The Panasonic arrived last night. I ordered the Panasonic Lumix ZR1 several posts ago and even with free shipping, it got here in just one week. Everything was packed properly in a huge brown, generic box with the sticker that said it was a refurbished Panasonic product. A surprise bonus camera case and 2GB SD card was also included; these items were not mentioned in the Adorama product description. Nice. I popped the battery in the charger and a green light came on so I figured it was already charged. With the battery in the camera, the power level read 3 bars, fully charged. The camera is small and very light. Well built but has a hollow, aluminum shell feeling. Despite the 8x zoom, it easily fits in my front pants pocket.
With the ISO set at 80, its lowest value, I fired off some pictures. The image looked dark on-screen. The flash shots were also dull and exposed on the dark side. After a minute of use, the power meter ticked down a segment. I began to fear that this old refurb might have an old battery that no longer holds a charge. After a few more test shots I downloaded and started scrutinizing the images on my computer. ISO 80 was clean and basically noise free. Very nice, except the exposure was really dark and the colors were uninspired. Not an auspicious start. I began to have doubts. Should I return the camera to Adorama?
I continued testing and began to figure out the camera. This is a beginner’s camera. There are no P S A M dial settings. It tries to be intelligent, to anticipate the needs of a novice. My challenge, I need to out think the computer and reverse engineer its programming. I need to bend it to my will. I want to do long exposure low-light images at ISO 80. Not easy, I found. If this thing just had a darn Program or Aperture priority mode, life would be so much easier for an experienced user. For a beginner though, I think the behavior of the camera makes sense. There are definitely quirky things that are not fully explained in the manual. Oh and that dark exposure I got with ISO 80? If figured that out too.
After a couple of hours play. I cracked it. I figured out how to make it do what I want. I’ll explain all my findings in a future post. The “fully charged” battery was quickly exhausted. But this was, in my opinion, a bad design decision on Panasonic’s part. When you pop the battery on the charger, the light starts out green. OKay. I don’t know about you but I think it’s natural to have the light turn green when it is finished charging, not when it starts charging. The manual does not explain any of this and for your information, the green light turns off when fully charged.
Today, I went to Rudy’s a famous BBQ chain here in Central Texas. I had my Panasonic Lumix ZR1 with me. Testing it out. Putting it though its paces. It’s another hot 100 degree Texas day and I must have been thirsty. The two images from Rudy’s are inexplicably beverage related. ISO 80 is lovely. No noise and the colors look pretty good too. ISO 100 and 200 also works nicely. ISO 400 is still usable but a bit rough, I think it will depend on the image and its exposure. The top image was shot at ISO 80 and the second image at ISO 400. ISO 800 maybe ok as a black and white. I’m going to have fun pushing this camera or maybe pushing myself to the limit. So what’s the purpose of buying this camera? I wanted to prove to myself that I can make good-looking images with an inexpensive point and shoot. Challenging myself by using more limiting equipment. We will see how I do.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1
In my previous post, I talked about getting an inexpensive gadget for fun. I was looking at a refurbished, year old entry-level Nikon Coolpix. I found it at Cameta Camera for $55 but thanks to a blog reader, I found the same Nikon Coolpix S3100 for $46.95 at Adorama; it even includes free shipping. I was about the pull the trigger on this camera, even had it in my shopping cart, but I decided to do some research just in case.
There aren’t many reviews these days for entry level cameras but found this one on the S3100 at Photography Blog. I pixel peeped the ISO 80 sample images and was disappointed. To be fair, I’m not comparing the image quality to my Olympus Pens. Being a point and shoot with a tiny 1/2.3 inch sensor, this would be silly. However, I was hoping to see fairy clean images at ISO 80, the lowest ISO and highest quality setting. I figure, if I keep the ISO set at 80, I might be able to squeeze some decent quality images from it. From what I saw in the samples, I began to have doubts.
Let me make it clear that for most people posting images on Facebook or printing 4 x 6 or 8 x 10 prints, the quality from this camera will be fine. It will also work decently for photos in blog posts too. This little Nikon is a bargain at $47 bucks. The reason I wanted to buy this camera was as a challenge to create high quality images using an entry-level camera. I wanted to blog about my experience, post some images and about talk about how I did it.
