Camera Choice – Part 3

This is the final part on my multi-post epic on my latest camera choice; you can read the other parts by clicking one of the links below, reading them first will make this post more relevant:

  • You can read part 1 by clicking here
  • You can read part 2 by clicking here

In my previous posts I had chosen the camera (Panasonic Lumix GH3) and now I had to decide which accessories and lenses I needed (wanted?) and purchased.

Lumix GH3-Front

When you purchase the GH3, you have the choice of three configurations as follows:

  • Lumix GH3 body only
  • Lumix GH3 with the LUMIX G VARIO 14-140mm F4.4-5.8 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S. 14-140mm f5.8-5.8 lens
  • Lumix GH3 with the LUMIX G X VARIO 12-35mm/F2.8 ASPH./POWER O.I.S.

Purchasing the camera with one of the lens kits is a cheaper way of getting them as opposed to buying them separately. Frankly the choice was a no-brainer for me in that I wanted the 12-35mm f2.8 lens anyway.

12-35mm f2.8 Lens

One advantage of the Micro 4-3rds system is that the lens range is quite extensive. Both Panasonic and Olympus have released many lenses and some of them have already been updated (the 14-42 mm and the 14-140mm are now on their second revision) so there is a lot of choice; add in the 3rd party lenses from Sigma, Tamron and there is a large range to choose from. Whilst Olympus and Panasonic might have lenses with identical focal lengths they do differ in how they offer Image Stabilisation, Olympus do this in the body of the camera (IBIS) whilst Panasonic offer this on some (most) of their lenses (OIS).

Whilst on the subject of the LUMIX G VARIO 14-42 mm / F3.5-5.6 II ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S. lens, this is an update to the LUMIX G VARIO 14-42mm / F3.5-5.6 ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S. lens. The lens hasn’t changed much but sports the new look and the awful plastic lens mount is now metal – hallelujah! The 14-42mm was a replacement for the much better LUMIX G VARIO 14-45mm / F3.5-5.6 ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S. lens. As with most manufacturers they try and offer a reasonable kit–lens but move to a cheaper variant once they are established and Panasonic were no different. I suspect that the 14-42mm was much cheaper to make so I am pleased that they have updated it with a metal lens mount, it remains to be seen if the optical configuration has been updated or not, there is very little detail on this lens at the moment.

Panasonic also offer a second variant of the 14-42mm, the LUMIX G X VARIO PZ 14-42mm / F3.5-5.6 ASPH. / POWER O.I.S. This one has built-in power zooming and along with its sister the LUMIX G X VARIO PZ 45-175mm / F4.0-5.6 ASPH. / POWER O.I.S. are the only Panasonic power zoom lenses around. They are not considered to be great lenses but I have owned both in the past and I never had any problems; they work best with a body that has a zoom rocker switch such as the Lumix G5, Lumix G6 and the GF6. I used them both on GX1 where they were frankly a bit cumbersome and the G5 which was better due to the zoom rocker switch. They should also work on the GH3 where one of the control dials should control the zoom (not sure on this though?).

The new mark II 14-140mm lens is faster (f3.5-f5.6), lighter, has the newer Power OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation), focuses faster, is slightly cheaper and looks nicer (more in line with the latest lens introductions).

I apologise for the verbose nature so far of the lenses that I didn’t buy 🙂

As I had purchased the 12-35mm f2.8 lens I also wanted to get the LUMIX G X VARIO 35-100mm / F2.8 / POWER O.I.S lens as well; this gives me a 24-200mm effective field of view (FOV) in 35mm terms all at f2.8. I have to say that the quality of pictures that these lenses enable is amazing. This is what the Micro 4-3rds system was missing.

35-100mm f2.8 Lens

Although from a shear performance point of view the GH3 is no match compared to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, it is the best (or one of best compared to some aspects of the Olympus OM-D) there is in this format. I like to take wildlife pictures and sometimes 100mm is not enough (even when you factor in the x2 FOV multiplier) so there are six lens choices which give me a focal length greater than 100mm as follows:

  • LUMIX G VARIO 14-140mm F4.4-5.8 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S.
  • LUMIX G VARIO 14-140mm / F3.5-5.6 ASPH./POWER O.I.S.
  • LUMIX G VARIO 45-150mm/F4.0-5.6 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S.
  • LUMIX G VARIO 45-200mm F4-5.6 ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S.
  • LUMIX G X VARIO PZ 45-175mm / F4.0-5.6 ASPH. / POWER O.I.S.
  • LUMIX G VARIO 100-300mm / F4.0-5.6 / MEGA O.I.S.

