New Year, New (Different kind of) Gear!

​Quite a bit of time has passed since my last post here. One reason for this is that photography vies with another main interest of mine, and that is creative writing. I have been wrestling with the idea for a novel that has been in my head for years now, while files sit unedited on my PC and my camera gets slightly lonely in between shooting sessions. The upside is that I have many pages of notes and the beginnings of a first draft developing on my newest device, the Freewrite, made by Astrohaus.

Now, this is not a gear blog. It’s a process blog. But the very reason I chose to write about the Freewrite is that it’s a machine designed from the ground up with process in mind. The Freewrite is called a “smart typewriter” and was built to be a high-end mechanical keyboard, an e-ink screen with fast refresh, and wireless connectivity bundled into the general size and shape of an old-timey compact typewriter. They went all-out, too. The body is hefty aluminum with a very nice paint finish, a couple of big switches, and a comfortable soft plastic base that works equally well on a lap or a desktop.

Why the typewriter, you ask? Well, speaking for me personally, it is the perfect format for uninterrupted writing. I grew up in a home that was slow to adopt the computer, so as a teen I used a Smith-Corona electronic typewriter for years. All of my early (terrible) attempts at fiction were typed on that machine, and since then I have used several other typewriters, mostly an early electric Brother and a compact manual Olivetti.

Of course, the typewriter has one fatal flaw: your writing only exists as a physical object, a sheet of paper and ink. While I don’t like a computer for composing, let’s face it, once you’ve written something it needs to be on the computer for editing, distributing and whatever else you want to do with it.

Enter the handiest concept of the Freewrite: instant backup to the cloud. I have mine set up to copy my writing to Google Docs, and the Send button on the computer will instantly send a .TXT file and a PDF to my email, as well. This means that, as I write this article, I’m kicked back on my couch with my feet up, clacking away on a great keyboard, and when I want to publish this post I’ll just pull it up on my desktop and copy the text into WordPress and add my image files.

I enjoy that I have a camera that suits my shooting style very well, and until now I didn’t have a similar device that suits my other pursuit with the same kind of alacrity. While the analog version is still enjoyable in the form of the typewriter, the Freewrite acts like a digital camera in that it still provides the experience I crave, but outputs a digital file that simplifies the workflow after you press the shutter, or in this case, the key!


Lumix GX85 Review, Part 3: Review Notes, Enhanced

In the midst of a busy week, there is little time to test out cameras. I’m looking forward to taking the GX85 on a multi-day road trip along the Pacific Northwest coastline next week, where I will have plenty of opportunities to put the camera through its paces. In the meantime, here are my review notes, with some enhanced comments.

  • Charging and battery – love the USB charging. Makes it much easier on the go. I usually get to and from shooting locations by car, and I keep a fairly substantial USB power bank for keeping devices healthy (smartphones sure lose juice quickly when using maps). Now I can also plug in the camera to bolster the battery after a session. Also, since the battery is the same as the GX7’s before it, I was able to find a spare cheaply. Always have a spare, or two!
  • Build quality – great for plastic frame, but I kind of miss the magnesium alloy. No doubt the camera still has plenty of metal in the frame however, and has no flex. It makes me appreciate the more how much of a tiny work of art the GM5 is.
  • New L Monochrome mode is very nice, super contrast and rich blacks, but saves highlights like all digital sensors do so may require a small whites boost in post processing. Awesome that color filters can still be used. Great way to get great tones in B&W with little processing work. See previous post, Part 2.
  • Definitely a slight sharpness boost over the GM5 from early testing, but only visible when the sharpest lenses are used. Really requires a great lens to see the difference. No moiré to be seen.
  • Shutter shock appears  be non-existent with the new shutter, which sounds great and very quiet.
  • Colors out of camera in standard JPEG mode are much richer than previous Panasonic cameras. Reds can get a little oversaturated in standard mode. A couple of photos with bright reds seemed to show a little posterization, but only when zoomed in to 100% and in one or two areas. There are of course limits to JPEG files, and generally I think the bright and rich colors are welcome. Red, green, blue and yellow tones are all weighted toward vivid, saturated and pleasing tones. For a more neutral, classically Panasonic color palette the Natural JPEG mode might be a better choice.
  • EVF is good but some won’t like that is natively a 16:9 ratio. Can be hard to avoid hitting the LCD screen for left-eyed shooters. I am actually left-eyed, but I have been training myself to use the right eye with my Panasonic rangefinder-style cameras and I don’t find it too difficult. The trade-off to making yourself use the right eye is not having to mash your whole face behind the camera – rangefinders actually are more comfortable to shoot right-eyed than SLR-style cameras.
  • Low light autofocus is terrific.
  • Looks are very nice and streamlined, especially in all black. Rear LCD sits so flush it doesn’t look like a tilting design. EVF is easy to access. Grip feels good for a camera this size, not perfect but mainly due to overall dimensions of camera.
  • True focus stacking is a nice addition. This is different from the 4K Post-Focus feature, which of course results in smaller files, but is so much faster that it’s meant to be used in the heat of the moment.
  • 4K photo modes are well-implemented and straightforward to use. Actual usefulness for my purposes I will have to determine, as I haven’t really tried these out much yet.
  • IBIS works to about four stops for me. Using Sigma 60mm lens I was able to get very sharp shots at 1/15 sec at least 75% of the time. IBIS runs all the time that camera is on as evidenced from very quiet hum emitted during operation. Stabilized when focusing. This is just in-body stabilization, since the lens I used isn’t dual-IS capable. The effectiveness of image stabilization is of course subjective, since individual people have different levels of shakiness.