I’ve been exploring, during the last few years, street photography using digital cameras. While such cameras of affordable price are well suited to family and vacation snapshots, using such a camera for capturing fast-changing street scenes requires quick shutter response, fast optics and good low-light performance, all in a diminutive package, specifications that, until recently, were not to be had with basic affordable digital cameras.
I was an early adapter into the micro-four-thirds camera format for just this sort of purpose, being able to interchange high-quality, fast lenses onto a camera body of fast response and good low-light performance. My first micro-4/3 camera, a Lumix G1, I’ve used for almost 4 years, but I’ve been less than completely satisfied by its shutter response and low-light performance.
Now, I’ve replaced the G1 with a Lumix G5, a camera that’s 3 generations more evolved. Today I ventured forth on the streets of Albuquerque, in search of street scenes, in an attempt at trying my hand at this elusive practice using this new tool, and have positive news to report.
The G5 exhibits dramatically improved low-light performance. I was able to shoot at ISO500 in cloudy morning light at shutter speeds fast enough to capturing moving subjects with little or no motion blur. The images retain very little electronic noise up to about ISO3200, far in excess of the G1’s limit of around ISO800.
A new feature to the G5, one that I was anxious to try, is the electronic shutter. Mirrorless cameras function by keeping the shutter open, permitting the live scene to be viewed and composed. When the shutter is tripped, it first closes to reset the sensor’s pixels, then opens and closes to make the exposure, finally reopening to reset back to the live view mode. This close-open-close operation of the mechanical shutter brings with it added delay in capturing an otherwise elusive image. The electronic shutter, I was pleased to find, dramatically quickens the camera’s response time so as to seem virtually instantaneous. It also operates entirely silently, further improving the already stealthy nature of the camera, so silent that images can be recorded entirely anonymously in extremely quiet and intimate surroundings.
The one caveat to using the electronic shutter is that moving subjects - or rapidly panning the camera while releasing the shutter - can cause a distortion in the image. In this case, use of the camera’s mechanical shutter is recommended.
The result is a photographic tool that’s a game-changer, at least for me, in the genre of street photography. These small Lumix lenses were already fast-focusing on the old G1 body; now they’re even quicker, and deadly silent.
The G5’s new Dynamic Monochrome mode also delivers excellent black and white images, better even than the older G1’s well-received Dynamic Black & White mode that was already noted for producing results that were hard to emulate from its raw files using more traditional post-processing software. These in-camera JPEGs are simply amazing, promising a workflow from camera to web, via the iPad, that’s quick and convenient.
I’m excited at the prospects for using this new tool, and hope to share with you more images to come.
(Lumix G5 images resized via Filterstorm on iPad2, text via iAWriter on iPad 2.)