A Wild Respite

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Who among us doesn’t feel the urge to shoot a landscape now and then? I’d wager a guess that everyone who has spent more than a few minutes with a camera in hand has pointed it at a sunset, or a mountain vista, or something of the kind. Nature is a powerful influencer of the species known as the human photographer.

And for good reason, after all.

Recently, my wife and I took a week long road trip up the coast of Oregon and Washington, ending up in Seattle. The northwestern coast of Washington is a beautiful and very remote part of the country, and while I had planned all along for most of my photographic endeavors to be on the streets of Seattle, I was glad to have my camera with me on the journey there.

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The natural world is more than the sweeping vistas, of course. The use of a camera enables us to focus on the small details as well – fitting them within the frame as an aid in studying the pieces which make up the bigger picture. I think we should do more of that. We Americans are a stressed out and overworked bunch, and I find more and more that the skills of reflection and observation must be intentionally cultivated in my busy life.

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Is nature photography my favorite genre? not necessarily. And I’ve even felt sheepish before about pointing my lens at a sunset. But the value of shooting in nature goes beyond making photographs we think are keepers – we may even find we imbue a sort of specialness in what others might see as somewhat ordinary shots. But they are documentation of our own human journey, and as such should be worth our time to stop and make.

Lumix GX85 Review, Part 4: GX85 In the Field

I’ve recently returned from a week-long trip through western Washington with my wife, some much needed vacation during which we saw and did much at a fast clip… In retrospect, we should learn how to relax more on vacation. Nevertheless, I was able to spend some quality time with the GX85 as my sole camera for the duration of the trip. Oh, I took the GM5 as well but it never came out of the suitcase.

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The GX85 is a true crowd pleaser. It handles so many different things well. Most of the time, I left the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens on for everything. It handles natural scenic shots with as much ease as it does street shooting, and I appreciated the slightly tight (if you ask some people) field of view in Seattle’s cramped tourist spots like Pike Place Market.

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Generally, the standard JPEG setting does an excellent job, producing rich, saturated colors as I’ve already mentioned. The above photo was taken with the cloudy white balance setting, an accident that I forgot to remedy when we stepped in from the typically overcast Seattle outdoors to the artificially-lit market. But I like the way this one turned out, since the large window in the back reflects an accurate white balance, and the yellower tint to the indoor lighting stands in contrast. As an aside, while auto white balance almost always works, manually picking an appropriate setting for the situation can add authenticity and richness by taking the decision away from the camera’s computer brain.

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The aforementioned richness of the standard colors is especially noticeable in nature, where I feel Panasonic used to lack punch, especially in greens. As the two samples here from the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island demonstrate, there is no problem here with green. Of course, if you typically process RAW files you may not care too much, but it’s refreshing knowing that you don’t need to work on the files to get them to portray what you saw – an extra benefit in a camera with Wi-Fi when you want to quickly share a photo with friends.

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Seattle represented the most opportunity for street photography I have had in a while, since I live in a rural area with less access to metropolitan areas. I took advantage of this and came back with lots of files, even a few keepers. The GX85 performs very well, and my all-black model is quite stealthy. Overall I find Seattlites to be pretty easy with the idea of street photography, and didn’t garner any dirty looks or objections of any kind.

The requirements for a good street camera are all there: fast autofocus, quick access controls and lightning overall performance. Also, I actually found the battery have pretty good stamina over the course of my sessions. I carried a spare GX7 battery but didn’t find a need for it since we tended to take mid-afternoon breaks back at our Air-B&B. Just plug it in and take a rest, and it’s good to go.

Another thing which pleased me was the mobile app, which now supports batch importing of files. You can select from Today, Past Three Days or a couple other settings, and the camera automatically sends over all the files from the specified time period. Perhaps this was enabled through an app update, but I never remember the option with my GM5, and suspect it’s enabled by camera firmware. The only thing lacking from making this feature perfect is the absence of a Yesterday option, meaning if you don’t import your files to your device the same day, you’re stuck importing the past three days.

The only issue I had in the street was when using auto ISO in aperture priority mode. While it allowed me the ability to adjust exposure compensation on the fly to deal with varied lighting, it tended to keep the shutter speed around 1/60th of a second, which resulted in some blurry images due to subject movement. It has since been pointed out to me that there is an ISO mode, “intelligent ISO,” which attempts to bump up shutter speeds when it detects movement, but unfortunately I was not using that when it counted. I will have to experiment with this option in future. I adjusted my technique when realized I was getting blurry images by keeping the ISO set to a higher value, and by switching into manual mode when it made sense. I tend to forget shutter priority mode is there for me as well!

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The Lumix GX85 is continuing to impress me, and was enjoyable to use extensively as demonstrated by the over 1,300 images I returned home with. Next on my agenda is to process RAW files using the available option (SilkyPix) and await Adobe’s Lightroom support!