A while back I wrote a screed of thoughts regarding digital camera choices* and mentioned that I ended up buying a second hand Panasonic GF1 micro four thirds camera; a miniature SLR camera that takes nice lightweight interchangeable lenses. Well it has now been a few months since that purchase, and I now have in my camera kit the following:
- Panasonic Lumix GF1 camera body
- Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 pancake lens
- Canon FD 50mm f1.4 S.S.C. lens + micro 4/3 adapter
- Raynox polarizing filter
- Cheap and battered 0.42x fisheye conversion lens
- A selection of step-down/step-up rings for filters
- A Zoom H1 sound recorder + hotshoe mount
- Spare battery for the camera
- Gorillapod Zoom tripod
I was more than happy with the 20mm pancake lens, and this naturally stayed on the camera for 90% of the time. Great for on-the-bike shots.
The camera was slung over my shoulder for about 90% of the time I was on my bike. I do not yet have a decent camera bag for the camera yet, so it just hung un-protected…not particularly recommended, but I never managed to damage the camera (as far as I know). I did have the polarizing filter on the lens almost 100% of the time, however, and when I didn’t have the filter on, the lens cap was certainly covering the lens. The bonus with not having the camera in any sort of case, however, was that it was therefore always ready for action.
What I really missed, was having a handlebar bag. I have since ordered an Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Plus handlebar bag from wiggle.co.uk, but it was a real pain not being able to put the camera away quickly in short rain showers, and then getting it out again quickly once they had passed.
The controls on the back of the camera are really very easy to use one-handed, which is important when on the bike. I could adjust apeture, iso, and white balance all with one hand (I had the camera set to Apeture Priority most of the time) while on the bike; great for when you want to crank the apeture way up in order to capture a sense of speed.
While 20mm (40mm in 35mm equivalent) is on the long side for everyday shots, I haven’t found this a massive issue. I carried the great old Canon 50mm f1.4 FD S.S.C. lens (100mm equivalent) mainly for around-camp shots where I didn’t want to get in the face of my subjects.
The polarizing filter was useful in a couple of ways. One was the obvious polarization feature. Crisp blue skies and true colours are great products of reduced glare and reflection, which the filter helps to reduce.
The other helpful feature is that it is ever so slightly tinted, which means that with the 20mm f1.7 pancake lens on the camera, I can generally take photos at 1.7 apeture even in bright sunlight. This equals a nice depth of field, which would otherwise not be achieved (the camera would either over-expose or automatically drop decrease the apeture). Not as much depth of field as a 3-stop ND filter, but it is a good compromise when you’re touring on a bike and don’t want to be fiddling around with too many filters.
The cheap and battered 0.42x fisheye conversion lens fits on the 20mm f1.7 pancake lens, and provides some light comedic relief, albeit not at the best quality in the world. The Panasonic 7-14mm ultra wide angle lens would be nice, but that’s an extra US$800 or so…so that’s not going to happen in any great hurry.
On the recent 8-day tour I did with a group in Hokkaido, I didn’t end up using the Zoom H1 audio recorder very much at all. I think it got all of about 5 minutes of use. But then, I didn’t take much video either. I think I was concentrating more on getting used to the photo capabilities of the camera on that trip.
The Gorillapod tripod made a few appearances, but with the speed of the 20mm f1.7 lens, it is not overly necessary save for dark night time shots (the panorama below was stitched in the great free, powerful, and lightweight Autostitch*).
All in all, I am very happy with the Panasonic Lumix GF1. Very versatile, nice and small and lightweight. Great quality photos, and the 20mm pancake lens is magic. I did find myself wanting a zoom lens on occasion, so I imagine that perhaps a 14-140mm lens* could be the eventual next purchase.