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Windows Utilities V – 2017 Edition

The 2017 edition of a long-running if infrequent series of posts on Windows utilities that I have on our work and home computers. The previous post in this edition is here.

MP3 Tag Editor: another long-lived software that I use! I’m still a subscriber to the eMusic store, and every month, buy about a dozen classical music albums. Normally, there’s no consistency in the way many of the MP3 files in music albums are tagged, and when that happens, an MP3 tag editor program is needed to rename those tags en masse. This software, created and maintained by a team of German developers I reckon, does that trick.

Revo Uninstaller: the older iterations of Windows operating systems didn’t always do a thorough job when it came to uninstalling software that you no longer needed. In fact, over time, little bits of data, registry entries and other program elements would remain in the program files folder and registry. Most users would never have realized these bits of litter were left, much less even bothered with them. 

Not the detail-obsessive though, and there were programs aplenty around that purported to do a more complete job of completely uninstalling programs. The more recent and current versions of Windows today I think do a better job at removing programs but if you still want to be sure, there’s Revo Uninstaller. This software will scan the program’s folder and attempt to remove everything. There’s one annoyance in this program though: and that’s the persistent reminders for you to buy the Pro edition.

Ninite: this is a nifty web site that lets you select from a list of popular and free software, and proceeds to automatically install them in the background. As a special bonus, the installation scripts will avoid installing all the extra ‘freebies’ that you really do not want (e.g. Toolbars from Yahoo LOL). Very useful not only when you’re setting up a new PC, but you can also run the software thereafter periodically to mass update all your apps too.

Just a portion of software that can be installed using Ninite.

Adobe Digital Negative Converter and Adobe Photoshop Elements: most people are perfectly happy with JPG pictures that come out from compact cameras and smartphones, but serious enthusiast photographers routinely shoot in RAW. Granted – it takes a lot more time to process RAW images, but you simply can get much better images editing a RAW than a JPG image. I’ll probably do an updated post about processing RAW files soon. The problem with RAW files though is that each camera’s file format is proprietary, which makes it difficult for RAW image editors like Adobe Photoshop to keep up. 

So, Adobe’s very novel solution is this: rather than come up with frequent versions of Adobe Camera Raw and make customers keep buying new versions of Photoshop just to read RAW files of new cameras, they’ve come up with a Digital Negative Converter. Basically, the application converts the RAW files into a common and open format so that it can be read by more image editors. The key advantage, using industry lingo, is ‘archival confidence’.

The RAW and DNG image editor software I’m currently using is Photoshop Elements. It’s for two reasons: I’d rather not have to pay a yearly subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud just to edit RAW/DNG files, and the feature set offered in Elements is more than sufficient for my needs. And Elements I think remains perpetual license software (and I hope for indefinitely!), so once you buy a version, you can use it for as long as you need to – as long as you still use DNG Converter to convert newer RAW files to their format.

Adobe’s DNG Converter.

Microsoft Image Compositor: I haven’t been taking as many panoramic shots during vacations as I once did, and largely because it’s much harder to methodically set up shots when you’re vacationing with children! And many modern cameras today offer a built-in panoramic shot feature. Still – for those of us who prefer to take panoramas the old way, Microsoft Image Compositor is a nifty application that lets you construct such from a series of photos.

Advanced Renamer: the last software item in this Windows Utilities edition, and a real boon for enthusiast photographers. This software allows you to easily mass rename files (e.g. image files!). This software is highly customisable, supports all manner of name amendments – and it’s free.

That’s it for the 2017 edition. I probably won’t wait nearly as long a period of 8 years before I do a next update in this series!

Windows Utilities IV – 2017 Edition

It’s been 8 years since I last did a new post on Windows utilities, with the previous ones here, here and here. So, time for a 2017 edition of some of the Window tools, applications and utilities I routinely load all computers with. Interestingly, several items from the 2009 series of posts continued to live on our Windows computers – certainly a good testimony to the dedication of their developers to continue improving these software over time. There are lots of new software to talk about, so there will be a couple of new posts in this series.

FastStone Image Viewer: I’ve tried a bunch of image browsers over the years, but none have supplanted FastStone’s offering. It still continues to be my default image viewer. The software is in version 6.2 now and still is regularly updated, remains brisk, oozes with features, features a decent set of image editing functions, supports batch processing for the more basic edits, and – importantly – can read JPG images that are embedded into RAW files.

