NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, March 2011
New Cameras Worth Checking Out - Part II
By Jerry Schneir, a member of the Los Angeles Computer Society, CA
January 2011 issue, User Friendly

jerrynrita (at) verison.net (click to email author)

I could devote one whole article just on Panasonicís new cameras, but I will not. There are several that are of great interest because of how much their earlier versions impacted photography. I will mainly deal with the FZ100, FZ40, FX700, and LX5. and the GH2, The GH2 is a 4/3 size sensor camera that resembles an SLR except that it does not have mirror box, has an EVF (Electronic View Finder) and uses interchangeable lenses.

The FZ100 is Panasonicís ultra zoom camera with an optical zoom range of 25-600mm (24x) which follows closely on the FZ28 and FZ35 models, both of which were very well received by pros and dedicated armatures alike. However, a price of about $450 may be inhibiting to some people. In many ways this camera is Panasonicís response to Canonís SX-1 IS which was announced in September 2008 since they share so many features.

The FZ100 uses a CMOS sensor which may have some advantages over similar cameras with a CCD sensor. This may be apparent in the movie and fast shooting modes. The LCD is 3Ē with 461,000 dots and is tiltable. It also uses an EVF and will create image files in both the RAW and JPEG formats. In the burst mode it can capture 11 frames per second at full resolution. The camera will also shoot full 1080p HD video. Again, here is the link to the press release which contains more info http://www.dpreview.com/news/1007/10072108panasonicdmcFZ100.asp

The FZ40 is a lower cost version of the FZ28, FZ35 as well as FZ100. The differences here are: it only has a 3Ē 230,000 pixel fixed mounted LCD and uses a CCD 14MP sensor. It has the same zoom range (25-600mm 24x optical) ) with a f2.8-f5.2 lens. It also can capture images in both the RAW and JPEG formats. Expect to pay a bit more than $350. It cannot match the FZ100 in shooting speeds, but then again, not much can.

The FX700 will set you back about $370 but it is money well spent. It too uses a CMOS sensor combined with a 24-120mm zoom range f2.2-f5.9 lens. The FX700 also shoots full HD 1080p movies. This is a pocket size camera with full manual control but does not produce RAW images, just JPEG. For those of you who like touch screens this is the camera for you. It incorporates a 3Ē touch screen but with only 230,000 pixels. If interested, you can read the press release (July 2010) to get more info at http://www.dpreview.com/news/1007/10072104panasonicdmcfx700.asp

The LX5 is the prosí camera although many an amateur can appreciate the apparent quality of this camera. This is Panasonicís equal to (or better) than Canonís S95 at a price of about $450. For that money you get a camera that will fit in most shirt pockets, has full manual controls, produces RAW and JPEG files and has a 24-90mm (3.8x optical) f2.0-f3.3 lens of superb quality. The LCD is 460,000 dot but does not articulate. Most significantly it gains a connector to add the DMW-LVF1 electronic viewfinder so that the camera becomes much more usable in bright sun light. This is something missing from the S95 of Canon. This camera, like the S95 is only 10MP, but because of that, image quality even at higher ISOs is great. The LX5 is also one of the few cameras with threaded lens so that accessories can be mounted directly on the lens barrel.

In movie recording, the LX5 has some added value more than simply recording HD movies. The LX5 also lets the user set the shutter speed and aperture manually to make even more impressive movies. Changing the shutter speed brings special effects to movies, which is especially suitable for shooting fast-moving subjects. The ability to control the aperture is convenient when there are several subjects at different distances so as to isolate just the one you want and blur the others out. Other very desirable movie features have been included such as blocking wind noise and optical zooming while taking a picture. Donít buy this camera without checking out the S95, and likewise donít buy the S95 without checking out this camera. Read more on the LX5 at http://www.dpreview.com/news/1007/10072110panasonicdmcLX5.asp

Panasonicís GH2 takes the mirrorless style interchangeable lens cameras to a whole new level. In my opinion, it is one of the best, if not the best, of the hybrid cameras, those that combine still photography with video. The GH2 sports a 3Ē touch screen along with a very good EVF. This is not a cheap camera, be prepared to pay a $1,000 for the camera with the 14-42mm (28-84mm f3.5-f5.6 in 35mm film equiv.) lens. If video photography is a very important part of your camera selection process then this is one camera you do want to look closely at. For the preview, check out DPReview at http://www.dpreview.com/previews/panasonicdmcgh2/

The GH2 has a 18MP sensor but only uses 16MP for pictures. The camera and sensor are designed so that the camera delivers 16MP at 16:9, 4:3 and 3:2 aspect ratios, unlike most other cameras that loose a megapixel or two as aspect ratios are changed. But beware, the higher pixel count may also result in some added noise at higher ISO settings. The camera is too new for any meaningful review that may reveal camera problems, especially those addressing any possible noise issues. One added nice feature is the number of lens from Olympus as well as Panasonic that are usable on this camera as well as the other micro 4/3 cameras.

