Panasonic 45-200mm f/4-5.6 G Lens for MFT

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 20.53.28I suppose this lens has been knocking around for a couple of years now. It’s designed for the G-Series Panasonic cameras, has a micro-four-thirds mount.

Panasonic offer a slightly smaller and lighter less zoomy lens (for about the same price), which might be better suited for my Panasonic GM1, which is the dinkiest interchangeable lens system camera you can get.

Here’s the thing, though. Any zoom lens is going to look oversized on my little orange GM1, and the point of a zoom is the zoom. So I decided to go for the extra 50mm of focal length that this offers, and when I go out to take pictures with it, I’m resigned to the idea that I’m hefting a great wallop of a lens around with me. For all-day shooting, walking around as a tourist, street photography, or whatever, I’ll stick with the kit lens and leave this at home. But I always knew that would be the case.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 20.54.06I’m quite pleased with the performance of this lens. It has a fairly reasonable widest f-stop for a budget zoom, and it seems to focus quite quickly. It has a manual focus ring, and built-in optical image stabilisation, which can be switched off. I’ve managed some indoor shots with relatively slow shutter. This one, for example, is 1/15th of a second, hand-held.14887807295_4f4bafe097_z

I’m quite pleased with that. I might be able to go lower (I’ve managed 1/10th and even 1/8th of a second exposures with other cameras – I have steady hands), but we’ll see if the situation arises.

I paid €269 for the lens. I might have been able to find it a few € cheaper, but it was there in the shop and I could take it away with me. I’m hoping to get a decent shot of the Alps from the bottom of our garden, but believe it or not, we haven’t had clear enough visibility in the four weeks we’ve been here this summer.

There are a few more test shots in this Flickr album.

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Panasonic DMC-GM1 Review (part 1)

DMC-GM1KEB _Gallery7_WOC_20131011This is the camera I’ve been waiting for all my photographic life.

I’ve used and owned a number of point-and-shoot camera and SLRs, analogue and digital, over the years, with mixed feelings of various kinds.

My first couple of SLRs were borrowed. There was a lovely Canon AE-1 my sister had, with a couple of lenses including a very sharp 35mm; and my brother-in-law’s Pentax body with a really fast (f1.4?) 50mm lens. My first SLR purchase was another Canon, a cheapish one, with a kit lens. I was never happy with this camera. On “Auto” settings, it struggled to get the correct exposure, especially with backlighting, and it was so low-end that the manual settings were limited.

So I got rid of that. A few years later, I bought a Pentax SLR (there’s a pattern here), which was a nice camera. I took some good photos with it, including this one, I think:

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But the thing about SLR cameras, the thing that always stopped me from using them as much as I might have, was the sheer bulk and weight. Going out with a bag with spare lenses, carrying a tripod, wearing it on a strap around your neck all day long: I just couldn’t stand it. Apart from the weight, the rubbing on your neck/shoulder, there was the issue of looking too much like a tourist.

So I tended to leave them at home, more often than not.

My first digital camera was a reaction against all that: the Minolta Dimage F300 was a compact point and shoot digital with 5 megapixels and a 3x zoom. In many ways, I still consider this a technological peak. It was small enough to fit in a pocket; its 5 megapixels was plenty enough for a decent 6×4 print and yet there weren’t so many pixels squeezed into the small sensor to cause noise problems; and its lens was excellent. I really enjoyed this camera, and took some great pictures with it, until I dropped it and the zoom stopped working.

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So happy with my Minolta was I that I immediately went out and bought another: the A200. Now we were up to 8 megapixels, I never felt the images were as good as on the F300. On the other hand, the optics were still good, and the zoom on this one was 7x with image stabilisation. As I hate using flash and love taking pictures in low light, I really got on with this. Over the years, I’ve developed a steady pair of hands and I can take un-blurred low-light pictures with just about any camera at very low shutter speeds.

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But the A200 was a heavy beast. I bought a wider, softer strap, but still found it a pain to carry around.

