com/TIPS.HTM
Mike Pasini, Editor
Dave Etchells, Publisher