These are just the Panasonic lenses; they are all zooms as there are no telephoto prime lenses at the moment, the prime lens with the longest focal length at the moment is the Olympus 75mm f1.8 M.ZUIKO PW EZ . The lens that I chose to give me the maximum reach was the LUMIX G VARIO 100-300mm F4.0-5.6 lens. You will note that apart from the older generation 14-140mm lens they are all f5.6 at their maximum telephoto range so picking the 100-300mm does actually give me a faster aperture at lengths less than 300mm. The effective 35mm FOV for this lens is 200-600mm, this lens could never exist in the 35mm full-frame world as it would be very big, heavy and extremely expensive.

As usual I have been reading up on the performance and quality of the 100-300mm lens and I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t be very good and I would get what I call “mush” when at 300mm; this was a problem that I had had with the Canon EOS 7D and 100-400mm combo at 400mm.

Panasonic 100-300mm f4.0-5.6 LUMIX G Vario Lens

I either have a very good copy of the lens or the problems were exaggerated (that is forums for you) as the lens is optically very good and the OIS is also very useful too. I have been using this lens quite extensively over the last few days (handheld) and I have been astounded by the quality and resolution of the photos and videos that this lens & GH3 combo are producing; have a look at my recent Swan and Cygnet pictures for evidence of this.

So after acquiring three zoom lenses giving me coverage of 12mm to 300mm (24 to 600mm) are there any other lenses that would be useful? The 12-100mm range is @ f2.8 and the 100-300mm starts @ f4.0 rising to f5.6 by the time it reaches 300mm. So the two areas that other lenses might help is giving me something faster than f2.8 at less than 100mm and providing something wider than 12mm (remember that this is equivalent to a field of view of 24mm in a 35mm terms).

Why do I need a lens that is faster than f2.8? There are two reasons; the first is that when you are in a situation where is very little light having a lens with an aperture of around f1.4 or f1.8 lets more light in to help with the auto-focus system. The second is that you want to isolate the subject from the background i.e. have a limited depth-of-field. This is exacerbated by the fact that the smaller sensor not only affects the field of view of the focal length (by a multiplication of 2) but also affects the depth of field too. This also needs to be multiplied by two; an aperture of f1.4 on a micro 4-3rds system has an equivalent depth of field of f2.8 lens on a 35mm full-frame camera.

The best (only?) way of getting a faster aperture lens is to get a prime lens. There are a number of these available in this mount:

  • Panasonic 25mm f1.4 Leica DG lens
  • Panasonic 20mm f1.7 Lens
  • Olympus 12mm f2.0
  • Olympus 17mm f1.8
  • Olympus 45mm f1.8
  • Olympus 75mm f1.8

None of these lenses offer any form of stabilisation, the Olympus lenses are primarily designed for the Olympus range of micro 4-3rds systems which offer IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilisation) which is why the omit this. For lenses that have a short focal length (i.e. less than 26mm) this is less of an issue.

The price of the 20mm has come down quite a bit and can be purchased new for around £200 now or can be purchased from WEX as part of a GX-1 kit where this lens is effectively £109. I am tempted at these low prices because although not very fast (focusing) lens it is optically very good. However, I want the fastest aperture that I can get, the only lens with an aperture of f1.4 is the Panasonic Leica 25mm lens; this lens has the advantage of not only the Leica-designed glass, but gives you a 50mm (effective FOV) lens as well.

25mm f1.4 Leica Lens

For lenses where you want to be wider than 12mm, there is only one option (in my mind) and that is the Panasonic 7-14mm f4 LUMIX G Vario lens. This lens has a constant aperture of f4 and is optically very good. The only real downside is that it is the most expensive micro 4-3rds lens that there is at the moment (even more expensive than the 35-100mm f2.8 lens). Occasionally Amazon offer this lens at a substantial discount from time to time; you just have to keep an eye out for these offers. When the combination of available funds and good price co-inside I will add this lens to my collection.

