Camera Considerations - Lumix LX5 & GF1, Fuji X100

I've been working with the well-traveled author Chris Scott, writing an article for the next edition of the Adventure Motorcycle Handbook. Chris had just gotten back from his latest round of adventures in Algeria when he sent this email:

The desert ruined my TZ6 Lumix (as expected, zoom sucks in the sand and dust).
Great camera but I am wondering about moving up to a camera that shoots RAW.

My question: if going for a RAW camera, am I wasting my time choosing something still with a small sensor like a Panasonic LX5?
I don't want a big DSLR and I'm not so keen on the Canon G series, so am I better off with a Panasonic GF1 with it's bigger sensor, or even that Fuji X100?

Normally the "What camera should I buy?"  question is exactly like "What motorcycle should I buy?" It depends. It's usually such an open question that it's nearly impossible to pin down.

But Chris's question was different. He'd already figured out what was important for him, what features he wanted, what he definitely didn't want, and he already his choice narrowed down to three quite different cameras. 

Now I'm certainly not DP Review - #1 for excellent and excruciatingly detailed camera reviews - I don't spend my time shooting test charts and brick walls, and I haven't tried every camera on the market.

But I can offer some pragmatic thoughts on how each of these cameras would be suited for overland travel. I'm firmly in the camp that believes the usability and ergonomics of a camera trumps pixel-peeping tech-specs any day. 

These cameras all offer full manual control, can shoot RAW files and are considered to be advanced cameras.

It's worth having a brief review of sensor size, check out this link for the lowdown. I've shown the size of each camera's sensor in relation to a 35mm film just for a familiar reference.
Basically, larger sensor  = more light = better image quality and low-light performance. 

Panasonic Lumix LX5

The Lumix LX5  is the latest evolution of the advanced compact that Panasonic have been making for the last few years.
I've been using the older LX2 in my motorcycle travels, it's been an ideal pocket camera on my trips, A lot of my favourite photos have been taken with that little gem and it was a great backup when My SLR went kaput in Mexico.
The improvements to the new camera are great. I like the on-screen interface, the external controls are quick to use and it feels good in your hands. It's the only camera here that would fit easily in a jacket pocket. The lens zooms from a wide 24mm to a slightly-telephoto 90mm (35mm equivalent) , and f2.0-3.3 is pretty damn good for such a small camera. It's really versatile if you're happy with a good quality JPG.

Now the LX5 does shoot RAW, but with this and most other compact cameras, the processing time is so achingly slow that it's a pain to shoot with.
Click... Wait...  Wait... Click...
You can miss a lot of shots that way.

So it's a great all-round camera if you're happy shooting standard JPGs and if your not shooting fast moving action or very low-light situations.
If you'd like to spend an extra $100 for a red Leica badge on the front of your Panasonic, the photo industry would be happy to accommodate.

If you really feel like you'll be dedicating time to take advantage of processing your RAW images (working with Lightroom or Aperture etc) it's definitely worth stepping up to a camera with a bigger sensor. (I always shoot raw with my SLR, and I only shoot JPG with the LX2)

Panasonic Lumix GF1

Here's an example of the latest not being the greatest - looks like the newer GF2 is a bit of a letdown.
The older GF1 is the one you want. The sensor is nearly four times larger than a compact, there's a great 20mm f1.7 "pancake" lens (40mm equivalent)  - fantastic in low light with a nicely shallow depth-of field.
Micro 4/3 cameras can use cross-brand interchangeable lenses (unheard of!).

There are adapters for micro 4/3 cameras that will allow them to accept nearly any camera lens you can think of! That had me jumping out of my chair when I heard about it, but the more I think about it, the less interested I get.

I suppose if you have a collection of great lenses sitting around, being able to use them with a new digital camera is exciting. You'll have to shoot manual or aperture priority if you go this route, and you'll loose autofocus. I'm OK with that, but if I'm going to use a freaking huge SLR lens, I'd rather use the SLR it was meant to attach to. I'm on the fence about this, maybe it works for your situation, maybe not.