Since owning an iPhone, I’ve tended to use that, though I’ve also owned a couple of Panasonic Lumux point-and-shoots, including my most recent, the TZ18, with its 16x zoom.

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I love a super-zoom, but the ever-increasing pixel count on tiny sensors has meant that I’ve never really seen an improvement over the Minolta F300 I owned in the early 2000s.

I’ve been watching the development of the Compact System Camera with interest. The bodies were getting smaller, the operations more simple. Essentially, what I want is a compact point-and-shoot with a big sensor. Some of these have started to appear, but it was when I saw the announcement of the GM1 that I decided it was for me.

It has a micro-four-thirds sensor in a tiny body. The body is about the same size as my TZ18, though the kit lens is a bit more prominent and it weighs a little bit more. I may or may not get another lens or two with it. Most important to me is the image quality from the bigger sensor and the fact that I can carry it in a pocket.

The GM1 is available in black-on-black, silver-on-black, or… orange. As soon as I saw the orange, I knew I was going to get that one. But then it appeared as if disaster had struck: the orange was to be available only in airports. I figured that situation wouldn’t last long, and so it proved.

Amazon had it at the full list price of £630, John Lewis didn’t have orange at all, but I found a couple of on-line retailers who appeared to be offering it.

A trip to London meant I could go and have a look. I found what I was after in Park Cameras. I could have bought from them online, but I was happier getting it in the shop – and I was really glad I did because the first one I bought had a fault, so I was able to take it straight back.

The standard kit includes a 12-32 mm lens, crappy strap, charger, battery and another USB cable for your collection. To activate the lens, you have to manually twist it from the closed position round to the 12 mm wide angle setting. At the moment, it’s the only lens available that’s small enough for this camera body. Others will fit, but will  be larger than the height of the body, making handling awkward, unless you add the optional aluminium grip accessory. I didn’t get this because I didn’t want to add to the weight/bulk.

I paid £599, and they threw in a free 32GB memory card. John Lewis have a better offer in the free proprietary leather case, but they haven’t got the orange camera.

There was enough charge in the battery to fire it up for a few test shots. I was immediately puzzled because the camera didn’t know its lens was open until you turned it to the 14mm setting. In other words, the 12 mm setting appeared not to work. Furthermore, I couldn’t get the thing to focus until it was zoomed even further, beyond the 18 mm setting. At first I thought I was being a duffer, but in the end just took it back to the shop. Park Cameras were happy to swap it out, and the replacement worked perfectly

I will write part 2 of this review when I’m more familiar with the operation and can get more out of the camera. A lot of the features are buried in touch screen menu. For now, I’m using it in “intelligent auto” mode.

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I’ve taken a few shots and I’m happy with the detail and clarity of the images. I do have a gripe or two based on initial impressions, though.

I’m disappointed with the WiFi features. First of all, I can’t get the direct link from my iPhone 5 using the Panasonic Image App to work reliably. I can see the camera’s own WiFi network, apparently connect to it, but then the app just spins and spins trying to make a connection. I did manage – once – to take a few photos by remote control, but even that session worked only intermittently. Secondly, I wanted to see if I could upload directly to my MacBook, but I couldn’t get this working, either. It’s a horrible rigamarole. First you have to penetrate the obtuse menu system. The language of the menu is obfuscating. For example, instead of an option called Join a WiFi Network, you have to fight your way through multiple screens and options, like this:

  • Push Fn1 button (which defaults to WiFi function)
  • Enter numerical password (you have to set this up first)
  • Choose “new connection”
  • Choose “send images stored on camera” (or upload as you take them)
  • Choose PC (even if it’s a Mac)
  • Choose ‘via network’ or direct
  • Choose manual connection (because my time capsule doesn’t have a WPS button)
  • Choose the name of your WiFi network
  • enter password (using old fashioned alphanumeric touch buttons)
  • Wait while the camera connects (takes ages)
  • Fail

(If you get further than this, it might ask for a user name and password for your computer, and at this point will fail again, reporting that you’ve entered them incorrectly, even when you haven’t).

