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Review: Panasonic Lumix Vario 45-175mm f/4-5.6G X-Series


Dallas
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Overview

On paper this lens is irresistible. It weighs a mere 210g, has a power zoom motor, doesn't change size when zooming (stays under 10cm) and it can focus as close as a metre from the camera. You get an equivalent 35mm field of view that you'd get from a 90-350mm lens with incomparably larger proportions. There's also an optical stabiliser thrown in for good measure.

I've made some great photographs with this lens on safari last year, but you need to work with it a bit to find its sweet spots. Let's take a deeper look.


Specifications


Mount: micro four thirds
Focal range: 45-175mm (35mm system equivalent to 90-350mm)
Maximum Apertures: f/4 - f/5.6
Minimum Aperture: f/22
Weight: 210g
Length: 96mm (some sites show it as 90mm but we measured it at 96mm sans caps & hood)
Width: 60mm
Minimum focus: 0.9m
Features: optical stabiliser, power zoom, nano coating, internal focus
Price at review time: US$360


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Aesthetics

The undeniable strength of this lens is in its physical dimensions. It's about the same size as I remember my Leica 90mm Summicron as being. Maybe a bit fatter. It has a satin black plastic finish on the barrel and you'll find two rings on the body - a rather thick one closer to the mount for zooming and a thinner one at the lens opening for manual focus.

The finish is typical of kit lenses these days, and I suppose in the light of the somewhat exquisitely made new m43 lenses from Olympus it's a bit of a let down in the build quality department. The mount is steel and the lens hood is a circular bayonet type made of plastic.


Handling

I like the way it feels. The power zoom works really well and like the camcorders of old you can control the speed of the zoom based on the amount of pressure you apply to the W-T lever. Zooming by wire with the zoom ring feels OK, but there isn't that same tactile response you get from a traditional zoom lens.

Manually focusing this lens will test your patience. Not because it is focus by wire, but because the throw is so long. It takes a good couple of turns to bring a midfield object into focus if you are at either extreme of the focus range. But then the autofocus performance on both my OM-D and GF-1 is blisteringly quick, so that's never going to be a consideration for me.

The lens hood reverses onto the body for storage which is most welcome, given Panasonic and Olympus' proclivity to provide square hoods on some other recent m43 lenses.


Performance In the Field

It doesn't cost all that much and I am pretty sure that a lot of m43 users who are looking to shed the weight of zoom lenses that offer a similar range on bigger cameras (including some of the options on m43) will be very happy with 210g and just under 10cm in their camera bags. Travellers will be thrilled with this option.

The trouble with this lens is that it's not as sharp as I am used to seeing on even consumer zoom lenses. That's not to say that it's soft, it isn't, but it just seems to be lacking that bite I've seen on lenses like the Nikon 70-300mm VR. There's also the fact that very shallow depth of field is not a hallmark of the m43 system, so if you're stopping this lens down to f/8 when shooting it at full zoom, you're not going to get the kind of subject / background separation that you may be more accustomed to with (say) faster lenses on the 35mm system.

You could work around this by choosing your background a little more carefully, although this is not always something you can do, depending on the shooting situation. I got this lioness one morning on safari last year and luckily she was lying on top of an earth mound with a clear background. In some of the other examples here I wasn't as lucky and you can see how the depth of field tends to prevent you from getting that desirable separation.

So, if you are looking to get shallower d.o.f. you really shouldn't consider this lens as an option. My feeling is that Panasonic didn't produce it so much for use in stills as they did for use in video. Not being a video person I am not really in a position to offer much comment on its usefulness there.

That being said, I still think you are going to have a very hard time ignoring the usefulness of such a small form factor in a telephoto zoom lens. It's what sold me on it.


Optically

You can see through it and it can focus on objects both close and far. There's nothing optically wrong with it that can't be fixed in post production. See, I told you we don't do science on fotozones.com when it comes to reviews. We do reality. And pictures. ;)


Observations

If you are using this lens on an Olympus OM-D you're going to have to switch off the IBIS system because the lens does not have a switch that allows you to turn its own OS off. I don't know why Panasonic would have omitted this from this lens since they have such a switch on just about every other OIS lens they make. I recall also that I had to update the firmware in the GF-1 to deal with this because previously there was no way to switch it off with that body. Now you have to go into the menu system to turn it off.