PDF Split and Merge: ever had a PDF file that is hundreds of pages long but you only need an except? Or you have a whole bunch of small PDFs that you want to merge into a single one? And do you have a non-duplex scanner that can only scan one side of a stack of pages, and now need a tool to alternatively merge odd and even pages into one PDF file? PDFSam provides all these and more – and is also open-source and free for use. The software’s user interface is clean and intuitive, and there’s also a commercial version that adds more functionality too.

PDF Split and Merge’s main dashboard.

Greenshot Image Capture: this one’s a screen and region-capturing software that I use a lot both at home and at work. In fact, the various application illustrations included in this and the next post were captured using this app. The configurable hotkeys – especially Capture Region – make capturing and processing segments of your desktop a cinch. Free and open-source too.

Dropbox / Google Drive / OneDrive: at this point, aside from the amount of storage space that comes included with free accounts, the main cloud-based storage providers aren’t really different from one to the next for most end-users. All three are well-supported with dedicated apps, basic synchronization features, and also apps for mobile devices to access your files while on the go. Of the lot, Google Drive is probably the one that has the best integrated functionality if you use Google products a lot, but it might mean that a good portion of the space you get on it gets also used up by other services. OneDrive on the other hand is especially generous with storage space, and educational institutions might also have arrangements with Microsoft that give its staff and students more space than you’d ever need.

K-Lite Codec Pack: most users won’t ever need additional video codecs on top of what is already supplied on Windows. But if you have loads of video files from older formats, then obtaining this codec pack is one way of ensuring your media player continues to be able to play those files. This is one of those software that I install when setting up a new Windows PC, then forget it’s ever there until the occasional pop-up appears informing that there are codec updates.

HandBrake: while 4K video support still isn’t a common inclusion in smartphones, the top-line models – e.g. Samsung Galaxy notes – do. 4K video files are huge though, and unless you have loads of storage space, at some point you’ll seriously feel tempted to re-encode those 100Mb/s files into something more manageable. The video transcoder software I’ve been using for some years now is the open-source HandBrake. Worth a look especially if you’re wrestling with large video files.

Customising video transcoding parameters in Handbrake.

KeePass: we use the cloud for its services far more today in 2017 than ever before. There are several advisory cautions that are constantly issued on the use of cloud services: one is to always activate 2 Factor Authentication when it’s offered, and another is to not only use strong passwords (e.g. those that do not contain common or recognizable text strings) but never to recycle passwords across services too. Really – what with incidents of password database leaks becoming almost daily news now, the last thing you need is for one provider to lose a password that you are using across multiple services. But if you have difficulties remembering different passwords across the services you use, then you need a password manager like KeePass.

More in the next post of this series!

Shooting with the Olympus E-PL6 + 17mm f1.8

The two month old Panasonic GX85 has been a ball of fun to use and I’m gradually adjusting to some of its quirks: for instance, ghosting in its EVF, and that I don’t even notice its occasional tearing anymore. Despite that, I still find that the E-PL6 with the 17mm f1.8 provides me more keepers than my other m4/3 bodies with the other lenses. And this is despite the challenges my particular E-PL6 copy brings about: that both its touch-screen and rear mode dial have become finicky and occasionally having a mind of its own by deciding to change command settings on its own, and the loud shutter release sound it produces when I trigger a shot.

A lovely combo: the E-PL6 and 17mm f1.8.

So; just for illustration, I shot our kids with this combo exclusively over this weekend, and here’s a selection from the series of pictures.

I took a similar shot with Hannah almost exactly 4 years ago, and while both of them were at the same age: 3 years 9 months.

H doesn’t get bored too easily. She’ll always have something in hand to read when we’re waiting for food (this one’s at Coffee Kaki @ AMK Hub).

The weekend early afternoons have been slightly more humid than a week ago, though the two of them are obviously not bothered.

These kiddie sunglasses used to belong to his big sister.

She’s about 2/3s done with the first Suzuki Method book, and got me to load up the second book of pieces into her MP3 player.

Peter getting his first taste of Suzuki Method piano pieces.

The 17mm focal length on the m4/3s sensor is also useful to get a good deal of context and surroundings in without making the shot look too wide-angle.

This picture of H on the children’s see-saw was actually slightly over-exposed out of the camera, while the others taken in quick succession were fine. Seems that the E-PL6 misjudged the metering for this shot. Corrected it in post-processing.

