12.15.2013

Happy to share that my favorite camera of the year is also the cheapest one I bought all year. The G6.


I was going to write some long, drawn out narrative about choosing one camera from a list of many to make my "camera of the year" until I decided that the camera one chooses as "their" personal camera of the year is a singular and illogical choice based on so many individual factors that there's no way to choose one universal camera for everyone. We can dance around the Sony products or the further distilled Olympus uber camera but in the end it all comes down, for me, to which camera gives me the most pleasure to hold, shoot, play with and drag images out of.  And, which one is the best value for the amount of imaging fun it delivers. This year, for me, it's hands down the Panasonic G6. 

But it's not just the G6....it's the G6 paired with the Leica 25mm Summilux that makes it all work. And I will sheepishly admit that this is the first combo I've bought in a long time where the lens cost more than the camera (complete with a kit lens). But I'm a perennial sucker for a 50mm equivalent on every camera I've ever played with and this lens fits the bill nicely. 

I haven't had as much time to play with the G6 as I would have liked but I can't complain because that means I've been working on jobs for clients, pressing more situationally appropriate cameras into the projects and looking through countless files and video from Sony a99s, Panasonic GH3s and even the old, standard Sony a850. But I've been holding the G6 in reserve as my "personal" camera. The one I want to walk the streets with.

So, what is it about the G6 that speaks to me?
I'd start with the body design. It mimics the Leica R8 SLR that I enjoyed so much nearly a decade and a half ago. The design is the perfect synthesis of ergonomic correctness and understatement. It's clean and uncluttered. Front, top and back. Then, I love the EVF. It's not as good visually as the newest Sony and Olympus versions but in a camera at this price it's 95% of the way there. The automatic switching between the eye-finder and the LCD is seamless. I've been working with the Samsung Galaxy NX this year and found the proximity sensor of the eyepiece to be one of the weakest points on the entire camera. To find a finder on a camera at 1/3 the price with much better color and exposure tracking vis-a-vis correlation between EVF, LCD and computer monitor is a telling sign of Panasonic's ability to get lots and lots of little things just right.

I would note that this is the first camera that has made me appreciate, even enjoy! using a touch screen LCD. It's responsive and it makes getting through menus a breeze. Unlike on the much pricier Sonys I can bring up a quick menu, touch the parameter I want to change and go right to it. The whipped creme for me is the touch focus and it's ability, in the video mode, to do beautiful focus pulls from near to far just by touching the desired point and letting the camera do the smooth work.

When I carry the camera and lens around town the combination is small and light enough to be almost transparent. It's not a big enough package to be intimidating. It looks like a miniaturized version of a "real" camera. And that is also a big part of its charm for me. 

This is the first camera I've owned that makes exposure compensation flawless. Absolutely flawless. Most cameras require you to push a button and then turn a know. Of course you have to remember which button to push and which knob to turn. The Sony Nex 7 was nearly as good when you were in a shooting mode because one knob of the Tri-Navi controls became the plus/minus compensation knob. On the G6 there is a rocker control just behind the shutter button that was put there ostensibly to zoom an electronically controlled zoom lens. I only have one of those and I haven't used it on this camera yet so I re-mapped the rocker switch to be the full time exposure compensation switch. Push it one way for increased exposure and another way for decreased exposure. And, as you push the button the compensation reads out in the finder (or on the rear screen). When you head back to neutral (no compensation) the center, yellow box jumps up to attention making the neutral setting very obvious. 

This makes exposure compensation so fast and so fluid that it's quickly become part of my shooting methodology. I can evaluate exposure using the EVF and tweak almost instantaneously. Much faster than on most of the other cameras I've owned.  

The quick menu is another charming experience. On push on a clearly marked function button brings up all of my most used settings and the touch aspect of the screen allows you instant access to the parameter you need. Compared to the menus on the Nex cameras it's like a clear beacon compared to a murky and endless swamp. Even worse are some of the buried controls on other cameras I've been using, including one that takes you out of camera mode into a system mode in order to format a memory card. 

