The Panasonic G3 with the Olympus (Zuiko) 14-54 f2.8-3.5 Lens. The Small Gray 4/3rds to Micro 4/3rds Adapter can be Seen Between the Camera and Lens.
Ever since I owned an Olympus OM-1 35mm film camera several decades ago (I still have it) I have been enamored of tiny SLR cameras. Ever since I owned a spectacular digital Sony R-1 a few years back I was enamored by cameras with an electronic view finder (EVF) and mirrorless design. Now if they could just put a hi-rez EVF into a tiny camera and give me great fast lenses and a descent sensor…well that would be a sea change…indeed.
One of the biggest reasons I have been pining for a decent mirrorless EVF camera is the amount of data that can be displayed in the view finder…live! Most importantly the histogram. Why the histogram? Because, with digital cameras the histogram is the essential tool I use to judge my exposure. I am not going to get into a discussion here of how they work. Or exposing to the right (ETR). But if you are a serious photographer I expect you know what the histogram is and how to use it.
Without the live display in the EVF, one is left to chimp the histogram AFTER the shot is taken by looking at the image playback. Does that seem idiotic to anyone else? Doesn’t it make sense to look at the histogram LIVE before you shoot? I mean, you don’t look at a light meter after you shoot an image. With a trad SLR I suppose it is not possible, or difficult, to display the histogram in the optical view finder. Nikon refuses (for some incomprehensible reason) to even show it in their live view display. The histogram is just another piece of data that can be shown live using an EVF. Like gridlines, highlight clipping, typical exposure data, and damn near anything else you would like to slap into that EVF.
Mirrorless cameras are also very very small. Manufacturers are able to make the cameras less complex, smaller, and cheaper by eliminating the mirror and mirror box. There is a lot of complexity tied up in slapping a mirror up and down inside an SLR. Additionally, mirrorless cameras use somewhat smaller sensors (but not always) therefore allowing the lens diameter to decrease. Less size. Less weight.
Why does any of this matter? As a high altitude hiker/climber I am always trying to lessen the size and weight of the load I am carrying say 4,000+ feet up a 14,000 foot mountain. Its hard to carry even myself, much less several pounds of bulky SLR gear up a mountain. I typically carry only a single lens with my Nikon D7000. The Nikkor 17-55 f2.8. This lens is exception but it is a HUGE hog of a lens. This lens combined with the D7000, which is not exactly svelte, although a brilliant camera, I am left hauling a large and heavy setup into the mountains. This setup weighs in at just under 4 pounds. This combination of lens and camera is hard to beat in terms of performance and photographic quality. True. But, what if I could find a similar setup that gave me most of what the Nikon does at say half the size and weight.
So, I have been watching the mirrorless designs. I am partial to Olympus because they have been producing exceptional cameras and lenses for decades. I also like a lot of the products that Panasonic has been producing. As luck would have it both Pany and Oly teamed up to produce the Micro-4/3rds standard for mirrorless cameras. It actually started with 4/3rds but that standard still had a mirror. Anyway…
Their cameras, particularly Pany’s were brilliant. High quality, functional, and small. Unfortunately, they seemed to be catering to a more entry level audience by using plasticy slow lenses like the 14-42 f3.5-5.6. Optically descent but S-L-O-W.
I prefer 2.8 constant f lenses but alas there were no micro-4/3rd fast constant f lenses in a zoom range I wanted. So…I stayed on the sidelines and watched and waited.
One day it occurred to me that Oly made an exceptional 14-54 f2.8-3.5 zoom. (28-108 35mm equiv.) I have owned and shot with this lens when I owned 4/3rds cameras. It is a great lens. Optically incredible. Weather sealed and with very good build quality. It runs around $550.00 which is a steal for this lens that has accolades from nearly every review and user.
I knew that both Pany and Oly made 4/3rds to micro 4/3rds converters for lenses but often a lot of the auto stuff like auto focus (AF) does not work. Then I learned that Oly had revved the excellent 14-54 f2.8-3.5 lens to a mark II version that included functionality with contrast detection (CD) AF. CD is what all of the mirrorless designs use for auto focus because they are always in “live view” mode. Granted, the 14-54 f2.8-3.5 is not a constant f2.8 lens. But it looses less than half a stop from wide to tele. This has the effect of making the lens smaller. It also gives me a 35mm equiv zoom range of 28 to 104 with a 2.0 crop factor. That’s huge! Its a great lens.