While it is said that you shouldn't run both the IBIS and an optical stabilisation system at the same time, I have done this in the past and can't report any noticeable problems.


Conclusion

I think that if you analyse your needs for a telephoto with your mirrorless system you're going to want to satisfy one of two basic needs: the need to magnify your subjects and obtain decent image quality, or the need to isolate your subject and obtain decent image quality. Unfortunately this lens can't do the latter that well, but it does the former fairly well.

As a travel lens it is a very good option when combined with a shorter kit lens like the Panasonic or Olympus 14-42mm. You'll get decent image quality and a light bag, the value of which when travelling great distances cannot really be over-emphasized.

I'm not going to haul it out to do portraits or anything serious, but I am going to keep it in my m43 kit bag for those times when all I want is a candid snapshot of something off in the distance.

I give it 3/5 stars.
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I never used that one, Andrew, so I can't say. I did use the Panasonic in Namibia quite a bit and I got some very good results with it. If you look through my Namibia safari album you'll see quite a few shots from that lens.

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Will do, Dallas.  Just looking around and trying to find a good long range zoom to add to the Olympus kit.

It's looking like 17/1.8, 45/1.8 and the 40-150/4-5.6.  The Panasonic gives me something else to ponder.

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Dallas,

 

just got some looking at the Namibia pictures.  Wow....some really great stuff in there.  The villagers are captured in such an honest and humble way.  Very powerful and very well done.

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Thanks! The ones in the Himba village were mostly using the Panasonic 14-45mm kit lens (the outdoor shots) and the Olympus 75/1.8 (indoor shots). 

 

I liked the 45-175mm a lot. It's really small and the best thing about it was that it didn't extend when zooming or focusing. I was advised to get the Olympus 75-300, which is what prompted the sale of the Panny, but this Oly lens is a lot bigger and has a much better range. I find the latter is great until about 200mm but after that it get's too slow and a bit soft for my liking. However, come to think of it, that's based on using the E-M1, not the E-M5. I shall try it out on that body this weekend. We have an Air Grand Prix happening on our beachfront, so will be there with all the gear. :) 

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Dallas, I am seriously thinking about purchasing this lens.  My grandson has recently taken an interest in photography and i bought him a Panasonic G5 with the kit zoom as a present.  The other day, I gave him my Panasonic 45-200 zoom, so I am looking to replace it.  

 

I will mostly be using it on my Olympus E-M5 but also occasionally on my Lumix GF-1.  I did a search on the OIS on the lens as compared to the Olympus IBIS and the results are all over the place.  Some users claim that the E-M5 will not recognize the OIS on the lens, while others claim, as you do, that you need to disable the IBIS so the OIS on the lens will work properly.   And then again, others claim that leaving both systems on seems to make no difference.

 

Also, you mention about updating the GF1 for this lens.  Why does this need to be done?  I will mostly be using the lens on my E-M5, but every now and then, I will be using it on my Gf-1.  Thanks, Rick.

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Rick, I never updated the firmware for that lens, only for the camera so that it could switch on or off the OIS on that lens (as it has no OIS switch). 

 

To be honest, I never noticed any problems with shooting this lens with the OIS on as well as the IBIS on the E-M5. Once I got that camera I didn't use the GF-1 again, so the firmware update became moot. 

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Just an update... Got a deal I couldn't pass up on the Oly 40-150. It was sub $100 USD. If I'm not happy with it, at least I know that I can resell it for more than I paid and put that toward the Panny lens.

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Olympus US have them at $US149.95 new, after a $US50 rebate.

 

Andrew has bought well at <$US100.

 

Edit:  I paid $US162 (including 10% G & S Tax)  for the discounted $US equivalent for my copy, down from about $US180 equivalent.

 

Sub 1000?

Edited by Hugh_3170

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I have both this lens AND the Olympus 40-150.  It is hardly a scientific process, but my impression is that the Olympus 40-150 is much sharper than the Panasonic 40-175 (at the long end.) I bought both of these when they were on sale. The Olympus was $179 US.

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    • By Dallas
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      I put both the lenses on my product table to show you the difference in size. 
       

      This is the 8-18mm on my E-M1 without the grip
       

      And here's the 9-18mm on the same body. 
       