I should also take a moment to praise the camera's fast and highly accurate focusing system. I haven't used it for sports or lost of fast moving objects but everything I have tried to focus on, in all kinds of light levels, has been locked in quickly and accurately. I've experienced no hunting or inability to lock onto a subject. I'll try it for sports at the next swim meet or cross country meet but I actually have high hopes for it.

Everything I've talked about so far is operational or aesthetic. It's a fun, fast camera and it looks great. But what are the flaws? What will the majority of "enthusiasts" say in response to my praise of the camera? First we'll all have to dance around the fact that it's not a full frame camera in the traditional definition of full frame sensors being 24 by 36 mm.  Basic physics tells us that the sensor will be noisier in the smaller sensor camera and that because it is 16 megapixels compared to 24 and 36 megapixel cameras it won't resolve as much detail. Okay. This is all true. And I did re-size each of the photos here on the blog to be half the size of the camera originals. Most of our use of our cameras is to post on the web or to show on a screen. All of our cameras can handle that very well. 

But it's good to remember that 16 megapixels (the holy grail only a few years ago) is quite capable of making very convincing 12 by 18 inch prints and, with a little extra post production effort and the right subject matter I'm convinced that most 16 megapixel files can be printed to poster sizes without much strain. If I compare maximum sizes for the long dimension of a 16 meg file with the long dimension of a full frame 24 meg a99 file I find that the math looks something like this at 300dpi....
15.33 inches versus 20 inches. A long dimension difference of about 4.66 inches. Hmmmm. That's not much difference in resolution for five times the price of the cameras.

We can argue the difference in pixel quality and other errata nonstop but I'd rather move on to color, contrast and other areas where I feel this generation of Panasonic cameras has joined the sweet spot of the venn diagram along with most other cameras. The menus are highly configurable. I can even change the noise reduction characteristics for exposure style settings. I like the "standard" setting but I like the jpeg files with a bit less noise reduction so I set mine down one notch. Yes, I get more noise at 1600 ISO (which I can fix in post) but I also get a higher level of detail rendering (which I can't change in post....). Every style is fully configurable in the same way. There's a wide range of control for sharpness, contrast, saturation and noise reduction. Nice in such an inexpensive camera. 

What else makes the camera more fun? How about the addition of dedicated battery charger to the delivered package? Trumps the accessory package in both the Samsung Galaxy NX and the Sony A7, both of which require in camera USB cord charging. Need to charge an extra battery and use your camera at the same time? Yes with the G6 but no with the two cameras mentioned above that cost two and a half times as much. Go figure......

To a certain extent I am being disingenuous. The more expensive cameras, the full frame Nikons, Canons and Sonys, do have lower noise, more detail and more dynamic range in their files. And that's why we own them. But not every image we create has to come into existence as an artifact at the pinnacle of technology. Most of the time we're telling short stories with our photographs and the quality of the images from most cameras is wonderful for this application. I own "better" cameras but  my main point is that few of the cameras I've owned is as much fun to carry around and shoot with as the Panasonic G6. Especially when you consider the price!

Which camera in the same price range did I buy this year that has a slightly better looking file, more detail and better dynamic range? That would be the Pentax K-01. But it was disqualified for "most fun camera of the year" (my main criteria for "favorite camera of the year") by the lack of an EVF. 

EVF trumps slightly better image quality. Sorry. But that's my metric; it might not be yours. 

So, that's my take. Now, what was your favorite camera of the year? Not the most impressive, just your favorite?  I'd like to know. I might have missed a winner...





















If you use either of these links to click through to Amazon.com the Visual Science Lab will get credit for anything you buy while you are on there from here. We get a small commission for directing you there but it has no effect on the price you pay for the stuff you love. It does help me rationalize spending the extra time to try and get spelling and grammar correct. I don't always catch all the errors but I really do try. Happy Holidays!


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28 comments:

R.Mutt said...