After looking into using this Oly lens with a 4/3rds to micro 4/3rds converter on a Pany G3 body I figured, from what I could tell, that it should all work. Could it be that I could finally have all the benefits of a great small SLR-like camera, an excellent fast lens, AND have everything like AF work?
I ordered that trio, the Pany G3, Oly 14-54 f2.8-3.5 zoom lens, and the Pany 4/3rds to micro 4/3rds converter from Amazon. And I waited…
The trio finally arrived on my doorstep. I carefully unwrapped everything and without reading a single instruction manual assembled the camera, lens, and converter. I then impatiently charged the tiny lithium battery for the G3. Finally the battery completed charging and I put it into the G3 body.
I hit the power switch on top of the G3 and…It all worked perfectly. AF, metering, aperture, EVF readout…Everything! This odd mix of Panasonic, Olympus, 4/3rds and micro 4/3rds worked! Yay! It is not that often that I am so lucky.
I now have a kit that goes from 10,000 feet to well over 14,000 feet. It weighs two pounds less than the Nikon! It sports a fast zoom from 28-108! Optics that are at least as good as the Nikkor 17-55 if not a bit better. Both cameras use 16 megapixel sensors although the Nikon has a larger APS-C (1.5 crop) size while the Lumix has 4/3rds (2.0 crop). This sensor size difference shows up mostly in noise as the smaller 4/3rds sensor is more sensitive to noise than the larger APS-C. Although, in my testing the Lumix can be pushed to ISO 800 with no problem at all. At ISO 1,600 I hit it with a little NIK Dfine 2.0 noise reduction and prints beyond 13”X19” are easy. Noise is not nearly the issue it used to be with smaller sensor. At least regarding 4/3rds sensors.
Size Does Matter. Not Only is the Nikon D7000 Considerable Larger than the Lumix G3, It is Two Pounds Heavier
Another Size Comparison from the Top. The Mass of the Nikon D7000 is Quite Apparent. The Lumix is Considerably Smaller in Every Dimension.
What do I give up going from the Nikon to the G3? Not much really. Both systems are capable of producing incredible images. As mentioned, one has to work with slightly noisier images with the G3. I can also shoot 14 bit RAW with the Nikon while I am limited to 12 bit RAW in the G3. I am guessing that the G3 also has somewhat less dynamic range because smaller sensors generally have narrower DR. But the G3’s DR is still many many stops beyond what we ever had in film. I am guessing it gets somewhere between 9 – 12 stops. But that is just a guess. The Nikon is also faster in most aspects including AF, buffer processing, and burst speeds. The G3 is no slouch however and keeps up with whatever I need it to do.
100 Percent Crop of a G3 Image Shot at ISO 800. No Noise Reduction.
The build quality of the Nikon gear is full-on pro. All metal chassis and lens. Weather sealed, etc. It’s a tank. And almost as heavy. The G3 and Olympus lens sport more plastic but both are built quite well and feel very solid. The Oly lens is weather sealed. Oh yah…The G3 has image stabilization built into the body.
Both cameras produce images that can be processed in Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop. I was even able to find a Lightroom auto lens correction profile for the Oly lens. Both systems produce beautiful images with depth and color, contrast and sharpness. There is nothing to complain about regarding image quality from either system. In fact, both are excellent photographic tools.
When I want the absolute best best image quality, flexibility, low light capability, I reach for the Nikon (I also have more lenses for the Nikon). If I want to haul something a lot smaller and lighter, will not be shooting in low light, and don’t want to induce scoliosis from carrying around heavy gear on one shoulder, I reach for the G3. The Lumix G3/Olympus 14-54 is a truly competent system.
So is it everything I wished for? I don’t know yet. But the early results are truly excellent. I still have to see how the Lumix G3/Olympus 14-54 performs in cold weather and at altitude. But in terms of general performance and image quality the Lumix G3/Olympus 14-54 appears to easily meet my needs as a photographic tool. I’ll post more as I use the system in the mountains.