I had fun in Abilene and enjoyed using a new system and a new lens on an existing camera.

Concrete Expert. From an Annual Report three years ago.

I'll quickly admit that I'm more comfortable with medium telephoto lenses than with very wide angle lenses any day of the week. But that being said I'd like to talk about my new "favorite" lens, the 14mm t3.5 Rokinon Cine wide angle.  It's a lens I bought in anticipation of an upcoming project. I've been talking to a potential client who makes CT scanners about making video programming in some very tight spaces where their machines are installed. We're talking about very large machines in very small spaces. I've done a number of still images in similar installations and no matter how wide a lens I bring I always wished it was just a little bit wider...

I'm hoping to use the lens on a Sony a99, mounted on a slider, for the wide, overall shots that are critical to establishing the video.  Like all projects, nothing is certain until the ink is on a contract and we're watching the red light blink on the location. But it's always best to get some practice with a new tool so you have and idea of what are can do with a lens when you get onto an actual location. With that in mind I stuffed the 14mm and the Sony a99 into the left side of my big Domke bag and took it along with me on my assignment in Abilene, Texas.

Right up front you have to know that this $400 lens is not going to be anybody's first choice for architectural photography. It's got a lot of geometric distortion. Really....a lot. There are several shareware profiles out on the web that will go a long way toward correcting the distortion in Lightroom but I didn't really care about the distortion for the shots I was working on the last two days and in video the 16:9 crop takes away the worst of the distortion which occurs mostly along the edges of the full frame.

What the lens does have is very, very high sharpness in the middle of the frame, and, at f8, excellent sharpness over the entire frame. A bonus of the super wide angle of view is really deep depth of field. I found that I could get sharp focus at 10 feet and use a quick hyper focal calculation to essentially make the lens a "focus free" optic. By that I mean that if you focus correctly and set the aperture to f8 you'll have enough depth of field for just about anything you can think of.

I used the lens a lot yesterday to do full body shots and group shots close to the camera and leaned on the lenses ability to do dramatic wide skies in the background to add interest to the shots. It was a technique that worked really well.  I anticipate that most of my use with this lens will call from cropping down to a focal length of around 21mm since that seems more comfortable to my eyes.

The lens is very well built and fun to handle. Even though the front element is huge it's fairly well protected by the built in lens shade and there's a decent lens cap as well. The lens balances well on the a99 but may be too front heavy for a smaller camera. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable using it with an adapter on a smaller system like the Panasonic m4:3 cameras. But as a specialty optic is sure delivers what I wanted: Lots of information in the frame and a very dynamic way of rendering subjects in space.

My recommendation?  I'd buy it again.

That brings me to the primary system I used in Abilene, the Panasonic GH3.  I wanted to travel lighter this year. Last year I brought along a couple of Sony a77 cameras and a bag full of fast Sony lenses. I also brought along too many lights and too many accessories. This year I wanted to pack smaller and shoot smarter. And let me emphasize that by not being a "lens snob" I was able to largely accomplish those goals.

I packed a couple of GH3 bodies, two kittish lenses (the new 14-42 and the 45-150mm) the PanaLeica 25mm 1.4 and several manual focus half frame lenses (which I wound up not using), and a couple of manual, battery powered flashes. A much, much lighter assemblage of gear! And I had no trepidation about its ability to perform after having shot nearly 2,000 images with the same system under available light conditions last Saturday.

Here's what I liked about using the GH3 all day long yesterday: It's lightweight but it doesn't feel under built. It's rock solid, only lighter rock solid. The EVF is great and is also adjustable for luminance which means you can match it more exactly to match the image on the rear screen. The lenses focus quickly and surely. The flippy screen is great when using the camera low on a tripod and with an external loupe.

I've had the cameras for a very short time but the menus have already become second nature to me. I liked being able to move the AF point anywhere on the rear screen. You can also use your finger on the touch screen to set the AF point while looking in the EVF. Nice.  I got a lot of use out of the standard kit lens and it was more than adequate. Quite sharp in the middle and good on the edges, even near wide open! The longer zoom is optically very good and, at f8, sharp beyond my needs.
But my go to lens was the 25mm 1.4 which I tended to use at f3.5 or f4 for single subject shots. It's a really good lens which I reviewed about a year and a half ago. Nothing has changed my initial high regards.

I owned the previous camera from Panasonic, the GH2 but the GH3 seems like a completely reworked camera that's been upgraded, modernized and made more highly functional. They paid close attention to making buttons the right size, getting the auto switching between the EVF and the rear LCD just right and lots of other small details. One of my favorite things about the new camera is the battery life. The camera uses a much bigger, higher capacity battery (which may account for the increased size of the camera overall) that's about the size of the battery in my Sony a99.  I was able to shoot a bit more than 16 gigabytes of RAW-Jpeg information yesterday and still have the 2/3rd full indicator left on my original battery. For a mirror less camera that is nothing short of amazing. If I'm shooting more or less continuously and not chimping all the time I can get an enormous number of Jpegs. Last Saturday I shot well over 1,000 files with each of my two GH3s and never changed a battery. Nice.

