Two cents off the soapbox

Alternative title: what’s actually new?

Following the recent hyped launches of the Panasonic S1R, Canon RF, Fuji GFX100, genuine pet eye smile AF tracking etc. – I’m finding myself looking at things from a fairly objective standpoint and asking how the industry is going to survive, let alone grow, in the long term. The simple reason is there has been fundamentally almost nothing in the ‘conventional’ camera market that allows us to do anything different from a creative standpoint. Before people take up their pitchforks, let me clarify several things…

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Review: the Panasonic Leica 12mm f1.4 ASPH for Micro Four Thirds

Here’s another one to add to the glut of high grade, fast aperture, Micro Four Thirds, prime lens reviews: the Panasonic Leica Summilux 12mm F1.4 ASPH lens. At first, I decided not to review this lens mostly because I prefer to work with longer focal lengths. Also, the Panasonic 12mm F1.4 lens has been around since 2016 and there are already several reviews available. The lens has been sitting in my camera bag for a while now, as I went along shooting on the streets. I’ve used it for certain shots – out of curiosity or when I needed a wide angle lens. Eventually, I’d used it enough that it made sense to review it – if for nothing else, but the sake of completeness.

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Quick Review: the Panasonic LX10

While returning the Lumix G9 to Panasonic Malaysia, I caught, out of the corner of my eye, the LX10 lying on a table. I picked it up and immediately felt the urge to borrow it. Minutes later, having done just that I was out shooting whatever I found interesting for the rest of the day. Considering the LX10 has been around since late-2016, I wasn’t focused on reviewing it. However, it’s left enough of an impression on me that I thought I would share my thoughts and some images here.

I have always been fascinated by advanced compact cameras, with their small but feature-rich form factor. However, interchangeable lens cameras, especially Micro Four Thirds, have become smaller and smaller over time and narrowed the size advantage that compact cameras traditionally held. We have the truly compact Panasonic GM1 and GM5, coupled with the slim 12-32mm pancake lens, that provides a very compact solution. Other alternatives such as Fuji X-E3, Olympus PEN-Lite series and Canon M-series are not that much larger. Yet the Panasonic LX10 and Sony RX100 range of cameras sit very comfortably in their own category despite these threats. I had to satisfy my own curiosity and explore the benefits of a premium compact camera for myself.

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Review: the 2018 Panasonic Lumix G9

When it comes to Micro Four Thirds, Panasonic is well respected for their expertise in video while Olympus for photography. This is especially true for the flagship cameras such as Panasonic GH5 and Olympus E-M1 Mark II. Therefore, when Panasonic launched their new Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 recently, it seemed like they were targeting the photography crowd, considering the very similar photography specific features the G9 has in comparison to the E-M1 Mark II.  In this article, I explore the stills shooting capabilities of the Panasonic G9.

As always, this is an independent review and neither Ming Thein nor I are associated with Panasonic Malaysia. The Panasonic G9 and several Panasonic lenses were on loan and have been returned at the time of writing this review. This is a user experience review, and my opinion may be subjective. I was not able to test all features of the camera and shall only focus on the highlights of the G9. I am not adequately equipped to do a video review for this camera. All images shown here were shot in RAW,  except the sequential burst shots which were shot in JPEG (for my sanity). The RAW files were converted to DNG directly via Adobe DNG Converter and post-processed in Capture One Pro.

You may find all the primary images (and a few extra samples) online on Google Photos here. 

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Review: the Panasonic DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60 f2.8-4

Olympus and Panasonic have been releasing increasingly similar and overlapping lenses as the Micro Four Thirds system matures. More options and choice can definitely be seen as an advantage. Early this year, in January, Panasonic released the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 zoom lens. The other competitors for a similar zoom lens are: the Panasonic 12-35mm F2.8 and Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 at about the same price as the new 12-60mm F2.8-4. For a premium, you can have the Olympus 12-100mm F4, and at the lower end there is the Panasonic 12-60mm F3.5-5.6. There is no shortage of standard zoom lenses. Therefore in this review, I shall explore the capabilities of the Panasonic 12-60mm F2.8-4 and discuss how this lens stands out from the rest of the crowd. [Read more…]

The un-camera camera

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Levels of commitment

What on earth is an ‘un-camera’? I think I’d better start by explaining the title of this post a bit better. I often find myself in a bit of a conundrum: I’m sure you are undoubtedly all aware of my role with Hasselblad and longstanding affinity for their hardware. I’m sure many of you are aware that I continually push the envelope for what’s possible with medium format and achieve some pretty unique results in the process. On top of that, I have the added benefit of having access to pretty much anything I need from the product catalog. I also still have a full Nikon system kicking around. So: what possible justification could I have for yet another camera?

