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.