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      When I first mounted the 8-18mm to the E-M1 it didn’t fit in the bag, so I had to re-configure it a little, resulting in the removal of the GM1. Once I did that it has become an easy fit and I also have the 9-18mm now on the Pen body, just in case.
       
      In the 2 weeks that I have been using the 8-18mm I have photographed over 20 properties with it. The first one I did I was very interested to notice that the metering on the E-M1 coupled with this lens was definitely giving me darker images than I get with the 9-18mm using the same bracketing sequence. I’d say it was about a stop darker and especially noticeable where I had bright windows in my compositions. Not a biggie, but interesting nonetheless.
       
      What was more immediately noticeable though was that the blooming around the windows was nowhere near as dramatic as is the case with the Olympus 9-18mm. With the Oly I tend to use a negative clarity to try and make it look a bit more flattering, but with the Leica that isn’t needed at all. There is still some blooming, but it doesn’t require anywhere near the same kind of attention my Olympus lens needs. In fact, the 8-18mm makes mincemeat of the 9-18mm where that is concerned. And there, already, is more than enough of a reason for me to upgrade to it. Not having to deal with the windows in post on my RE shoots saves me a ton of processing time and headaches.
       

      A typical scene I am faced with in my job as an RE photographer. This one was a 3 frame bracket, each a stop apart, blended in Lightroom, no flash at all. I'll take this result all day!
       

       

      Some exteriors of the higher end homes I shot in August/September 2018. 
       
      But what about other applications?
       
      I’ve had the 9-18mm for a long time. It was one of the first lenses I bought after I made the switch from Nikon and I have made some of my most memorable landscape images with that lens, particularly in Namibia when we were on safari there in 2013. I have the LEE Seven5 filter set and an adapter ring so that I can use it on the 9-18mm. This is another problem with the Olympus 7-14mm 2.8 PRO. If you want to use it to make landscapes with any kind of filter system you have to buy some ridiculous after market apparatus to put any kind of filters on the lens, since it has no filter thread. Not the case with the Panny 8-18mm. You can take off the hood and the lens body acts as a kind of shroud for the front element (which does move in and out, but never beyond the tip of the body). This means that all I have to do to use my LEE Filters is buy a 67mm adapter for the holder. Presto. I will have a better landscape lens, designed by Leica. Unfortunately I didn’t get enough time with the lens to be able to do any meaningful landscape photography, but I did take it down to the beach one overcast day. Below are a few samples of that outing.
       
      As a walk-around lens for street photography I think the Olympus 9-18mm is much better. It’s a lot smaller and as such is much less conspicuous, not to mention easier to carry in a small bag along with a normal perspective lens.
       
      How much of a difference does that extra 1mm make on a MFT frame? If you’re an outdoor shooter you won’t notice it, but if you’re like me and you’re shooting interiors then the extra 7˚ on the wide end can make your life a little easier, especially if you don’t have a fisheye lens for those really tiny bathrooms. Or kitchens. 
       

       

      Shot at 8mm
       

      Shot at 9mm
       
      Sharpness
       
      As far as sharpness is concerned I don’t really see a big difference between the two. Obviously the Leica designed optics of the 8-18mm will be better at micro-contrast and as mentioned before the coatings are more flare resistant than the 9-18mm, which does mean that you have to do less work in editing.
       
      You should be able to get the same results from either lens in most applications, the notable exception being my primary need of real estate photography. I’m sure that the propellor heads at the main techie sites will have done some kind of measuring that will allow you to compare the differences. I have no interest in that stuff, so it plays no part in my review process. Honestly, I don’t think anybody even makes an unsharp lens anymore, so why bother with such banality.
       
      Cost Considerations
       
      The main consideration for a person who is considering buying a wide angle lens for their MFT system is usually cost versus benefit. Looking at the price difference between these two items the Panasonic is nearly double the price of the Olympus, so it should offer a lot more. Does it?
       
      Yes, it is much better made and it has the Leica pedigree, so that can, to a degree justify the $450 extra you’ll have to fork over to own this lens. In my case the savings in editing time totally justify the not insignificant outlay. And I really like the look and feel of this lens enough to say, screw it, I will have it, one way or another. However, if you’re traveling to somewhere distant and size / weight is a factor, you should think about the Olympus 9-18mm instead.
       