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Review: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 ASPH

I had the opportunity to shoot with the newly launched Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm F2.8-4.0 ASPH, thanks to a loan unit from Panasonic Malaysia. In this review article, I shall share plenty of sample images shot with the Panasonic 8-18mm lens, exploring the characteristics and strengths of the lens, as well as adding my own personal experience during the limited time using the lens.

Some important notes first, before we dive into the lens review. This write up is done independently, and I am currently not tied to any company. The Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens was only a loan unit, and has been returned to Panasonic Malaysia after use for review purposes. My photography review style is less technical and analytical, but heavily based on user experience approach, thus my opinion is subjective. All the images taken in this article were shot with my own Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, shot raw and converted via Olympus Viewer. [Read more…]

Lens review: The Panasonic Lumix Vario PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 X G

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14-42 X on OM-D, collapsed and extended. If you’re wondering why I got a silver one, it’s because the black ones were out of stock at the time I needed it. Would I have preferred black? Obviously.

I don’t normally review ‘consumer’ grade gear for the simple reason that it’s usually built to a price, rather than built to deliver a certain grade of result (or perhaps it is, only the accountants and engineers know for sure). However, sometimes you come across a piece of equipment that fills a need much better than you imagined; this lens is one such example. The Panasonic Lumix Vario PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 X G (what a mouthful, hereafter known as the 14-42X) is a very small – about the size of the 20/1.7 pancake when collapsed – zoom for Micro Four Thirds. It was the kit lens for the GX1 and a couple of other cameras for a while, and fortunately also available separately.

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Review: The Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit for Micro Four Thirds

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One of the earliest lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system, the Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit (hereafter known as just the 45 for the rest of the article) is also perhaps one of the most underrated. It acquired a reputation of being a slow focuser; that might have been as much due to the bodies available at the time as the lens mechanics. (The lens actually has a range limiter switch).

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Square hoods are a very typically Leica thing – just look at the S lenses. Oddly, the hood for the 25/1.4 is much deeper than this one.

Something I’ve always wondered was whether this was a Panasonic design, a Leica design, or a mix of both. Turns out that the answer is that the optics are designed by Leica in Germany; they’re assembled at Panasonic’s factories in Japan, and QC’d by a Leica rep who’s based there. Regardless, the optics are pretty darn superb. The lens is very useable even wide open at f2.8; unsurprisingly, for a macro lens, every focus distance is sharp. Performance is slightly worse in the corners than the center, but even this slight degree of blurring is removed by stopping down to f4 or smaller.

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The midsize lens balances well on the Olympus OM-D.

Don’t go any smaller than f11 though, because after this point there is clear diffraction softening visible on the OM-D’s sensor; fortunately due to the short real focal length, you’re unlikely to need to do so even if you require extended depth of field. f2.8-f8 is a good practical working range.

I’m pleased to report that the lens is also very low in chromatic aberrations of any kind; lateral CA is almost completely absent, and longitudinal CA (spherochromatism or ‘bokeh fringing’) is mild, and completely gone by f5.6. This suggests that the lens’ design is almost entirely tele centric, and definitely optimized for the M4/3 mount as we don’t see any evidence of purple fringing.

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Study of a pepper, 1. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

Bokeh is a slightly different story. Whilst bokeh is superbly smooth and uniform with no ghosting or double images if you have enough distance between subject and out of focus area, there is a very odd transition zone immediately on either side of the focal plane that is both slightly nervous and displays bright edges on highlights. It’s worse at larger apertures and complex/ busy subjects. If you stop down to f5.6 or so, this property goes away.

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Hublot Big Bang Ferrari Chronograph Magic Gold. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

Outside of macro work, in truth, a 45/2.8 as a multipurpose lens just isn’t that exciting because it’s a bit in no mans’ land. You have the equivalent FOV of 90mm, but none of the bokeh separation; it isn’t a sufficiently compressed perspective to be exciting or let you do something compositionally different with all-in-focus telephoto shots. In fact, it feels more like shooting with a 60-75mm lens in that regard. Yet you can’t be lazy with your shooting discipline, because it really needs about 1/100s for a consistently sharp image – providing you’ve got either one of the stabilizers off.