Taken from across the dining table. Shots like these are always tricky, as the thin depth of field makes it easy for one of the two kids to be out of focus if he/she is learning a little backwards.

It might just be that Olympus out of camera rendering is just a bit more to my taste than Panasonic’s, and that the older 3 axis image stabilisation the E-PL6 uses is particularly effective with the 17mm. The low light advantage of a f1.8 stop helps a lot, as thus also the lens’ very quick focusing mechanisms. And lastly, the particular combo looks great together – though the lens and camera body are actually two different color tones: the lens is silver, while the body is chrome-gold.

This was actually a pretty fun of picture series to do for these couple of days. Next weekend I’ll do a similar series – perhaps the almost 5 year old-now E-M5 with the Panasonic 25mm f1.4!


eBay – Part 2

Putting aside the time it takes for items from sellers based in China to get delivered, most of my eBay transactions have been problem-free. That said, one problematic purchase is already one too many. Hence, there are a couple of things I’m routinely mindful of whenever I buy something off eBay:

The Positive Feedback rating for business sellers is a first indication. More importantly also are the written comments made by the business’ customers and whether their feedback is responded to/acted on. It’s bad enough if there’s sufficient negative feedback to warrant concern. Much worse if the seller does not seem to care enough to reply to that feedback.

The expected delivery time. I’ve noticed that some sellers, especially those based in China, state very long delivery periods to this part of the world, despite that we’re all in Asia. For instance, a typical delivery period quoted is 20-35 days. Now, even if you’re not in a hurry for the item and can accept the length of this window, there’s a bigger problem: that buyers typically also have a limited window to raise a purchase dispute. I’ve had two occasions over the years where the delivery window was as long as the above, and when the item failed to arrive timely, the seller begged for an extension before I raise a dispute. I gave the benefit of doubt on both occasions – and when the items still had not arrive, the deadline to raise a dispute similarly sailed right past too.

Now, sellers do not like disputes being raised, even if they are resolved amicably – as I believe it affects their overall seller reputation. Still – because of those two experiences, I’ve learned not to hesitate to initiate a purchase dispute the instant the item does not get delivered within the promised period. Raising one such at least gives us as buyers more time to see if the item finally does arrive and to cancel the dispute then.

To raise a dispute, you’d need to have first paid using a payment system that supports such though. Last I checked, Paypal disputes have to be opened within 45 days after payment – something to keep in mind! The vast majority of business sellers support Paypal, while a few private sellers – e.g. those who are shipping from Singapore – want direct bank transfers. Be warned though: going with the latter means you have zero protection in case items do not arrive. You could try Cash on Delivery in such cases, but only hand over the cash after you’ve inspected the device and are fully satisfied with it. Don’t expect refunds of any kind if you handed over cash and find later that you’ve bought a lemon.

Most items listed on sale at eBay Singapore have delivery charges to our island clearly stated – e.g. either as a separate charge, or already included in the item price. If you venture outside our country market to access an even larger of items, do especially check for delivery costs.

Similarly, don’t feel compelled to immediately leave (positive) feedback as soon as the item has arrived. Give it a couple of days to make sure that the item is indeed working properly. Case in point: a PS4 Remote Controller I bought worked for all of 1 day – after which no amount of cajoling could revive it. Thankfully it was a pretty low price item! While it seems possible to still open a dispute after you’ve submitted feedback, I’ve always reckoned that it’s better to contact the seller directly to resolve any problems ahead of feedback submission.

And finally, in reference to lenses and camera bodies; do check to see if the supplied warranties are from manufacturer or from the seller itself. The latter for grey market equipment is common, and in my opinion, not worth much if the seller is out of the country. And it’s because the cost of packing fragile equipment and delivery charges can add quite a bit to the overall cost of repair. That said, I’ve never actually had grey market camera equipment – whether from eBay or Amazon – fail on me before within warranty periods. Still – I reckon most buyers will want a grey market item to be significantly cheaper than recommended local retail prices before giving it serious consideration.


eBay – Part 1

There are plenty of Internet-based ecommerce sites today that support consumer/business to consumer sales transactions. And while I have accounts on a large number of sites, the two that I find myself buying most from remain Amazon and eBay. Between the two, I’ve been on Amazon for much longer – since 2002 in fact, with my first order on that site comprising several research and dissertation writing books I bought to bring along to Perth – and the site remains my favorite place to access a large range of items that aren’t normally sold in Singapore, or sold here but at higher prices. I reckon that’s why Amazon’s reported plans to expand to  South-East Asia and through Singapore excited many here, since it would finally bring to shore Amazon Prime, and also – likely – cheaper delivery.