My current criteria for a good image quality is viewing the photograph full size on my 27″ monitor. That is how I typically view and enjoy my images (though I do print some from time to time). I don’t expect pixel perfection at 100%, I’m really not usually a pixel peeper. However, using my 27″ test, I couldn’t help but see sharp but smeared images. The images looked very sharp even too crunchy like they are over sharpened but at the same time they lacked fine detail. Viewing the images larger and I realized that Nikon is using noise suppression routines and lots of sharpening to compensate. I expect this kind of in camera processing at ISO 400 and above but at ISO 80, it is a disappointment. On the plus side, I found the colors to be vibrant, the way I like it.
In my search for refurbished deals through Adorama, I also found this Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 for $69.95. At first, I didn’t consider this model since the $70 was way above my cheapie goal of staying around $50. But after the disappointing image quality of the Nikon S3100, I took a second look at alternatives. I looked at the sample photos from this review on Photography Blog and was pleasantly surprised. What a difference. The images at ISO 80 were clean and smooth. It looks like the noise and detail characteristics are one or even two stops better than the Nikon. Curious, they both use the same sized 1/2.3 inch sensor but the Nikon is a 14MP camera while the Panasonic is at 12MP. The Panasonic colors, however, are more muted. Some may prefer this but I like the bright colors from the Nikon better.
You also get a lot more for the extra $23. The Lumix ZR1 has true optical image stabilization, the Nikon has an inferior digital stabilizer. The ZR1 also has a minimum shutter speed of 1 minute, while the S3100 allows for only 4 secs in the fireworks mode. Long shutter times are important when I do urban night photography on tripod. The ZR1 also has a 25 to 200mm equivalent zoom range while the Nikon has 26 – 130 range. And you get a Leica branded lens, which may not mean much in a point and shoot, but it says this model was designed by Panasonic to sit on the premium end of their line. The downsides of this camera? Other than being a bit more expensive, the camera is a bit thicker because of the longer zoom lens. It is also an older model dating back all the way from 2009. While the Nikon was last year’s model, the Lumix is 3 years old. My biggest concern, I hope the batteries are still fresh enough to work adequately. The good news is there are inexpensive third party battery options.
Ultimately, I think with the Nikon, other than being a fun little gadget for a month or so and something to blog about, I would not end up using it afterwards. Sure it’s only $47 but I hate to buy something and not use it. I feel with the Panasonic, there maybe a chance that I’ll use it for other things beyond my initial fun experiments. It costs a whopping 49% more (though only $23 in absolute terms) than the Nikon. Time will tell how much I use it. I will most certainly blog about it to tell you how it turns out. The Panasonic is coming on the slow and free boat from New York City. I should have it in a week or so.
My blog posts have been a lot more sporadic these last couple of weeks, as you may have noticed. I’m currently in Japan and want to maximize my time making images rather than creating lengthy blog posts. I’ve been to Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo and Yokohama. I’ve shot about 7,000 photographs these last couple of weeks so I know I’m going to fall even more hopelessly behind in my image post-processing. I have a little less than 1 week left in Japan so we will see what the final image count will be.
I’m shooting all Olympus this trip. I thought about bringing my Sony NEX-5 like I did to India and Singapore but I decided use my Panasonic Lumix 14mm as my wide-angle lens. I picked up the, still rare, Panasonic wide-angle adapter in Japan for the 14mm which basically makes it a 11mm. With the conversion factor, I now have a 22mm on my Olympus Pen cameras. Not quite as wide as my 18mm equivalent on the Sony, but the Panasonic lens quality is a lot better. So, I brought 3 cameras with me. Two of my Olympus E-PL1s and my newer Olympus E-P3. Lens wise, I have the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 plus the wide-ange adapter, the Lumix 20mm f1.7, the Olympus 45mm f1.8 and the Oympus 40-150 zoom. While I have to juggle a few cameras, the weight is not bad at all. The 3 cameras and lenses together weight about the same as my Canon 7D with the wide-angle Sigma 10-20 lens. A bit more camera juggling but no lens switching required. I find it faster getting my images and I don’t have to worry about getting dust on the sensor.
I’ve already started posting images from Japan on mostlyfotos, my one photo per day site. I’m trying to have a mix of modern and old Japan for a nice slice of life here. Please take a look if you have some time. I will start posting longer form entires and talk about my experiences once I get back.
I took this photograph with my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
See more images taken with the Olympus E-P3 at mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.