What’s in my Camera Bag (& some Cyber Monday deals)

Last weekend, I attended the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico (more about that in a future post).  Being there with a hundred or so other serious amateurs and pros and seeing all the giant Canon & Nikon telephoto lenses, I realized that I’d never blogged about converting my camera equipment from Canon to Panasonic last year.

I made the jump when Panasonic released its amazing Leica 100-400 telephoto lens (which equates to a 200-800mm lens in 35mm full-frame format).  The ability to own an 800mm lens/camera system that was significantly smaller and cheaper than Canon was simply too compelling to ignore!  Here’s a comparison of what I mean:

From L to R:  Panasonic G85 w/100-400 (eq 200-800), Canon 7D w/500 (eq 800), Canon 6D w/800

Out in the field, us Micro 4/3rds shooters look as if we’re shooting little toy cameras next to a serious big gun Canon or Nikon wildlife photographer–

But these M43 cameras are not toys– they really can match their bigger competitors in most situations, and even beat them!  Daniel Cox’s website NaturalExposures.com really helped educate me to the virtues of Micro 4/3rds, particularly his video in this blog post shot at Bosque del Apache using the pre-release version of the Leica 100-400.

The most obvious advantages to a Micro 4/3rds system are the significant size/weight reductions.  My Panasonic Lumix G85 camera weighs just 1.11 lbs!  While my old Canon 6D full-frame camera wasn’t much heavier (1.70 lbs) or much larger (see below), what really sets the systems apart are the size/weight of the lenses.

Panasonic Lumix G85 & Canon 6D

Comparing the systems with standard zooms doesn’t look like much of a difference:

Panasonic Lumix G85 w/12-60 (eq 24-120) vs. Canon 6D w/24-105 (non-L)

But every M43 lens is smaller/lighter (and often cheaper) than the bigger lenses required for full-frame or APS-C crop sensor cameras.  Here’s a comparison of ultra-wide primes:

Lumix G85 w/Laowa 7.5 f/2.0 (eq 15mm) vs. Canon 6D w/Samyang 14mm f/2.8

So, let’s compare cost/weight of the cameras with a 3-lens setup– a standard zoom, long telephoto, and ultra-wide lens.