So essentially, the WiFi feature is unusable, which just makes me wish they’d left it off and saved the price/weight of the WiFi radio.

The other gripe is aesthetic, to do with the accessories you get with the orange camera. The lens cap is black and looks rubbish in situ, like this doesn’t belong. Same goes for the strap, which is also black. I’ve ordered an orange one made from vintage VW camper vinyl from Couch Guitar Straps. Hopefully, this will look better. (I only ordered this indulgence because I had enough money sitting in my PayPal account based on fees I’ve got from Referral Candy).

Panasonic SC-HTE80 TV speaker board with bluetooth – review

SC-HTE80EB-K-HiRes-Image__Image--[1]((Europe))-1ZoomA1001001A13H23B20028D18413I’ve been after something like this for a while. Years ago, I owned an analogue 5:1 speaker system (bought with my first Sony flat panel, which I bought when they were very expensive), but it was a colossal faff and the (wired) rear speakers were a pain. It was also a real dust-gatherer.

Since replacing it with a larger but cheaper HD Sony TV, I’ve been aware that the speakers in it weren’t up to much. Part of the problem of lacklustre sound is that the speakers have to fit into a thin case, designed for aesthetics rather than sound. But the bigger problem (also related to aesthetics) is that the speakers face the wrong bloody way. Sound is worse on my new HDTV than it was on my old, analogue, SD, flat panel, which had speakers at the bottom, facing forwards.

So what to do? Didn’t want another 5:1 system, can’t be arsed, and in the real world, people sit all around the room, not in the middle of the soundfield. I looked at sound bars, but could’t see a way of making one work, given limited space and that it would block the infra-red receiver at the bottom of the TV. My kids have got a terrible habit of leaving things in front of it as it is.

And then I saw the Bose Solo, and it looked like it might be ideal, apart from a couple of niggles. Niggle number 1: I do not have golden ears (as previously stated) but my brother-in-law does, and he does’t like Bose. Doesn’t like what they do, and doesn’t like the sound of their stuff. I was prepared to ignore his opinion, however, on the grounds that I wasn’t aware of another solution.

Niggle number 2 was the price. With all Bose products, you suspect you’re paying a brand premium, and once I became aware that there were in fact alternatives, I turned elsewhere.

Considered (briefly) a couple of options, based on online reviews, but dismissed them because they were either only available from online retailers I’d never used before*, or because they lacked features/connectivity, or because they looked as if they’d be too small for my 42″ Sony.

The Panasonic SC-HTE80 looked like it would do the trick. £100 cheaper than the Bose (and even cheaper than that through Amazon), with decent write-ups, given the price.

What did I want it for? My main beef is not actually cinema-style surround and thundering bass, which is why I never really got on with the dust-catching sub-woofer I had before. My beef, as a 50+ year-old bloke is with dialogue. Testing my ears recently, I discovered I can’t hear anything above around 16 KHz. My wife, who had a perforated ear drum some years ago, can’t hear above 13 kHz. When we’re watching TV dramas, we both struggle to hear dialogue against background noise and music. Watching Modern Family on DVD/Blu-Ray, we were forced to put the volume of the TV up to 60% (normal comfortable listening level on the louder channels being around 30-35%).

The Panasonic was easy to set up. It just fits under my Sony 42, being exactly the same width as the base and just 2 cm deeper. I lifted the TV and my daughter shoved it underneath. Any bigger TV or base, you’re going to have to position it on a shelf underneath. It has two HDMI ports (clearly labelled) and an optical. There’s also a USB, but that’s for servicing only. There are also two RCA analogue audio inputs. You connect your blu-ray to one HDMI port and your TV to the other. My Sony has an ARC (Audio Return Channel) HDMI port, so that’s the one to use. Without this, you might have to resort to an optical (TOSLINK) cable.

(I buy Amazon Basics cables. DO NOT pay the prices charged by John Lewis etc. Amazon offer useful 2-pack, with an HDMI and a TOSLINK in the same packet for £8.99. This is below their new £10 threshold for free delivery, however.)

