Field Review: Panasonic G2 (Day 3)

To test the close-up abilities of the Panasonic G2Micro Four Thirds camera, I screwed on the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 Aspherical MEGA OIS Lensand went to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The lens was also designed by Leica. There I found that the camera can be coaxed into taking some remarkably sharp shots, but getting good color out of it requires a bit of post-shooting raw file manipulation.

Thanks to the Leica lens, the G2 produced incredibly sharp shots, both of landscape features at a distance and flowers very close-up. Far shots, like the arch in the Japanese garden and the water lilies at the lily pool terrace came in remarkably clear. At a far distance, the wood grain on the red logs forming the Japanese arch is easy to see. At a medium distance, the points where the lily pads meet the water and form a “skin” can be readily noticed.

Here are two photos that show just how sharp the images are from this lens when coupled with the G2.

At macro distances, the G2 looks even more impressive. While the depth of field is razor-thin just a few inches away, the lens forms wonderfully sharp pictures of incredibly close objects. Fine details, like the fuzz on insects crawling over flowers, look clear as a bell.

As you can see, if you want to shoot insects, birds, or butterflies, the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 Aspherical MEGA OIS Lensis an amazing lens. These macro shots were taken wide open at f/2.8, which results in a very narrow depth of field that makes subjects pop (but leaves them very susceptible to bokeh). This is only an issue at extremely close distances; once you pull back from macro and take mid- or long-range shots, the depth of field opens up a great deal. The Japanese arch above was also shot at f/2.8, and the entire structure is solidly in focus against a just slightly blurrier background.

These photos are shown with very little image processing. While I made some saturation, white balance, and exposure adjustments, I did no sharpening to these images.

The 45mm Leica macro lens is an expensive piece of glass, retailing for over $800 (more than the G2 itself). Still, at 90mm-equivalent distance it fits in the 85mm portrait category Chris recommends for nearly all photographers, and its remarkable macro capabilities speak for themselves. While it obviously isn’t a good choice for wide shots, for a general-purpose lens it’s fantastic.

Image stabilization on the G2 is all in the lens. The Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 Aspherical MEGA OIS Lenshas Panasonic’s Mega Optical Image Stabilization, and at 90mm equivalent it needs it (the G2’s 14-42mm kit lens also features Mega O.I.S., but the 20mm pancake doesn’t). Unfortunately, when you get close for macro shots and the depth of field becomes incredibly thin, back-and-forth camera shake is just as problematic as left-and-right camera shake. The gentle breezes at the Botanic Garden pushed the flowers in and out of the optimal depth of field, and with the G2’s slight shutter lag, it means the subjects tended to shift off-plane. In the second flower picture, you can see the leaf and closed bud are very sharp, but the yellow and red flowers as just slightly fuzzy.

Color is a different story. While late summer isn’t the best time to get colorful flowers at their peak and the partly cloudy weather didn’t help, the G2 still had problems capturing any sense of vibrancy from the blooms. The bright yellows, oranges, and reds of many of the garden’s flowers turned out pale and shallow, and if you were to simply pull the naked images off the SD card and print them out you’d likely be disappointed.

The G2 has a film setting menu that lets you shoot in different color-correction modes. Bumping up the saturation or shooting under the “Vivid” setting can help, but it’s still best to work on the photos after shooting in a program like Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. Fortunately, the G2’s raw files hold plenty of data, and it’s not difficult to coax the best detail and color settings out of them.

The next day, I stepped out of the garden and headed to Times Square and Rockefeller Center to see just how far I could push the camera. More macro shots and a look at the G2’s ISO capabilities on day 4.

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