I’ve been happy with my Canon SX10 IS for a few years, but while attempting to take pictures at a cold Mardi Gras parade up here in Burlington, Vermont, the zoom system stopped working. I kept getting a “Lens Error” message, and had to coddle the thing in order to get any pictures at all. Figuring that some lubricant had gotten gummed up, I sent it in to be serviced, but neither the service personnel nor the folks at BestBuy seem to understand English. When I complained that the camera was not working at 35 degrees, the store manager wondered out loud whether the camera was intended to work at such a cold temperature. Where do they find these people? The camera returned from service with no change in behavior.
While at BestBuy, I considered upgrading to the latest in the Canon line, the SX 30, but the morons at Canon made the display (in the view finder) about 1/4 the size of that in the SX 10. How can you take a good product and intentionally make it worse? I called Canon, and pointed this out, and the support guy basically said “Oh. Yeah. I see what you mean. Have a nice day.” I decided I was done with that line of cameras.
While the Canon has been great in the super-zoom department (25 mm to over 500 mm effective range), takes OK movies, and can take closeup pictures to within 1 cm of the front of the lens, it does not shine when it comes to low light situations (pun intended). If you try to push the sensor sensitivity (ISO) past about 100, you usually end up with so much colorful noise in your picture that it is not worth showing anyone. So, hand-held non-flash pictures are impossible at night with that camera.
A friend of mine, Ray, suggested a number of alternatives, but I’m fairly picky. I want an articulating LCD screen on the back of the camera (most digital SLRs do not have this feature), did not want to spend $5K or $10K to get a decent “system”, and wanted an Electronic View Finder, a feature that most DSLRs have discarded for reasons that I cannot fathom.
There are a few very small and light high-end cameras out there from Sony and Olympus, but many of them lack the EVF feature. But once I read about the Panasonic Lumix GH1 and GH2, I was intrigued. Both are part of the Micro Four Thirds camera series that many manufacturers (Panasonic, Olympus, Sony) are supporting. Micro Four Thirds lenses give you twice the “zoom” of 35mm lenses, so a 100 mm Micro Four Thirds lens behaves the same as a 200 mm lens on a 35 mm camera.
The GH2 is virtually unavailable at this time, and sells at a huge premium (camera body and lens for $1,800 at the moment) over the GH1 (I bought a body and lens for $1,000). I now have the body and an effective 28 mm – 280 mm lens, a 300 mm – 600 mm lens, and a 90 mm large aperture lens that I mount using an adapter.
The EVF is wonderful: bright and detailed (at over 1 MPixel). The articulating LCD is perfect (although the GH2 adds touch-sensitivity). The camera system focuses very rapidly, and can continue to auto focus even while shooting an HD movie. The two options of HD movie formats each have problems (the AVCHD format is very difficult to edit, and the motion JPG format is limited to 8 minute clips), but the quality is quite good. The 28-280 lens is quite convenient (although I miss the macro ability that the Canon has), and the 300-600 gives me enough “reach” to take decent nature photographs. This camera has two shutter buttons, one for stills, one for movies, just as the Canon does, but unlike the Canon, it cannot take a still while taking a movie.
You can see a frame clipped from an HD movie here: http://www.jonbondy.com/P1010109.JPG
And here is a shot of a squirrel: zoom in and look at the detail in the fur: http://www.jonbondy.com/P1010318.JPG