That said, the number of items I buy off eBay are almost as many as that on Amazon. My first purchase on eBay was from 2008 – and a camera product LOL. The range of items sold on eBay run a crazy range, and it can often be hard trying to find exactly what you want, since each of its country market can offer a different range, with many items typically available from multiple sellers at different prices. With a large roster of international sellers also brings about issues of varying customer quality service levels. Over the years, my general impressions are that:

Sellers from the dominantly western-countries (e.g. UK, US, Australia) offer great service, though you sometimes pay slightly more for shipping. I’ve never had to raise a dispute with sellers based in these countries. Shipping is also often quick, with the turnaround from UK-based ones especially impressive.

Sellers from South Korea: normally quite good too, and I typically get my lens filters from them. Delivery is reasonably quick: usually a fortnight.

Sellers from China: are a huge hit and miss. I’ve received counterfeit items before with their sellers flying aeroplane (‘disappear’ for our Ang Mo bud!) thereafter. Items can take anywhere between a fortnight to six whopping weeks to arrive. On the other hand, their products are often priced lower, and shipping is typically free/incorporated into the cost of the product, or minimal.

Here’s a list of things I’ve ordered recently on eBay that I’m pretty happy about at least.

Leather belts. Alright – so most men do not really care to spend money on apparel. I’ve had pretty bad experiences with under $35 belts that I buy from brick/mortar stores here, with most fraying on the edges within weeks, and the belt material also beginning to disintegrate shortly after that. I assume it’s because the material isn’t genuine but faux leather. I found a UK-based reseller of leather and sheepskin products, and their prices for genuine leather products are routinely cheaper than what one would pay here. And the item takes just a week from point of ordering to arriving in Singapore.

Battery cases and pouches. There’s been revised regulations concerning the transportation of Lithium-Ion batteries on board airplanes, and largely to do with risks of them causing undetected fires. AA battery cases are easily available at camera shops, and I found a seller carrying colorful ones like these, and selling them for cheap at just over a dollar each including shipping. So, a couple were picked up:

How about camera battery wallets? Think Tank sells a pricey version of a 4 battery wallet (USD18!). While on eBay, an almost similar replica can be had for $5:

Four pouch camera battery wallet.

And lens filters! Granted, it’s tempting, and sometimes maybe even necessary, to get a UV filter as soon as you buy a new lens. But if it can wait, then you might save a few dollars by just buying them online. Important though that you get from a reputable reseller, as there are plenty of fakes around.

I’ve been buying from the same South-Korean reseller of Hoya filters for several years now.

More in the next post!

A Chinese Banquet with the Olympus E-Ms and Pros

A typical Chinese wedding in Singapore typically comprises several segments: the Fetching of the Bride, Tea Ceremonies, a religious segment (e.g. a church wedding), followed finally by the evening banquet. Wedding photographers are routinely contracted to cover an entire day packed with these events, and it can run from as early as 6AM and non-stop all the way till 10PM, and they are also often even asked to find time in-between to put together a montage of photos taken in the morning so that they can be shown during the evening proceedings.

Dad recently had a fairly lavish 80th birthday celebration banquet at Wah Lok Cantonese Restaurant @ Carlton Hotel, the same hosting hotel and also restaurant when we had our own wedding banquet 10 years ago. To be fair though, we’ve been several times to Wah Lok over the years, since it’s one of the larger family’s favorite Chinese dining places, and the family knows some of the restaurant’s personnel well enough that we get pretty good service. All of our closest relatives and neighbors were invited to form four tables, and my role was the designate event photographer. Not a role I’m experienced in at all of course, but it was a fun opportunity to try a few new things, and perhaps also get a small degree of insight in to what banquet photographers do and the circumstances they work in.

The equipment outlay was pretty simple: both the E-M1 and E-M5, and both of the Olympus f2.8 pros: 12-40mm and 40-150mm, and the every trusty Nissin i40 for fill-in flash. The ceiling wasn’t very low, so flash bouncing off the ceiling wasn’t going to work well. Unsurprisingly, the Stofen-styled diffuser was throwing so much light around that there most persons’ faces got harshly lit, necessitating adjustments in Photoshop. Shots taken with the i40’s built-in flip card looked much better.