Kirk. No links to Amazon show on my browser(Safari)
No worries.
I purchased this camera after I read your post and link to Amazon. I have been having a ball with it. The ease of use, the files, the weight. Wow! The price has since increased. I feel it was a steal at $498.
I traded out a P7700 and have no regrets. I am still getting used to it but have to say it beats the P7700 for image quality. My first EVF.
Focus peaking, Didn't really know much about it but it is sweet ! I had a hard time dealing with not having a view finder on the P7700.
I like not having to lug around a D7000 .
I have shot inside by lamplight , outside in the snow, and am really liking everything it does.
The low light display compensation irks me but I am working on figuring it out. I still miss getting some exposures correct..
Keep up the great writing.

Marino Mannarini said...

I do share the love for the m43 Panas...I rejoyced much using the Gf1, and then the GH2..now i am the happy owner of a Gx7...you should give it a try..tiltable Evf, and then all the rest

ODL Designs said...

I am more than pleased with myself for not buying a single camera this year :D So for me, my camera of the year wins 2 years straight... The EM5!

However I did pick a few lenses and some interesting gadgets, the obvious purchase was the 17mm f1.8, not so obvious was the 35mm T1.4 (great lens for the price, they had a low launch price), but my real challenge this year was picking up the Kippon T&S OM-m43rds adapter and an OM 50mm f3.5... That combo has taught me something new!

Steven Lawrence said...

I bought a G5 (at a bargain price)and I enjoy it very much. Never used micro 4/3... have all the Nikon formats. It is fun and you can create great images. I will probably buy the G6 when I can. By the way... how do you stand all that sunshine? I live in Seattle and love shooting under the cloudy skies.

Brad Calkins said...

Invariably, anyone's camera if the year is one they've actually used, and even more likely it takes their existing lenses. Thus, it is likely to be a very personal choice as you point out. Nevertheless it is still interesting to hear what works for others. In my case I was swayed by the EM1. Primarily for the phase detect af (for my 3 4/3 lenses) but also the viewfinder, and size. It is just that bit bigger that I find it usefully larger than the em-5, especially in a snowy winter in BC. Tough to justify a new camera on IQ alone these days; but easier to justify an ergonomic improvement!

Steve Mack said...

Nikon D7000 for me. But you've already seen and tried that, I expect. It's my only digital, and I'm very happy with it, and the 35 f/1.8 DX lens that I use with it. I too have a thing for 50mm lenses since every camera I own has a 50 mm on it, except for the Yashica MAT 124G, which has an 80 mm, which is ~50mm in medium format...

Anyway, The very best of the season to you and yours.

With best regards, Stephen

Craig Yuill said...

My favorite camera, hands down, has been the little Nikon V1, a camera you are quite familiar with. It may not take photos that are ultimately quite as good as what I can get from my Nikon D7000, but there's something about the V1 that makes me want to try different stuff. Perhaps because of the fact that it's not a "serious" camera I feel more like taking "risks" with it. Even though its high-ISO performance is "terrible" I very often shoot with it at ISO 3200. And the video from it is great.

You mentioned going against the wisdom of the "enthusiasts". Frankly, I too have little use for their opinions.

Christine Bogan said...

I like your writing about the Panasonic G6. Camerawise I'm happy with what I have. In fact more than enough. That's why the tiny Olympus Pen E-PM2 together with my beloved Panasonic G 14/2,5 is my choice for this year. The best compact packet I ever had.

Alex said...

No charger included with the Galaxy NX? That's so cheap of Samsung, saving on paper clips! The NX20 & NX200 came with chargers.

I wasn't going to buy any camera this year, but now I'm waiting for Pentax K-01 to arrive. Guess who to blame???

Ron Joiner said...

I bought the Olympus EPL-5 this past year and use it with the VF-2 which is a bit of a hassle. Had the G6 been available way back in Feb 2013 it would have been a no-brainer for me.
However I am sure that the G6 would be a welcome edition since I have a bunch of m43rds lenses. I would get it for mostly video, though. I noticed that you did not comment on that.
Loved the article just the same.
Ron

raingeek said...

The G5 has been my workhorse for over a year now - for many of the same usability reasons you cite for the G6. I missed focus peaking once when I had my G5 hooked up to a Nikon 400mm f2.8 trying to shoot some eagles, but, other than that. I'm very happy.

