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...
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