Good camera. Good lens. Good location.

 Photo from rural North Carolina. Camera: Panasonic G9. Lens: Olympus 12-100mm Pro.

Over the weekend I grappled with the idea of picking up a used Olympus EM-1X at a low, used price. I looked at a bunch of reviews and they tossed cold water on the idea not because of the quality of images that one could get from the camera but because both the EVF and the rear screen of the camera are so...unappealing. The EVF in particular is very old tech and uses an LCD screen instead of the mostly current OLED screens. The consensus is that the view through the viewfinder is quite flat and that the shadow areas are milky and veiled. I may be a bit eccentric but I still like a good finder image much more that I like a nasty one. 

I'm glad I considered the EM-1X though because it convinced me to chalk it off the list in perpetuity and that's probably a good thing. 

But in the process I started pulling up images I'd made with G9s almost four years ago. And I still find them to be among the best images I've made. Not necessarily because the sensor is special (it's not) or because the lenses are magical (they are not) but because it's a camera and a system that just gets out of the way. I found myself consistently not concerned with the well-being of the cameras because I knew I had a backup in the bag and that if a camera met its demise via my neglect it would be inexpensive and easy to replace. It's the same kind of transparency you can get from a good point and shoot camera if you let your mind go there. Insouciance maybe. Diffidence to a certain extent. Since the camera is "nothing special" it becomes incumbent on the operator to actually supply whatever magic might be in the resulting photograph. And knowing that the camera is no "silver bullet" means less leaning on instruments and more time and energy working on the images themselves. Does that make sense? I think it does. 

The image above came from an early morning photography project at a rural construction site. I believe the company the subject worked for was in the process of making a.....lake. It was a big project but my brief had nothing to do with the actual construction and everything to do with the people who supervise and do the work. I'd flown into some town (no longer remember which) around 1 a.m. that morning, grabbed a rental car and some quick sleep and then drove a couple hours to be in place when the half dozen or so people on my shoot list showed up. Since the overall job called for me to be in nearly 30 locations over the course of a couple weeks it was important to me that the cameras travelled well. That meant safety for the gear but a small enough complete package that would fit anywhere. Under any airline seat. In any overhead compartment. 

If you've read the blog over time you'll know I have a thing about back up gear. Redundant equipment. Fault tolerant inventory. It was no different on this trip. My small backpack contained two identical G9 bodies and two lenses that both covered the focal lengths that were most critical to me; a 12-100mm lens and also a 12-60mm lens. In my mind, at the time, they were interchangeable tools and one accompanied the other in case of a singular catastrophic failure not because one had different visual properties than the other. There were also plenty of batteries for the cameras as well as some wider and weirder lenses; just for fun.

When I look at images from 2018, either from Iceland or from the P&J shoots out on locations, even in 2022 I don't see many (if any) faults. The files seem to have good dynamic range, great flesh tones, very good sharpness and everything else that we use as a measure of image quality. The only thing that's "missing" is sheer resolution. The G9 is a 20 megapixel camera. 

If you are doing an art project where you'll be doing profound manipulations to the images and then outputting at very large print sizes I can see that advantages of a 50 or 60 megapixel camera but the reality for most of my commercial jobs is that the images "might" get used as a full page or double truck print asset in a brochure, and 20 megapixels is fine for that, but mostly the images will be used as content on websites and in email marketing. All well within the realm of "no problem" for almost any modern camera. 

Will I now rush out and buy yet another G9? Probably not. I understand that there is a certain placebo effect that goes along with successful projects and the success, while real, might not be assignable to something as simple as the right camera. It could have been my motivation at the time, my insertion into new and interesting environments with new people. It could have been all down to the general positivity of the times for me. Or just having a fun, new challenge.

I don't think the G9 will give me files that are any better than those I can get from the GH6 and I can't think of a feature that the G9 delivers that the GH6 doesn't match or exceed. 

Some have written to say that the G9 is old tech and that they are pretty sure the sensor being used in the GH6 will find itself integrated into an upcoming G10 model. But that's really not the point of our general attraction to the G9 right now. The real attraction is the combination of that camera being a proven commodity, a workhorse, a highly reliable tool, a full featured, modern camera and being offered at the low, low price point. 

I too am almost certain that a G10 or similar camera is on the horizon (far horizon or close? I don't know) but I am always cynical that camera makers will figure out how to make what was a great camera worse in a newer model because they find ways to make it cheaper and less rugged while goosing up sales with better specsmanship. They'll bend to pressure to make the new model smaller or lighter and in that quest will also make the battery smaller and ever more incompatible. I don't know that this is a certain pathway but consumer marketing can be a nasty brew of giving people mostly what they think they want even if it is to their own detriment. Right?

I finished up two environmental portraits today both shot at ISO 800 with the GH6. The files look good. A bit more "computational" than the old G9 files. But that's only when I'm peaking at 100%. But still, I think there's a lot to be said for less computer assistance and more attraction to less processed and more authentic files. And that keeps the G9 in the running. At least for now. 


EdPledger said...