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Maitres du Temps Chapter Two Tonneau. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

As with all of the Panasonic lenses on Olympus bodies, you have a choice of which stabilization system to use – either the moving-lens based system, controlled by a switch on the side of the lens, or the sensor-shift type built into the body. I did quite a lot of testing comparing the two systems – unfortunately there’s no real quantifiable way of doing this – and didn’t see any significant benefit of one over the other. As with all IS systems, you need to turn it off if the shutter speed is high enough otherwise you will actually land up with double images. The threshold is probably around 1/500s. I think this is because it can’t react fast enough to the high-frequency vibration caused by the shutter, but I’m sure there are others far more knowledgeable on this subject.

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Doctor Zoidberg. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

There’s a second switch on the side of the barrel, and that’s to control the focus limiter. Like all M 4/3 lenses, manual focus is entirely fly-by-wire; I personally don’t like these systems because they don’t give you enough tactile feedback and lack hard infinity or near limit stops. Although I prefer to use manual focus when shooting close focus so I can set my magnification before focusing, this is one of the few lenses where I have no choice but to rely on autofocus.

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Street scene in Geneva. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

It will hunt a bit if you have the lens set to full range and aren’t focusing on a close subject; but for the most part, focusing is actually pretty swift if only small changes in focus distance are required. Switching on the limiter – near focus of 45cm – makes things much faster. (The full limit is 25cm, which gives 1:1 magnification and about 10cm or so of working distance from the front of the lens). I haven’t actually tried it on the E-PM1, but I don’t expect focusing performance to be much worse.

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Hublot Ultra Thin. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro, ambient light on location.

The 45 works much better as a dedicated macro lens, and will serve handily as a portrait lens in a pinch; however, my general purpose pick would be the Olympus 45/1.8. Image quality is superb; there’s a biting sharpness and fine microcontrast structure you’d expect from a lens with this price tag and implied heritage. It definitely renders in a very different way to the Olympus 45/1.8; I suppose the best way to describe it would be tight and controlled.

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Geometry. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

It’s a midsize (for M 4/3, but about the same size as a 50/1.8 for any SLR mount) lens which balances well on an OM-D, with or without the optional grip. Sadly, the only metal parts in this lens appear to be the lens mount and screws; whilst the plastics are of high quality and the build quality and tolerances are tight, it just doesn’t have the feel of a precision instrument in the same way that say the Leica M or Zeiss ZF lenses do.

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Study of a pepper, 2. The full size shot shows some nervousness of bokeh around the focus transition zone near the stem. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

I would personally prefer a bit more control over my depth of field in a macro lens. Having said that, the extended depth of field offered here can be useful for certain applications where you need to get a large amount of the subject in focus. Perhaps the forthcoming Olympus 60/2.8 macro will better suit my requirements. However, it does offer some advantages over my normal setup – at maximum magnification, it covers a 17x13mm frame, against 36x24mm for full frame, and without the need for any extension tubes and the accompanying degradation in quality*. I can also see some uses for it for macro video, though the fly-by-wire focus ring may prove to be a bit of a problem.

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Grilled wagyu done right. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

*Extension tubes add another set of mount interfaces into the optical system; any slight deviations in planarity, or looseness, or give, will result in the optics being slightly off-axis. This is visible as softening, coma or astigmatism.

For now, though, the Panasonic Leica 45 retains a place in my bag, especially for use as part of my backup system on watch shoots. Don’t let the plastic exterior fool you: optically, this is a serious lens, and in the grand scheme of things it actually represents fairly good value for money despite being one of the more expensive lenses in the M 4/3 system. MT

The Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 is available from B&H and Amazon.


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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Hublot Diver’s Chronograph. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

Inspirations from older cameras: The Panasonic LX3

The Panasonic LX3 was one of what I like to think of as a matured, serious compact – it had a larger sensor with fewer pixels for better dynamic range and low light performance (notice I said ‘better’, not ‘good’). It had a fast and sharp 24-72/2-2.8 equivalent, with variable aspect ratios on a switch; one of the downsides of this piece of glass was the price and unpocketability thanks to the protruding lens barrel, but it was worth it. Great dynamic range for a compact, too, though color accuracy could be somewhat wanting at times.

Enjoy! All images can be clicked on for larger versions, or EXIF information. MT

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Distorted reality

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Internal facade

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Under the awning

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Look up

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Pastel interior

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