7-14mm f4 Lens

Macro Lenses
Finally, I would like to have a macro lens for times when you need to get close. Luckily with the micro 4-3rds system I have a choice of two purposed designed lenses. I have seen some recent forum posts whereby other options using various adapters are suggested but I fail to see why you would consider them when you have two very good lenses in the native micro 4-3rds lens mount :

  • Panasonic LEICA DG MACRO-ELMARIT 45mm / F2.8 ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S.
  • Olympus 60mm f2.8 Macro M.ZUIKO Digital ED

Both lenses offer a reproduction ratio of 1:1, but the 60mm offers a slightly greater working distance over the 45mm (a few cm). The 45mm will be stabilised on the GH3 (the 60mm won’t). If I had an Olympus micro 4-3rds camera I would choose the 60mm for the working distance and the fact that it is about £100 cheaper, even when you factor in the lens hood which for Olympus lenses is an extra.

45mm f2.8 Leica Macro Lens

I have read many reviews and they seem to contradict each other about which lens is sharper, some say the Leica designed optics in the 45mm are better than the Olympus and some say that the Olympus (who do make some very good glass too) is sharper. The Olympus lens has had a lot of good design options too like a limiting switch for the focusing distance as well as an indicator of what reproduction ratio is being set.

Olympus 60mm f2.8 Macro M.ZUIKO Digital ED lens

I have tried to find real world use indications of the GH3 + Olympus 60mm combo but as of yet can find none 😦 . However, this might simply come down to the fact that the 45mm will be stabilised on the GH3. As I don’t need to get one of these lenses yet I won’t make any decision until I am sure which the best one is.

Any more lenses under in consideration?

  • I wouldn’t say no to the power-zooms as they can be controlled by the Wi-Fi connection software on the iPad/Android device.
  • The newer 14-140mm lens would be a good travel lens (28 to 280mm) so that less lens changes would be required.
  • In the “would be nice” category are some of the Olympus primes; the 12mm, 17mm and 45mm are all very good.

14-140mm f3.5-5.6 (II) lens

Other accessories
In the previous post I mentioned that the GH3’s grip can cause 4th finger syndrome. This was easily solved by purchasing (and fitting) the Panasonic DMW-BGGH3 Battery Grip . The grip although not quite of the same build quality of the GH3 is weather-sealed and had compartments to store the covers removed from the grip and GH3 terminals – nice. All of the controls on the top of the GH3 are replicated on the grip so that in portrait mode you don’t have to perform finger origami.

Olympus HLD-6 Battery Grip-2

As the grip holds a second battery I ordered one of these too; I purchased a genuine Panasonic DMW-BLF19 Battery Pack as I don’t like 3rd party ones. They have no warranty, can cause harm to the camera and are more likely to explode as they are not subject to the same level of safely legislation as the genuine batteries. Why spend all of that money on what is not a cheap camera and then save money on the non-approved batteries?

As I am really going to look into producing a lot of video on this camera, investing in a reasonable quality microphone is essential. I have already recorded more YouTube destined short clips on this camera than any other as it is so easy to do. So I purchased the Panasonic DMW-MS2 Stereo Shotgun Microphone which is currently dedicated for the GH3 only but will also support the yet unreleased Lumix G6 as this now has a microphone socket (the Lumix G5 did not). I will probably do a dedicated post on using this microphone at a later date once I have used it.

Lumix DMW-MS2

The final items I purchased were two more SanDisk 16GB 95Mb/s SDHC memory cards as the video will use up a lot of space, this gives me a total of 4 now. I also have some lower speed cards in various sizes if needed. All of my memory cards are SanDisk; I have never had a problem with any of their SD cards.

