Observations on the Lumix G6
In October of last year, after lugging my Canon dSLR and a couple of really heavy L lenses around Alaska for a week, I made the decision that I needed something smaller. I’d been thinking about it for a while, having bought a Fujifilm x100 a couple of years ago, which had been giving me pleasing results. Having seen a lot of other photographers make the leap to mirrorless for almost all of their work, I was ready to follow suit. I considered going with Fujifilm’s X-Mount series of cameras, but the lack of third-party lenses, as well as an incomplete range of lenses, was a sticking point. As well as Lightroom’s continued issues with decoding the xTrans sensor’s data, which was a big deal since I practically live in Lightroom. So I decided to go with Micro Four-Thirds. I visited my local camera shop, Arlington Camera, and handled a few Panasonics and Olympuses, looking for something that felt “right”. I settled on the G6. It fit my hand well, wasn’t uncomfortable to hold for long periods and had a viewfinder built-in rather than the add-on viewfinder that’s been pretty popular with other M43 cameras. I got the 14-42 lens and a 100-200 lens for a bit of extra reach and started shooting. Since then, I’ve taken it to Las Vegas, Chicago and San Francisco and have been very happy with the results. Some observations I’ve made since starting to use it:
- A battery grip would be the single best accessory for the G6. Unfortunately, one doesn’t exist, but if it did, I would gladly pay almost any price for it. Despite it fitting my hand well, the camera body is still pretty small and the last two fingers of my right hand curl under the body rather than wrapping around the grip when I hold it, so a grip would help alleviate this awkwardness. On top of that, the battery life of the G6 isn’t that great since it must power either the LCD screen on the back, the tiny LCD screen in the viewfinder or both at all times. I find myself having the change the battery after 400 shots or so on average (I’ve invested in seven spare batteries), so a battery grip would cut this changing ritual by half, which would be welcome when out in the field (since the SD card slot is in the battery compartment, it would require some ingenuity to create a grip, but I can imagine that Panasonic could easily build a second, accessible slot into the grip.
- Color rendering is different than my Canons or x100. I’ve noticed that the color rendering of the G6 is profoundly different than the colors I get out of my other cameras. And not in a bad way. The best word I can think of to describe it is “delicate”. Whereas the Canons and the x100 seem to err on the side of a lot of color, the G6 seems to render scenes with more “realistic” color. The world is rarely as vibrant as photos would suggest, so the G6 seems to try to get colors to match their real-life subjects as accurate as possible. Thankfully, I shoot in RAW and can up the saturation as needed in post, but I find that the more-realistic colors are often more-pleasing to my eye and tend to not push the saturation as much as I might on a Canon RAW file.
- The user interface can be confusing. Maybe it’s just me, but I constantly find myself changing the function of various buttons by accident and then have to stop and fiddle with it to get the desired functionality back. For instance, pushing in the wheel that controls the aperture while in Av mode changes its function to exposure compensation, but I already have a dedicated exposure compensation toggle, so why would I want a second way to adjust it? Just let me lock in the function of this wheel to what makes sense for me.
- iA mode is amazing. Call me a heretic, but I’ve been using the Intelligent Auto mode almost exclusively for the last couple of months rahter than sticking with Av like I usually do on my other cameras. In this mode, the camera figures out what kind of scene you’re shooting and smartly decides the best way to shoot it. Taking a portrait? It detects this and sets an appropriate F-stop for a nice bokeh behind the subject. If it’s a portrait of a baby, it ups the shutter speed for any fast, sudden movement. Landscape? It narrows the aperture for maximum depth-of-field. Macro shot? It opens up the aperture. It excels at complex lighting situations that I might’ve struggled with before, such as a towering skyscraper backlight be an overcast sky. Photographic purists would probably turn their noses up to my admission to using iA so much, but it doesn’t bother me. If the tool does what I want it to do and the resulting photos are what I want, then what does it matter to anyone how I got there? Especially since I understand its limitations and therefore know when to take over for the computer and make the settings myself.
- It’s incredibly light. Well, duh. It’s a tiny camera, afterall. But I still can’t get over how much of a difference this makes. After walking around all day with a gripped dSLR and a 100-400mm lens stuck on it atttached to my BlackRapid strap, my shoulder would be aching. But with the G6, I can almost forget it’s at my side. This has a profound effect on how much I shoot. Since I can go further for longer on a shoot or photo walk, I tend to come home with a lot more photos than I did before. In fact, I still have photos from my November San Francisco trip that I haven’t really looked at yet.
- It isn’t the best choice for all situations. Again, this is a function of knowing your craft. Focus tracking for the G6 (and M43 in general) isn’t that responsive. Since it lacks phase-detection autofocus, it can’t respond to rapidly-moving subjects like a dSLR can, so you’d not want ot use the G6 for sports photography. Or at least not in any sport that involves a lot of fast, erratic movement. Luckily for me, I haven’t shot sprots since college, so it doesn’t really bother me. A second situation it is a bit lacking in is low light, particularly in its noise-handling. Low light photos from the G6 are a bit noisier than I like, but this can be expected from the small sensor sites necessitated by the small sensor. For me, this doesn’t matter too much, as I don’t shoot a lot in low light situations and, if I know I’m going to be in such a situation, I will bring my dSLR and a fast lens.
All-in-all, I’ve been pleased with my decision. Will I stick with micro four-thirds? Probably, though the Fujifilm X-Mount cameras keep enticing me, so maybe once their lineup is more robust, I might jump ship. And, as mentioned, there ara a few situations wherein the M43 cameras don’t yet give the same level of performance.