The two E-Ms are similarly configured, and the outputs of both are basically similar. The almost 5 year old E-M5 has started acting up though – it occasionally takes a couple of tries for the unit to power-on properly. Old age? And of the two lenses, the real champ was the 40-150mm. It nailed focus reliably and briskly, and made possible candid shots from halfway across the room. As for shot parameters: pictures were between ISO400 to 800, and for print and blog display purposes, totally usable, and flash sync was set to 1/60s.

A small sample of the pictures from last evening then.

Peter’s oldest cousin, Danyel, is his favorite. ISO640, 40-150mm @ f3.5, 1/60s.

Shot from across the room. (ISO400, 40-150mm f3.5, 1/60s)

Mobile gadgets to keep groups of kids laughing and engaged. (ISO800, 12-40mm @ f4.0, 1/60s)

Looking out at the evening peak hour downtown traffic. (ISO400, 40-15mm @f2.8, 1/60s)

Peter’s cousins were all wanting to photo bomb each other. (ISO800, 12-40mm @ f4.0, 1/60s)

The extended family from both dad and mom’s side. The wait staff basically cleared half the room just so that we could squeeze all 40 of us into this picture! (ISO800, 12-40mm @ f4.0, 1/60s)

If there’s one other consideration the next time I’m asked to do an event like this again, it’d be that I’d seriously have to think about bringing a second flash-gun. Two camera bodies with two f2.8 lenses great! Having to repeatedly switch the flash gun between the two E-Ms – not so much LOL.

Panasonic GX85 – Part 4 – Pictures

Previous parts of my notes on the GX85 here, here and here.

The out of camera RAWs from the GX85 seem to be very slightly less saturated than the Olympus’ m4/3 cameras I’ve got, but they’re no less pleasing and can be edited to taste in processing anyway. Also, while the camera – like the E-M5/E-M1 – does not use/uses a weak low pass filter, the pictures I get from the trio of primes – 17mm, 25mm and 45mm – also seems slightly less sharp than the Olympuses. Like color, it’s not something that can’t be fixed in processing and I haven’t done enough shooting with this camera yet to tell if it’s really a characteristic – but it’s interesting to note nonetheless.

The 12-32mm optically stabilized pancake lens is compact in collapsed mode, and focuses briskly. I also especially like that it’s 2mm wider than the Olympus pancake equivalent 14-42mm, as the wider angle makes for more possibilities than a slightly longer focal length (32mm vs 42mm). The lens is reasonably sharp in the center but somewhat softer at the edges – so one has to stop the aperture down somewhat if sharpness at the edges is important. I don’t reckon that the overall image quality can’t match that of the 12-40mm f2.8, but the latter is also a much larger and also costly lens.

With the 25mm and at f1.4. Peter was ill for a couple of days last week, but is now recovering though not before also spreading his germs to Mommy and Daddy too. The out of camera center in this image was a little soft.

With the 12-32mm and at f5.6, with flash trigger. Had much better results in the center for this.

I am hungry for oranges, and also tired – so I must multitask (12-32mm, f5.6)

With the 25mm @ f1.4.

12-40mm and at f2.8; Minton’s Tranquil World from our balcony at 8:30PM-ish. This was a handheld shot at 1.3s, ISO 200 and simply would not had been possible to achieve this level of sharpness without sensor stabilization.

Few more notes too on my ongoing experience with the GX85.

The camera offers a Pinpoint AF feature which enlarges the AF box for precise focusing, and you can customize the time the magnification box appears. I don’t use it a lot when taking quick shots of the kids, but it’s a useful feature for more methodical shooting.

Hannah is fascinated with the camera’s facial recognition. Up to six persons can be registered with three facial images each. You can even include each person’s birthdate, and the camera will then calculate the person’s age as an optional info item that can be added in a JPG image text stamp.

Setting up and starting WIFI remote control is easy and quicker than on the Olympus E-M1. On the latter, it’s a two-step process: enabling WIFI, and starting the connection itself. On the GX85, it’s a one-step process. On the other hand, I still haven’t been able to get the other WIFI functions to work: including transfer to PC and Lumix Club.

Filenames in the GX85 defaults to P103**** and there’s apparently not possible to customize it within the camera. Editing filenames is a standard feature in Olympus’ cameras, and even more important as I routinely use all three m4/3 cameras – the E-M1, E-M5 and E-PL6 – and editing the filename prefix allows me to distinguish quickly images that are taken by one of the three. Since this is the only Panasonic m4/3 camera I’m using now, it’s not a major deficit – but still.