      Bottom Line
       
      You won’t be disappointed with the 8-18mm. Unless you’re a propellor head looking for something to nit pick over. Or you have size constraints. I give this lens full marks. 
    • By Dallas
      Two Monday’s ago a fortnight of digital agony began as I set about upgrading the Fotozones software. Usually the software upgrades run smoothly, but in this instance it was anything but smooth. More like a ride on one of those amusement park gravity modifying apparatuses. I am told it is because I didn’t upgrade for such a long time that I ran into problems. Because of previous issues with early upgrades I guess I am averse to major changes, so upgrading software isn’t something I rush into these days. My bad. 
       
      Anyway, that episode of digital nausea has passed so today I thought I would take some time out for myself to go and play with a new, old camera I got recently, but because of all the software dramas of the past fortnight, has sat on my desk looking expectantly at me like a rescue puppy might. The camera in question is the late 2013 Panasonic GM1 and 12-32mm kit lens. This is a Micro Four Thirds camera. 
       
      As those of you who follow my writings and videos will already know, I recently sold the Canon 200D I got last year. I don’t have any pressing need to make more videos, but browsing through the classifieds on a local forum I saw an Olympus E-PL5 up for sale at a really keen price. I decided to get it because I actually like the Pen cameras and that model has a flip up selfie screen that would come in quite handy if I wanted to make more videos. So I got it. The cost was less than $100, but it didn’t come with a lens, so I was on the lookout for something I could use for it. I had my eyes open for the Olympus 14-42mm EZ kit lens, which isn’t found used that often. In casual conversation about my lens quest my buddy Peter mentioned to me that he was selling his Panasonic GM1 with the Panasonic 12-32mm kit lens. I wanted the lens only, but Peter made me a really good price on the body too, so I couldn’t pass it up. There went another $180 or so. I should mention that I was still up from the sale of the 200D though.
       
      What follows isn’t a review, so don’t expect any in-depth analysis, just some thoughts on cameras in general and how I got along with this particular one on my first outing with it. 
       
      The GM1 is a really small camera. I mean, it’s ridiculously tiny. If I am out and about on a less than balmy day it will go into a jacket pocket without any issue. Today wasn’t exactly jacket weather, as you will see from the photos, so I put it into a larger bag (the ThinkTank Turn style 10) with some other camera stuff, just in case a Pulitzer Prize winning news moment presented itself to me, you know.
       
      I’m of the firm opinion that almost all cameras made since 2013 are good cameras. If you can’t get a great result out of a camera made after that year there can only be one (or more) of 3 factors at play. One, you have a terrible lens; two, you have terrible technique; three, somewhere along the line the camera you bought was dropped and the innards are not operating as they should. 
       
      The sensors we have been getting in most cameras made after 2013 are brilliant capturing devices. You just need to know what you’re doing with them to get a good result. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the future for camera testing outfits like Dpreview and various others who play in measurement based camera appraisal systems are probably superfluous to all but perhaps a handful of very discerning photographers these days. The attractiveness of cameras is, I think, going to come down to just how well you can integrate yourself with the way they work, not whether or not they have 18 stops of dynamic range or can blast off 100 frames in a second, or shoot at ISO values that exceed the bank balances of the average Monte Carlo resident. 
       
      So, getting a good result out of your post 2013 camera is highly dependent on coming to know that camera and working with it on a regular basis. Like in my case I have been using the Olympus E-M1’s since I got my first one in late 2013 (about the time the GM1 got announced) and after nearly 5 years of professional and personal use I don’t even have to think much about it’s operation. I switch it on and if I need to make changes I know instantly where to make them. The once confusing Olympus menu system is second nature to me now. The only things I have to think about, settings-wise, are the advanced features that I have used maybe once or twice, such as the Live Time long exposure thing, or anything to do with JPG settings (which I never use).
       
      I’ve only ever owned one other Panasonic camera, the GF1, which I liked, but ended up selling because at the time I had 2 Olympus Pen cameras that I thought were just a bit easier for me to work with. Whilst Panasonic and Olympus share the same Micro Four Thirds lens mount, their approach to operating the camera itself is very different. Kind of like the differences you’d find between Windows and macOS. They both do the same thing, just differently. 
       