Here's to cameras that are a joy to use.

Mark Davidson said...

I just bought the G6 after watching the m43 world for some time. I shoot with Canon 5DmkIIIs for commercial and architectural work. I also shoot events and portraits and in my opinion this beats the Canons soundly.

I shot a wedding on Saturday and brought the G6 with only the kit lens and it was astonishing in speed and accuracy of focus that it delivered. I knew beforehand exactly my exposure and the silent shutter was tops. I shot RAW and thought he 6400ISO shots were a bit rough the 1600 was very usable and more importantly, salable. The files were wonderful and in every respect worthy of professional delivery standards.

The kit lens gave me more tack sharp images than my Canons with their L glass.
The weight was invisible on my shoulder whereas two big-ass Canons around my neck aged me noticeably over the day.

I will definitely be acquiring another body and faster lenses. I will also be able to discontinue my Chiropractor full-employment plan.

Anonymous said...

For me it was the Sony RX100M2. I'd tried out the original version and really liked it, but the fixed LCD coupled with the lack of a viewfinder meant it could be hard to compose an image. My wife bought me the M2 version as an extravagant birthday gift, and the addition of a tiltable rear screen has made all the difference.

Sure there are times when you need a longer lens, and APS-C sensor cameras have a bit less noise. But the RX100M2 is small enough to fit in my pants pocket -- you get the "always with you" advantage of a cell phone without most of the disadvantages (no zoom, jpeg only, etc.) If the light's halfway decent and I don't need a long lens, the RX100M2's images seem every bit the equal of the NEX-6 (in fact, I think I like the colors and the overall look right out of the camera better on the RX100M2 than on the NEX). The menu system is also much better than the NEX (although not up to Panasonic's standards).

I'd still prefer a viewfinder, but the RX100M2 does such a good job of overcoming the limitations of its tiny size that I'll even forgive it that.

Duncan Holthausen said...

For me, it's the Panasonic GX7. I love the rangefinder form factor and most of the same things that you like about the G6. I chose it over the Olympus EM1 because it is smaller, has a more intuitive menu and has a built-in flash for times when you need a bit of fill.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kirk,

Love your description of Panasonic cameras as "Olympus country cousin". Great line! They aren't sexy, but they sure know how to work.

For me it was the GX7, but I was sure tempted by the GH3 after actually holding one. Great ergonomics on the GH3, but in the end, size trumped ergo.

Racecar said...

My favourite is the Panasonic GX7. Light weight, small, nice articulating EVF. Killer combo: the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 macro lens. My "sweet spot" focal length is the 90mm 35mm film equivalent, and I enjoy making close-up photos. So fun to walk about with this combo, and this lens easily goes from infinity to 1:1 magnification with lovely saturation and bokeh.

jlemile salvignol said...

What to add further to what Craig Yuill said? The V1 is a cheerful companion, who has a cut character. Just accept it.

Anonymous said...

My only wish was that the Lumix G6 supported a higher flash sync speed (1/180 or higher) for studio use.

Unknown said...

Love my new Olympus E-PL5, mated with the Panasonic 20mm/1.7

John M Flores said...

The G6 may be a fine camera, but the Kult of the K-01 is not pleased...

migueltejadaflores said...

For me, my favorite camera of the year, weirdly enough, is a 3-way tie....

First of all, the Olympus Pen E-PL5. The much ignored tiny brother of the E-P5....but with an amazing sensor, remarkable range, and it's fast fast FAST. And a joy to use. I got it as a partial upgrade from my old and faithful (and now departed) E-PL2, another fine camera, but the PL5 beat it in almost every respect (except for the PL2's great LCD). Oh, and I often use the PL5 mated with a VF2 finder in bright sunlight, a fine combination.

But then, halfway through the year, on a whim, I purchased a lightly used compact Lumix LX7 from a fellow photographer for a trip where I wanted just one pocketable camera with a zoom lens and....in spite of its tiny out-of-date sensor, it's become one of my take-everywhere go-to just plain fun cameras. The built-in macro mode doesn't hurt either. In a day and age when much is made over new and improved (and costlier) sensors, a la the new Ricoh GR and the new tiny Nikon Coolpix, the LX7 not only more than holds its own (in my admittedly prejudiced perspective) but equals them in real image-making terms.