In all, the GX85 is a solid camera. It suits most of my needs and fits my shooting style quite neatly. And for the bargain price I got it at, I reckon this is a serious contender for serious enthusiasts wanting to get into the m4/3s system.

Accessorizing the m4/3s – 2017 Update

Temporary break from the series of GX85 posts and to write about something still related to photography – accessories!

I’ve done a couple of posts on accessories for the m4/3 cameras, with the last one more than a year ago. So, it’s time for an early 2017 edition again, and concentrating on wrist straps this time.

Wrist Straps

Cameras are fragile things, and if you’re using an interchangeable lens camera, they are also not exactly always light either. Sling straps are great when you’re shooting on the move but I tend not to keep them on the camera when I’m taking pictures of our kids at home. That’s where wrist straps become real important, and all the cameras I own routinely will have one permanently attached to the camera lug:

Not the new GX85 (extreme left) though, since I was waiting for a new strap to arrive. My four m4/3 cameras (excepting the E-PL2 which is still sitting in the dry cabinet) like ducks in a row: the GX85, E-PL6, E-M1 and E-M5.

I’ve tried several brands of wrist straps now, including the:

Herringbone Leather Handgrip – which is great for heavy DSLRs but too large for smaller m4/3 cameras;

Gordy Camera Straps – which are fine but I have one which is tripod-mount: bad idea as it causes all sorts of balance challenges with my cameras;

Andy Camera Straps – similar to Gordy’s but at a lower price point, and I bought several of the lug-mounted ones over the years. While their web site is still live, I’m not sure if he’s still in business. An email request to custom-make a new strap some months ago went unanswered.

Leather straps are comfortable to use, and there’s little chance of them breaking. In fact, I reckon the metal split ring is likely to give way first in a stress test! Years of use have also made the leather straps supple and soft, but the edges have also started fraying a little. And the straps have a tendency to curl up and get in front of the lens if you don’t have them already coiled around your wrist when fishing the camera out for a quick picture. I’ve missed a couple of potentially great shots with the kids as I had to shoo the strap out of the frame!

So, after some scouting around, I found a UK-based maker of camera straps that uses weaved Parachute Cord. They’re priced lower than Andy/Gordy camera leather straps, and at SGD18 to SGD20 each including postage to Singapore. The web site offers some customization too; different braid colors and wristband size. I ordered one Classic Duo type strap, liked it, and ordered two more. Pictures:

Three Camera Duo straps. Woodland Camo/Burgundy attached to the E-M1, Black/Marine Blue, and Red/Olive at the bottom of the picture. The latter two just arrived too.

Wrist loop at the woven eyelet for the Woodland Camo/Burgundy.

Intricately woven Black/Marine Blue. Makes for fun pictures using my macro lens too!

Each strap comes with a rubber bumper and a metal split ring that you connect to the camera lug. The bumper protects the split ring from damaging the camera side. It seems a pretty standard inclusion for straps that connect to camera lugs.

The Woodland Camo/Burgundy with 20cm wristband. It’s just slightly large for my wrist, so persons with smaller hands might want to opt for the 18cm wristband. Unlike leather straps, paracord straps are also easier to secure around your wrist. In the former case, you’d need to adjust the strap’s rubber O-ring – which you can only do with a spare hand. For Cordweaver straps, all you need to do is to pull your wrist away from the camera body for the strap to loop tightly around your wrist.

Like the Jorby sling strap, these wrist straps can also loop around a long lens barrel for easy storage and packing into a camera bag. So – quite happy with these purchases. Hopefully these straps are washable too.:)

Panasonic GX85 – Part 3

Previous posts on my first impressions of the GX85 here and here.

In-camera battery charging – hooray – but no external charger supplied in the package – hissss boo!!! The advantage of in-camera charging is real – you don’t have to bring dedicated cables and chargers when traveling with the camera, and any old USB charger and battery pack will do the trick to top-up battery power when you’re on the move. On the other hand, that the GX85 package doesn’t include an external battery charger feels real cheapskate of Panasonic. Moreover, switching on the camera seems to suspend charging. You can use the GX85 as a camera or a charger at any one time, but not both. That limits the usefulness of having multiple batteries, so I’ve had to order from eBay a cheapo third party battery charger.

