Saturday, October 29, 2011

Panasonic GX1 Revealed And My Love For Fuji

First off on this fine, fall day: Panasonic's upcoming GX1 has been leaked to the interpipes. Color me disappointed. Not crushingly so, mind you, but still pretty darn disappointed.

The layout is very similar to the GF1, just more compact and with metal buttons. And at least they have a dedicated WB button, unlike certain other cameras that I can think of. *cough*Olympus!*cough*
 We can discern a great deal from the images provided. First and foremost, it is smaller than the GF1. I'm upset by this because for me, the GF1 was about as small as I could go and maintain usability. Granted, I have pretty big hands, but most of the serious photogs whom I know, regardless of hand size, felt similarly. It was one of the big things keeping me far away from Sony's first NEX cameras and even the very good NEX-5n. They're just so small that I find myself fumbling for buttons. If I ever dared slap on a big lens, the situation would be exacerbated to the point of comedy. My GF1 already looks positively silly with my Olympus 50-200mm on front.

The flash is enormous. I'm assuming this is to compensate for lens shadow on wide-angle lenses.

Second and not quite as apparent is the philosophy that this camera evinces. Panasonic is still chasing this phantom photographer that I contend does not exist. Their camera, while seemingly aimed at enthusiasts, continues to progress in the wrong direction. This is not a camera that point-&-shoot (P&S) buyers will want. It will be too complex, too large, and too expensive. Enthusiasts would rather have higher quality that smaller size. If every enthusiast on Earth could afford a gargantuan medium-format camera or a Nikon D3X, every enthusiast on Earth would have one. It's that simple.

Really? A dedicate iAuto button? Why take it off of the dial? Give me MORE dials, not fewer!

I know that I keep harping on this, but Panasonic and Olympus are not doing much to keep me from making the jump over to Sony. Truly, what keeps me from doing it, aside from the lack of lenses for Sony, is that I am waiting to see what Fuji does. That doesn't bode well for Panasonic when the thing keeping me away from another company is a third company's possible products.

That said, I do like the looks of these new X-Series lenses. They are intended as good video/photo hybrid lenses, and since I do shoot a fair amount of video with my GF1, this seems nice. Depending on the MTF results, I may buy one or both, but that is a big "if." Panasonic needs to produce something that isn't an "if."

What got me thinking about this recently was a Halloween party that I hosted a couple of nights ago. Light was decent, but about what one would expect for house lighting at night. I took over three-hundred photos with my GF1 and only about half were in decent focus, or fired quickly enough, or were properly exposed (I was using aperture priority). I switched over to an old Canon EOS 20D with the 60mm Macro lens attached and immediately started getting better shots. I took just over forty with that camera and 80% were acceptable from a technical standpoint.

The lenses for Micro 4/3 are enticing, but the cameras need to step it up. They need lower prices, higher quality, and a greater focus on those who are actually buying them: wackos like me who care enough to freaking blog about it. And the company that has captured that more than any other, recently, is Fuji. Whoda' thunk it? The X100 is great, but critically broken in too many ways for me to consider it. I see it as Fuji camera version 0.9. That sucker is still in beta. But it, and especially the scrumptious X10, reveal someone at Fuji, who has actual operational power, to contain the soul of a true photog. The X10, clad in its leather case, reminds me so much of the Pentax K1000 that I used to play with as a kid.

I don't think that I could ever buy a P&S after having had the flexibility of larger cameras, but boy, that camera makes me want to. It also shows most clearly where I suspect the P&S market is going to go. The release of the newest batch of flagship smartphones all have cameras on display that would have shamed P&S cameras from not that long ago. The new iPhone 4S is mind-blowing. It will not be long before every cell phone being sold as a completely serviceable camera module installed. That will kill the market for cameras below $200, shrink the market for cameras under $300, but possibly grow the market for cameras above that.

Whether the market grows or shrinks depends on how many people decide that it's not worth it to carry a larger camera and stop, and how many people decide that these cell phones just don't quite manage it and thus upgrade. This means the P&S cameras will have to start offering serious performance advantages. This reality is, I'm sure, the wellspring from which Panasonic's recent strategic moves are coming. And while their actions seem logical on the surface, I suspect that they don't make much sense with further investigation.

One doesn't have to go any further than price to see the error. Panasonic's cheapest camera is the GF3, which will set you back $600 with the 14mm lens. In the world of P&S cameras, that would make it the most expensive camera on the market by $100. And if potential buyers then investigate other lenses, they will suffer immediate stick-shock and turn away. I venture so far as to say that P&S buyers who simply want "a camera" will never buy a camera that requires investment in "a system."

This new era of high-end P&S will need to cater to various elements of the enthusiast market. Fuji has gone retro, Canon and Nikon have technical, and Sony pushes modern design. Panasonic should target the pro who wants a back-up camera and make their cameras as pro-oriented as possible with a sub-$1,000 price. And what do pros want? They want the ability to take photos of a party and not throw away 70% of the shots. That's a hard task for any camera company, I understand, but they need to do this, else they will fail.

So, here's hoping the GH3 really wows us in some significant way.

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