      The Panasonic interface is, I think, very intuitive and easy to learn unlike the Olympus, which admittedly took me a while to get used to coming from Nikon. That said, I do find some things on the GM1 a bit of a fiddle. Like this morning I was trying to change the aperture (in A mode), but kept changing the exposure compensation instead. Turns out that you need to press the command dial button for compensation again to toggle it off (there is only one dial on this tiny little camera). On the Olympus Pens it’s a similar process, just slightly different. You have to press the same button, but you can program the camera to move either the aperture value or the exposure compensation when turning the dial after that button is pressed. The GM1 doesn’t have that level of customisability so if you have burned a neural pathway into your brain from using your Olympus MFT camera a certain way, getting used to a Panasonic like the GM1 might test you a little. Fortunately it’s not an insurmountable hurdle. A bit of practice will make new neural pathways.  
       
      Without an EVF I found using the rear LCD in this morning’s bright conditions not too difficult. The one thing I do struggle with is the amount of icons that Panasonic show on this LCD screen. Unlike the Olympus method of putting them along the side of the LCD screen, Panasonic have most of them along the top, which together with the row on the bottom can make the screen seem very crowded. It is easy to turn the top row off though by toggling the Info button, which leaves you with the bare bones of exposure settings on the bottom.
       
      I think I will be getitng along quite nicely with the world's littlest MFT camera, in spite of the differences between it and my Olympus stable. That they use the same lenses makes it a perfect black sheep cousin. Different, but lovable all the same. 
       
      Here’s some of the shots from this morning's outing. All with the 12-32mm lens, processed in Lr 7.2. 
       

      I'm usually showing you photos of my city from the piers we have, so today here's a shot from the North looking towards a couple of the many we have. 
       

       

      This is the designated fisherman's pier. It's usually inhabited by subsistence fishermen who spend most of the day (and night) with their lines in the water. 
       

      There is a space between the sand and the promenade that the city is trying to keep healthy with indigenous dune vegetation we get around these parts. 
       

      The beachcombers are always out there, scouring the sand for buried treasure. 
       

      The promenade is modeled on Rio's famous Copacabana beach. You are allowed to ride anything on wheels along there (except for motorcycles and cars). There is an outfit that offers Segway tours. Lazy! 
       

      This is one of many outdoor gyms that have sprung up around the city in the past few years. I don't know how effective those machines are, but they certainly do seem to keep the users happy. 
       

      After the beachfront I took a slow drive back home, stopping off at the marina. It was low tide, so I walked out a bit. Shooting almost into the sun here, so not the best result. 
       

      These tug boats appear to be chasing this Greek tanker out of the bay! 
       

      Four shot panorama of what was once a vibrant watering hole, but is now sadly neglected by the city's denizens. This was where my younger son played at the Durban Blues Festival. 
    • By Dallas
      Two Monday’s ago a fortnight of digital agony began as I set about upgrading the Fotozones software. Usually the software upgrades run smoothly, but in this instance it was anything but smooth. More like a ride on one of those amusement park gravity modifying apparatuses. I am told it is because I didn’t upgrade for such a long time that I ran into problems. Because of previous issues with early upgrades I guess I am averse to major changes, so upgrading software isn’t something I rush into these days. My bad. 
       
      Anyway, that episode of digital nausea has passed so today I thought I would take some time out for myself to go and play with a new, old camera I got recently, but because of all the software dramas of the past fortnight, has sat on my desk looking expectantly at me like a rescue puppy might. The camera in question is the late 2013 Panasonic GM1 and 12-32mm kit lens. This is a Micro Four Thirds camera. 
       
      As those of you who follow my writings and videos will already know, I recently sold the Canon 200D I got last year. I don’t have any pressing need to make more videos, but browsing through the classifieds on a local forum I saw an Olympus E-PL5 up for sale at a really keen price. I decided to get it because I actually like the Pen cameras and that model has a flip up selfie screen that would come in quite handy if I wanted to make more videos. So I got it. The cost was less than $100, but it didn’t come with a lens, so I was on the lookout for something I could use for it. I had my eyes open for the Olympus 14-42mm EZ kit lens, which isn’t found used that often. In casual conversation about my lens quest my buddy Peter mentioned to me that he was selling his Panasonic GM1 with the Panasonic 12-32mm kit lens. I wanted the lens only, but Peter made me a really good price on the body too, so I couldn’t pass it up. There went another $180 or so. I should mention that I was still up from the sale of the 200D though.
       