Like the E-PL6, the GX85 isn’t weather-sealed. But the rubber flap that covers its mini-HDMI and micro USB charger ports is neatly flushed with the camera edge, and closes tightly without any gaps. You’d need a finger nail to pry it loose though, so I’m a uncertain how this flap will fare against constant use in time to come.

The mini-HDMI port and micro USB charging port on the camera’s lower right corner.

The battery compartment sits together with the SD card slot.

The GX85’s built-in pop-up flash is released by a dedicated spring button, and is useful – somewhat. Certainly not as a direct head-on flash, but it can be tilted to 90 degree angle for bounce flash. The flash’s pretty weak GN 4.2 at ISO100 limits this utility even then, and it’s hard to tilt the flash up with one finger while keeping another finger on the same hand on the shutter release button. I reckon most people will just go for a discrete and more powerful flash gun altogether, but at least its inclusion is better than not having it at all.

Alongside two of four FN buttons, the back plate cursor buttons as pre-set offer quick ways to configure some of the most important settings, including WB, ISO and drive modes. They’re clicky-enough and aren’t mushy in feeling – which is good. But they are also quite small, and don’t offer a lot of button travel. I reckon the E-M1 sets the gold standard here among my m4/3s – good travel and satisfying to press (minutiae alert!). The remaining two FN buttons sit near the top-plate, and are also configurable.

I’m less enamored by the front and real dials. They can be set to control different functions and offer somewhat more resistance than the E-M5’s and absent altogether from the E-PL6. But they’re still a little too easy to turn. Personal preference and so on here of course. That said, rotating these two dials don’t do a thing when the camera is powered off, so there’s no concerns with accidental changes to various settings.

Two of four configurable function buttons sitting near the top-plate.

Lots of cursor buttons on the back.

Olympus pretty complex and heavily nested menus for m4/3 its bodies have long since borne the brunt of criticism and jokes, though I honestly have never had problems with it. The menu layout is fairly consistent among its camera lines, and once I’ve configured the Olympus E-M1/E-M5/E-PL6 to preference, I didn’t find myself having to get back into the same menus very much anymore. The Panasonic menu is slightly more intuitive and more pleasing to look at aesthetic-wise. Helps too that there’s an embedded guide to explain each feature as you scroll through it, and that little help facility has its own distinct display area – unlike Olympus menus where the help shows up as a pop-up that obscures other menu items. That said, the Panasonic menus seem to use a less deep directory structure that’s perhaps just one level deep. i.e. there are eight pages of submenus already from the top-level REC(ord) menu. So, lots of scrolling around is necessary to find the option you want.

Panasonic’s implementation of Auto-ISO is also not quite like Olympus’. Specifically, you can set an upper ISO limit in the GX85 but not a minimal shutter speed for the camera not to fall below where possible. This is a clunker of course for shooters who’re used to Olympus cameras’ ability to set a slowest shutter speed limit, after which the camera starts bumping up the ISO. Noise is easier to correct than focusing problems from camera shake or subject motion. The workaround in the GX85 is to either adjust ISO maximum levels, or set a specific ISO altogether for specific shots. Not at all elegant though.

The Asian edition of the camera seems doesn’t seem to offer 4K 30p but 4K 25p – ugh. The recorded 4K video output looks great from a newbie videographer’s perspective, though at 100mbps, resultant file sizes are huge. I reckon I’ll be doing a lot of 4K video recording with the GX85, and then re-encode the video to lower bitrates to reduce the file footprints.

Disappointingly, no Adobe Camera RAW support in version 9.5. This means either a conversion of the RAW files to DNG or having to upgrade to a newer edition of Photoshop Elements newer than the version 14 I’ve got.

The Panasonic 12-32mm pancake lens isn’t too bad. It’s taking decent enough general purpose pictures so far, and will probably come to its own in video work.. The GX85 supports Dual IS when mounted with it – useful when I’ve had too much morning coffee and my hands aren’t steady LOL.

The 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 pancake lens. Not too shabby.

That sums up the first impressions of the camera. Pictures to follow in posts in the next couple of weeks!

Panasonic GX85 – Part 2

Part 1 of my comments of the Panasonic GX85 here. The GX85 has some similarities to the E-PL8, but since I don’t have one such unit, a comparison against the 3.5 year old E-PL6 will have to suffice. So, about the GX85. This is a long post, so it’ll have to be split into a couple of parts.

