Moving to Micro Four Thirds

In a previous post last year I had mentioned that a move to an interchangeable lens camera was unlikely however seeing the latest generation of compact on the market also have a port system it is time to reconsider the options.

During the Christmas holiday Panasonic put up a double cash-back promotion which meant you could get a Panasonic GX7 with kit lens with £100 off the retail effective price.

On the web you could find the GX7 with the 14-42mm G Mega OIS for £449 and combined with the 20mm f/1.7 for £579. The 14-42mm is actually a good lens but knowing I had to get the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm I opted for the 20mm f/1.7 a very bright lens that seemed good for occasional photos.

Butterfly bokeh

 

So I got myself the X Vario PZ 14-42mm and also the Lumix G 12-32mm Mega OIS as I thought I needed something midrange but did not want to spend a lot of money for the 12-35mm Panasonic and especially did not want to entertain a 6″ wide angle port.

Foliage Detail 12-32 mm
Foliage Detail 12-32 mm

I actually think this lens has better IQ than the 12-42mm PZ

14-42mm PZ
14-42mm PZ

The 12-32mm is the kit lens that used to come with the GX1 so is not a massively popular lens. A quick look at the Nauticam Port Chart confirms this lens takes the same macro port 35 of the 14-42 PZ, this port through a 30mm extension can be used to house the Olympus 60mm Macro. So went ahead and contacted Alex at Nauticam UK to get a quote on the housing. It turns out that there are no stocks of the NA-GX7 so had to wait until yesterday to receive mine.

I asked Alex to lend me a Nauticam Wetmate as I thought this could be used on the 35 port with the 12-32mm Panasonic lens in case the Inon UWL-H100 vignettes.

I was not quite sure of the physics of the wet mate so I got myself some close up filters in case there were focus issues.

The 12-32mm won’t focus in water with the wet mate until you add a +1 close up filter.

12-32mm with +1 diopter and wet mate on macro port 35
12-32mm with +1 diopter and wet mate on macro port 35

Once you get focus the image quality seems pretty decent despite being shot at ISO 1250 f/3.5. However this configuration would start having focus problem past 15mm so I put on a + diopter and tried again until 20mm or 40mm in 35 equivalent terms.

12-32mm at 20mm with +2 diopter and wet mate on macro 35 port
12-32mm at 20mm with +2 diopter and wet mate on macro 35 port

Quality is pretty good and the chromatic aberration are probably coming from the cheap diopter more than the wet-mate.

I am quite happy with those results although I have to admit the wet mate with the 67mm thread is a pain to take on and off in water and also is not coated so scratches easily.

Nauticam has still to confirm if the 4.33″ dome port can offer full zoom with the 12-32mm, I suspect it will with the help of a +2 diopter. The alternative is the 20mm extension with the 3.5″ wide angle port, in future perspective this is interesting for wide angle macro photography but not so much right now so will go with the 4.33″ dome.

I also did some tests with the Inon UWL-H100 28LD, once again the Fix M67-LD adapter let me down the screws had melted into the aluminium despite the tender loving care and broken the adapter I could however take some shots without the hood before that happened.

Panasonic 12-32mm with Inon UWL-H100 at 12mm
Panasonic 12-32mm with Inon UWL-H100 at 12mm

There are some dark corners but all in all the result could be acceptable equivalent focal length in 16:9 is 16.5mm which is approximately 105 degrees.

There seems to be some variability and some times I would get black corners more. Considering I will switch to the Nauticam LD adapter that vignettes more this at the end is not so interesting. The image is also a bit distorted.

With the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario  PZ 14-42mm instead there are no issues of vignette even in 4:3 aspect ratio.

Panasonic 14-42 PZ with Inon UWL-H100
Panasonic 14-42 PZ with Inon UWL-H100

The camera focuses literally on the glass.

What is even more interesting is that the camera lens combination keeps sharp focus all across the zoom range all the way to 42mm or 84mm equivalent.

Pamasonic 14-42mma t 42mm with Inon UWL-H100
Pamasonic 14-42mma t 42mm with Inon UWL-H100

Fringing is contained and generally the image is sharp across the frame considering we are at ISO 3200.

I also did a test with the UCL-330 and using the Extended Teleconverter function available in video I could achieve 32mm width frame with the 12-32mm lens!!!