      What follows isn’t a review, so don’t expect any in-depth analysis, just some thoughts on cameras in general and how I got along with this particular one on my first outing with it. 
       
      The GM1 is a really small camera. I mean, it’s ridiculously tiny. If I am out and about on a less than balmy day it will go into a jacket pocket without any issue. Today wasn’t exactly jacket weather, as you will see from the photos, so I put it into a larger bag (the ThinkTank Turn style 10) with some other camera stuff, just in case a Pulitzer Prize winning news moment presented itself to me, you know.
       
      I’m of the firm opinion that almost all cameras made since 2013 are good cameras. If you can’t get a great result out of a camera made after that year there can only be one (or more) of 3 factors at play. One, you have a terrible lens; two, you have terrible technique; three, somewhere along the line the camera you bought was dropped and the innards are not operating as they should. 
       
      The sensors we have been getting in most cameras made after 2013 are brilliant capturing devices. You just need to know what you’re doing with them to get a good result. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the future for camera testing outfits like Dpreview and various others who play in measurement based camera appraisal systems are probably superfluous to all but perhaps a handful of very discerning photographers these days. The attractiveness of cameras is, I think, going to come down to just how well you can integrate yourself with the way they work, not whether or not they have 18 stops of dynamic range or can blast off 100 frames in a second, or shoot at ISO values that exceed the bank balances of the average Monte Carlo resident. 
       
      So, getting a good result out of your post 2013 camera is highly dependent on coming to know that camera and working with it on a regular basis. Like in my case I have been using the Olympus E-M1’s since I got my first one in late 2013 (about the time the GM1 got announced) and after nearly 5 years of professional and personal use I don’t even have to think much about it’s operation. I switch it on and if I need to make changes I know instantly where to make them. The once confusing Olympus menu system is second nature to me now. The only things I have to think about, settings-wise, are the advanced features that I have used maybe once or twice, such as the Live Time long exposure thing, or anything to do with JPG settings (which I never use).
       
      I’ve only ever owned one other Panasonic camera, the GF1, which I liked, but ended up selling because at the time I had 2 Olympus Pen cameras that I thought were just a bit easier for me to work with. Whilst Panasonic and Olympus share the same Micro Four Thirds lens mount, their approach to operating the camera itself is very different. Kind of like the differences you’d find between Windows and macOS. They both do the same thing, just differently. 
       
      The Panasonic interface is, I think, very intuitive and easy to learn unlike the Olympus, which admittedly took me a while to get used to coming from Nikon. That said, I do find some things on the GM1 a bit of a fiddle. Like this morning I was trying to change the aperture (in A mode), but kept changing the exposure compensation instead. Turns out that you need to press the command dial button for compensation again to toggle it off (there is only one dial on this tiny little camera). On the Olympus Pens it’s a similar process, just slightly different. You have to press the same button, but you can program the camera to move either the aperture value or the exposure compensation when turning the dial after that button is pressed. The GM1 doesn’t have that level of customisability so if you have burned a neural pathway into your brain from using your Olympus MFT camera a certain way, getting used to a Panasonic like the GM1 might test you a little. Fortunately it’s not an insurmountable hurdle. A bit of practice will make new neural pathways.  
       
      Without an EVF I found using the rear LCD in this morning’s bright conditions not too difficult. The one thing I do struggle with is the amount of icons that Panasonic show on this LCD screen. Unlike the Olympus method of putting them along the side of the LCD screen, Panasonic have most of them along the top, which together with the row on the bottom can make the screen seem very crowded. It is easy to turn the top row off though by toggling the Info button, which leaves you with the bare bones of exposure settings on the bottom.
       
      I think I will be getitng along quite nicely with the world's littlest MFT camera, in spite of the differences between it and my Olympus stable. That they use the same lenses makes it a perfect black sheep cousin. Different, but lovable all the same. 
       
      Here’s some of the shots from this morning's outing. All with the 12-32mm lens, processed in Lr 7.2. 
       

      I'm usually showing you photos of my city from the piers we have, so today here's a shot from the North looking towards a couple of the many we have. 
       

       

      This is the designated fisherman's pier. It's usually inhabited by subsistence fishermen who spend most of the day (and night) with their lines in the water. 
       