There's one feature I did not even know the camera had and that's the auto switch in the hot shoe that senses when a flash is attached and turned on and sets the view screens to give one a bright finder image regardless of the camera settings. It's what you get when  you use a Sony a99 and switch "Setting Effect" to off. If you use an EVF or Live View camera you know that when you attach a flash you generally need to switch to a different viewing mode to get a scene bright enough to focus and compose in when you are in a dark environment. It's nice that his camera will do it for you. 

Take off the flash, or just turn it off and the camera reverts to your previous viewing setting. 

I originally bought the two GH3s for my video projects but they've grown on me as still cameras. I didn't find any situations (other than the lack of a super wide lens...) that made me want to grab another camera at any time during the whole shooting assignment. I did use the a99 sparingly but only as a partner with the new 14mm lens. 

Here's my short list of "pros" for the GH3:

1. Small size and happy weight
2. Good EVF and good auto switching with LCD
3. Nice selection of lenses, both Panasonic and Olympus
4. Wild and crazy good video performance
5. Best in class battery life
6. Optimum files size for long run still jobs

Here's my current shortlist of "cons" for the GH3:


Edit: I'm removing my paragraph about Formula One in Austin. While I am vigorously opposed to the government subsidies larded out for this event I've come to realize that some people like it. I don't but then I don't really like most mass gatherings so I've decided to remove my judgmental comments and the e-mails they engendered and we'll hew to the topic of imaging instead.

Studio Portrait Lighting


Frank Grygier said...

I am a very conflicted photographer at the moment. Olympus EM-1 vs GH3.
I am in a love hate relationship with each one. If I could bolt on the 5 axis image stabilizer to the GH3 and implant the EM-1's EVF on top of the GH3, I would have the perfect platform for stills and video.

Patrick Larson said...

Love the shot of the concrete guy. Perfect balance of ambient and flash.

Patrick Larson said...

Love the balance of flash and ambient light. Such great detail. Was that off-camera flash?

Mike Peters said...

Hey Kirk, did you forget about the 7-14? It's a killer good lens, not much distortion, and sharp across the frame. Light, and not too dear for what it does.

Oh yeah, that battery on the GH3 is the the main ingredient for a pro who shoots like crazy. I've put over 1500 raw shots on a battery, and it was still showing 1/3 full. Not bad.

And yes, built like a lightweight tank. The viewfinder may not be as big as the olympus versions, but it's perfectly easy to focus on manually. The flip out screen though is the bees knees, especially for low or high angle verticals, you can't do that with the olympus cameras either.

These days, the GH3 is all I use, and for 30 years, I was a Canon guy. I'm a happy camper.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Patrick, that was done with an Elinchrom Ranger RX AS 1100 watt second power pack with one head modified by a small soft box. And...thanks!

stefano60 said...

The Rokinon is indeed a good lens, i have owned one myself last year for a short while - used it on the Fuji X body; the main reason i had to get rid of it was its size: the thing is HUGE. I gave up on dslr systems a long time ago especially because of their bulk, and carrying that thing on a relatively small body just felt wrong - but yes, very good optics and build quality. I (happily) replaced it with a small Voigtlander 15/4, superb little performer.

Man, I wish I knew about the low attendance for the Formula One, i sure would have loved to be there, but I expected it to be packed!

Next year for sure!

David I said...

Have you tried the new Olympus OMD-EM1? I am not totally thrilled with my EM5 and wonder if the Panasonic GH3 is a better M4/3 option.

One thing I really like about the Olympus is the in body stabilization. Battery issues with the Olympus are another matter.

Brad C said...

Auto switching the evf mode when you attach a flash is a smart option - nice attention to detail and how people actually use cameras Panasonic!

Brad C said...

Update: after reading this it occurred to me to combine the 'Boost' option on my Olympus camera into the Myset custom settings. Now when I go to the Myset for flash/studio work it goes to lowest ISO, shutter to sync speed and aperture stopped down to f/4. Then back to other settings turns the EVF/LCD Boost off. Handy!

Anonymous said...

I have a question about how well face detection (FD) works in the GH3 in still, as compared to current Olympus cameras. I have used GH1 and E-PL5 to photograph my kids using FD. Often while no face is detected, the cameras default to auto area AF and both can still lock on to the head with a high frequency of success. However I have just bought a GH3 and found that it misses frequently, despite the fact that its single area AF mode is very accurate and can AF in very dim light. I am not sure if my GH3 is not acting correctly with respect to FD, in which case I will exchange it. However if GH3's FD is just not as good as E-PL5 (or EM5), I will just return it all together. Your comments will be greatly appreciated. I see you love your newly acquired G6 — have you compared the FD on both?