Camera thoughts (part 1 – Lumix)

So, I am looking at replacing my camera. I currently have a Panasonic FZ-50, which I bought second-hand back in early 2007; thirty thousand photos later and three and a half years later, it’s living up to the original review:

…the nearest thing you could get to a DSLR without actually using one … without doubt the best equipped, best specified and best handling ‘bridge camera’ on the market today, and under the right conditions it produces superb output.

There’s the rub, though. The right conditions are basically outside in sunlight. The tradeoff for the FZ-50 is that whilst the ergonomics are a delight, and it has an excellent lens range, the sensor’s not very good. Once it has to cope with low-light or high-sensitivity situations, the quality of the images falls off dramatically. It theoretically can go up to ISO 1600; in practice, 200 is beginning to show noise.

And, as fate would have it, more of what I want to do seems to be indoors. So, a good time to consider moving on. (An even better time in that I am flying to Ithaca at the end of the month; I can order a camera online, at US prices, and have it waiting for me when I arrive… saving a sizable wad of cash and a bit of weight on the outbound journey, when I expect to be laden anyway.) It’s a lot of money, though, and I want to be sure of what I’m doing – so, I may as well show my working here.

There is a new model in the same line, the FZ-100, but this seems to have similar noise problems – and the lens adjustment is on a little button rather than the barrel, which I find fiddly. So, dismiss that. I like the Lumixes, though; they’re robust, they feel good, and they work well. There’s a couple of interchangeable-lens lines in the series, so let’s look at those:

DMC-L

The actual DSLRs; large cameras with Four-Thirds sensors. Two models, the L1 and L10. Reviews of the L1 are not desperately kind. Reviews of the L10 are more promising, but there’s a couple of details that worry me a little – response time and noise – and when coupled with the high price ($1500!), we can put that one aside. Pity.

DMC-G

Not technically DSLRs; Micro Four-Thirds, which is a smaller sensor and a somewhat simplified technical structure. The main issue with micro-four-thirds is that whilst they look very nice, it may turn out to be a technical cul-de-sac; it’s relatively new, and the lenses aren’t interchangeable with other designs. But on the other hand, they look very nice. Six models: G1, GH1, GF1, G10, G2, & GH2.

The GH2 is not yet on sale, which simplifies things. The G10 is a “budget” version of the G1, which apparently is quite unpleasant to use; two down. The GF1 is… weird. No viewfinder, for one thing, and a very small body; it looks interesting to play with, but not quite what I’m after – apparently it works really well with a fixed 20mm lens, since you end up with a really powerful compact camera, but that is perhaps a rather expensive toy.

So, G1 ($540-640), GH1 ($1000 GH1K), G2 ($650-800). Both the G1 and G2 have similar 14-45mm lenses, with a second 45-200mm lens for $250. The G2 provides a better degree of compatibility with older four-thirds lenses (hurrah), a better ISO range, and various ergonomic twiddles. And, bizarrely, a touch-screen display. I have to admit, I’m having a hard time figuring out how you’d use a touch-screen display on a camera, but maybe that’s just me. On the downside, the included lens isn’t as good, and the mount is a bit shoddy.

It’d do, I think. But I don’t want to spend £400-550 and class it as “it’d do”; I have “it’d do” already! So, perhaps I need to look back at the rest of the Four Thirds market – or further? Cue part two, shortly.

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