      There is a space between the sand and the promenade that the city is trying to keep healthy with indigenous dune vegetation we get around these parts. 
       

      The beachcombers are always out there, scouring the sand for buried treasure. 
       

      The promenade is modeled on Rio's famous Copacabana beach. You are allowed to ride anything on wheels along there (except for motorcycles and cars). There is an outfit that offers Segway tours. Lazy! 
       

      This is one of many outdoor gyms that have sprung up around the city in the past few years. I don't know how effective those machines are, but they certainly do seem to keep the users happy. 
       

      After the beachfront I took a slow drive back home, stopping off at the marina. It was low tide, so I walked out a bit. Shooting almost into the sun here, so not the best result. 
       

      These tug boats appear to be chasing this Greek tanker out of the bay! 
       

      Four shot panorama of what was once a vibrant watering hole, but is now sadly neglected by the city's denizens. This was where my younger son played at the Durban Blues Festival. 
    • By Dallas
      As a photographer who organises wildlife safaris fairly often, the biggest elephant in the room I usually have to deal with is transporting my camera gear on airplanes between cities in South Africa. The issue is that if you are flying on a domestic airline within South Africa the rule for carry on luggage is that it can't exceed a certain dimension or weight. This happens to be either 7 or 8kgs, depending on which flavour airline you're on. Not a hell of a lot, is it? Put a couple of pro cameras with big lenses and a laptop into the mix and you'll be over the limit very quickly. The domestic airlines here also restrict you to one piece of checked luggage that cannot exceed 20kgs. On my last safari to Namibia I think my camera bag was pretty close to 20kgs on its own. I'll elaborate a bit more on what was in it later in this article.
       
      The volume side of the carry-on restrictions is not usually a problem, provided the bag you're using fits into the little aluminium scaffolding apparatus they use to determine maximum proportions at the check-in counter. Smaller planes don't always have overhead stowage so your bag has to fit under the seat in front of you which is not always a possibility, especially if it's a really small plane and also if you find yourself sitting next to an emergency exit.
       
      When you are at the check in counter at South African airports that are run by ACSA (Airports Company South Africa) you will also notice that there are signs behind the attendants clearly indicating that you are prohibited from checking in any valuable electronics, including cameras, computers, etc. So, it's a conundrum alright. How do you get yourself and your equipment from one city to the next without going through the stress of possibly being charged additional luggage fees for being overweight, or perhaps being forced to check your equipment in with your regular luggage and running the risk of it being stolen or damaged by the handlers? The answer is simple: you don't. The stress is just something you have to deal with. Fortunately there are a few strategies you can employ to minimise the issue.
       
      1) You can wear your equipment using one of those photographer vests with numerous and large pockets. These work quite well, but you will attract the attention of airport security as well as raise the anxiety levels of nervous flyers who may mistake you for a terrorist. You're also not going to have the most comfortable flight if you're thinking of wearing it in your seat.
       
      2) You can upgrade your ticket to Business Class which allows you more hand luggage, but this is not always available, especially not on regional routes. I haven't seen any business class on any flight to the Kruger Park.
       
      3) You can choose the right bag, one that is unobtrusive, versatile and in the worst case scenario where you have to check it in, will provide your gear with adequate protection. You may also need to be a little devious in this regard.
       
      The ThinkTank Airport roller series are such bags (or cases if you're a stickler for details). On the two safaris I have led this year I evaluated two different types of Airport rollers, namely the Airport International V2.0 and the Airport Security V2.0. This article is about the smaller one, the Airport International V2.0 which I used on our Big 5 Safari. I will write a separate article about the Airport Security, which is the one I used on our Namibian safari shortly after the Big 5 trip.
       
      So, at the beginning of August this year we did our annual Ultimate Big 5 Safari to the Sabi Sands which is a private game reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park. I had to fly from Durban to Johannesburg and then once we had all our guests with us we flew from Johannesburg to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA). I decided to use the Airport International roller because the Security, while only slightly bigger than the International, does appear a lot bigger than it on the outside. When I first received the Security I thought there is no ways that thing is going to be allowed as a carry on - it looks more like a suitcase than anything else, so I got the International just to be safe.
       
