(Part I is here)
Words and pictures by Gordon Lewis
One of the benefits to shooting with a Micro 4/3 camera is being able to get this much depth-of-field without having to use ridiculously small apertures.
The key to making a camera such as the Panasonic Lumix GX85 as enjoyable as possible for street photography is for the shooting experience to be smooth and intuitive. You want the camera to melt away. You want to be able to pay more attention to what’s going on around you and less on the camera. This will depend partly on camera ergonomics, but just as much if not more so on how you set it up. The way I set up a camera may not be the way you would want to set up yours, but knowing my settings will at least give you a reference point for how well the GX85 performs with them. With that in mind, here’s a basic list:
- File format: RAW
- Exposure Mode: Aperture preferred. This allows direct control over depth-of-field.
- Front dial controls aperture. This is the manufacturer’s default.
- Rear dial controls exposure compensation, with no need to press in on the dial first.
- Pressing the Fn1 button changes dial functions so that the rear dial adjusts ISO and the front adjusts white balance. Once you have assigned this function, you will be able to make the same switch by pressing in on the rear dial.
- Cursor buttons control AF point position (up, down, left, right, etc.)
- The shutter triggers only the shutter release, while the AF lock button triggers AF start. This is so that pressing the shutter button won’t alter any manual focus settings.
- Turning the focusing ring triggers manual focus assist, just in case AF fails to do the job. I opted for focus peaking, but 100% magnification in the center of the frame is also an option.
- Silent shutter. The manual shutter, although dead quiet, sounded "laggy" to me, as if the mechanical movements took longer than the actual shutter speed. I therefore opted for the silent (electronic) shutter. Its only practical limitation for street photography is that it’s incompatible with electronic flash for flash fill.
These are by no means the only available settings, but they provided what I consider a near ideal balance between full automation versus swift and sure manual control. Focus and exposure in daylight were blazing fast and, if not always 100% accurate, close enough not to ruin a shot. I experienced some AF hunting in very low light, particularly with slow lenses, but a quick shift of the focus ring was all it took to move the plane of focus point where I wanted it.
Joy, Financial District, San Francisco
The eye-level viewfinder shows where Panasonic cut corners a bit to reduce cost. Although it’s large, high-res, and bright, eye relief is short. You’ll need to have your eye close and well-centered to see the entire frame. That can be difficult if you’re wearing glasses. Another issue—one common to most mirrorless cameras—is that direct sunlight that enters the viewfinder or reflects from the rear LCD can cause either one to wash out. A slight shift of position is usually all it takes to correct the problem. Some reviewers have also complained about a color rainbow smearing effect during rapid camera movements. I didn’t notice this, but you might, so be sure to look for it.
What I did notice was that the colors and contrast in the eye-level viewfinder didn’t quite match those on the rear LCD, and that both made scenes look brighter than in real-life. This means that if you try to "expose by eye" rather than by meter, there’s a good chance you will underexpose. Fortunately, you use the setup menus to reduce the brightness of either one or both viewfinders.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, as with all Micro 4/3 cameras, the GX85’s native aspect ratio is 4:3. However, the eye level viewfinder has a 16:9 ratio. This results in black space on both vertical sides of the frame. You can change the aspect ratio to 3:2 – the standard for APS-C and full-frame formats—to eliminate the bars, but this can also make it harder to see the entire image. Any 3:2 image will import into Lightroom pre-cropped, with the full image area still available if you want it.
I wouldn’t obsess over the viewfinder too much, though. Street photographers typically frame and shoot within seconds. Although there may be better viewfinders to be found, the GX85's is definitely respectable.
A look at lenses
As I mentioned in Part I, I was shooting with three Micro 4/3 lenses: the Olympus 17mm ƒ/1.8, Panasonic 25mm ƒ/1.7, and Panasonic 42.5mm ƒ/1.7 OIS. The 17mm was the smallest and lightest of the three, followed by the 42.5mm and then the 25mm. Each weighed less than five ounces, yet was fast enough for flash-free low light shooting without having to rely on absurdly slow shutter speeds or high ISOs.
