With summer vacations rapidly approaching, many of us are considering the annual question: What camera gear will I take this year?
I love the image quality from my SLR, but the size and weight of my gear means it is often inside the hotel or back of my truck instead of on my shoulder. This year I’m taking a look at some alternatives for travel.
The Micro Four Thirds format has become popular over the last few years as a compromise camera. The larger sensor means much better quality than smaller point-and-shoot cameras, while remaining smaller and lighter than SLRs. The Panasonic DMC-GX1 is an excellent example.
The GX1 specs include a 16 megapixel micro four thirds sensor, HD video (1920 x 1080) to AVCHD or MP4, a variety of jpeg sizes and compression, RAW shooting, and a long list of features that appeal to photographers of all levels. In automatic modes it behaves just as friendly as a point-and-shoot. Advanced photographers will appreciate full manual controls, but keep in mind that zoom and manual focus are through buttons, not lens rings.
In addition to the better image quality, the main advantage of the format is the interchangeable lenses. Panasonic offers several, and the GX1 is compatible with micro four thirds lenses from other vendors. I tested the camera with Panasonic’s 14-42mm lens (28-84mm equivalent in 35mm format) and found it to be a pleasant lens for general everyday photography. Panasonic also offers a 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens (40mm equivalent in 35mm format) for those looking for a fast, compact prime lens.
The GX1’s larger sensor gives it another major advantage over point-and-shoot cameras: Superior low light performance. For example, this image was shoot indoors at ISO 6400 on automatic. While the colours could use a bit of tweaking, the ability to shoot indoors without a flash is huge.
For those looking for a step up from a point-and-shoot to better image quality and interchangeable lenses, the DMC-GX1 is a strong candidate. Image quality approaches what I have come to expect from my SLR. I did find the autofocus a bit slower than what I’m used to, but overall I was quite pleased with the DMX-GX1 and recommend it for travel and casual photography.
I’m going to say this up front and get it out of the way: I am completely blown away by the image quality and handling of the Fuji X-E1. If you love photography, you will love this camera.
The X-E1 uses Fuji’s 16 megapixel X-Trans CMOS sensor – the same as in their top-end X-Pro1 model. This sensor is the same size used in popular consumer and enthusiast SLRs, but with a twist: Fuji’s X-Trans sensor uses a highly random pixel array, eliminating the need for an optical low-pass filter. In theory, this should give the X-E1 an edge over other products with a similar size sensor. In practice, the results are stunning.
This jpeg is straight out of the camera. X-E1 with a 35mm lens. ISO 400, f/4, 1/500s.
The X-E1 offers automatic and fully manual controls, jpeg and raw images, and shoots HD Video (1280 x 720 pixels at 24 frames/sec) with a limitation of 29 minutes in length. It also includes some great features including ten film simulation modes. Miss the saturated look of Fuji Velvia, the skin tones of Fuji Astia, or the crisp blue skies of Fuji Provia? Just dial them up!
The X-E1 is loaded with features and the specs are great. But what really sets this camera apart from the competition is image quality and handling. I couldn’t be happier with jpegs from the X-E1. Yes, shooting raw will give you a slight advantage in difficult lighting conditions, and if you’re going to post-process in Lightroom by all means shoot raw. I’ve intentionally overexposed images and pulled out highlights that most cameras wouldn’t record.
As someone who loves photography, handling the X-E1 is a delight. It has a solid feel with controls where you’d expect them on a rangefinder. Aperture is on the lens and shutter speed is on the top dial beside the exposure compensation dial. A programmable function button can be configured as you like – I prefer it set to bring up the ISO setting.
Consciously absent is a mode dial for automatic, aperture priority, etc. It simply isn’t required! Both the aperture and shutter speed have automatic settings. Set them both to automatic and you have the equivalent of “program mode”. Or set them both manually. Or leave one on automatic. Simple, elegant, and intuitive.
Fuji was kind enough to lend me three lenses to test along with the X-E1. The XF 18-55mm f2.8-4 with optical image stabilization most often bundled with the camera puts other kit lenses to shame. It’s a great all-around lens and the equivalent of 27-83mm in 35mm format is a nice range for most applications. Fuji’s XF 35mm f1.4 (52mm equivalent) is tack sharp and a great option for those who enjoy using a normal prime lens. Finally, for landscape enthusiasts, Fuji’s XF 14mm f2.8 (21mm equivalent) is spectacular.
I’m also expecting to test their new 55-200mm in the near future, and Fuji’s newly announced 27mm pancake lens (anticipated in July) looks like a great option for lightweight travel photography.
The Fuji X-E1 is not for everyone. It’s a bit larger than the micro four thirds cameras and those who just want to take pictures in automatic mode (as opposed to use the features the X-E1 provides) might want to look at a lower end model. Autofocus is not quite as fast as professional SLR lenses, but in practice I found it fine for photographing children and pets.
The XE-1 is a game changer. It’s smaller and lighter than most SLRs, yet produces superior images. It won’t fit in your pocket, but with a small lens it is practical to carry almost anywhere. For travel and general photography the Fuji X-E1 is simply hard to beat.