Due to the pricing structure of cameras and kits it is cheaper for me to buy a camera lens kit and sell off the item I don't want to keep on ebay. I have been considering a 14mm f/2.5 lens for my m4/3 system for some time. The lowest price in the UK I could find from a reputable dealer was £274. The same dealer was selling the GF2 + 14mm lens for £469. So a GF2 would cost me £195. I could obviously sell a brand new GF2 body for more than that on ebay. If I liked the camera and wanted to keep it, after the tax and equipment concessions that I get as a full-time photographer this would bring the "real" cost down to about £130. It would also give me the opportunity to have a look at & use a camera that I was initially quite hostile to and disappointed at its announcement because of what what I perceived to be a "dumbing down" of the previously excellent GF1.
So my GF2 + 14mm f/2.5 kit arrived yesterday from the excellent Mathers of Lancashire, with an EVF.
Due to my dislike of black cameras I ordered a red one. The first thing to say is this is VERY red! This isn't the matte finish of the previous G series cameras, this is full on glossy red, with a hint of pink. Its very striking.
The 14mm f/2.5 lens is very small and light. I can't ever remember using a lens this light before. In fact the whole outfit is small. Its smaller than it looks in pictures and the size difference between this and the GF1 is more significant than I thought it was going to be.
The first thing to say is that it handles really well. It looks like a compact camera but feels more substantial in the hand. I took to it really well and found getting around it quite easy. The moving of certain controls to the touch screen is not the big deal that I and others made it out to be. For me the important controls are still where I want them and the menu system is very similar. After using the touch screen on my GH2 I've revised a lot of my objections to the idea anyway.
My thoughts after using it for a while were that this is what the m4/3 idea was in the first place. Compact camera size with a good sensor and interchangeable lenses. To a certain extent Sony and Samsung have missed the point with their NEX and NX systems. Small cameras yes, but with the exception of a couple of pancakes, the lenses for both systems are quite large. In Sony's case ridiculously so. If Panasonic could make a "pancake" short telephoto somewhere in the 50-75mm range that would make a stunning little 3 prime lens kit.
Despite its very non-retro colour, the GF2 gave me the feeling of using a small rangefinder outfit. I went out yesterday with the GF2 / 14mm and GF1 / 45mm combinations and the whole lot was very light and small. Also very enjoyable to work with.
To slightly digress here to make a point. There's a review in a UK magazine of the GH2. In it they come up with the phrase:- "The image quality is clearly affected by the densely packed sensor, and luminance noise is often visible at low sensitivities." This clearly implies that the first creates the latter. Well how do they explain the quite unpleasant shadow noise on images from the Canon 5D Mk II? That has a far less "densely" packed sensor. Also the Leica M9 has quite "grainy" sky areas at its base ISO of 160. What the review fails to appreciate is that the sharper the image a sensor produces and the less strong (or absence of ) anti-aliasing filtering is, the more luminance noise will be produced. On all my m4/3 cameras and my Leica M9 I always run noise reduction software over clear sky areas, to "smooth them out" while keeping everything else untouched. Sky areas in particular show up this noise and I used this technique to get rid of the grain that showed up in film scans. Leica in fact only let the M9 go to ISO 2500. I believe that this is because they will not compromise on sharpness. Other manufacturers add in noise reduction at higher ISO's which reduce noise but also soften the image. If Leica did this I'm sure they could push the M9 up to ISO 6400 with no problem, but they choose not to and thats yet another reason why I use their cameras.
When images are printed its amazing just how much noise that we see clearly on our computer screens disappears. I've just got the last wedding digital story book I did back from the printers. There are full page images shot at ISO 3200 and 6400 that looked pretty terrible on my screen that have reproduced very well when printed. Much smoother than they looked on my screen and still lovely and crisp.
Finally on this point, I like my Pentax K-5 very much, and its very good at high ISO's, however the images are not as sharp as my m4/3 cameras at lower ISO's. I'm perfectly happy to forego low noise at high ISO settings for improved sharpness at the lower settings, and its one of the reasons I like m4/3.
So going back to the GF2, on initial use it seems very close to the GF1 in terms of IQ. Good sharp low ISO performance and noisy high ISO results. If there is any difference I'll report back when I've done some tests.
14mm f/2.5 PANCAKE LENS
Let me say straight off that I love this lens. After looking at just a few images on the screen I regretted not buying it sooner. The samples I've seen from it just don't do it justice. It is very sharp. With the GF2's improved AF it focuses very quickly and accurately. The next part of this review is of the lens itself and I won't spoil that, but for me this lens is up there with the 20mm f1.7 and 45mm f/2.8 macro as the best m4/3 can offer.
You may already get the impression that since getting the GF2 it has worked its charms on me and this is not going to be a negative review. You would be right about that and I'm already regretting my hasty comments on its "failings".
Words - David
Images - David and Ann