Another advantage of their small size was that if I didn’t feel like carrying a camera bag, I could carry one lens in each pocket of a light jacket and the third on the camera; or I could carry the GX85 with 17mm alone in a single pocket; or simpler still, sling the GX85 plus any lens over my shoulder.
This was shot with the 17mm ƒ/1.8 m.Zuiko and cropped to square format. Although it may not look it, I was close enough to tap the fellow in the green plaid shirt on the shoulder.
The Panasonic 42.5mm ƒ/1.7 was perfect for available light interior shots where its optical image stabilization, combined with the GX85's IBIS, helped eliminate camera shake while the fast aperture helped blur distracting backgrounds.
Waiting for the Fox Chase, SEPTA Station, Philadelphia. Shot with the Panasonic 25mm ƒ/1.7.
The 17mm was ideal for shooting on narrow streets or in tight spaces. On the other hand, because of its wider than normal angle of view, tight framing may require you to be only a few feet away from your subject. For that reason, I tend to favor the 25mm. It lets me get tight shots without feeling as if I’m obnoxiously sticking the camera in someone’s face. The 42.5mm was best for shooting scenes on the other side of a street without actually having to cross. It had the added benefit of OIS, which, combined with the GX85’s IBIS, added up to five stops of stabilization.
File import and final notes
Lightroom will attach a generic Adobe profile to any raw files you import from the GX-85. There are no profiles that match Panasonic’s JPEG "photo styles" such as Standard, Vivid, Portrait, etc. This means that if you shoot raw+JPEG, your JPEG colors won’t match your raw colors and vice-versa. Fortunately, I found Adobe’s profile reasonably neutral yet appealing. The examples I've uploaded were only minimally altered and should offer a reliable insight into Panasonic’s overall color palette.
Waiting for a friend, Roam Burgers, San Francisco.
Here’s a center crop at close to 100%. Not bad for an image shot at maximum aperture.
What may be hard to see from these JPEG samples [TOP's blog software subtly blurs posted pictures—it's a bug, not a feature. —Ed.] is the surprising amount of micro-detail they have. We’re talking fine textures that go on and on. I attribute this to the GX85's IBIS, lack of an anti-aliasing filter, accurate focus, and good glass. Is there as much detail and low noise as you’d get from a full-frame camera? No, but unless you're making huge prints or pixel peeping and have perfect technique, you’ll never see the difference. You'd also have to shoot with a much larger, heavier, noisier camera that uses large and heavy lenses. Thanks, but I’d take the Panasonic GX85 any day.
The Panasonic GX85
If you can’t get great street shots with this camera, then trust me my friend, it won't be the camera's fault.
Old friend Gordon Lewis, originally a colleague of Mike's from Camera & Darkroom magazine and later the writer of the blog Shutterfinger, is the author of Street Photography: The Art of Capturing the Candid Moment, published by Rocky Nook. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and three kids. In a former life, he wrote sitcoms in Hollywood.
©2017 by Gordon Lewis, all rights reserved
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Ricardo Silva Cordeiro: "Loved the review, thanks for sharing. This camera received a lot of negative feedback upon its release but when I handled one on a store I felt there was something special about it. I investigated a bit more and yes, the viewfinder isn't top-notch and it has an 'older' 16-MP sensor, but everything else seems just perfect and it looks like camera users (not testers) are loving it. The handling, responsiveness, low-profile look and small size are ideal for street shooting.
"Panasonic's UI is among the best too, as is their AF technology as long as you use single point only (in my experience Panasonic AF is only reliable that way; use multiple-point AF and you will end up with mostly front-focused shots. Happens with my LF1, LX100 and ZS100). And the sound of that shutter is even better than the one of the E-M5 which I thought was the best. I'm struggling not to get back to the ever-attractive Micro 4/3 system, but if I do I'm almost certain it will be with this camera plus a Leica 15mm ƒ/1.7 and Panasonic 25mm ƒ/1.7."
MarkB: "I really liked Gordon's thorough overview (not 'review') of the GX85, but once again, his sample photos show what a competent and experienced photographer can do with the Panasonic... not what I can expect to achieve. Like watching the Stig do laps in a reasonably priced car!"