This set up worked perfectly. Even though my set-up includes a Humax Freeview tuner/recorder, the sound from the TV (watching stuff recorded on the Humax) comes through the Panasonic speaker board as soon as it starts up. Don’t worry that you might not notice the difference! The SC-HTE80 immediately sounds richer, fuller, and more detailed than the TV speakers. Switching off the Panasonic to A-B it, it was actually shocking to realise I’d been putting up with the sound from it for so long.

As I said, my ears are not golden, but I could instantly hear the dialogue more clearly, and (watching something I’d already watched once), I noticed details that were impossible to hear before. Someone walks back to their car: footsteps. More information about locations in the form of subtle background sounds. The SC-HTE80 sports two (60W per channel) sub-woofers, which port out of the back. The directional higher frequencies come at you from the two (30W per channel) speakers at the front. The supplied remote allows you to go through the various modes (see below) using the front LED display as a guide. Push the Bluetooth button and you can pair the SC-HTE80 with your phone, computer, or tablet. I tried it with my iPad and played some music through: sounded great. So now we have a living room Bluetooth speaker, not that I imagine we’ll use it much.

Modes

  • Standard (for your bog-standard drama/comedy viewing)
  • Stadium (live sport – I’ll never use this mode)
  • Music (for when you connect via Bluetooth, or watch concert films?)
  • Cinema (Hmm… 3D sound, movie style? But what about dialogue?)
  • News
  • Stereo (switch off all the algorithms and just listen in stereo)

You can also adjust the level of certain features: the sub woofer can be turned up or down. The Dialogue can be adjusted in the same way – if you really struggle with it (there are 4 levels). There’s a harmonic bass effect that can be turned on or off (I don’t know what that is**). There’s also an on/off option for 3D clear dialogue, which makes it sound as if it’s coming from the TV screen and not underneath it. A couple of other adjustments, including Auto Gain Control, which is for preventing the SUPER LOUD ADVERT PROBLEM.

The unit also has a NFC chip for pairing with a phone that has one of those. Mine doesn’t.

I watched a couple of TV dramas, and then a couple of films.The Adjustment Bureau was the first. The sound was all right, and I tried the cinema mode. Sound was rich, but I struggled to hear dialogue (especially when crunching smokehouse almonds), so I turned that up a notch, and then just resorted to Standard mode, which is where I think it’ll stay, unless I’m playing music through it.

Very happy with this, and will not want to go back to watching TV without it.

Notes

* Sorry, other online retailers, but here’s the thing. I hate what Amazon have done to everyone else, I do, but they’ve got my credit card details, they don’t spam me, and I’ve never once had an issue with them since, what was it, 1998? Touch wood. Every time I buy anything from anyone else, on the other hand, I get a load of unwanted emails, I have to remember yet another password (no, we really shouldn’t use the same password for everything), and little niggles spring up. Niggles such as the use of Yodel as a delivery service. Or saying something’s in stock when it isn’t, John Lewis.

** My best guess: compressed sound loses harmonic detail. Most of what we watch and listen to these days is compressed. Digital TV: compressed. DVD: compressed. Downloaded music: compressed. BBC iPlayer: very compressed. I’m guessing that the Harmonic Bass effect puts this back, in some artificial way. I’m also guessing that watching HD content on blu-ray, you might want to switch this feature off, which is why it’s an option. I may be wrong about all of the above, of course, so check with your local golden-eared sound guru.

My highlight video of the Country 2 Country Festival

I only thought to film a little bit of the concert once Little Big Town took to the stage, hence the photo sequence for Kristian Bush. I only grabbed about 30 seconds at a time, so this little highlights video is only about 2 1/2 minutes.

Looking at the footage, I wish I’d filmed more. Both picture and sound quality are better than I was expecting from my little Panasonic with its 16X zoom.

Then again, sitting there filming everything is not as much fun as just watching it.