As far as I am concerned there is only one Nikon camera that belongs in this group and that is Nikonís answer to Canonís G12, the Nikon P7000. Nikon, with the P7000, has dropped the bland industrial design of their previous P-series compacts. This new camera much more closely resembles the Canon G11/G12 than anything else. Obvious kudos to Canonís design team.

The major difference as far as I can see is the P7000 does not have an articulated LCD. It does have a very high quality 921,000 dot LCD along with an optical viewfinder, but no articulation. The lens is 28-200mm (35mm equiv) with a 7x optical zoomē F2.8-5.6. Not as bright as the G12 but with a longer zoom range. Expect to pay something in the range of $550, give or take a little. You can explore more about the P7000 at http://www.dpreview.com/previews/nikonP7000/

I lied, there really is another Nikon camera, the Nikon S1100pj. You might ask, and rightly so, why this camera? It has only a 28-140mm f3.8-f5.9 optical zoom lens, pretty weak in light catching ability and will shoot 720p movies. And it can cost up to $350 although you can get the earlier version (S1000pj) for about $160. So, why even think about this camera? Because, unlike almost any other camera, it has a built in digital projector. Donít think you can project from 10 feet away and cover a whole wall, you canít. But from a short distance you can project 48-52 inch images that are fairly bright if the room is fairly dark. Is it worth getting just for that feature? I donít know, but it might be handy to have. Can it display pictures taken on another camera? I donít know.

Buying a New Model Camera
At the start of this article I noted that I would discuss buying a new camera model. Here you are in great danger of picking a lemon, a camera that sounds better than it proves to be. So how to avoid that problem?

Fairly simple but it takes work and time.
(1) go to a camera store armed with a memory card. Make sure you talk to a clerk before inserting your card. Set the resolution and compression so as to get the fewest pictures on your memory card. This gives you the most image detail.

(2) take a bunch of pictures, movies included, and I mean a bunch. Get close to something and fire away, shoot into dark corners with and without the flash, use the zoom at the widest angle and again at the longest range. If there are bright areas in the store shoot pictures there as well. It is critical to try using the camera outdoors in bright sunlight if the camera does not have a viewfinder of any type. You may have to negotiate with clerk in order to take the camera outside but do it. Some cameras without any viewfinder are totally unusable in bright sunlight. Reading the specs canít tell you anything about how easy the camera is to use in bright sunlight.

(3) explore how easy it is to change camera settings, find where you change aperture and/or shutter speed. What about ISO and white balance? How good does the camera adjust for white balance. Change the ISO to 800 and shoot some pictures. Now change it to 1600 and shoot the same shots. Go for broke and shoot at 3200 if it has it. Then shoot the same images at the lowest setting, ISO 80 or 100, Do all of this without using the flash. If the camera has an optical viewfinder estimate how accurate it is when shooting at 5 feet and again at 15 feet. If the camera has an EVF. how good is it? Is the image clear, can you read the camera settings in the EVF? Does it refresh the image fast enough so that as you sweep the camera around the store, the image in the EVF keeps up or is the lag between what is displayed and where the camera is aimed vastly different? Is there blurring of the image as you sweep across a scene?

(4) take out your memory card and go home. Check all the images at 100% magnification. Look for vignette effects at wide angle and at longest zoom Look for exposure problems, grain or noise. Look for good detail in the image at 100% magnification. How good was the auto white balance? Now, take a couple of minutes to think about how easy/hard it was to use that new camera compared to the one you are currently using. If you found it relatively easy, you are on the right track. However, if you found it hard to use or confusing, you may want to look at something different. High end cameras do not get easier to use. Why? Because they have more features to master; more things to consider before taking the shot; more places to go wrong. In truth, a number of people who buy high end cameras would be just as well off, and a whole lot happier, if they set their sights a bit lower and got an easier to use camera.

One more point, if you are buying the camera as a gift, donít buy what you want, buy what they can use and appreciate even if it means buying something less fancy.

To do all this well, and I mean well, can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. But afterwards you should have a good idea about what that camera can do and cannot do and how comfortable you are using that camera. Most of todayís cameras have very little shutter lag but start-up times do vary. So remember to check that out as well.

You may have also noticed that I paid very little attention to pixel count. For the most part, pixel count in these cameras means little. Just because one camera is 10MP and another is 12 or 14MP (or more) has little impact on photos in this class of cameras. I only addressed that point when I thought it was important, such as on the Panasonic GH-2 and there only because of how clever the camera designers at Panasonic were.

The above should help you discover a camera that fits your needs and avoid those that just sounded good, perhaps a little too good.

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