The other positive note is that this is a 1″1 pixel read without artefacts and moire so generally quality is very high.

I think the PZ 14-42mm with the Inon UWL-H100 and a single UCL-165 makes a fine combination to shoot all purpose stills wide and macro in one dive. For video I will have to determine if the UCL-330 is a better choice considering the extended tele converter feature.

A few other features of the GX7 that really make this camera a video machine include the flicker free video recording that allows you to fix the shutter speed if you had to press the video record button when you are taking stills. Normally the camera would work in P more and not respect any shutter rule, with this feature you are telling the camera to shoot in shutter priority.

The GX7 has also the capability of altering the gamma curve for contrast which is great and a number of picture style presets of which I recommend the Scenery one for underwater use if you white balance.

I did some low light comparisons with the Sony RX100 and despite two full f/stops advantage for the RX100 lens the GX7 still resolved more detail at ISO 3200 versus the RX100 ISO 800 which was a bit surprising.

The AVCHD implementation at 24 Mbps will be my favourite underwater mode unless I am shooting macro and is a full IPB codec unlike the IP only with no B frames that Sony provides. That must be reason why the image quality in video is better even at two stop higher ISO.

In case you are looking for the holy grail for Nauticam micro four thirds camera to do a bit of everything the Macro Port 35 and the Panasonic G X Vario 14-42mm Power Zoom are highly recommended. Probably the image quality is not as good as the Panasonic 7-14mm although in my opinion with the Inon lens the results are very similar to the Olympus 90-18mm with 4″ wide angle port. Macro again is acceptable but not amazing with wet lenses. I will have to test more I am concerned the UCL-100 may not work with this port. For a mid range lens the 12-32mm costs one third of the 12-35mm Power OIS and once I receive the 4.33′ dome I will do more tests, meanwhile an option is to use the wet mate that works until 20mm before you have to take it off. The 4/33″ dome should have better image quality but maybe I will be surprised there too.

Finally with the 30 extension you can transform the macro 35 into a 55 port ready for some serious macro with the Olympus 60mm so I think having only one flat port, an extension ring and one dome to cover fisheye photography, portraits, wide angle, close up and macro is not bad at all. And for video most likely is the only port you will ever need together with the Inon UWL-H100 which is expensive but every flexible indeed.

I will post more images of the rig once I have nailed all options in terms of lenses and arms.

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4 thoughts on “Moving to Micro Four Thirds”

  1. Great posts!

    I’m looking at getting into underwater photography. I looked at the TG-3 but I feel like it would be very dissapointing to come home and bring up those smudged details on the computer.

    I then looked at the compact camera market, I’m still considering something like the RX100ii but now you have me thinking about looking into M43 cameras instead.

    Do you think that someone entering the world of underwater photography in 2015 should still look at using some of the previous generation of compacts?

    1. I am going to give a proper text to the Panasonic GX7 in few weeks maybe you can wait and see. I believe that in the 4:3 segment the GX7 is the k my option as Olympus cameras have poor video. Panasonic offers better video compression than Sony and on land it shows however only a real life test will give the full picture. Right now is either Panasonic GX7 or Sony RX100 mark II. There is a substantial difference in the housing and port system nearly double than the Sony compact but the GX7 gives you more option as a land camera. If you have a DSLR on land probably the Sony complements it well. If you look to have a single camera for land and underwater maybe the GX7 is a better investment and you can reuse lenses and ports in the future

      1. Awesome I look forward to it!

        I’m not going to be getting anything for a little while now. I was hoping to get something for a trip I’m about to take to Heron Island near the Great Barrier Reef but I didn’t want to rush into buying anything so I might either borrow my friends gopro or buy a TG-3 (I’d much rather save the money for a rig though). I considered buying a RX100ii and just buying one of those ziplock bag style cases seeming I’m only snorkeling but I wasn’t sure if I trusted it.

        it’s interesting about the cost of the M43 rig compared to the sony. I was hoping it wouldn’t be so much more. I’ve got an entry level DSLR (Canon 700D) and a few lenses. Not enough to make me shy away from developing a M43 set up though. I’ll make sure to check out your post on the Gx7.

        I’m in Australia so unfortunately it’s not super obvious what’s available in terms of underwater gear, price hunting is harder. You can pick up the common housings pretty easily but everything else is a bit of a hunt. I’ll start window shopping for the Panasonic and see how much it adds up to.

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