      We normally fly on SAA to KMIA from Jo'burg and they use a 4 engine jet plane (can't remember the name, so I have a photo of it below this paragraph). This plane has adequate overhead stowage capacity, but sometimes they might change the plane depending on the number of passengers booked on the flight, so prudence is advisable when going to KMIA on SAA. For this trip I had to fly back to Durban on Kulula from Johannesburg and I hadn't flown with them before, so I had to be extra prudent in the light of not knowing how strict they were with hand luggage, or the type of plane they operated.
       
      I had managed to keep the weight of the Airport International V2.0 down to about 15kgs. Inside I had my Nikon D700 with MB-D10 grip, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS, a couple of teleconverters, a Nikon D3100, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus 75mm f/1.8, Samyang 7.5mm fisheye, Panasonic 14-45mm, 45-175mm and Olympus 9-18mm lenses, MacBook Pro 13", iPad Mini. A fair amount of kit for a week in the bush! I was also using the low dividers set for this case which is an absolute must in my opinion. This lets you put your laptop inside the case for extra protection. There is a sleeve on the outside of the roller you could put one into, but it's not advisable. When you open the lid of the roller the laptop will slide out of the sleeve. Trust me, I've done this - it's the making of a movie with a very sad ending.
       
      Getting to Jo'burg from Durban on SAA was easy. I have never been asked to weigh my carry-on luggage by SAA and this time was no different. I checked in my main suitcase and they didn't even ask about the ThinkTank roller which I had strategically positioned directly in front of the check in desk so that the attendant didn't really see it. I also draped my jacket over the top of it to camouflage its dimensions a little. No questions were asked. I went through security and on the other side I found the gate I needed to be at, making sure I was the first in line to board. This is important as it assures you of a space in the overhead bin - the last thing you want to have happen if you can't find any space in those overhead bins is for the flight attendants to have to place your bag for you, because the weight will be a major concern and then they will most likely gate check it if they haven't already compressed their vertebrae trying to hoist it somewhere themselves. Get on the plane first and secure a space in the overhead bin.
       
      Going back the other way from this year's Big 5 safari required me to make two flights; one from KMIA to Johannesburg, and then from Johannesburg back to Durban. In the past I have flown directly back to Durban from KMIA, but this is where I encountered the small plane problems that I knew I would not be able to take a big carry-on like the ThinkTank rollers onboard. On that flight there was no overhead bin and there was very little space under the seat, so I decided to fly back via Johannesburg this time. Longer and more expensive, but I'd rather pay more for the flights and get all my gear home safely than check it at the gate and possibly lose everything.
       
      One of our guests on this safari had brought his gear over from the US in the bigger ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 roller. While we were waiting to board the plane back to JHB from KMIA after the safari we were both approached by a ground personnel individual and asked to gate check the rollers as we walked out to the plane from the gate. She seemed a little unassertive, so we both refused, citing the contents as being too valuable to check. She relented easily enough and we boarded the aircraft with our rollers ahead of everyone else, found our seats, stowed them above us and sat down to enjoy the flight. I also had no problem getting the roller onboard the Kulula flight back to my home city, Durban. Job done. Thank you ThinkTank!
       
      If you're thinking about getting this case, I can highly recommend it. You'll fit a decent amount of kit into it and it has some pretty neat features, including a raincoat, lockable zippers, external pockets and also a system for attaching your monopod or tripod to the outside of it. There's also a combination lock you can use to secure your case to a pole or something immovable if you need to be away from it for a short while. I can see this coming in handy when shooting on location. The build quality is also top notch.
       
      If I can offer some criticism of the case it's that I found some of the dividers a little too stiff to configure nicely. I think if they could make them a bit more flexible it would be a whole lot more awesome as a solution for your camera travels. Also, the telescopic handle of this model seems very thin and flimsy compared to its bigger brother's handle. Speaking of handles, ThinkTank have placed one on three of the cases edges, which makes it very easy to hoist from any angle. That's clever design.
       
      The inside also zips out completely so you can wash it out thoroughly, especially if you're in the habit of dragging your roller into dusty locations, which we tend to do a lot on safari! My associate Pepe is now using this roller permanently and I have opted to use the larger one, the Airport Security V2.0 which I will discuss in my next article.
       
      If you are in the USA you can buy this bag directly from ThinkTank and get a free gift when you use this link.
       
      Note: unfortunately the images for this article were lost in a software upgrade. 
       
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