  • Panasonic Lumix G85 with 12-60 zoom, Leica 100-400 telephoto, and Laowa 7.5 ultra-wide prime
    • Total Weight = 4.12 lbs
    • Total Cost = $3,400
  • Canon 6D with 24-105 non-L zoom, 800mm telephoto, and Samyang 14mm ultra-wide prime
    • Total Weight = 14 lbs !!!
    • Total Cost = $15,227 !!!
Yep, cost and weight differences are quite substantial between M43 and full-frame, and my bad back (and bank account) have been quite happy that we made the switch.  But wait, there’s more…
When I first got the Leica 100-400 lens last year, I compared it to my Canon 6D with 100-400 ver. 1 Canon L lens.  The auto focus speed was noticeably faster on the Panasonic system, and images were much sharper too.  That test alone convinced me to sell off much of my Canon gear.  But there are other advantages to the Panasonic system too, such as:
  • In-camera image stabilization (IS) that offers up to a 5-stop advantage, and will even help stabilize non-IS lenses too.  I hardly ever need my tripod anymore!
  • 4K video (Panasonic’s video capabilities are legendary, particularly the current flagship GH5)
  • A rotating flip-out LCD screen (why Canon won’t put this on more of their cameras is a mystery to me!)  
I kept my 6D and ultrawide lens for night astrophotography as there are a few situations where the larger sensor full-frame cameras are better, namely, their ability to shoot very high ISO’s with very little noise.  This is very apparent in night Milky Way photos where the Canon can shoot at ISO6400 without breaking a sweat, but the Panasonic will struggle at anything above ISO1600 or ISO3200.  Panasonic uses a mirrorless “Contrast AF” system (vs. the traditional mirror reflex and “Phase AF” on Canon/Nikon).  
Auto focusing on Micro 4/3rds has come a long way in the past few years– it’s now as fast or faster in daylight conditions.  But in low-light or very low-contrast conditions (such as pre-dawn or post-sunset), a Micro 4/3rds system can still struggle a bit vs. a larger camera.  For some photographers, this will be no-go.  But there are some important questions to ask before walking away from M43–
  • Is a pre-dawn wildlife shoot something you do every day?  Or do you (like most amateur photographers) start shooting when the sun comes up?  Note that M43 will still do fine in low light if shooting static scenes like landscapes, it just can’t quite equal the larger sensor cameras when there’s moving wildlife in very low light due to its sensor’s ISO limitations).
  • Do you print and sell large billboard-sized images commercially?  Or do you print an occasional print up to 16×20 or so, and share your photos mostly online?
  • Do you have the financial means to buy a big full-frame telephoto lens (the Canon telephotos run $9,000 to $13,000)?  Yes, there are 3rd-party options that can make that price difference far less– for instance, a Sigma 150-600 lens (eq 240-960 on an APS-C Canon 7D camera) would run the same price as the Leica lens for Panasonic ($1799), but the weight factor would still be a consideration (G85 w/Leica 100-400 = 3.28 lbs vs Canon 7DmII w/Sigma 150-600 = 8.31 lbs)
I contend that most serious amateur photographers (or serious birders who like to shoot photos) don’t really need the extra ISO capabilities of an APS-C or full-frame camera system.  As many of us are getting older or dealing with physical limitations, a smaller lightweight Micro 4/3rds system now makes much more sense.
Particularly this week with all the Cyber Monday deals!  Right now, Panasonic is selling their G85 camera with 12-60 (eq 24-120) kit lens plus a free bonus 45-200 (eq 90-400) lens for only $997.99.   (in comparison, a Canon 6D with just a 24-105 non-L lens currently runs $1,599).
If you’re not as crazed a photographer as I am, but are still looking for a nice lightweight camera that can use all the hundreds of Micro 4/3rds lenses available (both Olympus and Panasonic lenses use the same M43 mount, and there are also many adapters available to mount old film lenses, cine lenses, and even Canon or Nikon lenses if you desire), Panasonic still sells the predecessor of the G85, the G7 camera.   
The G7 is almost identical to the G85 but lacks in-camera IS, the alloy-frame body, and weather sealing.  However, right now, you can pick up a G7 with 14-42 (eq 28-84) lens for only $497.99.  That’s cheaper than some of the premium point-and-shoot cameras (that have far less quality).
So, what’s in my camera bag these days?  Check out the Lynne’s Camera Bag links at the bottom of this post!  
I usually carry just 3 lenses with my G85 and all fit nicely within a small holster bag– the 12-60 standard zoom, a 45-175 short tele zoom (eq 90-350), and my Laowa 7.5mm ultra-wide prime.  
If I’m wanting to shoot street scenes or general travel in low-light, I bring my Leica 15mm f/1.7 prime (eq 30mm).  For portraits or light macro, the Panasonic 42.5 f/1.7 (eq 85mm) gives great bokeh in a very small package.  Of course, if I’m shooting wildlife (or wind surfers in Hawaii!), I bring the Leica 100-400.  I still use my Panasonic ZS100 Point-and-Shoot camera occasionally (if I think I’ll need it’s zoom range up to 250mm), but otherwise, just use my iPhone as a pocketable camera for quick grabs.  
I’ve also recently been diving into new image processing software apps this past month and have discovered a real gem (that’s on sale for CyberMonday too!).  Last month,  Adobe finally released a major update to Lightroom and, wow, what a change it was!  Lightroom used to be available as either a subscription ($120/year for Lightroom and Photoshop), or as a buy-once license.  Well, with the latest release, Adobe has decided to go “all subscription” and no longer gives users a choice.
I was already doing the subscription method, so that didn’t bother me too much.  But Adobe also decided to release 2 versions of Lightroom– one relying on cloud storage (Lightroom CC) and having very “v.1.0” features, and the other our traditional Lightroom app with local computer storage (now called Lightroom Classic).  The fear voiced by many reviewers is that Adobe will eventually drop Lightroom Classic and force everyone to use the cloud-based Lightroom CC.  Yuck, no thanks!
That was enough to prompt me to look at what the competitors are doing these days.  I downloaded free trials of two promising Lightroom-alternatives, On1 Photo RAW 2018 and MacPhun Luminar 2018.   Both offer a lot of promise, but are not quite there yet at being able to fully replace Lightroom.  However, I liked aspects of both programs enough to buy apps from both.
On1’s Photo RAW features a digital asset manager (like Lightroom’s Library) that is easy to use, but not quite as full-featured as Lightroom.  It’s close though, and would probably work fine for me.  However, on1’s Develop module is missing so many of Lightroom Develop’s features, it’s still just a non-starter for me.  
On1 also has a Filters module (which I found rather lacking).  On the bright side though, it has the wonderful Resize module which is the latest version of the excellent Genuine Fractals app.
Right now for CyberMonday, the full On1 Photo RAW 2018 app is on sale for $99.99 to new users.  But since I only really liked the Resize module, I bought it as a stand-alone app (it’s on sale right now too for just $59.99).   The stand-alone app is still using the 2017 version which looks slightly different, but should be updated to 2018 framework soon now that Photo RAW 2018 has been released.
In comparison, I found MacPhun’s Luminar 2018 an absolute joy to use (some of the photos in my recent Hawaii and Southwest Colorado posts were edited in Luminar and colors just seem to “pop” more than they do in Lightroom alone).  However, Luminar is still not quite ready to replace Lightroom just yet.  It still lacks a Digital Asset Manager (i.e. Lightroom Library), so each file must be opened and saved individually unless you use Luminar in plug-in mode with Lightroom.
Luminar has layers capabilities just like Photoshop (on1 also has Layers), but it really shines in its excellent set of filters.  They remind me a lot of the old nik Color Efex Pro filters (which you can still download for free from Google right now, but that might change soon as Google recently sold their nik apps to DxO).
Right now, using Luminar as a Lightroom plug-in is super easy.  Just right-click a photo in Lightroom and select to Edit in Luminar 2018.  That launches the Luminar app, lets you add filters, layers, and masking to your heart’s content and then saves it back to Lightroom as a new image.  In a few months when Luminar’s DAM is released, I might just be able to get rid of Lightroom/Photoshop completely.  Luminar, thus far, is that good!
MacPhun started out developing apps only for the Mac, but now is selling Luminar for both Mac and PC, so they’re changing their company name to Skylum to reflect their new focus on both platforms.
Right now, Luminar is on sale for just $69, but you can use the code 43RUM (thanks 43Rumors.com!) to save an additional $10 off for a net price of only $59!  That’s a smokin’ great deal.  Lots of good video tutorials on YouTube will help you learn the app too.
So, there you have it!  My camera bag and the image editing software I now use.  If you’re in the market for either, hopefully these current deals will help!

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