Quite a bit heavier, deeper and larger than the E-PL6. The overall size will matter, since the camera is barely pocketable and only in a large jacket pocket. It’s also offered in three colors: black with a silver top, brown, and fully black. The brown unit would have looked lovely with the 17mm f1.8, but every other m4/3 lens I’ve got is black. So, it was the black unit.  It feels dense and well-built, and the weight seems nicely distributed around its entirety.

Doubt if there’s a more lovely-looking combo than a silver-colored E-PL6 with the 17mm f1.8. The GX85, all things on balance, isn’t that bad looking though.

Size-wise, the GX85 is clearly larger than the old E-PL6 it’s replacing. Weight-wise heavier too at 426 vs 325g.

GX85 with the 12-32mm pancake lens.

A minimalist look when viewed from the front, and its top-panel is relatively free of dials, buttons and knobs. This is a personal preference of course, but I like dials, buttons and knobs! If there’s any one thing that almost made me buy the Pen-F instead, it would be that. There’s also a leather-type grip on the camera’s right, but it’s not sufficiently deep for you to get a good handhold if you’re mounting large lenses. A wrist strap of some type is necessary (might do a post on that at some point too).

Very fast start-up and AF. The GX85 is good to go as soon as you flick the power-on lever (though if you’ve got the 12-32mm pancake lens mounted, you might need to extended out from collapsed mode first too). AF and confident. There’s also a nifty feature to adjust to varying levels the size of the focusing box. A similar feature is also found on the Olympus cameras, but it isn’t nearly as graduated as it’s here on the Panasonic.

One of the most annoying things I felt on the E-PL6 was its plasticky and finnicky mode dial. It was too easily turned, and very often, I’d find myself in M(anual) or S(hutter priority) mode when fishing the camera out of the bag. The GX85’s mode dial doesn’t feel metallic either, and it’s somewhat stiffer than the E-PL6. That it’s slightly recessed from the edge of the camera helps, but unlike the E-M1, the absence of a mode lock button means that it’s still possible for accidental changes of recording mode.

The GX85 powers-on quickly. Mixed feelings about the command dial though.

Most people won’t bother about shutter sounds as long as it’s not too loud. Odd as this might sound, I like the GX85’s shutter release sound! It’s reasonably soft, and offers a reassuring double ‘thud’ when triggering a release. If I had to rate my most recent cameras in minutiae like this from love to hate it, it’d be the GX85, X70, E-M1, E-M5, and the relatively loud and annoying ka-plak coming out of the E-PL6. And for fully silent shooting in quiet and stealthy environments (e.g. churches, weddings), the GX85 has an electronic shutter.

Fixed-position electronic view finder. Unlike the E-Ms’, the viewfinder doesn’t use a separate eye-cup – which is well and good. The E-M5’s eye-cup is especially fiddly and comes loose easily. Two such have already been damaged from wear and tear, necessitating a costly replacement each time. As for the view inside the EVF itself, responses have been decidedly mixed. Many Internet gadget reviewers have remarked that the quality of the 2.76M dot effective field-sequential-typed EVF might had been alright some years back, but against today’s modern cameras, its quality is a step-down. Its most serious issues include possibly visible color tearing. And also that the eye needs to be perfectly lined up against it, otherwise you might see ghosting in selected elements, especially aperture and shutter speed text information. I’d put the EVF on the GX85 below that of the almost 5 year old E-M5 now. Oh – It’s still usable, just not anywhere near what you’d get with older cameras coming off Olympus.

The GX85’s touch-screen monitor isn’t fully articulating, which will make wefies with the kids tough, unless I go with a wide-angle lens and get lucky blindly composing a wefie that doesn’t ungraciously snip off one of our foreheads in the frame! The monitor is flushed with the camera’s back – nice! – and its hinge also feels extremely sturdy – distinctly more so than the E-PL6 – and decent size. The touch-screen itself is useful in configuring the camera and choosing spot AF.

On the other hand and unlike Olympus, the screen seems to have low nose-rejection (!) if Touch-AF has been enabled. I’ve had my focusing AF accidentally changed a couple of times now when my nose contacts the screen! Its got so bad that I’ve since configured one of the FN buttons to quickly disable the touch-screen, and turn it on only when I need to choose an AF spot.

Viewfinder’s in a fixed position, with the diopter adjustment dial beside it (can’t see from this picture though).

More handling notes in the next post!