Curious if you find the S5 EVF an issue, say compared to that of the G9, as the S5 is on a whale of a sale.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Ed, having owned both I can state that the G9 finder is superior. But the S5, I think, is still an OLED finder so is not plagued by low contrast and flat looks like LCD based EVFs. The G9 is also a OLED screen but has about a million more pixels.

Ross Nolly said...

How do you rate the G9 as a hybrid stills/video camera? Especially the video aspect? Thanks

Bill Pearce said...

Have you considered the (new) OM-1? I would love to have one, but I'm a retired pro photographer, so it's out of my price range.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Ross, I've used the G9 for a lot of video and it's very good. It was just "okay" when it first came out but in late 2019 or early 2020 Panasonic came out with a huge firmware update that gave the G9 many of the video superpowers of the GH5. It boosted these updates:

Expanded compatibility with Profoto wireless transmitters
- Profoto wireless transmitters "Air Remote TTL-O/P" and "Profoto Connect-O/P" can be used.
* All functions may not be available depending on the situation.
Improved AF performance
- [Animal Detect.] has been added to AF mode.
- It is possible to switch the subject to focus on by pressing the joystick in [Face/Eye/Body/Animal Detect.] mode.
- [AF-ON: Near Shift] and [AF-ON: Far Shift] functions have been added. [AF-ON: Near Shift] preferably focuses on a subject nearby while [AF-ON: Far Shift] preferably focuses on a subject far away.
- Focus Peaking function is available in any AF mode.
- It is possible to set continuous AF on the live view screen in Creative Video mode or in other video recording mode when the video recording area is displayed.
Enhanced video functions
- 4K 30p/25p 4:2:2 10-bit internal recording is supported.
- 4K 60p/50p 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI output is supported.
- Luminance level for 10-bit video is supported.
- VFR (Variable Frame Rate) shooting is supported.
- HDR video recording is supported.
- V-Log L recording and Waveform Monitor (WFM) are available with the Upgrade Software Key DMW-SFU1(sold separately).
Other added functions
- [MODE2] has been added to High Resolution mode, which reduced subject's motion blur.
- [AWBw] has been added to WB mode.
- [Highlight Weighted] has been added to metering mode.
- [Exposure Offset Adjust.] has been added to Custom menu, which enables adjustment of the standard exposure value for all metering modes.
- [0.5SEC] has been added for an option of [Duration Time (photo)] in [Auto Review].
Other improvements
- AE can be locked with the [AF/AE LOCK] button when ISO Auto is set in M mode.
- [MODE1] has been added to the Live View Boost function, which increases the frame rate for smooth image display to enable easier manual focusing.
Improved operational stability
- There were cases where Backup Recording using the Double Card Slot Function stopped during writing. This bug has been fixed.
- AF operation following the pressing of [AF-ON] in MF mode was unstable when the LVF Frame Rate was at 120 fps and the camera was under dim lighting. This bug has been fixed.
- There were cases where the images shot vertically did not rotate on playback. This bug has been fixed.
- Operational stability of image stabilizer has been improved. (When [Image Stabilizer] > [E-Stabilization(Video)] and [I.S. Lock(Video)] is ON. ).

The most important one to me is the bump up to ten bit in the 4K settings. And this was followed by two more good firmware updates that added things like the red lines around the monitor when video is rolling and added linear lens functions as well.

It's a great video and still camera and holds up very well even today.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Bill, I think the OM1 might be a good camera. If I wanted something that's nearly as good but half the price my first choice would obviously be a G9. It's a classic and it's current.

Chris DC said...

Hi Kirk:

You may wish to re-consider the inexpensive, used EM1x depending on your uses. I bought one on launch day for $3K and have not regretted it one bit. The handling is great for the bigger, heavy (old 4/3rds) lenses I own. The finder and rear screen have not held me back and the computational features unique to the Olympus flagship can be useful.

The EM1x has a built in GPS that tags location, temperature, camera pointing direction and even atmospheric pressure in every file with no extra software or effort needed. I have found this to be helpful in reviewing images and planning for return visits.

The EM1x does a great job doing in-camera focus stacking. You set the number of images and a focus step interval and the camera fires off the series, makes a composite and stores them all on the memory card. The viewfinder displays the crop lines for the composite image to make it easy. I find this feature very handy for convenient depth of field enhancement at low ISO and high shutter speeds. And, the method leads to really blurred backgrounds. Only some Oly lenses support the feature and the 12-100 is one of them as is the 60mm macro.

The EM1x does a good job with handheld high res files. I use this to do macro in low light conditions. Crank the iso to 6400, increase the F-stop to get good depth of field and press the shutter. It takes 8 images and stacks them. With the computational stacking of images, you wind up with a noise free sharp image (as long as the subject is not moving too much).

The EM1x also has a built in ND filter based upon image stacking. It carves up an exposure time into little pieces and mimics the use of a ND filter but without the physical hassles and color shifts. It does work as advertised and works with all lenses.

The only drawback I have found with the EM1x is the odd square overall body size. The grip is integrated and feels great but you need a deep bag to fit it inside with a lens. I use a thinktank streetwalker.

Sure, this camera is not for most but if the above unique features appeal to you, you might want to sample the wares:)

Like the Olympus E-1, you get superb build and handling and unique features at a very low price.