Sandisk Extreme 16GB SDHC card

What is left to get on the accessory front?:
The only real hole left is on the lighting front. My first thoughts were to purchase the Panasonic DMW-FL360LE Flashgun as this not only offers flash photography for stills but also has an LED light for videos. This flashgun was designed specifically for use by the GH3 and has the following features:

  • Guide number (GN) of 36 at an ISO of 100
  • Features a head that can rotate and tilt (for bounce lighting)
  • Wireless control is available with the on-board flash on DMC-GH3
  • Also has an LED light that is especially useful for video shooting
  • Has a recharge time about 2 seconds
  • Costs a reasonable £250 (better than the £500 to £600 cost of the Canon and Nikon flashguns)

Panasonic DMW-FL360LE Flashgun

However after looking at the Discover Mirror-less website and watching the various videos and articles it seems that these type of flashguns are not the best investment. The flash gun in general is on the way out and I should be considering constant LED lighting. From what I can gather this is a proverbial minefield at the moment as the technology is still in its infancy. There is quite a variance in the quality and colour temperature of the lighting out there and quite a lot of money is required to get good LED lighting. The best out there is the Quantum Omicron 4 but this flash-head costs about £800 and requires a separate power-pack and to use effectively requires a bracket too. You could end up spending about £1500 for one light (although in the scheme of studio lighting this is quite reasonable).

There is however a cheaper option and this is to look at the Manfrotto range of LED lighting. Whilst not as good as the Quantum gear it still provides good bang for buck. Looking at the range the best one (and the one to go for) is the Manfrotto ML840H Maxima LED Panel.

Manfrotto ML840H Maxima LED Panel - front

From the website: The Manfrotto Maxima is an 84 LED panel with high quality 6000°K output. Designed for use with both DSLR and hybrid DSLRs it includes the hybrid function allowing you to switch from a continuous beam to a flash with 4X the output. In this way the panel can provide a continuous light when shooting video but also adds the flash capability when switching to the photo mode. The light has a built-in rechargeable lithium battery and is supplied with a ball head mount that allows you to attach the light either to the hot shoe of your camera, a tripod head or light stand (3/8” thread). It also features the “DUO” position allowing you to attach the light either in vertical or horizontal position and to stack more than one LED panel in order to increase the total output. A rear facing LED lights up the camera command dials when shooting in darkness and the dimmer allows control over the output (0-100% dimmability). Also included are a set of diffusers and gels to soften the light or to change the colour temperature.

Manfrotto ML840H Maxima LED Panel - rear

Cable Release
I always invest in some form of remote release whether this be wireless (Sony NEX-7), old-style cable (Fuji X-Pro1) or more of a standard fare like the electronic cabled variety. I did consider not getting one as I could use my iPhone and/or iPad to do this using the wireless connectivity; however, if the battery levels are low or I forget the phone or tablet having one in the bag would be handy.

Like most manufacturers Panasonic do offer a cable release that works with almost the entire range (some of the earlier more budget orientated models had/have no release socket). This is the “Panasonic DMW-RSL1E Remote Shutter” which is priced at the crazy amount of £59! What they were smoking when they priced this accessory? One of the London Camera stores have an un-boxed second-hand one for sale for £29.99 which is still a lot of money (they probably only paid £5 for it).

Panasonic DMW-RSL1E Remote Shutter

Fortunately there are many third-party devices out there from around £5 to a lot more depending on the functionality you require. Unlike the third-party models for other cameras out there, this is a standard size phono-type socket so the connection which is usually sub-par on (cheaper?) third party models should be better. This seems to be backed up with the reviews on the Amazon site (where I will most likely purchase one from).

Hama DCCS Remote Control System Base Unit

Looking at what’s out there I like the look of the Hama DCCS system, this consists of 2 components. The first is a generic device and they offer four types:

  • Simple shutter release with “bulb” feature
  • Shutter release with and Intervalometer
  • IR remote shutter release
  • Remote with a photoelectric Detector (can be tripped by interrupting an IR beam)

The second component is the device specific cable for your camera model (they offer cables for nearly every manufacturer out there). This means that if you have models from two or more different manufactures you only have to buy extra device connectors and not the whole device again. This keeps costs (and extra weight and bulk) low. The system also has a 5m extension cable option for long cable runs too.

Hama DCCS System Base IR Remote Release with Photoelectric Detector

I settled on the intervalometer option as it this seemed to offer the right amount of control for the price, naturally I also had to purchase the Panasonic adapter cable.

Hama Timer Remote Release DCC System Base

This concludes the 3-part Camera Choice posts – see the “My Gear” page to check what I currently have. At the end of the page I have added a wish-list section. I will keep these updated as the gear changes, the wish list will grow as Panasonic release new devices and lenses.

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