Last on the list of my 3-way tie? I actually was lusting after a G6 long before you started trumpeting its many virtues, but then on Black Friday I found an almost-too-good-to-be-believed deal on a slightly used GX7 silver body and....it's an amazingly fun camera to use. It somehow just feels right in my hands - and lends itself to many types of images. It's so fun to use that I now have to have brief internal debates as to which camera to take....but the GX7 is carving out a spot not just in the camera bag but near the top of the list. As a side note, its 14-42 kit lens is quite superb - and the equal of the truly fine Olympus kit lens that came on my PL2 a few years back.

So that's my 3-way favorite camera of 2013 - PL5 / LX7 / GX7. And damn but they're all ridiculously fine imagemaking tools. Incidentally I cut my teeth for years on analog Pentaxes and before then, on my father's ancient tiny Leica IIIc and Contaxes....so the GX7's size feels familiar and 'right' to me.

edshots said...

Thanks for bringing more attention to this year's most underrated camera :)

I bought mine in July of this year and Amazon now have it at £465 WITH the 14-140 mkII which is normally that price alone! Wish I had that money right now as I'd love to get a second G6 for filming.

It's so great to tap my Nexus 4 to the camera, edit a photo and share it! Then there's the video. Then there's the standard mic socket. Then there's the stop motion. Then there's the time-lapse. Then there are those super sharp and clear displays. Then there's the very decent battery life from the trusted battery from the GH2.

Picking it up over the OM-D E-M5 for an everyday camera. The Oly gets use for comedy gigs and studio work.

Oh and it's a darn fine looking camera!

Pete Duxon said...

the g6 is a nice little camera. currently with the panasonic cashback offer you can get it free with a 14-140 lens. Go figure

Pete Duxon said...

but my own camera of the year? GM1 with 12-32 :D The gx7 has the viewfinder etc but the GM1 12-32 is fun

Tom Bell said...

I was looking at the GX7 … it has everything I want … but I wanted to get it with a small zoom and was interested in the 14/20 primes and the 14-150 as a travel zoom.
Oddly bought the GX1 and sold it to keep the 14-42 vario power zoom.Free lens! Then I bought the G6 with the 14-150 with the intention of selling the body and getting that lens free too ….. however ….
I find I am not sure of the feel of the GX7 and the G6 whilst not a looker .. sure is a feeler … great to hold, compact and as I am hoping to do portraits the fully articulating screen is a cracker.
I can't believe i bought this wonderful camera with this lens for effectively £550 …basically a free camera.
Now with a 14/20/45 ….. at relatively low cost I have a great light weight system covering all my needs.. and most of my wants.

Michael Robbins said...

Well that will be my panasonic G3. Its a bit slippery (prior to covering it with velcro) but it was so cheap and easy to use that I can take it everywhere without a second thought. I also enjoyed the nex6 but not the lens, so have a few difficult to focus russian lens, it is my photographic luxury. My problem is finding subjects to shoot, not the camera. That being said, it is v vright here and highlights are a huge problem on a daily basis...hmm. Looking forward to many more posts

Rob Davis said...

Just had the opportunity to take my new G6 out and was disappointed to find that the auto focus is noticeably slower than my soon to be departed G3. Tried it with the Sigma 30mm and Panasonic 14mm. I thought it was all in my head so I put the same lenses on the G3 and suddenly I had the familiar instantaneous auto focus. The G6 is now on a par with my X100 on the new v2 firmware when it comes to auto focussing speeds.

Interestingly the one of the slowest m43 lenses, the 20mm f1.7, focusses faster than on my G6 than on any other m43 camera I've used.

Rob Davis said...

Bit of a typo in my previous post. Just to clarify, the 20mm f1.7 auto focusses faster on my G6 than any other m43 camera I've used. But the G6 AF is noticeably slower than my G3.