The camera is not as small as I was expecting, especially once you add a zoom lens. Won't fit the GF1 into a normal pocket, but it would slip nicely into a tankbag along with a few lenses. The frame rate shooting RAW is much better than the LX5, but it will slow down if your shooting a fast burst after about 6-7 frames. You'll still need an SLR to shoot action without pulling your hair out - there's no optical viewfinder.You can buy an electronic viewfinder that snaps into the hotshoe - but apparently, it sucks. If you like the idea of a interchangeable lens system but you don't want an SLR, this is the way to go.

Fuji X100

Fuji X100 is the only one I haven't tried myself - It's not out yet - but it should be any day now. I think Fuji has something really cool with the X100, but you've got to be into the style of photography a fixed lens rangefinder will give you. The X100 has a sensor as big as most SLRs and an excellent 23mm f2 (35mm equivalent) lens. The lens is fixed, no zoom, so if you like that what-you-see-is-what-you-get focal length it could be excellent for general travel photography. I wouldn't want to have it as my only camera - there would be many situations where you'll need a wider or longer view.

The X100 has a throwback vintage look - but it's not just for style - it takes the great ergonomics and usability that the old cameras had. The aperture is adjusted via a ring on the lens barrel, the shutter speed and exposure compensation have dedicated metal dials.

The other big news about this camera is the viewfinder. You can switch between an optical and a digital viewfinder and a third option has a digital HUD-style viewfinder that displays camera info over top of the optical viewfinder. Freakin' amazing, I'm sure other manufacturers will be scrambling to adopt the technology. 
It's too new to know much about it's RAW shooting speed at this point.

So which camera should you go for?

To sum up: They are all very good. Each of them is quite different.

Lumix LX5
Pocketable do-it-all travel camera if you're careful with your JPG exposure.

Lumix GF1
Big step up in image quality and lens choice if you don't mind the odd size.

Fuji X100
Great idea, but you've got to be pretty dedicated to that idea.

You could take brilliant photographs with any of these cameras, it's just a question of finding what fits best to your style of image making and going for it!


7 Response to "Camera Considerations - Lumix LX5 & GF1, Fuji X100"

  1. Greg Says:

    The Fuji X100 is obviously amazing, I use a Ricoh Digital III for my prime point and shoot, which is nearly as nice (28 mm/F1.9) and much more affordable.

  2. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    Those Ricoh cameras have always intrigued me, I've rarely seen them "in the wild". I like how they're squarely aimed at the advanced photographer. The Digital III looks like it's well built and the dynamic range trick sounds cool.

    I think Ricoh might be the only company that makes a compact digital camera with that "cachet"! Hard to do in this era!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I've been using my Panasonic GF-1 for about a month now and I absolutely love it! I find it so easy to carry around and it doesn't draw a crowd when I pull it out (like my Canon SLR with the big lens and hood). In fact, usually most people don't even know a picture has been taken making for great candids. I'm using the 20mm pancake lens and the pics are stunning. I can't say enough good things about it. I read the DP review before buying it and they seem to have loved it too.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Something you haven't discussed... carry two identical cameras, e.g., two GF-1s, each with a different lens mounted. You can also bring an extra lens or two. This allows you to have two GF-1s, one with the 14-45 and the other with a 45-200 lens mounted.

    The neat thing about adapters for m4/3 cameras is that if you're into photography you can get some awesome lens combinations for very low prices. For instance, the Pentax SMC Takumar 135/2.8 is an extremely sharp lens that you can pick up for $150 or less on eBay... and on a m4/3 camera you effectively have the focal length equivalent of a 270mm/2.8 lens on a 35mm camera. Even a 50/1.4 K-mount lens is a great portraiture lens on an m4/3 camera.

  5. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    Now that's a cool idea. I've shot like that with two SLRs in a "photojournalist" style situation. It was great to swap from ultrawide to telephoto instantly:

    Cool info about the lens adapters too. I love digging around pawnbrokers and antique shops, I suppose having a few adapters kicking around opens up a whole range of cool possibilities.

  6. Luis Says:

    Great article and the ideas are very well presented and clear. I use the GF1 myself and aspire for the X100 --yeah, great idea and you do have to be very committed, and financially able, to the idea of owning one.

  7. Ruang Tamu Mewah Terbaru Says:

    The Fuji X100 is obviously amazing, I use a Ricoh Digital III for my prime point and shoot, which is nearly as nice (28 mm/F1.9) and much more affordable.

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